I recall teaching a Sacred Scripture course a couple of years ago and scandalizing a student or two with the above quote. “Is St. Augustine denying the importance of the Bible?” The Doctor of Grace is doing nothing of the kind, though it is not a mystery why this quote may initially cause some consternation. His point here is a profound one. The end or purpose or goal of Sacred Scripture is the sanctification of human beings. God revealed Himself in order to draw us to Himself. The Bible, then, God’s written word, is meant to lead the Christian to the perfection of charity. Notice St. Augustine’s language of one who rests upon and keeps a firm hold upon the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. This is someone who has reached maturity or perfection in the moral life.
An analogy might be helpful here. Consider human law, the civil law with which we are all familiar. The law exists to make men just, to make them virtuous, to make them good citizens. What happens when one in fact becomes virtuous? There is a sense in which the virtuous man has no further need of the law. But this is not because the law is worthless or ineffective. Indeed, it signifies the goodness and efficacy of the law and indicates that the citizen has achieved the very end of the law. What it means is that the citizen has conformed himself to the law to such an extent that the law has become connatural to him; the law is so deeply rooted in him that he acts well habitually, without needing the force or coercion of the law.
In a similar manner, the one who has been conformed perfectly to the law of Christ in faith, hope, and charity has achieved the end of the Scriptures, namely, human sanctification. To reach Christian perfection is to live radically by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who inspired the sacred page. St. Augustine points to people who have lived the Christian life without having consistent access to the Bible. The most extreme example would be the hermit who lives a life of quiet contemplation alone.
As we focus this year on Divine Revelation, which is God’s free act of self-disclosure, His lifting the veil so that we might gaze into His inner mystery, let us give thanks for Sacred Scripture. Whether we have drunk so deeply of the wellspring that we need in a sense only to teach others, or if we ourselves still need instruction, the Bible is a wonderful gift.