Augustine on His Distaste for a Literal Reading of the Bible

6. I rejoiced also that the old Scriptures of the law and the prophets were laid before me, to be perused, not now with that eye to which they seemed most absurd before, when I censured Your holy ones for so thinking, whereas in truth they thought not so; and with delight I heard Ambrose, in his sermons to the people, oftentimes most diligently recommend this text as a rule—The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life; while, drawing aside the mystic veil, he spiritually laid open that which, accepted according to the letter, seemed to teach perverse doctrines— teaching herein nothing that offended me, though he taught such things as I knew not as yet whether they were true…
Confessions, Book 4.6

For first, these things also had begun to appear to me to be defensible; and the Catholic faith, for which I had fancied nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manichæans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption; especially after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained, and often allegorically — which when I accepted literally, I was killed spiritually.
Confessions Book 5.24

26. But having then read those books of the Platonists, and being admonished by them to search for incorporeal truth, I saw Your invisible things, understood by those things that are made; Romans 1:20 and though repulsed, I perceived what that was, which through the darkness of my mind I was not allowed to contemplate — assured that You were, and were infinite, and yet not diffused in space finite or infinite; and that Thou truly art, who art the same ever, varying neither in part nor motion; and that all other things are from You, on this most sure ground alone, that they are. Of these things was I indeed assured, yet too weak to enjoy You. I chattered as one well skilled; but had I not sought Your way in Christ our Saviour, I would have proved not skilful, but ready to perish. For now, filled with my punishment, I had begun to desire to seem wise; yet mourned I not, but rather was puffed up with knowledge. 1 Corinthians 8:1 For where was that charity building upon the foundation of humility, which is Jesus Christ? 1 Corinthians 3:11 Or, when would these books teach me it? Upon these, therefore, I believe, it was Your pleasure that I should fall before I studied Your Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them; and that afterwards when I was subdued by Your books, and when my wounds were touched by Your healing fingers, I might discern and distinguish what a difference there is between presumption and confession — between those who saw whither they were to go, yet saw not the way, and the way which leads not only to behold but to inhabit the blessed country. For had I first been moulded in Your Holy Scriptures, and had Thou, in the familiar use of them, grown sweet unto me, and had I afterwards fallen upon those volumes, they might perhaps have withdrawn me from the solid ground of piety; or, had I stood firm in that wholesome disposition which I had thence imbibed, I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of those books alone.
Confessions, Book 7.26

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