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The Catholic Encyclopedia
Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is "a philosophical and theological genius of the first order, dominating, like a pyramid, antiquity and the succeeding ages. Compared with the great philosophers of past centuries and modern times, he is the equal of them all; among theologians he is undeniably the first, and such has been his influence that none of the Fathers, Scholastics, or Reformers has surpassed it." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, p. 854) Elsewhere, we have discussed his life and his writings; here, we shall treat of his teaching and influence in three sections:
His function as a doctor of the Church
When the critics endeavour to determine Augustine's place in the history of the Church and of civilization, there can be no question of exterior or political influence, such as was exercised by St. Leo, St. Gregory, or St. Bernard. As Reuter* justly observes, Augustine was bishop of a third-rate city and had scarcely any direct control over politics, and Harnack adds that perhaps he had not the qualifications of a statesman. If Augustine occupies a place apart in the history of humanity, it is as a thinker, his influence being felt even outside the realm of theology, and playing a most potent part in the orientation of Western thought. It is now universally conceded that, in the intellectual field, this influence is unrivalled even by that of Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine's teaching marks a distinct epoch in the history of Christian thought. The better to emphasize this important fact we shall try to determine: (1) the rank and degree of influence that must be ascribed to Augustine; (2) the nature, or the elements, of his doctrinal influence; (3) the general qualities of his doctrine; and (4) the character of his genius.
The greatest of the doctors
It is first of all a remarkable fact that the great critics, Protestant as well as Catholic, are almost unanimous in placing St. Augustine in the foremost rank of Doctors and proclaiming him to be the greatest of the Fathers. Such, indeed, was also the opinion of his contemporaries, judging from their expressions of enthusiasm gathered by the Bollandists. The popes attributed such exceptional authority to the Doctor of Hippo that, even of late years, it has given rise to lively theological controversies. Peter the Venerable accurately summarized the general sentiment of the Middle Ages when he ranked Augustine immediately after the Apostles; and in modern times Bossuet, whose genius was most like that of Augustine, assigns him the first place among the Doctors, nor does he simply call him the incomparable Augustine," but "the Eagle of Doctors," "the Doctor of Doctors." If the Jansenistic abuse of his works and perhaps the exaggerations of certain Catholics, as well as the attack of Richard Simon, seem to have alarmed some minds, the general opinion has not varied. In the nineteenth century Stöckl expressed the thought of all when he said, "Augustine has justly been called the greatest Doctor of the Catholic world."
And the admiration of Protestant critics is not less enthusiastic. More than this, it would seem as if they had in these latter days been quite specially fascinated by the great figure of Augustine, so deeply and so assiduously have they studied him (Bindemann, Schaff, Dorner, Reuter, A. Harnack, Eucken, Scheel, and so on) and all of them agree more or less with Harnack when he says: "Where, in the history of the West, is there to be found a man who, in point of influence, can be compared with him?" Luther and Calvin were content to treat Augustine with a little less irreverence than they did the other Fathers, but their descendants do him full justice, although recognizing him as the Father of Roman Catholicism. According to Bindemann, "Augustine is a star of extraordinary brilliancy in the firmament of the Church. Since the apostles he has been unsurpassed." In his "History of the Church" Dr. Kurtz calls Augustine "the greatest, the most powerful of all the Fathers, him from whom proceeds all the doctrinal and ecclesiastical development of the West, and to whom each recurring crisis, each new orientation of thought brings it back." Schaff himself (Saint Augustine, Melanchthon and Neander, p. 98) is of the same opinion: "While most of the great men in the history of the Church are claimed either by the Catholic or by the Protestant confession, and their influence is therefore confined to one or the other, he enjoys from both a respect equally profound and enduring." Rudolf Eucken is bolder still, when he says: "On the ground of Christianity proper a single philosopher has appeared and that is Augustine." The English Miter, W. Cunningham, is no less appreciative of the extent and perpetuity of this extraordinary influence: "The whole life of the medieval Church was framed on lines which he has suggested: its religious orders claimed him as their patron; its mystics found a sympathetic tone in his teaching; its polity was to some extent the actualization of his picture of the Christian Church; it was in its various parts a carrying out of ideas which he cherished and diffused. Nor does his influence end with the decline of medievalism: we shall see presently how closely his language was akin to that of Descartes, who gave the first impulse to and defined the special character of modern philosophy." And after having established that the doctrine of St. Augustine was at the bottom of all the struggles between Jansenists and Catholics in the Church of France, between Arminians and Calvinists on the side of the Reformers, he adds: "And once more in our own land when a reaction arose against rationalism and Erastinianism it was to the African Doctor that men turned with enthusiasm: Dr. Pusey's edition of the Confessions was among the first-fruits of the Oxford Movement."
But Adolf Harnack is the one who has oftenest emphasized the unique rôle of the Doctor of Hippo. He has studied Augustine's place in the history of the world as reformer of Christian piety and his influence as Doctor of the Church. In his study of the "Confessions" he comes back to it: "No man since Paul is comparable to him" with the exception of Luther, he adds. "Even today we live by Augustine, by his thought and his spirit; it is said that we are the sons of the Renaissance and the Reformation, but both one and the other depend upon him."
Nature and different aspects of his doctrinal influence
This influence is so varied and so complex that it is difficult to consider under all its different aspects. First of all, in his writings the great bishop collects and condenses the intellectual treasures of the old world and transmits them to the new. Harnack goes so far as to say: "It would seem that the miserable existence of the Roman empire in the West was prolonged until then, only to permit Augustine's influence to be exercised on universal history." It was in order to fulfil this enormous task that Providence brought him into contact with the three worlds whose thought he was to transmit: with the Roman and Latin world in the midst of which he lived, with the Oriental world partially revealed to him through the study of Manichæism, and with the Greek world shown to him by the Platonists. In philosophy he was initiated into the whole content and all the subtilties of the various schools, without, however, giving his allegiance to any one of them. In theology it was he who acquainted the Latin Church with the great dogmatic work accomplished in the East during the fourth century and at the beginning of the fifth; he popularized the results of it by giving them the more exact and precise form of the Latin genius.
To synthesis of the past, Augustine adds the incomparable wealth of his own thought, and he may be said to have been the most powerful instrument of Providence in development and advance of dogma. Here the danger has been not in denying, but in exaggerating, this advance. Augustine's dogmatic mission (in a lower sphere and apart from inspiration) recalls that of Paul in the preaching of the Gospel. It has also been subject to the same attacks and occasioned the same vagaries of criticism. Just as it was sought to make of Paulinism the real source of Christianity as we know it a system that had smothered the primitive germ of the Gospel of Jesus so it was imagined that, under the name of Augustinianism, Augustine had installed in the Church some sort of syncretism of the ideas of Paul and of neo-Platonism which was a deviation from ancient Christianity, fortunate according to some, but according to others utterly deplorable. These fantasies do not survive the reading of the texts, and Harnack himself shows in Augustine the heir to the tradition that preceded him. Still, on the other hand, his share of invention and originality in the development of dogma must not be ignored, although here and there, on special questions, human weaknesses crop out. He realized, better than any of the Fathers, the progress so well expressed by Vincent of Lérins, his contemporary, in a page that some have turned against him.
In general, all Christian dogmatics are indebted to him for new theories that better justify and explain revelation, new views, and greater clearness and precision. The many struggles with which he was identified, together with the speculative turn of his mind, brought almost every question within the scope of his research. Even his way of stating problems so left his impress upon them that there Is no problem, one might almost say, in considering which the theologian does not feel the study of Augustine's thought to be an imperative obligation. Certain dogmas in particular he so amply developed, so skilfully unsheathing the fruitful germ of the truths from their envelope of tradition, that many of these dogmas (wrongly, in our opinion) have been set down as "Augustinism." Augustine was not their inventor, he was only the first to put them in a strong light. They are chiefly the dogmas of the Fall, the Atonement, Grace, and Predestination. Schaff (op. cit. 97) has very properly said: "His appearance in the history of dogma forms a distinct epoch, especially as regards anthropological and soteriological doctrines, which he advanced considerably further, and brought to a greater clearness and precision, than they had ever had before in the consciousness of the Church." But he is not only the Doctor of Grace, he is also the Doctor of the Church: his twenty years' conflict with Donatism led to a complete exposition of the dogmas of the Church, the great work and mystical Body of Christ, and true Kingdom of God, of its part in salvation and of the intimate efficacy of its sacraments. It is on this point, as the very centre of Augustinian theology, that Reuter* has concentrated those "Augustinische Studien" which, according to Harnack, are the most learned of recent studies on St. Augustine. Manichæan controversies also led him to state clearly the great questions of the Divine Being and of the nature of evil, and he might also be called the Doctor of Good, or of good principles of all things. Lastly, the very idiosyncrasy of his genius and the practical, supernatural, and Divine imprint left upon all his intellectual speculations have made him the Doctor of Charity.
