Saturday, September 29, 2007

Luther's Response To, "I Would Not Believe The Gospel Without The Authority of Rome"

I was listening to a Catholic Answers broadcast and heard Tim Staples repeat the oft-quoted words of Augustine, "I would not believe the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so." I thought about how interesting it was that the same material used today to defend sola ecclesia was used during the time of the Reformation as well.

I would like to provide the answers given by both Luther and Calvin. First, is Luther's answer:

"St Augustine is quoted as having written in the book against the Letter of the Manicheans, "I would not believe the Gospel if I did not believe the Church." Here you see we are to believe the Church more than the Gospel.

I answer: Even if Augustine had used those words, who gave him authority, that we must believe what he says? What Scripture does he quote to prove the statement? What if he erred here, as we know that he frequently did, as did all the fathers? Should one single sentence of Augustine be so mighty as to refute all the texts quoted above [Luther had quoted a variety of texts proving the supreme authority of Scripture]? That is not what God wills; St. Augustine must yield to them.

Further, if that were St. Augustine's meaning he would contradict himself; for in very many places he exalts the HoIy Scriptures above the opinions of all teachers, above the decrees of all councils and churches, and will have men judge of him and of the teachings of all men according to the Scriptures. Why then do the faithful shepherds pass by those sayings of St. Augustine, plain and clear as they are, and light on this lonely one, which is so obscure and sounds so unlike Augustine as we know him from all his writings? It can only be because they want to bolster up their tyranny with idle, empty words.

Furthermore, they are deceivers, in that they not only ascribe to St. Augustine an opinion he did not hold, but they also falsify and pervert his words. For St. Augustine's words really are 'I would not have believed the Gospel if the authority of the whole Church had not moved me.'

Augustine speaks of the whole Church, and says that throughout the world it with one consent preaches the Gospel and not the Letter of the Manicheans; and this unanimous authority of the Church moves him to consider it the true Gospel. But our tyrants apply this name of the Church to themselves, as if the laymen and the common people were not also Christians. And what they teach they want men to consider as the teaching of the Christian Church, although, they are a minority, and we, who are universal Christendom, should also be consulted about what is to be taught in the name of universal Christendom. See, so cleverly do they quote the words of St. Augustine: what he says of the Church throughout all the world, they would have us understand of the Roman See.

But how does it follow from this saying that the doctrines of men are also to be observed? What doctrine of men has ever been devised that has been accepted and preached by all of the universal Church throughout the world? Not one; the Gospel alone is accepted by all Christians everywhere.

But then we must not understand St. Augustine to say that he would not believe the Gospel unless he were moved thereto by the authority of the whole Church. For that were false and unchristian. Every man must believe only because it is God's Word, and because he in convinced in his heart that it is true, although an, angel from heaven and all the world preached the contrary. His meaning is rather, as he himself says, that he finds the Gospel nowhere except in the Church, and that this external proof can be given heretics that their doctrine is not right, but that that is right which all the world has with one accord accepted. For the eunuch in Acts viii, 37, believed on the Gospel as preached by Philip, although he did not know whether many or few believed on it. So also Abraham believed the promise of God all by himself, when no man knew of it, Romans iv, 18. And Mary, Luke i, 38, believed the message of Gabriel by herself, and there was no one on earth who believed with her. In this way Augustine also had to believe, and all the saints, and we too, every one for himself alone.

For this reason St. Augustine's words cannot bear the interpretation they put upon them; but they must be understood of the external proof of faith, by which heretics are refuted and the weak strengthened in faith, when they see that all the world preaches and regards as Gospel that which they believe. And if this meaning cannot be found in St. Augustine's words; for they are contrary to the Scriptures and all to experience if they have that other meaning."

Source: Martin Luther, That Doctrines of Men Are to be Rejected Together With A Reply to Texts Quoted in Defence of the Doctrines of Men (1522), Works of Martin Luther Volume II (The Philadelphia Edition), Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1943, pp. 451-453.

Also, in a Tabletalk entry Luther is reported to have said the following:

Belief in the Gospel Because of the Church? (April 6, 1539)

“In the passage, ‘I would not believe the gospel unless the authority of the church urged me to,’ Augustine never wished to embrace the opinion of the papists. He didn’t want to write what should be believed but what should be judged, as another passage indicates, ‘I do not wish you to believe my writings more than the Holy Scripture.’ But the sophists poked fun at Paul for having written obscurely and confusedly. Ah, dear God, this treasure of the Holy Scriptures belongs only to a contrite heart and a humble and God-fearing spirit. The ungodly must be exposed and their boasting put down. This is what Stephen did in Acts 7 [:2–53], where he spoke against the place of Jerusalem, against the law, against the prosperous people, against a demanding God. Truly it was an excellent and sharp sermon! In the Roman church today the glory of the church is not at all comparable with the glory of Jerusalem and of the people Israel.”

Source: LW 54:344

....Continued sometime next week: Calvin's answer...


orthodox said...

Odd how Luther turns Augustine's statement on its head.

