A talk delivered to the Guild of Catholic Scholars in St. Saviour’s Priory, Dublin, on Saturday, 1st, February. In it Fr. Terence Crotty, lecturer on Scripture in the Dominican Studium, Dublin, shows how Scholarship on the Bible has happily changed and evolved in recent decades in a way that gives greater and greater support for Christian Faith, as we should except from this sacred book.
Structure of talk
- Augustine’s life (up to conversion)
- Augustine and our post-Christian contemporaries
- The Confessions: style, structure, content
- Augustine’s conversion (Confessions V-IX)
- Questions for discussion
- You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps 47:2), great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable (Ps 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing his mortality with him (2 Cor 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud (1 Pet 5:5). Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (Confessions I.i.1).
- People are moved to wonder by mountain peaks, by vast waves of the sea, by broad waterfalls on rivers, by the all-embracing extent of the ocean, by the revolutions of the stars But they are uninterested in themselves (Confessions X.viii.15).
- Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours (Confessions X.xxvii.38).
- I was led to Ambrose by you, unaware that through him I might be led to you. That man of God received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me (Confessions V.xiii.23).
- It is one thing to catch a glimpse from a wooded summit of the homeland of peace and not to find the way to it, but vainly to attempt the journey along an impracticable route surrounded by the ambushes and assaults of fugitive deserters with their chief, the lion and the dragon (Ps 90:13). It is another thing to hold on to the way that leads there, defended by the protection of the heavenly emperor (Confessions VII.xxi.27).
- Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:13-14).
- I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled (Confessions VIII.xii.29).
Augustine, Confessions, tr. H. Chadwick, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991
Prof Paul Freedman, ‘The Confessions of Augustine’, YaleCourses YouTube channel
Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ (In Our Time), BBC Podcasts YouTube channel
Brown, P., Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (2nd edition), Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000
Lane Fox, R., Augustine: Conversions and Confessions, London, Penguin, 2015
Augnet (very useable online resource on St Augustine): augnet.org/en/life-of-augustine/
Catena Aurea, Mt 28:16-20, Trinity Sunday B
St. Jerome (340/2-420): After His Resurrection, Jesus is seen and worshipped in the mountain in Galilee; though some doubt, their doubting confirms our faith.
The Venerable Bede (672/3-735): Hom. Aest. in Fer., vi., Pasch.: The Lord appeared to them in the mountain to signify, that His Body which at His Birth He had taken of the common dust of the human race, He had by His Resurrection exalted above all earthly things; and to teach the faithful that if they desire there to see the height of His Resurrection, they must endeavour here to pass from low pleasures to high desires. And He goes before His disciples into Galilee, because “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that slept.” (1 Cor 15:20) And they that are Christ’s follow Him, and pass in their order from death to life, contemplating Him as He appears with His proper Divinity. And it agrees with this that Galilee is interpreted ‘revelation.’ [The Hebrew verb glh in some forms has the meaning of “to reveal.”]
Remigius of Auxerre, 841-908: The disciples then, when they saw Him, knew the Lord; and worshipped Him, bowing their faces to the ground. And He their affectionate and merciful Master, that He might take away all doubtfulness from their hearts, coming to them, strengthened them in their belief; as it follows, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”
St. Jerome (340/2-420): Power is given in heaven and in earth, that He who before reigned in heaven, should now reign on earth by the faith of the believers.
St. Jerome (340/2-420): They first then teach all nations, and when taught dip them in water. For it may not be that the body receive the sacrament of Baptism, unless the soul first receive the truth of the Faith.
Pope St. Leo the Great (c.400-461): Serm., 72, 3: For by ascending into heaven He does not desert His adopted; but from above strengthens to endurance those whom He invites upwards to glory. Of which glory may Christ make us partakers, he who is the King of glory, “God blessed for ever,” AMEN.
