«Snake Wisdom» in St. Augustine’s Sermons 64 and 64 A

Stepantsov Sergei A.

Matthew 10:16 is the subject of two St. Augustine’s sermons: 64 and 64A, dedicated to martyrs. Interpreting the precept to be «wise as snakes», Augustine uses three schemes already developped in Christian exegesis (Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers and others). His originality consists in applying the schemes specifically to the martyrs: they sacrifice their bodies for the sake of their spiritual head, which is Christ (as snakes were believed to hide their heads under their tails when hit); they enter through the narrow gate of death (as snakes pass through narrow openings in order to get rid of their old skin); and as a result they receive new life (as snakes were believed to renew their youth after casting off their slough). Martyrs are therefore considered by Augustine to be an ideal embodiment of the «snake wisdom» thus understood.

Keywords: St. Augustine, christianity, snakes