Some input from Saint Augustine

Discussion in 'Theology and Doctrine' started by ZachT, Sep 15, 2022.

  1. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    I came across this quote from Saint Augustine recently, that I thought speaks to some of the tensions experienced by Anglicans during this era of our Church history:

    I am addressing the others [Donatist heretics] and to them I say, even if these men had been in the wrong, that was no reason for you to leave the Church. You should have been patient with them and should have stayed in the Church, especially since you could not in any way correct or segregate them. Some, on the other hand, endanger the peace of the Church by going to the other extreme. These know that good and bad are in the Church and that it has been revealed and foretold in Scripture; and these know too that one must be patient with the bad. As for ourselves, such knowledge makes us all the more strong, so much so that, even though there are evil men in the Church, we do not on that account quit the Church or foresake our faith and charity. These, however, think that the Church should abandon its discipline. They want her to be free from any obligation of this kind, but it is a freedom that is most perverse. They think that the Church should only say what should or should not be done, but what one actually does, that should not be any concern of hers.

    As for ourselves, we think that the true doctrine is had in moderation. Consequently, we are to tolerate evil men in the Church where the peace of the Church is at stake; but when it is not at stake, then we are not to give to dogs that which is holy. When we discover, therefore, that there are evil men in the the Church whom the Church cannot reform or restrain, no matter how they gained entrance, whether through negligence on the part of the rulers of the Church, or because of some excusable necessity, or by concealing their real purpose and intention, then let us not be so presumptuous and so proud as to think that we must separate ourselves from them so as not to be corrupted by their wickedness, or that we must gather around us a following, as it were, of good and holy men. To act in this way is only to cut ourselves off from the Church under the pretence of segregating ourselves from the wicked.
    ~ Augustine, de Fido et Operibus (Chapters 4 and 5)​
     
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  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I think you meant "de fide" and not "de fido", am I guessing correctly? Not that I know enough Latin to fill a thimble. :hmm:

    Is the full text of this document available on the web, that you could link to? It would be good if we could read more to examine the overall context.

    One question that comes to mind is: when he wrote of "evil men in the church," was Augustine referring to laity or to clergy (church leaders)? I think it would make a huge difference depending on who these "evil men" were. For example: naturally, we aren't justified in leaving a church just because member Jim is openly and unrepentantly adulterous; but if the priest or bishop were committing adultery and teaching the laity that adultery is acceptable before God, I question whether Augustine would have counseled to remain in that church. In other words, we need more context to understand what Augustine meant to say in those two paragraphs.
     
  3. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    Yes "fide" not "fido". In my defence it was about 2am when I posted this before heading off to bed.

    I was reading a library copy, but Google Books seems to have the relevant chapters available for free reading.

    The context is that he's speaking to the Donatists, and presupposing even if they're right and that the church was filled with wicked men, they still should not have left. Augustine, for his part, did not think Caecilianus (the Bishop of Carthage) was wicked - who was the focal point of the Donatists spitting the dummy. He's just entertaining that even if he was wicked, all leaving does is sever themselves from God. The Donatists abandoned the Church because they believed certain priests and bishops were not fit for office according to scripture. Their main target was an archdeacon, Caecilianus, who after handing over his faith (making him a traditor, which is where we get the English word traitor), and possibly even handing over other Christians during the persecutions, was let back into the church and made a bishop. He repented, did his penance, and was allowed back in - replacing his old boss, who also flipped during the persecutions, as the Bishop of Carthage (and to really add fuel to the fire, was ordained by another traditor bishop). The vast, vast majority of the poor Christians in Carthage that had endured the persecutions and refused to recant their faith or hand in their bibles were livid, and refused to accept him as their bishop. This eventually lead to rioting and three seperate demands for Councils and Imperial trials to remove him as bishop for being unfit according to the guidelines in 1 Timothy 3.

