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Augustinian Studies

Volume 45, Issue 2, 2014

Tarmo Toom
Pages 183-201

Augustine’s Case for the Multiplicity of Meanings

Augustine was a convinced proponent of the multiplicity of meanings. He had both theoretical and theological reasons for affirming the phenomenon of polysemy. This article deduces seven themes from Augustine’s exegetical practice and from his discussions of the principles of his exegesis, and employs these as Augustine’s arguments for the multiplicity of meanings. Augustine acknowledges the legitimacy of the many senses of the Word of God. Because scripture is an ambiguous linguistic reality, it constitutes a system of (linguistic) signs and it reuses earlier texts to convey new meanings. Augustine’s theological reasons for the multiplicity of meanings include the beliefs that human authorial intention is complemented by the primary divine intention, that scripture has to be interpreted Christologically, that scripture’s interpretations have to be spiritually useful, and that the texts of scripture are part of the new theological/literary context of the canon.