Episode from the podcastThe History of the Christian Church

32-Augustine Part 2

Released Sunday, 30th March 2014
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This episode of CS is titled “Augustine – Part 2.”Augustine wrote a work called Retractions in which he lists the many books and treatises he’d penned. Each work is given a summary and additional notes are added charting the development of his thought over time.He wrote some 113 books & treatises, close to 250 letters, some of which are treatises themselves, and 500 sermons.Here’s a rundown on some of them …The best introduction to Augustine’s thoughts is his Enchiridion – also known as On Faith, Hope, & Love.  The section on faith is an exposition of the Apostle’s Creed. Hope is captured in the Lord’s Prayer, while Love is the summary of the Commandments.On Christian Teaching is Augustine’s theology of Scripture; what it teaches, how it ought to be understood, and a practical theology on how to share it. It’s here he developed the foundational principle of the analogy of faith. It establishes the rule that no teaching which is contrary to the general tenor and story of the Scriptures can be developed from any particular passage. The history of heresy and pseudo-Christian cults makes clear most of them violate this basic rule of hermeneutics.On Catechizing the Uninstructed gives both a long and short form for how to deal with inquirers.Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage affirms the benefits of marriage as bringing children into the world, protecting fidelity, and serves as a picture of Christ and the Church. Although, keeping with the sensibilities of the time, it made clear the superior position of celibacy.Shortly after arriving back home in Tagaste, around 389, Augustine wrote what is probably his most famous work – Confessions. The word meant more then than it typically does today. Yes, it bears his confession of sin, but Augustine also meant the word as his profession of faith and a declaration of the goodness of God. Com­pleted by 401, it lays bare his soul. He describes his life before conversion, the events leading to his conver­sion, and his path back to North Africa. The Confessions of St. Augustine is counted as one of the greatest autobiographical works of all time. It contains the oft-quoted “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee" in the first paragraph. Scholars & students of ancient literature are moved by Augustine’s remarkably candid and perceptive analysis of his struggle with sin. At one point he shares the struggle he had with lust this way. He cried out to the heavens, “Give me chas­tity and holy desire; Only—not yet.”After the Confessions, Augustine’s most important work, and one he labored on for 14 years is The City of God. This is arguably the climax of Christian Latin apologetics and became the blueprint for the Middle Ages.It began as a response to the Sack of Rome by the Goths in 410. Though Rome was no longer the capital of the Empire, it remained the enduring symbol of it. Pagans loudly protested Rome was sacked because the old gods were furious they’d been forsaken; thrown over for this new deity out of the Middle East name Jesus.Augustine began the work as a reply to this damning charge. It grew into a comprehensive philosophy of history; an eloquent apologetic for what would come to be known as the Providential View of History.Augustine posited 2 cities; One of the world, the other of Heaven. These 2 cities are the result of 2 kinds of love; the love of self and the love of God. It begins with a negative and apologetic part that attacks paganism and its claims against the Faith. The next section is positive and describes Augustine’s philosophy of history. He describes the origin, progress and terminus of both cities. When I say “city” think society, for that is what Augustine meant.Such a description as this, and most others may make it appear Augustine posits the 2 cities as ever distinct. That’s not the case; rather, they are, at least as they are manifest in the world, always confused and mixed; yet ever at odds.In earlier works, Augustine laid out a pattern for history as progressing from . . .
  • Before the Law,
  • Under Law,
  • Under Grace,
  • & In Peace.
These corresponded to the individual believer’s spiritual path as well. Augustine also charted 7 periods of history based on the Creation-week. Five of them fell under the Old Testament, one in the new, and the 7th was the Millennium, which in this earlier work he described as coming after Jesus’ Return.But in The City of God, Augustine’s idea of history was Amillennial. He cast the 1000 years of Rev 20 as symbolic either of the Church age or the ultimate summation of history. THAT view replaced the prior, literal millennial eschatology that had been the position of the Church to that time. The Amillennial position became the dominant view in Western Christianity thru the Middle Ages and beyond.The City of God is so noble in its treatment of theology and philosophy it’s endured as a classic statement of Christians’ views on a wide range of topics. Augustine treats with such subjects as rape, abortion, and suicide.Many historians consider Augustine the most important and influential Christian thinker from the Apostle Paul to the Reformers Luther and Calvin who both drew heavily from his work.When he became Bishop at Hippo, the Donatists still thrived in North Africa, in some places forming the majority. Augustine supported the Roman position against them.By way of review, the Donatists argued for a pure church, one led by bishops who’d not caved to persecution, recanted their faith, or surrendered Scriptures to be burned, then, when persecution passed, were allowed