But our very Life descended hither, and bore our death, and slew it, out of the abundance of His own life; and thundering He called loudly to us to return hence to Him into that secret place whence He came forth to us — first into the Virgin’s womb, where the human creature was married to Him, — our mortal flesh, that it might not be for ever mortal, — and thence “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race.” For He tarried not, but ran crying out by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension, crying aloud to us to return to Him. And He departed from our sight, that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here. He would not be long with us, yet left us not; for He departed thither, whence He never departed, because “the world was made by Him.” And in this world He was, and into this world He came to save sinners, unto whom my soul doth confess, that He may heal it, for it hath sinned against Him. O ye sons of men, how long so slow of heart? Even now, after the Life is descended to you, will ye not ascend and live? But whither ascend ye, when ye are on high, and set your mouth against the heavens? Descend that ye may ascend,n and ascend to God. For ye have fallen by” ascending against Him.” Tell them this, that they may weep in the valley of tears, and so draw them with thee to God, because it is by His Spirit that thou speakest thus unto them, if thou speakest burning with the fire of love. – Augustine. Confessions 4.19. (Trans. J.G. Pinkington. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 1. T and T Clark, 1886.)
This is and excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine (Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999) on the mystery of the incarnation which is used by some on Christmas:
Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.
Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.
Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.
Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.
For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.
For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.
Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?
Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.
I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.
The Five Points of Augustinianism
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:2-14, ESV
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, ESV
NOTE: The very use of the English word ‘rightEOUSness’ for translating δικαιοσύνη tenses, including the above passage from Romans, betrays a Latin bias (the etymology EOUS suggesting a ‘permeating quality’). It should be translated ‘justification’, ‘justness’, or ‘rightness’ to convey the original meaning.
The position of this study assumes the apostolic message of grace and justification as re-affirmed in the original 16th century Reformation and continuing reformers since that time, in line with those who stand in the predestinarian tradition against Arminius and Wesley and all synthetic positions in-between. The basic sovereign grace perspective of the five points of the synod of Dordrecht is confessed, along with additional long-ignored gospel truths known to readers that have been expounded by the current writer for over 20 years. There will be no attempt to newly defend these doctrines in the present article. The doctrine of an objective grace and justification residing solely in Christ’s divine-human person and saving work, assured solely and unwavering for all eternity by the Holy Spirit’s gift of assenting faith, affirmed in the passages above and the entire New Testament kerygma, this is our gospel.
Definition of the Augustinian Dogma
Justification (a just status from God resulting in eternal salvation) is achieved solely through divine grace, which is the equivalent of God’s transforming power communicated initially in water baptism. Acceptance with God is based on gradual transformation of the sinner and can be lost at any time through free-will neglect of good works. Final justification cannot be assured in the present life, since no one can be certain of enough acquired merit in almsgiving before death. Yet salvation is owed to God’s grace alone, since only He gives unworthy sinners the power and free-will to acquire merits throughout life.
Before continuing the discussion of Augustine’s doctrine of justification by grace, I strongly recommend reading the above Lutheran paper that gives a succinct and accurate summary of the question under consideration. Typical of current-day Lutherans and unlike Luther at his best, the author is horribly confused on how God’spredestination relates to grace (compare with Paul in Ephesians 1 above), claiming essentially that belief in this causes NON assurance of grace! The truth is this: Augustine’s “On the Predestination of the Saints,” which he wrote near the end of his life, is the only teaching where he actually ever demonstrated a rudimentary knowledge of Pauline teaching on grace (though not fully embracing it). Grace and individual election cannot be separated without destroying the New Testament kerygma, yet Lutheran teachers constantly affirm they are antithetical. And there are other false teachings in the article, like traditional Lutheran and Patristic views on grace communicated through the medium of physical things (sacraments). But the exposition of Augustine’s heretical and false view of grace and justification is masterfully presented. You will not find truthful honesty like this from historic Reformed Calvinistic churchmen, with regard to the heresies of Gus on the grace of God:
Such is the great scheme of doctrine known in history as the Pauline, Augustinian, or Calvinistic, taught, as we believe, in the Scriptures, developed by Augustine, formally sanctioned by the Latin Church, adhered to by the witnesses of the truth during the Middle Ages, repudiated by the Church of Rome in the Council of Trent, revived in that Church by the Jansenists, adopted by all of the Reformers . . . It is a historical fact that this scheme of doctrine has been the moving power in the Church . . . This is the first great argument in support of the Pauline or Augustinian scheme of doctrine. . . It can hardly be doubted that if these simple principles be granted, the truth of the Augustinian scheme must be admitted.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch. 1, Section 8 “The Augustinian Scheme”.
