Thursday, October 14, 2010

Was Augustine Roman Catholic? (Part 2)

(For the background to this post, see here.)

In my series on Augustine that Scott Windsor responded to, I gave some examples of Augustine's contradictions of Catholic belief. One example I cited was Augustine's view of infant salvation. Scott responded:

Now while clearly Mr. Engwer is trying to dig up inconsistencies (which he has yet to do), one has to question his support of St. Augustine - since, as I understand it, his denomination does not believe in infant baptism at all.

Was my series about whether Augustine was a member of my denomination? No, it wasn't. Have I ever suggested he was a member of my denomination? No. Was I citing Augustine on the issue of infant baptism? No.

As for "digging up inconsistencies", let me quote something the conservative priest and Roman Catholic apologist Peter Stravinskas wrote about Augustine in a conservative Catholic magazine (since Scott doesn't think Robert Eno is conservative enough):

"Despite Augustine's tremendous influence, several of his opinions never gained acceptability in the Church. Among them, we can list the following theories: that God would condemn unbaptized infants to hell, simply because of the inheritance of original sin; that God would justly condemn adults who had never had the chance to be presented with the Gospel, again, due solely to original sin's hold on them; that some people would suffer eternal damnation for no other reason than God's lack of interest in saving them! As we reflect on these Augustinian positions, we must recall the fact that just because someone is a saint or even a doctor of the Church does not make his entire body of teaching acceptable; only the Church's Magisterium can decide what is and is not consonant with Her understanding of the truth of Christ." (Envoy, September/October 1998)

You don't have to do much "digging" to find contradictions between Augustine and Roman Catholicism. I cited an example related to infant salvation, and the issue of infant salvation is the first example Stravinskas cites.

And here's Scott's irrelevant response on that particular issue:

Let us first state that even today a faithful Catholic could argue as St. Augustine did for infant baptism, CCC 1261 merely states that we can only entrust their souls to the mercy of God. It’s still God’s choice, salvation, damnation or the speculative “Limbo.”

Notice that Scott ignores what I cited from Augustine and what I cited from the Catechism Of The Catholic Church. Augustine tells us that the necessity of baptism for infant salvation is part of the Christian faith (On The Soul And Its Origin, 2:17). In contrast, Catholicism encourages people to "entrust them [unbaptized children] to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them" and "hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (Catechism Of The Catholic Church, 1261). Augustine didn't teach the "hope" that Catholicism is teaching. Scott hasn't reconciled the two positions. Instead, he just asserts that there's no contradiction without demonstrating that assertion.

I also cited Augustine's rejection of the immaculate conception of Mary. Scott responded by quoting only a portion of the passage I cited, then he wrote:

Note, the definition [of the immaculate conception by Pope Pius IX] does not say the Blessed Virgin was wholly freed from Original Sin, but was preserved from the STAIN of Original Sin. Jesus indeed was the only one who was born of a woman who was completely preserved from all sin.

Scott doesn't explain the alleged significance of a distinction between "freed from Original Sin" and "preserved from the STAIN of Original Sin". The same papal document Scott is citing refers to "the original innocence of the august Virgin", without any reference to a "stain". The Pope also wrote that Mary was "preserved from original sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit". Again, the "stain" qualifier that Scott is emphasizing isn't there. How could somebody have original sin without being stained? The Pope goes on to discuss how the Council of Trent refers to all men as having original sin, but doesn't include Mary. Thus, Mary is being exempted from the original sin that others have.

Yet, Augustine approvingly cites Ambrose's view that Jesus was the only human conceived without original sin:

"It is therefore an observed and settled fact, that no man born of a man and a woman, that is, by means of their bodily union, is seen to be free from sin. Whosoever, indeed, is free from sin, is free also from a conception and birth of this kind....For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty." (On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47)

Anybody born of sexual union is sinful. Jesus is "alone" in the "novelty" of His sinlessness. Is that view consistent with Roman Catholicism? No. As the Roman Catholic Marian scholar Michael O'Carroll put it, "[Augustine's] theology of original sin, which explained the transmission through concupiscence, inherent in conjugal relations, blocked his thinking." (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 63)

Augustine also contradicted the Roman Catholic view elsewhere. The patristic scholar J.N.D. Kelly explains:

"he [Augustine] did not hold (as has sometimes been alleged) that she [Mary] was born exempt from all taint of original sin (the later doctrine of the immaculate conception). Julian of Eclanum maintained this as a clinching argument in his onslaught on the whole idea of original sin, but Augustine's rejoinder was that Mary had indeed been born subject to original sin like all other human beings, but had been delivered from its effects 'by the grace of rebirth'." (Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 497)

Speaking of Kelly, Scott made the following remarkable comments after I documented that Kelly refers to Augustine's view of Roman primacy as non-papal:

So, what Mr. Engwer and Armstrong have pointed out is J.N.D. Kelly is inconsistent in his assessment of St. Augustine. You know, I’m OK with that!

