Augustine and the Birth of Reformed Theology

 

Calvinism is a theological arrangement that is popular in our day. It’s an overlay placed over God’s inspired Word. Calvinist’s read the Scriptures under the lens of this arrangement. This system is supported by five main pillars (not all Calvinist’s are five pointers).

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), laid the initial groundwork that started this theological system. The Calvinism of today comes after hundreds of years of refinement. Reformers that followed were influenced to a large degree by Augustine’s theological framework.

The early New Testament church knew nothing of the Calvinism of today. The writings of the church fathers are non-Calvinist in theology.

As a prolific writer, Augustine forever changed church history. No single person has been more influential since the time of the apostles.

This article will highlight several of Augustine’s doctrines. Who was the father of early Calvinism? Was Augustine of Hippo a heretic? Buckle up. From his quotes, the real Augustine will stand up.

 

His Early Days

 

According to history, Augustine grew up with a Christian mother while his father was a pagan. In his teenage years he lived a promiscuous lifestyle that pleased his father.

At the age of 19, he read a book called Cicero’s Hortensius. This book sparked his interest in philosophy, which may have led to his involvement in Manichaeism —a religion founded by an Iranian named Mani (The Encyclopedia of Christianity, volume 1, page 160). This religion was a culmination of several religions combined.

 

Age 44 and Beyond

 

At the age of 44, Augustine converted to Roman Catholicism and later became a bishop. His influential books began around 398 A.D.

Augustine is considered the founding father of some church doctrines and further refined others. He has been called “Father” and “Doctor” of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also highly regarded by most Calvinists. The following teachings were started or further refined by Augustine:

 

1) Belief in the supreme authority of the Roman Catholic Church

 

One of the distinctions of Christianity is that the Bible is God’s final authority for faith and practice. This means that no person, church, or theological system overrides God’s Word.

Augustine made the Catholic Church the authority over God’s inspired Word. He didn’t hold to sola scriptura as several reformers did who followed. In the following quotes, Augustine expresses allegiance to the Catholic Church.

I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church” (St. Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaean Called Fundamental, 5,6)

We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church, which is Catholic and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard” (The True Religion 7:12, A.D. 390).

If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you [Mani] answer him when he says, ‘I do not believe’? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so” (Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation’ 5:6).

But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the Apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius, A.D. 400).

This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they went all out of it, like as unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (On the Creed: Sermon to Catechumens (14) c. 395).

Contrary to Augustine’s error, God’s Word says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

2) Purgatory

 

According to the online Merriam Webster dictionary, purgatory is “a state after death according to Roman Catholic belief in which souls of people who die are made pure through suffering before going to heaven.”

A search on the Internet was unable to determine if Augustine birthed this heresy. The Roman Catholic Church predominantly reject that Augustine started this doctrine. Nevertheless, this teaching has surely given millions of Catholics hope that a future punishment after death will somehow purge their sins, allowing entrance to heaven. How many souls are in hell because of Augustine’s heresy, only God knows.

Consider the following quotes that indisputably connect Augustine with the heresy of purgatory:

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment” (St. Augustine of Hippo, Father and Doctor of the Church, The City of God).

That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire”  (St. Augustine of Hippo; several websites contain this quote, but source is unknown).

The doctrine of purgatory is a counterfeit from Satan that rejects Christ and His work on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ’s blood remains the only hope for sinners in this life to be saved. Purgatory is a false safety net created by Satan, promoted by Augustine, and sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Not only is purgatory absent in Scripture, it appears that Augustine may have placed this doctrine on the map. The Bible states: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

3) Virgin Mary

 

Augustine taught that Mary, the physical mother of Jesus, remained a virgin until her death and was sinless.  Augustine called Christians who rejected that Mary remained a virgin (as found in the Bible) as heretics:

Heretics called antidicomarianites are those who contradict the perpetual [never ending] virginity of Mary and declare that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband” (Heresies 56, A.D. 428).

We must except the holy virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sin, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin” (Augustine, On Nature and Grace, De Natura et Gratia, 42 (36), in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, V, ed. Philip Schaff, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co, 1980, 135).

For from Him [Lord] we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her [Mary] who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin” (Augustine, on Nature and Grace, chapter 42).

The false teaching that Mary remained a virgin (beyond Christ’s birth) has been used by the Roman Catholic Church to elevate her to the level of God. Mary is a counterfeit for God.

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States claims that Mary is not worshiped as God. This lie is laughable (while tragically, sad). Billions (possibly) worship and pray to her (and her statutes) all over the world.

As a child, I grew up in Argentina. Many homes (or yards) have a statute or image of Mary. Most, if not all the parks, train stations, and public buildings include a statue or image of Mary. In Argentina, thousands participate in an annual pilgrimage to a Catholic Church (named after Mary) with a large statute of Mary (virgin de Lujan) in front, leading the pilgrimage.

