Part III - The Nicene Age: Lesson No. 18 - Augustinianism

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I . Augustine

Augustine (354-430) was the most influential leader of the Roman Catholic Church since apostolic times. His greatest achievement, and the source of his profound influence, was a doctrinal system which shaped and dominated Roman Catholic theology throughout the Middle Ages and heavily permeated Protestant theology also. Augustine's Views were greatly affected by his background. He was born in North Africa to a pagan father and a Catholic mother. The differences in the religious beliefs of his parents typify, and perhaps led to, the prolonged conflict he experienced between his ideals and his actual conduct. He felt two natures at work in himself; one-earthy and base, and the other spiritual and idealistic. The lower of his two natures held sway during the earlier part of his life, though he was never really happy to have it so. Pursuing an academic education and career, he finally wound up as a teacher of rhetoric in Milan, Italy in 384. During his early years he was influenced, but never wholly captivated, by various philosophies. After his return to North Africa Augustine's inner struggle finally culminated in his "conversion" in 386, though he was not baptized until the next year. He applied himself diligently and soon rose through the hierarchy to become bishop of Hippo, where he died in his old age during a siege by the Vandals.

Perhaps the most prominent of Augustine's teachings were those relating to sin and salvation. He believed that the whole human race, even infants suffered under the curse of Adamic depravity - that in Adam all sinned and fell into a hopelessly wicked state. God arbitrarily predestinated individuals, whose number was definitely fixed, to be saved. Augustine's conception of the grace by which these individuals were saved left no room for an exercise of free will on their part. According to Augustine, God's grace is irresistible. This grace infuses faith, love, and enabling-power into the heart and life of the individual. Faith, then, is a direct gift of God. These concepts were closely tied to the background of Augustine, who felt that he had been saved from the enslaving power of sin by the irresistible grace of God.

II. Pelagius

Augustine's concepts were seriously challenged by Pelagius, an Irish or British monk who came to Rome in 400 and North Africa in 410. Contrary to Augustine, he held to the idea of free will in men. "If I ought, I can," well expresses his thinking. Men did not inherit any original sin from Adam. Adam merely set a bad example for men to follow. Thus, men had the power not to sin, though they failed to use this power. Pelagius did not rule out grace but felt that it consisted in the remission of sins in baptism and obedience to divine teaching. Augustine led a vigorous battle against the views of Pelagius, who, although not without his strong and influential supporters, was condemned by various synods, councils, emperors, and popes. The Catholic Church and, later, the Protestant Churches embraced Augustine's views on sin and salvation.

III. The Bible

A. Sin The idea of a transfer of Adam's guilt, sinful nature, and the spiritual consequences thereof to all his posterity is the basis for the Augustinian conception of sin and salvation, and it is a grossly false idea.. Sin is not something men inherit but something they do by transgressing God's law (I Jn. 3:4). Infants cannot discern right from wrong (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:16), and Scripture speaks of them being in a state of innocence (Rom. 9:11; I Cor. 14:20; Matt. 19:14). As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that men will be held accountable only for their own sins (Ezek. 18:20; II Cor. 5:10). Men did not sin representatively in Adam, nor do they inherit his guilt or sinful nature. Adam's sin indirectly made all men sinful by introducing sin into the world and setting an example of sin (Rom. 5:12-21; cp. Matt. 5:32).

B. Free Will. There is no sense in speaking of someone having a will at all if that will is not his own - if it is not free. However, the Bible talks about man having a will of his own (Matt. 16:24; Jn. 7:17). Moreover, why should it be thought that Adam's first sin resulted in a loss of free will to him and his posterity? The doctrine of a lack of free will in man holds implications too terrible to concede. Such a doctrine (1) relieves man of his responsibility in sinning, (2) places the burden of sin upon God (because He did not give men the ability to overcome sin), and (3) makes God unjust for condemning men for committing sin which they had no choice but to commit.

C. Grace. The grace of God comes to all men in the same way, bringing them salvation (Tit. 2:11), but that grace may be resisted (Acts 7:51).

D. Predestination. The Bible does speak of Christians being predestinated insofar as their purposes and objectives are concerned (Rom. 8:29, 30; Eph. 1:5,11), but it does not speak of particular individuals being predestinated by God to become Christians and be saved while all others are left to go to hell. Such a concept of predestination makes God a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and is plainly contrary to His desire for the salvation of all men (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9).

IV. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)

(1) (T or F) Adam's sin resulted in a loss of free will to him and all men.

(2) (T or F) Men are capable of not sinning.

(3) (T or F) God's grace can be resisted.

(4) Did Adam's sin make all men sinners? If so, how?

(5) What are the implications of a lack of free will in men?

(6) Did God predestinate Christians? If so, how?

(7) How is Augustine's conception of predestination contrary to the Biblical portrayal of God?

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