Scott makes no attempt to demonstrate that Kelly was inconsistent. He just asserts it. What's more likely is that Kelly realized that primacy can be defined in more than one way, so his reference to Augustine's belief in a Roman primacy wasn't meant to be a reference to a belief in a papacy. But Scott ignores such distinctions, equates primacy with a papacy, and claims without any supporting argument that Kelly was inconsistent.

I had cited a passage in which Augustine approvingly quotes the following anti-papal comments of Cyprian:

"For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or, by tyrannical terror, forces his colleagues to a necessity of obeying, inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another. But we must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the power both of setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein." (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2)

Cyprian denies that there's any bishop with universal jurisdiction. Not only is that the most natural reading of Cyprian's words, but it's also the most natural reading of his context. He made his comments above in the context of opposing the Roman bishop Stephen during a dispute over baptismal doctrine. Stephen was the first Roman bishop in our extant records to claim something like papal authority. Cyprian was opposing Stephen's claim. Even Roman Catholic scholars have acknowledged that Cyprian held a non-papal view of church government. See here. And Augustine was expressing agreement with Cyprian's view.

Here's how Scott responded:

So St. Augustine, through his quote from Cyprian, demonstrates that while St. Peter’s see is definitely one of primacy - the one in that seat may not always walk uprightly and may need someone else, like a St. Paul, or even a Church council, to step in and make a correction. So, even the bishop with primacy is not above correction - THAT is the point of this part of St. Augustine’s On Baptism, Against the Donatists

Does Cyprian, who's quoted by Augustine, say that he's addressing whether a bishop has "walked uprightly" and can be corrected by somebody of lower authority? No. Rather, Cyprian says that he's addressing whether there's any bishop of bishops, one bishop who has jurisdiction over the others. He denies that there is such a bishop. Roman Catholicism claims that there is one. That's a contradiction.

In my series on Augustine, I pointed out that Augustine defined ecumenical councils differently than Catholicism does. Augustine didn't agree with Catholicism about which councils are and aren't ecumenical. Scott evades the issue by commenting:

I’m not going to get into the middle of this dispute about how St. Augustine counted councils, vs. Dave or Jason.

There isn't much that Scott does "get into the middle of". He ignores most of what I address in my series on Augustine.

Here's Scott explaining that he's going to ignore even more of what I wrote:

There’s a bit of a battle about the interpretation of a word (“correct”) with several references to St. Augustine’s On Baptism, Against the Donatists, and then some more non-primary source commentary from Eno. Rather than a line-by-line, rehashing of this previous argument, let me skip to Engwer’s concluding/summary statements

Yet, a little later he comments:

I must have missed something here - where did St. Augustine state that ecumenical councils are fallible?

Scott "missed" it because he just "skipped" it.

That's an accurate summary of most of his response to my series.


  1. Was Augustine Roman Catholic?

    Yup. No doubt about it.

  2. John,

    Given its sophisticated style and erudite content, I took some time to engage in an extended reflection on your comment.

    I must say, that was a powerful response. And, to be honest, I'm not sure how Jason is going to handle this devastating critique. Perhaps it is simply time for him to admit that all of his research into this subject has been a vain grasping at straws.

    If only Jason had been blessed with your command of the secondary and primary sources, perhaps this embarrassing turn of events could have been avoided from the beginning.

  3. @ Matthew.
    Thank you for the compliments. I am not sure I would call my comment erudite, but thanks just the same. Nor would I call my comment a devastating critique, but thanks again. I will agree that I have been blessed with a command of secondary and primary sources.

  4. But not a command of sarcasm.

  5. @Peter.

    Sarcasm, I will work on that. Thanks.

  6. Why not; Adolph Hitler was a Latter-day Saint.

    The difference being that Latter-day saints actually have to go through the hassle of conducting baptisms (temple ordinance) to assume particular individuals as Latter-day saints, whereas the Roman Catholic Church has no such burden.

    The Roman Catholic Church did have the burden of disassociating themselves with particular unsavoury characters such as John Wycliffe through the process of excommunication.

    However standard practice of the Roman church automatically assumed all pre-Reformation Christians not specifically covered by Eastern Orthodoxy were 'Roman Catholics'; after all 'Catholic' does means universal.

    Everyone is by default Roman Catholic (according to church belief) regardless of how well their individual beliefs fit into Roman orthodoxy unless they have been specifically excluded from the club.

    Augustine must be Roman Catholic then, since he has not been specifically excluded from the club.

  7. Matthew D. Schultz, you are awesome.

  8. Jason I would guess we would not see eye to eye on much but I do appreciate the effort you make, first to be respectful, explain your position and to follow up. This may sound silly but I wish I had your faith, that wont happen and I know it but I just wanted to say I appreciate your efforts. I do wish you and yours God's blessings.

  9. Thanks for the encouragement, icouldbe.

  10. "Was Augustine Roman Catholic?

    Yup. No doubt about it."

    You just can't argue with "logic" like that.