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Augustine and Advent

Meditation: Scripture and St. Augustine

Those of us who have studied theology are often daunted by the amount of reading we must undertake. If we enroll in a formal program of study, whether in seminary or a house of studies, required reading often seems enormous. In such a situation, those of us who are eager to graduate with some semblance of dignity, read in great gulps, seeking to absorb as much knowledge as we can in a short period of time.

Years ago, I read St. Augustine's Confessions quickly and with an earnest desire to receive a high grade in the course work. While I may have succeeded in my goal, I retained only the major themes in the book.

Just a week ago, I began to look into this book once again. This time, I read the book slowly and with attention to detail. I found myself captivated by Augustine's journey. The Confessions is really a long prayer, a prayer delivered by an imperfect man who has come to a great understanding of the God who has created him and seeks to save him. The entire book is a prayer. The last word in this prayer is “Amen.”

One of the great surprises in this book has to do with Augustine's first acquaintance with the Bible. St. Augustine was a very well-educated man. He had the benefit of a superb classical education at a time when the term “classical education” had yet to be invented. Augustine read Aristotle, Plato and Cicero. He learned the principles of rhetoric. He learned to admire great writing. However, when Augustine first began to read the Bible, he was disappointed. The Bible received a C- from the great Augustine. It just didn't measure up, he thought, with the writings of the great Cicero. Cicero was a superb stylist. The Bible, according to Augustine, was really rather pedestrian.

Over time, Augustine changed his viewpoint. He began to realize that the Bible, in all its apparent stylistic imperfections, provided a window onto God's world that is available to everyone. The more his journey approached a knowledge and understanding of God, the more Augustine mined the Bible for its wisdom, its understanding and the sheer depth of its theology. Augustine wrote voluminously about the Bible, often exploring in great depth the meaning behind even the shortest Biblical verse.

Our church year has just celebrated Scripture Sunday. Our collect for that Sunday asks us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the contents of Holy Scripture. This is what St. Augustine learned to do. It changed him. We can certainly follow his example.

St. Augustine's Confessions was written seventeen hundred years ago. Since that time, it has never been out of print. Talk about a best seller!

In many ways, our own relationship with the Bible may be like that of St. Augustine. It takes us awhile to become familiar with the message of God as contained in the words of Holy Scripture. Perhaps your experience has been like St. Augustine’s. You may have read Scripture first in big gulps, or perhaps only little snippets. The great Augustine[Matthew M1] was transformed when, in prayerful contrition, he heard a child’s voice singing “Take up and read, take up and read”. And it was then that he was truly ready to read with his heart, and not just his head, to “inwardly digest” it and be changed. Take up and read. Then, when you are ready, meditate on the verses slowly, one at a time. May then, the Word of God, dwell richly in your heart.

+Bp. Brian Marsh

[Matthew M1]Added comments here

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