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History of Dogma - Volume V
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The ancient Church before Augustine only possessed a single great dogmatic scheme, the Christological. Augustine also knew it and made use of it; but in inserting it into a greater and more living group, he deprived it of its original meaning and object. It has been said of Socrates that he brought philosophy down from heaven; we may maintain of Augustine that he did the same for dogmatics, by separating it from speculations about the finite and infinite, God the Logos and the creature, mortal and immortal, and connecting it with questions as to moral good, freedom, sin, and blessedness. Goodness became for him the point on which turned the consideration of blessings; moral goodness (virtue) and the possession of salvation were not merely to occupy corresponding positions, but to coincide (ipsa virtus et præmium virtutis). If we may use a figure, we can say that Augustine formed into one the two centres of popular Catholic theology, the renewing power of redemption and the free effort to attain virtue; of the ellipse he made a circle—God, whose grace delivers the will and endows it with power to do what is good. In this is comprehended his significance in the history of the Christian religion. He did not, however, vindicate the new portion consistently, but built the old into it. Indeed, in the new cathedral erected by him, the old building formed, as it were, the holy of holies, which is seldom entered.

When we seek to determine what has been accomplished by an ancient Church theologian as teacher of the Church, we must examine his expositions of the Symbol. We possess several by Augustine. It is extremely instructive to compare the earliest (De fide et symbolo, A.D. 393) with one of the latest (De fide, spe et caritate, A.D. 421, or later). In the former Augustine is still substantially a theologian of the ancient Church. The questions discussed by him are the same as were then dealt with, in both halves of the Church, in the Symbol, and are suggested by its language. Even the manner in which he discusses them is but slightly distinguished from the customary one. Finally, the polemic is the one that was usual: Arians, Manichæans, Apollinarians, Pneumatomachoi occupy the foreground; the last named especially are very thoroughly refuted. On the other hand, Augustine’s characteristics declare themselves even in this early exposition.149149The foundation of Augustine’s religious characteristics can be best studied in the writings that are read least, namely in the tractates and letters written immediately after his conversion, and forming an extremely necessary supplement to his Confessions (see above, p. 92, note 2). In these writings he is not yet at all interested in Church dogmatics, but is wholly absorbed in the task of making clear to himself, while settling with Neoplatonism, the new stage of religious philosophical reflection and inner experience, in which he finally found rest (see De vita beata, Adv. Academ., Soliloquia, De ordine, and the Epistles to Nebridius). The state of feeling expressed by him in these work, never left him; but it was only in a later period that he gave it its dogmatic sub-structure. In consequence of this, as is proved even by the Confessions and also the Retractations, he himself lost the power of rightly estimating those writings and the inner state in which he had found himself in the first years after his conversion. But he never lost the underlying tone of those first fruits of his authorship: “Rest in the possession of God,” as distinguished from the unrest and unhappiness of a seeking and inquiry that never reach their aim, or the essentially Neoplatonic version of the loftiest problems (see e.g., De ordine II., 11 ff., “mala in ordinem redacta faciunt decorem universi”; the same view of evil is still given in De civit., XI., 18). Those writings cannot be more fully discussed in a history of dogma. Thus we have, above all, his love of truth and frankness in the sections on the Holy Spirit, and his sceptical reserve and obedient submission to Church tradition. Further, in the Christology we find his characteristic scheme “Christ invested in man” (Christus indutus in homine), as well as the strong emphasis laid on the humility of Christ contrasted with pride (superbia). Compare, besides, sentences like the following. Chapter V I.—“Since he is only-begotten he has no brothers; but since he is first-begotten, he has deigned to name all those his brothers who after and through his headship are born again into the grace of God through the adoption of sons.” Or (Chapter XI.): “Our Lord’s humility was lowly in his being born for us; to this it was added that he deigned to die for mortals.” Or (Chapter XIX.): “The writers of the Divine Scriptures declare that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift in order that we may believe that God does not bestow a gift inferior to himself.” Or (ibid.): “No one enjoys that which he knows, unless he also loves it . . . nor does anyone abide in that which he apprehends unless by love.”150150“Secundum id, quod unigenitus est, non habet fratres; secundum id autem quod primogenitus est, fratres vocare dignatus est omnes qui post ejus et per ejus primatum in dei gratiam renascuntur per adoptionem filiorum.” “Parva erat pro nobis domini nostri humilitas in nascendo; accessit etiam ut mori pro mortalibus dignaretur.” “Divinarum scripturarum tractatores spiritum sanctum donum dei esse prædicant, ut deum credamus non se ipso inferius donum dare.” “Eo quod quisque novit non fruitur, nisi et id diligat . . . neque quisquam in eo quod percipit permanet nisi dilectione.” But if Augustine had died before the Donatist and Pelagian controversies, he would not have been the dogmatist who changed the whole scheme of doctrine; for it was these controversies that first compelled him to reflect on and review what he had long held, to vindicate it with all his power, and to introduce it also into the instruction of the Church. But since it had never entered his mind that the ancient doctrinal tradition, as attached to the Symbol, could be insufficient,151151He undoubtedly noticed, and with his love of truth frankly said, that the Church writers gave throughout an insufficient statement of the grace of God; but he contented himself with the plea that the Church had always duly emphasised grace in its prayers and institutions. See prædest. sanct., 27: “Quid opus est, ut eorum scrutemur opuscula, qui prius quam ista hæresis (Pelagianorum) oriretur, non habuerunt necessitatem in hac difficili ad solvendum quæstione versari? quod procul dubio facerent, si respondere talibus cogerentur. Unde factum est, ut de gratia dei quid sentirent, breviter quibusdam scriptorum suorum locis et transeunter adtingerent, immorarentur vero in eis, quæ adversus inimicos ecclesiæ disputabant, et in exhortationibus ad quasque virtutes, quibus deo vivo et vero pro adipiscenda vita æterna et vera felicitate servitur. Frequentationibus autem orationum simpliciter apparebat dei gratia quid valeret; non enim poscerentur de deo quæ præcipit fieri, nisi ab illo donaretur ut fierent.” He himself had indeed learned from experience in his struggle with the Manichæans, that the defence of truth has to be regulated by the nature of the attack. When he was twitted by his opponents with what he had formerly written about freewill against the Manichæans, he appealed to the claims of advancing knowledge, as well as to the duty of offering resistance both to right and left. He thus saw in the earlier Church teachers the defenders of the truth of the Church against fatalism, Gnosticisim, and Manichæism, and from this standpoint explained their attitude. since it had still less occurred to him to declare the Symbol itself to be inadequate, it was a matter of course to him that he should make everything which he had to present as religious doctrine hinge on that Confession. In this way arose the characteristic scheme of doctrine, which continued to influence the West in the Middle Ages; nay, on which the Reformed version is based—a combination of ancient Catholic theology and system with the new fundamental thought of the doctrine of grace, forced into the framework of the Symbol. It is evident that by this means a mixture of styles arose which was not conducive to the transparency and intelligibility of doctrine. But we have not only to complain of want of clearness, but also of a complexity of material which, in a still higher degree than was the case in the ancient Catholic Church, necessarily frustrated the demand for a closely reasoned and homogeneous version of religious doctrine. We are perhaps justified in maintaining that the Church never possessed in ancient times another teacher so anxious as Augustine to think out theological problems, and to secure unity for the system of doctrine. But the circumstances in which he was placed led to him above all others necessarily confusing that system of doctrine, and involving it in new inconsistencies.152152It is self-evident that for this reason dogma, i.e., the old Catholic doctrine of the Trinity and Christology, necessarily became less impressive. Reuter’s objection (l.c. p. 495) rests on an incomprehensible misunderstanding. The following points fall to be considered.

