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Augustine ‘as Great a Predestinarian as Calvin’

Augustine_of_HippoPierre Bayle provides his reading of the status quaestionis regarding the reception of Augustine, particularly with respect to the bishop of Hippo’s soteriology, among the Calvinists, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Arminians in the Reformation and post-Reformation era:

The approbation which councils and popes have given St Augustin, on the doctrine of grace, adds greatly to his glory; for, without that, the Jesuits, in these latter times, would have highly advanced their banner against him, and pulled down his authority. We have shown elsewhere, that all their politics could scarce keep them in decorum, and prevent their attacking him indirectly. It is certain, that the engagement which the church of Rome is under to respect St Augustin’s system, casts her into a perplexity which is very ridiculous. It is manifest to all men who examine things without prejudice, and with sufficient abilities, that his doctrine and that of Jansenius, bishop of Ypres, are one and the same; so that we cannot, without indignation, behold the court of Rome boasting to have condemned Jansenius, and yet preserved St Augustin in all his glory, the two things being altogether inconsistent. More than this, the council of Trent in condemning Calvin’s doctrine of free will, did necessarily condemn that of St Augustin; for no Calvinist ever denied, or can deny, the concurrence of the human will, and the liberty of the soul, in the sense which St Augustin has given to the words concurrence, co-operation, and liberty. There is not a Calvinist but acknowledges free will, and its use in conversion, if that word be understood according to St Augustin’s idea. Those condemned by the Council of Trent do not reject free will, but as it signifies a liberty of indifferency. The Thomists reject it also under that notion, and yet pass for very good Catholics. Behold another strange scene! The physical predetermination of the Thomists, the necessity of St. Augustin, that of the Jansenists, and that of Calvin, are all one and the same thing at the bottom; and yet the Thomists disown the Jansenists, and both of them think it a calumny to accuse them of teaching the same doctrine with Calvin. If one might be suffered to judge of other persons’ thoughts, here would be great room for saying, that doctors are, in this case, great comedians, and, are only acting a part, and that they cannot but be sensible that the Council of Trent either condemned a mere chimera, which never entered into the thoughts of the Calvinists, or else that it condemned, at the same time, both St Augustin and the physical determination. So that when they boast of having St Augustin’s faith, and never to have varied in the doctrine, it is only meant to preserve decorum, and to save the system from destruction, which a sincere confession of the truth must necessarily occasion. It is a great happiness for some persons, that the people never trouble themselves to demand of them any account of their doctrine; they would, otherwise, oftener mutiny against doctors than against tax-gatherers. They would say to them, “If you do not know that you deceive us, you deserve to be sent to the plough for your stupidity; and, if you do know it, you deserve to be shut up within four walls, with bread and water, for your wickedness.”

The Arminians deal very sincerely with this father of the church: they might have perplexed the world, as well as the Jesuits; but they thought it much better to give up St Augustin wholly to their adversaries, and to acknowledge him for as great a predestinarian as Calvin. Without doubt the Jesuits would have done the same, if they durst have condemned a doctor whom the popes and councils had approved.

By Jordan Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous volumes. Jordan also serves as associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research of Calvin Theological Seminary.