to return to their post. Rome said such lapsed bishops and priests could be restored. The Donatists said they could NOT and that any service they performed was invalid. The Donatists were deeply upset that the Bishop at Rome welcomed these lapsed priests back into their positions as leaders.Augustine argued against the Donatists, saying that according to Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, the Church was a mixed multitude; holding both the lost and saved.Now: I have to admit I’m at a loss to see how that justified allowing apostates to regain leadership positions in the church.Let’s cast that in light of a far sometimes problem today. Should a pastor who commits adultery, and is caught in it, not from which he repents before being caught; should he be allowed back into his role as a pastor just because he breaks up with his mistress?For Augustine, the issue wasn’t so much that these lapsed priests and bishops were allowed back into their roles; it was the question of whether or not their religious service held any efficacy for those they were served by; things like Communion and baptism.Augustine differed with the Donatists on the validity of these baptisms and communion served by lapsed priests. Donatists claimed an apostate had lost authority to administer these rites. Augustine said the moral and spiritual standing of a priest wasn't important, only that he be aware he bestowed God's grace on others by baptizing and serving communion.While no doubt many of us would agree that it isn’t the moral excellence of the officiating minister that determines the value of communion and baptism, what surely some of our listeners will find difficult is the idea that a special grace is communicated BY a priest, through these rituals.You see, this brings us right up to a much later controversy that will surface during the Reformation. Do the sacraments convey grace or are they meant to be memorials that point to a historical event we renew our faith by? Notice I did NOT say, they are MERELY memorials, for that goes too far and misrepresents the position of the radical Reformers, But that is a subject for a much later episode.Augustine's argument at this point laid the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine that an ordained priest becomes the channel of grace to church members. Next stop on that train is Sacramentalism and Sacerdotalism.Augustine’s support of the Roman church and Bishop in the Donatist controversy included the use of force to suppress rivals and coerce them to accept church policy. In another example of his misuse of Scripture, he quoted Luke 14:23, wherein the parable of the banquet the host said: “Compel them to come in.” Augustine used this to justify forcing opponents to comply. This again seems an odd application of a passage that’s self-explanatory. For the servants of the host didn’t go out into streets and beat people; driving them with whips into the banquet.Now: I recognize the historic weight and significance assigned to Augustine of Hippo. He was a towering intellect who made a major contribution to Christian theology. There’s no denying that. But there’s much in his work that seems to some, and I am one, that is inconsistent, even contradictory. For instance, a moment ago I mentioned Augustine developed the hermeneutical principle of the Analogy of Faith, a rule he shatters by justifying the use of force to compel adherence to church policy by using Luke 14:23.Following his refutation of Donatism, Augustine turned his impressive intellectual attention to the teaching of a British monk named Pelagius. Pelagianism was a Christianized form of Greek stoicism. Pelagius said humans aren’t sinners by nature; that they’re free moral agents who become sinners by sinning and that it was possible to live without sin apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Pelagius believed Jesus's death atoned for sins but that humans possessed the power in themselves to live holy lives. Augustine's own experience with sin proved Pelagius wrong and he argued forcefully against his ideas. Augustine said the entire human race was in Adam so that when he fell, all fell with him and sin passed to everyone. Sinners, Augustine argued, are not only saved by God's grace, but they’re also kept by it and can only live God-honoring lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. He taught that God chooses only some to be saved and bestows this saving grace through the church by baptism and communion.This is another example of Augustine's confusing theology. He said only those who joined the visible church receive grace, then turned around and said salvation is a private matter between God and the individual. It was the former idea that laid the Roman Church’s claim to being the sole agent of bestowing grace, and the later teaching that formed the Protestant Reformation's view of salvation. One has to wonder what Augustine thought the unmerited favor of grace was if joining a church, being baptized and taking communion acquired it.He helped develop the doctrine of pur­gatory and so emphasized the value of baptism and communion as means of bestowing grace that the false doctrines of baptismal regeneration and sacramentalism were logical outcomes of his views.As Augustine neared his final days, the Vandals who’d sacked Rome, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and swept East to lay siege to Hippo. Two months into the siege Augustine died & a year later when the city finally fell, the Vandals entered to find everyone either dying or dead from hunger. Though they destroyed most of the city, out of respect for the renowned Augustine, they left his church intact.

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