…if I do not wish to believe those examples cited by them, how would they convince me? Is it not in the Holy Scriptures, where they are read with such clarity that whoever receives this literature in faith cannot but confess those things to be most true? (Chapter 13)
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Augustine's On the Unity of the Church
Some of my first posts on this blog were about how closely Augustine’s beliefs regarding soteriology and Scripture lined up with contemporary Protestantism. I don’t remember why I was so interested in Augustine. It may have been because I used to discuss with RC’s on facebook pretty regularly, and you don't get very far in such discussions before hearing about the early church.
In any case, the latter post contained some quotes from Augustine’s “On the Unity of the Church,” which I recall had unfortunately (given what he seemed to argue in it) not yet been translated. At least, I could not find one online. Recently, however, I was notified that William Webster had posted both English and Latin versions of this treatise. So I decided to revisit my old post on Augustine's doctrine of Scripture to see if its thesis - particularly, that Augustine believed Scripture to be supremely authoritative, perspicuous, and the sufficient rule of faith - held up in light of Webster's translation. The categorization of the following quotes are pretty loose, as several could be included in other categories, but I think the result is clear.
Scripture as Supremely Authoritative
But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case. (Chapter 3)
I do not wish the holy Church to be founded on human evidence, but on divine oracles. (Chapter 3)
So that I not mention those Gentiles, who after the time of the apostles believed and came to the Church, but only those whom we find in the sacred literature (the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles and in the Apocalypse of John) which we both embrace and to which we both are subject, let them speak to us how they perished in the African dissension, for we received this not from the councils of arguing bishops, not from disputations, not from legal or municipal acts, but from holy canonical literature. (Chapter 12)
Does it please you now if we bring forth this last charge of yours into our midst? "See," they say, "you adhere to the Church. How do we take it up if we would want to go over to you?" Briefly I answer, "You take it up in the same way as that Church gathers, as we find in the holy canonical books." (Chapter 21)
Scripture as Perspicuous
This I preach and promise, that we prize whatever is open and clear. If these things were not found in Holy Scripture, there would be no way by which things closed might be opened and obscure things clarified. (Chapter 5)
What do they say to this, they who so arrogantly call themselves Christians and so openly contradict Christ. We hold to this Church, we admit no human accusations against those divine utterances. It moves us greatly that our Lord, whom not to believe is sacrilegious and impious, in his last words spoken on earth, left this last saving evidence of the primitive church. For having said these things, he soon ascended into heaven. He wished to fortify our ears against those whom he had predicted in earlier times would rise up and say Look, here is the Christ. Look, there he is (Mt. 24:23). He warned us not to believe them. Nor is there any excuse for us if we believe them against the voice of our shepherd that is so clear, so open, so obvious that no one whether insensible or slow witted could say, "I didn't understand," for who wouldn't understand Thus it is fitting that the Christ suffer and rise on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). Who wouldn't understand You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. When he had said this he was lifted up and a cloud took him up and they saw him going into heaven (Acts 1:8-10). What is this I ask? When these last words are heard of a dying man who would go among the dead, no one says he lied, and he is judged an impious heretic who perchance makes light of them. So how do we flee the wrath of God if, either not believing or belittling, we spurn the last words of the only son of God, our Lord and savior, who would go to heaven and from there watch who neglects these words and who observes them and then would come to judge concerning all of them. I have the most obvious voice of my shepherd commending the Church to me without any ambiguity. I will blame myself if I should be led astray or wander from his flock which is the Church itself, through the words of men when he has especially warned me, saying, those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). See, his voice is clear and open. Having heard it, who does not follow him? How will he dare to say he is his sheep? No one tells me "O, what does Donatus say, what does Parmenianus say, or Pontius or any of them? No one agrees with the catholic bishops if they are anywhere by chance mistaken in holding any opinion contrary against the canonical Scriptures of God. But if they maintain the bond of unity and love and they fall into error, it will be done to them what the Apostle says if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you (Phil. 3:15). But now those divine utterances about the universal Church are so obvious that the heretics cannot rant against them unless out of perversity of mind or blind rage. (Chapter 11)