1. As a Western theologian, he felt that he was bound by the Symbol; but no Western theologian before him had lived so much in Scripture, or taken so much from it as he. The old variance between Symbol and Scripture,153153See on this and on what follows, Vol. III., pp. 203 ff., 207 ff. which at that time indeed was not yet consciously felt, was accordingly intensified by him. The uncertainty as to the relation of Scripture and Symbol was increased by him in spite of the extraordinary services he had rendered in making the Church familiar with the former.154154The attempts to define their relationship, e.g., in Book I. of the treatise De doctrina Christiana, are wholly vague, and indeed scarcely comprehensible. The “substance” of Scripture is to form the propositions of the Rule of Faith; but yet every sentence of Scripture is an article of faith. The Biblicism of later times, which afterwards took up an aggressive attitude to the Church in the West, is to be traced back to Augustine; and the resolute deletion of Scriptural thoughts by an appeal to the authority of the Church’s doctrine may equally refer to him.155155After his conversion Augustine was firmly of opinion that nothing stood in Scripture that contradicted the doctrine of the Church; he was not so certain that the interpretation of Scripture must follow the authority of tradition. Yet what a profusion of “dangerous” ideas would have been evolved from the Bible by his rich and acute genius if once he had freed his intellect from the fetters of obedience! The perception that no less than everything would have been doubtful, that a thousand contradictions would have taken the place of a unanimous doctrine, certainly helped in determining him not to shake the bars of his prison. He felt he would never be able to escape, but would be buried by the ruins of the collapsing edifice. Hence the principle declared in De nat. et grat. 22, that we must first submit to what stands in Scripture, and only then ask “quomodo id fieri potuerit.” What a difference from Origen! If we are asked for the historical justification of pre-reformers and reformers in the West, in taking their stand exclusively on Scripture, we must name Augustine; if we are asked by what right such theologians have been silenced, we may refer similarly to Augustine; but we can in this case undoubtedly go back to the authority of Tertullian (De præscr. hær.).

