…Augustine’s magisterial reading of the Letter to the Romans, as unfolded in reams of his writings, and ever thereafter by his theological heirs: perhaps the most sublime “strong misreading” in the history of Christian thought, and one that comprises specimens of all four classes of misprision.
Of the first, for instance: the notoriously misleading Latin rendering of Romans 5:12 that deceived Augustine into imagining Paul believed all human beings to have, in some mysterious manner, sinned “in” Adam, which obliged Augustine to think of original sin—bondage to death, mental and moral debility, estrangement from God—ever more insistently in terms of an inherited guilt (a concept as logically coherent as that of a square circle), and which prompted him to assert with such sinewy vigor the justly eternal torment of babes who died unbaptized.
And of the second: the way, for instance, Augustine’s misunderstanding of Paul’s theology of election was abetted by the simple contingency of a verb as weak as the Greek proorizein (“sketching out beforehand,” “planning,” etc.) being rendered as praedestinare—etymologically defensible, but connotatively impossible.
And of the third: Augustine’s frequent failure to appreciate the degree to which, for Paul, the “works” (erga, opera) he contradistinguishes from faith are works of the Mosaic law, “observances” (circumcision, kosher regulations, and so on).
And of the fourth—well, the evidences abound: Augustine’s attempt to reverse the first two terms in the order of election laid out in Romans 8:29–30 (“Whom he foreknew he also marked out beforehand”); or his eagerness, when citing Romans 5:18, to quote the protasis (“Just as one man’s offence led to condemnation for all men”), but his reluctance to quote the (strictly isomorphic) apodosis (“so also one man’s righteousness led to justification unto life for all men”); or, of course, his entire reading of Romans 9–11 . . .