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Signs by augustine


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Short Novel Class. Discussion on St. Augustine's concept of "signs."

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Signs by augustine

  1. 1. Signsby St. Augustine
  2. 2. From On Christian Doctrine, Book One, Part IIAll instruction is either about things orabout signs; but things are learned by meansof signs. I now use the word thing in a strictsense, to signify that which is never employedas a sign of anything else: forexample, wood, stone, cattle, and other thingsof that kind.
  3. 3. Not, however, the wood which weread Moses cast into the bitter waters to makethem sweet, Exodus 15:25 nor the stonewhich Jacob used as apillow, Genesis 28:11 nor the ramwhich Abraham offered up instead of hisson; Genesis 22:13 for these, though they arethings, are also signs of other things.
  4. 4. There are signs of another kind, those whichare never employed except as signs: forexample, words. No one uses words exceptas signs of something else; and hence may beunderstood what I call signs: those things, towit, which are used to indicate somethingelse. Accordingly, every sign is also a thing; forwhat is not a thing is nothing at all. Everything, however, is not also a sign.
  5. 5. And so, in regard to this distinction betweenthings and signs, I shall, when I speak ofthings, speak in such a way that even if someof them may be used as signs also, that willnot interfere with the division of the subjectaccording to which I am to discuss things firstand signs afterwards. But we must carefullyremember that what we have now to considerabout things is what they are inthemselves, not what other things theyare signs of.
  6. 6. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part I As when I was writing about things, Iintroduced the subject with a warning againstattending to anything but what they are inthemselves, even though they are signs ofsomething else, so now, when I come in itsturn to discuss the subject of signs, I lay downthis direction, not to attend to what they arein themselves, but to the fact that theyare signs, that is, to what they signify.
  7. 7. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IFor a sign is a thing which, over and above theimpression it makes on thesenses, causes something else to come intothe mind as a consequence of itself: as when wesee a footprint, we conclude that an animalwhose footprint this is has passed by; and whenwe see smoke, we know that there is firebeneath; and when we hear the voice of a livingman, we think of the feeling in his mind; andwhen the trumpet sounds, soldiers know thatthey are to advance or retreat, or do whateverelse the state of the battle requires.
  8. 8. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part INow some signs are natural, othersconventional. Natural signs are those which,apart from any intention or desire of using themassigns, do yet lead to the knowledge ofsomething else, as, for example, smoke when itindicates fire. For it is not from any intention ofmaking it a sign that it is so, but throughattention to experience we come to know thatfire is beneath, even when nothing but smoke canbe seen.
  9. 9. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IAnd the footprint of an animal passing by belongsto this class of signs. And the countenance ofan angry or sorrowful man indicates the feeling inhis mind, independently of his will: and in thesame way every other emotion of the mind isbetrayed by the tell-tale countenance, even though we do nothingwith the intention of making it known. This classof signs, however, it is no part of my design todiscuss at present. But as it comes under thisdivision of the subject, I could not altogether passit over. It will be enough to have noticed it thusfar.
  10. 10. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IIConventional signs, on the other hand, are those whichliving beings mutually exchange for the purpose ofshowing, as well as they can, the feelings oftheir minds, or their perceptions, or their thoughts.Nor is there any reason for giving a sign except thedesire of drawing forth and conveying intoanothers mind what the giver of the sign has in hisown mind. We wish, then, to consider and discuss thisclass of signs so far as men are concerned withit, because even the signs which have been given usof God, and which are contained in the HolyScriptures, were made known to us through men—those, namely, who wrote the Scriptures.
  11. 11. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IIThe beasts, too, have certain signs among themselves bywhich they make known the desires in their mind. Forwhen the poultry-cock has discovered food, he signals withhis voice for the hen to run to him, and the dove by cooingcalls his mate, or is called by her in turn; and many signs ofthe same kind are matters of common observation. Nowwhether these signs, like the expression or the cry of a manin grief, follow the movement of the mind instinctively andapart from any purpose, or whether they are really usedwith the purpose of signification, is another question, anddoes not pertain to the matter in hand. And this part of thesubject I exclude from the scope of this work asnot necessary to my present object.
