‘The Exegetical Practice in Aug.’s Early Comm. on Genesis’

(2007) Naoki Kamimura, ‘The Exegetical Practice in Augustine’s Early Commentaries on Genesis’ (in Japanese), Studies in Medieval Thought, 49 (Japanese Society of Medieval Philosophy) 19–36.
Originally delivered at the Japanese Society of Medieval Philosophy 55th Annual Conference, held at Keio University, Yokohama, on 12 November 2006.
During many years of his writing career Augustine composed five commentaries on Genesis. His second attempt of these, De genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber, was written around 393. In the Retractations Augustine explained in detail the status of the work. He managed to work his way through the first chapter of Genesis up to Gen 1:26. And with that verse he gave up the literal interpretation of the text.
The first attempt of his literal exegesis has been quite overlooked. In this paper I aim to consider the limits and significance of Augustine’s first literal commentary. After looking at the testimony as to the reason why Augustine abandoned his project, I first examine the final sections of this unfinished work. Up to the point where the text breaks off, he consistently presents a literal interpretation of Genesis. What led Augustine to discontinue his course at this point? It seems appropriate to presume that he has had difficulties in offering a literal reading.
Then I suggest two hypotheses: his difficulty lay in Gen 1:26; or in Gen 1:27. At the time of engaging himself to the Retractations, Augustine added the final two paragraphs in which he thought that a man is the image of God and that man is not equal to the image, the Son of God. And in De diversis quaestionibus 83, 74 (393–396), Augustine had already put the same interpretation. On the other hand, his reading of Gen 1:27 had been brought to a halt until the time of the De genesi ad litteram. Hence, the apparent reason for his dropping the course is that Gen 1:27a speaks of man as an incorporeal soul such that a literal understanding of the two sexes was impossible.
Finally, I propose even provisionally his changing understanding of what ‘literal’ meant. In his early exegeses, Augustine rather tended to condemn the ‘literal’ reading of Genesis, with which Catholics would be exposed to hold a materialist conception of the divine. Although he never did define the ‘literal’ mode of exposition in De genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber, he would take all those primordial events of the narrative in Genesis as actually having happened in the way described. His approach to the text is designated as that of his reading later in the De genesi ad litteram. Thus, he really practices his ‘literal’ interpretation at this point. However, it needs further consideration of the different things contained in the scriptures, that is the metaphysical aspects of the creation and human beings.
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