Monday, July 18, 2011

St Augustine was a devout Catholic

If there's one Church Father who Protestants (including evangelicals) try to claim as their own, it's the great St Augustine (A.D. 354-430).

This is, however, very strange since St Augustine was Catholic.

And he wasn't just any Catholic, he was the Catholic Bishop of Hippo. And as such, he believed and taught the faith of the Catholic Church of his day (which, unsurprisingly, has been preserved to our own day 1600 years later). Setting aside the much more complex question of what exactly Augustine believed regarding justification, below is just a small sample of quotes from his writings that confirm that he held many distinctively Catholic positions.

The Catholic Church is the true Church
"[T]here are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should..." (Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 4)

Tradition as an authority
""The apostles," indeed, "gave no injunctions on the point;" but the custom [of not re-baptizing converts] may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings." (On Baptist, Against the Donatists, 23.31)

"As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful..." (Letter 54.1)

Catholic Canon of the Old Testament
"Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:— Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings [1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings], and two of Chronicles— these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra [Ezra & Nehemiah], which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one another, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as follows:— Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah [which, at that time, included Lamentations and Baruch], Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books [plus 2 for Lamentations and Baruch] [He then goes on to list the New Testament books]." (On Christian Doctrine II.8.13)

Baptism as Regenerative (not merely symbolic) and Baptism of Infants and Adults
“This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is celebrated among us: all who attain to this grace die thereby to sin—as he himself [Jesus] is said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh (that is, ‘in the likeness of sin’)—and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body. For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man—since no one should be barred from baptism—just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love 13)

Real Presence in the Eucharist
"I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord's Table...That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. [...] What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction..." (Sermons 227)

Venial/Mortal Sin Distinction and Need of Penance for Mortal Sins
“When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance” (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7.15, 8.16)

Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead
“The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or of hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator [Mass] is offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church. But these things are of profit to those who, when they were alive, merited that they might afterward be able to be helped by these things. There is a certain manner of living, neither so good that there is no need of these helps after death, nor yet so wicked that these helps are of no avail after death.” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity, 29.109)

Prayers for the Dead and Asking for the prayers of the saints
"This it was that the blessed martyrs did in their burning love; and if we celebrate their memories in no mere empty form, and, in the banquet whereat they themselves were filled to the full, approach the table of the Lord, we must, as they did, be also ourselves making similar preparations. For on these very grounds we do not commemorate them at that table in the same way, as we do others who now rest in peace, as that we should also pray for them, but rather that they should do so for us, that we may cleave to their footsteps; because they have actually attained that fullness of love, than which, our Lord has told us, there cannot be a greater." (Lectures on the Gospel of John 84.1)

Perpetual Virginity of Mary
“It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?” (Sermons 186.1)

Sinlessness of Mary (considered)
“Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (Nature and Grace 36.42)

Mary is the mother of all Christians
“That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she ismother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head” (Holy Virginity 6.6)

17 comments:

  1. Brandtly,

    I really enjoyed this article. I can't tell you the number of times I have run into Protestants trying to say that St. Augustine was a Calvinist. Although his doctrine of justification may be questionable and not as we Catholics explain it today, his other beliefs plainly displayed in those quotes truly affirm the authentic Catholicity of St. Augustine.

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  2. He looks Calvinist the older he gets, after he's gone through the Pelagian controversy. One thing that some say is that what happened in the Reformation is that Augustine's Catholic doctrine of the Church ran up against his later, more Protestant-friendly doctrine of grace. FWIW.

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  3. As long as we're "Setting aside the much more complex question of...justification," I guess we can set aside the question of the Reformation altogether. That makes things much simpler.

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  4. Charlie:
    the arguments of the reformers don't stand alone on the writings of Augustine and it has still not been concluded that he believed in justification by faith alone. He also talks about Christ crowning our merits, which is not exactly reformation friendly. Brantly is correct to say that St. Augustine's views were indeed not straight forward. St. Augustine's views of the Church, apostolic succession and heresy should have given the reformers a bit more pause before they decided to start a new religion breaking from the one that could trace itself back to Christ himself.