Those who are my sheep, says the heavenly shepherd, hear my voice and follow me (John 10:27). His voice concerning the Church is not enigmatic. Whoever does not want to wander from his flock, hears it and follows it. His very faithful manager, a teacher of the Gentiles in truth and faith (1 Tim 2:7), because he himself [i.e. Jesus] speaks in him, says I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, because there is no other; unless some are confusing you and wanting to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let there be anathema upon him. As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let there be anathema upon him (Gal 1:6-9). (Chapter 12)
For this reason, if the evidence of the canonical Scriptures needs no interpreter, which commends the Church standing in communion with the whole world and you can find no such right for your separation in Africa established from the same books, you do not justly complain of persecution which the Church endures more gravely the more broadly it is spread and it bears all things in faith, hope, and love, not just such things which your Circumcellians and such other inflict on their members where they can but all scandals of various injustices abounding throughout the whole world, concerning which the Lord shouted woe to the world because of scandals (Mt. 18:7). (Chapter 20)
Now let this be enough; stop working with such texts. Everything of this type you have brought forward is either to our benefit, or that I might limit much of my own case, it is certain to whose benefit it is. But you willingly linger in obscurities, lest you be compelled to speak openly. Behold the Church. I ask, why are you passive? Behold the Church commended and announced, foretold and shown with so much obvious evidence from the Holy Scripture as we have heard, so have we seen (Ps. 48:8). Why do you delay how you might be gathered in? Why do you refuse to be thus gathered in, as the Church for which the one who cannot lie offers evidence gathers you in. Teach that which the canonical Scripture openly said that he who might be baptized among heretics was to be baptized in the catholic Church in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if you can’t teach this, teach to you own communion, that is to Donatus’ sect where you learned this, that some obvious and clear evidence is offered by the canonical Scriptures and I shall say that people should go over to you and that the heretics shouldn’t be gathered in any other way from how the church in which you are gathers them in, since it has been made clear by such evidence. Why do you rage, why are you disturbed? You do not find in the canonical Scriptures what we demand of you. What you are accustomed to say where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon (Cant. 1:7), you see what it is and how it does not benefit you. Do not then seek such things since even if the sect of Donatus were in northern regions which are opposite to the southern regions, he would say it was said of him Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great king (Ps. 48:2). Certainly the city of the great king is nothing if not the Church, and that doubtlessly means the Church rather than this where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon? But perhaps Marcion the heretic used that evidence who is said to have been from Pontus which is in the north. Again, if the sect of Donatus were in the west, he would say that this was said of him journey to him who ascends over the sun’s setting; his name is the Lord (Ps. 68:4). Perhaps he would say this is loftier to ascend over the setting sun than make it lie down at noon. These are mysterious, secret, symbolic; we beg of you something obvious that doesn’t need an interpreter.
And so I gather you in in the same way the offspring of Abraham gathers in in whom all nations shall gain blessing (Gen. 22:18). This would perhaps be mysterious, had Paul not revealed the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Thus I gather you in in the same way that that desolate woman gathers whose many children will be more than the children of her that is married (Is. 54:1), which would be mysterious had Paul not said that she is the Church, our mother, to whom it was said the Lord who redeemed you, he will be called the God of the whole earth (Is. 54:5); to whom it was said your land the whole world (Is. 62:4); just as that queen gathers, concerning whom it is said in the Psalms at your right hand stands the queen (Ps. 45:9) and to whom it is said sons are born to you in place of ancestors, you will make them princes in all the earth (Ps. 45:16). Moreover, that I not go on too long, I thus gather you in, just as the Church gathers through all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47), just as the Church gathers, which is a witness to Christ in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He gathers you in, who said this of the Church, who displays it with such words, lest anyone doubt about it. Thus, I gather you in, in the same way he gathers the wheat sown in the field which grew with the tares until the harvest; for they are the children of the kingdom, the field is the world, the harvest is the end of the age (Mt. 13:38-19). The Lord expounded it, it is the Gospel; these are the words of the Lord, they are clear. (Chapter 24).