Catena Aurea, Pentecost, Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15
St. Augustine (354-430): As if He said, “Seeing Me, they hated and killed Me; but the Paracleteshall give such testimony concerning Me as shall make them believe, though they see Me not.” And because He shall testify, you shall testify also: And you also shall bear witness; He will inspire your hearts, and you shall proclaim with your voices. And you will preach what you know, Because you have been with Me from the beginning; which now you do not do, because you have not yet the fullness of the Spirit. But the love of God shall then be shed abroad in your hearts by the Spirit which shall be given you, and shall make you confident witnesses to Me. The Holy Spirit by His witness made others witness, taking away fear from the friends of Christ’s, and converting the hatred of His enemies into love.
Didymus the Blind (313-398): The Holy Spirit He calls the Comforter, a name taken from His office, which is not only to relieve the sorrows of the faithful, but to fill them with unspeakable joy. Everlasting gladness is in those hearts, in which the Spirit dwells. The Spirit, the Comforter, is sent by the Son, not as Angels, or Prophets, or Apostles, are sent, but as the Spirit must be sent which is of one nature with the Divine wisdom and power that sends Him. … The Holy Spirit is not sent by the Son, and proceeds from the Father, in the sense of change of place. For as the Father’s nature, being incorporeal, is not local, so neither has the Spirit of truth, Who is incorporeal also, and superior to all created things, a local nature.
St. Augustine (354-430): While in the body we cannot know all the truth, as the Apostle says, Weknow now in part (1 Cor 13); but the Holy Spirit sanctifying us fits us for enjoying that fullness of which the same Apostle says, Then face to face. Our Lord’s promise, But when He the Spirit of truth shall come, He shall teach you all truth, or shall lead you into all truth, does not refer to this life only, but to the life to come, for which this complete fullness is reserved. The Holy Spirit both teaches believers now all the spiritual things which they are capable of receiving, and also kindles in their hearts a desire to know more.
Catena Aurea, Easter 6B, Mk 16:15-20
The Venerable Bede (672/3-735): What shall we say here about infants, who by reason of their age cannot yet believe; for as to older persons there is no question. In the Church then of our Saviour, children believe by others, as also they drew from others the sins which are remitted to them in baptism.
Theophylact of Ochrid (1055-1107): It goes on: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents. That is, they shall scatter before them serpents, whether intellectual or sensible, as it is said, Ye shall tread upon serpents and scorpions, (Luke 10:19) which is understood spiritually. But it may also mean sensible serpents, as when Paul received no hurt from the viper. There follows: And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. We read of many such cases in history, for many persons have drank poison unhurt, by guarding themselves with the sign of Christ. It goes on: They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-614): Are we then without faith because we cannot do these signs? No, but these things were necessary in the beginning of the Church, for the faith of believers was to be nourished by miracles, that it might increase. Thus we also, when we plant groves, plant them strong in the earth; but when once they have firmly fixed their roots, we leave off irrigating them. These signs and miracles have other things which we ought to consider more minutely. For Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body; for when her Priests by the grace of exorcism lay their hands on believers, and forbid the evil spirits to dwell in their minds, what do they, but cast out devils? And the faithful who have left earthly words, and whose tongues sound forth the Holy Mysteries, speak a new language; they who by their good warnings take away evil from the hearts of others, take up serpents; and when they are hearing words of pestilent persuasion, without being at all drawn aside to evil doing, they drink a deadly thing, but it will never hurt them; whenever they see their neighbours growing weak in good works, and by their good example strengthen their life, they lay their hands on the sick, that they may recover. And all these miracles are greater in proportion as they are spiritual, and by them souls and not bodies are raised.
Theophylact of Ochrid (1055-1107): And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen. – But we must also know from this that words are confirmed by deeds as then, in the Apostles, works confirmed their words, for signs followed. Grant then, O Christ, that the good words which we speak may be confirmed by works and deeds, so that at the last, Thou working with us in word and in deed, we may be perfect, for Thine as is fitting is the glory both of word and deed. Amen.
(Picture: John Singleton Copley, The Ascension. Wiki Commons.)
Catena Aurea, Easter 5B, Jn 15:1-8
St. Augustine (354-430): For we cultivate God, and God cultivates us. But our culture of God does not make Him better: our culture is that of adoration, not of ploughing: His culture of us makes us better. His culture consists in extirpating all the seeds of wickedness from our hearts, in opening our heart to the plough, as it were, of His word, in sowing in us the seeds of His commandments, in waiting for the fruits of piety.
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407): And in so far as Christ was sufficient for Himself, but His disciples needed the help of the Vinedresser, of the vine He says nothing, but adds concerning the branches, Every branch in Me that bears not fruit, He takes away. By fruit is meant life, i.e. that no one can be in Him without good works.
And inasmuch as even the best of men require the work of the vinedresser, He adds, And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit. He alludes here to the tribulations and trials which were coming upon them, the effect of which would be to prune, and so to strengthen them. By pruning the branches we make the vine shoot out the more.
Alcuin (c. 735- 804): All the fruit of good works proceeds from this root. Jesus, who has delivered us by His grace, also carries us onward by his help, so that we bring forth more fruit. Wherefore He repeats, and explains what He has said: I am the vine, you are the branches. He that remains in Me, by believing, obeying, persevering, and I in Him, by enlightening, assisting, giving perseverance, the same, and none other, brings forth much fruit.
(image: The Vineyard, from Codex Aureus Epternacensis (1030-1050) in the German National Museum, Nuremberg.)
Catena Aurea, Easter 3B, Luke 24:35-48
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407): For He did not show Himself to all at the same time, in order that He might sow the seeds of faith. For Peter, who had first seen and was sure, told it to the rest. Afterwards the word going forth prepared the mind of the hearer for the sight, and therefore He appeared first to him who was of all the most worthy and faithful. For He had need of the most faithful soul to first receive this sight, that it might be least disturbed by the unexpected appearance. And therefore He is first seen by Peter, that he who first confessed Christ should first deserve to see His resurrection, and also because Peter had denied Him, Jesus wished to see him first, to console him, lest he should despair. But after Peter, He appeared to the rest, at one time fewer in number, at another more, which the two disciples (of Emmaus) show.
Theophylact (1055-1107): The Lord then standing in the midst of the disciples, first with His accustomed salutation of “peace,” allays their restlessness, showing that He is the same Master who delighted in the word wherewith He also strengthened them, when He sent them to preach. Hence it follows, And he said to them, Peace be to you; I am he, fear not.
St. Gregory Nazianzen (330-390): Let us then reverence the gift of peace, which Christ when He departed hence left to us. Peace both in name and reality is sweet, which also we have heard to be of God, as it is said, The peace of God; and that God is of it, as He is our peace. Peace is a blessing commended by all, but observed by few. For peace is peculiarly of God, who binds all things together in one, to whom nothing so much belongs as the unity of nature, and a peaceful condition. It is borrowed indeed by angels and divine powers, which are peacefully disposed towards God and one another. It is diffused through the whole creation, whose glory is tranquillity. But in us it abides in our souls indeed by the following and imparting of the virtues, in our bodies by the harmony of our members and organs, of which the one is called beauty, the other health.
Theophylact (1055-1107): Because by the word of peace the agitation in the minds of the Apostles was not allayed, He shows by another token that He is the Son of God, in that He knew the secrets of their hearts; for it follows, And he said to them, Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
St. Cyril of Alexandria (378-444): Our Lord showed that death was overcome, and human nature had now in Christ put on incorruption. He first shows them His hands and His feet, and the print of the nails; as it follows, Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Catena Aurea, Jn 12:20-30, Lent 5B
St. Augustine (354-430): Listen we to the voice of the corner stone: And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Did He think Himself glorified, because the Gentiles wished to see? No. But He saw that after His passion and resurrection, the Gentiles in all lands would believe in Him; and took occasion from this request of some Gentiles to see Him, to announce the approaching fullness of the Gentiles, for that the hour of His being glorified was now at hand, and that after He was glorified in the heavens, the Gentiles would believe; according to the passage in the Psalm, Set up Yourself, O God, above the heavens, and your glory above all the earth (Ps 56 and 107). But it was necessary that His exaltation and glory should be preceded by His humiliation and passion; wherefore He says, Amen, Amen, I say to you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He was that grain, to be put to death by the unbelief of the Jews, to be multiplied in the faith of the Gentiles.
