Augustine and Pastoral Theology

James L. Harvey III
Augustine is read widely in the secular academy as a philosopher foundational to understanding the development of western civilization and for his relevance in the modern disciplines of literature, psychology, politics, ethics and aesthetics.  One gets the feeling however that secular scholars miss the soul of Augustine.  Augustine is primarily a Christian minister.  Of course, I would not want to discourage the influence of Augustine on other disciplines.  But at the same time, I am compelled to assert that to "read around" the sincere pastoral concern of Augustine in search of other motives is to miss the heart and soul of the man.  H.O. Old observes that when it comes to preaching, Augustine's pastoral concern is what sets the style of his sermons apart from other early fathers.   He is a plainspoken preacher, more eager to engage than to impress.  "It was Augustine's pastoral concern that so deeply engaged him with his congregation.  It is the pastoral concern which saves him from making his preaching a personal display, and individualistic performance or a work of oratorical art or self expression." [1]   Old observed further in his treatment of Augustine's festal sermons that he is distinguished from the Greek Fathers by his plain style in expounding the biblical text.[2]   Augustine's plain spoken, expository style is also evidence of a high regard for the Word of God.  "Evidently, for Augustine, one does not have to decorate the Word of God.  Holiness has its own beauty."[3]   The whole tenor of Augustine's sermons and writings is one of genuine concern for the people of God and the love of God.  He is first and foremost a pastor.  In this paper we will examine briefly De Doctrina  Christiana (DDC), considering the pastoral occasion for the treatise and its contribution to contemporary pulpit ministry.  When discussing the pastoral occasion for DDC we will engage three points of view as to why Augustine wrote DDC.  This engagement will contemporary scholarship demonstrates how essential it is to see Augustine first and foremost as a pastor.  Our reflection on Augustine's contribution to contemporary pulpit ministry will focus on the text of DDC.     

The Pastoral Occasion of De Doctrina Christiana 

There has been significant scholarly attention give to the purpose of DDC.  The debate has been prosecuted in the literature primarily along lexical lines, focusing on the meaning of doctrina . Gerald Press' "The Subject and Structure of Augustine's De Doctrina  Christiana"  provides a good overview.[4]  Press notes the difficulties in deriving a purpose for the DDC based on the meaning doctrina . Those who take the primary meaning from the prior rhetorical tradition of Cicero, conclude that doctrina in DDC means education or culture (in the Greek sense of paideia).  Those who attempt to find the meaning of doctrina  based primary its use in DDC conclude that it means doctrine or teaching the Christian sense.  Press takes another view.  Doctrina is broad enough to encompass both perspectives.  Augustine intends to provide a manual for Christian teaching, and also sets a trajectory for Christian culture that had tangible roots in the previous classical tradition: "If I am correct, the variety of [doctrina 's] accepted meanings allows Augustine to speak both to Christians and non-Christians--teaching them how to read, understand and teach the doctrines of Christianity as they are discovered in the Scriptures--and to non-Christians--showing them the sort and extent of the doctrina  to which Christians can justly lay claim."[5] 
Press arrives at his conclusion by departing from tendency to try to discern a purpose for DDC by understanding the meaning of doctrina .  Instead, he argues that there is another Latin phrase used by Augustine in key places in DDC which aptly describes the content of the work and has significant background in the classical tradition:  

Augustine has actually provided a number of clear statements of and references to the work's overall structure and topic, most of which have already been mentioned.  And the term that recurs in these passages is, not doctrina , but tracto-tractatio, which, unlike doctrina , can be fairly clearly defined and which locates the DDC fairly clearly in relation to the ancient rhetorical tradition.[6]   

Tracto-tractatio in the classical rhetorical tradition "means treating...anything either mentally, orally, or in writing; it suggests, without specifying, the use of principles or techniques of analysis, interpretation, organization, or exposition...laws, documents, and stories as found in texts may be subjects of oratorical treatment."[7] Press argues that this phrase is used by Augustine to describe his purpose in the Preface and in Books I and IV.  He also documents how Augustine adapts the classical usage of the term to fit Christian rhetoric.