On this account, dearest ones to whom I am writing this epistle, hold to that command of the shepherd with a very firm and faithful heart who laid down his life for his sheep and now glorified and exalted sits at the right hand of God the Father saying those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (Jn. 10:27). You hear his most obvious voice not only through his law and the prophets and psalms, but also through his own mouth commending his future Church and in reading you will see these things which he foretold in the way in which they followed in order in the Acts and the epistles of the apostles, which complete the canon of the divine Scriptures. This is not an obscure speech in which they might deceive you whom the Lord himself foretold would say here is the Christ. There he is. Look! He is in the wilderness (Mt. 24:23, 26), as if to show where there is no great crowd; look! He is in the inner rooms (Mt. 24:26), as if to show he is in the secret traditions and teachings. You have the Church spread everywhere and growing to the harvest; you have the city, of which he who founded it said, a city built on a hill cannot be hid (Mt. 5:14). This is therefore one which is well known not in some region of the world, but everywhere. Sometimes it suffers these passing storms even in its grain so that it is not recognized in certain places; yet it lives hidden there. Nor can the divine speech be deceived since it grows up to the harvest. (Chapter 24)
But you, supported by so much obvious evidence from the law, prophets, psalms, the Lord himself, and the apostles concerning the Church spread throughout the world, demand of them that they show some clear evidence from the canonical books out of Africa that pertains to Donatus’ sect. It cannot be found in any way as I have already said that the Church, as they say and which is not true, was foretold to perish so quickly from so many nations, with so much evidence so exaltedly and doubtlessly and it was silent concerning that Church which they want to be their own which, as they contend, was to remain until the end. Be mindful of what was said to that rich man when he was tormented in hell and he wanted a message to be sent to his brothers from the dead: they have, he said, Moses and the prophets (Lk. 16:29). And when he said they would not believe unless someone from the dead was sent to them: if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead (Lk. 16:31). Moses said that in the offspring of Abraham, all nations shall be blessed (Gen. 22:18); the prophets said you shall be called my delight and your land the entire world (Is. 62:4) and all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord (Ps. 22:27). They did not want to believe in these and so many other so obvious pronouncements demonstrating the Church. The Lord rose from the dead and said that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. Those who had not believed Moses and the prophets did not also believe the Lord rising from the dead; what remains unless that they gain the torments of that rich man? You who are fleeing these while there is still time before you depart from this life, remain constant in the divine utterances so that you are not disturbed in this life and after this life you deserve to receive what was promised to the offspring of Abraham. (Chapter 25)
Scripture as Sufficient
But if you shout or read aloud from some other place, we do not admit, believe, or receive your voice after we have heard the voice of our shepherd through the mouths of the prophets, through his own voice, and through the mouths of the evangelists so openly declared to us. (Chapter 12)
All such things then removed, let them demonstrate their Church, if they can, not in the speeches and murmurs of African, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the epistles of whatever debates, not in false signs and prodigies, since we are prepared and cautioned against them by the word of the Lord, but in the precept of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the psalms, in the utterances of the one shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, that is in all the canonical authority of the holy books, and not such that they might gather and cite things that are spoken obscurely or ambiguously or metaphorically which anyone might interpret according to his own opinion as he wishes. Such things cannot be properly understood and explained unless first those things that are said most openly are held with a strong faith. (Chapter 18)
Once these snares of delays have been laid aside let him show that the Church should be preserved in Africa alone with so many other nations lost or that it should be repaired and fulfilled among all nations from Africa. Let him show this that he not say, "it is true because I say this or because my colleague has said this or some colleagues of mine or our bishops or clergy or laity or it is true for this reason that Donatus or Pontius or somebody else has performed these or those miracles or that men pray to the memory of our dead or that these or those facts are relevant here or that our brother or sister has had some vision while awake or has dreamed some vision while asleep." Let these fictions of lying men or omens of treacherous spirits be removed. Or is it not true what is said, if some miracles of the heretics were performed we should be very cautious, because the Lord said that certain men would be deceitful who by performing some signs would deceive the elect, if that were possible. He adds vehemently, take note, I have told you beforehand (Mt 24:25). The Apostle also warns about this now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (1 Tim 4:1). Moreover, if anyone praying in memory of heretics is heard, not by merit of the location but by merit of his desire does he receive good or ill. Thus it is written the spirit of the Lord has filled the world (Wis 1:7) and a jealous ear hears all things (Wis 1:10). Many are heard by an angry God of whom the Apostle says God gave them up to the lust of their hearts (Rom 1:24) and to many a favorable God does not bestow what they wish that he might bestow what is useful. The Apostle said the same thing about the goad of his flesh, the angel of Satan, which he said was given to him to box him lest he become insolent from the greatness of his revelation three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me, and he said to me "My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Do we not read that some are heard by the Lord God on the peaks of the mountains of Judea, which heights nevertheless were displeasing to God so that the kings who didn't overturn them were found with fault and those who overturned them were praised? From this it is understood that the condition of the petitioner is stronger than the place of the petition. Concerning false visions let them read what was written that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of the light (2 Cor 11:14) and that dreams have deceived many (Sir. 34:7). Let them also hear what the pagans say was miraculously done or seen from their temples and yet the gods of the peoples are demons but the Lord made the heavens (Ps 96:5). Therefore, many are heard and in many ways, not just catholic Christians but also pagans and Jews and heretics given over to various errors and superstitions. They are however heard either by deceiving spirits who nevertheless do nothing unless they are allowed, God judging ineffably from on high what should be bestowed to each person, whether by God himself either for the punishment of wickedness or for the consolation of misery or for a warning to seek eternal salvation. No one arrives at that salvation and eternal life unless he have Christ as his head. No one can have Christ as his head unless he be in his body, which is the Church, which we ought to acknowledge just as the head itself in the Holy canonical Scriptures, and not seek in the various murmurs, opinions, deeds, words, and visions of men.
