Monthly Archives: April 2012

Was St. Augustine a Proto-Protestant? Part 2

St. Augustine, Catholic or Proto-Protestant?

There are many Protestants, mostly of the Calvinist persuasion, that believe St. Augustine was on their “side” concerning Soteriology. Is this really the case? One of the most central aspects to the Protestant understanding of Soteriology is justification by faith alone. If it can be demonstrated that St. Augustine opposed the Protestant view of justification by faith alone and maintained the Catholic view of justification then it follows St. Augustine was not a Proto-Protestant. In order to be fair to Protestants, it should be noted there are some Protestants that hold to a very similar view on justification compared to the Catholic understand of justification; however, the majority of Protestants seem to hold an antinomian view of justification.

Is Faith Alone Sufficient for Salvation?

Now, to answer the question: was St. Augustine a Proto-Protestant, let us briefly examine a few quotes from this revered Doctor of the Church.

St. Augustine wrote:

“we should advise the faithful that they would endanger the salvation of their souls if they acted on the false assurance that faith alone is sufficient for salvation or that they need not perform good works in order to be saved.” (On Faith and Works, 14:21)

According to the context of this quote, St. Augustine was refuting those who believed that all they must do in order to be saved is have an intellectual faith in Christ and even if they did not have any good works in their life after justification it was still guaranteed that they will be saved. Most assuredly, some Protestants believe good works follow justification, and St. Augustine was not refuting such a view in this passage, but he was addressing a particular view common among Protestants – the view that works do not necessarily have to follow justification in order for a person to be saved. So far, St. Augustine is on the Catholic side and opposed to the common Protestant view of justification by faith.

Meritorious Works

St. Augustine goes on to write:

“When St. Paul says, therefore, that man is justified by faith and not by the observance of the law, he [Paul] does not mean that good works are not necessary or that it is enough to receive and to profess the faith and no more. What he means rather and what he wants us to understand is that man can be justified by faith, even though he has not previously performed any works of the law. For the works of the law are meritorious not before but after justification.” (Ibid)

This quote demonstrates St. Augustine held the Catholic view on justification by faith because most Protestants vehemently oppose any view that good works are meritorious in the eyes of God. It should be noted it is debatable what St. Paul meant when he used the phrase “works of the law” in the Book of Romans, but for our purposes it is sufficient to note St. Augustine seemed to understand the phrase to refer to works of the moral law.

The Faith of “Devils”

St. Augustine also wrote:

“St. James, moreover, is opposed to those who think that faith can save without good works that he compares them to devils.” (Ibid, 14:23)

“For the faith that saves is not the faith that the devils have and which is correctly called a dead faith, but the faith which works by charity.” (Ibid, 16:30)

A great number of Protestants are opposed to a view of justification that speaks of faith working by love, see here, but this is exactly what St. Augustine, and St. Paul whom St. Augustine was quoting, believed.  Without question, St. Augustine taught all who believe good works do not necessarily follow justification have a faith no better than the “devils”.  Such a view is incompatible with the popular Protestant view that good works at best are optional to the Christian life.

Is Justification Imputed or Infused?

St. Augustine wrote:

“He was handed over for our offenses, and He rose again for our justification. What does this mean, ‘for our justification’? So that He might justify us; so that He might make us just.” (Sermon 169, 13)

Protestants believe Christ’s good life and works are imputed to the person who has faith so that the person who believes in Christ is “simultaneously just and sinner”.  In other words, the person who has faith in Christ is not actually just and in reality is still a sinner, yet God looks at them as just based on the life and works of Christ.  This was not St. Augustine’s view.  In this quote St. Augustine taught God not only justifies one based on Christ’s work but God also makes one  just by an infusion of grace, this is opposed to the view that the person who has faith in Christ is “simultaneously just and sinner”.

The Verdict is In

Quotes from St. Augustine on this topic abound, but sufficed to say the teachings that good works are necessary in order to be saved, works after justification are meritorious, justifying faith works by charity and God infuses justifying grace into the one who believes in Christ are all in line with the Catholic position concerning justification. Therefore, St. Augustine could not have been a Proto-Protestant.

Individualism at its Worst


A Very Bad Answer to a Very Important Question

I recently had a discussion with a Protestant friend of mine on the issue of authority. One of the questions I asked this particular Protestant friend was: “who determines what is an essential doctrine?” The answer I received was: “long story short. I do.” This is a perfect example of pure, unadulterated individualism at its worst and it is typical of many Protestants. It is a very problematic answer to say the least because if each individual person who claims the name of Christ has the authority to determine what is and what is not an essential doctrine then the result is chaos. An Arian would claim, based on their interpretation of Scripture, that it is essential to believe Christ is not fully God or consubstantial with the Father. A Donatist would claim, based on their interpretation of Scripture, that it is essential to believe the moral character of the Priest determines whether or not a sacrament is valid. A Protestant, based on their interpretation of Scripture, would say justification by faith alone, as they understand it, is an essential doctrine. Many more examples could be conjured up and this could go on ad nauseum since when it comes to Scripture there are “as many interpretations as their are interpreters” (St. Vincent of Lerins).

