Tag Archives: Augustine

The Gospel Coalition needs the Real St. Augustine

baptism-of-st-augustine-1465.jpg!HalfHD

The Baptism of St. Augustine

The Gospel Coalition just posted a book review for the book Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God.  The title of the blog post review is “Why You Need Augustine”.   The author of the review believes that Reformed Christians need to appreciate 4th century Christian Bishop and theologian, Augustine of Hippo and we certainly agree.  But the Gospel Coalition and other Reformed Christians usually just get part of Augustine, a piece of him, and not the real St. Augustine.  Their knowledge of Augustine, if they have one at all,  is almost always limited to what he said about Grace or Predestination.  We submit that they need to know the full-throated Catholic St. Augustine; The real St. Augustine.  The Gospel Coalition needs the real St. Augustine who believed and preached not only the overwhelming power of God’s Grace and his eternal plan of Predestination but also the Catholic Doctrines of regenerative baptism, perseverance, Eucharist as sacrifice, purgatory, and the intercession of the Saints.  The Gospel Coalition needs to know the real St. Augustine because they need to know the real Gospel.

The book, Augustine  on the Christian life by Gerald Bray is one in a series of biographies published by Crosssway Books.  It’s “On the Christian Life” series investigates the lives of Protestant Christian Leaders through the lens of the “Christian Walk”.  The Gospel coalition thinks so highly of this book, and Augustine himself, that the article urges their readers to read Bray’s book before the other biographies in the series so that they can better understand the biographies of the reformers who appear earlier in the series.  They say,

 “The likes of John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and others have Augustine to thank for their own theological positions.”

What theological positions do the Puritans and the Confessional Calvinists get from Augustine?  Certainly Augustine, who is rightly referred to as “The Doctor of Grace” is the genesis of Calvinism’s emphasis on the power and efficacy of Grace.  Against Pelagius and the Pelagians, Augustine labored tirelessly to defend the absolute necessity of God’s Grace preceding any supernaturally good work.  Calvinists have a strong view of God’s sovereignty in election, predestination, perseverance, and authority in all things, which are all certainly found throughout Augustine’s writings.

And yet, The Gospel Coalition does not have the entire Augustine.  In fact, they generally only have part of part of Augustine.  The famous Protestant BB Warfield quip that “The reformation was a victory of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology” is really only partially correct.  The soteriology of Augustine should not be narrowly limited to his doctrines of Grace, Election, and Perseverance.  Augustine taught, among other things, that regeneration happens in the water of baptism, that works are necessary for salvation, that a Christian can atone for his sins through almsgiving, and that the Eucharist is a sacrifice presented on a physical altar by a priest in propitiation for the sins of the world.  These concepts are all integral to how Augustine recognized the economy of salvation.   The Gospel Coalition needs these truths because they’re all part of the Gospel that Augustine taught and the Gospel that can save them.

What is especially interesting to think about, is that even though Augustine held these beliefs which are anathematized by Reformed Christians, he has not been treated like an idolater as the “Popish Church of Rome” has.  For example, famous Scottish Calvinist, John Knox, considered to be the Father of Scottish Presbyterianism, lambasted Roman Catholics because the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass is idolatrous.

Hear, you Papists! Two witnesses speak against you. How can you deny the opinion of your Mass to be false and vain? You say that it is a sacrifice for sin, but Jesus Christ and Paul say only the death of Christ was sufficient for sin, and after it rests none other sacrifice. Speak! or else you are likely to be condemned. -John Knox

One would think that Augustine would get this same treatment by Knox and the other reformers.  After all, Father Augustine taught that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice! But St. Augustine was given a free pass at the time of the Reformation, and he is certainly given one now.

