Friday, November 2, 2007

St. Augustine, Scripture, and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I haven't been paying attention to Carrie's blog here lately, for two reasons. She has been doing most of her controversialist posting over at Beggars All, where the level of discourse is such that I can't imagine ever bothering to take the time to get involved. Consequently on her own blog she has been posting less, and the posts have consisted more of flat quotations from Catholic sources - quotations of such a sort that I really don't see the need to quibble with them, since they have seemed to be reasonably honest quotations which fairly present what the Church teaches.

Recently though, she posted a quotation from St. Augustine, and I thought I'd take a look. And the first thing I discovered is that her link to the source for the quotation is wrong. (Sigh) This is not the first time she has done this by any means. I wish that she would demonstrate a little more regard for her sources than this. A correct link to the letter of St. Augustine to Volusianus is here. Aside from the fact that St. Augustine did not believe in sola Scriptura, as has been repeatedly demonstrated to Carrie to no avail, let's see what we can learn from the broader context of this letter.

One interesting thing is that St. Augustine freely quotes from the book of Sirach, calling it Scripture:
For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: "When a man has done, then he begins" (1:3, emphasis added; quoting Sirach 18:5 - not 18:6 as the New Advent page says).
So St. Augustine here recognizes as Scripture a book that Protestants reject. Interesting. But even more interesting is that in this same letter St. Augustine affirms and defends the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady. In 1:2 he quotes Volusianus, who asks about this very subject, so we can expect that St. Augustine will in fact defend it. He does.
The body of the infant Jesus was brought forth from the womb of His mother, still a virgin, by the same power which afterwards introduced His body when He was a man through the closed door into the upper chamber. Here, if the reason of the event is sought out, it will no longer be a miracle; if an example of a precisely similar event is demanded, it will no longer be unique. Let us grant that God can do something which we must admit to be beyond our comprehension. In such wonders the whole explanation of the work is the power of Him by whom it is wrought (2:8, emphasis added).
The saint defends the Perpetual Virginity by comparison with Our Lord's action in passing through the closed door of the upper room (Jn. 20:26). Now this leaves the Protestant Carrie who wants to claim St. Augustine as one of her own in a bit of a jam. Either she must concede that he did not believe in sola scriptura, in which case her appeal to him in defense of it is ridiculous; or she must say that she is wrong herself in denying the perpetual virginity of Mary, which St. Augustine has defended by the Bible ( chance of this, I suppose); or she must say that St. Augustine got the perpetual virginity wrong - but if he got this wrong, there is no reason that he could not be wrong on sola scriptura as well, and so the appeal to him as an authority is demolished on her own terms - so if she intends to use him as an "authority" to her Protestant friends, she has failed; and clearly she has failed if her intent is to "prove" something to Catholics.

Indeed, the only way that I can imagine that such quote-ripping would be useful is if context just simply doesn't matter - if only the forms of words matter. This seems pretty nominalist. It reminds me of a girl I knew back in the 80s who upon seeing a logo for a Van Halen concert (sorry, that's the best image of it that I can find) suggested that perhaps the fact that the character was holding up one finger was meant to imply that there is only one way: Jesus. Heh. Then again, maybe not. But the same adolescent, uneducated context-ripping that attempts to find references to Christ in a 1980s Van Halen logo is really indistinguishable from the context-ripping by Protestants who attempt to find Protestantism in the Church Fathers. It's just not there, and only by a ridiculous nominalistic abuse of words can they even pretend otherwise.

1 comment:

Leo said...

Reggie:"...the context-ripping by Protestants who attempt to find Protestantism in the Church Fathers. It's just not there, and only by a ridiculous nominalistic abuse of words can they even pretend otherwise."

It's unreal isn't it? I remember them trying to read sola scriptura into Basil the Great, and now in my latest post I show his great respect and honour for the unwritten Traditions of the Apostles, and speaking of their value, and those who set them aside. They do the same thing to St. Augustine, if you remember we commented over at her blog quotations to the contrary of what she provided, and then again showed how she took them out of context, of which I even added a post to my own blog about that. This is real dishonesty that we're looking at here regarding this kind of context ripping, they know better, but in their attempts to discredit Catholicism they end up making fools of themselves and proving their dishonesty time and time again. I know I'm getting fed up with it, arguing with Rhology is an endless chasm, because he'll never recognize the errors which he is promoting as the errors that they are, it's just a waste of time I'm thinking.

Keep up the good work,