Augustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Augustine's ConfessionsAugustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I broke this review up into four parts—my first four-part review of any book. In the first part, I give an overview of the Confessions and why we are interested. In the second part, I review the life of Augustine and sin, as he describes it. In the third part, I will focus on Augustine’s coming to faith. Here in the fourth part, I review his theological writings, which focus on the creation accounts in Genesis.

Why a four-part review?

Augustine offers the reader a lot to think about. Dissertations have been written on this book probably in every generation since Augustine wrote it, but this is neither a dissertation nor an academic review, which would review its historical context, its contributions, and previous interpretations. Here I only attempt to understand a few important points about what Augustine is trying to say for my own benefit and, hopefully, yours. Obviously, much more could be written.

Books X to XIII

The final third of Augustine’s Confessions are qualitatively different than the first two, which is immediately obvious from the titles. Books 1 to IX have chronological titles, (e.g. Book One: The First Fifteen Years) while Book X summarizes his present condition and Books XI to XIII have theological titles referencing verses in the Book of Genesis. While it may seem odd to modern eyes that a memoir contain lengthy theological discourses on scripture, in Augustine’s Confessions the transition is from short discourses to long ones. In other words, only a matter of degree and emphasis—the entire book debates theology alongside of personal experience.

Augustine and His Present State

Augustine’s exploration of sin includes an inventory of temptations, based on the sense that yields pleasure, writing:

“Pleasure goes after objects that are beautiful to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, but curiosity for the sake of experiment can go after quite contrary things not in order to experience their unpleasantness, but through a mere itch to experience and find out.” (220)

How many pastors would admit to being people pleasers? Augustine calls it a temptation (222).

Augustine and Creation

Augustine turns to the creation accounts in Confessions for a very interesting reason, writing:

“For You, O Lord, are my judge, because through no man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him, yet there is something of man that the very spiritual of that is in him does not know. But You, Lord, know all of him, for You made him.” (192)

In a sense, Augustine views the creation accounts as a kind of divine blue-print (the divine image) for humanity. In other words, he is saying, in so many words, here is what I know about me; now, let’s see what the blue-print says. For Augustine, the inner journey and the faith journey are hand in glove.

Allegorical Interpretation

Augustine makes liberal use of allegory in his interpretation of Genesis. Allegory imputed a symbolic meaning to a physical object. For example, Augustine writes:

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth, that is in His Word co-eternal with Himself God made the intelligible and sensible or, to put it another way, the spiritual and corporeal creation.” (276)

Creation

Here Augustine associates heaven with the spiritual creation and the earth with corporeal creation, a kind of mind-body dichotomy commonly associated with Plato’s dualistic philosophy. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul uses allegory to talk about the new covenant in Christ when he writes:

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Gal 4:24-26 ESV)

Reformation Interpretation

Allegorical interpretation fell into disrepute in the Reformation, in part, because of its association with Plato and disregard for the Hebrew tradition, which treated mind and body as indivisible. The reformation principle of “solo scriptura” implied that scripture itself provided the sole guide to salvation. John Calvin (1539) focused on four interpretative principles, including understand the author’s intent, communicate effectively, consult the original texts (Greek and Hebrew), and consider the text and its application in the context of the canon of scripture. What is striking about this list is that the four principles used in medieval exegesis about which Luther reminisced (historical, allegory, tropology, and anagogy interpretation) are nowhere found (Thompson, 58-62, 67, 71).

Assessment

Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions remain a Christian classic and has sometimes described as the beginning of Western civilization, which focuses on the role of the individual. In demonstrating through his memoir that God works out his will actively through the lives of ordinary people, male and female, Augustine laid the groundwork for doctrines, such as human rights, which remain in the forefront of political dialogue between the West and other parts of our world even today. Needless to say, Augustine’s Confessions are a book worthy of being read by every practicing Christian.

References

Calvin, John. 1539. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans.

Translated and Edited by Reverend John Owen. Strasbourg. No pages. Cited 6 June 2009. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.iii.html.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Pencils by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

And because you are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:6-7).

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is not transactional?

What if God were like a Facebook friend who after one “bad hair day” simply unfriended you?  Who would ever be comfortable in their relationship with such a god?  Could you ever really love God knowing that you were constantly being evaluated?  Or, turning the question around, could you ever really love God knowing that your love was purchased with wealth or fame?

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is a real relationship?

In Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes what it means to be a child of an (unconditional) promise.  When we are promised a gift (like friendship), we need only believe in the promise.  The promise is unconditional.  We do not have to do anything to earn the gift.  That is what the word, gift, implies.  The good news is that God’s grace is a gift.

Law works differently.  Law is a conditional promise.  If you obey the law, then you earn the reward promised under the law.  For example, if you apply to become a U.S. citizen, the law covering citizenship applies.  If you meet the conditions of this law, then you are eligible to become a citizen.  If you do not meet the law’s conditions and you desire the reward of the law, then you are a slave of the law (and your desire) until you meet those conditions.

With this argument concerning conditional (law) and unconditional (grace) promises, Paul is making two points:

  1. Being under law is like kids waiting to be old enough to inherit from their parents (vv 1-3).  Being under law implies immaturity.  Mature adults are under no such restrictions.  What adult would prefer to be a kid again?
  2. Being under gospel implies freedom from law, but it does not imply freedom from relationship.  We are God’s adopted children—children of the promise (vv 5-7, 23-28).  Free people do not behave like slaves because they are in relationship with their parents which includes having an inheritance (v 30).

Paul’s discussion of our freedom in Christ continues into chapter 5.

Paul’s discussion of the relationship between Abraham and his two wives, Hagar and Sarah, has generated a lot of discussion over the years.  Paul argues that being under the Mosaic covenant (the Law of Moses) is like being a slave to law.  Because Hagar was a slave woman, he equates the two (law and Hagar) in his allegory.  This causes heartburn for Jewish interpreters because the Jews were biological descendants of Sarah, not Hagar.

Paul’s argument revolves around God’s covenant with Abraham.  The Jews have not taken to heart the second half of the covenant to Abraham:  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV).  The covenant with Abraham required that Abraham become a blessing (וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה) [to the nations]—which essentially means that the Gospel needs to be told.  The Galatians were like Sarah (and the Jews were not) because they more completely fulfilled Abraham’s covenant obligations.  At a minimum, sharing the love of God has to start with sharing who God is!  Niceness is not enough; obeying the law is not enough (Galatians 5:14).

Our question is:  Are we children of Hagar or of Sarah?

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. Who attended the Worship Workshop and would like to give a report?
  3. Do you have questions from chapter 3?
  4. According to Paul, how is a child like a slave? (vv 1-3)
  5. What does this analogy have to do with law? (v 3)
  6. What is the role of Christ? (vv 4-7)
  7. What is the “fullness of time” mean? What about “born of a woman”? (v 4)
  8. What is the argument—that was then; this is now—that Paul is making? What transition is he referring to? (vv 8-10)
  9. What is a transition? (beginning, middle, and end)
  10. What is Paul’s fear, as expressed in this rant? (vv 11-20)
  11. What is Paul’s argument here in verse 11?
  12. What is Paul’s analogy to Hagar and Sarah? (vv 22-31)
  13. How is the law like Hagar; how is it not? Why would Jewish interpreters be upset?

Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Also see:

Galatians 5: Healthy Boundaries 

Galatians 3: Law and Gospel 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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