Another step forward due to the works of Augustine is in the language of theology, for, if he did not create it, he at least contributed towards its definite settlement. It is indebted to him for a great number of epigrammatic formulæ, as significant as they are terse, afterwards singled out and adopted by Scholasticism. Besides, as Latin was more concise and less fluid in its forms than Greek, it was wonderfully well suited to the work. Augustine made it the dogmatic language par excellence, and Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and others followed his lead. At times he has even been credited with the pseudo-Athanasian creed which is undoubtedly of later date, but those critics were not mistaken who traced its inspiration to the formulæ in "De Trinitate." Whoever its author may have been, he was certainly familiar with Augustine and drew upon his works. It is unquestionably this gift of concise expression, as well as his charity, that has so often caused the celebrated saying to be attributed to him: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
Augustine stands forth, too, as the great inspirer of religious thought in subsequent ages. A whole volume would not be sufficient to contain the full account of his influence on posterity; here we shall merely call attention to its principal manifestations. It is, in the first place, a fact of paramount importance that, with St. Augustine, the centre of dogmatic and theological development changed from East to West. Hence, from this view-point again, he makes an epoch in the history of dogma. The critics maintain that up to his time the most powerful influence was exerted by the Greek Church, the East having been the classic land of theology, the great workshop for the elaboration of dogma. From the time of Augustine, the predominating influence seems to emanate from the West, and the practical, realistic spirit of the Latin race supplants the speculative and idealistic spirit of Greece and the East. Another fact, no less salient, is that it was the Doctor of Hippo who, in the bosom of the Church, inspired the two seemingly antagonistic movements, Scholasticism and Mysticism. From Gregory the Great to the Fathers of Trent, Augustine's theological authority, indisputably the highest, dominates all thinkers and is appealed to alike by the Scholastics Anselm, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Aquinas, and by Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, and Tauler, exponents of Mysticism, all of whom were nourished upon his writings and penetrated with his spirit. There is not one of even the most modern tendencies of thought but derives from him whatever it may have of truth or of profound religious sentiment. Learned critics, such as Harnack, have called Augustine "the first modern man," and in truth, he so moulded the Latin world that it is really he who has shaped the education of modern minds. But, without going so far, we may quote the German philosopher, Eucken: "It is perhaps not paradoxical to say that if our age wishes to take up and treat in an independent way the problem of religion, it is not so much to Schleiermacher or Kant, or even Luther or St. Thomas, that it must refer, as to Augustine.... And outside of religion, there are points upon which Augustine is more modern than Hegel or Schopenhauer."
The dominating qualities of his doctrine
The better to understand St. Augustine's influence, we must point out in his doctrine certain general characteristics which must not be lost sight of, if, in reading his works, one would avoid troublesome misapprehensions.
First, the full development of the great Doctor's mind was progressive. It was by stages, often aided by the circumstances and necessities of controversy, that he arrived at the exact knowledge of each truth and a clean-cut perception of its place in the synthesis of revelation. He also requires that his readers should know how to "advance with him." It is necessary to study St. Augustine's works in historical order and, as we shall see, this applies particularly to the doctrine of grace.
Augustinian doctrine is, again, essentially theological, and has God for its centre. To be sure Augustine is a great philosopher, and Fénelon said of him: "If an enlightened man were to gather from the books of St. Augustine the sublime truths which this great man has scattered at random therein, such a compendium [extrait], made with discrimination, would be far superior to Descartes' Meditations." And indeed just such a collection was made by the Oratorian ontologist, André Martin. There is then a philosophy of St. Augustine, but in him philosophy is so intimately coupled with theology as to be inseparable from it. Protestant historians have remarked this characteristic of his writings. "The world," says Eucken, "interests him less than" the action of God in the world and especially in ourselves. God and the soul are the only subjects the knowledge Of which ought to fire us with enthusiasm. All knowledge becomes moral, religious knowledge, or rather a moral, religious conviction, an act of faith on the part of man, who gives himself up unreservedly." And with still greater energy Böhringer has said: "The axis on which the heart, life and theology of Augustine move is God." Oriental discussions on the Word had forced Athanasius and the Greek Fathers to set faith in the Word and in Christ, the Saviour, at the very summit of theology; Augustine, too, in his theology, places the Incarnation at the centre of the Divine plan, but he looks upon it as the great historic manifestation of God to humanity the idea of God dominates all: of God considered in His essence (On the Trinity), in His government (The City of God) or as the last end of all Christian life (Enchiridion and On the Christian Combat).
Lastly, Augustine's doctrine bears an eminently Catholic stamp and is radically opposed to Protestantism. It is important to establish this fact, principally because of the change in the attitude of Protestant critics towards St. Augustine. Indeed, nothing is more deserving of attention than this development so highly creditable to the impartiality of modern writers. The thesis of the Protestants of olden times is well known. Attempts to monopolize Augustine and to make him an ante-Reformation reformer, were certainly not wanting. Of course Luther had to admit that he did not find in Augustine justification by faith alone, that generating principle of all Protestantism; and Schaff tells us that he consoled himself with exclaiming (op. sit., p. 100): "Augustine has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers." But in general, the Reformation did not so easily fall into line, and for a long time it was customary to oppose the great name of Augustine to Catholicism. Article 20 of the Confession of Augsburg dares to ascribe to him justification without works, and Melanchthon invokes his authority in his "Apologia Confessionis." In the last thirty or forty years all has been changed, and the best Protestant critics now vie with one another in proclaiming the essentially Catholic character of Augustinian doctrine. In fact they go to extremes when they claim him to be the founder of Catholicism. It is thus that H. Reuter* concludes his very important studies on the Doctor of Hippo: "I consider Augustine the founder of Roman Catholicism in the West....This is no new discovery, as Kattenbusch seems to believe, but a truth long since recognized by Neander, Julius Köstlin, Dorner, Schmidt, ...etc.." Then, as to whether Evangelicalism is to be found in Augustine, he says: "Formerly this point was reasoned out very differently from what it is nowadays. The phrases so much in use from 1830 to 1870: Augustine is the Father of evangelical Protestantism and Pelagius is the Father of Catholicism, are now rarely met with. They have since been acknowledged to be untenable, although they contain a particula veri." Philip Schaff reaches the same conclusion; and Dorner says, "It is erroneous to ascribe to Augustine the ideas that inspired the Reformation." No one, however, has put this idea in a stronger light than Harnack. Quite recently, in his 14th lesson on "The Essence of Christianity," he characterized the Roman Church by three elements, the third of which is Augustinism, the thought and the piety of St. Augustine. "In fact Augustine has exerted over the whole inner life of the Church, religious life and religious thought, an absolutely decisive influence." And again he says, "In the fifth century, at the hour when the Church inherited the Roman Empire, she had within her a man of extraordinarily deep and powerful genius: from him she took her ideas, and to this present hour she has been unable to break away from them." In his "History of Dogma" (English tr., V, 234, 235) the same critic dwells at length upon the features of what he calls the "popular Catholicism" to which Augustine belongs. These features are (a) the Church as a hierarchical institution with doctrinal authority; (b) eternal life by merits, and disregard of the Protestant thesis of "salvation by faith" that is, salvation by that firm confidence in God which the certainty of pardon produces (c) the forgiveness of sins in the Church and the Church; (d) the distinction between commands and counsel between grievous sine and venial sins the scale of wicked men and good men the various degrees of happiness in heaven according to one's deserts; (e) Augustine is accused of "outdoing the superstitious ideas" of this popular Catholicism the infinite value of Christ's satisfaction, salvation considered as enjoyment of God in heaven the mysterious efficacy of the sacraments (ex opere operato) Mary's virginity even in childbirth the idea of her purity and her conception, unique in their kind." Harnack does not assert that Augustine taught the Immaculate Conception, but Schaff (op. cit., p. 98) says unhesitatingly: "He is responsible also for many grievous errors of the Roman Church...he anticipated the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and his ominous word, Roma locuta est, causa finite est, might almost be quoted in favour of the Vatican decree of ."
Nevertheless, it were a mistake to suppose that modern Protestants relinquish all claim upon Augustine; they will have it that, despite his essential Catholicism, it was he who inspired Luther and Calvin. The new thesis, therefore, is that each of the two Churches may claim him in turn. Burke's expression quoted by Schaff (ibid., p. 102) is characteristic: "In Augustine ancient and modern ideas are melted and to his authority the papal Church has as much right to appeal as the Churches of the Reformation." No one notes this contradiction more clearly than Loofs. After stating that Augustine has accentuated the characteristic elements of Western (Catholic) Christianity, that in succeeding ages he became its Father, and that "the Ecclesiasticism of Roman Catholicism, Scholasticism, Mysticism, and even the claims of the papacy to temporal rule, are founded upon a tendency initiated by him," Loofs also affirms that he is the teacher of all the reformers and their bond of union, and concludes with this strange paradox: "The history of Catholicism is the history of the progressive elimination of Augustinism." The singular aptitude of these critics for supposing the existence of flagrant contradictions in a genius like Augustine is not so astonishing when we remember that, with Reuter, they justify this theory by the reflection: "In whom are to be found more frequent contradictions than in Luther?" But their theories are based upon a false interpretation of Augustine's opinion, which is frequently misconstrued by those who are not sufficiently familiar with his language and terminology.
