Point One of SPOOF: Augustine’s Doctrine of ’S’ubjective Justification
To begin this study, it is essential to rehearse the Pauline doctrine of God’s Grace extended in Justification. This is the plumb line to measure all teachings and doctrines of men. The position of this study assumes the apostolic message of grace and justification as re-affirmed in the original 16th century Reformation and continuing reformers since that time, in line with those who stand with the ancient Hebrew and New Testament doctrine of predestination against the Platonic free-will teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Hellenistic Jews, Judaic Christianity, early 'church fathers', bishop-ruled Western and Eastern Christianity, Donatist or 'anabaptist' nonconformists, Pelagianists, Semi-Pelagianists, Arminians, Wesleyans, and Campbellites, including all synthetic positions in-between. The basic sovereign grace perspective of the synod of Dordrecht is confessed, along with additional long-ignored gospel truths known to readers that have been expounded by the current writer for over 20 years. There will be no attempt to newly defend these doctrines in the present article. The doctrine of an objective grace and justification residing solely in Christ’s divine-human person and saving work, assured solely and unwavering for all eternity by the Holy Spirit’s gift of assenting faith, affirmed in the passages below and the entire New Testament kerygma, this is our gospel.
To begin the study it is essential to rehearse the Pauline doctrine of God’s Grace in Justification:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:2-14, ESV
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, ESV
NOTE: The very use of the English word ‘rightEOUSness’ for translating δικαιοσύνη tenses, including the above passage from Romans, betrays a Latin bias (the etymology EOUS suggesting a ‘permeating quality’). It should be translated ‘justification’, ‘justness’, or ‘rightness’ to convey the original meaning.
Background of the Augustinian Dogma
Before defining the teaching of Augustine on grace and justification, it is important to review the background of the times in which he lived. In Paul's farewell address to the Ephesians in Acts 20:29-31, he prophesied of a great apostasy led by elders of congregations who would turn against the gospel after he departed to glory. After the death of the apostles, there was a movement among elders (pastors) to draw followers after themselves and establish one-bishop rule of congregations. It seems likely this approach would have been promoted as a solution to the 'leadership vacuum' left behind by the apostles. Needless to say, popular teachers of delusion whose messages smacked of 'gospel language' were quickly promoted to rule congregations exclusively, shutting out the influence of those leaders who stood for the true gospel against their perversions.
By the second century, it is clear that above-ground congregations were ruled by bishops teaching a message foreign to the essence of the New Testament gospel. Neo-nomianism, meritorious faith, regeneration via the waters of baptism, mystical eating and drinking of Jesus' physical body, and Greek free will philosophy became the popular standards of orthodoxy. This can be verified by a most elementary reading of Patristic writings in context, though theologians down the centuries have always affirmed complete orthodoxy for the 'fathers' by quoting snippets of truth! These early fathers affirmed a doctrine of apostolic succession in which the Holy Spirit protects ordained bishops from heresy. "Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed." Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II
Of bishop Clement of Rome (a “pope” in Roman Catholic tradition), who was installed in his high-church position while John the apostle was probably still alive, wrote his epistle to the Corinthians shortly before or after 100 A.D. Cyril Richardson states:
“The most striking feature of Clement's letter is its blending of Old Testament and Christian themes with Hellenistic ideas and expressions . . . Jewish and Christian elements often take on a Stoic dress (e.g., chs. 20; 21) and while Clement speaks in the very tones of Paul, as for instance on justification by faith (ch. 32:4), his leading convictions are somewhat different. There is a strain of moralism in his religion, which links him on the one hand with Hellenistic Judaism and on the other with Stoicism. . . . These instances must suffice to indicate the extent to which Clement has moved away from the Pauline gospel into an atmosphere more concerned with the moral life, and in particular with the virtues of humility and order. Where ethical injunctions are secondary to Paul's letters, they are priimary in Clement. We observe, to, a tendency very evident in chs. 20; 24 to 25, to emphasize natural theology. All these are marks of that later Romanism to which Clement's Letter points. It is, however, in the treatment of church order that Clement most clearly foreshadows later Catholicism. The deposition of the local Corinthian rulers leads him to set forth a hierarchical view of the ministry and to stress the need of submission to the duly elected clergy. It is claimed (chs. 42 to 44) that the apostles appointed their first converts as presbyter-bishops and provided for a future ministry should these eventually die. . . . it is more likely that Clement intends . . . that they were to be ordained by a special class of ministers who succeeded to the apostolic prerogatives. . . . It is they who lead worship and have the right to “offer the gifts” (ch. 44:4), just as the duly appointed priests of the Old Testament performed the various sacrifices . . . To summarize, Clement's letter reflects the movement away from the Pauline faith to a type of Christianity in which ethical interests and concern for law and order predominate.” Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1970, pp. 37-39 (all emphases supplied).
