Thursday, September 30, 2010

St Augustine Accepted Church Authority

St. Augustine accepted the authority of the Catholic Church, unlike Protestants who vainly wish that he was one of their own. Says the Doctor of the Church:

This religion can be defended against loquacious persons and expounded to seekers in many ways. Omnipotent God may himself show the truth, or he may use good angels or men to assist men of good will to behold and grasp the truth. Everyone uses the method which he sees to be suitable to those with whom he has to do. I have given much consideration for a long time to the nature of the people I have met with either as carping critics or as genuine seekers of the truth. I have also considered my own case both when I was a critic and when I was a seeker; and I have come to the conclusion that this is the method I must use. Hold fast whatever truth you have been able to grasp, and attribute it to the Catholic Church. Reject what is false and pardon me who am but a man. What is doubtful believe until either reason teaches or authority lays down that it is to be rejected or that it is true, or that it has to be believed always. Listen to what follows as diligently and as piously as you can. For God helps men like that. [Of True Religion 20, in Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 235; emphasis added]

Now of course we must not conclude from the complete absence here of any mention of Scripture that St Augustine held the Bible in contempt. Far from it. But at the same time, it would be absurd to suppose that he held the authority of the Catholic Church in contempt. Far from it! As we see above, he held that the Church has authority to define dogmas and to condemn heresy, and that God blesses those who accept what the Church teaches.

An interesting side note here (apart from the primary point that he submitted to the Church’s authority and urged others to do the same) is that he evidently held to some form of doctrinal development. For he anticipates that there will be subjects about which we may find ourselves unsure of the truth, but which will be settled by decree of the Church. It seems reasonable to infer that such decrees may not already exist in every case, so that the expectation is for some questions to be definitively settled in the future. This is not the only place where he has expressed such an opinion; he also did so in On Free Choice of the Will. See here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

St Augustine on “Fitness”

Sometimes we hear Protestants complain that arguments from fitness for some belief or other are invalid. For example, when we say that it was fitting that Our Lady’s virginity should have been preserved, Protestants get upset as though it proves nothing.

Here is something that that St Augustine has to say about arguments from fitness.

When this is known it will be as clear as it can be to men that all things are subject by necessary, indefeasible and just laws to their Lord God. Hence all those things which to begin with we simply believed, following authority only, we come to understand. Partly we see them as certain, partly as possible and fitting, and we become sorry for those who do not believe them, and have preferred to mock at us for believing rather than to share our belief. [Of True Religion, 14]

By his measure we would say (quite reasonably, I think) that an argument from fitness is not so certain as one based more upon reason. This fact does not mean that arguments from fitness are without any validity at all. Similarly, it seems clear that he does not consider them to be contrary to reason. Lastly, there is more than a hint here of St Anselm’s saying, “I believe in order that I may understand:” the pattern in the quotation above is to begin by believing what the Church teaches, and to move from there to understanding.

I concur with Augustine’s careful understanding of the usefulness of arguments from fitness (see another example here): they certainly aren’t as good as demonstration, but they are not without value, either. In any case, the purpose of this post is merely to highlight the fact that St Augustine stands in the long tradition of the Church in affirming the use of such arguments, and Protestants distance themselves from him when they reject them.

St Augustine affirmed free will

This should be unsurprising, because he was a Catholic. Nevertheless it is unfortunately necessary to make these things crystal-clear, so that Protestants who persist in misrepresenting the great Doctor of the Church will be without excuse.

In today’s episode, we see that St Augustine re-affirms that which he previously said in On Free Choice of the Will.

If the defect we call sin overtook a man against his will, like a fever, the penalty which follows the sinner and is called condemnation would rightly seem to be unjust. But in fact sin is so much a voluntary evil that it is not sin at all unless it is voluntary. This is so obvious that no one denies it, either of the handful of the learned or of the mass of the unlearned. We must either say that no sin has been committed or confess that it has been willingly committed. No one can rightly deny that a soul has sinned who admits that it can be corrected by penitence, that the penitent should be pardoned, or that he who continues in sin is condemned by the just law of God. Lastly if it is not by the exercise of will that we do wrong, no one at all is to be censured or warned. If you take away censure and warning the Christian law and the whole discipline of religion is necessarily abolished. Therefore, it is by the will that sin is committed. And since there is no doubt that sins are committed, I cannot see that it can be doubted that souls have free choice in willing. God judged that men would serve him better if they served him freely. That could not be so if they served him by necessity and not by free will. [Of True Religion, xiv, 27; in the Library of Christian Classics volume Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 238; emphasis added]

This flies directly in the face of the Reformed error of “Irresistible Grace,” according to which men are unable to reject the grace that God gives them to believe.

