Anglican Essentials: Going Deeper–Introduction to the early Christians

Early Christian life and teaching were centered on Christ:

  • The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were central.  Jesus—the Word-made-flesh–represented something really new that happened to a real person in history, quite unlike the myths and Gods of the Greeks and Romans.  
  • Christian worship much like today was already in place, centered on Jesus, invoking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Eucharist and Baptism, and reading from the “memoirs of the Apostles” at Sunday eucharistic meetings.
  • The Hebrew Scriptures were widely read as pointing to Christ.  OT figures were “types” of Christ, prefiguring him.  The whole of Scripture was read as telling a single story, from beginning to end.  Heretics would “proof text” out their favorite parts to support their ideas, but the Fathers taught the consistency of the whole of Scripture as telling one story of “God’s Economy”.

Jesus taught the two disciples walking with him on the road to Emmaus on the night of his resurrection: 

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27).

Following Jesus’ lead, Christians–especially the new gentile Christians–had to learn to read the Jewish Scriptures in view of Jesus’ birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection as the Messiah of Israel.  

The Fathers were consistent in reading Scripture as more than literal, as containing spiritual meaning far beyond the literal (e.g., OT seen in the light of Christ)

In all the sacred books, we should consider the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given. In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense.

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.  That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.

                                            Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book I

The Fathers read Scripture according to truths taught, facts narrated, events predicted, and precepts or counsels given. Note well that Augustine says that all Christians know that there is a figurative or non-literal meaning in the Scriptures. They are not just to be taken literally, and Augustine certainly did not. Augustine and the other Fathers knew that the Scriptures needed to be read carefully, under the guidance of the Tradition and the Holy Spirit, so that we will not just push our own teaching to be the only right one. We should seek to align our own teaching with that of the Scriptures.

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