Contrast the view of the episcopate promoted by the 'fathers' with John the Apostle's view of leadership in the post-Pauline era:
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father.Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
I John 2:18-27, ESV
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
I John 4:2-3, ESV
Who are those trying to deceive the elect mentioned by John? Here we see clearly that two distinct movements of those professing the name of Jesus emerged after the death of Paul and Peter. One was a highly organized network of churches with an episcopate claiming the only legitimate right to teach the apostles' doctrine. The other was an underground network of elect nonconformist believers holding to the real apostles' doctrine. Both movements continue to this day, though a lot of other nonconformity exists that holds to many of the same heresies as the episcopate.
John addresses the elect called out of bondage to vain authority as his 'children'. He does not even write to congregations at this point, the apostasy away from the gospel is complete. John assures the regenerate believers that they need no one to teach them, spurning the bishops who arrogate teaching authority only to themselves. The point is that believers taught of Christ through the apostolic witness have no need of humanly ordained teachers to confirm what true doctrine is. This is part of the New Covenant promise in Jer. 31; the elect know all things essential from Christ's teaching in the revelatory scriptures and need no confirming 'amen' from church bishops to legitimize their gospel beliefs. John is not disparaging edifying teaching by gospel elders among believers. He is rather pouring contempt on those claiming an apostolic line of authority and a Holy Spirit immunity from heresy in their teaching.
The episcopate movement was characterized by eight distinct heresies, as documented by Dr. Edwin Vrell in The Death of Calvinism (Inkwater Press, 2010, pp. 58-65):
- Platonic Free-Will
John's epistle heavily condemns neo-nomianism, stating that the commandments of God are only two. To counteract free-will delusion, he states that those who have departed from the fellowship of the gospel and hate their former 'brothers' refusing to submit to their false teacing were never really a part of the elect. But Unitarianism is what John is specifically condemning in the above verses. The target of his condemnation is those who deny the full deity of Jesus Christ who was incarnated in human flesh. It was not until the later second century that the episcopate movement started opposing Unitarianism and re-constructing a theology of Jesus as God. Irenaeus began this effort and Tertullian later systematized a doctrine of the Trinity. Today's Unitarians still deny that any of the 'fathers' of the first few centuries believed that Jesus is fully God, even Tertullian (see the video link below). But the Trinitarian movement came about only after it was obvious that Unitarianism, like Gnosticism, would invalidate and destroy all of well-organized Christianity if it was permitted to continue. None of the other seven heresies above were repented of in the centuries prior to Augustine.
Justin Martyr, in the estimate of the present writer, was a Unitarian who denied the full Deity of Jesus Christ, not the eternal God and creator:
"Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternalGod, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed. "
Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 13
The following video by a Unitarian teacher explains lucidly that Justin did not believe Jesus is God. The portion on Justin spans minutes 5 thru 12. After that section the presenter goes on to explain reasons for his belief that none of the early fathers believed in the deity of Christ.
Contrast the doctrine of apostolic succession thru an authorized episcopate with the statements of John above! The earliest heresies in professed Christianity developed out of a merger of Judaic Christian sects with Gentile congregations. Of the seven congregations John wrote to in the book of Revelation, five had already been corrupted partially or completely by post-Pauline heresies resulting from an amalgamation of Pharisaic Judaism and Hellenistic free-will philosophy. Apostate Judaism with its self-appointed leaders was simply re-cast into apostate Christianity with a continuous succession of bishops appointed by their predecessors.
Augustine simply carried on the same teaching of those who came before him. His views on subjective justification were the continuation of the neo-nomianism, mysticism, sacramentalism, and free will philosophy of the episcopacy for centuries prior.
