Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo

I've often heard, among my knowledgable Roman Catholic friends of that great quote from Augustine about believing in the Bible because he first believed in the authority Church. I suspect what he is really talking about is not a particular theoretical model of the magesterial authority of the bishops (certainly he is not talking about the infallibility of the pope), but rather the authentically holy lives of the people in the community who are therefore clearly trustworthy.
Here (in a letter to St. Jerome) he speaks of his estimation of the Bible:

For I confess to your charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript (MS) is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason.

I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles...

St. Augustine of Hippo, Letter LXXXII, NPNF1, vol 1. p. 350

I appreciate Augustine's humility before the text, especially for so learned a man. These ideas of his are widely held and taught today across the Church, particularly among Evangelicals. One of the troubles that has beset the historic churches since the rise of critical scholarship is precisely a loss of humility before the text, and perhaps by implied extension, before God himself. If the seminary professors do not fear the Lord, we should not be surprised if the pastors they train do not either. And if pastors do not fear the Lord, we should not be surprised if the God they proclaim is less than compelling to those who would listen to them.

One of the great benefits of the renewed interest of recent years in studying the Early Church Fathers is precisely that we can relearn an approach to our faith that is intellectually rigorous while also remaining deeply faithful and reverent. There is a long tradition of seeing the practice of worship, the doing of the liturgy, in the Church as a way of doing theology. Perhaps we should also say that at its best, scholarly theology should be a form of worship.

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