Augustine’s Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees and On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished Book represent the first two of five explanations of the beginning of the Book of Genesis that he undertook between 388 and 418. In the first, a commentary on Genesis 1–3, Augustine counters the ignorant and impious attacks against Scripture by the Manichees, with whom he was a “hearer” for nine years. The second would have been a hexaemeron, a commentary on the six days of creation, but, as Augustine admits, his inexperience in scriptural exegesis collapsed under the weight of the burden, “and before I finished one book, I gave up the labor that I could not sustain.”
Although Augustine agrees that many things in Scripture may seem absurd to the unlearned, he holds that they can produce great pleasures once they have been explained. It was this tenet, realized in his spiritual rather than corporeal interpretation of Scripture, that led him to counter the impious attacks the Manichees used to attract those who sought a more intellectual understanding of God over and against an anthropomorphic view. Augustine’s brilliant assimilation of Christian revelation and the intellectual faith of the Neoplatonic circle around Ambrose in Milan gave rise to his “spiritual” interpretation of Genesis 1–3 in the Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees.
In On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished Book, Augustine succeeds in presenting an ad litteram interpretation for 25 verses before arriving at the difficult verse on man’s having been made to God’s image and likeness. At this point he breaks off because, in the words of John O’Meara, “it either tended to blasphemy or could not be reconciled with the Catholic faith.” Perhaps because he later writes that he considers his literal attempt to interpret Genesis a failure, the texts herein translated have become today, in light of modern scriptural studies, fascinating and invaluable examples of Augustine’s developing thought on significant philosophical and theological issues in the interpretation of Genesis.
For The Fathers of the Church series in its entirety, see Fathers of the Church Series (127 vols.).
“Nonetheless, time is not eternal in the same way that God is eternal, because God who is the maker of time is before time.” (Page 51)
“All the things which God made are very good; natural things are not evil. Rather whatever is called evil is either sin or the punishment of sin. Sin is nothing but the evil assent of free will, when we incline to those things which justice forbids and from which we are free to abstain. [Sin] does not lie in the things themselves, but in their illegitimate use. The legitimate use of things consists in the soul’s remaining in God’s Law and being subject to the one God with the fullest love, and in governing all the other things subject to it without desire or lust, that is, according to God’s commandment.” (Page 146)
“So too, all the things that God has made are very good, but they are not good in the same way that God is good, because he is their maker, while they are made. Nor did he give birth to them out of himself so that they are what he is; rather he made them out of nothing so that they are equal neither to him by whom they have been made nor to his Son through whom they have been made.14 For this is just.15 But if they say, ‘Why did God decide to make heaven and earth?” (Page 51)
“The Holy Spirit was given to those who believe in him. He founded Mother Church which is called Catholic, because it is everywhere perfect, not at all weak, and because it is spread throughout the whole world. For those who do penance previous sins have been forgiven, and eternal life and the kingdom of heaven have been promised.” (Page 147)
In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.