Press is correct in observing that Augustine uses this phrase at key places in the treatise.  He quotes several instances.  Consider these two quotations from the Peface and from Book IV.  From the first paragraph of the Preface: 

There are certain precepts of treating the Scriptures which I think can be taught no improperly to students of them, in order that they might profit not only by reading others who have revealed the secrets of divine literature but also by themselves revealing [these things] to others.  These [precepts] I have resolved to teach to those who are willing and able to learn...[8]   

And now from paragraph one of Book IV:

This work of mine, which is called De Doctrina  Christiana, I had divided into two by a first distinction.  For after the proemium I said...'There are two things upon which every treatment of scripture depends: the method of discovering what is to be understood and the method of setting forth what has been understood.  I shall speak about discovering first, about setting forth afterwards.'  Since, therefore, I have already said much about discovering and have finished three books about this one part, with the Lord's help I shall say a few things about setting forth..."[9]   

From these passages and two others (1.1.1 and 1.2.2.) Press concludes that Augustine intends DDC to be a manual for "treating" the Scriptures.  Moreover, he notes that this terminology is rooted in the rhetorical tradition.  Augustine employs the terminology, modifying it specifically to fit the purposes of Christian rhetoric.
How does Augustine's "treatment" of the Scriptures differ from the "treatment" of subjects by his contemporaries in the Roman world.  The rhetoric of Augustine's day had become more interested in style than substance.  This was a departure from the classical emphases of Aristotle and Cicero.  The classical tradition had five parts in the instruction of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, memory, style and delivery.  Aristotle devotes two of his three books on what is properly considered invention.  Augustine, like Aristotle, also emphasizes invention.  He spends Books I-III of DDC are on what is best described as invention.  Only in Book IV does he deal with arrangement, memory, style and delivery.  Press sees that Augustine has intentionally returned to Aristotle's classical emphasis on invention, while transforming invention to fit the purpose of Christian rhetoric.  "This feature of the work permits us to see how it arises from but transforms the tradition from which it comes.  Augustine returns to Aristotle's sense that invention is the most important part of rhetoric, but in the DDC what is being invented has changed and the circumstances and aims of the inventing have changed." [10]  (Press, 119).  

How Augustine transformed the subject of invention?  Press observes that rhetoric did not have a place in the religious world of pagans.  Rhetoric was for the political and legal realm.  Paganism did not need rhetoric because it did not rely on texts for divine revelation in the same was as Judaism and Christianity.  Therefore, invention did not require the same diligence in arriving at the interpretation.  For Augustine, invention takes on a whole new purpose with the authoritative text of inspired Scripture.  Press concludes:  "Invention in DDC is changed both in the single emphasis on documents [Scripture] and in the view that documents have a correct interpretation or meaning that is to be discovered in them; and this suggests more generally that the circumstances and aims of invention have changed."[11]
Gerald Press correctly observes that DDC returns to a classical emphasis on invention while transforming that emphasis to have a distinctly Christian rhetoric.  Therefore, DDC provides instruction for Christian teachers while at the same time offering an apologetic of sorts to the non-Christian culture.  In other words, one can have it both ways: doctrina  can be taken in the narrow sense of Christian teaching or in the broad sense of education/culture.  

Peter Brown, building on the thesis of Henri Marrou, emphasizes Augustine's intention to put forward a Christian replacement for classical culture and education.  Brown notes that in antiquity there was tension regarding the Christian's relationship to the past.  "As long as there was nothing to put in its place, Christian critics of a classical education were all the more confused and bitter for lacking constructive alternatives...Augustine was surprisingly uninvolved in this confused situation.  He regarded [the suggestion of] bypassing education, as quite ridiculous."[12]   Brown claims that Augustine reduces the force of classical culture because he explains culture as "the product of society: it was the natural extension of the fact of language."[13]   In DDC he offers

a new programme of learning...subtly moulded by the anxiety not to recreate, in the study of the Bible and in preaching, the crippling self-consciousness of the traditional education...Above all, he will attempt to by-pass the most self-conscious element in Late Roman education, the obsession with the rules of eloquence: a good ear, a knack, and the social fact of hearing good Latin spoken is what Augustine offers by way of training as a substitute for the schools of rhetoric in which he had once made his career."[14]   

