A Personal Aside
As my last post explained, I did not feel good yesterday. Unfortunately, I am still recovering. Nevertheless, I can blog a bit now.
Since the comments indicated a strong interest, today’s post will be on the Creation story in Genesis. However, as soon as possible I will write a blog post on the supposed benefits of a secular education. I just need to spend some time visiting some of my favorite blogs first.
Saint Augustine on Genesis
I must admit have never read what Saint Augustine had to say about Genesis. However, others such as Keith DeHavelle seems to have done so. Since Keith is posting a reply (noted here) to a comment from Matthew (here) on his blog that should be worth checking out. As it is, in high school I tried reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions, but I expect I was not ready to appreciate it.
Anyway, since I think they are sufficient for the point I want to make I will reference some secondary sources.
How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin? (biologos.org) provides accounts of how Christians generally interpreted Genesis before the Theory of Evolution. Here is that article in a nutshell.
Given the stark difference between evolution and six-day creation, many people assume that Darwin’s theory shook the foundations of the Christian faith. In truth, the literal six-day interpretation of Genesis 1-2 was not the only perspective held by Christians prior to modern science. St. Augustine (354-430), John Calvin (1509-1564), John Wesley (1703-1791), and others supported the idea of Accommodation. In the Accommodation view, Genesis 1-2 was written in a simple allegorical fashion to make it easy for people of that time to understand. In fact, Augustine suggested that the 6 days of Genesis 1 describe a single day of creation. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argued that God did not create things in their final state, but created them to have potential to develop as he intended. The views of these and other Christian leaders are consistent with God creating life by means of evolution. (from here)
What issue does this paragraph raise? I think the issue is what we mean by “simple allegorical fashion.” In Saint Augustine (chem.tufts.edu) Dr. Smith quotes Saint Augustine. The point the quote makes is that we must not interpret scripture foolishly. Did Augustine read Genesis as How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin? might lead us to believe? Depending upon what we read into that article, maybe not.
With respect to Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine’s Origin of Species (www.christianitytoday.com) provides a more lengthy explanation of Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 1-2. The author, Alister McGrath, believes Augustine and Charles Darwin would have had a serious disagreement.
Augustine would have rejected any idea of the development of the universe as a random or lawless process. For this reason, Augustine would have opposed the Darwinian notion of random variations, insisting that God’s providence is deeply involved throughout. The process may be unpredictable. But it is not random. (from here)
Further, McGrath observes what Augustine contribution might make to the current debate.
So does Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis help us engage with the great questions raised by Darwin? Let’s be clear that Augustine does not answer these questions for us. But he does help us see that the real issue here is not the authority of the Bible, but its right interpretation. In addition, he offers us a classic way of thinking about the Creation that might illuminate some contemporary debates. (from here)
Augustine wrote The Literal Meaning of Genesis in 415 in which he argued that Genesis should be interpreted as God forming the Earth and life from pre-existing matter, allowed for an allegorical interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, but called for a historical view of the remainder of the history recorded in Genesis, including the creation of Adam and Eve, and the Flood. He also also warned believers not to rashly interpret things literally that might be allegorical, as it would discredit the faith. (from here)
That raises the question again. What did Augustine mean by an allegorical interpretation? Consider how the dictionary defines the word.
noun, plural allegories.
Although some allegories (like George Orwell’s Animal Farm) can be quite fanciful, an allegorical interpretation doesn’t require much figurative treatment. Nevertheless, when we call a portion of the Bible allegorical, we do have to be able to justify it. As Peter said:
2 Peter 1:20-21 Good News Translation (GNT)
20 Above all else, however, remember that none of us can explain by ourselves a prophecy in the Scriptures. 21 For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under the control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God.
That is, we must pray for understanding, and we must be prepared to justify our interpretation to our fellow Christians.
What Augustine did was read Genesis carefully, and he considered what other parts of the Bible say about Creation. Here is an example.
Augustine considered Psalm 33:6-9.
Psalm 33:6-9 New King James Version (NKJV)
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
9 For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
And he considered Genesis 2:4. Then he reached an interesting conclusion.
Further, he argues that a close reading of Genesis 2:4 has the following meaning: “When day was made, God made heaven and earth and every green thing of the field.” This leads him to conclude that the six days of Creation are not chronological. Rather, they are a way of categorizing God’s work of creation. God created the world in an instant but continues to develop and mold it, even to the present day. (from here)
As THE CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF AUGUSTINE’S VIEW OF CREATION (www.asa3.org) by Davis A. Young observed, Augustine believed “the interpretation of Genesis I is not at all obvious and is fraught with difficulties.” Therefore, he probably remained uncertain of his own interpretation. Further, Young says Augustine claimed “that we ought to be willing to change our minds about the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, particularly as new information comes to light.”
- AUGUSTINE’S COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLICAL BOOK OF GENESIS (college.holycross.edu)
- An Examination of Augustine’s Commentaries on Genesis One and Their Implications on a Modern Theological Controversy (answersingenesis.org)