Definition of Augustine's View of Justification
Justification (a just status from God resulting in eternal salvation) is achieved solely through divine grace, which is the equivalent of God’s transforming power communicated initially in water baptism. Acceptance with God is based on gradual transformation of the sinner and can be lost at any time through free-will neglect of good works. Final justification cannot be assured in the present life, since no one can be certain of enough acquired merit in almsgiving before death. Yet salvation is owed to God’s grace alone, since only He gives unworthy sinners the power and free-will to acquire merits throughout life.
Before continuing the discussion of Augustine’s doctrine of justification by grace, I strongly recommend a complete reading of the following Lutheran paper that gives a succinct and accurate summary of the question under consideration.
Typical of current-day Lutherans and unlike Luther at his best, the author is tremendously confused on how God’s predestination relates to grace (compare with Paul in Ephesians 1 above), claiming essentially that belief in election causes NON assurance of grace. The truth is this: Augustine’s “On the Predestination of the Saints,” which he wrote near the end of his life, is the only teaching where he actually ever demonstrated a rudimentary knowledge of Pauline teaching on grace (though not fully embracing it). Grace and individual election cannot be separated without destroying the New Testament kerygma, yet Lutheran teachers constantly affirm they are antithetical. And there are other erroneous teachings in the article, like traditional Lutheran and Patristic views on grace communicated through the medium of physical water, bread, and wine. But the exposition of Augustine’s non-apostolic and false view of grace and justification is masterfully presented. You will not find truthful honesty like this from historic Reformed Calvinistic churchmen, with regard to the false teachings of Gus on the grace of God.
Contrast this with Charles Hodge, whose evaluation of Augustine is typical of Reformed Protestant thought for several hundred years.
Such is the great scheme of doctrine known in history as the Pauline, Augustinian, or Calvinistic, taught, as we believe, in the Scriptures, developed by Augustine, formally sanctioned by the Latin Church, adhered to by the witnesses of the truth during the Middle Ages, repudiated by the Church of Rome in the Council of Trent, revived in that Church by the Jansenists, adopted by all of the Reformers . . . It is a historical fact that this scheme of doctrine has been the moving power in the Church . . . This is the first great argument in support of the Pauline or Augustinian scheme of doctrine. . . It can hardly be doubted that if these simple principles be granted, the truth of the Augustinian scheme must be admitted.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch. 1, Section 8 “The Augustinian Scheme”.
Although C.H. equates the doctrine of Augustine with that of Paul and Calvin, he decided to name this section of his work The Augustinian scheme! Not the Calvinistic scheme, the Pauline scheme, or the apostolic or biblical scheme. This perhaps betrays to us who his most admired teacher was. The worst lie pushed onto us by Reformed teachers is the dogma of the soteriological orthodoxy of Augustine and his patristic predecessors. It has never been repented of. The lie has led to hopeless paradoxical confusion in understanding God’s grace, ended the progress of the Reformation in its tracks, and opened the door to every possible heretical movement taking over Reformed and Protestant churches permanently. The doctrines of Arminius, Wesley, Menno Simons, and others very much agree with Augustine’s view of ‘initial’ and ‘final’ justification—a grace that can be lost in the final judgment through free-will neglect. The apostasy of the early ‘fathers’ into Neo-Nomianism was the starting point of this heresy. Now the same doctrine is sweeping the ‘Calvinistic’ churches as a wildfire. Does anyone honestly believe that such false union of Paul and Augustine as teaching identical doctrine, proposing that Gus taught the exact same gospel revealed to Paul directly by Christ, has nothing to do with the end of the Reformation and a potential return to a thousand years of darkness?
No one can mistake the popular Catholic features of this (Augustine’s) system of religion. It is based on the ancient Symbol. The doctrines of the Trinity and Two Natures are faithfully avowed. The importance of the Catholic Church is strictly guarded, and its relation to the heavenly Church, which is the proper object of faith, is left as indefinite as the current view required. Baptism is set in the foreground as “the grand mystery of renovation,” and is derived from Christ’s death, in which the devil has obtained his due. Faith is only regarded as a preliminary condition; eternal life is only imparted to merits which are products of grace and freedom. They consist of works of love, which are summed up in almsgiving. Almsgiving is freely treated; it constitutes penance. Within the Church forgiveness is to be had for all sins after baptism, if only a fitting satisfaction is furnished . . .
