Saturday, May 17, 2014

Notes on Augustine's "Harmony of the Gospels" Part 2: The Synoptics and John

Notes from Book I (chapters iv-vi):

In his “Harmony” Augustine recognizes a distinction between John and the Synoptic Gospels.  The Synoptics are engaged for the most part with things Jesus did “through the vehicle of the flesh of man and after a temporal fashion.”

But John, on the others hand, had in view that true divinity of the Lord in which He is the Father’s equal, and directed his efforts above all to the setting forth of the divine nature in his Gospel in such a way as he believed to be adequate to men’s needs and notions.  Therefore he is borne to loftier heights, in which he leaves the other three far behind him….

This is not to say that John did not recognize Jesus as the Word made flesh.  Yet John “is like one who has drunk in the secret of his divinity more richly and somehow more familiarly than others.”

Augustine suggests that the differences between the Synoptic approach and John’s approach to the life of Jesus can be explained by their application of two different virtues or talents.  The Synoptics are “active” while John is “contemplative.”  The active is concerned with “the right exercise of the temporal life” while the contemplative “deals with the doctrine of that life which is everlasting.”  “In this way, the one operates, the other rests; for the former finds its sphere in the purging of sins, the latter moves in the light of the purged.”

Finally, Augustine reflects on the how the four Gospels have been figuratively represented:  Matthew as lion, Mark as man, Luke as calf, and John as eagle.  He notes that Matthew is appropriately the lion, since he presents the kingly character of Christ.  Luke is rightly the calf "in reference to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest."  Mark simply presents Christ as a man.   "Whereas John, on the other hand, soars like an eagle above the clouds of human infirmity, and gazes upon the light of the unchangeable truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart." 

No comments: