In our last lecture, we were beginning our analysis of the schools of exegesis of the ancient church. We find in the Antiochene school, which is also known as the historical-grammatical school, a deeper insight into the true method of exegesis than any school which had preceded it or which will succeed it for a thousand years.
The school is not like the Alexandrian school that is located in the city of Alexandria, but it is a theological tendency, so the Antiochene school is seen throughout the East. It’s the tendency toward historical-grammatical analysis. There’s a good practical article on Antiochene exegesis found in the Westminster Theological Journal in 1977 written by Robert Kepple entitled “An Analysis of Antiochene Exegesis of Galatians 4:24–26,” and this will give some practical examples of how one passage of Scripture was understood in that exegetical school.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the names I mentioned briefly in the lecture on Chrysostom and see how those teachers prior to Chrysostom began their exegesis and eventually taught Chrysostom himself. I mentioned Diodore of Tarsus, who died in 393. He taught Theodore of Mopsuestia and Chrysostom. Diodore commented on large parts of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and in his commentaries on those parts of the Scripture, he emphasized especially the literal sense of Scripture, in contrast to Origen.
Then we go on to Theodore of Mopsuestia ,who died in in 428. Theodore of Mopsuestia is later charged with the theological error of Nestorianism, but that’s not very important for us at this point. Theodore rejected clearly the theories of Origen and yet learned much from Origen, especially Origen’s emphasis on the importance of paying attention to linguistic detail. Theodore of Mopsuestia had the nickname of “the exegete of the ancient church,” but one of the things that he did to advance the history of exegesis was to pay particular attention to the particles and the moods of the Greek language, paying attention especially to those slippery Greek prepositions, so that he paid very careful attention to grammatical analysis, following Origen in some ways in that Origen paid attention to these things, but disagreeing very strongly with Origen in how to do the exegesis of these various prepositions and particles.
What Theodore tried to do was to study each Scripture passage as a whole and not as a series of isolated and unrelated texts. In other words, as he did his exegesis, he would not take one verse out of context and use it to establish a theological point, but what he tried to do, or what he at least said should be done, was that each passage of Scripture must be understood within the general context of that paragraph and of that chapter, so that the message of the Scriptures as a whole are seen in the individual passage, which is very important.
Theodore of Mopsuestia is an interesting person, not worthy of extended theological analysis, but of practical importance. Theodore raised questions that were quite advanced for his own time. He raised questions, for example, as to how the church should be organized. And if you remember from our analysis, especially of the Council of Nicea, the church had determined to follow the geographical, political provinces and states of the Roman Empire and was moving toward hierarchicalism, that is, a defined bishopric, which will eventually end up in Rome at least into a defined pontificate. Theodore began to ask questions as to whether the Bible itself will tell us more precisely how we should be organizing the church and began to speak against this hierarchical structuring. He also began to develop interests in the early history of the church, how the church began to develop, and was a contributor to the discipline of church history itself.
Furthermore, he was quite interested in very practical questions of the relationship between the Scripture’s pronouncement concerning the issue of slavery and the issue of women’s rights in the ancient world, and with what he was seeing in the world around him. In many history books concerning the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, much weight, and depending on the various historical styles or what is in vogue at the time, is placed upon the importance of slavery to the economy and to the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire, and statistics are given as to what percentage of the city of Rome was slave population.
Theodore of Mopsuestia began to question the whole structure of slavery in light of the Bible’s pronouncements concerning the dignity of human beings in the sight of God, that human beings—men and women—are created in the image of God, and that whether slavery, especially as it was practiced during that time, is a debasing of that image of God. He also questioned the tremendously inferior role of women in that culture. Women’s rights were similar to slaves’ rights, and he began to ask whether this properly reflects Scripture’s teaching. So in many ways he was greatly in advance of his time and was wrestling with issues of importance to the church for many centuries afterwards.
