Self-conscious reflection on the proper methods of interpretation of Scripture began already with the early Church Fathers. One of the most definitive patristic statements on interpretation is St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, “On Christian Doctrine.” While its title might lead the modern reader to expect a treatment of Church dogma in systematic form, De Doctrina is in fact a handbook for the interpretation of Scripture. This fact in itself is significant: for Augustine and the other fathers, Christian doctrine was the interpretation of Scripture. This truth continues to be affirmed by the Second Vatican Council: “the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of theology” (DV §11), and by Pope Benedict XVI: “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture” (Ratzinger 1983, 178).
Augustine’s De Doctrina represents a synthesis of patristic thinking on the interpretation of Scripture, and it continued to be used as a handbook for exegesis throughout the medieval period. In the following discussion of the Catholic interpretation of Scripture, we follow St. Augustine’s basic framework, fleshed out with more recent teachings of the Church and developments within biblical studies.
None of the Church Fathers was so naïve as to believe that interpretation could be reduced to a certain method which would yield consistent results regardless of the character of the interpreter applying it. Augustine was no exception: therefore his discussion of the exegesis of Scripture falls essentially into two..
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A nice academic read on a Saturday morning.