The character of his genius
We have now to ascertain what is the dominating quality which accounts for his fascinating influence upon posterity. One after another the critics have considered the various aspects of this great genius. Some have been particularly impressed by the depth and originality of his conceptions, and for these Augustine is the great sower of the ideas by which future minds are to live. Others, like Jungmann and Stöckl, have praised in him the marvellous harmony of all the mind's higher qualities, or, again, the universality and the compass of his doctrine. "In the great African Doctor," says the Rev. J. A. Zahm (Bible, Science and Faith, Fr. tr., 56), "we seem to have found united and combined the powerful and penetrating logic of Plato, the deep scientific conceptions of Aristotle, the knowledge and intellectual suppleness of Origen, the grace and eloquence of Basil and Chrysostom. Whether we consider him as philosopher, as theologian, or as exegetist...he still appears admirable the unquestioned Master of all the centuries." Philip Schaff (op. cit., p. 97) admires above all "such a rare union of the speculative talent of the Greek and of the practical spirit of the Latin Church as he alone possessed." In all these opinions there is a great measure of truth; nevertheless we believe that the dominating characteristic of Augustine's genius and the true secret of his influence are to be found in his heart a heart that penetrates the most exalted speculations of a profound mind and animates them with the most ardent feeling. It is at bottom only the traditional and general estimate of the saint that we express; for he has always been represented with a heart for his emblem, just as Thomas Aquinas with a sun. Mgr. Bougaud thus interpreted this symbol: "Never did man unite in one and the same soul such stern rigour of logic with such tenderness of heart." This is also the opinion of Harnack, Böhringer, Nourisson, Storz, and others. Great intellectuality admirably fused with an enlightened mysticism is Augustine's distinguishing characteristic. Truth is not for him only an object of contemplation; it is a good that must be possessed, that must be loved and lived by. What constitutes Augustine's genius is his marvellous gift of embracing truth with all the fibres of his soul; not with the heart alone, for the heart does not think; not with the mind alone, for the mind grasps only the abstract or, as it were, lifeless truth. Augustine seeks the living truth, and even when he is combating certain Platonic ideas he is of the family of Plato, not of Aristotle. He belongs indisputably to all ages because he is in touch with all souls, but he is preeminently modern because his doctrine is not the cold light of the School; he is living and penetrated with personal sentiment. Religion is not a simple theory, Christianity is not a series of dogmas; It Is also a life, as they say nowadays, or, more accurately, a source of life. However, let us not be deceived. Augustine is not a sentimentalist, a pure mystic, and heart alone does not account for his power. If in him the hard, cold intellectuality of the metaphysician gives place to an impassioned vision of truth, that truth is the basis of it all. He never knew the vaporous mysticism of our day, that allows itself to be lulled by a vague, aimless sentimentalism. His emotion is deep, true, engrossing, precisely because it is born of a strong, secure, accurate dogmatism that wishes to know what it loves and why it loves. Christianity is life, but life in the eternal, unchangeable truth. And if none of the Fathers has put so much of his heart into his writings, neither has any turned upon truth the searchlight of a stronger, clearer intellect.
Augustine's passion is characterized not by violence, but by a communicative tenderness; and his exquisite delicacy experiences first one and then another of the most intimate emotions and tests them; hence the irresistible effect of the "Confessions." Feuerlein, a Protestant thinker, has brought out in relief (exaggeratedly, to be sure, and leaving the marvellous powers of his intellect in the shade) Augustine's exquisite sensibility what he calls the "feminine elements" of his genius. He says: "It was not merely a chance or accidental part that his mother, Monica, played in his intellectual development, and therein lies what essentially distinguishes him from Luther, of whom it was said: "Everything about him bespeaks the man". And Schlösser, whom Feuerlein quotes, is not afraid to say that Augustine's works contain more genuine poetry than all the writings of the Greek Fathers. At least it cannot be denied that no thinker ever caused so many and such salutary tears to flow. This characteristic of Augustine's genius explains his doctrinal work. Christian dogmas are considered in relation to the soul and the great duties of Christian life, rather than to themselves and in a speculative fashion. This alone explains his division of theology in the "Enchiridion," which at first sight seems so strange. He assembles all Christian doctrine in the three theological virtues, considering in the mysteries the different activities of the soul that must live by them. Thus, in the Incarnation, he assigns the greatest part to the moral side, to the triumph of humility. For this reason, also, Augustine's work bears an imprint, until then unknown, of living personality peeping out everywhere. He inaugurates that literature in which the author's individuality reveals itself in the most abstract matters, the "Confessions" being an inimitable example of it. It is in this connection that Harnack admires the African Doctor's gift of psychological observation and a captivating facility for portraying his penetrating observations. This talent, he says, is the secret of Augustine's originality and greatness. Again, it is this same characteristic that distinguishes him from the other Doctors and gives him his own special temperament. The practical side of a question appealed to the Roman mind of Ambrose, too, but he never rises to the same heights, nor moves the heart as deeply as does his disciple of Milan. Jerome is a more learned exegetist, better equipped in respect of Scriptural erudition; he is even purer in his style; but, despite his impetuous ardour, he is less animated, less striking, than his correspondent of Hippo. Athanasius, too, is subtile in the metaphysical analysis of dogma, but he does not appeal to the heart and take hold of the soul like the African Doctor. Origen played the part of initiator in the Eastern Church, just as Augustine did in the Western, but his influence, unfortunate in more ways than one, was exercised rather in the sphere of speculative intelligence, while that of Augustine, owing to the qualities of his heart, extended far beyond the realm of theology. Bossuet, who of all geniuses most closely resembles Augustine by his elevation and his universality, is his superior in the skilfulness and artistic finish of his works, but he has not the alluring tenderness of soul; and if Augustine fulminates less, he attracts more powerfully, subjugating the mind with gentleness.
Thus may Augustine's universal influence in all succeeding ages be explained: it is due to combined gifts of heart and mind. Speculative genius alone does not sway the multitude; the Christian world, apart from professional theologians, does not read Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand, without the clear, definite idea of dogma, mysticism founders as soon as reason awakes and discovers the emptiness of metaphors: this is always the fate of vague pietism, whether it recognize Christ or not, whether It be extolled by Schleiermacher, Sabatier, or their disciples. But to Augustine's genius, at once enlightened and ardent, the whole soul is accessible, and the whole Church, both teachers and taught, is permeated by his sentiments and ideas. A. Harnack, more than any other critic, admires and describes Augustine's influence over all the life of Christian people. If Thomas Aquinas is the Doctor of the Schools, Augustine is, according to Harnack, the inspirer and restorer of Christian piety. If Thomas inspires the canons of Trent, Augustine, besides having formed Thomas himself, inspires the inner life of the Church and is the soul of all the great reforms effected within its pale. In his "Essence of Christianity" (14th lesson, 1900, p. 161) Harnack shows how Catholics and Protestants live upon the piety of Augustine. "His living has been incessantly relived in the course of the fifteen hundred years that have followed. Even to our days interior and living piety among Catholics, as well as the mode of its expression, has been essentially Augustinian: the soul is permeated by his sentiment, it feels as he felt and rethinks his thoughts. It is the same with many Protestants also, and they are by no means among the worst. And even those to whom dogma is but a relic of the past proclaim that Augustine's influence will live forever."
This genuine emotion is also the veil that hides certain faults from the reader or else makes him oblivious of them. Says Eucken: "Never could Augustine have exercised all the influence he has exercised if it had not been that, in spite of the rhetorical artifice of his utterance, absolute sincerity reigned in the inmost recesses of his soul." His frequent repetitions are excused because they are the expression of his deep feeling. Schaff says: "His books, with all the faults and repetitions of isolated parts, are a spontaneous outflow from the marvellous treasures of his highly-gifted mind and his truly pious heart." (St. Augustine, p. 96.) But we must also acknowledge that his passion is the source of exaggerations and at times of errors that are fraught with real danger for the inattentive or badly disposed reader. Out of sheer love for Augustine certain theologians have endeavoured to justify all he wrote, to admire all, and to proclaim him infallible, but nothing could be more detrimental to his glory than such excess of praise. The reaction already referred to arises partly from this. We must recognize that the passion for truth sometimes fixes its attention too much upon one side of a complex question; his too absolute formulæ, lacking qualification, false in appearance now in one sense now in another. "The oratorical temperament that was his in such a high degree," says Becker, very truly (Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique, 15 April, 1902, p. 379), "the kind of exaltation that befitted his rich imagination and his loving soul, are not the most reliable in philosophical speculations." Such is the origin of the contradictions alleged against him and of the errors ascribed to him by the predestinarians of all ages. Here we see the rôle of the more frigid minds of Scholasticism. Thomas Aquinas was a necessary corrective to Augustine. He is less great, less original, and, above all, less animated; but the calm didactics of his intellectualism enable him to castigate Augustine's exaggerations with rigorous criticism, to impart exactitude and precision to his terms in one word, to prepare a dictionary with which the African Doctor may be read without danger.