Moving on chronologically, we’ve looked at the Cappadocian fathers, and we need to look very briefly at their method of exegeting the Scriptures. They too admired Origen but avoided allegory as a general rule, and I have one quotation from Basil, which I think is marvelous and summarizes the Cappadocian theory. Basil says this: “When I hear of grass, I understand it to mean grass, and so of plants, and fishes, and beasts, and cattle. All of them as they are spoken of, so I receive.” And that is in great contrast to Origen, who gave certain rules for the different animals and things like grass, that grass never mean grass and animals never mean animals but stand for something else.
And last, John Chrysostom. We’ve talked about him already, and summarizing, he used the Bible as he found it. He used the literal sense of Scripture as a guide of conduct. He studied Scripture for both personal instruction and for great exegetical teachings. We find very few errors in his exegetical writings. He tries to elicit a meaning from the Scripture, not introduce a meaning from the text of Scripture. He continues to develop discussions of the literal text by studying the context, and he maintained that Scripture is perspicuous, a teaching that is a hallmark of Protestantism. That is, as we have willing hearts, as we have the guidance of the wise, and help of the Holy Spirit, so the Scripture is plain and clear and simple to understand.
This concludes our brief analysis of how the Scriptures were being interpreted in the ancient church. We see the various schools developing which will continue in the time period of the medieval church and will be discussed in great detail in the time period of the Reformation. Hopefully we’ve seen schools that are good—I think the historical-grammatical exegesis is the one to follow—and we’ll see that the church will wrestle with allegorical exegesis and a pure literal exegesis as well.
We move to one of the highlights of the ancient church course, and that is our discussion of perhaps the greatest theologian of this era, Augustine of Hippo. I’ve mentioned his name before, and I’ve said my one or two jokes concerning Augustine and his name St. Augustine as a city in Florida, but Augustine was the bishop of Hippo. His life is generally well known, and I would call your attention to the bibliography associated with this course. There are a few books mentioned that describe in great detail the fascinating life of Augustine of Hippo. A number of full-length books have been written about that life, and those books will explain his life in much more fascinating way than we can do just through these lectures, and I’ll highlight some points of his life so that you can understand that life, but I’d strongly suggest you to peruse the two biographies especially mentioned in the bibliography.
Augustine’s birth and death dates would be ones that I would ask you to put into your memory banks because they are important and because they provide a good peg on which we’ll be hanging a number of things. Augustine was born in 354 and died in 430—354 to 430. He was born in North Africa, and we’ve already talked very briefly about North Africa as a civilized part of the Roman Empire where Latin was the basic language. Augustine was born in a minor town, Hippo Regius, to a mixed marriage of Christian mother and a pagan father. And Augustine’s biography is very helpful in understanding his theology, and that’s the case with all church history and the study of church history. It’s very, very difficult for us to understand whether it’s Augustine of Hippo or nineteenth-century figures or twentieth-century figures, it’s difficult to understand theology outside of the individual biography of that theologian. If you want to study, say, great twentieth-century German theologians like (great is a relative word but important term in theologians) Karl Barth or Jürgen Moltmann, you have to understand them in their culture and in their biography, and so the same applies to John Calvin or John Chrysostom or the great theologian Augustine of Hippo.
I mentioned his parentage because it will be both a source of encouragement to us and is a fascinating story itself. Augustine’s father was a somewhat important municipal figure in North Africa. He had sufficient income that he could provide for the best education for his son Augustine, and so Augustine was trained at home in Hippo Regius but then was also sent to the larger metropolitan area of Carthage right on the shore of the Mediterranean in North Africa. Carthage was an important port city. There was a lot of wheat grown in North Africa, and in many ways North Africa was what they called the bread basket for the Roman Empire. It provided much of the bread which was the staple of the empire.
