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A Diagram for Augustine's 'De Doctrina Christiana' in a Collection of Letters

A Diagram for Augustine's 'De Doctrina Christiana' in a Collection of Letters

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1105

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vespasian E IV

Item number: f. 203r

Length: 21.7

Width: 15

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

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Medieval monasteries copied letters as a means of preserving records of privileges granted them or other actions which affected their status and also as records of theological discussions. This manuscript has some letters relating to churches in Worcester in the 11th and 12th centuries.

One of the letters was copied on the back of a page with a diagram meant to aid the reader of Augustine's 'On Christian Doctrine'. One of the most important books for medieval theologians, it was a systematic theory for explaining in human terms--or interpreting--divine wisdom as communicated via scripture and the natural world. It was often presented in medieval copies with this diagram. 'Doctrine' is shown to have four main branches: things, signs, things instituted by men and things divinely instituted. The branch below signs, given (or intended) signs, is the most complex because to Augustine it was the most important to interpretation, scripture itself being a series of signs--given in the most important way, in words--which had to be correctly and fully interpreted. His theory of signs still influences modern literary criticism.

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