We were busy in our preceding article with a description of Augustine’s influence upon posterity and his relation to Catholicism and Protestantism, as set forth by Philip Schaff in Vol. III of his History of the Christian Church. And we noted that this church father contributed much to the development of the doctrinal basis which Catholicism and Protestantism hold in common against such radical heresies of antiquity as Manichaeism, Arianism, and Pelagianism. Schaff also notes that Augustine is the principal theological creator of the Latin-Catholic system as distinct from the Greek Catholicism on the one hand, and from evangelical Protestantism on the other. We now continue with this.
His very conversion, in which, besides the Scriptures, the personal intercourse of the hierarchical Ambrose and the life of the ascetic Anthony had great influence, was a transition not from heathenism to Christianity (for he was already a Manichaean Christian), but from heresy to the historical, episcopally organized church, as, for the time, the sole authorized vehicle of the apostolic Christianity in conflict with those sects and parties which more or less assailed the foundations of the gospel. (In this connection, the undersigned would like to make a few remarks. What is meant by a “Manichaean Christian?” The writer, Philip Schaff, does not say. Augustine was surely converted, not from one form of Christianity to another, but out of sin into grace and into the fellowship of God. This conversion occurred when Augustine was approximately thirty years old—H.V.) It was, indeed, a full and unconditional surrender of his mind and heart to God, but it was at the same time a submission of his private judgment to the authority of the church which led him to the faith of the gospel. In the same spirit he embraced the ascetic life, without which, according to the Catholic principle, no high religion possible. He did not indeed enter a cloister, like Luther, whose conversion in Erfurt was likewise essentially catholic, but he lived in his house in the simplicity of a monk, and made and kept the vow of voluntary poverty and celibacy.
He adopted Cyprian’s doctrine of the church, and completed it in the conflict with Donatism by transferring the predicates of unity, holiness, universality, exclusiveness, and maternity, directly to the actual church of the time, which, with a firm Episcopal organization, an unbroken succession, and the Apostles” Creed, triumphantly withstood the eighty or the hundred opposing sects in the heretical catalogue of the day, and had its visible centre in Rome. In this church he had found rescue from the shipwreck of his life, the home of true Christianity, firm ground for his thinking, satisfaction for his heart, and a commensurate field for the wide range of his powers. The predicate of infallibility alone he does not plainly bring forward; he assumes a progressive correction of earlier councils by later; and in the Pelagian controversy he asserts the same independence towards pope Zosimus, which Cyprian before him had shown towards pope Stephen in the controversy on heretical baptism, with the advantage of having the right on his side, so that Zosimus found himself compelled to yield to the African church.
We do well to note that Philip Schaff writes here in regard to the infallibility of popes. It is obvious that Augustine did not subscribe to the modern Roman Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the pope. It is true that this church father maintained the necessity of belonging to the old Catholic church, although we must bear in mind that this “old Catholic church” must not be identified with the modern Roman Catholic church. But we do well to note that Augustine assumed a corrective correction of earlier councils, and that he therefore did not subscribe to the theory of their infallibility. And he also asserts the same independence towards pope Zosimus, so that this pope found himself compelled to yield to the African church. This certainly means that this church father did not subscribe to the theory that the popes are infallible.
It is also worthy of note what Schaff writes concerning Augustine’s view on the sacraments, the sacrament of baptism and that of the Lord’s Supper:
He was the first to give a clear and fixed definition of the sacrament, as a visible sign of invisible grace, resting on divine appointment; but he knows nothing of the number seven; this was a much later enactment. In the doctrine of baptism he is entirely Catholic, though in logical contradiction with his dogma of predestination; but in the doctrine of the holy communion he stands, like his predecessors, Tertullian and Cyprian, nearer to the Calvinistic theory of a spiritual presence and fruition of Christ’s body and blood. He also contributed to promote, at least in his later writings, the Catholic faith of miracles, and the worship of Mary; though he exempts the Virgin only from actual sin, not from original, and, with all his reverence for her, never calls her mother of God.
In connection with this reference in the writings of Augustine to Mary, we do well to bear in mind that this church father did not teach what the Roman Catholic church later taught of the worship of Mary. It is undoubtedly true that Augustine held Mary in very high esteem, exempting her from actual sin. The Scriptures, we know, nowhere teach this. Her place in the Apostles’ Creed must not be interpreted in the sense that it emphasizes the high esteem in which she must be held, but it must be interpreted as emphasizing that our Lord Jesus Christ was born without the will of man, and therefore that He is Immanuel, God with us. The later Roman Catholic doctrine that she is transformed .into a mother of God, a queen of heaven, an intercessor above all women, a sinlessly holy co-redeemer, etc., is nowhere taught in the writings of Augustine. He held her in high veneration, but never does his high veneration of her become a worship of this mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He was born in our flesh and blood.
