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In St. Augustine’s second book, he delves into the nature of logic and symbolism in relation to the text of Scripture. Having stepped out of the relatively abstract thinking of the first book, he begins to practically break down steps to interpreting and understanding Christian teaching.
To begin his discussion, St. Augustine talks about the nature of signs, and then begins a discussion of the times when signs cause unnecessary ambiguity (Augustine 32). Augustine’s decision to open his analysis of practical Christian teaching with this topic is, in my mind, brilliant. He digs to the root of most interpretation problems, even today. We see many teachers and instructors of Scripture and Christian teaching misapply Scripture, because they are “casual readers,” rather than investing the proper time and energy (Augustine 32). St. Augustine is able to then wrestle with the intricacies of correct interpretation, and we understand exactly what he is combating.
From that opening section, St. Augustine moves on to, what I find to be the most powerful section of the book. He discusses the steps by which Solomon can claim that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Augustine 37). For much of high school and the beginning of college, the Bible genuinely scared me. I would open it up to read about the love of God, and I would instead be overwhelmed by fear of God. I would then scour the Bible, trying to find relief, and I would often give up quickly. I would keep running into fearful words of God, and I couldn’t handle it. St. Augustine, however, masterfully shows how seven steps take that fear of God and turn it into wisdom. From fear to holiness to knowledge to fortitude to compassion to purification to wisdom, the process makes sense, and it serves to explain why God allows us to experience fear of Him (Augustine 33-35). That fear genuinely leads us into wisdom and peace.
Having established the importance of studying and investing in Christian teaching, St. Augustine spends much of the rest of the book breaking down the logic and process of correct interpretation. He outlines canon, discusses the symbolism in numbers, and works through Biblical application of syllogism. In the midst of his emphasis on logic, I was surprised to find so many Platonic and Greek references in the text. He mentions “sophisms” (Augustine 58), makes use of a highly Platonic understanding of truth perceptions (Augustine 63), and uses a Greek understanding of logic (Augustine 60).
I was able to track with Augustine’s argumentation up until he went so far as to claim that Plato draws his argumentation and writing from Jewish writings and Biblical canon (Augustine 55). This theory has never appeared in any readings of mine in the past, and I find it highly unlikely. If this were the case, wouldn’t we see more emphasis on logic and truth in the works of Jeremiah? It seems to me that the idea of Plato writing out of the inspiration of Jeremiah is quite far stretched. I can imagine that influence may have occurred, but I doubt that the influence accounted for much of Plato’s writing style. Certainly, it seems the Platonic emphasis that St. Augustine uses in this book is largely unfounded in Biblical teaching. While it serves as an interesting perspective, it can hardly be claimed as a direct result of Biblical canon. On the contrary, Plato’s writings seem to move in an entirely different direction than is present in the Old Testament, or even New Testament works.
To conclude, Augustine proves that an understanding of syllogism, logic, and textual context is important for reading Biblical texts. However, he does not seem to succeed in proving that this understanding is based out of the Bible itself. Rather, it seems to be a Greek concept applied to Biblical texts. Certainly, it may be “divinely instituted,” but it did derive directly from the influence of Biblical canon (Augustine 47).
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