His system of grace
It is unquestionably in the great Doctor's solution of the eternal problem of freedom and grace of the part taken by God and by man, in the affair of salvation that his thought stands forth as most personal, most powerful, and most disputed. Most personal, for he was the first of all to synthesize the great theories of the Fall, grace, and free will; and moreover it is he who, to reconcile them all, has furnished us with a profound explanation which is in very truth his, and of which we can find no trace in his predecessors. Hence, the term Augustinism is often exclusively used to designate his system of grace. Most powerful, for, as all admit, it was he above all others who won the triumph of liberty against the Manichæans, and of grace against the Pelagians. His doctrine has, in the main, been solemnly accepted by the Church, and we know that the canons of the Council of Orange are borrowed from his works. Most disputed, also.—Like St. Paul, whose teachings he develops, he has often been quoted, often not understood. Friends and enemies have exploited his teaching in the most diverse senses. It has not been grasped, not only by the opponents of liberty, and hence by the Reformers of the sixteenth century, but even today, by Protestant critics the most opposed to the cruel predestinationism of Calvin and Luther who father that doctrine on St. Augustine. A technical study would be out of place here; it will be sufficient to enunciate the most salient thoughts, to enable the reader to find his bearings.
(1) It is regarded as incontestable today that the system of Augustine was complete in his mind from the year 397 that is, from the beginning of his episcopate, when he wrote his answers to the "quæstiones Diversæ" of Simplician. It is to this book that Augustine, in his last years, refers the Semipelagians for the explanation of his real thought. This important fact, to which for a long time no attention was paid, has been recognized by Neander and established by Gangaut, and also by recent critics, such as Loofs, Reuter, Turmel, Jules Martin (see also Cunningham, St. Austin, 1886, pp. 80 and 175). It will not, therefore, be possible to deny the authority of these texts on the pretext that Augustine in his old age adopted a system more antagonistic to liberty.
(2) The system of Pelagius can today be better understood than heretofore. Pelagius doubtless denied original sin, and the immortality and integrity of Adam; in a word, the whole supernatural order. But the parent idea of his system, which was of stoic origin, was nothing else than the complete "emancipation" of human liberty with regard to God, and its limitless power for good and for evil. It depended on man to attain by himself, without the grace of God, a stoic impeccability and even insensibility, or the absolute control of his passions. It was scarcely suspected, even up to our time, what frightful rigorism resulted from this exaggeration of the powers of liberty. Since perfection was possible, it was of obligation. There was no longer any distinction between precepts and counsels. Whatever was good was a duty. There was no longer any distinction between mortal and venial sin. Every useless word merited hell, and even excluded from the Church the children of God. All this has been established by hitherto unedited documents which Caspari has published (Briefe, Abhandlungen, und Predigten, Christiania, 1890).
(3) The system of St. Augustine in opposition to this rests on three fundamental principles:
- God is absolute Master, by His grace, of all the determinations of the will;
- man remains free, even under the action of grace;
- the reconciliation of these two truths rests on the manner of the Divine government.
Absolute sovereignty of God over the will
This principle, in opposition to the emancipation of Pelagius, has not always been understood in its entire significance. We think that numberless texts of the holy Doctor signify that not only does every meritorious act require supernatural grace, but also that every act of virtue, even of infidels, should be ascribed to a Gift of God, not indeed to a supernatural grace (as Baius and the Jansenists pretend), but to a specially efficacious providence which has prepared this good movement of the will (Retractations, I, ix, n. 6). It is not, as theologians very wisely remark, that the will cannot accomplish that act of natural virtue, but it is a fact that without this providential benefit it would not. Many misunderstandings have arisen because this principle has not been comprehended, and in particular the great medieval theology, which adopted it and made it the basis of its system of liberty, has not been justly appreciated. But many have been afraid of these affirmations which are so sweeping, because they have not grasped the nature of God's gift, which leaves freedom intact. The fact has been too much lost sight of that Augustine distinguishes very explicitly two orders of grace: the grace of natural virtues (the simple gift of Providence, which prepares efficacious motives for the will); and grace for salutary and supernatural acts, given with the first preludes of faith. The latter is the grace of the sons, gratia fliorum; the former is the grace of all men, a grace which even strangers and infidels (filii concubinarum, as St. Augustine says) can receive (De Patientiâ, xxvii, n. 28).
Man remains free, even under the action of grace
The second principle, the affirmation of liberty even under the action of efficacious grace, has always been safeguarded, and there is not one of his anti-Pelagian works even of the latest, which does not positively proclaim a complete power of choice in man; "not but what it does not depend on the free choice of the will to embrace the faith or reject it, but in the elect this will is prepared by God" (De Prædest. SS., n. 10). The great Doctor did not reproach the Pelagians with requiring a power to choose between good and evil; in fact he proclaims with them that without that power there is no responsibility, no merit, no demerit; but he reproaches them with exaggerating this power. Julian of Eclanum, denying the sway of concupiscence, conceives free will as a balance in perfect equilibrium. Augustine protests: this absolute equilibrium existed in Adam; it was destroyed after original sin; the will has to struggle and react against an inclination to evil, but it remains mistress of its choice (Opus imperfectum contra Julianum, III, cxvii). Thus, when he says that we have lost freedom in consequence of the sin of Adam, he is careful to explain that this lost freedom is not the liberty of choosing between good and evil, because without it we could not help sinning, but the perfect liberty which was calm and without struggle, and which was enjoyed by Adam in virtue of his original integrity.
The reconciliation of these two truths
But is there not between these two principles an irremediable antinomy? On the one hand, there is affirmed an absolute and unreserved power in God of directing the choice of our will, of converting every hardened sinner, or of letting every created will harden itself; and on the other hand, it is affirmed that the rejection or acceptance of grace or of temptation depends on our free will. Is not this a contradiction? Very many modern critics, among whom are Loofs and Harnack, have considered these two affirmations as irreconcilable. But it is because, according to them, Augustinian grace is an irresistible impulse given by God, just as in the absence of it every temptation inevitably overcomes the will. But in reality all antinomy disappears if we have the key of the system; and this key is found in the third principle: the Augustinian explanation of the Divine government of wills, a theory so original, so profound, and yet absolutely unknown to the most perspicacious critics, Harnack, Loofs, and the rest.
Here are the main lines of this theory: The will never decides without a motive, without the attraction of some good which it perceives in the object. Now, although the will may be free in presence of every motive, still, as a matter of fact it takes different resolutions according to the different motives presented to it. In that is the whole secret of the influence exercised, for instance, by eloquence (the orator can do no more than present motives), by meditation, or by good reading. What a power over the will would not a man possess who could, at his own pleasure, at any moment, and in the most striking manner, present this or the other motive of action? But such is God's privilege. St. Augustine has remarked that man is not the master of his first thoughts; he can exert an influence on the course of his reflections, but he himself cannot determine the objects, the images, and, consequently, the motives which present themselves to his mind. Now, as chance is only a word, it is God who determines at His pleasure these first perceptions of men, either by the prepared providential action of exterior causes, or interiorly by a Divine illumination given to the soul. let us take one last step with Augustine: Not only does God send at His pleasure those attractive motives which inspire the will with its determinations, but, before choosing between these illuminations of the natural and the supernatural order, God knows the response which the soul, with all freedom, will make to each of them. Thus, in the Divine knowledge, there is for each created will an indefinite series of motives which de facto (but very freely) win the consent to what is good. God, therefore, can, at His pleasure, obtain the salvation of Judas, if He wishes, or let Peter go down to perdition. No freedom, as a matter of fact, will resist what He has planned, although it always keeps the power of going to perdition. Consequently, it is God alone, in His perfect independence, who determines, by the choice of such a motive or such an inspiration (of which he knows the future influence), whether the will is going to decide for good or for evil. Hence, the man who has acted well must thank God for having sent him an inspiration which was foreseen to be efficacious, while that favour has been denied to another. A fortiori, every one of the elect owes it to the Divine goodness alone that he has received a series of graces which God saw to be infallibly, though freely, bound up with final perseverance.
Assuredly we may reject this theory, for the Church, which always maintains the two principles of the absolute dependence of the will and of freedom, has not yet adopted as its own this reconciliation of the two extremes. We may ask where and how God knows the effect of these graces. Augustine has always affirmed the fact; he has never inquired about the mode; and it is here that Molinism has added to and developed his thoughts, in attempting to answer this question. But can the thinker, who created and until his dying day maintained this system which is so logically concatenated, be accused of fatalism and Manichæism?
It remains to be shown that our interpretation exactly reproduces the thought of the great Doctor. The texts are too numerous and too long to be reproduced here. But there is one work of Augustine, dating from the year 397, in which he clearly explains his thought a work which he not only did not disavow later on, but to which in particular he referred, at the end of his career, those of his readers who were troubled by his constant affirmation of grace. For example, to the monks of Adrumetum who thought that liberty was irreconcilable with this affirmation, he addressed a copy of this book "De Diversis quæstionibus ad Simplicianum," feeling sure that their doubts would be dissipated. There, in fact, he formulates his thoughts with great clearness. Simplician had asked how he should understand the Epistle to the Romans 9, on the predestination of Jacob and Esau. Augustine first lays down the fundamental principle of St. Paul, that every good will comes from grace, so that no man can take glory to himself for his merits, and this grace is so sure of its results that human liberty will never in reality resist it, although it has the power to do so. Then he affirms that this efficacious grace is not necessary for us to be able to act well, but because, in fact, without it we would not wish to act well. From that arises the great difficulty: How does the power of resisting grace fit in with the certainty of the result? And it is here that Augustine replies: There are many ways of inviting faith. Souls being differently disposed, God knows what invitation will be accepted, what other will not be accepted. Only those are the elect for whom God chooses the invitation which is foreseen to be efficacious, but God could convert them all: "Cujus autem miseretur, sic cum vocat, quomodo scit ei congruere ut vocantem non respuat" (op. cit., I, q. ii, n. 2, 12, 13).