In Brown's assessment, however, Augustine did not place enough emphasis on classical education.  The Bishop took for granted that traditional institutions of learning would continue.  These institutions suffered with the fall of Rome, and as a result the generations following Augustine suffered.[15]
As helpful as Press and Brown may be in demonstrating the influence of DDC on Augustine's contemporaries (Press) and on future generations (Brown), they seem to miss the heart and soul of the work and the local circumstances that necessitated it.  This oversight is understandable.  The later impact of DDC on future generations has been so impressive that it has overshadowed the immediate pastoral occasion of the document.  Nevertheless, the preface of DDC indicates that there were immediate pastoral concerns facing Augustine when he wrote.  Augustine began DDC in 397--the same year he assumed full responsibility as Bishop in Hippo.  What better way to begin his tenure than by writing a manual to serve as a guide for preaching and teaching?  Moreover, as he begins his treatise it is clear that he is aware that not everyone in Hippo shares his same views on how to interpret and teach the Word of God.  There are some who do not think that any interpretation or teaching is required at all:  

But now as to those who talk vauntingly of Divine Grace, and boast that they understand and can explain Scripture without the aid of such directions as those I now propose to lay down, and who think, therefore, that what I have undertaken to write is entirely superfluous.  I would such persons could calm themselves so far as to remember that however justly they may rejoice in God's great gift, yet is was from human teachers they themselves learnt to read...suppose we advise all our brethren not to teach their children any of these things, because on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the apostles immediately began to speak the language of every race; and warn every one who has not had a like experience that he need not consider himself a Christian, or may at least doubt whether he has yet received the Holy Spirit?  No, no; rather let us put away false pride and learn whatever can be learnt from man; and let him who teaches another communicate what he has himself received without arrogance and without jealously.[16] 

Any pastor reading these words is comforted to know that his own troubles are not new: there have always been those in the church he believed that the Holy Spirit was sufficient for their edification.  Augustine's approach is exemplary.  He does not exclude these souls from the realm of the church.  However, he does challenge their minds and their hearts.  Everyone has learned from human teachers at some point in their lives.  To reject teachers of God's Word is a prideful act.  We should be eager to learn from whomever can profit us.  We can see from the preface, and the whole tenor of DDC, that Augustine was not writing from a detached position in an effort to put forward an alternative to classical culture.  He was writing as a pastor of souls.  Augustine "was galvanized by a hermeneutical purpose, which would not so much call on a liberal and educated exegesis of scripture for the Christian humanists of all times, as Henri Marrou and many others after him repeatedly insisted, but which would more directly address the peculiar biblical mentality of Augustine's African contemporaries whom he saw trapped in unwisely charismatic categories of exegesis, as well as in the institution of Donatism.[17]  

Augustine did not finish DDC until 427.  One of the reasons that this treatise is so valuable is that it represents the work of a mature pastor and theologian.  Writing as the end of his career, well established as the Bishop, Augustine not only retains the same preface to the work but also includes the rules of Tyconius in Book III of DDC.  Modern scholars are critical of Augustine for not faithfully representing Tyconius.[18]   However, a close reading of Augustine's presentation of the rules of Tyconius suggests that he is not trying to restate the rules so much as rehabilitate them.  Augustine recasts these rules with his own caveats and further instructions.  The wise and charitable pastor, he recognizes that God in his providence has used Tyconius: "the book may be read by the studious (for it is of very great assistance in understanding Scripture)."[19]   However, he also warns his readers not only of the weaknesses of his theological system but also of his heresies as a Donatist--Certainly it must be read with caution, not only on account of the errors into which the author falls as a man, but chiefly on account of the heresies which he advances as a Donatist."[20]   Therefore, Augustine himself will teach Tyconius to his students--"And now I shall briefly indicate what these seven rules teach or advise."[21]   One hears Augustine speaking of Tyconius in the same terms and tone that many contemporary evangelical pastors would use to speak of N.T. Wright to young men pursuing the ministry--"There is much to learn, and much of which to be cautious.  Why don't we spend some time together thinking about what there is to learn." 
Why is it important that we do not fail to miss the pastoral occasion and the pastoral purposes of Augustine in writing DDC?  It is important because to do so is to ultimately fail to see the significance in ordinary ministry done in an extraordinary manner.  Augustine responded to the ordinary circumstances of his ministry.  He had a rather average group of people to whom he ministered.  He faced pastoral problems that are common today in ministry.  His response to the pastoral ministry before was so extraordinary at times that his legacy lives on today.  However, pastors today need to see Augustine's ministry that God accomplishes great things in ministry as we address what he sets in on our path by his Providence.  How many ministers are gloomy, wishing day by day that they were in some other place doing a more glorious ministry?  North Africa was not the most glorious place in the Roman world.  But, there has probably not been a more glorious ministry.  

