7 Reasons Augustine Can Enrich Our Understanding of Creation

Wrestling with the doctrine of creation? Augustine’s life and work might be more relevant and timely than you’d think.

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Augustine’s views are not quite as this article makes out. It is true he is inclined to interpret Genesis 1 as possibly not identifying 6 24 hour periods. But this doesn’t seem as vague as the framework view. It is more to do with the question of how time can pass without changing things, rooted in his theory of time. There is a lot of metaphysical subtlety going on, that we cannot be quick to say Augustine would be on board with evolutionary timelines. For instance, also from the City of God a little after the supposed reference to the framework view in chapter 11.2 (which I don’t see btw) in 12.10 Augustine says

though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.

when refuting writers who claim the origin of man is a few thousand years older than the Bible’s timeline. If he says that about a few thousand extra years, what would he say about a couple hundred thousand, million, or billions of extra years?

And in Confessions, Augustine seems fine with literal days in Genesis. The only direction Augustine seems willing to go with timelines is to make things shorter, i.e. instantaneous creation of everything. So to merely say he vigorously denies 24 hour periods may give the wrong impression he is equally happy with longer and shorter timelines.

When presented with the manifold scientific evidences from multiple different disciplines, he certainly would have endorsed deep time.

Well, the author of this article, @Gavin_Ortlund just wrote a book about him, so maybe he’d like to chime in :slight_smile:

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Hey Eric! Thanks for the engagement. Here are a few responses:

“It is true he is inclined to interpret Genesis 1 as possibly not identifying 6 24 hour periods.”

The word “possibly” should be removed from this sentence. Augustine vigorously denied that the days of Genesis 1 were 24 hour periods of time. For example, he claimed that ordinary 24-hours days “are not at all like [the days of Genesis 1], but very, very different.” He also wrote, “when we reflect upon the first establishment of creatures in the works of God from which he rested on the seventh day, we should not think of those days as being like these ones governed by the sun.”

“But this doesn’t seem as vague as the framework view.”

Augustine is regularly identified as within the camp of literary or framework views. For example, Henri Blocher listed him as an early proponent of this view in his book In the Beginning. The reason is that Augustine held the usage of days to depict God’s work of creation was a literary framework to accommodate to the readers’ understanding. I give lots of quotes to this effect in chapter 3 of the book. (In passing, I’d object to the term “vague” for this view.)

…also from the City of God a little after the supposed reference to the framework view in chapter 11.2 (which I don’t see btw) in 12.10 Augustine says “though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.”

This quote is about the date of humanity, not the world. A few pages later, Augustine expressly states ignorance about the age of the world: “I own that I do not know what ages passed before the human race was created.” In chapter 3 I list three additional problems with young-earth creationist appeal to this quote. The main point I emphasize is that the most relevant point is not how old the universe was, but the hermeneutics Augustine used in engaging Genesis 1.

I hope this helps! Blessings to you.

Gavin

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The context is dating humanity, but he seems to be disproving the critics by dating the world.

And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred.

And yes, Augustine says he doesn’t know about the ages before man’s creation, but it is unclear he is referring to something in the temporal realm. Right after that quote in CoG 12.16 he goes on to talk about the eternal time before the creation of man. It isn’t clear he is talking about a temporal period. He seems to decide “eternal time” is actually a reference to God’s eternity.

At any rate, even if Augustine is only talking about mankind’s history, 6000 is still way too short given evolutionary timelines, and Augustine seems pretty unwilling to budge on that timespan.

And one more point. If your goal is to further the arts and normal human life, I am not sure Augustine is your guy :smiley:

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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