Let's read more Augustine:

"Entreat of God to set you free from the evil of error; if your heart be set on a happy life. And this will take place the more easily, if you obey with a willing mind His commands, which He hath willed should be confirmed by so great authority of the catholic Church. " ("On the profit of believing")

And so we see for Augustine, the church is not merely defined by who believes the gospel (Donatists anyone??), but the church itself has an authority to confirm what God's commands actually are.

"But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.5 So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichaeus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you; — If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichaeus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel; — Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichaeus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason? It is therefore fairer and safer by far for me, having in one instance put faith in the Catholics, not to go over to you, till, instead of bidding me believe, you make me understand something in the clearest and most open manner. To convince me, then, you must put aside the gospel. If you keep to the gospel, I will keep to those who commanded me to believe the gospel; and, in obedience to them, I will not believe you at all. But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichaeus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichaeus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you. But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichaeus, I will believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars. But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too. For the names of the apostles, as there recorded,6 do not include the name of Manichaeus. And who the successor of Christ’s betrayer was we read in the Acts of the Apostles;7 which book I must needs believe if I believe the gospel, since both writings alike Catholic authority commends to me. The same book contains the well-known narrative of the calling and apostleship of Paul.8 Read me now, if you can, in the gospel where Manichaeus is called an apostle, or in any other book in which I have professed to believe."

It's hard to believe Luther even read Augustine in context here. It's basically an argument about apostolic succession.

Notice where Augustine says that he wouldn't even contemplate Manichaeus' teaching on the basis of an argument from the gospels, because the only reason he believes the gospels is because of the catholics. In other words, Augustine recognizes the epistemological contradiction in following these gospel books purely on their own to contradict the church who is the only authority in the world given to say that this gospel is the true one, and all the others false gospels. Augustine recognizes that to give up recognizing that authority, all the other gospels, whether gnostic or by other heretical groups would have equal claims. So to entertain an argument from the gospels by an heretical group is equally as nonsense.

"Cyprian indeed, now that the corruptible body no longer presseth down the soul, nor the earthly tabernacle presseth down the mind that museth upon many things,1 sees with greater clearness that truth to which his charity made him deserving to attain. May he therefore help us by his prayers, while we labor in the mortality of the flesh as in a darksome cloud, that if the Lord so grant it, we may imitate so far as we can the good that was in him. But if he thought otherwise than right on any point, and persuaded certain of his brethren and colleagues to entertain his views in a matter which he now sees clearly through the revelation of Him whom he loved, let us, who are far inferior to his merits, yet following, as our weakness will allow, the authority of the Catholic Church of which he was himself a conspicuous and most noble member, strive our utmost against heretics and schismatics, seeing that they, being cut off from the unity which he maintained, and barren of the love with which he was fruitful, and fallen away from the humility in which he stood, are disavowed and condemned the more by him, in proportion as he knows that they wish to search out his writings for purposes of treachery, and are unwilling to imitate what he did for the maintainance of peace" - Against the Manachaens

Here Augustine puts unity in the catholic church as a more noble and humble state than even being in the truth. Those "cut off from the unity" of the church are to be condemned and Cyprian to be praised regardless of whether Cyprian taught error and schismatics did or not. The reason is Cyprian was in the catholic church.

"In what class, then, do we place baptized infants but amongst believers, as the authority of the catholic Church everywhere asserts? They belong, therefore, among those who have believed; for this is obtained for them by virtue of the sacrament and the answer of their sponsors." Augustine "on the baptism of infants".

Augustine here justifies his teaching, not on the authority of scripture, but on the authority of "the catholic church everywhere".

Read Augustine in his context and know that Luther didn't know what he was talking about as far as what Augustine taught. Of course, the reason is clear: Luther was a modern day Manichaeus, asking us to believe him over the catholic church, and he knew or should have known that Augustine's own words condemned him.

"But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichaeus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. "

Iohannes said...

Augustine's words were:

Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas. (PL 42:176)

The verbs in both protasis and apodosis are imperfect subjunctives. In classical Latin this is the normal syntax of a contrary to fact present condition. The translation would then be:

"I would not believe the gospel unless the authority of the Catholic church moved me."

Historically, many Protestant scholars have argued that Augustine substitutes the imperfect here for the pluperfect, which would make the statement correspond in meaning to a past contrary to fact condition. The translation in that case would be:

"I would not have believed the gospel unless the authority of the Catholic church (had) moved me."

Warfield was critical of this reading. See his article on Augustine's Doctrine of Knowledge and Authority in the Princeton Theological Review (Oct. 1907). He said that "It is a counsel of despair, for example, to represent Augustine as employing--'in accordance with the usage of the African dialect'--the imperfect in a pluperfect sense."

Whether Warfield is right, I don't know. In the bit of Augustine's Latin that I have read, I do remember noticing the imperfect being used where the pluperfect would be expected. But Warfield knew far more about Latin and about Augustine than I do.

Saint and Sinner said...