The Pastoral Theology of De Doctrina  Christiana: Augustine's Contribution to Contemporary Pulpit Ministry

Underlying the pastoral occasion for De Doctrina Christiana was a debate regarding how God would graciously sustain his people: would it be by the direct revelation of the Spirit of God, or would it be through his Word ministered by his servants.  Augustine goes to great lengths to wed the grace of God and the Word of God.  Augustine believed that God's grace was no where more evident than in His Word, by which we he revealed himself.  As H. O. Old notes, this theology of grace leads Augustine to have a robust emphasis on preaching.   "In his homiletical work, Augustine gave first importance to expository preaching.  This was quite consistent with his whole theological system.  Augustine had a strong theology of grace, and a strong theology of grace leads to a strong emphasis on revelation."[22]
Augustine sees himself as completely dependent on the grace of God.  He begins DDC with these words, which read at the beginning of this treatise much in the same way as Pauline prayer wish reads at the beginning of the Apostles' letters.  Speaking of Jesus' miracles of feeding the multitudes he writes:  

The loaves in the miracle were only five and seven in number before the disciples began to divide them among the hungry people.  But when once they began to distribute them, though the wants of so many thousands were satisfied, they filled baskets with the fragments that were left.  Now, just as that were left.  Now, just as that bread increased in the very act of breaking it, so those thoughts which the Lord has already vouchsafed to me with a view to undertaking this work will, as soon as I begin to impart them to others, be multiplied by His grace, so that, in this very work of distribution in which I have engaged, so far from incurring loss and poverty, I shall be made to rejoice in a marvelous increase of wealth.[23] 

First, Augustine did not consider himself a clever, original thinking.  The thoughts that Augustine will share are thoughts that have been vouchsafed to him.  God is the source of these thoughts, Augustine is the steward.  All is of grace.  Second, there is confidence in future grace.  These thoughts graciously given by God will be multiplied by God.  Ministry, whether spoken or written is ministry from grace unto grace.  Confidence can be wed to humility with beauty in the preacher that understands that all fruit in ministry is from God's grace, but likewise has confidence that God is graciously faithful to give fruit to his servants, especially in the ministry of his word.  Third, the Scriptures are a living source of grace.  This analogy is a biblical analogy.  It is indeed more than an analogy.  Jesus himself is the bread of life come down from heaven.  He is present in and through his Word, and will multiply grace to those who read and listen to the living Word proclaimed.  