Is there in this a vestige of an irresistible grace or of that impulse against which it is impossible to fight, forcing some to good, and others to sin and hell? It cannot be too often repeated that this is not an idea flung off in passing, but a fundamental explanation which if not understood leaves us in the impossibility of grasping anything of his doctrine; but if it is seized Augustine entertains no feelings of uneasiness on the score of freedom. In fact he supposes freedom everywhere, and reverts incessantly to that knowledge on God's part which precedes predestination, directs it, and assures its infallible result. In the "De Done perseverantiæ" (xvii, n. 42), written at the end of his life, he explains the whole of predestination by the choice of the vocation which is foreseen as efficacious. Thus is explained the chief part attributed to that external providence which prepares, by ill health, by warnings, etc., the good thoughts which it knows will bring about good resolutions. Finally, this explanation alone harmonizes with the moral action which he attributes to victorious grace. Nowhere does Augustine represent it as an irresistible impulse impressed by the stronger on the weaker. It is always an appeal, an invitation which attracts and seeks to persuade. He describes this attraction, which is without violence, under the graceful image of dainties offered to a child, green leaves offered to a sheep (In Joannem, tract. xxvi, n. 5). And always the infallibility of the result is assured by the Divine knowledge which directs the choice of the invitation.
(4) The Augustinian predestination presents no new difficulty if one has understood the function of this Divine knowledge in the choice of graces. The problem is reduced to this: Does God in his creative decree and, before any act of human liberty, determine by an immutable choice the elect and the reprobate? Must the elect during eternity thank God only for having rewarded their merits, or must they also thank Him for having, prior to any merit on their part, chosen them to the meriting of this reward? One system, that of the Semipelagians, decides in favour of man: God predestines to salvation all alike, and gives to all an equal measure of grace; human liberty alone decides whether one is lost or saved; from which we must logically conclude (and they really insinuated it) that the number of the elect is not fixed or certain. The opposite system, that of the Predestinationists (the Semipelagians falsely ascribed this view to the Doctor of Hippo), affirms not only a privileged choice of the elect by God, but at the same time (a) the predestination of the reprobate to hell and (b) the absolute powerlessness of one or the other to escape from the irresistible impulse which drags them either to good or to evil. This is the system of Calvin.
- the eternal choice of the elect by God is very real, very gratuitous, and constitutes the grace of graces;
- but this decree does not destroy the Divine will to save all men, which, moreover, is not realized except by the human liberty that leaves to the elect full power to fall and to the non-elect full power to rise.
Here is how the theory of St. Augustine, already explained, forces us to conceive of the Divine decree: Before all decision to create the world, the infinite knowledge of God presents to Him all the graces, and different series of graces, which He can prepare for each soul, along with the consent or refusal which would follow in each circumstance, and that in millions and millions of possible combinations. Thus He sees that if Peter had received such another grace, he would not have been converted; and if on the contrary such another Divine appeal had been heard in the heart of Judas, he would have done penance and been saved. Thus, for each man in particular there are in the thought of God, limitless possible histories, some histories of virtue and salvation, others of crime and damnation; and God will be free in choosing such a world, such a series of graces, and in determining the future history and final destiny of each soul. And this is precisely what He does when, among all possible worlds, by an absolutely free act, He decides to realize the actual world with all the circumstances of its historic evolutions, with all the graces which in fact have been and will be distributed until the end of the world, and consequently with all the elect and all the reprobate who God foresaw would be in it if de facto He created it.
- The certain and gratuitous choice of the elect God decreeing, indeed, to create the world and to give it such a series of graces with such a concatenation of circumstances as should bring about freely, but infallibly, such and such results (for example, the despair of Judas and the repentance of Peter), decides, at the same time, the name, the place, the number of the citizens of the future heavenly Jerusalem. The choice is immutable; the list closed. It is evident, indeed, that only those of whom God knows beforehand that they will wish to co-operate with the grace decreed by Him will be saved. It is a gratuitous choice, the gift of gifts, in virtue of which even our merits are a gratuitous benefit, a gift which precedes all our merits. No one, in fact, is able to merit this election. God could, among other possible worlds, have chosen one in which other series of graces would have brought about other results. He saw combinations in which Peter would have been impenitent and Judas converted. It is therefore prior to any merit of Peter, or any fault of Judas, that God decided to give them the graces which saved Peter and not Judas. God does not wish to give paradise gratuitously to any one; but He gives very gratuitously to Peter the graces with which He knows Peter will be saved. Mysterious choice! Not that it interferes with liberty, but because to this question: Why did not God, seeing that another grace would have saved Judas, give it to him? Faith can only answer, with Augustine: O Mystery! O Altitudo! (De Spiritu et litterâ, xxxiv, n. 60).
- But this decree includes also the second element of the Catholic dogma: the very sincere will of God to give to all men the power of saving themselves and the power of damning themselves. According to Augustine, God, in his creative decree, has expressly excluded every order of things in which grace would deprive man of his liberty, every situation in which man would not have the power to resist sin, and thus Augustine brushes aside that predestinationism which has been attributed to him. Listen to him speaking to the Manichæans: "All can be saved if they wish"; and in his "Retractations" (I, x), far from correcting this assertion, he confirms it emphatically: "It is true, entirely true, that all men can, if they wish." But he always goes back to the providential preparation. In his sermons he says to all: "It depends on you to be elect" (In Ps. cxx, n. 11, etc.); "Who are the elect? You, if you wish it" (In Ps. lxxiii, n. 5). But, you will say, according to Augustine, the lists of the elect and reprobate are closed. Now if the non-elect can gain heaven, if all the elect can be lost, why should not some pass from one list to the other? You forget the celebrated explanation of Augustine: When God made His plan, He knew infallibly, before His choice, what would be the response of the wills of men to His graces. If, then, the lists are definitive, if no one will pass from one series to the other, it is not because anyone cannot (on the contrary, all can), it is because God knew with infallible knowledge that no one would wish to. Thus I cannot effect that God should destine me to another series of graces than that which He has fixed, but, with this grace, if I do not save myself it will not be because I am not able, but because I do not wish to.
Such are the two essential elements of Augustinian and Catholic predestination. This is the dogma common to all the schools, and formulated by all theologians: predestination in its entirety is absolutely gratuitous (ante merita). We have to insist on this, because many have seen in this immutable and gratuitous choice only a hard thesis peculiar to St. Augustine, whereas it is pure dogma (barring the mode of conciliation, which the Church still leaves free). With that established, the long debates of theologians on special predestination to glory ante or post merita are far from having the importance that some attach to them. (For a fuller treatment of this subtile problem see the "Dict. de théol. cath., I, coll. 2402 sqq.) I do not think St. Augustine entered that debate; in his time, only dogma was in question. But it does not seem historically permissible to maintain, as many writers have, that Augustine first taught the milder system (post merita), up to the year 416 (Tractate 12 on the Gospel of John, no. 12) and that afterwards, towards 418, he shifted his ground and went to the extreme of harsh assertion, amounting even to predestinationism. We repeat, the facts absolutely refute this view. The ancient texts, even of 397, are as affirmative and as categorical as those of his last years, as critics like Loofs and Reuter* have shown. If, therefore, it is shown that at that time he inclined to the milder opinion, there is no reason to think that he did not persevere in that sentiment.
In the first place, It is no longer possible to maintain seriously, as was formerly the fashion (even among certain Catholics, like Richard Simon), that Augustine invented in the Church the hitherto unknown doctrine of original sin, or at least was the first to introduce the idea of punishment and sin. Dorner himself (Augustinus, p. 146) disposed of this assertion, which lacks verisimilitude. In this doctrine of the primal fall Augustine distinguished, with greater insistency and clearness than his predecessors, the punishment and the sin the chastisement which strips the children of Adam of all the original privileges and the fault, which consists in this, that the crime of Adam, the cause of the fall is, without having been committed personally by his children, nevertheless in a certain measure imputed to them, in virtue of the moral union established by God between the head of the human family and his descendants.
To pretend that in this matter Augustine was an innovator, and that before him the Fathers affirmed the punishment of the sin of Adam in his sons, but did not speak of the fault, is a historical error now proved to demonstration. We may discuss the thought of this or that pre Augustinian Father, but, taking them as a whole, there is no room for doubt. The Protestant R. Seeberg (Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, I, p. 256), after the example of many others, proclaims it by referring to Tertullian, Commodian, St. Cyprian, and St. Ambrose. The expressions, fault, sin, stain (culpa, peccatum, macula) are repeated in a way to dispel all doubt. The truth is that original sin, while being sin, is of a nature essentially different from other faults, and does not exact a personal act of the will of the children of Adam in order to be responsible for the fault of their father, which is morally imputed to them. Consequently, the Fathers the Greeks especially have insisted on its penal and afflictive character, which is most in evidence, while Augustine was led by the polemics of the Pelagians (and only by them) to lay emphasis on the moral aspect of the fault of the human race in its first father.
