Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Church, Authority, And Infallibility (Part 4): Augustine On Tradition And The Papacy

Some of what Augustine defined as catholic tradition is inconsistent with the tradition of Roman Catholicism. For example, he claims 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 approvingly quotes Ambrose's comments to the effect that Jesus is the only immaculately conceived human, and he writes that Ambrose's view is consistent with "the catholic faith" (On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47-48). In contrast, Catholicism claims that Mary's immaculate conception is part of the faith always held by the church. Catholics often claim to agree with Augustine's principles of church authority, yet they reject some of the conclusions he arrived at through the application of those principles.

As the Catholic patristic scholar Robert Eno noted in his comments I quoted in my last post, Augustine contradicted Catholicism by placing the authority of ecumenical councils above that of Roman bishops. Yet, Dave Armstrong writes:

Rather than cite the numerous Augustine utterances concerning Roman primacy, J. N. D. Kelly's assessment will suffice for our purposes:

It goes without saying that Augustine identifies the Church with the universal Catholic Church of his day, with its hierarchy and sacraments, and with its centre at Rome.

(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised edition of 1978, 412-413)

Here's what Kelly goes on to say, several pages later:

"At the same time there is no evidence that he was prepared to ascribe to the bishop of Rome, in his capacity as successor of St. Peter, a sovereign and infallible doctrinal magisterium. For example, when in his controversy with Julian of Eclanum he appealed to Innocent, his view was that the Pope was only the mouthpiece of truths which the Roman church had held from ancient times in harmony with other Catholic churches. Nor was he willing, in practical matters, to surrender one jot of the disciplinary independence of the African church which Cyprian had defended so stoutly in his day. The truth is that the doctrine of the Roman primacy played only a minor role in his ecclesiology, as also in his personal religious thinking." (Early Christian Doctrines [New York: Continuum, 2003], p. 419)

Kelly compares Augustine's view to Cyprian's, something I've also done. In my 2008 article Dave was responding to, I cited a passage in Augustine (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2-4) that's inconsistent with Roman Catholic ecclesiology. In that passage, Augustine gives his approval to one of Cyprian's anti-papal comments:

"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)

Just after what I've quoted above, Augustine comments:

"Now let the proud and swelling necks of the heretics raise themselves, if they dare, against the holy humility of this address." (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:3)

Here's how Dave responds:

The same contra-Catholic argument is made about St. Gregory the Great's denial of being a universal bishop (that has a perfectly orthodox Catholic explanation), but the sense appears to be the same in both cases: a bishop has jurisdiction in his own domain, and is not merely an agent of the pope. The same Gregory who eschewed the title "universal bishop" also made many explicit proclamations of papal supremacy. And this is true of St. Augustine as well.

Dave doesn't demonstrate that Cyprian was saying the same thing he attributes to Gregory the Great. Rather, he just asserts that the two were saying the same thing. The qualifications Dave refers to aren't present in Cyprian's comments, and we have no reason to conclude that Cyprian was responding to a denial that "a bishop has jurisdiction in his own domain". Rather, the comments Augustine cites from Cyprian come from the context of Cyprian's dispute with the Roman bishop Stephen over heretical baptism. Cyprian and his fellow North African bishops were asserting their independence from the bishop of Rome. They weren't just saying that they had local jurisdiction under the universal jurisdiction of the Roman bishop, as if their possession of local jurisdiction was in dispute. Rather, they were denying that there is any bishop of bishops. For there to be a bishop of bishops, you would need to have "bishops" to begin with. Nobody in the dispute was denying that the North African bishops had local authority as bishops. Rather, the issue was whether they were beneath the authority of the bishop of Rome. Cyprian denies that they were. That's a contradiction of the papacy, which is foundational to Roman Catholicism. Cyprian was addressing "a necessity of obeying" another bishop, not whether he had local authority while having to obey the bishop of Rome. If the issue under dispute is whether you have local authority while submitting to a higher authority you must obey, you don't address such a dispute by denying that you have to obey any other bishop. Dave's interpretation of Cyprian doesn't make sense, which probably explains why he says more about Gregory the Great than he does about what Cyprian wrote. Both Cyprian's words and his actions are most naturally interpreted in an anti-papal sense. Dave hasn't given us any reason to read his qualifications into the text.

See here for some examples of modern scholarship's affirmation of Cyprian's anti-papal view of church government. That article just linked includes a citation of J.N.D. Kelly, the source Dave cited above concerning Augustine. I also cite some Catholic scholars on the subject.

Just before the passage Dave is responding to, Augustine wrote:

"Wherefore, if Peter, on doing this, is corrected by his later colleague Paul [in Galatians 2], and is yet preserved by the bond of peace and unity till he is promoted to martyrdom, how much more readily and constantly should we prefer, either to the authority of a single bishop, or to the Council of a single province, the rule that has been established by the statutes of the universal Church?" (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:1)

But Augustine's approval of Cyprian's anti-papal ecclesiology is just the beginning of the problems this section in Augustine poses for a Catholic. In my next post, I'll address the remainder of the passage and its implications for the claims of Roman Catholicism.

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