Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Augustine and Holy Relics

I suppose I ought to point out that I have no illusions about these facts concerning St. Augustine having any probative value concerning the truth, at least for Protestants. Without doubt their likely reaction will be that St. Augustine was mistaken about these things. But it is not my purpose to attempt to prove their truth by appealing to St. Augustine (although I find it amusing that people who discount St. Augustine’s authority on this score will cheerily appeal to him as though he supports their errors on other points). Rather, my purpose is to suggest that it’s pretty clear from his own writings—here, his autobiography—that St. Augustine was most certainly Catholic.

Here is an excellent case in point.

Thou by a vision made known to Your renowned bishop [St. Ambrose – RdP] the spot where lay the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius, the martyrs (whom You had in Your secret storehouse preserved uncorrupted for so many years), whence You might at the fitting time produce them to repress the feminine but royal fury. For when they were revealed and dug up and with due honour transferred to the Ambrosian Basilica, not only they who were troubled with unclean spirits (the devils confessing themselves) were healed, but a certain man also, who had been blind many years, a well-known citizen of that city, having asked and been told the reason of the people's tumultuous joy, rushed forth, asking his guide to lead him there. Arrived there, he begged to be permitted to touch with his handkerchief the bier of Your saints, whose death is precious in Your sight. When he had done this, and put it to his eyes, they were immediately opened. Thence did the fame spread; thence did Your praises burn—shine; thence was the mind of that enemy, though not yet enlarged to the wholeness of believing, restrained from the fury of persecuting. [Confessions IX.7, emphasis added]

St. Augustine’s respect for the relics of the holy martyrs was that of a Catholic.


Nick said...

Good quotes from Confessions 9. I can't believe I missed these (except the Baptism quotes). And to think Confessions is recommended by Protestants!

Reginald de Piperno said...

It’s surprising, isn’t it? I haven’t read the Confessions in more than 20 years (and it was as a Protestant the first time), and I was pleasantly surprised to discover these things.

In one respect I think that they are powerful evidence of St. Augustine’s real allegiances: whatever one might say about cherry-picked theological passages in isolation, these remarks from his own autobiography set the real-life context within which those theological quotes ought to be understood.