As Augustine was a student in Hippo Regius and then in Carthage, he was a student of rhetoric. We’ve talked about rhetoric before. Rhetoric is an art, a discipline which is lost to the twentieth century. It took great skill, great intellectual ability to be a rhetorician during this time period. Great abilities to memorize, to read deeply, and to theorize, and Augustine, who was known as the greatest theologian of this time period, it should be added immediately is also considered a philosopher. And so at a secular university you can take a course in philosophy and study Augustine, not as a theologian but purely as a philosopher, and certainly he contributed to both philosophical as well as theological thought. In part the training to be a rhetorician is also very similar to the training that the philosophers received during that time period. He was trained in what we now call today the seven liberal arts. He learned about music and arithmetic, about mathematics, about logic, and the other various arts which we call the liberal arts. These things were polished to a high degree by Augustine, and he went from one position of glory in terms of academic career to another.
We studied Ambrose of Milan, and eventually Augustine is going to make his way to the endowed chair of rhetoric in the city of Milan, still at a young age. With these chairs of rhetoric came both power and wealth. As you can imagine today as you have in American society men and women who make tremendous salaries as TV commentators, as newscasters, the major figures, the two or three leading figures for the various television broadcasting companies, ABC or NBC, make tremendous salaries today, so professors of rhetoric would be comparable in public prominence to these types of newscasters, but they were also very similar to the politicians and even to entertainers. So the rhetoricians, the successful rhetoricians, were eminently powerful and eminently wealthy, and Augustine was apparently one of the most talented rhetoricians of the entire Roman Empire, making it, as I mentioned before, to this, perhaps the first or second prominent position in the entire empire as the Emperor’s endowed rhetorician for the city of Milan, which was considered the second city in importance only to Rome in the Roman Empire.
How did this rise to power affect Augustine, and what is the influence of mom and dad on this precocious and brilliant philosopher? As I mentioned just a minute ago, his father was a Roman pagan, and his mother, Monica, was a Christian. Monica plays an important role in the life of Augustine, as Augustine makes very clear in his writings. Augustine as a powerful, we would imagine, although we have no pictures of him, that he was physically a powerful figure, which would make sense in that he had such a prominent public role, he would be able to have a loud voice that would be able to fill large rooms. And from his long life and various feats, we would imagine that he was physically powerful, as well as able to project his voice very well. Because he was strong and perhaps handsome and very brilliant, because his father was a pagan and dies when Augustine is still a late teenager, Augustine’s early life is basically one of rebellion against God. This is both a source of encouragement and consolation for Christian parents as we struggle with our children and we see them in times of rebellion, so Augustine went through a period of tremendous rebellion against God. Because of his mother’s influence, he was always enrolled as a catechumen; that is, he went to Sunday school on Sunday, he learned about the Bible as a child, but none of that learning spoke to his heart.
Immediately upon his father’s death, as he became financially better off in that he inherited most of his father’s money, he takes to himself a concubine and lives with this woman for quite a number of years, also having a child by this woman. He never married this woman, and as he has his conversion, he separates from the woman, living a life of celibacy after that time. But as he goes from powerful position and public acclaim to more and more powerful positions, so we notice, as is often the case of children of the church, we notice a continuing hollowness in his life, a continuing emptiness as he searches the philosophical systems of his age, as he obtains wealth and power, still he finds that the intellectual stimulation of the pagan philosophical systems cannot answer for him the basic questions of life. He goes from one school to another, eventually finding himself in the Manichean school and as he is exploring that last and final school, he has a number of questions which no one can answer because his tremendous intellect could see every side of an issue. And as he is struggling with this final school, this Manichean school that talks about two warring principles—the principle of good and the principle of evil—which we find inherent in ourselves, so a great Manichean philosopher is supposed to come to town and all the Manicheans assure Augustine that this great Manichean philosopher can answer all of his questions. As that philosopher comes to town and Augustine flies his questions to him, he finds that even the greatest Manichean philosopher can’t answer these basic questions, and Augustine is left in despair.
