“The Augustinian Revolution in Theology” Part V
In this week’s excerpt from Pastor Thomas Allin’s “The Augustinian Revolution in Theology” we are introduced to Augustine’s teaching on predestination. This topic is very familiar to me after wasting way too much time arguing with Calvinists over the years. It is clear that John Calvin got his teaching on predestination and God’s “absolute sovereignty” straight from Augustine of Hippo.
Here is Pastor Allin:
We now approach what is really the most important point in Augustine’s theology, its rigid absolutism. Over the rotting mass of fallen humanity there presides, not Love, but a will which is altogether arbitrary – predestinating whom it pleases, and that irresistibly. For God cannot show mercy in vain. (a) Man can neither help himself nor resist effectually what God gives. (b) Here, then, we stand at the meeting of the ways – two paths open out. Starting from the axiom that God’s Will may not in any case be deflected, we are brought face to face with this dilemma. We must give up our starting point or give up universal redemption. Here is, indeed, one of the greatest difficulties with which Augustine had to contend. Catholic antiquity never hesitated in its proclamation of universal redemption, i.e., God’s Will to save all men. Yet the great Western doctor does not really flinch for a moment. He boldly, though guardedly, asserts a redemption limited to the predestinated. God’s Will, in fact, is not to save more than a fraction of humanity. This is, in fact, a theological revolution of the most emphatic description. The sternest Latinism had never before ventured to deny God’s Will to save all men. On man it had always laid the burden of his eternal ruin, because, as free, he can reject God’s gift. More logically, as I venture to think, Augustine swept aside all such subterfuges. But he did so at no less cost than surrendering the very idea of a Gospel. He did so also at the certain risk of a collision with the whole body of primitive teaching. We may thus see why it is that while he expatriates on sin and grace he says little directly on limited redemption. But abundant evidence exists to show his meaning.
We will deal with this point in detail.
- His entire system requires the doctrine of limited redemption on logical grounds.
- He denies that God feels mercy or pity for all men. (c) He was forced either to deny God’s will to save all men or to become a Universalist, for in his view God’s will to save covers exactly the area of those who will be saved. A redemption of the world which in fact did not save the world was to him a contradiction in terms. Hence the dilemma. Either universal redemption must be false or universal salvation must be true.
- His evident embarrassment – frequently shown – in dealing with such a text as that which asserts God’s will to save all men, (d) shows clearly his disbelief in any such will. His struggles to evade the obvious meaning of the Apostle become wellnigh ludicrous. He asserts that all means many, or it means that all who are saved are so by God’s will, (e) or all means all who are predestinated, (f) or some of all kinds, (g) in fact it may mean anything except that which it does evidently mean.
- Next come those passages in which Augustine indirectly implies a limited redemption. This he speaks of Christ as redeeming those sinners who were to be justified. (h) The Mediator makes those whom He has redeemed by His blood good for eternity. (i) The intention of the writer in these last passages is clearly to identify the redeemed and the finally saved. The two next quotations I borrow from Wiggers, i. 313(j) : “The words, St. John x. 26, are explained by Augustine in his forty-eighth homily on this Gospel as meaning: Ye believe not because ye are not ransomed by my blood to eternal life.” Again, he asserts: “Not one of those perishes for whom Christ died.” (k) These last words exactly express Augustine’s doctrine. They do more, they explain how our author became practically a guide to Universalism to many holding firmly to a modified Calvinism (e.g. in America and in England in the seventeenth century).
- But he does not shrink from an explicit assertion of limited redemption, e.g., every one who is redeemed by Christ’s blood is a man, yet not every one who is a man is redeemed by Christ’s blood. (l) I have said so much because I am well aware that Augustine does not scruple to use language which may at least seem to teach universal redemption. (m) He even says that “multi” in Rom V. 12, 18, 19, means “all” (omnes). But he explains this to mean that all who attain life attain it through Christ. (n)
- That his disciples Prosper and Hilary so understood Augustine is clear from their letters. (o) The statement that Christ died for all men is one of the doctrines expressly mentioned by Prosper for rejection, and that twice in one letter, and Augustine, who wrote in reply tohis treatises “De Predestinatione” and “De Perseverantia,” says not a syllable to correct them. I will not trust myself to comment on the extraordinary spectacle of the greatest Western doctor’s denial of a central doctrine in the Christian scheme – denial, in fact, of the very words of the truth itself, namely, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that all who believed in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Thus Christ’s work is dwarfed, it sinks in importance, it sinks in range, it bears no relation to the whole race of man; it becomes, on this assumption, a secondary not a primary fact. Specially noteworthy is the failure of Augustine, who is so often called Pauline, to apprehend one of the fundamental ideas of the great Apostle, namely, the extension of the whole universe of that work of Christ which Augustine restricts to a comparatively small portion of the human race. Nor is this all. The predestinated may not untruly be said to owe their safety to an absolute acts of will on God’s part, antecedently to all Atonement. By this principle Christ’s salvation is still further dwarfed.
The Augustinian Revolution in Theology
By Thomas Allin
For a list of all posts in this series please see: Posts Quoting From Thomas Allin’s “Augustinian Revolution in Theology”
(a) “De diversis Quaestionibus ad Simplicianum libri duo,” I. i. II. [I have been unable to find this passage. – Ed.]
(b) “De Correptione et Gratia liber unus,” 12; “De Praedestinatione Sanctorum ad Prosperum et Hilarium liber unus,” 8.
(c) “Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum libri sex,” iv. 134.
(d) I Timothy ii. 4.
(e) “Contra Julian,” vi. 8; De Praedestinatione Sanctorum ad Prosperum et Hilarium liber unus,” 8.
(f) “De Correptione et Gratia liber unus” (Migne x. A. 943)
(g) “Enchiridion de Fide, Spe et Charitate liber unus,” 10, 3.
(h) “De Jr.,” iv. 13.
(i) “De Correptione et Gratia liber unus,” II.
(j) Op Cit.
(k) “Ep.,” 169.
(l) “De Coniugiis Adulterinis libri duo,” i. 15.
(m) “Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum libri sex,” vi. 4, 5, 9, 26.
(n) See “De Peccatorum meritis et remissione et de Baptismo parvulorum ad Marcellinum libri tres” i. 28; “De Natura et Gratia contra Pelagium, ad Timasium et Iacobum liber unus,” 41, for most sophistical explanations to prove that we may speak of “all” while some only are meant.
(o) “Ep.,” 225, 226.