Augustine on Learning and the Human Teacher

“My argument is with Christians who congratulate themselves on a knowledge of the holy scriptures gained without any human guidance and who–if their claim is valid–thus enjoy a real and substantial blessing.  But they must admit that each one of us learnt our native language by habitually hearing it spoken from the very beginnings of childhood, and acquired others–Greek, Hebrew, or whatever–either by hearing them in the same way or by learning them from a human teacher.  So should we now (I ask you!) warn all our brethren not to teach these things to their small children on the grounds that the apostles spoke in the languages of all peoples after being inspired in a single moment by the coming of the Holy Spirit? Or should we warn those to whom such things do not happen to stop thinking of themselves as Christians and start doubting that they have received the Holy Spirit? No, they should learn, without pride, what has to be learned from a human teacher; and those responsible for teaching others should pass on, without pride or jealousy, the knowledge they have received.” Augustine of Hippo, “Preface,” On Christian Teaching, trans. R.P.H. Green (Oxford 1999), pp. 4-5.

Apparently, some Christians in Augustine’s lifetime claimed to have received a knowledge of the Bible through the Holy Spirit without a human teacher.  However, Augustine assumes that most Christians do not possess such a gift, but rather they must acknowledge the need to learn language through imitation or study.  Thus students need teachers and both should avoid pride, particularly, a pride that drives one to reject the teacher and seek only special knowledge directly from God.

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