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  5. Hey Charlie,
    I set the issue of what Augustine thought about Justification aside because I'm aware that it's a complex issue, with Augustine possibly changing his views over time. At any rate, I'm not sure that it's straight forward.

    The Reformation was not about Justification alone. The Reformation was also about throwing out Tradition, changing the Bible, throwing out the Church, and throwing out many other standard Christian beliefs such as purgatory, prayers for the dead, asking for the prayers of saints, and most doctrines related to Mary, to name a few. On all of these issues, Augustine was Catholic.

    It's probably most significant that Augustine believed in apostolic succession and the authority of the Church, because that means that he believed that one cannot legitimately break from the Catholic Church, which was the whole point of the Reformation. Because of this, it seems strange to me that Protestants like to claim Augustine as their own. In other words, Augustine, based on his beliefs citied above, would not have gone with the Protestants, he would have stayed with the Catholic Church and defended her against the new heresies.

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  6. Hi, I read your blog with interest this morning having come over from CatholicMutt blog. I am a Catholic. I have always had difficulties with various aspects of the Church. I don't believe the Church has ever been Bible based in terms of saying "Believe this because God wrote it" it's more a case of "Believe this because this is how we have decided to interpret it". I believe the Catholic Church rates Tradition higher than the Bible. The Mass book is changing, is it changing to get closer to the Bible? No it is changing to get closer to the original meaning of the Latin Mass. If the Catholic Church had not become so evil and corrupt there would have been no need for other churches to arise. The fact is The Reformation was about "Sola Scriptura" (might not have spelt that correctly!)a getting back to the roots of the Catholic Church as set up by Peter and the Apostles. I recently went to a funeral of a friend and the priest mentioned it was good to see so many friends there as that meant the person would not spend long in purgatory! I believe in the power of prayer but I do not believe that a bad person can get to heaven quicker by prayers than a good person. St Paul said to die meant being with Jesus, not going off to purgatory. Another problem in the Church is what it's members actually believe as distinct from what the Church teaches. Most Catholics believe the Church teaches that Mary is equal with Jesus and God and should be adored and worshipped the same. I don't want to go too much but I felt I wanted to say something!

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  7. Well just one more comment1 We have to be born again as well as being baptised in that there comes a point in our lives when we commit to faith in Jesus - we have to confess with our lips that Jesus is the Son of God, with all that follows from that confession. A young child cannot do this at baptism, but only when they are of an age to understand what this means. Baptising children is a way of bringing them into the Family of the Church, with the parents and godparents making commitments on their behalf.

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  8. Angela -

    Brantly is very good at explaining the teachings of the Church, and I'm sure he will be around soon to respond to your comments, but I would like to provide a brief thought or two, as well as ask you a simple question.

    First, are these your own personal observations? Or are they observations of other people that you are merely relating? For example, I'm a priest, so I know a LOT of Catholics and I do not know a single one who believes that the Church teaches that Mary is equal to Jesus. I'm not saying that your observation is wrong, but it is quite far from my experience. I've heard this claim, but it seems to be something that is usually said by non-Catholics without a whole lot of reasoning behind it.

    "The Mass book is changing, is it changing to get closer to the Bible? No it is changing to get closer to the original meaning of the Latin Mass."

    Actually, by going back to the Latin it WILL make the new translation a lot closer to the Bible.

    Now, as far as the Church being Bible Based I would like you to consider who it was that wrote the New Testament and who it was who ultimately decided which books should be considered scriptural. It was the Church that did both of these. Thus, it might be more true to say that God never intended his Church to be based on the Bible, but rather that God intended the Bible to be based on the Church. It is, afterall, the Church and NOT the Bible that scripture itself refers to as the pillar of truth. Either way, it is wrong to insert a wedge between the Church and the Bible. The Bible originated in the Church and must be interpreted by the Church as a whole, not just individual Christians.

