This was just fantastic. Augustine’s work here clearly shaped and guided Christian thought and doctrine, and the effects of his wisdom are felt today. He navigates the heresies common to his day and leads the reader to understand what the Bible teaches. He offers timeless principles which should form and shape Christians, both the lay person and the leaders.
Two sections in particular I found most delightful and spiritually edifying. The first is in book 1, where he pursues how objects are to be enjoyed and used for the purpose of ultimately enjoying God. That when we enjoy things as ends themselves, we veer off into idolatry and will be left dissatisfied. It is here that Augustine stands forth as a most ardent defender of the church against all forms of gnosticism and asceticism. In one place he says:
For to enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake. To use, on the other hand, is to employ whatever means are at one’s disposal to obtain what one desires, if it is a proper object of desire; for an unlawful use ought rather to be called an abuse. Suppose, then, we were wanderers in a strange country, and could not live happily away from our fatherland, and that we felt wretched in our wandering, and wishing to put an end to our misery, determined to return home. We find, however, that we must make use of some mode of conveyance, either by land or water, in order to reach that fatherland where our enjoyment is to commence. But the beauty of the country through which we pass, and the very pleasure of the motion, charm our hearts, and turning these things which we ought to use into objects of enjoyment, we become unwilling to hasten the end of our journey; and becoming engrossed in a factitious delight, our thoughts are diverted from that home whose delights would make us truly happy. Such is a picture of our condition in this life of mortality. We have wandered far from God; and if we wish to return to our Father’s home, this world must be used, not enjoyed, that so the invisible things of God may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,–that is, that by means of what is material and temporary we may lay hold upon that which is spiritual and eternal.
The second section I found truly wonderful was when he treats with wisdom and eloquence. There are eloquent men who are devoid of wisdom and such men fall into two categories. Those who have the all substance of a hot air balloon; the other being malevolent in their eloquence, seeking to deceive their hearers through their silver speech. Augustine then speaks of men who are Wise but not eloquent, and while this is not ideal, it is better to be wise with God’s wisdom and devoid of eloquence, than have eloquence and no wisdom. But best of all is a man who is made wise by God’s Word & Spirit and who has the gift of eloquence. Nevertheless, eloquence must submit to wisdom, not vice versa! On this Augustine quotes this pithy proverb:
Wisdom without eloquence is of little service to states, yet eloquence without wisdom is frequently a positive injury, and is of service never.
I highly commend this work to students of Christian doctrine and Biblical truth!