Augustine was left in despair by the providence of God, and the story of Augustine’s conversion is a radical one. As he tells the story himself, walking in a garden he hears some children playing in a garden nearby. And as children do, they are singing a song as they are playing, and the words of the song, at least as they sounded to Augustine, went something like this: Tolle lege, tolle lege, which is Latin for “take and read, take and read.” As Augustine was contemplating the questions of life, he hears these children singing their song, and he feels as if God is speaking to his heart to take and read that book that he had grown up with as a child but had rejected. He picks up the Scriptures, and as he picks up the Bible and begins to study it, God by the working of His Spirit breaks into that despairing heart, and Augustine realizes that the answers to the questions with which he had been wrestling as a philosopher are found in the gospel of Christ, and at that moment Augustine relates his heart breaks open and great floods of water come pouring out as he realizes that he’s been fighting against God, fighting against his own Christian upbringing as he’s been seeking power and prestige. He realizes now that his heart finds its rest only as it rests in “you, O Lord, our God,” and in many ways that is a theme of Augustine, seen in his life and in his theology. Augustine said, and he’s speaking about himself as well as all of us, that “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a marvelous message that is and that message is a hallmark of the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo.
As you can imagine, we could spend a long time talking about his life, about his conversion, that radical type of conversion, about the influence of his mother, Monica, and about his pastoral work, but I’ll cut short a further analysis of discussion of especially the conversion, except to mention a point of comfort for those of us who have children. Monica then relates that not a day had gone by that she had not been in prayer for her son whom she loved, a prayer that he too would come to this point of seeing who he was as a child of God, and from the time of his conversion on, Augustine takes Monica, his mother, and provides for her as a good son did during that time period [for one] who is a widow, and she always lives nearby Augustine. At the point of his conversion he then immediately resigns his post as professor of rhetoric at Milan and returns to Africa, to North Africa, to do, at this point in his life, to spend a number of years, because at this point he was tremendously wealthy and able not to work, he was able to retire, to spend a few years in meditation and Scripture study and using his intellectual gifts for the building of the church and the kingdom of God in general.
So at the time of his conversion he leaves Milan and heads back to North Africa. Spent some time getting his affairs, his financial affairs in order, getting his life in order; spent some time in Carthage, and eventually makes his way back to Hippo Regius. Upon hearing of his conversion, upon hearing of his study of the Scriptures, the church in Hippo makes great use of this gifted son of the church, and as is often the case, within just a few years, Augustine is made bishop or head pastor of the city of Hippo. And I’d like to talk a little bit about the uniqueness of the pastorate in North Africa, especially in Hippo, since we have so much material concerning that type of pastor.
As he’s in first in Hippo for a number of years he is in a sense an assistant bishop to the bishop who was alive then, learning what it is to be a bishop, but Augustine apparently never truly wanted the role of bishop, and when you hear about what bishops had to do, you’ll understand why. Very similar actually to later the life of Calvin, who did not want the type of life that he had to lead as a major figure in controversy. Augustine and Calvin were very similar as they both wanted to live lives of quiet scholarship, but the Lord’s providential leading in both of those lives did not fit perfectly into what those scholars wanted for themselves.
What was it like to be a bishop in Hippo during this time period? Looking ahead in the year 410, twenty years prior to the death of Augustine, the Roman Empire will be sacked for the first time by the hordes of barbarians coming from Europe; that is, in the late fourth century and in the beginning of the fifth century, the Roman Empire is beginning to decline and is beginning to come apart at the seams, and in light of the destruction of the Roman Empire, in light of its disintegration, the church in many ways picked up the slack in terms of societal organization. And so when and especially in the Christian community there were disputes as to matters of law, the Christians would not resort to the Roman court system but would rather take their strife, take their arguments to the church, and so much of the time of the bishop was sent in adjudicating semi-legal conflicts within the church. As two farmers would fight over a pig that went from my barn and ran across the fence into your barn and I wanted to get that pig back and you insisted that that was your pig, so we’d have to go to the bishop, and he would have to determine whose pig this was. Not very exciting; not very glamorous work, but this was part of the work of the bishop. It was a great part of the work of the bishop, adjudicating these types of semi-legal concerns. Augustine wanted no part of that, but the people had belief in his integrity, his honesty, his ability, and his preaching ability, so as Augustine gives us the account, he is made bishop by the acclaim of the people.