In contrast to the heretical teaching of Augustine, the Bible portrays Mary as a sinner (Luke 1:47), and a virgin until the birth of Christ (Matthew 1:25). Jesus had brothers (Matthew 13:55). Mary is present in the early church praying with the disciples; they were not praying to her (Acts 1:14)!

Augustine’s exaltation of Mary is one of Satan’s replacements for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ left heaven and all its glory —humbled himself and took on human flesh, to live on earth as a human being. In contrast to Mary, Jesus was and remains sinless. He is the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the cross for all the sins of mankind. If you would like to know what the Bible says about forgiveness of sin, please read the “about me” page or contact me.

4) Infant Baptism

 

The earliest written account of infant baptism is from the year 180, by Irenaeus (Dictionary of Early Christian beliefs, page 59). Augustine affirmed this false teaching already in circulation and taught that infant baptism was required for salvation.

Here are a few quotes by Augustine:

Likewise, whosoever says that those children who depart out of this life without partaking of that sacrament shall be made alive in Christ, certainly contradicts the apostolic declaration, and condemns the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children, because it is believed, as an indubitable truth, that otherwise they cannot be made alive in Christ” (Augustine, Epistle 167, 7, 21, A.D. 415, in NPNF1, I:530).

The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39, A.D. 408).

As nothing else is done for children in baptism but their being incorporated into the church, that is, connected with the body and members of Christ, it follows, that when this is not done for them, they belong to perdition” (/ III. 4).

“[All] men, born according to nature, are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without confidence towards God and with concupiscence, and that this original disease or flaw is truly a sin, bringing condemnation and also eternal death to those who are not reborn through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (Article II).

 

5) Predestination

 

Augustine believed it was possible to lose one’s salvation. This shouldn’t be surprising as the Apostolic Fathers up to that time were non-Calvinist in theology.

Here is a quote where he believed this was possible:

But if someone already regenerate and justified should, of his own will, relapse into his evil life, certainly that man cannot say: “I have not received”; because he lost the grace he received from God and by his own free choice went to evil” (Augustine, Admonition and Grace, A.D. 426 aut 427).

Other Quotes on predestination:

Therefore the election obtained what it obtained gratuitously; there preceded none of those things which they might first give, and it should be given to them again. He saved them for nothing. But to the rest who were blinded, as is there plainly declared, it was done in recompense” (On The Predestination of the Saints, chapter 11).

Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God’s gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God” (On The Predestination of the Saints, chapter 16).

It’s interesting that Augustine took both sides of the eternal security view. As established, he believed it was possible to fall from grace. But he also believed that those who were predestinated for salvation were secure and couldn’t fall from grace. This view of Augustine (absolute security of the believer) was new and subsequently has been refined over the years into what is today called eternal security. Yes, you heard it correctly, eternal security started with the heretic Augustine.

Most of today’s church has no idea that the doctrine known as eternal security has no record before Augustine’s existence. History does however retrace the refinement process that lead to this popular doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently rejected Augustine’s view on eternal security while continuing to affirm his many other heresies.

The following quotes from Augustine provide the first known written record of eternal security (in its infancy):

I speak thus of those who are predestined to the Kingdom of God, whose number is so certain that none may be added to or subtracted there from,…while those who do not belong to this most certain and blessed number are most righteously judged according to their deservings. For they lie under the sin which they have inherited by original generation and so depart hence with the inherited debt” (On Rebuke and Grace, XIII, 39 940, 42 942).

Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God’s gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God” (On The Predestination of the Saints, chapter 16).

For all who are teachable of God come to the Son because they have heard and learned from the Father through the Son, who most clearly says, “Every one who has heard of the Father, and has learned, cometh unto me.” But of such as these none perishes, because “of all that the Father hath given Him, He will lose none.” Whoever, therefore, is of these does not perish at all; nor was any who perishes ever of these” (On The Predestination of the Saints, chapter 33).

 

6) Original Sin

 

The doctrine of original sin known today can be traced back to Augustine. Many churches and sincere Christians believe it. In a nutshell, original sin teaches that all humans are born sinners. This means that all are guilty before birth, BEFORE their first sin. Adam’s fall was so severe (depravity), that all humans are guilty before birth.

Here are a few quotes from Augustine:

“. . . all men, born according to nature, are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without confidence towards God and with concupiscence, and that this original disease or flaw is truly a sin, bringing condemnation and also eternal death to those who are not reborn through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (Augsburg Confession of Faith, Article II, 1530).

But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that on in whom all have sinned…Even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins” (Augustine, city of God bk. 16 ch. 27).

