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by Saint Augustine

Confessions Language and Communication Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Book.Section.Paragraph)

Quote #1

Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you! For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you. (I.4.1)

Augustine seems to be pulling a nudge nudge-wink wink here and referring to himself when he says "those who are most gifted with speech." Conceited much? But wait a minute. So, it's difficult to both not say enough about God and to say anything about God? That's what we call a Catch-22. It's not just well-nigh impossible to find someone who can speak about God; speech itself seems to fall short of fulfilling its duty.

Quote #2

To me [the Scriptures] seemed quite unworthy of comparison with the stately prose of Cicero, because I had too much conceit to accept their simplicity and not enough insight to penetrate their depths. (III.5.1)

It's pretty hard to compete with one of the greatest orators of Western civilization, but that's not really Augustine's point here. He's saying that he judges language by its rhetorical complexity, and quite frankly, he finds the Bible clunky and uninspiring. Learning how to read between the lines of the Bible is an important lesson for Augustine; it's not until he meets Ambrose that he gets the brilliant idea of reading the Bible figuratively instead of literally. (We can't blame him, debates about this kind of thing still rage on today.) And it's not until the last three books that Augustine starts to think about the Bible's potential for multiple meanings.

Quote #3

But in your wonderful, secret way, my God, you had already taught me that a statement is not necessarily true because it is wrapped in fine language or false because it is awkwardly expressed. (V.6.3)

It's probably a good thing to remind the viewers (er, readers) at home that more often than not, we care about how something is said, rather than what is said. Seriously, that's like Politics 101. Language—and the not-so-insignificant fact that it can be deceptive—is one of the big reasons why Augustine has such a hard time taking the Bible seriously. But what Augustine will eventually realize, in his perpetual search for the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, is that the Truth transcends language.

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