Adolf von Harnack, Analysis and historical appraisal of the Enchridion, Gateway Edition of St. Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love
Now contrast the above evaluation of Augustine with Warfield, another Reformed Protestant theologian:
The problem which Augustine bequeathed to the Church for solution, the Church required a thousand years to solve. But even so, it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. This doctrine of grace came from Augustine’s hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends, for his recovery to good and to God, entirely on the free grace of God . . .
Benjamin B. Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, 1991 Baker Book House reprint, p. 130
The Protestant claim to Augustinian heritage for its understanding of the gospel is one equally affirmed by the Roman Catholic church for its own dogma, in its vast theological confessions and doctrinal works on the nature of God’s grace. This article from a Catholic Encyclopedia reflects the typical RCC position:
The Council of Trent, with its emphasis on meritorious and progressive ‘internal grace,’ only re-states the doctrine of Augustine in his major works. Similarly, the denial of assurance of personal election and final perseverance only mimics the teaching of Gus and earlier ‘fathers’. In spite of this, Protestant authors like Hodge and Warfield allege that Gus is the nemesis of Trent. Conveniently, there is a strong tendency amoung Reformed teachers to view the issue strictly in terms of the conflict with Pelagius. But that completely ignores the controversies of the 16th century Reformation; even the Roman Catholic Church was split into Augustinian and Semi-Pelagian camps through the centuries. The issue is not a discussion of the Council of Orange and its condemnation of Pelagius. What sense are we to make of all this contradiction and paradox, equating St. Gus with Paul and the Reformation? The institutional 'church' has a strong motive to defend the Christianity of the early bishops, since it cannot perceive that God's ekklesia could have possibly existed outside of this organized movement or could possibly exist today outside of institutional churches. But the strongest answer, though more elusive at first, is not hard to find. It lies within the teachings of Augustine himself. Within the same breath he constantly oscillates between a theology of grace residing wholly in God and one of human merit as the ground of salvation. It is no easy task to make sense of his high-minded double-talk. But theologians predisposed to defend Augustine simply ignore all of his heresies.
The following quotes are from the Enchiridion, which is a manual on the ‘Christian life’ written by Gus and intended for the common ‘man in the pew’. These capture the essence of what Augustine believed on the nature of grace and justification. Let there be no misunderstanding, it teaches the exact same doctrine as “The City of God”, “On Grace and Free Will”, and other works. Quotations evidencing the same views time and again could easily be supplied from these or many other works from his massive writings. But the Enchiridion was composed in the latter days of Gus while he was still finishing The City of God, 7-8 years before his death, and represents a fairly mature perspective on Augustine’s doctrine.
Why should there be such great glory to a human nature--and this undoubtedly an act of grace, no merit preceding unless it be that those who consider such a question faithfully and soberly might have here a clear manifestation of God's great and sole grace, and this in order that they might understand how they themselves are justified from their sins by the selfsame grace which made it so that the man Christ had no power to sin? Thus indeed the angel hailed his mother when announcing to her the future birth: "Hail," he said, "full of grace." And shortly thereafter, "You have found favor with God." And this was said of her, that she was full of grace, since she was to be mother of her Lord, indeed the Lord of all. Yet, concerning Christ himself, when the Evangelist John said, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," he added, "and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth." When he said, "The Word was made flesh," this means, "Full of grace." When he also said, "The glory of the only begotten of the Father," this means, "Full of truth." Indeed it was Truth himself, God's only begotten Son--and, again, this not by grace but by nature--who, by grace, assumed human nature into such a personal unity that he himself became the Son of Man as well.
Enchiridion, Chapter 36
Wherefore, since a thing may be "born" of something else, yet not in the fashion of a "son," and conversely, since not everyone who is called son is born of him whose son he is called--this is the very mode in which Christ was "born" of the Holy Spirit (yet not as a son), and of the Virgin Mary as a son--this suggests to us the grace of God by which a certain human person, no merit whatever preceding, at the very outset of his existence, was joined to the Word of God in such a unity of person that the selfsame one who is Son of Man should be Son of God, and the one who is Son of God should be Son of Man. Thus, in his assumption of human nature, grace came to be natural to that nature, allowing no power to sin. This is why grace is signified by the Holy Spirit, because he himself is so perfectly God that he is also called God's Gift.