Actually, Martin Luther was right. Augustine explicitly denied the infallibility of any council:

“…and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; ***and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed***, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” (Emphasis mine)
-Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3

RC's and EO's like to quote fathers such as Augustine, but it is frequently out of context or commits the fallacy of anachronism. This frequently happens when they use sources such as Jurgens.

Early church scholars on both sides have recognized that Augustine held that the only **infallible** authority for the post-apostolic Church was Scripture:

“From his first writings onward, St. Augustine was clearly and fully convinced of the divine authority of Holy Writ, and recognized no authority above it. In his famous discussion with Jerome he observed that Scripture must be placed on the highest pinnacle of authority.”
-A.D.R. Pohlman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), p.63.

“The Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine above all, themselves practiced that devotion derived from Scripture, whose ideal the Protestants steadily upheld; they hardly knew any other. No doubt they were much more careful than many Protestants not to isolate the Word of God in its settled form of Scripture from its living form in the Church, particularly in the liturgy. But, this reserve apart…they were no less enthusiastic, or insistent, or formal, in recommending this use of Scripture and in actually promoting it. Particularly from St. John Chrysostom, one might assemble exhortations and injunctions couched in the most forcible terms; they have often been recalled by those Protestants, from the sixteenth century onwards, the best grounded in Christian antiquity. It would be impossible to find, even among Protestants, statements more sweeping than those in which St. Jerome abounds: Ignoratio scripturarum, ignoratio Christi is doubtless the most lapidary, but not necessarily the most explicit. What is more, in this case just as when the authority of Scripture is viewed as the foundation of theology, the constant practice of the Church, in the Middle Ages as well as in the patristic times, is a more eloquent witness than all the doctors…For them, it was not simply one source among others, but the source par excellence, in a sense the only one.”
-Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964), pp.132-133. Translated by A.V. Littledale. First published by Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1954.

“…it is right to insist that this narrow ‘biblicism’ is by no means to be confused with the affirmation that the Bible, and in one sense the Bible alone, is the ‘Word of God’ more directly and fully than any of its other expressions, since it alone is so inspired by God as to have him for its author. In making their own assertion, and giving it the vigour and emphasis so characteristic of their doctrine, the Protestant reformers did not go beyond the unanimous verdict of Judaism on the Old Testament, once constituted, and of the Fathers and theologians on the Bible as a whole. The cautious reservations introduced by modern Catholic writers, as a result of the controversies of the sixteenth century, cannot disguise the fact that the Protestants, in the positive statements we refer to, say no more than the unanimous ecclesiastical tradition…”
-Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964), p.129. Translated by A.V. Littledale. First published by Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1954.

“As a priest, a bishop, and a Christian intellectual, Augustine was convinced that the Bible was the “foundation” of all religious teachings…Wherever the Bible is unclear, nothing definite can be asserted, though of course Augustine believed deeply that one might do one’s utmost to make the meaning of the text as clear as possible.”
-Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), p.63.

Carrie said...

Since we are throwing out Augustine quotes...

"God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible." -Augustine, Exp on Psalm 89

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is a very substantial conversation.

orthodox said...

S&S: Early church scholars on both sides have recognized that Augustine held that the only **infallible** authority for the post-apostolic Church was Scripture:

Your quote doesn't prove anything. If you read through Augustine, the term "plenary council" can refer to any largish council, such as one with all the African bishops. It doesn't necessarily mean a universal council.

"For, in the next place, that I may not seem to rest on mere human arguments, — since there is so much obscurity in this question, that in earlier ages of the Church, before the schism of Donatus, it has caused men of great weight, and even our fathers, the bishops, whose hearts were full of charity, so to dispute and doubt among themselves, saving always the peace of the Church, that the several statutes of their Councils in their different districts long varied from each other, till at length the most wholesome opinion was established, to the removal of ALL DOUBTS, by a plenary Council of the WHOLE WORLD" - On Baptism, Against the Donatists

It seems to me that you are the one committing anachronism, if anyone. If an authority is able to state something removing ALL DOUBT, then it was infallible, and your thesis has failed, no matter how many talking heads you want to quote. Augustine distinguishes plenary councils of Africa with ecumenical plenary councils, which can remove all doubt on a question.

e i e said...

" “In the passage, ‘I would not believe the gospel unless the authority of the church urged me to,’ Augustine never wished to embrace the opinion of the papists."

EPrhaps SOMEONE ought to try actually reading Augustine himself rather than this propaganda-filtered pap. Augustine was as Catholic as they come. He believed in the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church, the authority of the Holy See of Peter, the authority of Sacred Scripture and the authority of Sacred Rradition.

The pop-apologetic claim that Augustine was some sort of pre-Protestantism Protestant is intellectual dishonesty of the first order. The credibility of those who advance such patently absurd revisions of history is utterly shot to bits, having the same weight as that of "Vatican supercomputer" claimants.

E i E

rooby-doo said...

"...and the authority of Sacred Rradition"

Row! Rat's Rintresting!