The first step in the interpretation of Scripture, says Augustine, is to be moved by the holy fear of God, by which we seek to do his will. Fear of God reminds us that we are mortal and thereby curtails our foolish pride.
The second step is to attain piety. Piety makes us meek readers of Scripture. Otherwise we tend to defend our vices against Scripture’s condemnation or to place ourselves above Scripture in other ways. To learn from Scripture, we must be docile to God speaking through it.
The third step in the interpretation of Scripture consists in knowledge. The reader of Scripture comes to know that we must love God for his own sake, and we must love our neighbor and ourselves in reference to God. This knowledge challenges us to realize that our loves have not been well ordered; we have loved creatures to the contempt of the Creator. In fear of God and piety, the interpreter of Scripture must begin, therefore, by lamenting his sins.
The fourth step is to gain fortitude. Such fortitude enables us to seek justice and extract ourselves from the love of the world, so as to learn to love eternal things—the Trinity—as we should.
The fifth step is mercy. Loving our neighbor purifies our minds and hearts so that we can love the Trinity.
When we love our enemy, we have arrived at the sixth step, purity of heart. This step involves dying to the world, so that our joy comes from the light of the Trinity and we do not allow the desire to please others and avoid adversity to cause us to turn from the truth that challenges us.
The seventh and final step in the interpretation of Scripture is the peace of wisdom.
Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), pages 9–10.
(Note: Professor Levering is writing here about St. Augustine’s book “On Christine Doctrine”.)