Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Part 1 - Engwer on Augustine and Roman Catholicism

Part 1 - Engwer, Augustine on Authority

Before I begin, let the reader note, the article which initiated these responses was one which stated two things, 1) St. Augustine did not hold to a belief in sola scriptura; and 2) St. Augustine is one of the leading Catholic Doctors of the Faith which Protestants have hijacked.   As the objective reader will see in going through Mr. Engwer’s article (and my response) Mr. Engwer’s points in his article essentially concede the fact that St. Augustine did not hold to the belief in sola scriptura!  By directing us to read this series, Mr. Engwer has validated the initial premise from the original article.

The Church, Authority, And Infallibility (Part 3): An Overview Of Augustine On Authority

The Roman Catholic patristic scholar Robert Eno wrote the following about Augustine's view of authority in the Christian life. Notice how different Augustine's view is than that of a Roman Catholic. Notice how much Augustine's views were shaped by practical factors rather than something like an apostolic tradition always held by the church. Notice his inconsistencies. Not only do we not see the oak tree of Catholicism in Augustine, but we don't even see an acorn:
In Augustine’s view, there was a definite hierarchy of authorities. For the determination of teaching Holy Scripture was assigned the highest authority. After Scripture came the tradition and practice of the universal Church. Finally there were authoritative organs within the Church which possessed decision making powers. The most notable of these organs was the "plenary council of the universal Church." Further, within any theological process, reason played an important, though subordinate, role....

The decisions of councils usually make certain clear assertions or condemnations which enable the Church to settle questions for the time being. Yet, ultimately, the acceptance or rejection of a given council becomes clear only after a longer period of time when it can be determined whether the universal Church has in fact accepted, rejected or simply forgotten a council. The Augustinian hierarchy of authorities, while of practical use for the short run, still fails to satisfy entirely the search for certitude. Moreover, one need look no further than Augustine himself to find evidence of the difficulties involved in his own theory....

As noted in my previous response, Robert Eno is not a conservative “scholar” - but even so, all Mr. Engwer has presented above is Eno’s commentary on what St. Augustine has allegedly said or “viewed.”  The problem here is we have NOTHING from St. Augustine to substantiate the claims!  An unsubstantiated commentary is not a valid argument, and we must begin this series, as we did the last, in rejecting the premise based on a lack of substance.

Councils are also subordinated to Scripture....

Again, without some substance/context to look at here, this out of context comment is meaningless.  Let us ask, quickly though, how did we arrive at the Canon of Scripture, if not through Church councils over the first 400 years determining which books would be accepted as canonical, and which would be rejected from the canon?

In other places, the bishop of Hippo noted that both Catholics and Donatists were in agreement on the supremacy of Scripture....

Something beyond clarity of text or ingenuity of expositor was needed to make the supremacy of Scripture a reality in practice. Amidst the clamor of conflicting traditions each claiming scriptural warrant for its doctrines, Augustine felt the need to introduce other factors in his search for certitude....

Again, no substance from St. Augustine himself, just commentary from Mr. Eno.  Still, Scripture IS God’s Word, and it is recognized that the Church does not and cannot be contrary to what is explicitly taught in Scripture.  The Holy Ghost would not and has not allowed this.  

What should be stressed is Augustine’s contention that the practice of the universal Church should be followed, even lacking specific confirmation from Scripture. "… Wherever this tradition came from, we have to believe that the Church has grounds for accepting it, even though no express authority of the canonical Scriptures is quoted for it." In general, "anyone who fears going into error because of the obscurity of the question, has only to consult on this subject that very Church which Holy Scripture designates without ambiguity."...

And STILL no quotes or substance, but how about I provide one for Mr. Engwer here to support what Mr. Eno said...
"I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."
(St. Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, 5,6)
Let the objective reader consider where St. Augustine’s priority is here.

Augustine’s argument was basically the same as the Vincentian canon, an appeal to the semper and ubique of Catholic teaching against the distortion of heretics....

While Augustine was happy to support these customs, at the same time he conducted campaigns against other practices which were also customary, e.g. the uproarious celebrations accompanying the martyrs’ feasts and heavy drinking in the cemeteries. This brings to the fore another criterion: Is the custom edifying or not? Augustine could ignore the justifications alleged for these celebrations, both the Roman example and the antiquity of the laetitiae, and proceed against them as fostering bad morals. He was also negative about practices he considered to be superstitious, authorized neither by Scripture nor by councils nor by the practice of the universal Church. Even good customs and practices might become excessive in number. Christianity, unlike Old Testament Judaism, should be a simple religion. "Even if it cannot be proved that they are contrary to faith, they still weigh down with servile burdens a religion which the mercy of God wished to be free, with only a few and very well-chosen sacramental obligations."...

Well again, where we’re not really seeing anything contrary to modern Catholic thinking here, we’re also not seeing any substance - just commentary.  In short, more “nothing.”

