Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jerome vs. Augustine on 1 Timothy 3:2

Here a little tidbit I came across while reading Thomas of Chobham's rules for priests (c.1216). The comment below is in regard to 1 Timothy 3:2:
When it says "married but once;" this should be, understood to mean that someone who is going to be ordained should neither have been married to a widow nor have been married twice. This impediment to holy orders is not produced by any kind of sin but rather, so to speak, through a defect in the sacrament. For matrimony is a sacrament of the body, that is, a sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church. Thus, just as Christ married only one virgin church, a priest, who is Christ's vicar, should have been the husband of only one woman who was a virgin. The church regards a virgin as any woman who has not been previously married, even though she may have lost her virginity. Thus anyone who marries a widow is not able to be raised to the priesthood. If he married a woman who had already lost her virginity, he can be ordained.
Saints Jerome and Augustine disagreed over this point. Jerome argued that if someone married one woman before he was baptized and then another after his baptism, he should not be considered to be twice married since baptism removed the impediment that had arisen from the first marriage. But Augustine's position prevailed, which argued that baptism removed nothing but sin and its consequences. Marriage, however, was neither a sin nor were its consequences sinful. Thus, the first marriage and its consequences were not removed by baptism.

When some other canonical impediment has occurred due to vice—for instance if someone has been convicted of theft or adultery—that infamy can be removed by baptism. But if someone has committed murder and thus been-disgraced, this disqualification is not removed even after baptism since it is such a horrible thing to shed blood.

Source: John Shinners and William Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998) 7-8.

If Thomas of Chobham summed up the views of Augustine and Jerome correctly, I think it demonstrates that simply because Augustine and Jerome are considered important church fathers, this doesn't mean that if you sift back into church history, everyone was saying the exact same thing all the time.  It also shows that simply because both of these great men were closer in time to the Apostles this does not necessarily mean they have a better perspective than someone living today does. Third, I think both of them actually don't interpret the verse with any sort exegetical justice. Fourth, when I Googled around to see what some of Rome's infallible interpreter apologists were saying on 1 Tim. 3:2, I ended up with things like this.


Martin Yee said...

Hi James,
You are really doing a great job as a great "Myth Buster". Thank you for your labour of love. Looks like truth is not as obscure as some people would like them to be, especially under your scrutiny. This blog is a must read for all who are sincerely seeking the truth.

Thanks again!

James Swan said...

Thanks Martin.

I've been reading the blog you're involved with as well, and now link it off my sidebar.

Pete Holter said...

Augustine’s opinion is found in On the Good of Marriage, 21, and Jerome can be found expressing his view in Against Jovinian, Bk. 1, 15. Jerome’s Letter 69 goes into some detail, and he gives his interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:2 in No. 5 of this letter:

“The apostle came of the Jews and the primitive Christian church was gathered out of the remnants of Israel. Paul knew that the Law allowed men to have children by several wives, and was aware that the example of the patriarchs had made polygamy familiar to the people. Even the very priests might at their own discretion enjoy the same license. He gave commandment therefore that the priests of the church should not claim this liberty, that they should not take two wives or three together, but that they should each have but one wife at one time.”

Jerome’s concerns are that we “[b]e careful therefore not to interpret the words ‘the husband of one wife,’ that is, of one woman, as approving indiscriminate intercourse and condemning only contracts of marriage,” and that we “not empty of its efficacy the baptismal rite ordained by the Saviour, or render vain the whole mystery of the cross.” Basically, he argues that, if sins committed prior to baptism are not held against potential leaders in the Church, then, a fortiori, marriage—which is no sin at all—cannot be held against them. It’s a very good point.

Augustine tries to address these types of concerns by acknowledging that, while there is no sin to be forgiven, the one “who had exceeded the number of one wife… had lost a certain prescript rule of a sacrament necessary not unto desert of good life, but unto the seal of ecclesiastic ordination.” “For,” as he says, “it is a matter of sacrament, not of sin.”

What I find precious in the friendship of Augustine and Jerome is that their unity of faith, love, and worship ultimately prevailed in all of their interactions (although Jerome was far from amicable in the beginning of their dispute over Galatians 2). I love these words from Jerome’s letter to Augustine, where he refuses even to discuss any differences of opinion that might exist between them:

“I have not been able to seize this occasion to answer the two books which you dedicated to my name, learned books and brilliant, with the full splendor of eloquence; not that I think there is anything to criticize in them, but according to the blessed Apostle: ‘Let every man abound in his own sense, one after this manner, another after that.’ Certainly, you have set forth and discussed with your profound mind all that can be said, drawing from the fount of sacred Scripture. But I ask your Reverence to leave me for a while to the praise of your genius. You and I carry on discussion with the intention of learning, but the envious and, especially, the heretics, if they see us holding different opinions, will conclude falsely that this comes from ill feeling between us. It is my fixed determination to love you, support you, cherish you, marvel at you, and defend your opinions as my own” (Letter 172 in Augustine’s collection).

There is an article found on the Vatican website called, “The Biblical Foundation of Priestly Celibacy,” wherein the author tries to give a suitable interpretation of the “one-woman man” stipulation. Whatever position we end up advocating, important to keep in mind, I think, are Jerome’s admonition and purpose of inquiry given in connection with this discussion. The admonition: “give back to the Scripture its simple meaning”; and, the purpose: “My one object is to promote the interest of the church” (Letter 69, No. 5 & 8). Indeed, the simple and authentic meaning of Scripture can do nothing but promote the interest and salvation of God’s Church. :)

With love in Christ,

James Swan said...


Thank you for the extra information.