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Augustinian Studies

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published on November 12, 2014

Brett W. Smith

Complex Authorial Intention in Augustine’s Hermeneutics

Augustine held that scripture could have multiple true meanings, and scholars of Augustine have given this topic considerable treatment. Some have recognized the importance of divine authorial intention in this matter, but the relevance of ancient semantics to Augustine’s hermeneutics has not received sufficient attention. Ancient speakers would often explain a concept in varied ways that could all be considered true. This practice created the possibility that an author could intend for certain terms to be understood in multiple ways. I call this a complex authorial intention. After describing some of the prominent views on Augustine’s multiple meanings of scripture, I will establish the concept of complex authorial intention from ancient semantic practice. In the light of these first two sections I will proceed to analyze three key texts in Augustine’s corpus: Confessions 12.30.41 and 13.24.37, as well as De Doctrina Christiana 3.2.2. I will argue that Augustine saw complex divine authorial intention as a theoretical justification for the multiplicity of meanings in scripture and that this view sets objective limits on the range of possible meanings.

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