My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
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The subtle yellow and red tinges on the leaves on the trees indicate that the fall semester is fast approaching. As a result, this is my last blog on my summer readings on the early church.
My July/August batch of readings were from St. Augustine (354-430). I simply have not read enough of this theological giant and this was a chance to make up for some of my deficiencies.
I was interested in his approach to theological education and ended up browsing his On Faith and the Creed, Faith of Things Not Seen, and The Creed: A Sermon to Catechumens. What I did do was slow down and read in more detail his On the Catechising of the Uninstructed. My comments below relate to that work.
St. Augustine was asked by a bishop for some wisdom on how to teach catechumens (those learning for the first time about the faith). Augustine had much to say in On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, and I encourage anyone involved in Christian education to wade through his advice on teaching the faith to the uninstructed. He not only gave advice to those who instruct, but he also provided examples of lectures that could be given to students. There is simply too much to comment on – here are just a few highlights.
“At the same time, you have made the confession and complaint that it has often befallen you that in the course of a lengthened and languid address you have become profitless and distasteful even to yourself, not to speak of the learner whom you have been endeavoring to instruct by your utterance, and the other parties who have been present as hearers.” (1.1)
“Indeed with me, too, it is almost always true that my speech displeases myself….and when my capacities of expression prove inferior to my inner apprehensions, I grieve over the inability which my tongue has betrayed in answering to my heart.” (2.3)
“Even, so, on your side also, the very fact that persons who require to be instructed in the faith are brought so frequently to you, ought to help you to understand that your discourse is not displeasing to others as it is displeasing to yourself; and you ought not to consider yourself unfruitful, simply because you do not succeed in setting forth in such a manner as you desire the things which you discern; for, perchance, you. may be just as little able to discern them in the way you wish.” (2.4)
“For neither does the time admit of [covering everything], nor does any necessity demand it. But what we ought to do is, to give a comprehensive statement of all things, summarily and generally, so that certain of the more wonderful facts may be selected which are listened to with superior gratification.” (3.5)
“But if it happens that his answer is to the effect that he has met with some divine warning, or with some divine terror, prompting him to become a Christian, this opens up the way most satisfactorily for a commencement to our discourse, by suggesting the greatness of God’s interest in us. His thoughts, however, ought certainly to be turned away from this line of things, whether miracles or dreams, and directed to the more solid path and the surer oracles of scripture.” (6.10)
“For it is in the highest degree useful to such men to come to know how ideas are to be preferred to words, just as a soul in preferred to the body. And from this too, it follows that they ought to have the desire to listen to discourses remarkable for their truth, rather than to those which are notable for their eloquence; just as they ought to be anxious to have friends distinguished for their wisdom, rather than whose whose chief merit is their beauty.” (9.13)
“At this point of the narration ought now to be commenced, which should start with the fact that God made all things very good, and which should be continued, as we have said, on to the present times of the church.” (6.10)
“At the same time, we are not to set forth these causes in such a manner as to leave the proper course of our narrative, and let our heart and our tongue indulge in digressions into the knotty questions of more intricate discussion.” (6.10)
“…and if the great dissimilarity thus felt (between our utterance and our thought) makes it distasteful to us to speak, and a pleasure to us to keep silence, then let us ponder what has been set before us by Him who has ‘showed us an example that we should follow His steps.’ For however much our articulate speech may differ from the vivacity of our intelligence, much greater is the difference of the flesh of mortality from the equality of God.” (10.15)
“Once more, however, we often feel it very wearisome to go over repeatedly matters which are thoroughly familiar, and adapted (rather) to children. If this is the case with us, then we should endeavor to meet them with a brother’s, a father’s, and a mother’s love; and, if we are once united with them thus in heart, to us no less than to them will these things seem new.” (12.17)
“It is likely a frequent occurrence that one who at first listened to us with all readiness, becomes exhausted either by the effort of hearing or by standing, and now no longer commends what is said, but gapes and yawns, and even unwillingly exhibits a disposition to depart. When we observe that, it becomes our duty to refresh his mind by saying something seasoned with an honest cheerfulness and adapted to the matter which is being discussed, or something of a very wonderful and amazing order, or even, it may be, something of a painful and mournful nature. Whatever we thus say may be all the better if it affects himself more immediately, so that the quick sense of self-concern may keep his attention on the alert. At the same time, however, it should not be of the kind to offend his spirit of reverence by any harshness attaching to it; but it should be of a nature fitted rather to conciliate him by the friendliness which it breathes. Or else, we should relive him by accommodating him with a seat.” (13.19)
“But if our mind is agitated by some cause of offense, so as not to be capable of delivering a discourse of a calm and enjoyable strain, our charity towards those for whom Christ died, desiring to redeem them by the price of His own blood from the death of the errors of this world, ought to be so great, that the very circumstance of intelligence being brought us in our sadness, regarding the advent of some person who longs to become a Christian, ought to be enough to cheer us and dissipate that heaviness of spirit, just as the delights of gain are wont to soften the pain of losses.” (14.21)
Quotes taken from On the Catechising of the Uninstructed in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3 (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).