With regard to Adam's state before the fall Augustine not only affirmed, against Pelagius, the gifts of immortality, impassibility, integrity, freedom from error, and, above all, the sanctifying grace of Divine adoption, but he emphasized its absolutely gratuitous and supernatural character. Doubtless, considering the matter historically and de facto, it was only the sin of Adam that inflicted death on us Augustine repeats it again and again because God had safeguarded us against the law of our nature. But de jure neither immortality nor the other graces were our due, and Augustine recognized this in affirming that God could have made the condition in which we were actually born the primitive condition of our first parents. That assertion alone is the very reverse of Jansenism. It is, moreover, formally confirmed in the "Retractations" (I, ix, n. 6).
(6) Does this mean that we must praise everything in St. Augustine's explanation of grace? Certainly not. And we shall note the improvements made by the Church, through her doctors, in the original Augustinism. Some exaggerations have been abandoned, as, for instance, the condemnation to hell of children dying without baptism. Obscure and ambiguous formulæ have been eliminated. We must say frankly that Augustine's literary method of emphasizing his thought by exaggerated expressions, issuing in troublesome paradoxes, has often obscured his doctrine, aroused opposition in many minds, or led them into error. Also, it is above all important, in order to comprehend his doctrine, to compile an Augustinian dictionary, not a priori, but after an objective study of his texts. The work would be long and laborious, but how many prejudices it would dispel!
The Protestant historian Ph. Schaff (St. Augustine, p. 102) writes: "The great genius of the African Church, from whom the Middle Ages and the Reformation have received an impulse alike powerful, though in different directions, has not yet fulfilled the work marked out for him in the counsels of Divine Wisdom. He serves as a bond of union between the two antagonistic sections of Western Christendom, and encourages the hope that a time may come when the injustice and bitterness of strife will be forgiven and forgotten, and the discords of the past be drowned forever in the sweet harmonies of perfect knowledge and perfect love." May this dream be realized!
Augustinism in history
The influence of the Doctor of Hippo has been so exceptional in the Church, that, after having indicated its general characteristics (see above), it is proper to indicate the principal phases of the historical development of his doctrine. The word Augustinism designates at times the entire group of philosophical doctrines of Augustine, at others, it is restricted to his system of grace. Hence, (1) philosophical Augustinism; (2) theological Augustinism on grace; (3) laws which governed the mitigation of Augustinism.
In the history of philosophical Augustinism we may distinguish three very distinct phases. First, the period of its almost exclusive triumph in the West, up to the thirteenth century. During the long ages which were darkened by the invasion of the barbarians, but which were nevertheless burdened with the responsibility of safeguarding the sciences of the future, we may say that Augustine was the Great Master of the West. He was absolutely without a rival, or if there was one, it was one of his disciples, Gregory the Great, who, after being formed in his school, popularized his theories. The rôle of Origen, who engrafted neo-Platonism on the Christian schools of the East, was that of Augustine in the West, with the difference, however, that the Bishop of Hippo was better able to detach the truths of Platonism from the dreams of Oriental imagination. Hence, a current of Platonic ideas was started which will never cease to act upon Western thought. This influence shows itself in various ways. It is found in the compilers of this period, who are so numerous and so well deserving of recognition such as Isidore, Bede, Alcuin who drew abundantly from the works of Augustine, just as did the preachers of the sixth century, and notably St. Cæsarius. In the controversies, especially in the great disputes of the ninth and twelfth centuries on the validity of Simoniacal ordinations, the text of Augustine plays the principal part. Carl Mirbt has published on this point a very interesting study: "Die Stellung Augustins in der Publizistik des gregorianischen Kirchenstreits" (Leipzig, 1888). In the pre-Thomistic period of Scholasticism, then in process of formation, namely, from Anselm to Albert the Great, Augustine is the great inspirer of all the masters, such as Anselm, Abelard, Hugo of St. Victor, who is called by his contemporaries, another Augustine, or even the soul of Augustine. And it is proper to remark, with Cunningham (Saint Austin, p. 178), that from the time of Anselm the cult of Augustinian ideas exercised an enormous influence on English thought in the Middle Ages. As regards Peter Lombard, his Sentences are little else than an effort to synthesize the Augustinian theories.
While they do not form a system as rigidly bound together as Thomism, yet Father Mandonnet (in his learned study of Siger de Brabant) and M. de Wulf (on Gilles de Lessines) have been able to group these theories together. And here let us present a summary sketch of those theses regarded in the thirteenth century as Augustinian, and over which the battle was fought. First, the fusion of theology and philosophy; the preference given to Plato over Aristotle the latter representing rationalism, which was mistrusted, whilst the idealism of Plato exerted a strong attraction wisdom regarded rather as the philosophy of the Good than the philosophy of the True. As a consequence, the disciples of Augustine always have a pronounced tinge of mysticism, while the disciples of St. Thomas may be recognized by their very accentuated intellectualism. In psychology the illuminating and immediate action of God is the origin of our intellectual knowledge (at times it is pure ontologism); and the faculties of the soul are made substantially identical with the soul itself. They are its functions, and not distinct entities (a thesis which was to keep its own partisans in the Scholasticism of the future and to be adopted by Descartes); the soul is a substance even without the body, so that after death, it is truly a person. In cosmology, besides the celebrated thesis of rationes seminales, which some have recently attempted to interpret in favour of evolutionism, Augustinism admitted the multiplicity of substantial forms in compound beings, especially in man. But especially in the impossibility of creation ab æterno, or the essentially temporal character of every creature which is subject to change, we have one of the ideas of Augustine which his disciples defended with greater constancy and, it would appear, with greater success.
A second period of very active struggles came in the thirteenth century, and this has only lately been recognized. Renan (Averroes, p. 259) and others believed that the war against Thomism, which was just then beginning, was caused by the infatuation of the Franciscans for Averroism; but if the Franciscan Order showed itself on the whole opposed to St. Thomas, it was simply from a certain horror at philosophical innovations and at the neglect of Augustinism. The doctrinal revolution brought about by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas in favour of Aristotle startled the old School of Augustinism among the Dominicans as well as among the Franciscans, but especially among the latter, who were the disciples of the eminent Augustinian doctor, St. Bonaventure. This will explain the condemnations, hitherto little understood, of many propositions of St. Thomas Aquinas three years after his death, on the 7th of March, 1277, by the Bishop of Paris, and on the 18th of March, 1277, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Kilwardby, a Dominican. The Augustinian school represented tradition; Thomism, progress. The censure of 1277 was the last victory of a too rigid Augustinism. The happy fusion of the two methods in the two orders of Franciscans and Dominicans little by little brought about an agreement on certain points without excluding differences on others which were yet obscure (as, for instance, the unity or the multiplicity of forms), at the same time that it made for progress in all the schools. We know that the canonization of St. Thomas caused the withdrawal of the condemnations of Paris (14 February, 1325). Moreover, the wisdom or the moderation of the new school contributed powerfully to its triumph. Albert the Great and St. Thomas, far from being adversaries of St. Augustine, as they were reported to be, placed themselves in his school, and while modifying certain theories, took over into their system the doctrine of the African bishop. How many articles in the "Summa" of St. Thomas have no other object than to incorporate in theology this or the other theory which was cherished by St. Augustine (to take only one example, that of exemplar ideas in God). Hence, there was no longer any school strictly Augustinian, because every school was such. They all eliminated certain special points and retained the same veneration for the master.
From the third period of the fifteenth century to our days we see less of the special progress of philosophical Augustinism than certain tendencies of an exaggerated revival of Platonism. In the fifteenth century Bessarion (1472) and Marsilio Ficino (1499) used Augustine's name for the purpose of enthroning Plato in the Church and excluding Aristotle. In the seventeenth century it is impossible to deny certain resemblances between Cartesianism and the philosophy of St. Augustine. Malebranche was wrong in ascribing his own ontologism to the great Doctor, as were also many of his successors in the nineteenth century.
The history of Augustine's system of grace seems to blend almost indistinguishably with the progressive developments of this dogma. Here it must suffice, first, to enumerate the principal phases; secondly, to trace the general laws of development which mitigated Augustinism in the Church.
After the death of Augustine, a whole century of fierce contests (430-529) ended in the triumph of fierce contests (430-529) ended in the triumph of moderate Augustinism. In vain had Pope St. Celestine (431) sanctioned the teachings of the Doctor of Hippo. The Semipelagians of the south of France could not understand the predilection of God for the elect, and in order to attack the works of St. Augustine they made use of the occasionally exaggerated formulæ of St. Fulgentius, or of the real errors of certain isolated predestinationists, as, for example, Lucidus, who was condemned in the Council of Arles (475). Happily, Prosper of Aquitaine, by his moderation, and also the unknown author of "De Vocatione omnium gentium," by his consoling thesis on the appeal addressed to all, opened the way to an agreement. And finally, St. Cæsarius of Arles obtained from Pope Felix IV a series of Capitula which were solemnly promulgated at Orange, and gave their consecration to the triumph of Augustinism (529). In the ninth century, a new victory was gained over the predestinationism of Gottschalk in the assemblies of Savonniéres and Toucy (859-860). The doctrine of the Divine will to save all men and the universality of redemption was thus consecrated by the public teaching of the Church. In the Middle Ages these two truths are developed by the great Doctors of the Church. Faithful to the principles of Augustinism, they place in especial relief his theory on Divine Providence, which prepares at its pleasure the determinations of the will by exterior events and interior inspirations.
