Speaker analyzes scriptural interpretation according to St. Augustine


On Oct. 12 in the Pugliese Auditorium, dozens of students and faculty members gathered to hear a talk by Theodore Harwood on St. Augustine’s view of interpreting sacred scripture.

The talk began at 4:30 p.m., sponsored by the Department of Classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville and was titled “St. Augustine and the Intention of the Authors of Scripture.” Harwood, a doctorate of philosophy candidate at Cornell University, based his arguments primarily on close analysis of Book 12 of Augustine’s “Confessions.”

Harwood cited quotes in which Augustine argues that there are many true meanings to scriptural passages and that readers may find meanings that were not intended by the scriptural authors but are nevertheless true.

Harwood distinguished between true interpretation and correct interpretation. True interpretation, he said, finds a meaning that is true, while correct interpretation corresponds to the specific meaning that the author meant to communicate.

According to Harwood, Augustine claims that the Holy Spirit has multiple true intentions beyond those of the sacred writers when inspiring scripture; the writer’s specific intention is not only included in the Holy Spirit’s intentions but is the most important one of these. For this reason, Harwood said that it is possible to interpret one of the true interpretations but not the correct one.

Interpretation is valid, Harwood said, if the conclusion is true, if the interpreter believed that the writer meant something true and if the interpreter sought the correct interpretation (even if unsuccessfully).

Harwood said that Augustine believed in the theory of illumination, the idea that both the writers and readers of scripture require illumination by God to understand his truth and that God reveals what he wants to each reader.

Harwood also explained the importance of Augustine’s conclusions and why they make sense. He said that the idea of the most important intention belonging to the writer humbles the reader, and that if understanding the writer’s intent is the goal, readers have a shared purpose and sense of collaboration.

The talk was followed by an in-depth question-and-answer session, and it left a good impression on many audience members. Freshman Nicholas Larkins said, “I thought it was particularly elucidating, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have this understanding.”

Kyle Taggart, freshman, said, “I find it fascinating that we can interpret Augustine almost as we can interpret scripture … there are so many various interpretations of what Augustine meant. … This was very new and eye-opening to me.”