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.

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