Let no one who is prepared to respond to me therefore set this before me that I don't say that I should be believed that the communion of Donatus is not the Church of Christ on this account, that certain men who were bishops among them were convicted by ecclesiastical, municipal, and judicial decrees of having given divine instruments over to the flames, or that in the judgment of the bishops, which they sought from the emperor, they did not maintain their case or that appealing to the emperor himself they even deserved a sentence from him against them or that there are such leaders of the Circumcellians among them, or that the Circumecellians commit such evil, or that there are those among them who cast themselves from precipices or sacrifice others to be consumed in flames whom they themselves burned or they force their slaughter upon unwilling men through terror and they seek so many voluntary and insane deaths so that they will be loved by people or that these drunken flocks of vagabonds mixed with wantonness bury themselves day and night in wine at their tombs and annihilate themselves in disgrace. May this crowd be the chaff and not judge the grain if they adhere to the Church. But they may not show whether they adhere to the Church unless from the canonical books of the divine Scriptures since we do not say that it should be believed of us that we are in the Church of Christ on this account that Optatus of Milevis or Ambrose of Milan or countless other bishops in communion with us commended that Church to which we adhere or that this Church was preached by the councils of our colleagues or that throughout the whole world, in the holy places that our communion frequents, so many miracles either of answered prayers or of healings are performed that the bodies of martyrs that lay hidden for so many years were revealed to Ambrose because they could hear many petitioners and a man blind for many years who was well known in the city of Milan received his sight at those bodies or since this one saw in a dream and that one heard in an ecstasy either that he should not go to Donatus' sect or that he should abandon Donatus' sect. Whatever such things happened in the catholic Church should therefore be approved of. Because they happen in the catholic Church, the Church is not therefore shown to be catholic, just because these things happen in it. The Lord Jesus himself, when he rose from the dead, offered his body to be seen by the eyes of his disciples and touched with their hands in case they nevertheless think they experienced some trick. He considered them more strengthened by the evidence of the law, the prophets, and the psalms, showing what was predicted earlier was fulfilled in him. So he commends his Church, saying that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. He asserted that this was written in the law, the prophets, and the psalms; we adhere to this commended by his own mouth. This is the evidence of our case, this the foundation, this the support. (Chapter 19)
…it suffices that we adhere to this Church which is shown by the most obvious evidence of Holy and canonical Scripture. (Chapter 22)
Why should I bring forth more things then? Whoever would think to respond to this epistle, let him search through the Scriptures and either let him bring forth clear evidence concerning Africa in which alone or from which alone Donatus’ sect is (which he cannot bring forth, since Scripture cannot be opposed to these clear citations we have brought forth) or if he seeks credulous followers of his suspicions or charges or slanders and he wishes to lead them to another gospel (but there is no other) and preach to us one other than what we have received, even if he were an angel from heaven, there would have been an anathema, since the devil, who also fell from heaven because he did not stand in the truth preached to man something other than what he had received from the Lord God, if there were an anathema upon man, these first parents of our flesh would not have fallen into the punishment of death nor would they have departed from that place of happiness. (Chapter 24)