    Blessings,

    Fr. Bryan

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  9. Hello Fr Bryan, Firstly I think it's great that you have discussed these things with a lot of Catholics, the problem I have encountered is a unwillingness to discuss anything at all by the priests I have met (as we have moved or as new priests have taken over parishes.) I have even tried writing down my questions but to no avail. The priests I have met simple do not want to discuss awkward questions at all. Views I have encountered include one person telling me that Catholics believe in 3 Gods (yes he was a practising Catholic). My observations are from practising Catholics I have met over the years.

    And it is not always a case of interpretation, the bible is quite explicit over many points.

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  10. Angela -

    Well thank the Lord for the internet, I guess, as there are plenty of people who can help answer your questions. Brantly does a REALLy good job here, but there are many others. I have recently found this blog by some evangelical Christians who were just received into the Church: http://theromanroad.wordpress.com/

    Strange that your priests weren't interested in answering awkward questions. I LOVE awkward questions. Perhaps that is your culture, though. I notice you spell a lot of words the british way (practise instead of practice). Am I right to guess that you aren't American? Where are you from?

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  11. Yes, I am British.. If you like awkward questions I wish you were in my parish!

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  12. Hey Angela,

    Thanks for taking the time to read! Here are some of my thoughts. I *try* to be short and direct here so do not take offence if I maybe come across as sharp. Please feel free to respond!

    "I don't believe the Church has ever been Bible based in terms of saying "Believe this because God wrote it" it's more a case of "Believe this because this is how we have decided to interpret it""
    All Christians, Catholics and Protestants included, take the latter option. It's not possible to read the Bible without interpreting it. Anyone who says they do otherwise is being either naive or dishonest.

    "I believe the Catholic Church rates Tradition higher than the Bible."
    You may believe that, but you'd be wrong. Paragraph 82 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear: "Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence." Scripture and Tradition are equal; neither Tradition or Scripture is above or below the other.

    "The Mass book is changing, is it changing to get closer to the Bible? No it is changing to get closer to the original meaning of the Latin Mass."
    The Mass *translation* is changing, and since the Mass is originally written in Latin, yes, it's getting closer to that. To say that the translation is getting closer to the Latin and not the Bible is a confusion of categories, which makes it more of a red herring that comes more from a misunderstanding of what's "changing".

    "If the Catholic Church had not become so evil and corrupt there would have been no need for other churches to arise."
    It's true that members of the Church have always been evil and corrupt. It's still true today and always will be true. It was also true of the Reformers and their successors. In fact, that's true of all human beings and always will be, according to the Bible (1 Jn 1.8). The Church herself, on the other hand, cannot become evil and corrupt. Jesus founded the Catholic Church. He said that "the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Mt 16.18b) The Church has never fallen into doctrinal error. He didn't give the Reformers the right scrap His Church to start over (and to do so thousands and thousands of times).

    (continued...)

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  13. (continued from above)

    "The fact is The Reformation was about "Sola Scriptura" (might not have spelt that correctly!)a getting back to the roots of the Catholic Church as set up by Peter and the Apostles."
    Although the Reformers claimed that they were getting back to the original Church (although they couldn't agree exactly on what that looked like), it's simply historically false. The Reformers created something new. The new Bible they created is a great example. The Reformers removed books (and portions of books) from the Bible to create a new biblical canon that had never be held by any Christian anywhere at anytime (that we have historical evidence for). And then they made up a new hermeneutic (Sola Scriptura) to interpret their new Bible. They also threw out the doctrine of apostolic succession and authority. Again, no orthodox Christians from the 1st century onward had ever denied apostolic succession and authority. The only people who have ever denied it have been heretics.

    Regarding purgatory, it's a biblical doctrine that the early Church believed (for a great, concise explanation of this see: http://www.catholic.com/library/Purgatory.asp)

    "Another problem in the Church is what it's members actually believe as distinct from what the Church teaches."
    That's a problem anywhere.

