Who Cares About Augustine?

Who Cares About Augustine?
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

Today we are going to deviate from a teaching and remember one individual whom we as Christians have forgotten about. He has become a footnote in history for most of us. But because of him, and others like him, true Christian doctrine has been preserved for our benefit.

It has been said that a man (human being) never stands alone, but on the shoulders of those who came before them. You see we don’t live in a vacuum. A lot of the teachings that we take for granted today come from people of faith from long ago. Some of these people in the early centuries following Jesus’ ascension are referred to as the “Early Church Fathers.” Today I would like to draw your attention to Augustine.

Augustine was born in 354 A.D. and died in 430 A.D. His mother was one of his greatest influences. He was the most influential Apologist (defender of the Christian Faith) of the first centuries. His writings, amongst other early writers, are the basis of the field we call Apologetics and were written to mainly refute paganism.

The interesting part is that Augustine spent a great deal of time among the pagans. You see in his earlier days he strayed from the Christian faith and sought out spirituality in all sorts of ways and religions. During this time he gave into all kinds of evil deeds, including sexual sin and all the pleasures he could find. He found them empty and his life empty as well. He came back to Christianity.

Because of his time amongst the “false religions” he learned quite a bit about them. Because of his knowledge, God used his writings to refute their claims and show just how empty they were.

His writings are too numerous to list here, but I have included a link to a site or two (found at the bottom) to look at his work. CARM lists His remarks on the book of Psalms, His book called the “City of God,” and his seven part book series on Baptism against the Donatists.

We owe a humongous debt to Augustine for his refutation of Pelagianism and Donatism. Pelagius denied the concept of predestination and original sin. He taught that one could reach God on his own merits without the grace of God. This is of course unbiblical and a system of works, not grace which Ephesians 2:8-9 refutes (just an example there are many more). It reads (NKJV), (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. Donatists taught that the sacraments (Baptism and Communion) had to be done by a minister who was Holy enough to give them out, or those sacraments would be invalid. The problem is that no one is Holy enough. The Donatists placed too much emphasis on the sacraments (almost a mystical view of their power) and not enough on the reality of the sacraments. The reality being that the sacraments have no physical power, but are a wonderful outward sign and witness of the change in our lives that Christ has made.

The one thing to remember about Augustine (and anyone else) is that though he did great things, he is not God. As such his (as well as others) writings are not inerrant. So you know what? They can “miss it” just like everyone else. You will find that Augustine leaned into the Catholic Church’s point of view during his time, because he was Catholic. You will find that certain things are difficult to understand because you may not know the historical background. That is alright, because so long as you understand some of his writing God can use it for your betterment.

Places to find information on Augustine’s writings. There only two here, but many more are out there.

 Augustine of Hippo: A Biography

Writings of Augustine

Sources consulted in this Article

  • Toon, P. (1992). Augustine of Canterbury. In J. Douglas & P. W. Comfort (Eds.), Who’s Who in Christian history (J. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Ed.) (46). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
  • Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1797). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  • Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Slick, Matt. Christian Apologetics and Reasearch Ministries. Donatism. http://carm.org/donatism/
  • Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

11 thoughts on “Who Cares About Augustine?

  1. Dude. Seriously. Dude!!!!

    “The interesting part is that Augustine spent a great deal of time among the pagans…he learned quite a bit about them.”

    Your information is off. It wasn’t “pagans” but Gnostics. Augustine was a Gnostic of the sect called Manicheans from age 17 to 26.

    The Manicheans believed that matter is evil, that sex is evil. They believed in two gods, one good and one evil, and of course, to them, the evil god was the creator of the world.

    “We owe a humongous debt to Augustine for his refutation of Pelagianism and Donatism. Pelagius denied the concept of predestination and original sin.”

    The concept of predestination and original sin did not exist in Christian theology prior to Augustine, for they only existed in Gnostic theology.

    Despite the Pauline epistles having been canonized long ago, the church payed no attention to Romans 9, and its interpretation of Romans 5 had never led to the doctrine of original sin. Everyone prior to Augustine taught essentially the same thing Pelagius taught. Pelagius could be termed a traditionalist, maintaining what had always been taught. Augustine was the innovator, changing what had always been taught. He was bringing his old Gnostic Manichean interpretations back to Catholicism with him, as Julian of Eclanum charged at the time as well.