This then is the outline of Augustine’s picture of how the Church’s doctrine is derived: 1) from Scripture, 2) Scripture as interpreted by the Church’s tradition, 3) and the latter as verified by the universal teaching and practice of the Church, universal in both a geographical and historical sense. Tradition is exemplified in the teaching of the great Fathers.

Dittos from my last response.  Even though we’re starting to see an assertion here - we’re not seeing any substance to support the assertion.

All of this, however, can be of questionable usefulness in trying to solve a concrete dispute. What little is left of the writings of Augustine’s opponents such as Julian shows Augustine’s contentions being rebuffed in almost exactly the same fashion and even in the same terms. Appeals to Scripture and tradition frequently raised more problems than they solved. They did not resolve controversies but raised more questions. As we are aware today, the study of Scripture and past tradition bring forth conflicting data. Both parties in a dispute have some evidence on their side. The continuing uncertainty meant that Church authority would be looked to increasingly for concrete decisions....

Again, I’m seeing more of an argument for Catholicism than against it - but again, even there, we’re not seeing SUBSTANCE.  

But Augustine, it must be recalled, subordinated everything to Scripture, not only the writings of influential bishops like Cyprian but also the Church’s universal customs. ("Doctrinal Authority In Saint Augustine", Augustinian Studies, Vol. 12 - 1981, pp. 133-134, 138-139, 141, 144-145, 149, 158)

Well, aside from the fact that we STILL have seen NOTHING from St. Augustine, this comment seems to be exactly contrary to what was previously said.  One must question context, even in this non-substance presentation.

Eno points out that Augustine is often interpreted in different ways by different scholars on issues of authority:

Herein lies one of the perennial points of difference and debate among scholars. Which was more significant in Augustine’s mind: the authority of Scripture or the authority of the Church as a guide to the correct interpretation of Scripture? (p. 137)

Now, just think about that statement for a moment...  the KEY here is “the correct interpretation of Scripture.”  No book, not even Scripture, interprets itself.  

Eno repeatedly makes comments such as the following about how Augustine's conclusions were shaped by practical factors:

Something beyond clarity of text or ingenuity of expositor was needed to make the supremacy of Scripture a reality in practice. Amidst the clamor of conflicting traditions each claiming scriptural warrant for its doctrines, Augustine felt the need to introduce other factors in his search for certitude....

And more commentary without substance.  

The Catholica [mainstream Christianity] not only by its numerical and geographical preponderance but by the very fact of the rapidity of its spread, constituted its own argument for its authority. It had reached the highest pinnacle of authority....

Augustine asked why he should believe the Manichaean version of Christianity expounded by a friend. Rather he believed the Church’s report. "This I have come to believe on the ground of a report confirmed by its ubiquity, by its antiquity and by the general consent of mankind." His opponents the Manichaeans were few, confused and of recent origin. (p. 141)

And again, commentary without substance, well, except for the substance *I* have provided to this discussion!  The reference here to the Manichaeans reflects precisely the quote I provided earlier.

The standards Augustine proposed were sometimes used against him:

The other pillar of Augustine’s consensus argument dealt with antiquity, the claim that the belief he supported went back to the beginning and that the belief he rejected was a novelty. This argument predominated in the battle with the Pelagians in which he claimed that not only the practice of infant baptism but its corollary, his view of original sin, were the primitive faith and practice of the Church. The Pelagian denial of them was the innovation. Again and again he repeated this theme. The Pelagians were trying to undermine the ancient faith of the Church. As time went on in the Pelagian controversy whether because of his age or frustration, his tone became more strident. Superlatives abounded as Augustine defended the most ancient and most firm rule of Catholic faith against the new and perverse teaching. At about the same time, concerning his views on predestination, Prosper wrote to the aged Augustine that opponents charged that his ideas involved interpretations of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that were completely untraditional....

Writing to Augustine at the end of his life concerning problems felt by Gallic Christians because of his teachings on predestination, Prosper and Hilary complained about the difficulties of their position as his local defenders. Since the opponents were bishops, Prosper felt himself at a decided disadvantage. Hilary complained that people were inconstant, changing their minds depending on the reputation of the "experts." (pp. 146, 155-156)

Well, it appears we’re getting closer to quoting - but still no citation of primary sources.  Is anyone else as disappointed as I am here?  There’s nothing of substance to refute here - it’s all commentary and references back to the secondary source (at best) of Eno’s work.  

Eno notes another problem with one of Augustine's arguments elsewhere:

Augustine argued that Cyprian was not to be blamed for making a mistake in a complex question [heretical baptism]. He lived before a plenary or universal council could decide the question; if such a decision had been made during his lifetime, there is no doubt that he would have accepted it since he, unlike the Donatists, was a lover of the unity of the Church. Augustine’s exculpation of Cyprian seems a little strained when one realizes that Augustine believed that the general custom of the Church before Agrippinus was not to rebaptize. Given his views on the authority of the Church’s universal practice, one can wonder indeed as Augustine himself does at the beginning of the third book of the De Baptismo how Cyprian could have followed another practice, without so much as the judgment of a regional council to back him. (p. 161)

And more unsubstantiated references.  And I am going to stop here in “Part 1” of this series.  The rest below continues to be the same was we’ve seen above - unsubstantiated assertions from secondary sources.  Engwer makes some references to other “work” he’s done, but nothing in this report is of any substance - NOTHING.  There’s a lot of name-dropping, but no direct references to any primary sources, NONE.  This piece is more of a review of Eno’s book than a serious commentary on St. Augustine.

