Friday, October 01, 2010

Florovsky on Augustine Moved by the Authority of the Catholic Church

"For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."1

Many readers of this blog both recognize this quotation from Augustine and know how it is often used to claim that the influential church father held to ecclesiastical beliefs similar to modern Roman Catholicism. This latter assertion has been refuted in a variety of contexts (including three contexts discussed here at this blog), so I have no intention of covering old ground. What I would like to do is provide corroboration from Eastern Orthodox scholar Georges Florovsky (emphasis original):

The phrase must be read in its context. First of all, St. Augustine did not utter this sentence on his own behalf. He spoke of the attitude which a simple believer had to take, when confronted with the heretical claim for authority. In this situation it was proper for a simple believer to appeal to the authority of the Church, from which, and in which, he had received the Gospel itself: ipsi Evangelio catholicis praedicantibus credidi. [I believed the Gospel itself, being instructed by catholic preachers]. The Gospel and the preaching of the Catholica belong together. St. Augustine had no intention "to subordinate" the Gospel to the Church. He only wanted to emphasize that "Gospel" is actually received always in the context of Church's catholic preaching and simply cannot be separated from the Church. Only in this context it can be assessed and properly understood. Indeed, the witness of the Scripture is ultimately "self-evident," but only for the "faithful," for those who have achieved a certain "spiritual" maturity, — and this is only possible within the Church. He opposed this teaching and preaching auctoritas of the Church Catholic to the pretentious vagaries of Manichean exegesis. The Gospel did not belong to the Manicheans. Catholicae Ecclesiae auctoritas [the authority of the Catholic Church] was not an independent source of faith. But it was the indispensable principle of sound interpretation. Actually, the sentence could be converted: one should not believe the Church, unless one was moved by the Gospel. The relationship is strictly reciprocal.2

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1. Against the Epistle of Manichaeus, ch 5.

2. Fr. Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View
(Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987). This excerpt may also be found online.