Schaff also calls attention to the fact that Augustine may be called the first forerunner of the Reformation, He writes concerning this as follows:
But, on the other hand, Augustine is of all the fathers, nearest to evangelical Protestantism, and may be called, in respect of his doctrine of sin and grace; the first forerunner of the Reformation. The Lutheran and Reformed churches have ever conceded to him, without scruple, the cognomen of Saint, and claimed him as one of the most enlightened witnesses of the truth and most striking examples of the marvelous power of divine grace in the transformation of a sinner. It is worthy of mark, that his Pauline doctrines, which are most nearly akin to Protestantism, are the later and more mature parts of his system, and that just these found great acceptance with the laity. The Pelagian controversy, in which he developed his anthropology, marks the culmination of his theological writings were directed against the Pelagian Julian and the Semi-Pelagians in Gaul, who were brought to his notice by the two friendly laymen, Prosper and Hilary. These anti-Pelagian works have wrought mightily, it is most true, upon the Catholic church, and have held in check the Pelagianizing tendencies of the hierarchical and monastic system, but they have never passed into its blood and marrow. They waited for a favorable future, and nourished in silence an opposition to the prevailing system.
Even in the middle ages the better sects, which attempted to simplify, purify, and spiritualize the reigning Christianity by return to the Holy Scriptures, and the reformers before the Reformation, such as Wycliffe, Huss, Wessel, resorted most, after the apostle Paul, to the bishop of Hippo as the representative of the doctrine of free grace.
The Reformers were led by his writings into a deeper understanding of Paul, and so prepared for their great vocation. No church teacher did so much to mould Luther and Calvin; none furnished them so powerful weapons against the dominant Pelagianism and formalism; none is so often quoted by them with esteem and love.
All the Reformers in the outset, Melancthon and Zwingli among them, adopted his denial of free will and his doctrine of predestination, and sometimes even went beyond him into the abyss of Supralapsarianism, to cut out the last roots of human merit and boasting…..
We, of course, do not agree with Philip Schaff when he speaks of the “abyss” of Supralapsarianism. We are grateful for the remark that these reformers sometimes went beyond him into the abyss of Supralapsarianism,to cut out the last roots of human merit and boasting. And we know that Augustine not only fought all Pelagianism, every concept of the free will of the natural sinner but he also championed the truth of Divine predestination, as we hope to see later in these articles. Only, we wish to make the remark at this time that the denial of the free will of the sinner and predestination are truths that go hand in hand. If it be true, and it is true, that the natural man cannot of himself do any good, cannot exert a single effort in behalf of his own, salvation, then it must also be as clear as the sun in the heavens that it is God Who alone determines his salvation. If the sinner cannot put forth the first effort, then it is the Lord Who must save him, and this implies the truth of sovereign predestination because then it is the Lord Who determines in whom He will work His work of salvation.
We wish to conclude these quotations from Philip Schaff with the following:
Had he lived (Augustine—H.V.) at the time of the Reformation, he would in all probability have taken the lead of the evangelical movement against the prevailing Pelagianism of the Roman church. For we must not forget that, notwithstanding their strong affinity, there is an important difference between Catholicism and Romanism or Popery. They sustain a similar relation to each other as the Judaism of the Old Testament dispensation, which looked to, and prepared the way for, Christianity, and the Judaism after the crucifixion and after the destruction of Jerusalem, which is antagonistic to Christianity. Catholicism covers the entire ancient and mediaeval history of the church, and includes the Pauline, Augustinian, or evangelical tendencies which increased with the corruptions of the papacy and the growing sense of the necessity of a “reformation in capite et membris.” Romanism proper dates from the council of Trent, which gave it symbolical expression and anathematized the doctrine of the Reformation. Catholicism is the, strength of Romanism, Romanism is the weakness of Catholicism. Catholicism produced Jansenism (emphasis, upon Augustinianism), Popery condemned it. Popery never forgets and never learns anything, and can allow ho change in doctrine (except by way of addition), without sacrificing its fundamental principle of infallibility, and thus committing suicide.