Augustine    354-430 CE 

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The most influential thinker in the formation of the Latin Christian tradition. Aurelius Augustinus began life at Tagaste in Roman Africa (Algeria) & died as bishop of Hippo, only 45 miles away. But his long personal spiritual journey left indelible marks on medieval & modern western culture.

Though his mother was a Christian, Augustine himself did not join the Catholic church until he was 33. He began his career as a teacher of classic Latin rhetoric. His personal intellectual quest, recounted in his Confessions (397 CE), led him from Cicero to Manicheism to Neo-Platonism before he was baptized by Ambrose at Milan (Italy) in 387. He returned to Africa & in less than a decade was made bishop of Hippo, where he distinguished himself in debate with Manicheans & other sects, notably supporters of Pelagius, who claimed salvation depended on individual free will. Convinced that God had shaped the course of his own life, Augustine insisted that salvation depends on predestination, a view that he used to champion the triumph of Christianity over pagan Rome in his masterpiece, The City of God (427 CE). A prolific interpreter of scripture, Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin & tried to demonstrate the Consensus of the Gospels, against those who claimed discrepancies between Matthew, Mark, Luke & John invalidated their accounts.

Augustine took for granted the order of the gospels in the NT was the order in which they were composed. Moreover, he assumed that each writer had read the work of every predecessor. Thus, Augustine was the first to recognize a direct literary dependence of one synoptic gospel upon another. Since he had such a great influence on later biblical interpreters, his comments in Consensus of the Gospels 1.2.4 deserve direct quotation:

Although each of these [gospel writers] may appear to preserve a certain order of narration proper to himself, this certainly should not be taken as though each individual writer chose to write in ignorance of what his predecessor had done, or left out things, which nonetheless another (gospel) is discovered to have recorded, as matters about which there was no information. Rather, the fact is that as each of them received the gift of inspiration, they abstained from adding to their distinct works any extra shared compositions.

For Matthew is understood to have undertaken to construct the record of the incarnation of the Lord according to the royal lineage, and to give an account of most of His words and deeds as they relate to this present human life.

Mark follows him closely, and looks like his assistant and epitomizer. For in his narrative he gives nothing apart from the others that agrees with John. He has little to record distinctly on his own. He has still less in common with Luke that is distinct from the rest. But he has a very great number of passages in common with Matthew. He also narrates much in words almost the same in number and identity as those used by Matthew, where this agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest.

Luke, on the other hand, appears to have been concerned instead with the priestly lineage and character of the Lord. For although in his own way he takes [Jesus'] descent back to David, he has followed not the royal pedigree, but the line of those who were not kings. He has also traced that genealogy to a point in David's son Nathan, who likewise was no king. Yet, it was not so in Matthew. For in tracing the lineage through king Solomon, he has followed with strict regularity the succession of the other kings....

Augustine's attempt to explain why the genealogy in Luke differed from the one in Matthew made him the first scholar to recognize that later gospels were creative revisions of earlier works. That is, gospels present not only additions to but deliberate alterations of their sources that reflect the themes stressed by their authors. This insight became the basis of redaction criticism.

Thus, Augustine's view (which became the prevailing opinion in western Christian tradition) is that:

  • Matthew wrote the basic story of Jesus' human life;
  • Mark condensed Matthew;
  • Luke edited Matthew & Mark, omitting passages they covered.
  • John wrote to fill in what the others omitted.

This theory went unchallenged until the late 18th c., when J. B. Koppe pointed out that Augustine was wrong in claiming that the text of Mark had little in common with Luke.

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last revised 03 August 2017

 

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