Recap: Part 1 dealt with a biography of Augustine, while part 2 dealt with how he reacted directly to the things that had kept him from true Faith in God. Part 3 then looks at his works, in more depth, and especially at his influence on our modern Theology, philosophy, and society.
Augustine’s primary contribution, at least to the Protestant mind, may very well be his theological developments of Original Sin, Total Depravity, and Predestination. While he was not the first to hint at such ideas, it is no doubt that he is charged with their development and implementation into modern thought. In these areas Augustine’s teachings live on. Many will err and assume the development of these popular ideas came from the great reformer, John Calvin. Yet, it becomes clear that he was simply reworking the ideas of his favorite Theologian, Augustine, by simply looking at the footnotes of Calvin’s works (Patten).
Augustine’s ideas on man and sin were cultivated because of a heresy that arose in his day headed up by a British monk, Pelagius, who was rightly upset at the lukewarm nature of Rome in his day. He began to teach that man’s free will was by itself “powerful enough to enable a person to perform actions that will merit Heaven… [grace therefore] is not really necessary, that grace is more like an ornament than a necessity in the spiritual life” (Bourke 175). His intentions were not wrong, it can be argued, that if salvation is by grace alone then Paul’s statement becomes a reality, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Based on Scripture, “Augustine insisted that divine grace is essential [leading to] the performance of meritous actions…that grace is a free gift to men by God” (175-6). Furthermore, grace allows man to actually do what is good, which is impossible before Salvation.
His response to Pelagius begins with an understanding of Original Sin that leads to Total Depravity. It leaves the only possibility of redemption through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Augustine stated that good works, based on man’s free will, cannot be accepted by God because all men are born sinners. In one of his Letters he wrote, “We have no uncertainty, that every soul, even the soul of an infant, requires to be delivered from the binding guilt of sin, and there is no deliverance except through Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” while also specifying where this sin comes from, Adam, “from one all men were born to a condemnation, from which there is no deliverance but in the Savior’s grace” (Geisler 117-8). This line of reasoning so far is very orthodox, and his teaching is important because it leads to an understanding of the Total Depravity of man. But it must be stated that this line of reasoning also led to Augustine’s theorizing, that sin entered the world through sex and is thus passed on from generation to generation, “transmitted through the woman” (Geisler 119). The next step can now be seen, and it was to call sex evil, if used to fulfill lust and not for procreation.
Pelagius was worried about the lukewarm Christianity found in Rome, and Augustine (also acknowledging the problem) answered by developing what we know as Total Depravity. “God” he states, “…created man upright; but man [was morally corrupted] by sin, and bound by the chain of death, and justly condemned, man could not be born of man in any other state” (Geisler 119). He is therefore proving what Isaiah said, “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6) and that we deserve damnation. Nothing we do will honor God, unless we are proved righteous before God, and that can only come through Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross. In this Augustine was incredibly clear, over and over again.
Saint Augustine also pushed the idea of Predestination, stating why a man is saved. One can get caught up in the theology and difficulty with this doctrine, yet ultimately miss the larger picture. Augustine wrote that man is saved because of “the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s kindness” (Geisler 125). Augustine was, above all things, a herald of God’s kindness and grace. Because of this he has rightly been heralded as “Doctor Grace.” God, out of infinite mercy and love, has reached out to humanity and chosen to save some, not based on their own works or merit, but based on his good pleasure (Ephesians 2:8-9). One can look at the negative side and see God as evil for not choosing all the people, and there is some weight to that argument. Yet God chooses who He will predestine to salvation based partly on his knowledge of our heart. God cannot forgive him who does not repent (Luke 17:3), yet He desires all men to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4). Dr. Grace emphasized the love of God and his grace, and his Confessions attest to the sin out of which God saved him and restored him.
But God in his omniscience, argued Augustine, knows who will be predestined, those who will be with him in heaven, “The number of the elect is certain, and neither to be increased nor diminished” (Geisler 127). Up to this point, most theologians agree and honor Augustine for his work. Then logic and philosophy take over the rest of the argument, straying from Scripture. As stated before he was a great lover of Plato and Cicero, and his thought process proves it. While Scripture nowhere states this, it can be argued, Augustine believed that if some are predestined to heaven, and their number is sure, then God also predestined the rest to eternal damnation, their number being sure as well. This is a good argument, based on logic, and it leads to the concept of double-predestination, a seldom-appreciated concept. When writing On the Gospel of John he speaks of Christ’s view of the unbeliever, “That he saw them predestined to everlasting destruction…” (Geisler 126). Is this statement Scriptural, or simply logical?
Now, a deeper look at the great works of Saint Augustine is necessary, because the legacy he left behind is virtually unmatched, yet all that can be provided is a foundation. He wrote “about one thousand books,” or “fifteen volumes in a standard encyclopedia” (Bourke 13-4). Some other classics, such as On the Trinity, Enchiridion, and his late Retractions (a review of all his writing) have not even been mentioned. Through his works he changed the way today’s culture thinks about happiness and man’s outlook on life. He also encouraged the rise of monasticism and was himself a monk of sorts, and was a huge force behind the growth of Marian theology. When these things are taken into perspective, it is no doubt that both Catholics and Protestants claim him as their own (Stevenson).