    They lost their first trial because the Pope dismissed all of their evidence before any arguments could be made, so they stormed out and demanded a local trial. They lost their local trial, which they also claimed was biased, and so demanded Constantine hear their case instead of the Church. Constantine agreed to hear their case, the other bishops in Africa unified to defend Caecilianus's appointment, and so Constantine (who really didn't care about anything but ending the argument) sided with the Church and African bishops, said he wouldn't stand for any more unrest, and threatened to seize the churches of anyone who rioted again. The Donatists held that if a priest or a bishop was not "a saint", then their sacraments were invalid, and so they "soft schismed", for lack of a better word, rather than accept Caecilianus and other traditors unfit for office as their spiritual leaders. They sort of hung out in Africa, doing their own thing, refusing to take communion with any traditor bishop, a bishop/priest ordained by a traditor bishop, or a Christian baptised by one of the "invalid" clergy for nearly a hundred years. After about 10 years of "soft schism" Constantine recognised they had become too big to ignore, and directed the church to show patience and respect to the Donatists if they refused to take communion with certain Christians - in the interests of unity. After about 50 years the majority of the laity in all of Africa were Donatists, not just in Carthage. However, after around a hundred years they started to decline when it started to become nearly impossible for Donatists to find a "valid" priest in Africa to deliver the sacraments, and a bunch of donatists started being outed as having been baptised or ordained by "invalid" bishops. To avoid this growing problem they decided to "hard schism" and started planting their own "valid Bishops" in all of the regions that had a bishop they considered unfit (they had only ever done this in Carthage before, at the very beginning of the controversy, never any of the other African cities). If they pulled it off this would mean there would always be a "safe" bishop the majority could go to, and they would no longer play nice with Rome, pretending they were still in communion with each other. Arguments got hostile and violent, Christians started turning on each other instead of focusing outwards, competing churches opened up across the road from each other, they started suing each other over who owned the property - the bishop or the laity, and Africa turned into religious chaos.

    This flipped Augustine (we believe, we're reading between the lines between texts years apart) from being cautiously sympathetic to their arguments, to openly against them. After they made their hard break from the church he was the bishop that provided the legal justification for the Roman state to declare them heretical without a Church council, and then advocated that the state should persecute them. His logic was that it was justified to strike them "with the temporal rod of suffering", if it brought them back into the fold of the true church to be saved. Then after seeing the persecutions he flipped back and said the state should not persecute them, but by then it was too late and the precedent for persecuting heretics was established. In some ways Augustine's "temporal rod of suffering" unified their beliefs right as they were reaching a breaking point, and so the heresy stuck around even into the 7th Century when the Muslims conquered the lands from the semi-restored Byzantine Empire - where they still refused to unite with Orthodox Catholics even against infidel invaders, and so the Muslims crushed them.
     
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  4. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Let me see if I have this straight. Augustine was a flip-flopper on this issue. He wavered back and forth depending on the way he felt about circumstances. And you presented a quote from him on the subject as an authoritative statement?

    :laugh:O_o:biglaugh::doh::rolleyes:
     
  5. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that Augustine was anti-Donatist, given his own checkered history. Augustine also held to the notion of a universal "invisible" church of all believers that exists above any physical manifestation of the church, and that the visible church would always have both wheat and tares in it. Probably the biggest difference between the later Reformers and Augustine was that the Reformers drew a line between the church invisible and the church visible. To Augustine the visible church is an extension of the invisible, and therefore universal as well. But the Reformers (including Anglicans) reject the Roman Catholic church as the true expression of the invisible church because they (the RC) left the word of God and engaged in false teaching. Which means therefore that the visible church is not universal -- it can become corrupted.

    The take-away is that for Augustine, the structure of the church transcends everything -- the administrative body as well as the spiritual body. But this viewpoint requires that there be a mental separation of the church as an organization and the people (the clergy) inside that organization. To Augustine, the office was the important thing, not the man in it. (Though was Rexlion has pointed out, Augustine was of a divided mind on this in many ways.)

    Seen in the light of the Reformation (which we as Anglicans should always do with Augustine and the rest of the church fathers), we now know that the visible church can in fact become corrupted and unfit for purpose. The administrative body of the visible church has no force or purpose in and of itself -- it's just buildings and furniture and books. The church is the people in it, and if the clergy is rotten, so is the church. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of the episcopal form of governance is that Bishops are, for the most part, immune to effective censure (especially these days). This renders the administrative apparatus of a fallen church itself unsuitable for believers.* Thus the only option left for a believer is to go somewhere else so that they may continue to receive spiritual food, fellowship, and teaching.

    *The term "administrative capture" is often used in a political context, but it happens all the time in churches as well, and it often destroys them. Churches rarely drift away from Scripture due to actions of the congregation; almost always, the drift starts with the clergy, often with just one or two corrupt priests or bishops who worm their way into power and then make sure to promote only those who agree with them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2022
  6. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    Of course. He was sympathetic to the "rigorist", some might say "conservative" donatist view of the church, until they decided to schism. Then he flipped. This seems to hold pretty comfortable lessons for the current crises - in the Anglican Communion and other communions too.
     
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