Science10 Jan 2008 11:41 pm
It is not clear that St. Augustine would be a welcome guest at the new and immensely popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. While the Bishop of Hippo has been traditionally revered by most Christian denominations, one of his most influential doctrines supported the allegorical, or metaphorical, understanding of Scripture.
During its earliest days, Christianity appealed mostly to the enslaved and disenfranchised subjects of the Roman Empire—in many ways, it represented a system of values that necessarily precluded a strong following in the imperial upper classes. However, by the time that St. Augustine was born (354 A.D.), the situation had changed. Though he was a Berber from North Africa and ostensibly provincial, the young St. Augustine grew up propertied, educated, and Catholic.
Thus, Augustine and many of the other Church Fathers of his day, like St. Ambrose and Origen, brought a new level of sophistication to Christian philosophy and theology that drew on their familiarity with classical Greek and Roman thought (the study of Plotinus played an enormous role in Augustine’s break with Manichaeism and return to the Catholic fold). In particular, Augustine was schooled in rhetoric—he was one of the discpline’s most eminent “professors” in the Roman world—and he brought the method of allegoresis to bear on the interpretation of the newly canonized Christian Bible.
One of St. Augustine’s most famous tracts was entitled “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis” (unfortunately, unavailable electronically) which argued against a literalist understanding of creation. Rather, he believed that “in the matter of the shape of heaven, the sacred writers did not want to teach man facts that would be of no avail for their salvation,” effectively rendering any scriptural evidence concerning the science of creation insignificant. And while the saint himself was a proponent of “simultaneous creation,” the notion that God made manifest the universe all at once and that the six day account of creation in Genesis was revealed so as to provide a logical framework for understanding it, he was not, by any means, bound by this opinion:
“in matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision … we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.”
One gets the impression that Augustine would have supported Pope John Paul II’s embrace of “theistic evolution.”
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