Although C.H. equates the doctrine of Augustine with that of Paul and Calvin, he decided to name this section of his work The Augustinian scheme! Not the Calvinistic scheme, the Pauline scheme, or the apostolic or biblical scheme. This perhaps betrays to us who his most admired teacher was. The worst lie pushed onto us by Reformed teachers is the dogma of the soteriological orthodoxy of Augustine and his patristic predecessors. It has never been repented of. The lie has led to hopeless paradoxical confusion in understanding God’s grace, ended the progress of the Reformation in its tracks, and opened the door to every possible heretical movement taking over Reformed and Protestant churches permanently. The doctrines of Arminius, Wesley, Menno Simons, and others very much agree with Augustine’s view of ‘initial’ and ‘final’ justification—a grace that can be lost in the final judgment through free-will neglect. The apostasy of the early ‘fathers’ into Neo-Nomianism was the starting point of this heresy. Now the same doctrine is sweeping the ‘Calvinistic’ churches as a wildfire. Does anyone honestly believe that such false union of Paul and Augustine as teaching identical doctrine, proposing that Gus taught the exact same gospel revealed to Paul directly by Christ, hasnothing to do with the end of the Reformation and a potential return to a thousand years of darkness?
Introduction of Augustine’s Soteriology
No one can mistake the popular Catholic features of this (Augustine’s) system of religion. It is based on the ancient Symbol. The doctrines of the Trinity and Two Natures are faithfully avowed. The importance of the Catholic Church is strictly guarded, and its relation to the heavenly Church, which is the proper object of faith, is left as indefinite as the current view required. Baptism is set in the foreground as “the grand mystery of renovation,” and is derived from Christ’s death, in which the devil has obtained his due. Faith is only regarded as a preliminary condition; eternal life is only imparted to merits which are products of grace and freedom. They consist of works of love, which are summed up in almsgiving. Almsgiving is freely treated; it constitutes penance. Within the Church forgiveness is to be had for all sins after baptism, if only a fitting satisfaction is furnished . . .
Adolf von Harnack, Analysis and historical appraisal of the Enchridion, Gateway Edition of St. Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love
Contrast the above evaluation with Warfield:
The problem which Augustine bequeathed to the Church for solution, the Church required a thousand years to solve. But even so, it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. This doctrine of grace came from Augustine’s hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends, for his recovery to good and to God, entirely on the free grace of God . . .
Benjamin B. Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, 1991 Baker Book House reprint, p. 130
The Protestant claim to Augustinian heritage for its understanding of the gospel is one equally affirmed by the Roman Catholic church for its own dogma, in its vast theological confessions and doctrinal works on the nature of God’s grace. This article from a Catholic Encyclopedia reflects the typical RCC position:
The Council of Trent, with its emphasis on meritorious and progressive ‘internal grace,’ only re-states the doctrine of Augustine in his major works. Similarly, the denial of assurance of personal election and final perseverance only mimics the teaching of Gus and earlier ‘fathers’. In spite of this, Protestant authors like Hodge (see quote from last section) allege that Gus is the nemesis of Trent. But the issue is not fine point differences with the Council of Orange regarding anti-Pelagianism. What sense are we to make of all this contradiction and paradox? The answer is not hard to find. It lies within the teachings of Augustine himself. Within the same breath he constantly oscillates between a theology of grace residing wholly in God and one of human merit as the ground of salvation. It is no easy task to make sense of his high-minded double-talk.
The following quotes are from the Enchiridion, which is a manual on the ‘Christian life’ written by Gus and intended for the common ‘man in the pew’. Let there be no misunderstanding, it teaches the exact same doctrine as “The City of God”, “On Grace and Free Will”, and other works. Quotations evidencing the same views time and again could easily be supplied from these or many other works from his massive writings (which the present author has read). But the Enchiridion was composed in the latter days of Gus while still finishing The City of God, 7-8 years before his death, and represents a fairly mature perspective on Augustine’s doctrine.
