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St Augustine Part 1 (of 3): Things

May 10, 2010

There is a St. Augustine iPhone app. I kid you not.

I’m un-cool enough that I still much prefer real books with real paper, but I’m also fiscally challenged enough – at present – that I can’t argue with free. So Christian Doctrine, The City of God, and Confessions are all on my phone – even though I can’t select the text, the bookmarking function kind of stinks, and there aren’t any other features.

Can’t argue with free.

I’ve been reading Christian Doctrine. There are four books to it. The first one has already sent me reeling.

The reeling part is toward the middle of kind of a compound philosophy, so we need to back up a bit and make sure we’re all speaking the same language. If you read Chapter 22 straight away you’ll likely think, “That’s ridiculous and impossible and this man is unrealistic.” And you would write off St. Augustine.

First you need to read Chapter 4, but you won’t really understand Chapter 4 without reading Chapter 2.

In Chapter 2, Augustine defines some terms: “thing” and “sign.” And I quote:

I now use the word “thing” in a strict sense, to signify that which is never employed as a sign of anything else: for example, wood, stone, cattle, and other things of that kind.

Not, however, the wood which we read Moses cast into the bitter waters to make them sweet … nor the ram which Abraham offered up instead of his son; for these, though they are things, are also signs of other things … and hence may be understood what I call signs: those things, to wit, which are used to indicate something else.

Accordingly, every sign is also a thing; for what is not a thing is nothing at all. Every thing, however, is not also a sign.

Got all that? When the man talks about a “thing,” he means the object/animal/person itself – it represents nothing else; it just is. When he talks about a “sign,” he means a thing that is representing something else – not the thing itself, and not some spiritual clue (as we often think of “a sign”).

Mm-kay? You’ll need that for tomorrow.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2010 10:12 am

    It hurts your head a bit, hey?!
    A lot of what I’ve been reading about lately (Jürgen Moltmann’s ‘doctrine of social trinity’) revolves around 700 years worth of redefining what the term ‘person’ means. Fun!

    • Lex permalink
      May 11, 2010 1:24 pm

      Why do we do this to ourselves? ;)

  2. May 11, 2010 9:40 pm

    Sadists.

    That’s what we are.

    :)

    It’s incredible stuff to ponder though – amazing how “simple” things can change your entire perspective. Also causes me to be more purposeful about the words I choose to use.

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