The Biblical view (in contrast) holds that we are sinners because we sin, not because we were already born guilty sinners. “for all have sinned [not born sinners] and fall short [because of our sins committed] of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “But your iniquities (not your guilt acquired at birth) have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins [again] have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men [why:] because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

A verse used to support original sin is Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This verse on the surface does appear to validate Augustine’s original sin teaching that sin comes at conception. There are some problems with attaching Augustine’s view to this verse.

First, this verse never taught before Augustine (to my knowledge) that sin is acquired at conception. I’m unaware of any other passage that supports this teaching without bringing assumptions to Scripture. Doctrines for the church shouldn’t be based on one verse.

Secondly, the context surrounding this verse is David’s confession for the sin of adultery —not concerning a new teaching (in my opinion). David is using poetry to describe the sinful nature we acquire at conception.

 

7) Prayers for dead

 

He writes:

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death”  (St. Augustine, Sermons c. 411 A.D.).

It is not to be doubted that the dead are aided by prayers of the holy church, and by the salutary sacrifice, and by the alms, which are offered for their spirits . . . For this, which has been handed down by the Fathers, the universal church observes”  (Sermon 172, in Joseph Berington and John Kirk, The Faith of Catholics, three volumes, London: Dolman, 1846; I: 439).

Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered” (Sermons: 159, 1; Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, three volumes, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970 and 1979, III, 29).

For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it” (The City of God, XXI, 24, 2; Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1, Vol. II).

 

8) Communion

 

Augustine seems to affirm the Roman Catholic teaching known today as transubstantiation where the bread and juice magically become the physical body of Christ. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was not fully accepted and refined when Augustine lived.

Please consider Augustine’s own words:

That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend his body and blood, which he poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins” (St. Augustine, Sermons, 227)

Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life?” (On Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, 1:34 in Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series1, V, 28).

I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know that you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ” (Sermons 227, A.D. 411).

What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice is the Blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).

In the sacrament he is immolated for the people not only on every Easter Solemnity but on every day; and a man would not be lying if, when asked, he were to reply that Christ is being immolated. For if sacraments had not a likeness to those things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all; and they generally take the names of those same things by reason of this likeness” (Letters 98:9, A.D. 412).

For when he says in another book, which is called Ecclesiastes, ‘There is no good for a man except that he should eat and drink’ [Eccl. 2:24], what can he be more credibly understood to say [prophetically] than what belongs to the participation of this table which the Mediator of the New Testament himself, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, furnishes with his own body and blood? For that sacrifice has succeeded all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were slain as a shadow of what was to come. . . . Because, instead of all these sacrifices and oblations, his body is offered and is served up to the partakers of it” (The City of God, 17:20, A.D. 419).

Augustine also believed that participation in the Lord’s Supper is necessary for Salvation:

“[According to] Apostolic Tradition . . . the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34, A.D. 412).

 

9) Rejection of a literal Genesis creation:

 

It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly someone meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (St. Augustine Volume 1: The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Ancient Christian Writers, ed. James H. Taylor).

 

10) The belief that Popes were appointed by God (Apostolic Succession):

 

If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement . . . In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found” (Letters 53:1:2, A.D. 412).

“[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation’ 4:5, A.D. 397).

 

11) Other beliefs of Augustine not covered:

 

-Just war

-Sex is sinful in marriage

-The Catholic Church was the city of God (book he wrote)

-The Apocrypha as the Word of God

 

Conclusion

 

The purpose of this page was to connect Augustine as the founder of modern day Reformed Theology, as a heretic of the Roman Catholic Church, and prolific writer who introduced false doctrines that forever changed the course of church history. Augustine introduced a primitive version of the security of the believer that sparked the flames of the false doctrine known today as eternal security, and/or the perseverance of the saints.

While today’s Calvinism has been significantly refined and systemized since the time of Augustine, there remains little doubt that Augustine laid the initial foundation for a theological system that is enormously popular and appealing to the masses.

Copyright © 2016

2 Comments

  1. Kevin George

    Very good article! My only additional point is that most Calvinists read Psalm 51:5 as if it says, “WITH sin did my mother conceive me“. But it says, “IN sin did my mother conceive me“. David is asking God for mercy regarding his sin, and one of the points he is making is that his environment is permeated with sin. He was born into a sinful system, and is surrounded by sin, making it so easy to sin. That is very different than thinking that the verse is saying that he was conceived with inherited sin. Remember, a sin nature is not needed in order to sin. Adam and Eve did not have a sin nature, but freely chose to sin, thereby bringing sin into God’s ordered system.

    Reply
    • admin

      Thanks, Kevin for providing feedback and additional insight on the doctrine of “original sin”. I’ve been researching this doctrine in more depth for a critical review of a Calvinist book. I hope to provide more detail on Psalm 51:5.

      Keep the faith in Jesus!

      Reply

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