    You can take the tact that since these ideas seem to be found in Romans itself they are truly part of Christianity. However, they weren’t taught in Christianity until Augustine. They languished in the book of Romans ignored until that time. They were the sole property of the Gnostics until then, and no orthodox or catholic person dared touch those passages. And its obvious we would have been better off if it stayed that way, since those passages accomplish nothing but the causing of division. If predestination is true, its pointless to preach it, since people can’t change whether they are elect or not by hearing a message on predestination! But if its false, then it is a soul destroying doctrine that sends people into despair wondering if they are elect or not and causes them to lose their faith. We’d be better off without it, and since its only in Romans and not in any other Pauline epistles, I would go so far as to charge that Romans is a Gnostic forgery in the name of Paul despite its canonization. The fact that the church had entire chapters it didn’t and couldn’t use for 3 centuries is proof enough, but modern study of the book also shows it just is not consistent with itself or the other epistles. Plus, you shall know them by their fruits, and Romans has produced nothing but endless division.

    1. You stated, “Your information is off. It wasn’t “pagans” but Gnostics. Augustine was a Gnostic of the sect called Manicheans from age 17 to 26.” While he did do this, he (according to the sources cited) did spend quite a bit of time with other shall we say “schools of thought.”

      As for the other things you stated, notice what I wrote. I was talking about Pelagianism and Donatism. I wasn’t talking about the Christian norm in that paragraph. That being said, both concepts have worked its way into Christianity as well.

      To deny that Romans is an inspired writing, kind of denies the Whole inspiration of Scripture. If we deny Romans then that opens it up for other books to be denied. I personally believe the cannon is now closed by God.

      1. You are not a very clear writer. Are you trying to say Pelagianism and Donatism are pagan? That’s just absurd. Donatism is nothing more than the belief that when a Christian, particular among the clergy, denies Christ during persecution, or especially hands over sacred book to be burned, they are not to be let back in the church when the persecution ends. Pelagianism is simply the traditional pre-Augustinian position that we are damned only by our own personal sins and that grace=mercy (i.e. the OT definition of grace) versus Agustine’s grace=power-that-enables-you-to-believe (which may or may not be derived from Romans).

        As to the canonicity of Romans. Yes, of course, questioning Romans opens up the possibility of questioning other book. However, it is necessary to be done in our time, just as it was in the Protestant Reformation when they threw out the apocrypha. If you are going to be consistent, my friend, with your “no you can’t question any one book no matter how bad of fruit it bears” then put the apocrypha back in your Bible.

      2. How is that unclear? New paragraph, new thought. I am saying Augustine spent time with both groups. As far as Donatism goes, check out the following resource.
        Matt Slick writes “Donatism was the error taught by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. In other words, if a minister who was involved in a serious enough sin were to baptize a person, that baptism would be considered invalid.” Which is what I said, and a then some, in the article. BTW the address for that is http://www.carm.org/donatism/

        Now you placed words in my mouth and I quote…”If you are going to be consistent, my friend, with your “no you can’t question any one book no matter how bad of fruit it bears” then put the apocrypha back in your Bible.” What you quoted there is not what I said. As for the Apocrypha they were never canonized until much later after the canon was already closed. Which is one of the reasons they were rejected in the reformation. My view is that after the reformation the Bible is completely closed. I know that this is not a very clear statement so let me send you to reasons why the Apocrpyha is thrown out. http://carm.org/why-apocrypha-not-in-bible

      3. I was reading it from the email wordpress sends which shoves everything into one paragraph. Sorry.

        I don’t think Matt Slick’s evaluation of Donatism is correct. All of Catholicism believed that the validity of the eucharist depends on the validity of the priest. The Donatist controversy was over priests who had denied Christ during persecution being placed back into their posts, not the “moral character” of the priests per se. Obviously as a natural extension of the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, the succession may only be passed by a valid priest. Hence, priests whose priesthood has been invalidated by denying Christ during persecution and handing over books or other Christians to the persecutors could not pass on the succession, and all priests that stemmed from these tainted priests no longer had the power to consecrate the host. The rejection of Donatism amounts to a temporary “time-out” on apostolic succession. Basically the anti-donatists were arguing that the line of succession could be broken and then declared ad hoc to have not been broken. It is clear that if the concept of apostolic succession is true, then the Donatists were right. So, if the Donatists fall, so does apostolic succession; so much for Catholicism. My point then is that the Donatists were no more heretics than Catholics in general; its is the concept of apostolic succession that is being called heresy when you accuse the Donataists of heresy; the Donatists simply were consistent in their belief in apostolic succession.

        But there is another aspect to Donatism. The Donatists can also be defined as those who were not willing to merge the church with the State. Their refusal to join up with the concept that the Emperor is a sort of head of the church led to an edict by Constaitine in 317 that placed them under the death penalty for not joining the concept of an imperial church and another edict enabling the imperial church to confiscate all property belonging to the Donatists. This led ultimately to a military campaign against the Donatists.