Enchiridion, Chapter 40
He himself is therefore sin as we ourselves are righteousness--not our own but God's, not in ourselves but in him. Just as he was sin--not his own but ours, rooted not in himself but in us--so he showed forth through the likeness of sinful flesh, in which he was crucified, that since sin was not in him he could then, so to say, die to sin by dying in the flesh, which was "the likeness of sin." And since he had never lived in the old manner of sinning, he might, in his resurrection, signify the new life which is ours, which is springing to life anew from the old death in which we had been dead to sin.
This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is celebrated among us. All who attain to this grace die thereby to sin--as he himself is said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh, that is, "in the likeness of sin"--and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body.
For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man--since no one should be barred from baptism--just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth.
Enchiridion, Chapters 41-43
The first man brought sin into the world, whereas this One took away not only that one sin but also all the others which he found added to it. Hence, the apostle says, "And the gift of grace is not like the effect of the one that sinned: for the judgment on that one trespass was condemnation; but the gift of grace is for many offenses, and brings justification." Now it is clear that the one sin originally inherited, even if it were the only one involved, makes men liable to condemnation. Yet grace justifies a man for many offenses, both the sin which he originally inherited in common with all the others and also the multitude of sins which he has committed on his own.
However, when he the apostle says, shortly after, "Therefore, as the offense of one man led all men to condemnation, so also the righteousness of one man leads all men to the life of justification," he indicates sufficiently that everyone born of Adam is subject to damnation, and no one, unless reborn of Christ, is free from such a damnation.
And after this discussion of punishment through one man and grace through the Other, as he deemed sufficient for that part of the epistle, the apostle passes on to speak of the great mystery of holy baptism in the cross of Christ, and to do this so that we may understand nothing other in the baptism of Christ than the likeness of the death of Christ. The death of Christ crucified is nothing other than the likeness of the forgiveness of sins--so that in the very same sense in which the death is real, so also is the forgiveness of our sins real, and in the same sense in which his resurrection is real, so also in us is there authentic justification.
Enchiridion, Chapters 50-52
It may be discovered or remain hidden whether some of the faithful are sooner or later to be saved by a sort of purgatorial fire, in proportion as they have loved the goods that perish, and in proportion to their attachment to them. However, this does not apply to those of whom it was said, "They shall not possess the Kingdom of God," unless their crimes are remitted through due repentance. I say "due repentance" to signify that they must not be barren of almsgiving, on which divine Scripture lays so much stress that our Lord tells us in advance that, on the bare basis of fruitfulness in alms, he will impute merit to those on his right hand; and, on the same basis of unfruitfulness, demerit to those on his left--when he shall say to the former, "Come, blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom," but to the latter, "Depart into everlasting fire."
We must beware, however, lest anyone suppose that unspeakable crimes such as they commit who "will not possess the Kingdom of God" can be perpetrated daily and then daily redeemed by almsgiving. Of course, life must be changed for the better, and alms should be offered as propitiation to God for our past sins. But he is not somehow to be bought off, as if we always had a license to commit crimes with impunity. For, "he has given no man a license to sin"--although, in his mercy, he does blot out sins already committed, if due satisfaction for them is not neglected.
For the passing and trivial sins of every day, from which no life is free, the everyday prayer of the faithful makes satisfaction. For they can say, "Our Father who art in heaven," who have already been reborn to such a Father "by water and the Spirit." This prayer completely blots out our minor and everyday sins. It also blots out those sins which once made the life of the faithful wicked, but from which, now that they have changed for the better by repentance, they have departed. The condition of this is that just as they truly say, "Forgive us our debts" (since there is no lack of debts to be forgiven), so also they truly say, "As we forgive our debtors"; that is, if what is said is also done. For to forgive a man who seeks forgiveness is indeed to give alms.