Why this disconnect?  At the time of the reformation, we would have to attribute a certain level of intentional obfuscation by Reformed leaders.  After all, the leaders of the revolt were all well-versed in the Early Church Fathers.  As for today, we think many of the Reformed don’t actually read St. Augustine in the primary source.  What they get instead is Augustine in sound-bite.  An incisive acquaintance of ours has a father-in-law who read Bray’s book.  He picked it up and flipped through it.  He was shocked at how little Augustine was actually present in the pages of the book.  “10 pages of Augustine in a book 150 pages long”, he said.  Look inside the book for yourself to see how few and far between Augustine actually is.  Notice how Bray barely mentions such important soteriological ideas such as regeneration.  Such little exposure and over-filtering makes it hard to pick up on the nuggets of Catholicism peppered all throughout St. Augustine’s writings.  But they’re certainly there, and in large amounts.

Take for example the closing passage of Augustine’s Confessions (which Bray leans on heavily for his biography).  At the very end of the book, Augustine prays that the readers might prayerful intercede for his deceased mother Monica when they approach the altar and present themselves for the Eucharistic sacrifice:

So, when the body [of Monica] was carried forth, we went and returned without tears. For neither in those prayers which we poured forth unto You when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered up unto You for her – the dead body being now placed by the side of the grave, as the custom there is, prior to its being laid therein—neither in their prayers did I shed tears … … May she [Monica] therefore rest in peace with her husband, whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit unto You, that she might gain him also for You. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire Your servants my brethren, Your sons my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that so many of them as shall read these Confessions may at Your altar remember Monica, Your handmaid (Confessions, 

Such a belief should have been enough to send Reformers like Knox and his ilk into apoplectic shock.  The propitiatory sacrifice of the mass is certainly the reason why many reformed, even today, refuse to step into a Catholic Church.  But surprisingly, The Reformers have almost always given Augustine the royal, dare we say, Saintly, treatment.

In times past, such ignorance of the full spectrum of beliefs of St. Augustine might be forgivable.  After all, at the time of the Reformation, few men could read Latin, and even fewer had access to a full library of the writings of St. Augustine.  But now, with the advent of the internet, and widespread literacy, any Reformed believer, especially those who are a part of the Gospel Coalition, can read Augustine in his own words and find for themselves, the real Augustine.  The Catholic Augustine.  Maybe in doing so, they might be drawn by the writings of Augustine into the True Gospel Coalition; The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

 

 

Advertisements

Things St. Augustine Never Said Vol 1

Reformed Christians have a deep respect for St. Augustine.  And while Augustine had a notriously high view of Grace and Predestination, he is often misused and abused by Reformed Christians who are likely to claim him as a sort of proto-Calvinist.

Calvinists are likely to say something to the effect of, “Calvin took Augustine’s soeteriology to its logical conclusion.”  More often than not he’s taken wildly out of context, quote-mined, or sadly, even misquoted.

A quote that is often attributed to Augustine that is supposed to buffet his “Calvinistic-Cred” is “Men are not saved by good works, nor by the free determination of their own will, but by the grace of God through faith.”

But Augustine never actually said that.

Here’s a meme posted by “Banner of Truth”facebook page.  Its spread far and wide.

13006743_656403641163982_5787811490195367211_n

I’ve even seen a meme in this iteration, where the quote is placed next to a canon of the Council of Trent, insinuating that Augustine and Trent are contrary to each other.

This “quote” is actually the Title of Chapter 30 of Augustine’s Enchiridion as it appears in the Phillip Schaff edition of the Early Church Fathers.  The phrase was not written by Augustine at all!  The Chapter titles were not part of Augustine’s original works, but were added later.  Because of this, it can in no way be attributed to Augustine.  For example, notice how in this translation of the Enchiridion, the subsection is merely titled, “The necessity of Grace.

If per chance, you’re wondering whether or not St. Augustine believed that we are saved by “faith alone” as the Protestants believe, read this juicy quote, actually from the pen of Augustine and in his work The Enchiridion:

Now, if the wicked man were to be saved by fire on account of his faith only, and if this is the way the statement of the blessed Paul should be understood—’But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire’—then faith without works would be sufficient to salvation. But then what the apostle James said would be false. And also false would be another statement of the same Paul himself: ‘Do not err,’ he says; ‘neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the unmanly, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God.’ Now, if those who persist in such crimes as these are nevertheless saved by their faith in Christ, would they not then be in the Kingdom of God? But, since these fully plain and most pertinent apostolic testimonies cannot be false, that one obscure saying about those who build on ‘the foundation, which is Christ, not gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay, and stubble’—for it is about these it is said that they will be saved as by fire, not perishing on account of the saving worth of their foundation—such a statement must be interpreted so that it does not contradict these fully plain testimonies.”Augustine, Enchiridion Ch. XVIII

From the above quote, one can see that contrary to the Reformed Christian faith, St. Augustine professed that we are not saved by faith only, but rather, works are necessary.