Individualism Leads to Chaos

The view that each individual determines what is and what is not an essential doctrine not only results in chaos, but it is a very dangerous view. Based on this view, a person who determines that the dignity of human life from the moment of conception is not essential to the Christian faith cannot be rebuked. After all, if each individual determines what is an essential doctrine and one particular person determines that abortion does not conflict with any essential doctrines, then how could they ever be rebuked and told their understanding of Scripture is false? Based on this view every person could do what is right in their own eyes. It is just this sort of individualistic mentality that results in Christians compromising on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, contraception, divorce and so forth.

A Shortsighted Answer

There are not only dangers that result from the view that each individual determines what is essential to the Christian faith and what is not but such a view seems to be a very shortsighted answer because it does not address how one knows they have been given the authority as an individual to determine what is and what is not an essential doctrine.  How does the one know one is not usurping the role and authority Christ has given to another by taking it upon oneself to determine what is and what is not essential to the Christian faith?  Surely one should not simply assume they have given this authority, especially in light of what God did to those who attempted to usurp authority in the Old Testament (Numbers 16).

An Alternative to Individualism

Is there an alternative to the view that each individual determines what is and what is not essential to the Christian faith? Yes!  What is this alternative?  The oral tradition of the Apostles as understood by the Catholic Bishops, the successors of the Apostles. When the Gnostics of the second century claimed Christ did not have a human body but only appeared to be human, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the disciple of Polycarp (who himself was the disciple of the Apostle John), refuted the Gnostics by claiming that their view was not consistent with the oral tradition that was passed down from the Apostles to the present Bishops of the Catholic Church. St. Irenaeus wrote:

“In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical Tradition from the Apostles, and the preaching of the Truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“When we refer them to that tradition which originates from the Apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the churches, they object to Tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but than even the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“Therefore, it is within the power of all in every church who may wish to see the Truth to examine clearly the Tradition of the Apostles manifested throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to reckon up those who were instituted bishops in the churches by the Apostles, and the succession of these men to our own times…. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries…they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“It behooves us to learn the Truth from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the Apostles…” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

Considering the words of St. Irenaeus, how can one know what is the true interpretation of Christ’s message?  One can know by the oral traditions that have been passed down from the Apostles to their successors, the present Bishops of the Catholic Church. It is the Bishops who have been given the authority to determine what is the true understanding of Christ and his message, what is essential to the message of Christ and what is not. We even see this in Scripture itself in Acts 15. When the controversy over whether or not gentiles had to be circumcised in order to saved began, the Apostles and elders assembled in council in the city of Jersualem and the Holy Spirit spoke through them (Acts 15:28) and guided them to determine whether or not circumcision was consistent with the message of Christ.  Once their decisions was made it was binding on all Christians, as can be seen in the Book of Galatians, and no individual’s personal interpretation of Scripture could overturn this decision (see here for a very interesting article about the issue of authority and the council in the Book of Acts written by Jason Stewart at Called To Communion).

Conclusion

To conclude, Christ has not left us in chaos where each individual is required to determine what is and what is not essential to the Christian faith. Christ has given us oral traditions that have been passed down through the Apostles down to the present Bishops. Christ has also given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who speaks through the successors of the Apostles and guides them to determine what is consistent with the teachings of the Apostles and what is not, what is essential to the faith and what is not. Just as the Gnostic teaching that Christ did not have a body was foreign to the oral tradition we received from the Apostles, so is the view that each individual determines what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith.  Without embracing the Catholic alternative to Protestant individualism, the result is chaos, which ultimately prevents the full reunion of Catholics and Protestants at this present time.

May the Lord convict the hearts of Protestants to turn away from their personal interpretations of Scripture and turn to the Bishops Christ has placed in authority over them for the sake of the unity of His Church.   In nomine Patris et fillii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Top 10 Questions Protestants Do Not Like to Answer

It has been my experience, as a former Protestant, that the following questions are questions most Protestants do not like to answer because they challenge their entire worldview.  These questions are not meant to be divisive but simply to point out the deficiencies within Protestantism in order that Protestants might see their need for the Catholic Church.

Top 10 Questions Protestants Do Not Like to Answer:

  1. How do we know which books belong in the Bible?
  2. Who determines what is a false interpretation of Scripture?
  3. What good is an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?
  4. How do we know what is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith and what is simply a doctrine over which Christians can disagree?
  5. How do we determine what is a schism and what is a branch of the Church?
  6. Which church is the church that 1 Timothy 3:15 identifies as the pillar and foundation of the truth?
  7. Why did Jesus assume there was only one visible institutional church that had the authority to excommunicate a person from the church in Matthew 18:15-18?
  8. Why Does Peter see baptism as essential for salvation in Acts 2:37-38?
  9.  If Justification is by faith alone, why does the Apostle James say “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)?
  10. Since the early church, including those Christians who sat at the feet of the Apostles, believed in the role of Bishops, apostolic succession, the Papacy, the Church as one visible institution, justification by faith and works, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Eucharist as a sacrifice, baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, celibate clergy and the indissolubility of marriage  among other doctrines, how could Christ allow the the church to become so corrupt given that He promised “the gates of hades shall not prevail against it [the church]” and “whenever The Spirit of The Truth comes, he will lead you into the whole truth” (John 16:13)?