Brandon has a terrific Thomistic counterpoint to my humble little series on St. Augustine’s commentary on the Beatitudes. As we sit on the porch strumming banjos at each other, it occurs to me that we could turn this into a very long-running game: how every Father/Doctor handles them. I call dibs on St. Ambrose next!
One thing that struck my fancy as I read his post is that it’s quite a bit longer than his usual fare (and it’s only Part I of II!). This amused me because my own posts on the subject rapidly grew beyond my control. In my mind, I should have been able to treat St. Augustine’s schema in a single post of 800-1000 words. It was just a Christmas diversion, after all! But while his commentary itself is brief, to explain it is anything but.
In part this is just a hazard of teaching. Visitors to my class–heck, even me when I look back sometimes–are often astounded at how “little” material we cover in a given period. To say something is quite different than to make it known, and teaching involves the difficult and delightful process of condescension. Since I intentionally go for teaching profound material as soon as I think it is developmentally possible to understand it (quite early), the condescension is pretty dramatic.
However, it’s a feature of the Beatitudes and Scripture as well, and that’s the part I want to focus on here. Brandon somewhere/somewhen has a nice post on St. Bonaventure, who is famous for his incredible profundity-brevity matrix. His works are just extraordinary in their overflowing meaning. You sit on a paragraph and trace out thousands of lines of thought like a theological John Nash. He just hits you like a truck with pure wisdom. I will never, ever tire of the introduction to Breviloquium, for example.
There’s something similar going on in these Beatitudes commentaries. My two posts on St. Augustine could have easily been 2000+ words each and looking back I’m not terribly happy with them–they feel cut off and ungainly. But that’s because, if we were discussing the matter in person at a bar, we’d be hit up for last call before we finished. It’s one of those fully engrossing conversations that become timeless (and afterward you are a little drunk, exhausted, and glowing with happiness).
That’s part of the joy of how the Fathers read Scripture. Sacred Scripture is the treasury of the happy life and it infinitely overflows in its abundant meaning. It would take years to exhaust the network of connections and storehouse of wisdom that St. Augustine illuminates in the Beatitudes. The more you say, the more you have to say. And when you finally finish, you could move on to another Church Father or Doctor and start again, and then spend your years linking them to each other.
This fearless joy with which the saints read and interpret Sacred Scripture simply must be embraced and shared. It’s a bit hard to get started (or so I found, once upon a time), but impossible to stop. It’s the fountain of living water flowing up from within.
Tolle et lege!