Augustine exhorts his student to be dependent upon grace as well.  Augustine reminds the preacher that after all preparations have been made, the most important thing to remember is to pray: he will succeed more by piety in prayer than by gifts of oratory; and so he ought to pray for himself, and for those he is about to address before he attempts to speak."[24]   This vital dependence on prayer is accompanied with an expectation that the Holy Spirit will minister through the preacher.  Referring to Matthew 10:19-20 Augustine says, "The Holy Spirit, then, speaks thus in those who for Christ's sake are delivered to the persecutors; why not also in those who deliver Christ's message to those who are willing to learn."[25]   In the next chapter Augustine, seeming to anticipate the North African detractors to whom he referred in the preface, cautions the reader not to infer that their labors are meaningless or that teachers are not needed.  "Now if any one says that we need not direct men how or what they should teach, since the Holy Spirit makes them teachers, he may as well say that we need not pray, since our Lord says, 'Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.'"[26] For Augustine, dependence upon the grace of God should be evident in the prayer life of the minister and in his humility to be taught of God by others.      
C. S. Lewis has said that the surest route to originality is to speak the truth without trying to be original.  In Augustine, the humility of the preacher will lead him to submit even his own style to God's Word.  Ironically, humility will produce originality as the preacher seeks to match his style to that of the Scriptures.  We have seen how Augustine transforms the classical idea of invention in rhetoric.  The Bishop does the same with style.  Referring to Cicero, he writes, "he, then, shall be eloquent, who can say little things in a subdued style, in order to give instruction, moderate things in a temperate style, in order to give pleasure, and great things in a majestic style, in order to sway the mind."[27]   Cicero spoke of legal matters, however.  The Christian will always be speaking of great matters since he speaks of God's truth.[28]   But, that does not mean that the style will not change.  The style will vary according to the genre of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit's intention for the audience.  In DDC 4.20.39 Augustine gives Scripture examples for the subdued style fit for teaching, the temperate style fit for praise or blame and the majestic style intended to move the listener by shear force of the emotion.  He is careful not to have the majestic style confused with rhetorical fancy.  "The majestic style of speech differs from the temperate style just spoken of, chiefly in that it is not so much decked out with verbal ornaments as exalted into vehemence by mental emotion."[29]   He points the reader toward Paul's preaching for examples of the majestic style.[30]      
H.O. Old notes that a generation after Cicero ceased being taught in our schools preachers began having difficulty retaining the attention of their audience.[31]   Augustine reminds us that Scripture itself is full of a variety and richness to nourish the souls of our listeners.  We need not appeal to the culture to captivate listeners.  Rather, we need to make a fresh appeal to the Word of God itself.  Many modern preachers are monotonous, however.  Augustine warns against this danger.  "We are not to suppose that it is against rule to mingle these various styles; on the contrary, every variety of style should be introduced so far as is consistent with good taste."[32]   This variety is found within the Word of God, but will also be found within portions of an address as fitting to the moment or the application: "For when we keep monotonously to the style, we fail to retain the hearers attention; but when we pass from one style to another, the discourse goes off more gracefully, even though it extend to greater length."[33]   Prayer for himself; humble submission to the teaching of others; submission to the styles of the Word of God: for Augustine these are the preacher's logical responses to the grace of God.

Today much preaching seems to lack confidence in the presence of God and the Word of God.  Augustine calls the preacher to keep in mind the spiritual reality before him on Sunday mornings.  God is present.  He nearer to our listeners that we ever imagined.  "And though He is everywhere present to the inner eye when it is sound and clear, He condescended to make Himself manifest to the outward eye of those whose inward sight is weak and dim."[34].  The incarnation occurred not because God is far from us, but because though He is close to us we remain spiritually blind to his presence.  God has chosen to use preaching to reveal himself to his people.  Augustine follows his comments on the incarnation with comments on preaching.  Preaching is the way in which God intends to accomplish our salvation.  "For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1.12.11).  
Here we see a difference between Augustine's understanding of the implications of incarnation and many contemporary approaches.  Many contemporary approaches latch hold of the incarnation as a basis to accommodate culture.  Sometimes this contemporary notion of "accommodation" includes downplaying the role of the spoken word as the primary means that God intends to convey the gospel.  The New Dictionary of the Theology defines contextualization as  "a dynamic process of the church's reflection, in obedience to Christ and his mission in the world, on the interaction of the text as the word of God and the context as a specific human situation.."[35]   Today, however, every church planter in a major protestant denomination is given careful instruction in some of the rudiments of contextualization.  While thoughtful consideration of one's audience (and their culture) is essential, the impression can be gained that there is a great distance between the average non-Christian person and the word of God.  An unintended consequence of this perception has been a loss of confidence in the power of the Word of God to reach across cultural barriers of all kinds, or even to reach fifty feet into the sanctuary to touch the life of an "ordinary" person.  When reading DDC one receives a different impression altogether.  God is very near to each one of us.  There is a sense of his universal presence of God and expectation that he will be revealed in preaching.  
Augustine's doctrine of God is joined with a doctrine of man that also gives confidence to the preacher.  For Augustine, the diversity of the human race is seen especially in the diversity of language.  Words are intended to express the thoughts of the mind.[36]   Because of arrogance of man, God multiplied the languages of men.[37]   But, the human mind is made to love God.  This feature distinguishes the human being from the beast.   "For a great thing truly is man, made after the image and similitude of God, not as respects the mortal body in which he is clothed, but as respects the rational soul by which he is exalted in honor above the beasts."[38]   Augustine would have the preacher remember that every human being is created in the image of God.  Our hearts are fashioned to love God.  There is this fundamental reality to the human race that bind us together.  Augustine has a sophisticated philosophy of language and culture.  But for Augustine human beings always have more in common than not.   
Augustine's doctrine of the imminence of God presence and the sufficiency of God's revelation have significant implications for expository preaching.  The preacher is primarily a discloser of God as he proclaims the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  "The sounds of the preacher's words strike the ears, but the teacher is within."[39]   When the preacher approaches a congregation with the expectation that he is about to disclose the divine before them, and he has attended his expectation with prayer, the result is powerful.

No where is Augustine more helpful to the contemporary preacher than when he speaks of the purpose of preaching. While the pastor may be allowed the luxury of ivory tower speculation in choice moments throughout the week, come Sunday the congregation demands normative truth that speaks to the world as they know it and live in.  Augustine provides a biblical paradigm that enables the pastor to be faithful to the text and the expectations of his congregation to hear a relevant Word from God.    For Augustine, human beings have a supreme purpose:

Of all, then, that has been said since we entered upon the discussion about things, this is the sum: that we should clearly understand that the fulfillment and the end of the Law, and of all Holy Scripture, is the love of an object which is to be enjoyed, and the love of an object which can enjoy that other in fellowship with ourselves.[40] 

People are created in the image of God to love God and to love neighbor.  Augustine can do no better than find the purpose of our lives in Jesus summation of the Law.  "As Augustine sees it, it is love of God and love of our neighbors for the sake of God which is the whole point of our trying to understand Scripture and of our trying to teach what we have come to understand."[41]   This teaching of Jesus is to be respected in our understanding of God's providence in the lives of ourselves and our hearers.  God does not intend that we find satisfaction apart from him in this world.  To the contrary, 

The whole temporal dispensation for our salvation, therefore, was framed by the providence of God that we might know this truth and be able to act upon it; and we ought to use that dispensation, not with such love and delight as if it were a good to rest in, but with a transient feeling rather, such as we have towards the road, or carriages, or other things that are merely means.  Perhaps some other comparison can be found that will more suitably express the idea that we are to love the things by which we are borne only for the sake of that towards which we are borne.[42] 

Here we see how Augustine's confidence in the presence of God is matched by a confidence in the providence of God.  This passage contains a rich theology of suffering for the believer.  Part of the task of preaching will be to speak from God's Word with such clarity as to make plain that God is accomplishing something in the lives of our hearers.  Their circumstances are framed by providence to enable them to love God and neighbor.  Far from being fatalistic, this theology gives real hope through the darkest times.
The preacher's interpretation and application of Scripture is also to be informed by Jesus' summation of the law.  

