Saturday, May 8, 2010

You can't always get what you want


Thoughts expressed over here that seem worth adding here:


Many Protestants, particularly those in the Reformed camp, like to think of St. Augustine as one of their own, even sometimes supposing that he was practically a veritable forerunner of their own theology. They consider him to be a great theologian. Of course, I agree with that opinion (and so does the Catholic Church, which names him a Doctor of the Church), but it seems to me that the Protestant’s description of him undermines itself.


I have shown in a series of posts that St. Augustine was absolutely Catholic, holding to the following:

  • Submitted to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church
  • Held that Scripture must be interpreted according to Sacred Tradition
  • Affirmed that doctrine develops
  • Denied so-called “total depravity”
  • Denied that man is culpable for that of which he is genuinely (not willfully) ignorant
  • Affirmed that real holiness, and not a mere forensic imputation, was necessary for salvation
  • Affirmed that God rewards the merits of the righteous
  • Affirmed that we have free will, and that this is necessary for the just punishment of the wicked
  • Affirmed the authority of Sacred Tradition
  • Affirmed transubstantiation (or, if you prefer, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist)
  • Affirmed the validity of consecrated virginity
  • Affirmed that Scripture has multiple meanings
  • Affirmed the veneration of the saints, holy relics, and other sacred objects
  • Affirmed the Catholic canon of Scripture
  • Affirmed that the Church defines the canon of Scripture
  • Affirmed that sins are forgiven by the Sacrament of Baptism
  • Affirmed that prayers should be offered for the dead
  • Affirmed the offering of the Mass for the dead
  • Affirmed that the saints pray for us
  • Affirmed the authority of Scripture because of the authority of the Church
  • Affirmed the Catholic enumeration of the Ten Commandments
  • Denied that God saves men against their wills

I’m sure that more could be said: this list is merely the result of my reading of a few of Augustine’s works. But it’s sufficient for my purposes here. My point for this post is that it is simply not credible (as I said in the combox post linked above) to suggest that Augustine’s views on the subjects in this list are utterly discontinuous with those views of his that Protestants happen to like. No. If they are going to say that St. Augustine was a great theologian, they must account for how he can be so wonderfully right about a few things and yet (as they would say) so badly wrong about the things above (and many others). It is not the mark of a great theologian to be incoherent, and yet that is exactly what Protestant opinions of him demand. On the Protestant handling of St. Augustine, on their own terms, it is unreasonable to describe him as a “great theologian” (although he is). On their own terms, he could only reasonably be described as lucky, mostly inconsistent, or wildly erratic to have got some few things right while messing up so many things (as we see above).


Thought experiment: suppose a 21st century theologian came along, affirming the things we see in the list above and also those things from Augustine’s writings that Protestants approve (we Catholics would call him “an orthodox Catholic,” but I digress). Would any Protestant put such a man on the same pedestal on which they place Augustine? How many Protestants would be likely to approve such a man? LOL! Do we even need to ask the question? Of course not. And this simply goes to show the radical inconsistency of Protestant approval of St. Augustine: they ignore what they don’t like while trying to claim him as their own.


Protestants can’t have it both ways. If St. Augustine was a great theologian, they must consider his theology as an organic, coherent whole. It’s dishonest and unfair to pretend that his explicitly Catholic views are not one with the parts of his writings that they happen to like.


St. Augustine was Catholic. Attempts to say otherwise aren’t even remotely plausible.

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