Augustinian Studies

Volume 54, Issue 2, 2023

Brendan Augustine Baran, O.P.
Pages 203-230

Knocking on the Doors of Scripture
Matthew 7:7c (par. Luke 11:9c) in Augustine’s Sermones ad populum

Several times, when faced with a difficult passage of scripture in Sermones ad populum, Augustine implores his audience, “knock and it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7c; par. Luke 11:9c). Augustine uses this phrase to stress humility and the human need for God’s activity when interpreting scripture. Studying the archeological record of domestic architecture of locked doors in Roman North Africa elucidates Augustine’s message. Knowledge of the material culture shows that Augustine calls upon Christians to “knock” upon scripture as if it were a door, locked and barred in such a way that it could only be opened from inside. Thus, a reader of scripture is like a petitioner calling from outside a locked door, needing God to open its meaning. Augustine’s use of “knocking” contrasts with the metaphor of “keys” to scripture, which was favored by Tyconius and other early Christian writers. In De doctrina Christiana, Augustine expresses concern that “keys” could lead a person into overconfidence, expecting to unlock obscure passages of the Bible by his or her own power. Augustine’s frequent use of Matt. 7:7c is a call for exegetes to approach scripture with humility. All members of the totus Christus, great and small, must humbly knock. The image of “knocking” provides a versatile theological message: human effort is important, but the meaning of the Bible is ultimately unlocked by God’s activity.