Wednesday, April 4, 2012

St. Augustine and King Solomon's Etiquette

St. Augustine is a genius at drawing out from scripture its many meanings. He takes verses that to most of us seem to have nothing more than the bare literal meaning. In today's Office of Readings, he quotes from Proverbs: If you sit down with a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself. 

Without help from Augustine, I could read this verse a hundred times, and see nothing more than advice from King Solomon's Rules of Etiquette for the Polite Israelite. But Augustine pulls out the allegorical meaning (finding  "types" or metaphors of Christ in the Old Testament) and the moral meaning (what this scripture means to us personally). Check it out:

What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? 

Seeking the various meanings of the psalms and scriptures of the Liturgy of the Hours takes practice, but it will enrich our daily prayer immensely. The red letter subtitles and the quotations beneath each psalm number will help you with some of this. After a while you will be able to find other meanings as well, especially those little messages from God to you, calling you to respond in faith, hope, and love. 


  1. I was so excited this morning about this reading from St. Augustine and this connection to the Eucharist and was just doing an online search to find the Proverbs reference when your blogpost came up. Of course, I already have your blog bookmarked, but it was fun to see that you also were moved by this connection. A rejoicing heart loves company. Thanks for your blog.

    1. Hey, great minds think alike.:) I'm open to guest posts, so next time something like this makes your heart rejoice, send me your thoughts and maybe I'll make that into a post. There's lots of stuff I miss that others see.

  2. Although, I must say, that when I discovered that St. Augustine was quoting from Proverbs 23:1[-2?]I was a bit perplexed: "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite" (from the RSV-2nd CE). Although this may be a great "diet verse" this passage doesn't seem to go with what he was talking about here in this great reading. I really liked the part that said, "you must provide the same kind of meal yourself" and was thinking about that for quite awhile. Then, when I looked up the Proverbs passage and finally read it, I was wondering where St. Augustine might actually have been reading. Unless there is another place in Proverbs that talks about eating with a ruler but, if so, I haven't been able to find it.:)

  3. I am stuck too. I am being unsuccessful with a web search. I have read (quickly) Ecclesiates, Song of Solomon (Songs) and Wisdom. When I got to Proverbs due to the web search, I did it by searching on the second part of the verse "... observe carefully what is set before you."
    The reference above is from Common of One Martyr, St Augustine, Sermo 329, in natali martyrum. For April 4, however, is St Isadore, and the Office reading is by St Isadore. I am a faithful Catholic, and am digging for the source for inclusion in a Master's Thesis paper.

  4. I guess St. Augustine was working from a different translation than we have nowadays!