He teaches you Whom you should call on, whose will you should prefer to your own. Let Him not seem to fall from His greatness, because He wishes you to rise from your meanness. He took upon Him man’s infirmity, that He might teach the afflicted to say, Not what I will, but what you will.
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407): As He draws near to the Cross, His human nature appears, a nature that did not wish to die, but cleaved to this present life. He shows how much He is not without human feelings. For the desire of this present life is not necessarily wrong, any more than hunger. Christ had a body free from sin, but not from natural weaknesses.
For this reason I came to this hour. However much you may be troubled and dejected at the thought of dying, do not run away from death. I am troubled, yet I ask not to be spared. I do not say, Save Me from this hour, but the contrary, Glorify your name. To die for the truth was to glorify God, as the event showed; for after His crucifixion the whole world was to be converted to the knowledge and worship of God, both the Father and the Son. But this He is silent about.
St. Augustine (354-430): Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have glorified it, i.e. before I made the world; and will glorify it again, i.e. when you shall rise from the dead. Or, I have glorified it when you were born of a Virgin, did work miracles, was made manifest by the Holy Ghost descending in the shape of a dove; and will glorify it again, when you shall rise from the dead, and, as God, be exalted above the heavens, and your glory above all the earth. The people therefore who stood by and heard it, said that it was thunder.
The Fathers of the Church on this Sunday’s Gospel: Jn 3:14-21
Theophylact of Ochrid (1055-1107): See then the aptness of the figure. The figure of the serpent has the appearance of the beast, but not its poison: in the same way Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, being free from sin. By Christ’s being lifted up, understand His being suspended on high, by which suspension He sanctified the air, even as He had sanctified the earth by walking upon it. Herein too is typified the glory of Christ: for the height of the cross was made His glory for in that He submitted to be judged, He judged the prince of this world; for Adam died justly, because he sinned; out Lord unjustly, because He did no sin. So He overcame him, who delivered Him over to death, and thus delivered Adam from death. And in this the devil found himself vanquished, that he could not upon the cross torment our Lord into hating His murderers: but only made Him love and pray for them the more. In this way the cross of Christ was made His lifting up, and glory.
St. Augustine (354-430):. As then formerly he who looked to the serpent that was lifted up, was healed of its poison, and saved from death; so now he who is conformed to the likeness of Christ’s death by faith and the grace of baptism, is delivered both from sin by justification, and from death by the resurrection: as He Himself said; That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What need then is there that the child should be conformed by baptism to the death of Christ, if he be not altogether tainted by the poisonous bite of the serpent?
Alcuin (c. 735- 804): Truly through the Son of God shall the world have life; for no other cause came He into the world, except to save the world. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Catena Aurea, Lent 3B, Jn 2:13-25
Origen (182-253/4): Should it appear something out of the order of things, that the Son of God should make a scourge of small cords, to drive them out of the temple? We have one answer in which some take refuge, viz. the divine power of Jesus, Who, when He pleased, could extinguish the wrath of His enemies however innumerable, and quiet the tumult of their minds: The Lord brings the counsel of the heathen to nought. This act indeed exhibits no less power than His more positive miracles; on the contrary, more than the miracle by which water was converted into wine: in that there the subject-matter was inanimate, here, the minds of so many thousands of men are overcome.
The Venerable Bede (672/3-735): They then are the sellers of doves, who, after receiving the free grace of the Holy Spirit, do not dispense it freely, as they are commanded, but at a price: who confer the laying on of hands, by which the Holy Spirit is received, if not for money, at least for the sake of getting favour with the people, who bestow Holy Orders not according to merit, but favour.
Origen (182-253/4): Both those, i.e. both the Body of Jesus and the temple, seem to me to be a type of the Church, which with living stones is built up into a spiritual house, into an holy priesthood; according to St. Paul, You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And though the structure of stones seem to be broken up, and all the bones of Christ scattered by adversities and tribulations, yet shall the temple be restored, and raised up again in three days.