No conventional sign can mean anything until you sign onto the convention. Think of the monosyllable g-i-f-t. A gift is a desirable thing, at least in Anglophone regions. It is less so in Germany, unless you positively grock on potassium cyanide or Zyklon-B. What this means is that if somebody gives you a gift, hope that it is in Boston rather than Berlin.
Augustine was trying to prepare people to approach the Bible in some other spirit than that of a Rorschach test. My purpose in this post is very different, though I will in passing commend Augustine’s essay to the alarmingly large number of my fellow Bible-readers who seem to think that the Word of God is English, subspecies Jacobean.
The explanation of this phenomenon is not so simple as the fact that our musical settings do in fact come from an Argentinian folk mass. I have never heard this crowd singing “A Mighty Fortress” in the original German. No. The explanation is that in a certain American politico-ecclesiastical context the Spanish language itself, quite apart from any of its individual verbal signifiers, is becoming a conventional sign. What it signals is a vague but benevolent aspiration to catholic fraternity and recognition of that biblical category called “the poor, the fatherless, and the oppressed.” I rather doubt that it signaled the same thing to Lope de Vega, but then conventions do shift.