Thursday, February 22, 2007

Augustine: Rome Has Spoken, The Matter Is Settled

This little tidbit caught my attention on a discussion board. It’s an explanation of the Augustine quote, Roma locuta, causa finita ("Rome has spoken, the matter is settled"). Roman Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz, S.J., addressed this quote in, Papal Primacy (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996, p. 34-35). Schatz, received his doctorate at Rome's Gregorian University in 1974 and since 1975 has taught Church history at the St. Georgen School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany. Schatz is not fringe Catholic scholar. He believes in the development of the papacy.

“In the case of North Africa it is interesting to note the attitude of a self-confident and organizationally intact Church toward Rome. The saying of Bishop Augustine of Hippo (396-430), Roma locuta, causa finita ("Rome has spoken, the matter is settled") was quoted repeatedly. However, the quotation is really a bold reshaping of the words of that Church Father taken quite out of context.

Concretely the issue was the teaching of Pelagius, an ascetic from Britain who lived in Rome. Pelagius took a stand against permissive and minimalist Christianity that shrank from the moral seriousness of Christian discipleship and used human incapacity and trust in grace alone to excuse personal sloth. He therefore emphasized an ethical Christianity of works and moral challenge for which grace was primarily an incentive to action; human beings remain capable of choosing between good and evil by their own power. This teaching was condemned by two North African councils in Carthage and Mileve in 416. But since Pelagius lived in Rome, and Rome was the center of the Pelagian movement, it seemed appropriate to inform Pope Innocent I of the decision. Ultimately, the struggle against Pelagianism could only be carried on with the cooperation of Rome. The Pope finally responded in 417, accepting the decisions of the two councils. Augustine then wrote: "In this matter, two councils have already sent letters to the apostolic see, and from thence rescripts have come back. the matter is settled (causa finita est); if only the heresy would cease!"

Both the context of this statement and its continuity with the rest of Augustine's thought permit no interpretation other than that Rome's verdict alone is not decisive; rather, it disposes of all doubt after all that has preceded it. This is because there remains no other ecclesiastical authority of any consequence to which the Pelagians can appeal, and in particular the very authority from which they could most readily have expected a favorable decision, namely Rome, has clearly ruled against them!

In general, Augustine attributes a relatively substantial weight of authority to the Roman church in questions of faith but does not consider that it has a superior teaching office. It has auctoritas, but not potestas over the Church in North Africa. The very councils mentioned above give a clear picture of the way the Africans, including Augustine, regarded Rome's teaching authority. They sent their records to Rome not to obtain formal confirmation, but because they acknowledged that the Roman church, with its tradition, had a greated auctoritas in matters of faith; therefore they desired to have a Roman decision united with their own. This is especially obvious in a letter from Augustine writing for five bishops; we are not, he said, pouring our little trickle back into your ample fountain to increase it, but. . .we wish to be reassured by you that this trickle of ours, however scant, flows from the same fountainhead as your abundant stream, and we desire the consolation of your writings, drawn from our common share of the one grace. Every word of this should be noted: The Roman church is not the source of the African Church, for both, in parallel streams, flow from the river of the same tradition, even though the river is fuller in the Roman church. Rome thus has a relatively greater and more weighty authority, and that is why the African Church seeks a verdict from Rome.”


Turretinfan said...

Dear James,

The Catholic deception is worse than you thought.

In fact, Augustine did not say: "Rome has spoken, the matter is settled."

I brought this up on a discussion board recently, though apparently not on the same one that you frequent.

Here is a link:

It is interesting how widespread Roman Catholic disinformation is.


Oddball Pastor said...

I have been seeing this alleged quote misused for years. Even when the truth is made known about the origin of the phrase, most will simply say that it still represents Augustine's thought on Rome.

But that isn't true either.

Why will they not simply admit the error?

L P Cruz said...

I suspect it is fanaticism.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm? Does anyone have the original manuscripts to substantiate their claim? I also want to know if anyone has the original manuscripts of the New Testament as well. I would like to see them to make sure what we have is now correct. Why should anyone listen to James anyway? What proof does he have that saint Augustine is being misinterpreted? My guess is he has none.