Augustine On Words And Meanings

While Augustine argues that ‘there are two things on which all interpretation of Scripture depends: the mode of ascertaining the proper meaning and the mode of making known the meaning when it is ascertained,’ it should be evident that the first step in this process is ethical. First, the ‘meaning’ of a word, while it may be unknown or ambiguous, is the ‘thing’ which is indicated by the word. The ‘thing’ indicated by the word must be the ‘thing’ which the author had in mind as signified by the word. One cannot ascertain the ‘thing’ truly unless one has been ‘purified’ from the corrupting effects of pride and therefore possesses an ‘unprejudiced estimate’ of things. Therefore, the only way to ‘ascertain’ the meaning of the text is to submit to the ‘thing’ intended by the author and to deny one’s own corrupting influence. One must, in other words, humbly submit to the author’s intended ‘object of love’ if one is every to have a grasp of the meaning of the author’s words.

Warren Charles Embree | “Ethics and Interpretation,” PhD Diss. University of Nebraska, 1992, 149–50.


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