What does that acclaim of the people mean? The North Africans can be an excitable people. Augustine was a highly emotional man. Oftentimes he would burst into tears and would cry out—much more emotional than Western Europeans and North Americans. And so when the people wanted Augustine to be bishop, he had first refused and said, No, thank you. I don’t care to be the bishop. So what are the people to do? Very simple. They broke into his house, took him by his arms and legs, dragged him screaming through the city, took him to the church, and placed him on the chair, and said, You are now our bishop, to great applause, as he was weeping and crying all the way to the church. That’s how he was ordained. I’m very glad that we have different ways of ordaining ministers in the twentieth century. And his life, then, was spent in writing, in preaching, and doing all the practical matters of being a bishop in a bustling smaller town of Hippo Regius.
What are some of the things that Augustine gave us as theologian? One of his hallmarks is a work well-known to us called The Confessions. The Confessions is an interesting piece of literature itself. It is in a sense the first Christian autobiography. It was a new literary genre for the church; there is no earlier parallel to The Confessions. We get great glimpses as to the narrative of his conversion, as to the role of his parents, as to what it is to be a bishop and a pastor in the church. The Confessions are a fascinating reading. They’re a small book in length, and I would strongly suggest that as an interesting piece of literature to be read at some time, either on vacation or sometime during the school year. It’s fascinating reading; it’s quite different from what you read in twentieth-century autobiographies. It is different, but it does give us a good glimpse of the literature of the period.
Augustine also wrote many commentaries and many sermons. Concerning Augustine’s commentaries, they are very helpful to us, but in many ways Augustine is inferior to Chrysostom in terms of his exegetical method. That might seem strange for me to say that, but Augustine follows the historical-grammatical sense but also permits allegory where in many places twentieth-century exegetes would not permit the implementation of allegory. So his methodology is in many ways not quite as refined as those in the Eastern part of the church. Augustine also wrote many homilies or sermons, and they are fascinating in terms of giving us glimpses as to how Christianity was practically applied to the lives of the people. He also wrote letters and dogmatic treatises.
And in the remaining minutes of today’s lecture and in succeeding lectures, we’re going to be focusing primarily on Augustine’s theological works and look at him as theologian. We’ll especially be looking at his work on the Trinity. Let’s turn our attention to that important writing on the Trinity, and see how Augustine begins to analyze Trinitarian theology. The work on the Trinity is a major book. It is a number of hundreds of pages and discusses the Trinity from just about every angle imaginable and a few that are even incomprehensible. In other words, he goes off into tangents that have relationship at all to the work on the Trinity, but this is par for the course in terms of literary genre for this time period.
So as Augustine is looking at the nature of the Trinity, he attempts to take what has been taught in the past and make it more fully reflect the teaching of the Scriptures itself. Augustine is trained, as you remember, as a philosopher, as a rhetorician, and he knows that the philosophers have attempted to understand the nature of God and the theologians prior to him have attempted to understand the nature of the Trinity. And Trinity theology is the burning problem of the church during this time period. As Augustine attempted to understand the nature of the divine being or God, where do we turn for our information? Can we begin, Augustine asks, with reason? No, he tells us, because reason is defective. Reason and our reasoning abilities are defective in three different ways.
First of all, it operates very slowly, and even a lifetime would not give it sufficient time to reach the correct conclusions concerning God. Also, it is darkened by sin and cannot therefore exercise its functions properly. Third, it’s only actually by contemplation that reason can apprehend the divine with certitude. It’s required as a starting point, either sense experience or the intellect, and yet the nature of God is not directly accessible to either sense experience or the intellect. And so reason is not the place to begin. So how do you resolve the dilemma? How do we understand God? We must turn, he says, to revealed truth. If we don’t turn to revealed truth, then our conceptions of God will be inherently faulty.
