Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Scripture as Mother

Augustine talks a lot about moms in the Confessions: particularly his own mother and the church as the mother of the faithful–though not Mary. This is unsurprising, because Augustine knows nothing of Marian devotion.

But it is not only the church who is the mother of believers; Scripture is, too. (It is also a crib and a nest.) This makes sense, as Scripture is–both for Augustine and in reality–that which teaches about the Lord the church worships. Scripture is the source of the believer’s saving knowledge of God. One might go further and say that the church is one’s mother because it has Scripture, God’s saving manifestation of himself. Thus the church is the place where one hears the oracles of God.

So, in Confessions 12.37, Augustine writes of the Bible as follows, in reference to those who take the words of Genesis 1 “literally,” i.e. as God speaking words in our sense of the phrase, temporally and audibly:

In such creatures, who are still tiny and weak and are carried in the scriptures’ extremely humble phrasing as if held against a mother’s bosom (tamquam materno sinu), faith is wholesomely1 built up; and through this faith they can know and retain in their minds, as definite, that God made all the entities that, in their miraculous variety, physical perception notes all around.

If any of them disdains as cheap what’s been said in scripture, and in the arrogance of his weakness stretches his head out beyond the cradle where he’s being nurtured (extra nutritorias cunas)–then, alas, the poor thing falls out. Have pity, our God and Master, and keep those who are walking down the road from trampling into nothing the chick who has no feathers yet, and send your angel to put him back in the nest (mitte angelum tuum, qui eum reponat in nido), so that he lives until he can lift himself on his wings. (tr. Sarah Ruden).


  1. Also “savingly”: salubriter.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.