Saint Augustine, on Genesis

"Saint Augustine," by Philippe de Champaigne (public domain)

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel (um, he means ‘nonbeliever’) to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show (observe) a vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but the people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books and matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience in the light of reason.”

And another:

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”

Amen, brother! Preach it! And guess what, guys? Saint Augustine wrote this 1,600 years ago. Dude was awesome, I must confess. And he had style (see painting).

  • Rick Allen

    I like Augustine too, for the same reasons. However, do you find his views on original sin to be incompatible with a TE world view? I have been trying to investigate this further and encountered an earlier Church Father called Irenaeus who saw Adam and Eve more like fragile innocent children with a capacity to fall, that seems to speak more of the human condition than say a more Calvinist/Augustinian view.

    • Hey Rick, great question! Yes, personally, my views of sin and the fall of man are far more in line with Irenaeus than Augustine and Calvin (though I agree with both of the latter on many things). Augustine seemed to view the fall as an act that wrecked God’s plans, causing him to send Christ almost as an afterthought. Irenaeus, on the other hand, believed (as I do) that God fully knew that mankind would fall, and that Christ’s redemptive act was “in the cards” since before the beginning. I, for one, do not think that those who have been made alive in Christ are restored to relationship with God “equal” to that of what we might imagine Adam and Eve (with no concept of right and wrong) could have had, but rather that our relationship with God is deeper and better. I think such a view is supported by verses like Romans 5:15.

      My understanding of original sin itself is somewhat unorthodox. I do believe humans have an inherently sinful nature, but I don’t believe we are born spiritually dead and separated from God, before we have the capacity to understand right from wrong and freely act on that understanding. As Romans 5:12 says, “death came to all people, BECAUSE ALL SINNED.” My main reason for rejecting what I call “original guilt” is Jesus. If he was fully man, as scripture teaches, AND if the doctrine of original sin is true, then it seems his flesh was as guilty as mine regardless of the fact that he lived a sinless life. Therefore, how could his sacrifice be salvific?

  • Maria Kayed

    Hello, nice post. Can you please give the complete reference? which book/part of book was this statement taken from? it can be really helpful for me when I try to talk with YEC to give this with its reference 🙂

    • Matthew Funke

      It’s from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (thank you, Augustine, for that title!), book 1, chapter 19, written in 408 CE. (He’d spent at least twenty years studying Genesis before writing this work, judging by A Commentary on Genesis: Two Books Against the Manichees in 388/9 CE. It’s remarkable how much young-Earth creationists presume to know Genesis and the Bible better than he could have.)

      • Maria Kayed

        Thank u 🙂 I will definitely add them to my reading list 🙂