Again, making these references of St. Augustine, but only quoting from a secondary source (Eno) is not scholarly nor valid work, and is rejected for what it is... out of context, indirect quotes from unnamed sources which alleged St. Augustine to be the author.

As I alluded to in the introduction to my response, the most successful point Engwer has made here is one in defense of the initial article for which he told us to read this series!  St. Augustine did not support a sola scriptura mentality and often sought other sources, but more precisely, the Catholic Church, and I repeat the quote I presented earlier:
“For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” (St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 5.6).
Let us hope “Part 2” is a little better.  I am leaving the section below intact, but unresponded to because as I said, it’s primarily unsubstantiated assertions from secondary sources and I’m not going to waste anymore time on such.  If Engwer (or another reader) believes there is something pertinent below he wishes addressed, let him say so.

In other words, not only was Augustine sometimes inconsistent with his own standards, but other fathers, like Cyprian, disagreed with him.

Eno notes some similarities between some of Augustine's arguments and those of Irenaeus and Tertullian (p. 150), which means that what I said of those latter two men on those points in my series on apostolic succession is applicable to Augustine as well.

Some of the beliefs of Roman Catholicism were widely absent or contradicted for multiple generations of church history, and here's what Augustine believed about a consensus of the fathers:

But he had an interesting comparison which again reminds one of Vincent of Lerins, viz. the consensus of the Fathers can be compared to a kind of council. When a council is held, the average bishop in it is not of the spiritual and intellectual caliber of the Fathers. The consensus of the Fathers considered as a council presents the Church with a “council” made up of bishops of uniformly high quality. "You see them gathered from various periods and regions from the East and West, not at a place to which men are obliged to travel, but in a book which can travel to men." (p. 155)

Eno repeatedly makes the point that Augustine defined ecumenical councils differently than they're defined today by Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox). He discusses an ecumenical council Augustine refers to that we today can't identify:

The usual candidates for this council have been Arles (314) and Nicaea (325). Augustine referred by name to these councils as well as to Ariminum (359) but he never identified his famous plenary council with any of them. He never identified it at all. Johann Ernst in an extensive article in 1900 argued convincingly that Augustine did not in fact know precisely what council he was referring to. Ernst’s article discussed and rejected both Arles and Nicaea. His argumentation presumed that Augustine had similar detailed knowledge of these councils. I would hold that Augustine did not have detailed knowledge of past councils. For example, when confronted by the Donatists with the claim that the council of Sardica (343) had communicated with Donatus, thus apparently giving him some modicum of recognition from the non-African churches, Augustine was at first puzzled but upon inquiry came to the conclusion that the council was in fact an Arian council and therefore no credit to the Donatists. It seems that he was unaware of the existence of an orthodox council of Sardica. One should recall as well the confusion surrounding the use of councils in the Apiarius affair. Rome put forward one of the Sardican canons as a canon of Nicaea. The African bishops correctly said that they found no such canon in their records but apparently they knew nothing of Sardica either, even though a number of African bishops, including Gratus of Carthage had been in attendance.

The source of Augustine’s assurance was simply this: Catholic circles in Africa believed that there had been such a council. This belief was neither a figment of their imaginations nor an invention of zealous propaganda. The factual basis may have been the eighth canon of the council of Arles. Over the course of the years, this modest basis had been expanded into the belief that there had been a clear decision on the question from a plenary council of the universal Church. Frequent repetition without documentary reference seemed to lend itself to an unconscious extension and broadening of claims....

As Sieben notes it is not clear whether for him [Augustine] Nicaea could be classified as an ecumenical council. His historical knowledge of earlier councils was frequently hazy. (pp. 162-163)

Eno explains that Augustine didn't believe in a papacy, but instead placed ecumenical councils above the bishop of Rome:

All in all it is clear that Augustine had a genuine respect for the position of the church of Rome in the universal Church. Indeed his views were probably more friendly than those of many of his African colleagues. Augustine, after all, had a personal acquaintance with the city as well as with some Roman churchmen. Nevertheless his actions in the Pelagian crisis did not alter his basic view of the plenary council as the last instance in Church disputes, nor his view of conciliar activity in general as the ordinary way for solving intra-ecclesial problems beyond the level of the local church....

Peter was the first of the Apostles, holding the principatus of the Apostolate. But any Apostle would be greater than any bishop as the Apostolate is greater than the episcopate. (p. 171, n. 118)

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