Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Augustine's On the Unity of the Church, finally translated into English

 At William Webster's web-site, I discovered the full text of Augustine's "On The Unity of the Church" vs. the Donatists.   For the first time in history, the full text has been translated into English. (Amazing that it took so long !! Centuries!) I look forward to reading this, studying it, and possibly writing blog articles on this in the future.

 http://www.christiantruth.com/deunitateintroduction.html

Some choice selections from Webster's Introduction:


Augustine
Introduction:  “The question has been proposed: Is the Church of Christ among the Catholics or among the Donatists? This needs to be determined from specific and clear citations in Holy Scripture. First, evidence is brought forth from the Old Testament and then from the New Testament.”  (Augustine, Introduction, On the Unity of the Church. My emphasis)

. . . 

"But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case" (Chapter 5). (My emphasis)

Webster says that Augustine basically says, 

“Since both parties adhere to the truth of Scripture and believe them to be the word of God, it is scripture which should be the final arbiter.”

Augustine writes, “just as this doesn't need an interpreter” several times in his appeal to the Donatists.  Augustine believed that theses Scriptures were clear and perspicuous, and did not need an infallible interpreter to settle the dispute.  

In one of his sermons Augustine gives this exegesis of the rock of Matthew 16:

"Remember, in this man Peter, the rock. He’s the one, you see, who on being questioned by the Lord about who the disciples said he was, replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On hearing this, Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you’...‘You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:15–19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, ‘They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ.    Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer"
(John Rotelle, O.S.A., Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Volume III/6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327).

This treatise is of great interest historically because of what Augustine does not say constitutes unity. These words by Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, the most renowned Roman Catholic historian of the 19th century, who taught church history for 47 years, are very telling:

St. Augustine has written more on the Church, its unity and authority, than all the other Fathers put together. Yet, from all his numerous works, filling ten folios, only one sentence, in one letter, can be quoted, where he says that the principality of the Apostolic Chair has always been in Rome—which could, of course, be said then with equal truth of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Any reader of his Pastoral Letter to the separated Donatists on the Unity of the Church, must find it inexplicable...that in these seventy–five chapters there is not a single word on the necessity of communion with Rome as the centre of unity. He urges all sorts of arguments to show that the Donatists are bound to return to the Church, but of the Papal Chair, as one of them, he says not a word (Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), pp. 70-74).

Augustine says, 'Whoever dissents from Holy Scripture concerning the head is not in the Church' (Paragraph 7). (my emphasis)

He repeats this passage:

But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case (Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 5).

"I do not wish the holy Church to be founded on human evidence, but on divine oracles" (Augustine, ibid., Chapter 6). (My emphasis)

"All such things then removed, let them demonstrate their Church, if they can, not in the speeches and murmurs of African, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the epistles of whatever debates, not in false signs and prodigies, since we are prepared and cautioned against them by the word of the Lord, but in the precept of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the psalms, in the utterances of the one shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, that is in all the canonical authority of the holy books, and not such that they might gather and cite things that are spoken obscurely or ambiguously or metaphorically which anyone might interpret according to his own opinion as he wishes. Such things cannot be properly understood and explained unless first those things that are said most openly are held with a strong faith (Chapter 47).

7 comments:

Ryan said...

I've been looking forward to this, thanks for the notification. And much thanks to the translator.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks for the heads up, James.

Pete Holter said...

“These words by Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, the most renowned Roman Catholic historian of the 19th century, who taught church history for 47 years, are very telling:

…Any reader of his Pastoral Letter to the separated Donatists on the Unity of the Church, must find it inexplicable...that in these seventy–five chapters there is not a single word on the necessity of communion with Rome as the centre of unity. …

There are a few points that I think are worth making in response to this…

The raison d’etre of the Donatist movement is very well defended against an argument from apostolic succession because succession is lost or at least unpersuasive unless you can prove the innocence of all in the line. Succession is broken by grave sin. So, in general, an argument from succession will be easily defeated by the Donatist, who readily nullifies the apostolic succession of all who are in communion with the African Catholic Church.