In the fourteenth century a strong current of predestinationism is evident. Today it is admitted that the origin of this tendency goes back to Thomas Bradwardin, a celebrated professor of Oxford, who died Archbishop of Canterbury (1349), and whom the best critics, along with Loofs and Harnack, recognize to have been the inspirer of Wyclif himself. His book "De causâ Dei contra Pelagium" gave rise in Paris to disputes on Augustinian "predetermination," a word which, it had been thought, was invented by Banes in the sixteenth century. In spite of the opposition of theologians, the idea of absolute determinism in the name of St. Augustine was adopted by Wyclif (1324-87), who formulated his universal fatalism, the necessity of good for the elect and of evil for the rest. He fancied that he found in the Augustinian doctrine the strange conception which became for him a central doctrine that overthrew all morality and all ecclesiastical, and even civil, government. According as one is predestined or not, everything changes its nature. The same sins are mortal in the non-elect which are venial in the predestined. The same acts of virtue are meritorious predestined, even if he be actually a wicked man which are of no value in the non-elect. The sacraments administered by one who is not predestined are always invalid; more than that, no jurisdiction exists in a prelate, even a pope, if he be not predestined. In the same way, there is no power, even civil or political, in a prince who is not one of the elect, and no right of property in the sinner or the non elect. Such is the basis on which Wyclif established the communism which aroused the socialist mobs in England. It is incontestable that he was fond of quoting Augustine as his authority; and his disciples, as we are assured by Thomas Netter Waldensis (Doctrinale, I, xxxiv, § 5), were continually boasting of the profound knowledge of their great Doctor, whom they called with emphasis "John of Augustine," Shirley, in his introduction to "Zizaniorum Fasciculi," has even pretended that the theories of Wyclif on God, on the Incarnation, and even on property, were the purest Augustinian inspiration, but even a superficial comparison, if this were the place to make it, would show how baseless such an assertion is. In the sixteenth century the heritage of Wyclif and Hus, his disciple, was always accepted in the name of Augustinism by the leaders of the Reformation. Divine predestination from all eternity separating the elect, who were to be snatched out of the mass of perdition, from the reprobate who were destined to hell, as well as the irresistible impulse of God drawing some to salvation and others to sin such was the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation. Calvinism even adopted a system which was "logically more consistent, but practically more revolting," as Schaff puts it (St. Augustine, p. 104), by which the decree of reprobation of the non-elect would be independent of the fall of Adam and of original sin (Supralapsarianism). It was certain that these harsh doctrines would bring their reaction, and in spite of the severities of the Synod of Dordrecht, which it would be interesting to compare with the Council of Trent in the matter of moderation, Arminianism triumphed over the Calvinistic thesis.
We must note here that even Protestant critics, with a loyalty which does them honour, have in these latter times vindicated Augustine from the false interpretations of Calvin. Dorner, in his "Gesch. der prot. Théologie," had already shown the instinctive repugnance of Anglican theologians to the horrible theories of Calvin. W. Cunningham (Saint Austin, p. 82 sqq.) has very frankly called attention to the complete doctrinal opposition on fundamental points which exists between the Doctor of Hippo and the French Reformers. In the first place, as regards the state of human nature, which is, according to Calvin, totally depraved, for Catholics it is very difficult to grasp the Protestant conception of original sin which, for Calvin and Luther, is not, as for us, the moral degradation and the stain imprinted on the soul of every son of Adam by the fault of the father which is imputable to each member of the family. It is not the deprivation of grace and of all other super-natural gifts; it is not even concupiscence, understood in the ordinary sense of the word, as the struggle of base and selfish instincts against the virtuous tendencies of the soul; it is a profound and complete subversion of human nature' it is the physical alteration of the very substance of our soul. Our faculties, understanding, and will, if not entirely destroyed, are at least mutilated, powerless, and chained to evil. For the Reformers, original sin is not a sin, it is the sin, and the permanent sin, living in us and causing a continual stream of new sins to spring from our nature, which is radically corrupt and evil. For, as our being is evil, every act of ours is equally evil. Thus, the Protestant theologians do not ordinarily speak of the sins of mankind, but only of the sin, which makes us what we are and defiles everything. Hence arose the paradox of Luther: that even in an act of perfect charity a man sins mortally, because he acts with a vitiated nature. Hence that other paradox: that this sin can never be effaced, but remains entire, even after justification, although it will not be any longer imputed; to efface it, it would be necessary to modify physically this human being which is sin. Calvin, without going so far as Luther, has nevertheless insisted on this total corruption. "Let it stand, therefore, as an indubitable truth which no engines can shake," says he (Institution II, v, § 19), "that the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but what is weak, distorted, foul, impure or iniquitous, that his heart is so thoroughly environed by sin that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness; that if some men occasionally make a show of goodness their mind is ever interwoven with hypocrisy and deceit, their soul inwardly bound with the fetters of wickedness." "Now," says Cunningham, "this doctrine, whatever there may be to be said for it, is not the doctrine of Saint Austin. He held that sin is the defect of a good nature which retains elements of goodness, even in its most diseased and corrupted state, and he gives no countenance, whatever to this modern opinion of total depravity." It is the same with Calvin's affirmation of the irresistible action of God on the will. Cunningham shows that these doctrines are irreconcilable with liberty and responsibility, whereas, on the contrary, "St. Austin is careful to attempt to harmonize the belief in God's omnipotence with human responsibility" (St. Austin, p. 86). The Council of Trent was therefore faithful to the true spirit of the African Doctor, and maintained pure Augustinism in the bosom of the Church, by Its definitions against the two opposite excesses. Against Pelagianism it reaffirmed original sin and the absolute necessity of grace (Sess. VI, can. 2); against Protestant predestinationism it proclaimed the freedom of man, with his double power of resisting grace (posse dissentire si velit Sess. VI, can. 4) and of doing good or evil, even before embracing the Faith (can. 6 and 7).
In the seventeenth century Jansenism adopted, while modifying it, the Protestant conception of original sin and the state of fallen man. No more than Luther did the Jansenists admit the two orders, natural and supernatural. All the gifts which Adam had received immortality, knowledge, integrity, sanctifying grace are absolutely required by the nature of man. Original sin is, therefore, again regarded as a profound alteration of human nature. From which the Jansenists conclude that the key to St. Augustine's system is to be found in the essential difference of the Divine government and of grace, before and after the Fall of Adam. Before the Fall Adam enjoyed complete liberty, and grace gave him the power of resisting or obeying; after the Fall there was no longer in men liberty properly so called; there was only spontaneity (libertas a coactione, and not libertas a necessitate). Grace, or delectation in the good, is essentially efficacious, and necessarily victorious once it is superior in degree to the opposite concupiscence. The struggle, which was prolonged for two centuries, led to a more profound study of the Doctor of Hippo and prepared the way for the definite triumph of Augustinism, but of an Augustinism mitigated in accordance with laws which we must now indicate.
Laws which governed the mitigation of Augustinism
In spite of what Protestant critics may have said, the Church has always been faithful to the fundamental principles defended by Augustine against the Pelagians and Semipelagians, on original sin, the necessity and gratuity of grace, the absolute dependence on God for salvation. Nevertheless, great progress was made along the line of gradual mitigation. For it cannot be denied that the doctrine formulated at Trent, and taught by all our theologians, produces an impression of greater suavity and greater clarity than this or that passage in the works of St. Augustine. The causes of this softening down, and the successive phases of this progress were as follows:
- First, theologians began to distinguish more clearly between the natural order and the supernatural, and hence the Fall of Adam no longer appeared as a corruption of human nature in its constituent parts; it is the loss of the whole order of supernatural elevation. St. Thomas (Summa, I:85:1) formulates the great law of the preservation, in guilty Adam's children, of all the faculties in their essential integrity: "Sin (even original) neither takes away nor diminishes the natural endowments." Thus the most rigorist Thomists, Alvarez, Lemos, Contenson, agree with the great Doctor that the sin of Adam has not enfeebled (intrinsece) the natural moral forces of humanity.