Enchiridion, Chapters 69-71
Some might wonder if these represent the final teaching of Gus. “On the Predestination of the Saints” and “The Gift of Perseverance”, the very last works of Gus, were written in his final days. Those writings and their contradictory paradoxes, evidencing no clear remorse for earlier teachings but revealing a confused and frustrated man, will be evaluated in the next study on Augustine’s “Partial Determinism”. It is clear that when Gus finally confronted the reality of what Paul actually taught regarding the grace of God, he did not know where to go from there. But clear evidence of a change in teaching on grace and justification is not apparent in his final writings.
The promotion of Augustine as orthodox in soteriology for centuries has finally led to the current obsession in Reformed circles with Neo-Paulinist theology (including the 'Federal Vision' version of covenant theology). There is not a direct identification of all aspects of these systems with Gus, since the proponents distance themselves from Augustine's concern with individual guilt and salvation in deference to 'covenant community.' But these systems denigrate the New Testament doctrine of grace and justification and replace it with a justification and grace that focuses on human experience, whether individually or in community with others. There is an increasing emphasis that the divine decrees are unknowable; therefore assurance of salvation comes from 'tangible' realities within the 'covenant community' (water baptism, external church membership, eating Jesus, doing good works, and hearing the Word from bishops ordained by legitimate organizations). Justification and the grace of God received on the day of judgment is affirmed to be something entirely different from that contained in the Protestant doctrine of sola fide. The New Covenant is proposed to be 'conditional' just like the Old, albeit with a different set of obligatory laws. As with Gus, neo-Paulinism teaches that grace and justification once assured through faith can be lost through neglect of 'righteous living in community'. For a comprehensive evaluation of Neo-Pauline theology and exposure of its historical assumptions and errors, I strongly recommend the two-volume set Justification and Variegated Nomism(Baker Academic, 2001, editors D.A. Carson, Peter T. O'Brien, Mark A. Seifrid).
It would be a mistake to consider these things without contemplating the enormous dependence on Augustine on philosophy and psychology for his views.
It was in the spheres of psychology and metaphysics that the dominion of Augustine was most complete. He aspired to know nothing, he tells us, but God and the soul; but these he strove with all his might to know altogether. His characteristic mark as a thinker was the inward gaze; the realities of consciousness were the primary objectsof his contemplation; and from them he took his starting point for reflection on the world. Antiquity supplies no second to him in the breadth and acuteness of his psychological observation. And in his establishment of “immediate certainty of inner experience,” as Windelband calls it (A History of Philosophy, pp. 264, 270, 276), in “the controlling central position of philosophic thought” he transcended his times and became “one of the founders of modern thought.” If he may truly be said to have derived from Plato and Plotinus, in a far truer sense he stood above his Neo-Platonic teachers, and of his lineage have come Descartes and Malebranche and all that has proceeded from the movements of thought inagurated by them.Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, pp. 125,126
By what evidence does Gus rise above his Neo-Platonic teachers in this regard? I would propose that this question remains unanswered by Warfield. Do Reformed teachers honestly believe that Augustine perpetuated no false teachingsas a result of his excessive schooling in philosophy and admiration of Plotinus, ones that now have been perpetuated for over 1½ millennia? Many critics have labeled him the theologian of the Western introspective conscience, noting the absence of a ‘conscience obsession’ in Paul and the biblical authors (notably Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56 No. 3, Jul. 1963, pp. 199-215). As already stated, Neo-Paulinist scholars are unreliable as theologians in the estimation of the present writer and cannot be recommended. The ‘covenant community’ ethic (whether named Jewish, Christian, or anything else) of Neo-Paulinism, with its ‘Don’t be selfish and worry about individual salvation’ emphasis, does nothing whatsoever to appease guilt! Nonetheless, it is true that obsession with a guilty conscience and the deeds that might kill it is entirely foreign to the message of the Bible. The gospel is a message of deliverance from all guilt once for all time through confidence in the finished work of Christ, in community (Heb. 10:35-39)!
The next study will focus on Augusine's doctrine of Partial Determinism, as grounded in the two-sphere predestinarian philosophy of Plotinus. We will see that Augusine finally moved away from Plotinus toward a full determinism late in life, however, he was never fully liberated by the gospel predestination of the New Testament. Predestination apart from the apostolic message of grace and justification, residing solely in Christ's person and work, assured to the elect by the gift of faith alone, falls short of the true gospel.
Robert R. Higby