Succession at Rome in particular also fails to be persuasive for at least two reasons: (1) the Donatists have what they would consider to be—however ridiculed by the Catholics—valid succession in Rome (cf. Letter 53, 1.2; On the Unity of the Church, 3.6; Heresies 69.3: “In the city of Rome, these heretics are called Montenses. They usually send a bishop to them from here in Africa, or African bishops of these go from here to Rome, if they have decided to ordain a bishop there” (Arianism and Other Heresies). And (2), following from what was said above, the bishop of Rome at the beginning of the Donatist movement, Miltiades/Melchiades, is held by the Donatists to have misjudged the Donatist cause in supporting the Catholic line of bishops in Africa. To the Donatist mind, this would negate the claim to valid succession for the Catholics in Rome from that point forward.

Another point to make is that the actual succession of bishops in Rome is not proved from the Scriptures, but is a matter of extrabiblical ecclesiastical record. Since Augustine’s set purpose in On the Unity of the Church is to prove the nature of the Church solely from the clearest passages of Scripture, it simply would not fit to mention this succession within the context of this argument. Elsewhere, however, Augustine does attribute a unique preeminence to the Church in Rome, and holds to the necessity of communion with this Church, together with the rest of the Catholic world.

With love in Christ,
Pete

Ken said...

Pete,
Thanks for that response. Sorry it took me so long to even see it.

The succession lists (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius), which apparently Augustine used, still do not prove anykind of Papacy or infallibiity or jurisdictional authority or "bishop over all the other bishops" or infallible interpretation, etc.

The reason for them, initially, was the arguments against the Gnostics, Docetics, and other heresies. Basically, Tertullian and Irenaeus were saying, "what you (Gnostics, Doceticts, etc.) are saying is not anywhere found anywhere in the orthodox/catholic churches, and in fact the doctrine we all hold to and have since the beginning is that the God of the OT is the same God of the NT (not an evil Demi-urge), that matter is not evil, etc."

Augustine also used the available information to counter other heresies and the schism of the Donatists. In some ways the Donatists were wrong, but in some other aspects, they may have been right. the violent group of Donatists known as the circumcellions were wrong. Augustine's use of "compel them to come in" - state force of the sword, was wrong.

After Ignatius to Cyprian, the records of the college of elders is not told recorded. All we know is that Rome did not have a mono-episcopate (1. Clement's letter says "the church of Rome to the church of the Corinthians" - not from a Mono-episcopate, 2. Ignatius' letter to the church at Rome does not address a bishop; 3. Shepherd of Hermas speaks of a group of elders, 4. Didache is similar to Philippians 1:1 and Titus 1:5-7 - two offices - 1. elders/overseers and 2. deacons

So, it is probable that they constructed their bishops list, but did not reflect the reality of the college of elders, earlier - from 67-150 AD. There must have been other unknown elders with Linus and Clement and Anacletus, but they were writing from 200 AD and onward and projecting the mono-episcopate back into the early decades.

Still, Augustines' "The Unity of the Church" makes the case from Scripture and not from tradition or creeds; so it is more of a Sola Scriptura argument in principle.

Ken said...

Better:

So, it is probable that they (Irenaeus and Tertullian, Eusebius later using them) constructed their bishops list, but did not reflect the reality of the college of elders, earlier - from 67-150 AD. There must have been other unknown elders with Linus and Clement and Anacletus, but they (Irenaeus and Tertullian) were writing from around 180-225 AD and onward (Eusebius) and projecting the mono-episcopate back into the early decades.

Pete Holter said...

Hi Ken!

Taking Irenaeus as an example, he was born in the first half of the second century. Perhaps 30 years after the death of Clement. He was ministering to and interacting with Catholics in Lyon and in Rome who were born before he was, some by a full generation or more. These Catholics would have known the bishops who came before the present bishops of Rome, and their parents would have known the bishops who came before those bishops. Irenaeus may have very well met other Catholics who had known Clement. In other words, these lists were not written in a vacuum, but within a community of believers that had a living memory of its heritage. Even in apostolic times, we have grandparents of believers who can say, “I know whom I have believed” (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5, 12), and who know the Church to which they belong.

Just from my own experience, I go to Mass with a lady who converted to our faith in the 1950s, and we have a priest in Baltimore who was ordained, also in the 1950s.

With love in Christ,
Pete

Paijo Budi said...

Hi Ken,

Recently a contact on Facebook raised an issue of Augustine retracting his former teachings. It is as if he was implying that Augustine rejected his former ideas on grace in the volume called "Retractationes." Are you familiar with the work?

Thanks

Paijo