 

Can a Christian make satisfaction for his sins?

Introduction
It is often claimed by Protestants in general, and so-called Reformed Protestants in p2104grecarticular, that the Early Church Fathers were “more Protestant than Catholic.”  That is, when Protestants read the Early Church Fathers, they tend to see the Early Church Fathers as proto-Protestants.  Faith alone, credo-only baptism, sola scriptura, and double imputation, all distinctively Protestant doctrines are often seen in the writings of the fathers.   The Catholic Church argues, on the other hand, that these Protestant doctrines are novel, and aren’t present within the teachings of the Early Church Fathers.  

This dispute originated during the time of the Protestant Reformation.  The great reformer, John Calvin, highlighted the views of the opposing sides, and forcefully argued that the Reformed “Calvinist” position was more consonant with the beliefs of the Early Church in a letter he wrote to Catholic Archbishop Sadoleto in 1539.

You know, Sadolet, and if you venture to deny, I will make it palpable to all that you knew, yet cunningly and craftily disguised the fact, not only that our agreement with antiquity is far closer than yours, but that all we have attempted has been to renew that ancient form of the Church, which, at first sullied and distorted by illiterate men of indifferent character, was afterwards flagitiously mangled and almost destroyed by the Roman Pontiff and his faction.

I will not press you so closely as to call you back to that form which the Apostles instituted, (though in it we  have the only model of a true Church, and whosoever deviates from it in the smallest degree is in error,) but to indulge you so for, place, I pray, before your eyes, that ancient form of the Church, such as their writings prove it to have been in the age of Chrysostom and Basil, among the Greeks, and of Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine, among the Latins; after so doing, contemplate the ruins of that Church, as now surviving among yourselves.

The purpose of the articles in this series is to show how much of a stretch it is for a Reformed Protestant to claim that the reformation was a return to the Ancient Church of Chrysostom, Basil, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine et al.—in short, we intend to show that this “Ancient Church” was Catholic.  One way to go about investigating the beliefs of the early church, and showing that it was Catholic, is to look at secondary issues.  This can be helpful, we believe, because many of the primary theological issues have been addressed ad nauseum.  For example, whether or not the Early Church Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura as held by the Protestant Reformers has been much discussed.  There are many hundreds of articles as well as many books that have delved into and discussed this particular issue.  Likewise, there are plenty of websites that purport to show how the Early Church Fathers held to the Protestant doctrine of Faith Alone.  We think it might be fruitful, therefore, to attempt to look a level deeper; at a secondary issue.  

For this first article, we will be exploring whether the Early Church Fathers believed that Christians can make satisfaction for their sins to God through prayer, fasting, sacrifice, almsgiving, or other works. This topic, while seemingly secondary, cuts to the heart of what the Gospel is and what the sacrifice on Calvary accomplished.  We will attempt to show that not only did the Ancient Fathers hold to a Roman Catholic understanding of penance and satisfaction, but also that their view is incompatible with how Calvinists view the Gospel message.

John Calvin, in the same letter to Archbishop Sadoleto, claimed that the Early Church did not teach that man can make satisfaction to God for his sins.  In his 1539 letter he said,

“The ancient Church, I admit, had its satisfactions, not those, however, by which sinners might atone to God and ransom themselves from guilt, but by which they might prove that the repentance which they professed was not feigned, and efface the remembrance of that scandal which their sin had occasioned.”

Was Calvin’s claim true?  Did the Early Church’s understanding of sin satisfaction only pertain to Christians showing that they were truly repentant?  Or did the Ancient Church teach that the Christian could satisfy God for his own sins through penance, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer?

Continue reading