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.  If, on the other hand, a mans draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception.[43]  

Here we see how Augustine answers the question of relevance for a modern preacher.  Modern conservative Presbyterian preachers are especially prone to lapse into bland discourse and call it preaching.  Faithfulness to the text is the dominate concern.  And yet, somehow many parishioners are left with the feeling that the Word of God does not touch down into their lives.  How unlike the teaching of Jesus!  Augustine makes the goal plain, and it is irrefutable.  If the preacher does not move his listeners toward love of God and neighbor he has failed.  Praying toward this emphasis in preparation is a great help to the preacher.  It is also freeing.  The minister is led by the Spirit of God to see how a particular text should be applied to his particular flock.  The result is preaching that is fresh and vital to the congregation.[44] 

The preacher cannot, however, fail to present the text of the Bible accurately.  Anticipating the hermeneutical danger of letting the summation of the law dictate all exegesis, Augustine warns that mistaken interpretations must be avoided because bad interpretation will harm faith.  "Faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake.  And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold.  For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist."[45]   As Old writes regarding the festal sermons of Augustine, the Bishop would have his congregation to understand that "it was not seeing Jesus which brings us to faith, but hearing the gospel of Christ's victory over death and believing it."[46] The direction to interpret the Scriptures properly and apply them in such a way as to build up love for God and neighbor prevent the modern preacher from falling off either side of the homiletical cart.  How many times to we hear preaching that is all light and no heat, or all heat and no light?  Augustine would have light with heat.   

Augustine makes a vital connection between the goal of the human life and the person and work of Christ.  The preacher is to call the people of God to love God and neighbor.  However, their hearts are cold toward God and neighbor.  Augustine recognizes that not only are we blind to see God, but we are too hard hearted to love Him.  Our sinful affections keep us from love of God and neighbor:    

Further, when we are on the way, and that not a way that lies through space, but through a change of affections, and one which the guilt of our past sins like a hedge of thorns barred against us, what could He, who was willing to lay Himself down as the way by which we should return, do that would be still gracious and more merciful, except to forgive us all our sins, and by being crucified for us to remove the stern decrees that barred the door against our return?[47] 

One who has experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit can fully appreciate the metaphor of Augustine when he says that our past sins are like a "hedge of thorns barred against us."  The regenerate sinner knows what it is to feel unable to approach our Holy God because of the sting of guilt that is experienced when moving toward God.  Augustine alludes to Colossians 2:13-14[48]  when he says that Christ was crucified to remove the stern decrees that barred the door against our return.  God is everywhere present, yet we must return to him by way the cross of Christ that our affections may be set right and we may love him fully.  Here we find Calvin's emphasis on not being able to love God if we fear God.  We find the puritan emphasis on religious affections, which comes to a high place of pastoral application in Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections.  We find a grace theology which draws power from Christ in his person and his work. 
The preacher following Augustine's paradigm will give careful attention to the text with humility to learn from others.  He will give himself to prayer, knowing that Holy Spirit will minister in the hour of need.  He will model his words according to Scripture.  He will speak to the affections of his listeners, reminding them that Christ is the way back to God.  Christ has removed the hedge of thorns that stand in between us and our Father.  He will boldly call for love of God and neighbor, but he will do so with grace.  His sermons may elude typical classification (Theocentric, Christocentric, Anthropocentric, Narrative, Topical, Redemptive Historical); Augustine's sermons often elude such categories.  But, his sermons will be biblical, perhaps more like the varied preaching of Jesus, Peter and Paul.       

In this paper I have contended that Augustine needs to be re-entered into the ring as a modern day contender in the battle for best pastoral practice.  De Doctrina Christiana is a good place to start.  I wish I read this carefully and prayerfully as a seminarian.  A learned professor could teach the history of theology and preaching through this text.  The work is not perfect; no work is.  But it is like the United States Constitution in some respects.  The timeless principles of the Constitution overrode in time those elements that were more bound to culture than Wisdom.  Liberty and equality did away with slavery and provided for women's suffrage.  One would wish for more development of the theology of the cross.  Augustine gives a theology of the cross, but Luther and Calvin will improve upon his work significantly.  Indeed, if you approach this work with Luther, Calvin, Owen and Edwards lurking in the background, then you come to see that they built upon Augustine as much as they perfected him.  

