Thoughts On Confessions II

Thoughts on Augustine of Hippo’s The Confessions, Books X-XIII: 

Saint Augustine IIAugustine’s interpretative and semiotic approach is nuanced, multivocal, and, at times, strikingly modern. For him, multiple interpretations are not only acceptable, but also preferred, so long as the interpreter first attends to the author’s intended meaning. The exegete is not wholly bound by authorial intent, however. According to Augustine, authorial intent is a starting point—sometimes plain, sometimes obscure. In this way, scripture can give rise to multiple interpretations not necessarily foreseen by its original authors. This is not the wholesale dead authorship of Roland Barthes; rather it is the forerunner of what Umberto Eco will call, “textual rights.” The exegete is not shackled to the dead author, though he or she must acknowledge the limits or boundaries of the text. Augustine’s interpretive theory is a controlled liberty rather than an unfettered freedom. In one example, Augustine provides five varying but scripturally consistent interpretations of “heaven and earth.” While he supplies the positive, negative, and, most importantly, the implications of each interpretation, for Augustine, all are valid. Ambiguity is not something from which Augustine shies. The good exegete, however, does not forget that he or she must rely on both sound faith or God and a sure reasoning or, as Augustine writes, “the inner ear or mind.” While Augustine’s exegetical approach is strikingly modern at times, at others it is rooted in both revelation and tradition. On the one hand, he asks: “Who can discover textual certainty with any certainty?” On the other, he writes: “If the interpreter can figure out what Moses is saying, then that’s the best. But if he can’t, then he must hope for divine revelation.”


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