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41. St. Augustine, Vol. 1: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Ancient Christian Writers) [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   296
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.7" Width: 5.68" Height: 0.93"
Weight:   1.25 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 1, 1983
Publisher   Newman Press
ISBN  0809103265  
EAN  9780809103263  

Availability  0 units.

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Item Description...
A thorough and conscientitious commentary on the first hree chapters form the Book of Genesis, completed in 415, Augustine's purpose is to explain, to the best of his ability, what the author intended to say about what God did when he made heaven and earth. Contains books 1-6.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Good, but not Augustine's Best  Mar 3, 2005
I gave this 3 stars because Augustine presents a cogent argument, and many well posited ideas, however he fails to meet the muster of his traditional standard: reliance on the literal sense of scripture.

Inspite of the title, Augustine becomes one of only 2 of the Patristic Fathers not to support a literal reading of Genesis. The other was Origin who tried to reconcile Genesis with the evolutionary science of Greek philosophers and scientists (much like many of today's theologians, including Stanley Jaki). Augustine does not reject a literal interpretation of Genesis outright, yet he believes Creation was instantaneous, and the 6 days of Genesis were an unpacking of that instantaneous action. Mostly Augustine wants to find a place for the creation of the Angels, which simply is not discussed in Scripture. Considering that no book relating the creation of the Angels survived, it is fair to conjecture that God did not see it necessary for us to know exactly what happened.

Later Fathers, and Medievals including St. Thomas Aquinas had to differ with Augustine, inspite of his authority, and insist on a literal interpretation to the 6 days. All the Fathers save him and Origin, and all the medievals believed in a literal six day creation, as does the Catholic Church today officially, even though numerous priests and theologians are ready to tell us otherwise.

The rest of the book, which discusses the fall, and the deluge is full of primarily spiritual interpretations, not litteral interpretations like one would assume he's getting. However the historical value and the spiritual value make the book worth owning.
The book itself is well produced, hardback, and the translation is right on with my copy of it in Latin. An excellent edition to own.
Very Literal; Very True, Not So Much  Feb 11, 2003
I probably should have expected it, given the title, but I was hoping for something a bit deeper from Augustine. This doesn't have the mystery and imagination of Confessions. Here describes his understanding of Genesis 1-2.9 point by point in a severely neo-Platonic manner. And Augustine is a devoted disciple of Plato; if one hasn't read any Plato it will be tough going indeed. This is thick stuff and I found I often had to skim some portions and reread others six times. Perhaps half of Augustine's analysis of Genesis is based on the idea of the Perfect Forms, and how God created the forms in the first chapter of Genesis, and they only actually became reality in the second chapter. Literal Meaning of Genesis is valuable on a historical basis, for understanding an ancient world view, but has little theological value today because so few now follow Plato's thoughts, and our culture is more Augustinian than anything else.

Even the style of the writing is Platonic, becoming a dialectic of Augustine with himself, as he raises and questions different possibilities, accepting them or dismissing them, coming to a Hegelian final result, and sometimes, no result at all, determining that something is unknowable. I caught a lot of the feel of Montaigne at times- as if Augustine was figuring this out and determining truth as he went along. The positive aspects of this are expressions of humility, openness to possibilities, and a real feel that there is a person behind this writing.

Literalness can have value in exegesis, but in something as deeply allegorical as the Genesis stories, Augustine would have been better off keeping with analogy and myth for explanation, as do the Eastern Fathers he so often decries throughout his text. He does stoop to allegory at times for explanation- Augustine believed that this was suitable only if the literal meaning was unavailable.

One central example: for Augustine the literal meaning of the "days" of Genesis 1 holds no value- what could it mean that God created in a day, when there was no sun or moon, no person to see it, and even when there is a sun it is always on one side of Earth or the other, with darkness at one place when there is light in another? A "day" has no meaning- and God is outside of time anyway. He does not create in a day, nor need anytime at all to create. And so the evening and morning become spiritual light and darkness, referring to the Perfect Form and the actual result. Augustine lacks the benefit of our present understanding of anthropology, for we know the Hebrew concept of Day began in the evening, and so he spends many chapters trying to puzzle out why darkness comes first and to which day each evening belongs- the day prior or the day after.

