Preconditions for Understanding the “Plain” Scriptures

Athanasius, who in so many places so eloquently describes Scripture as “plainly” teaching or proving this or that, elsewhere urges that certain preconditions must be present if one is to truly understand the “plain” Scriptures:

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect, guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modeling of the life after the saints a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints….he that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works; so that, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God…:”(“On the Incarnation of the Word,” in The Library of Christian Classics Vol. III, Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Edward Rochie Hardy and Cyril C. Richardson [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954], pg. 110.)”:

That the “clear” Scriptures can only be properly understood by those who are associated with the common life of the Church is, as far as I can see, a common theme in the Fathers, who often blame the heretics for distorting the Scriptures precisely because of not reading them with the Church. The text of faith can’t be separated from the life of faith. Scripture is meant to be read and interpreted communally, not individualistically. Only then is its “plain” meaning truly evident.


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