Why should there be such great glory to a human nature–and this undoubtedly an act of grace, no merit preceding unless it be that those who consider such a question faithfully and soberly might have here a clear manifestation of God’s great and sole grace, and this in order that they might understand how they themselves are justified from their sins by the selfsame grace which made it so that the man Christ had no power to sin? Thus indeed the angel hailed his mother when announcing to her the future birth: “Hail,” he said, “full of grace.” And shortly thereafter, “You have found favor with God.” And this was said of her, that she was full of grace, since she was to be mother of her Lord, indeed the Lord of all. Yet, concerning Christ himself, when the Evangelist John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” he added, “and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” When he said, “The Word was made flesh,” this means, “Full of grace.” When he also said, “The glory of the only begotten of the Father,” this means, “Full of truth.” Indeed it was Truth himself, God’s only begotten Son–and, again, this not by grace but by nature–who, by grace, assumed human nature into such a personal unity that he himself became the Son of Man as well.
Enchiridion, Chapter 36
Wherefore, since a thing may be “born” of something else, yet not in the fashion of a “son,” and conversely, since not everyone who is called son is born of him whose son he is called–this is the very mode in which Christ was “born” of the Holy Spirit (yet not as a son), and of the Virgin Mary as a son–this suggests to us the grace of God by which a certain human person, no merit whatever preceding, at the very outset of his existence, was joined to the Word of God in such a unity of person that the selfsame one who is Son of Man should be Son of God, and the one who is Son of God should be Son of Man. Thus, in his assumption of human nature, grace came to be natural to that nature, allowing no power to sin. This is why grace is signified by the Holy Spirit, because he himself is so perfectly God that he is also called God’s Gift.
Enchiridion, Chapter 40
He himself is therefore sin as we ourselves are righteousness–not our own but God’s, not in ourselves but in him. Just as he was sin–not his own but ours, rooted not in himself but in us–so he showed forth through the likeness of sinful flesh, in which he was crucified, that since sin was not in him he could then, so to say, die to sin by dying in the flesh, which was “the likeness of sin.” And since he had never lived in the old manner of sinning, he might, in his resurrection, signify the new life which is ours, which is springing to life anew from the old death in which we had been dead to sin.
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 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.
Enchiridion, Chapters 41-43
The first man brought sin into the world, whereas this One took away not only that one sin but also all the others which he found added to it. Hence, the apostle says, “And the gift of grace is not like the effect of the one that sinned: for the judgment on that one trespass was condemnation; but the gift of grace is for many offenses, and brings justification.” Now it is clear that the one sin originally inherited, even if it were the only one involved, makes men liable to condemnation. Yet grace justifies a man for many offenses, both the sin which he originally inherited in common with all the others and also the multitude of sins which he has committed on his own.
However, when he the apostle says, shortly after, “Therefore, as the offense of one man led all men to condemnation, so also the righteousness of one man leads all men to the life of justification,” he indicates sufficiently that everyone born of Adam is subject to damnation, and no one, unless reborn of Christ, is free from such a damnation.
And after this discussion of punishment through one man and grace through the Other, as he deemed sufficient for that part of the epistle, the apostle passes on to speak of the great mystery of holy baptism in the cross of Christ, and to do this so that we may understand nothing other in the baptism of Christ than the likeness of the death of Christ. The death of Christ crucified is nothing other than the likeness of the forgiveness of sins–so that in the very same sense in which the death is real, so also is the forgiveness of our sins real, and in the same sense in which his resurrection is real, so also in us is there authentic justification.
Enchiridion, Chapters 50-52
It may be discovered or remain hidden whether some of the faithful are sooner or later to be saved by a sort of purgatorial fire, in proportion as they have loved the goods that perish, and in proportion to their attachment to them. However, this does not apply to those of whom it was said, “They shall not possess the Kingdom of God,” unless their crimes are remitted through due repentance. I say “due repentance” to signify that they must not be barren of almsgiving, on which divine Scripture lays so much stress that our Lord tells us in advance that, on the bare basis of fruitfulness in alms, he will impute merit to those on his right hand; and, on the same basis of unfruitfulness, demerit to those on his left–when he shall say to the former, “Come, blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom,” but to the latter, “Depart into everlasting fire.”