- Secondly, such consoling and fundamental truths as God's desire to save all men, and the redeeming death of Christ which was really offered and accepted for all peoples and all individuals these truths, which Augustine never denied, but which he left too much in the background and as it were hidden under the terrible formulas of the doctrine of predestination, have been placed in the full light, have been developed, and applied to infidel nations, and have at last entered into the ordinary teaching of theology. Thus our Doctors, without detracting in the least from the sovereignty and justice of God, have risen to the highest idea of His goodness: that God so sincerely desires the salvation of all as to give absolutely to all, immediately or mediately, the means necessary for salvation, and always with the desire that man should consent to employ those means. No one falls into hell except by his own fault. Even infidels will be accountable for their infidelity. St. Thomas expresses the thought of all when he says: "It is the common teaching that if a man born among the barbarous and infidel nations really does what lies in his power, God will reveal to him what is necessary for salvation, either by interior inspirations or by sending him a preacher of the Faith" (In Lib. II Sententiarum, dist. 23, Q. viii, a.4, ad 4am). We must not dissemble the fact that this law changes the whole aspect of Divine Providence, and that St. Augustine had left it too much in the shade, insisting only upon the other aspect of the problem: namely, that God, while making a sufficing appeal to all, is nevertheless not bound to choose always that appeal which shall in fact be efficacious and shall be accepted, provided that the refusal of consent be due to the obstinacy of the sinner's will and not to its lack of power. Thus the Doctors most eagerly approved the axiom, Facienti quod in se est Deus non denegat gratiam God does not refuse grace to one who does what he can.
- Thirdly, from principles taught by Augustine consequences have been drawn which are clearly derived from them, but which he had not pointed out. Thus it is incontestably a principle of St. Augustine that no one sins in an act which he cannot avoid "Quis enim peccat in eo quod caveri non potest?" This passage from "De libero arbitrio" (III, xviii, n. 50) is anterior to the year 395; but far from retracting it he approves and explains it, in 415, in the On Nature and Grace 67, n. 80. From that pregnant principle theologians have concluded, first, that grace sufficient to conquer temptations never fails anyone, even an infidel; then, against the Jansenists, they have added that, to deserve its name of sufficient grace, it ought to give a real power which is complete even relatively to the actual difficulties. No doubt theologians have groped about, hesitated, even denied; but today there are very few who would dare not to recognize in St. Augustine the affirmation of the possibility of not sinning.
- Fourthly, certain secondary assertions, which encumbered, but did not make part of the dogma, have been lopped off from the doctrine of Augustine. Thus the Church, which, with Augustine, has always denied entrance into Heaven to unbaptized children, has not adopted the severity of the great Doctor in condemning such children to bodily pains, however slight. And little by little the milder teaching of St. Thomas was to prevail in theology and was even to be vindicated against unjust censure when Pius VI condemned the pseudo-synod of Pistoja. At last Augustine's obscure formulæ were abandoned or corrected, so as to avoid regrettable confusions. Thus the expressions which seemed to identify original sin with concupiscence have given way to clearer formulæ without departing from the real meaning which Augustine sought to express.
Discussion, however, is not yet ended within the Church. On most of those points which concern especially the manner of the Divine action Thomists and Molinists disagree, the former holding out for an irresistible predetermination, the latter maintaining, with Augustine, a grace whose infallible efficacy is revealed by the Divine knowledge. But both of these views affirm the grace of God and the liberty of man. The lively controversies aroused by the "Concordia" of Molina (1588) and the long conferences de auxiliis held at Rome, before Popes Clement VIII and Paul V, are well known. There is no doubt that a majority of the theologian-consultors thought they discovered an opposition between Molina and St. Augustine. But their verdict was not approved, and (what is of great importance in the history of Augustinism) it is certain that they asked for the condemnation of doctrines which are today universally taught in all the schools. Thus, in the project of censure reproduced by Serry ("Historia Congregationis de Auxiliis," append., p. 166) the first proposition is this: "In statu naturæ lapsæ potest homo, cum solo concursu generali Dei, efficere opus bonum morale, quod in ordine ad finem hominis naturalem sit veræ virtutis opus, referendo illud in Deum, sicut referri potest ac deberet in statu naturali" (In the state of fallen nature man can with only the general concursus of God do a good moral work which may be a work of true virtue with regard to the natural end of man by referring it to God, as it can and ought to be referred in the natural state). Thus they sought to condemn the doctrine held by all the Scholastics (with the exception of Gregory of Rimini), and sanctioned since then by the condemnation of Proposition lvii of Baius. For a long time it was said that the pope had prepared a Bull to condemn Molina; but today we learn from an autograph document of Paul V that liberty was left to the two schools until a new Apostolic decision was given (Schneeman "Controversiarum de Div. grat., " 1881, p. 289). Soon after, a third interpretation of Augustinism was offered in the Church, that of Noris, Belleli, and other partisans of moral predetermination. This system has been called Augustinianism. To this school belong a number of theologians who, with Thomassin, essayed to explain the infallible action of grace without admitting either the scientia media of the Molinists or the physical predetermination of the Thomists. A detailed study of this interpretation of St. Augustine may be found in Vacant's "Dictionnaire de théologie catholique," I, cols. 2485-2501; here I can only mention one very important document, the last in which the Holy See has expressed its mind on the various theories of theologians for reconciling grace and liberty. This is the Brief of Benedict XIV (13 July, 1748) which declares that the three schools Thomist, Augustinian (Noris), and Molinist have full right to defend their theories. The Brief concludes with these words: "This Apostolic See favours the liberty of the schools; none of the systems proposed to reconcile the liberty of man with the omnipotence of God has been thus far condemned (op. cit., col. 2555).
In conclusion we must indicate briefly the official authority which the Church attributes to St. Augustine in the questions of grace. Numerous and solemn are the eulogies of St. Augustine's doctrine pronounced by the popes. For instance, St. Gelasius I (1 November, 493), St. Hormisdas (13 August, 520), Boniface II and the Fathers of Orange (529), John II (534), and many others. But the most important document, that which ought to serve to interpret all the others, because it precedes and inspires them, is the celebrated letter of St. Celestine I (431), in which the pope guarantees not only the orthodoxy of Augustine against his detractors, but also the great merit of his doctrine: "So great was his knowledge that my predecessors have always placed him in the rank of the masters," etc. This letter is accompanied by a series of ten dogmatic capitula the origin of which is uncertain, but which have always been regarded, at least since Pope Hormisdas, as expressing the faith of the Church. Now these extracts from African councils and pontifical decisions end with this restriction: "As to the questions which are more profound and difficult, and which have given rise to these controversies, we do not think it necessary to impose the solution of them." In presence of these documents emanating from so high a source, ought we to say that the Church has adopted all the teaching of St. Augustine on grace so that it is never permissible to depart from that teaching? Three answers have been given:
- For some, the authority of St. Augustine is absolute and irrefragable. The Jansenists went so far as to formulate, with Havermans, this proposition, condemned by Alexander VIII (7 December, 1690): "Ubi quis invenerit doctrinam in Augustino clare fundatam, illam absolute potest tenere et docere, non respiciendo ad ullam pontificis bullam" (Where one has found a doctrine clearly based on St. Augustine, he can hold and teach it absolutely without referring to any pontifical Bull). This is inadmissible. None of the pontifical approbations has a meaning so absolute, and the capitula make an express reservation for the profound and difficult questions. The popes themselves have permitted a departure from the thought of St. Augustine in the matter of the lot of children dying without baptism (Bull "Auctorem Fidei," 28 August, 1794).
- Others again have concluded that the eulogies in question are merely vague formulæ leaving full liberty to withdraw from St. Augustine and to blame him on every point. Thus Launoy, Richard Simon, and others have maintained that Augustine had been in error on the very gist of the problem, and had really taught predestinationism. But that would imply that for fifteen centuries the Church took as its guide an adversary of its faith.
- We must conclude, with the greater number of theologians, that Augustine has a real normative authority, hedged about, however, with reserves and wise limitations. In the capital questions which constitute the faith of the Church in those matters the Doctor of Hippo is truly the authoritative witness of tradition; for example, on the existence of original sin, the necessity of grace, at least for every salutary act; the gratuitousness of the gift of God which precedes all merit of man because it is the cause of it; the predilection for the elect and, on the other hand, the liberty of man and his responsibility for his transgressions. But the secondary problems, concerning the mode rather than the fact, are left by the Church to the prudent study of theologians. Thus all schools unite in a great respect for the assertions of St. Augustine.
At present this attitude of fidelity and respect is all the more remarkable as Protestants, who were formerly so bitter in defending the predestination of Calvin, are today almost unanimous in rejecting what they themselves call "the boldest defiance ever given to reason and conscience" (Grétillat, "Dogmatique," III, p. 329). Schleiermacher, it is true, maintains it, but he adds to it the Origenist theory of universal salvation by the final restoration of all creatures, and he is followed in this by Farrar Lobstein, Pfister, and others. The Calvinist dogma is today, especially in England, altogether abandoned, and often replaced by pure Pelagianism (Beyschlag). But among Protestant critics the best are drawing near to the Catholic interpretation of St. Augustine, as, for example, Grétillat, in Switzerland, and Stevens, Bruce, and Mozley (On the Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination), in England. Sanday (Romans, p. 50) also declares the mystery to be unfathomable for man yet solved by God: "And so our solution of the problem of Free-will, and of the problems of history and of individual salvation, must finally lie in the full acceptance and realization of what is implied by the infinity and the omniscience of God." These concluding words recall the true system of Augustine and permit us to hope that at least on this question there may be a union of the two Churches in a wise Augustinism.
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Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/teaching-of-st-augustine-of-hippo.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.