Unquestionably some folks will suggest that perhaps St Augustine later rejected this view. But as noted earlier in regard to On Free Choice of the Will, he did nothing of the sort in the Retractations. Happily, the LCC editors saw fit to include the Retractations associated with Of True Religion (see pages 218-221). Did Augustine later in life reject what this book says about free will? No he did not.

5. In another place (chap xiv) I say, “Sin is so much voluntary evil, that there would be no such thing as sin unless it were voluntary.” That may appear a false definition; but if it is diligently discussed it will be found to be quite true. [ibid., p. 219]

I am reminded of suddenly of something said by Captain Jack Sparrow: “pirate is in your blood, boy, so you'll have to square with that some day.” Like it or not, some day Calvinists are going to have to square with the fact that St Augustine isn’t one of them. He was no proto-incipient-Calvinist; he was Catholic.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

St Augustine Still Isn’t Protestant

I’ve devoted a number of posts to demonstrating the folly of Protestant attempts to paint St Augustine with their own colors. In short: it cannot be done—not, at any rate, if one wishes to avoid running his works through a shredder and pulling out tiny little bits that have that Geneva ring to them when you turn up the music really loud. Okay, I’m going bonkers with the metaphor-mixing. Let’s move on.

Here is yet another small snippet showing the unambiguously Catholic character of his writings. St Augustine opens the Soliloquies with a prayer, part of which go like this:

God, through whom we disapprove the error of those, who think that there are no merits of souls before You. God, through whom it comes that we are not in bondage to the weak and beggarly elements. God, who cleanses us, and prepares us for Divine rewards, to me propitious come Thou. [I, 3; emphasis added]

This passage flatly contradicts the Protestant errors that there is no sense at all in which we merit anything but condemnation from God, and that there is no sense at all in which we could be said to receive rewards from Him.

In the very next section of this opening prayer, he writes:

God, by whose ever-during laws the stable motion of shifting things is suffered to feel no perturbation, the thronging course of circling ages is ever recalled anew to the image of immovable quiet: by whose laws the choice of the soul is free, and to the good rewards and to the evil pains are distributed by necessities settled throughout the nature of everything. [I, 4; emphasis added]

This passage repeats the fact that the good will be rewarded, just in case we didn’t get the point the first time. And it adds the extra observation that man’s will is not in bondage in the way that at least some Protestants think. He doesn’t discuss the reasons for these facts in this context, but we have seen elsewhere (here, for one example) why he says so. In short: if we do not have free will, or if God does not reward the good, then He is not just. But this is obviously impossible. Consequently it is the Protestant claims to the contrary that are in error.

St Augustine doesn’t get this wrong. He wasn’t some crypto-proto-Protestant. He was Catholic. He wouldn’t be a Doctor of the Church if he wasn’t. That very fact really ought to induce Protestant hangers-on to think seriously about how they view his teaching.

Edit: It is probably necessary (unfortunately) to respond to the suggestion that St Augustine wrote the Soliloquies early in his career and that consequently it supposedly does not reflect his mature thought. The problem with this is that the Retractations related to this work say nothing about rejecting the ideas I've quoted here. The portion of the Retractations related to the Soliloquies is included in this edition of his works (pp. 17-18), and it says nothing whatsoever about these ideas. It is therefore unreasonable to suppose that he rejected free will or merits later in life.

Papal Wisdom

“Society is for man and not vice versa” — Pope Pius XI, in Divini Redemptoris 29. This seems like a rather obvious inference of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.” God created Eve (and consequently society itself) because “it is not good for man to be alone.” This is why we must reject all forms of statism and socialism as godless: because they define man in terms of his relation to the State, and because they reduce man to nothing apart from the State. Man needs society, but society does not define what he is.

But we must not suppose that Pius was some sort of libertarian or radical individualist.

This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. In a further sense, it is society which affords the opportunities for the development of all the individual and social gifts bestowed on human nature. These natural gifts have a value surpassing the immediate interests of the moment, for in society they reflect the divine perfection, which would not be true were man to live alone. But on final analysis, even in this latter function, society is made for man, that he may recognize this reflection of God's perfection, and refer it in praise and adoration to the Creator. Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.

30. Man cannot be exempted from his divinely-imposed obligations toward civil society, and the representatives of authority have the right to coerce him when he refuses without reason to do his duty. Society, on the other hand, cannot defraud man of his God-granted rights, the most important of which We have indicated above. Nor can society systematically void these rights by making their use impossible. It is therefore according to the dictates of reason that ultimately all material things should be ordained to man as a person, that through his mediation they may find their way to the Creator. [ibid., 29-30]

It is an error to view man either as abstracted from other men, as though we do not need each other, just as it is an error to view man solely in relation to the state—as though we have no higher or greater end than the state or society.

I’ve been out of circulation for quite a while. I apologize. I do not know whether this post portends a return to more regular activity or not, but I’ve been taking notes on my reading during my absence, and there may be a few more posts related to that. And later? Who knows?