And so he begins with the Bible, and in the first book of the work of the Trinity, he wants to present his defense of the deity of the Son. He gives us a principle to follow concerning the scriptural accounts of the Son, and these are accounts that deal with Christ when he is, to use the words of Paul, “in the form of a servant, and yet also equal to the Father.” Now this idea of Jesus being in the form of a servant is elaborated by Paul in the second chapter of Philippians, and there seem to be passages that make Jesus to be quite subordinate to the Father, and it’s these passages, for example, the passages in Philippians 2, that had been a source of struggle for theologians prior to Augustine as they attempted to determine how the Son is equal to the Father and yet in many ways at least apparently subordinate to the Father. Augustine says that when Jesus is taking this form of a servant, He is in some sense less than the Father, but Jesus Himself tells us that, in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” but in John 14:28, “My Father is greater than I.”
As we get these two passages which seem to be in contradiction, and we read with them the account of Paul in Philippians 2, a picture emerges in Augustine’s mind, a correct picture, of the essential nature of the Son as being equal to the Father, but that in the incarnation itself, there is this type of subordination. Augustine notes that in the incarnation, in the taking of flesh of the Son, there were no limitations in his knowledge, according to Augustine. For example, Jesus as the incarnate Son did in fact know the hour and the day of the [second coming]. So Christ in the gospel of Mark in chapter 13 is mentioned to be ignorant of certain things, that He’s ignorant of the time of the second coming, but that in fact He’s not ignorant of that time but makes others ignorant by hiding the truth that they are not ready to grasp. Just as a man is said not to know things that he hides, ao the Son, as He’s incarnate, is fully divine in His intellectual abilities and only appears to have limitations but does not actually have limitations. This is an important point for Augustine to assert the full deity of Christ while He is still united with humanity.
The Scriptures also take in another way concerning the Son, that is, that the Son is sent. Augustine wants to maintain against, for example, the assertion of the Arians that when the Son is sent, that He is in no way subordinate to the Father. In the sending of the Son, all three persons of the Trinity are involved. The Son is sent in the incarnation, the Holy Spirit appears also as a dove in the sending, and that they are both omnipresent by their deity and can be sent only where the Son already is or where the Holy Spirit already is, and these analyses are found in the second book of Augustine’s work on the Trinity.
What I’ll be doing then in the following lectures and in the few remaining minutes today is describing this work on the Trinity, and then we’ll analyze the work. There follows a long section after he, in the first two books, discusses objections to the deity of the Son. There’s a long section discussing what we call the theophanies of the Old Testament, theophanies meaning God appearing to us. And the main point that Augustine wants to get across is that in the theophanies of the Old Testament, it is not the Son who is revealed, but are you ready for this? It’s the Father Himself who appears to the patriarchs. This might seem strange to you. It was against the history of exegesis up until this point, and in many ways twentieth-century evangelicals would disagree with this exegesis. He maintained this also against the Arian claim that it was only the Son who appeared, and then they drew the logical deduction that the Son is by nature visible. By maintaining that it’s the Father who reveals Himself to the patriarchs, as I mentioned just a minute ago, he’s breaking with earlier exegetes who had maintained that it was the Son. This brings certain questions immediately to our minds as to the natures of the theophany itself. How is it that God the Father, who is in His substance unchangeable, reveals Himself to human beings in invisible form? Exactly how this takes place, Augustine does not answer. He thinks that the theophany somehow occurred to the agency of angels, but he doesn’t give us any details.
And so in conclusion in looking at this idea of theophany, the point that Augustine wants to make is that in the incarnation all three persons of the Trinity are active. The Son appears Himself, the Holy Spirit appears as a dove, and the Father speaks; so in the theophanies, just because the Son is incarnate, it does not mean that the Father could not actually appear in the theophanies of the Old Testament. Rather Augustine maintains that it is the Father to emphasize the complete unity of the three persons of the Trinity. And we’ll pick up more on these themes in our next lecture.