  12. 12. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IIIOf the signs, then, by which men communicate theirthoughts to one another, some relate to the sense ofsight, some to that of hearing, a very few to the othersenses. For, when we nod, we give no sign except tothe eyes of the man to whom we wish by this sign toimpart our desire. And some convey a great deal by themotion of the hands: and actors by movements of alltheir limbs give certain signs to the initiated, and, so tospeak, address their conversation to the eyes: and themilitary standards and flags convey through the eyesthe will of the commanders. And all these signs are asit were a kind of visible words.
  13. 13. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IIIThe signs that address themselves to the earare, as I have said, more numerous, and forthe most part consist of words. For thoughthe bugle and the flute and the lyre frequentlygive not only a sweet but a significant sound,yet all these signs are very few in numbercompared with words. For among men wordshave obtained far and away the chief place asa means of indicating the thoughts ofthe mind.
  14. 14. words words words words words wordswords words words words words wordswords words words words words wordswords words words words words wordswords words words words words words
  15. 15. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IIIOur Lord, it is true, gave a sign through the odor of theointment which was poured out upon His feet; and inthe sacrament of His body and bloodHe signified His will through the sense of taste; andwhen by touching the hem of His garmentthe woman was made whole, the act was not wantingin significance. Matthew 9:20 But the countlessmultitude of the signs through which men express theirthoughts consist of words. For I have been able to putinto words all those signs, the various classes of which Ihave briefly touched upon, but I could by no effortexpress words in terms of those signs.
  16. 16. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part XNow there are two causes which prevent whatis written from being understood: itsbeing veiled either under unknown, or underambiguous signs. Signs are either proper orfigurative. They are called proper when theyare used to point out the objects they weredesigned to point out, as we say bos when wemean an ox, because all men who with us usethe Latin tongue call it by this name.
  17. 17. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part XSigns are figurative when the thingsthemselves which we indicate by the propernames are used to signify something else, aswe say bos, and understand by that syllablethe ox, which is ordinarily called by that name;but then further by that ox understand apreacher of thegospel, as Scripture signifies, according tothe apostles explanation, when it says: Youshall not muzzle the ox that treads out thegrain.
  18. 18. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IVBut because words pass away as soon as theystrike upon the air, and last no longer than theirsound, men have by means of lettersformed signs of words. Thus the sounds of thevoice are made visible to the eye, not of course assounds, but by means of certain signs. It has beenfound impossible, however, to makethose signs common to all nations owing tothe sin of discord among men, which springsfrom every man trying to snatch the chief placefor himself.
  19. 19. From On Christian Doctrine, Book Two, Part IVAnd that celebrated tower which was built toreach to heaven was an indication ofthis arrogance of spirit; and theungodly men concerned in it justly earned thepunishment of having not their minds only,but their tongues besides, thrown intoconfusion and discordance.
  20. 20. Where do the signs point?Graham Hess: Peoplebreak down into twogroups. When theyexperience somethinglucky, group number onesees it as more thanluck, more thancoincidence. They see it asa sign, evidence, thatthere is someone upthere, watching out forthem.
  21. 21. Group number two sees it asjust pure luck. Just a happy turnof chance. Im sure the peoplein group number two arelooking at those fourteen lightsin a very suspicious way. Forthem, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could begood. But deep down, they feelthat whatever happens, theyreon their own. And that fillsthem with fear. Yeah, there arethose people.
  22. 22. But theres a whole lot ofpeople in group numberone. When they see thosefourteen lights, theyrelooking at a miracle. Anddeep down, they feel thatwhatevers going tohappen, there will besomeone there to helpthem. And that fills themwith hope.
  23. 23. See what you have to askyourself is what kind ofperson are you? Are youthe kind that sees signs,that sees miracles? Or doyou believe that peoplejust get lucky? Or, look atthe question this way: Is itpossible that there are nocoincidences?