Having just finished the posthumously published biography of St. Augustine of Hippo by Henry Chadwick, I can reaffirm my earlier, posted recommendation to read it. Here are a few excerpts that I wish to bring to your attention. The excerpts, especially the last two, center on Augustine's own expressed intellectual humility as a Christian thinker and writer--a humility also famously expressed by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Teresa of Jesus. With company like that, is any of us exempt from applying such humility as readers and commentators toward the writings of whoever happens to be our favorite theological writer, whether laity, priest, bishop, cardinal, Church Father, or even Doctor of the Church? To the magisterium, we owe obedience; but to writings not forming part of the magisterium, we should imitate Augustine's recommended caution.
1. A famous Augustine saying is worth remembering: Audi partem altera ("Hear the other side." K.L. 760; K.L.="Kindle Location");
2. "Augustine came to make it a principle in all negotiation, or in any controversy whatever, however wide the gulf may be that is to be bridged, that the other party must be treated as a partner in a shared discussion of a common problem and always, unless there is hard evidence to the contrary, as a man of good will and integrity" (K.L. 760);
3. "Augustine himself had a deep abhorrence of being treated as a person whom people wanted to follow without pondering his reasons. He himself feared that the faith itself might suffer damage if people simply accepted his position as an authoritative statement of it. . . . From time to time Augustine warns his readers about his past mistakes [as a writer]. . . . Already in 412 he planned to publish a list of corrections to his published writings. The work envisaged appeared at last in 427 entitled 'Reconsiderations' (Retractiones--the Latin word does not mean 'retractions') . . . ." (K.L. 1765-72; emphasis added by blogger);
4. "I should wish no one to embrace all my teaching except in those matters in which he has seen that I have made no mistake . . . . I have not followed myself in everything. I think that by God's mercy I have made progress in my writing, but not at all that I have reached perfection . . . . A man is of good hope if the last day of his life finds him still improving" (quoting Augustine, K.L. 1772-75; emphasis added by blogger).