Augustine and the Catholic “Form” of Scripture

Colin Miller

INTRODUCTION

St. Augustine’s hermeneutics, semiotics, and epistemology in general have enjoyed no lack of attention in recent years, due not least to the frequently noted modern and postmodern preoccupation with method and technique in securing definitions of knowledge. In this regard, De doctrina Christiana, Augustine’s famous work on biblical interpretation, has been treated from nearly every conceivable angle.1 Notably absent from this literature, however, is any treatment of Augustine’s own theological account of what Scripture is as an object in its own right—his doctrine of Scripture.2 This is surprising, given that it is hard to find a page of his work in which divina scriptura, divinus sermo, divina eloquia, or some such locution, is not invoked. The purpose of this essay is to begin to fill this lacuna in a limited but crucial way by arguing that, for Augustine, Scripture has a Catholic nature as part of its substantial form, species, or essence—as its “what-ness.” This is so not least because it is part of the sign-system that the Catholic Church is, and thus it participates in the metaphysical form “Catholic.” When the mind perceives Scripture, it encounters not a fluid and unordered mass of signs that must be given some definite meaning by the reader but the truth of the Catholic faith. This, I suggest, is what makes it possible for Augustine to make the striking statement that “Scriptura non asserit nisi Catholicam fidem” (Scripture asserts nothing but the Catholic faith) (De doctrina 3.10.14).

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