We must beware, however, lest anyone suppose that unspeakable crimes such as they commit who “will not possess the Kingdom of God” can be perpetrated daily and then daily redeemed by almsgiving. Of course, life must be changed for the better, and alms should be offered as propitiation to God for our past sins. But he is not somehow to be bought off, as if we always had a license to commit crimes with impunity. For, “he has given no man a license to sin”–although, in his mercy, he does blot out sins already committed, if due satisfaction for them is not neglected.
For the passing and trivial sins of every day, from which no life is free, the everyday prayer of the faithful makes satisfaction. For they can say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” who have already been reborn to such a Father “by water and the Spirit.” This prayer completely blots out our minor and everyday sins. It also blots out those sins which once made the life of the faithful wicked, but from which, now that they have changed for the better by repentance, they have departed. The condition of this is that just as they truly say, “Forgive us our debts” (since there is no lack of debts to be forgiven), so also they truly say, “As we forgive our debtors”; that is, if what is said is also done. For to forgive a man who seeks forgiveness is indeed to give alms.
Enchiridion, Chapters 69-71
“On the Predestination of the Saints” and “The Gift of Perseverance”, the very last works of Gus, were written in his final days. Those writings and their contradictory paradoxes, evidencing no clear remorse for earlier teachings but revealing a confused and frustrated man, will be evaluated in the next study on Augustine’s “Partial Determinism”. It is clear that when Gus finally confronted the reality of what Paul actually taught regarding the grace of God, he did not know where to go from there.
It would be a mistake to consider these things without contemplating the enormous dependence on Augustine on philosophy and psychology for his views. Many critics have labeled him the theologian of the Western introspective conscience, noting the absence of a ‘conscience obsession’ in Paul and the biblical authors (notably Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56 No. 3, Jul. 1963, pp. 199-215). Generally speaking, however, Neo-Paulinist scholars are unreliable as theologians in the estimation of the present writer and cannot be recommended. The ‘covenant community’ ethic (whether named Jewish, Christian, or anything else) of Neo-Paulinism, with its ‘Don’t be selfish and worry about individual salvation’ emphasis, does nothing whatsoever to appease guilt! Nonetheless, it is true that obsession with a guilty conscience and the deeds that might kill it is entirely foreign to the message of the Bible. The gospel is a message of deliverance from all guilt once for all time through confidence in the finished work of Christ, in community (Heb. 10:35-39)!
It was in the spheres of psychology and metaphysics that the dominion of Augustine was most complete. He aspired to know nothing, he tells us, but God and the soul; but these he strove with all his might to know altogether. His characteristic mark as a thinker was the inward gaze; the realities of consciousness were theprimary objects of his contemplation; and from them he took his starting point for reflection on the world. Antiquity supplies no second to him in the breadth and acuteness of his psychological observation. And in his establishment of “immediate certainty of inner experience,” as Windelband calls it (A History of Philosophy, pp. 264, 270, 276), in “the controlling central position of philosophic thought” he transcended his times and became “one of the founders of modern thought.” If he may truly be said to have derived from Plato and Plotinus, in a far truer sense he stood above his Neo-Platonic teachers, and of his lineage have come Descartes and Malebranche and all that has proceeded from the movements of thought inagurated by them.
Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, pp. 125,126
By what evidence does Gus rise above his Neo-Platonic teachers in this regard? I would propose that this question remains unanswered by Warfield. Do Reformed teachers honestly believe that Augustine perpetuated no false teachings as a result of his excessive schooling in philosophy and admiration of Plotinus, ones that now have been perpetuated for over 1½ millennia? But the uncovering of these errors for posterity is the purpose of this and the studies to follow!
But I set not my mind on the idols of Egypt, whom they served with Thy gold, who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.1
Augustine pulls this directly from Romans 1.25:
They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and have offered reverence and worship to created things instead of to the Creator. Blessed is he for ever, Amen. (REB)
I have not researched all of Augustine’s use of this singular verse, but it is interesting he uses it at least here, correctly, to refer to idol worshiping rather than the notion of homosexuality.
- Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo and E. B. Pusey, The Confessions of St. Augustine 7.9 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996). ↩