As Dr. Old concludes, "Working back and forth through the history of Christian preaching one sees how often the principles of this venerable classic have been invoked."[49]   We need to revisit Augustine more frequently today.  A student of the history of preaching, Old confirms that Augustine's prayer-wish for God to multiply is labors as Christ multiplied bread to the crowds has come true.  "The preaching ministry of Augustine had a tremendous influence on the preaching of the Western Church, down through the Middle Ages, in the Reformation, and even to our own day.  His manual on preaching De Doctrina Christiana, is still regarded as a classic."[50].  However, while it is true that De Doctrina Christiana is still regarded as a classic, it is not given full consideration as a living work capable of guiding a preacher through the modern maze of pastoral practice.  In the Reformed tradition in particular, Augustine is considered a theologian.  His preaching is revered in the way that same way that a retired athlete is revered.  They were good in their own day but couldn't play with today's competition.  So, even the respect afforded Augustine is often tempered by--to use the words of C.S. Lewis--a mild chronological snobbery.  We would do well to repent and return our attention to this old, humble Bishop.  The more we read him, the more we will understand ourselves and our calling and the Reformers we admire according to Scripture.
Rev. James L. Harvey III is the Senior Minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Newark, Delaware.


  [1] H. O. Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 2 The Patristic Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 365.

  [2] Old, 381.

  [3] Old, 381.

  [4] Gerald A. Press, "The Subject and Structure of Augustine's De Doctrina  Christiana," Augustinian Studies 11 (1980): 99-124.  

  [5] Press, 124.

  [6] Press, 107.  

  [7] Press, 112.

  [8] Press, 112.  

  [9] Press, 112.

  [10] Press, 119. 

  [11] Press, 121.  

  [12] Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2000 [1967]), 262.

  [13] Brown, 263.

  [14] Brown, 265.

  [15] Brown, 265-266.  

  [16] St. Augustine, De Doctrina  Christiana Proem 4-5 in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson, 2004 [1887]), 519-520.  Hereafter DDC.   

  [17] Charles Kannengiesser, "Augustine and Tyconius: A Conflict of Christian Hermeneutics in Roman Africa," in Augustine and the Bible, ed. and trans. Pamela Bright (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1999 [1986]), 152.

 [18] So Pamela Bright, "The Preponderating Influence of Augustine" in Augustine and the Bible, ed. and trans. Pamela Bright (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1999 [1986]), 110-128.  

  [19] DDC 3.30.43.  

  [20] DDC 3.30.43.

  [21] DDC 3.30.43.

 [22] Old, 345.

  [23] DDC, 1.1.1

  [24] DDC 4.15.32

  [25] DDC 4.15.32

  [26] DDC 4.16.33

  [27] DDC 4.17.34

  [28] DDC4.18.35

  [29] DDC 4.20.42

  [30] 2nd Corinthians 6:2-10; Romans 8:28-39; Galatians 4:10-20.  Old, 349.  Old observes that Augustine is more conservative in his use of Greek Rhetoric, anchoring his preaching the pattern of the synagogue sermon rather than the Greek panegyric.    

  [31] Old, 396. 

  [32] DDC 4.22.51

  [33] DDC 4.22.51

  [34] DDC 1.12.11

 [35] Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. (2000, c1988). New dictionary of theology (electronic ed.) (164). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

  [36] DDC 2.3.4

  [37] DDC 2.4.5

  [38] DDC 1.22.20

  [39] Old, 363.  Commenting on Augustine's preaching on 1st John 2:27--His anointing teaches you about everything."

  [40] DDC 1.35.39

  [41] Old, 387.

  [42] DDC 1.35.39

  [43] 1.36.41

  [44] Old, 352-353.  "It is of the essence of expository preaching that one interprets the needs and concerns of the congregation just as one interprets the Scriptures...The third chapter of the Gospel of John is bound to look very different when Augustine preaches it in North Africa during the Donatist controversy...Expository preaching which is truly seasonal draws a crowd."  

  [45] DDC 1.37.42

  [46] Old, 377.  

  [47] DDC 1.17.16

  [48] "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."  This allusion is not noticed by the editors of NPNF.  

  [49] Old, 336.

  [50] Old, 396.