    "Most Catholics believe the Church teaches that Mary is equal with Jesus and God and should be adored and worshipped the same."
    To say that "most Catholics" believe that is absurd. It is of course possible that there have been people who were Catholic who thought that. But I, like Fr Bryan, have never known of any Catholic anywhere who has ever thought that, and although I am new member of the Church, I grew up going to Catholic school 1st-12th grade. To say that Catholics hold Mary in high esteem (which we do) is entirely different.

    Even if there was somehow widespread confusion, the Church's teaching office has always been crystal clear that we do not worship Mary: "[Mary's role] is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer.[...]The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 62)

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  14. "Well just one more comment1 We have to be born again as well as being baptised"
    You seem to be referring to my previous post. The whole point of my post was that being born again is the same as being baptized, which means that being baptized is necessary for salvation (something that virtually all evangelicals deny)

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  15. It is difficult to have a discussion with anybody who is so anti the alternatives whether they be Reformists or Evangelicals. Historically parts of the Catholic Church's behaviour has been indefensible, historically the Reformers tried to get back to the qualities of the original chuch set up by Jesus. They were driven to it by the church of the time. Apart from the section that was decided was not cannon, which was considered secondary cannon by the church anyway, there does not appear to be any difference in the Reformation Bible. I don't know what it is like in America but in the many different parrishes I have been in over my life, there has never been any teaching what so ever, so it is no wonder that misconceptions arise as to what the Church teaches or not. Everybody has the right to read the Word of God themselves, a translation as close to the original as possible, nobody has the right to misinterpret the Bible, but you should be able to ask questions of your parish priest so you can gain a better understanding.

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  16. Hey Angela,

    "It is difficult to have a discussion with anybody who is so anti the alternatives whether they be Reformists or Evangelicals. "
    I'm not anti evangelical, I simply think they are wrong in fundamental ways. In your previous comments, aside from what I believe to be a wrong opinion, you also had basic facts wrong about what Catholics believe and about history. Correcting objective mistakes doesn't make me anti anything.

    "Historically parts of the Catholic Church's behaviour has been indefensible"
    This is definitely true (always remembering to distinguish between the behavior of Church members, which is sinful, and the Church herself, who is holy since she is the Body of Christ).

    "historically the Reformers tried to get back to the qualities of the original chuch set up by Jesus."
    They may have tried (even though the reformers themselves couldn't agree on what that ultimately looked like), but as I explained in my previous comment, it's simply not the case historically. The Reformers represented a break from the tradition, something entirely new, never before seen in Christian history.

    "They were driven to it by the church of the time."
    Perhaps they were driven to it by the corruption of various clergymen. But heresy and schism are also sins. Two wrongs don't make a right.

    "Apart from the section that was decided was not cannon, which was considered secondary cannon by the church anyway, there does not appear to be any difference in the Reformation Bible."
    The books the Reformers removed from the Bible were never considered secondary by the Catholic Church. They were just as much a part of the canon as any book. The term 'deuterocanon' doesn't mean that those books are less part of the canon (it's a term that was coined in the 16th century to distinguish those books from the rest). So yes, the 73 book Catholic canon was the canon, until the Reformers decided to make up their own Bible, which is completely unacceptable. If I were to take the Protestant Bible, remove 5 books (Let's say, Matthew, James, Genesis, 2 Kings, and Esther), and start selling my new canon as the true Bible, I doubt that any Protestants would be okay with that. I would be labeled (rightly) a heretic and false teacher. That's what the Protestants did in the 16th century. The passage of time doesn't justify the rejection of parts of the Word of God.

    "I don't know what it is like in America but in the many different parrishes I have been in over my life, there has never been any teaching what so ever, so it is no wonder that misconceptions arise as to what the Church teaches or not. "
    That can certainly be true. It depends on where you are.

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