To the Catholics, his structure of Ecclesiology is crucial, as he reinforced and upheld many traditions of his day which are today continued. The Sacraments he believed to be two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and he wanted to keep the Church free from legalism (Bourke 162-3). It is clear that he distinguished between Scriptural teachings and useful traditions, but he did uphold child baptism and developed a strong Mariology. Actually, Marian Theology was in its infancy until Augustine worked to develop it (Doyle 542-45), and it may have been spurred by the strong relationship he had with his Christian mother, Monica. Ambrose also likely influenced his Marian teaching, having advanced it through allegory. He also, because of his fascination with the life of Antony and other hermits, encouraged monastic lifestyle. But the Catholic Church never agreed with his views on predestination, stating that to be saved one must believe in Christ and do good works as well. This was shown in the church’s stance that came out of the Synod of Orange in 529, a century after Augustine. Basically it was a watered-down view of Augustine’s Soteriology, which came to be labeled as semi-Peligianism (Stevenson).
Now, it is very possible that if Augustine were to enter a Catholic Church today, he would likely be a heretic in their eyes. In his eyes he would condemn them for being semi-Pelagians and for ignoring Scripture’s plain teaching. Also he would likely have harsh words for the wealth in the papacy and the ‘holiness’ of the priesthood. He stated that “Christianity isn’t a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners” (Litfin 231).
If he were to enter a Protestant church he might be considered a heretic as well. His teaching on infant baptism and his high view of Mary would cast him out. Also, he would be seen as legalistic on his views of marriage and celibacy. Yet, when the dust settles, the church might find itself much nearer to him in the important issues. Protestants owe much to Saint Augustine for he taught believers to find rest for our souls in Christ alone. He taught the church to love Scripture and make it our foundation. He taught by example to oppose the wrong teachings of our day as he did in his, by powerful writing built on Scripture and sound reason. He wrote, “We believe that we might know,” and also, “First believe, then understand” (Geisler 16). In this he was a pioneer, as was Justin Martyr, in apologetics.
What inspires me most about Augustine is his explanation of the most important topic to the believer: the Gospel. In Enchiridion he proclaimed that “We begin in faith, and are made perfect by sight. This also is the sum of the whole body of doctrine. But the sure and proper foundation of the catholic (universal) faith is Christ” (Geisler 130). In the same way he also said that Christ was:
Begotten and conceived, then, without any indulgence of carnal lust, and therefore bringing with Him no original sin, and by the grace of God joined and united in a wonderful and unspeakable way in one person with the Word, the Only-begotten of the Father, a son by nature, not by grace, and therefore having no sin of his own; nevertheless, on account of the likeness of sinful flesh in which he came, He was called sin, that He might be sacrificed to wash away sin. (138-9)
He is so clear, so concise on his explanation of the Gospel, that one would think he was rewriting the works of the Apostle Paul.
In writing On the Gospel of John Augustine expounds on those who worked to crucify Christ, stating that they “became aware of the beneficent character of that precious blood which had been so impiously and cruelly shed, because themselves [were] redeemed by the very blood which they had shed. For the blood of Christ was shed so efficaciously for the remission of all sins, that it could wipe out even the very sin of shedding it” (Geisler 139, italics mine). This is crystal-clear, and I would invite him, no, beg him to preach at my church.
Truly Augustine left a legacy, his life and his works are a monument that stands tall in honor of our great and merciful God. He was a man conceived in sin, overcome and drowning in its blackness in life, and unable to even reach out for God in his pride. And yet the Father reached out and saved him from his restlessness. And he, like us, can exclaim with David: “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). We have much to learn from “Dr. Grace,” not because of him, but because of the grace of God given him when he had no hope and restlessness overcame him. Now, before one goes and begin to criticize this man, as many have and will do, let us remember that finiteness and fallibleness are innate human traits. We should expect him to be wrong, as even we have mistakes in our thinking. But to those who would claim Augustine a heretic because of his teaching, he should look at the man himself first. Augustine was a man of God, a man changed by God, and a man driven with the sole purpose of glorifying God.
It is fitting to end on the day that peace came fully to Augustine, on the day he died in 430, a day he had longed for all of his life. “Let us therefore believe while the time of faith lasts, until the time of seeing comes…We walk by faith, so long as we believe that which we do not see, but sight will be ours, when we see Him face to face, as he really is” (Geisler 18). For the last ten days of his life, Augustine locked himself in his room, reading and meditating on the Psalms. Invaders were at the doors of Hippo Regius, and the city lay in siege. But he “asked for absolute privacy with no disturbances… [as he] prayed and wept and communed alone with God; and then he died” (Litfin 231). That night he entered the City of God; he had pointed the way.
—. Confessions. Ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari. Trans. Vernon J. Bourke. Vol. 21. New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953. Print.
Bainton, Roland H. Luther, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009. Print.
Battenhouse, Roy W., ed. A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1955. Print.
Bourke, Vernon J., ed. The Essential Augustine. New York: Mentor-Omega, 1964. Print.
Doyle, Daniel E. “Mary, Mother of God.” Augustine Through the Ages: Encyclopedia. Ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 542-45. Print.
Geisler, Norman L., ed. What Augustine Says. Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1982. Print.
Litfin, Bryan M. Getting to Know the Church Fathers. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Print.
Neuhaus, Richard John, ed. Augustine Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. Print.
Patten, Donnald. “What We Owe to Augustine.” Comp. Christopher Mattix. Dubuque: Emmaus Bible College, 25 March 2010. Notes.
Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. 2nd Edition. Nashville: Word, 1995. Print.
Stevenson, Mark. “Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy.” Comp. Christopher Mattix. Dubuque: Emmaus Bible College, 22 February 2010. Notes.