The occasional stoops of metaphor and allegory provide the real gems in the work, and if one skims through it, it's worth the read for those. Like the idea that not everything was written down that happened in The Beginning, but only what the author needed to communicate his theological points, and to prophesy. Or that there are at times more than one valid explanation of the Bible, and if we hold on too tightly to our own belief, we end up seeking to have the Bible conform to our belief and lose Truth in our very pursuit of it. Or that Christians, when talking about the Bible and Genesis and in the process speaking nonsense about science, bring shame upon the belief and keep the unbeliever from coming to the Truth, because most unbelievers know a thing or two about science and the nature of reality, and they have no interest in believing nonsense.

Augustine on creation  Apr 28, 2002
First, this work has been published in two volumes, which this site has mistakenly listed as being different editions. To find both volumes, click on the "All Editions" link.

Although it is published in two volumes, readers should not be intimidated by this. The work proper is only about 400 pages long (a third the length of Augustine's "City of God"), and reads quite easily.

As to why it was broken in two volumes, the answer lies in the 300 pages supplemental material, which would have made it quite bulky had it been published in a single volume. The quality and readability of this material, mostly presented in notes to the text, is quite high, and I found that it made an already enjoyable and interesting work even more so.

As to the work itself, it is concerned with the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, ending with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The subjects addressed through this work are biblical exegesis, God, the angels, Satan, heaven and earth, man, the soul, and the fall.

Augustine began his work on the subject of biblical exegesis - how scripture is to be interpreted. He proposed four senses: "the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given." In this work, Augustine focused on the second of these - the facts that are narrated, which he called the literal sense. It is important to understand that although we tend to think of a 'literal' reading of scripture as one taking the words to have their most obvious meaning, that is not what Augustine meant by it. For Augustine, a literal reading meant only that the text was referring in some way to events that actually occurred, without any implication that the reference might not be very obscure. For example, Augustine understood morning, day, and evening in the days of creation to refer not to a particular times of day, but to a particular phases in the angelic knowledge of creation - the phase in which the things are known directly from God (morning), the phase in which they actually exist (day), and the state in which they are known from the senses (evening). In fact, Augustine held that in terms of time the six days of creation were actually simultaneous and included the creation of time itself.

Of course, the problem of how to interpret Genesis, particularly with regard to scientific knowledge, is very much a live problem today. It was however, a question even in Augustine's day, and his take on it is of considerable interest, especially for those who do believe in scripture as revelation and are unsure how to read Genesis. In his reading, Augustine on the whole was a scientific agnostic, he neither believed nor disbelieved much of what his contemporary science said about the world. He did, however, offer suggestions as to how this or that passage could be reconciled with this or that scientific belief, in order to take into account the possibility the scientific belief might well be true. If a passage seemed to him to be particularly mysterious in light of its scientific possibility (the reference to a spring that watered all the earth was one such passage), he neither sought to use scripture to determine scientific truth nor concluded that the passage was therefore false - for Augustine, a passage in scripture must be true, but it was perfectly possible for it to be true in a sense he did not understand.

If the first half of the work is concerned with the creation of heaven and earth, the second half is concerned with the creation and fall of man. The bridge between the two are the sections on the creation of man's body and soul. Augustine was not terribly interested in the creation of body, but the creation of the soul was another matter, one that Augustine pondered throughout his life. Were the souls of all men created at the beginning and sent to bodies later? Were souls created at the beginning and reincarnated in new bodies? Were they created by God directly at the start of each person's life? Were they generated from the souls of the parents? Were they generated from the body? While some of these positions Augustine regarded as certainly false, with regard to others he was never sure.

One issue that came up with regard to how the soul was created was the problem of the transmission of original sin. In Augustine's view, original sin was the decision to disobey God and eat from the tree of knowledge; the tree itself had no significance other than that God had forbidden it; by disobeying God, Adam turned man from God's grace, necessitating the sacrifice of Jesus to redeem man. While Augustine was anything but blind to metaphorical readings of the story, he also believed it to be history as well - there was a real tree, and a real man named Adam really did eat of it.

Augustine ended with a rather odd consideration of a short comment made by Paul in Corinthians concerning a man's (whom Augustine takes to be Paul himself) having been taken up into the third heaven and whether that heaven is the paradise from which Adam fell. It is an interesting piece, but an odd way to end a work on Genesis; but then Augustine always felt free to digress when writing, but he was seldom less interesting for having done so.


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