The Letter Kills; The Spirit Gives Life

Interestingly, St. Augustine testifies that it was spiritual exegesis of the Scriptures that first convinced him of the falsehood of Manichaeanism:

I had thought that nothing could be said for the Catholic faith in the face of the objections raised by the Manichees, but it now appeared to me that this faith could be maintained on reasonable grounds – especially when I had heard one or two passages in the Old Testament explained , usually in a figurative way, which, when I had taken them literally, had been a cause of death to me. (Confessions V.14).:”(Trans. Rex Warner [New York: Penguin, 2001], pp. 97-98.)”:

And again, in VI.4,

I was glad too that the old Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets were set before me in such a way that I could now read in a different spirit that which I had had before, when I used to criticize your holy ones for holding various views which, plainly, they never held at all. And I was happy when I heard Ambrose in his sermons, as I often did, recommend most emphatically to his congregation this text as a rule to go by: The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. So he would draw aside the veil of mystery and explain in a spiritual sense the meanings of things which, if understood literally, appeared to be teaching what was wrong.:”(Ibid., pg. 104.)”:

These passages remind one, of course, of the more detailed exposition of spiritual exegesis found in Book III of On Christian Doctrine. In this age of Protestant obsession with grammatical-historical exegesis and expository preaching, which center almost morbidly on “the original meaning” of the text, one can’t help but perform a brief thought experiment:

Where would Augustine the wavering Manichee have wound up if the only bishops he could find had been radical Fundamentalist and Evangelical Bible-Onliers discoursing endlessly on the sufficiency of a correct understanding of the original Greek grammar of a passage?


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