        The whole feud had started earlier under Cyprian when pope Stephan had declared that Catholic churches must accept the baptism of heretics (Gnostics, Ebionites, etc.) and Cyprian and the north african bishops wrote a letter to him calling him Judas and expressing dismay that one bishop dared treat other bishops as inferiors who owe obedience to him. This was, as it were, the beginning of the imperial church. Here the question was not on the validity of the priests but the validity of non-Trinitarian baptisms. Cyprian’s views helped fuel the Donatist controversy, even though the question of baptism now was a bit different. But in a way, you can say that the Catholics who followed the “command” of pope Stephan and allowed heretics baptized in non-trinitarian cults into their churches, had tainted apostolic succession by allowing people with non-trinitarian baptism into the church and ultimately the priesthood. As a result, the north african churches which rejected pope Stephan and eventually became the Donatists could have seen the regular “Catholic” church as invalidated on two counts (1) having brought int baptizees not baptized with trinitarian baptism and put them in the priesthood, and (2) restoring priests to their former positions after their having denied Christ during persecution. In other words, its never as clear-cut as modern Calvinist heresy hunters want to make it.

        As to the Apocrypha, the only real reason I think they were thrown out was because they make the concept of freewill plain (for example, certainly in Sirach). Before Luther came to the conclusion that “all things happen by necessity as Wycliffe said” he actually used the Apocrypha. Only after the debate with Erasmus on freewill does he reject them, and I think its as a direct result of the fact that they have to be gotten rid of to deny freewill. In my estimation, the Apocrpha is cleaner than Romans, less dubious, less “apocryphal.” Even the sadest of the Apocrypha (Tobit) is better than Romans.

      4. I am not sure, but in my research I came across the same sentiment that Matt Slick wrote. I also came across what you have written of the Donatists. I did not want to go into that much detail for my small article on Donatism (as it was not the focus). Great overview of Donatism, by the way.

        As for the Apocrypha I see what you are saying. I still don’t think they belong in the official canon. That being said the article from Matt’s website on the Apocrypha I think is very accurate (albeit a very much tip of the iceberg view) article as to why it is not in the official canon. We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

        Would you like to write out a formal article for Donatism? I would post it here. Just e-mail it to me @ revjkramer(at)gmail.com.

        Great Comments today! I hope you continue to comment in the future.

        In Christ,
        Rev. Joe Kramer

  2. Thanks for the offer to write an article on Donatism, but I’m not so much interested in Donatism per se as in refuting this idea that Augustine is the Savior of the body. Too much emphasis in Christianity since Augustine is placed on doctrinal conformity and on controversial topics to boot. What would have happened if Donatism would have prevailed? What did Augustine save us from? If Donatism would have prevailed, a bunch of priests who didn’t really believe in Jesus but were only priests for wordly gain would have been thrown out of office (perhaps Augustine himself with them) for having denied Christ during persecution. I don’t see that as a bade thing. Perhaps the church would not have melded with the state. Probably the doctrines of original sin and Calvinism would not be so widespread because those relied on the corrupt priests bought and payed for by the pagan empire (chiefly Augustine, but many others also). Christianity, in other words, might still have some resemblance to the teachings of Jesus rather than being an academic system based on over-the-top fundamentalizing interpretations of Romans 5 and 9 to the exclusions of everything that Jesus was and is.

  3. BTW, you might want to read this:ARE BAPTISTS REFORMED

    Some interesting things there about Donatists, including:

    “The Donatists did not see the Constantinian arrangements as a victory for Christianity, but as a perversion of the Scripture’s teachings, and ultimately, as “the fall of the church.” In the time of the Reformation 1,200 years later, the Anabaptists would have nothing to do with a state church. This was one of the main reasons for their separation from Calvin, Luther and the other Reformers. The Reformers often referred to the Anabaptists as Donatists or Neo-Donatists because the Donatists had opposed this marriage of church and state 1.200 years before the Reformation.”

    It is not the right of a civil government to define orthodoxy. And when you go around condemning the Donatists as heretics, you are arguing that it is the right of a civil government to define orthodoxy.

  4. Going by the research that I did, and what Matt Slick wrote (please refer to previous comment) they are heretical in their teaching. Yes they opposed the marriage of church and state, which is actually a good thing, but they also had some “wonky” teaching.

    BTW, being a Southern Baptist, Baptists are definitely, for them most part, not reformed. That was an excellent article. I would however would like to note that Calvinism is making a resurgence in the Southern Baptist Denomination though.

    In my experience, in the south with the SBC, Baptists are fundamental in relation to the Bible. Solo Scriptura (in the scriptures alone). For this reason alone I am happy to counted among them.

    1. Everyone has some wonky teachings. That’s just a given. But any church that merges with the state instantly loses it claim to orthodoxy. The Donatists, then, were the last of orthodox Christians until the anabaptists.

      1. Which further means, all Catholics after the donation of Constantine (e.g. Augustine) were heretics, and all their councils (e.g. Orange, Carthage) were heretical.

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