2. On the one hand, Augustine was convinced that everything in Scripture was valuable for faith, and that any thought was at once justified, ecclesiastically and theologically, by being proved to be Biblical—see his doctrine of predestination and other tenets, of which he was certain simply because they were found in the Bible. By this principle any unity of doctrine was nullified.156156See Vol. II., 331, n. 3. But, on the other hand, Augustine knew very well that religion was a practical matter, that in it faith, hope, and love, or love alone, were all-important, and that only what promoted the latter had any value. Indeed he advanced a considerable step further, and approximated to the Alexandrian theologians: he ultimately regarded Scripture merely as a means, which was dispensed with when love had reached its highest point, and he even approached the conception that the very facts of Christ’s earthly revelation were stages beyond which the believer passed, whose heart was possessed wholly by love.157157De doctr. Christ. I., 34: an extremely noteworthy exposition, which, so far as I know, has very few clear parallels in Augustine’s works, but forms the background of his development. This latter point—which is connected with his individualistic theology, but slightly influenced by the historical Christ—will be discussed below. It is enough here to formulate sharply the inconsistency of making Scripture, on the one hand, a source, and, on the other, a means.158158See the details in “De doctr. Christiana” copied in Vol. III., p. 203, n. 2, of this work. —a means indeed which is finally dispensed with like a crutch.159159De doctr. Christ., 35-40, especially c. 39, “Therefore a man who depends on faith, hope, and love, and holds by them invincibly, only needs Scripture to instruct others.” Scripture even only offers patchwork; but a man may rise to such perfection even in this life as no longer to require the patchwork. The mystics and fanatics of the West have given their adhesion to the last principle, advancing the inner light and inner revelation against the written. Now Augustine, in his excellent preface to his work “De doctrina Christiana,” has undoubtedly, as with a flash of prophetic illumination, rejected all fanatical inspiration, which either fancied it had no need at all of Scripture, or, appealing to the Spirit, declared philological and historical interpretation to be useless. But yet he opened the door to fanaticism with his statement that there was a stage at which men had got beyond Scripture. Above all, however, he created the fatal situation, in which the system of doctrine and theology of the Western Church are still found at the present day, by the vagueness which he failed to dispel as to the importance of the letter of Scripture. The Church knows, on the one hand, that in the Bible, so far as meant for faith, the “matter” is alone of importance. But, on the other hand, it cannot rid itself of the prejudice that every single text contains a Divine and absolute direction, a “revelation.” Protestant Churches have in this respect not gone one step beyond Augustine; Luther himself, if we compare his “prefaces” to the New Testament, e.g., with his position in the controversy about the Lord’s Supper, was involved in the same inconsistency as burdened Augustine’s doctrinal structure.

3. Augustine brought the practical element to the front more than any previous Church Father. Religion was only given to produce faith, love, and hope, and blessedness itself was bound up in these virtues bestowed by God, or in love. But the act of reform, which found expression in the subordination of all materials to the above intention, was not carried out by him unalloyed. In retaining the old Catholic scheme, knowledge and eternal life (ἀφθαρσία) remained the supreme thoughts; in pursuing Neoplatonic mysticism, he did not cast off the acosmic view that regarded all phenomena as transient, and all that was transient as figurative, retaining finally only the majesty of the concealed Deity; in despising the present life, he necessarily also depreciated faith and all that belonged to the present. Thus, his theology was not decided, even in its final aims, by one thought, and he was therefore unable really to carry out his doctrine of grace and sin in a pure form. As the intellectualism of antiquity, of course in a sublimated form, was not wholly superseded by him, his profoundest religious utterances were accompanied by, or entwined with, philosophical considerations. Often one and the same principle has a double root, a Neoplatonic and a Christian (Pauline), and accordingly a double meaning, a cosmological and a religious. Philosophy, saving faith, and Church tradition, disputed the leading place in his system of faith, and since Biblicism was added to these three elements, the unity of his type of thought was everywhere disturbed.

4. But apart from the intention, the execution contains not only inconsistencies in detail, but opposite views. In his conflict with Manichæism and Donatism, Augustine sketched a doctrine of freedom, the Church, and the means of grace, which has little in common with his experience of sin and grace, and simply conflicts with the theological development of that experience—the doctrine of predestinating grace. We can positively sketch two Augustinian theologies, one ecclesiastical, the other a doctrine of grace, and state the whole system in either.

5. But even in his ecclesiastical system and his doctrine of grace, conflicting lines of thought meet; for in the former a hierarchical and sacramental fundamental element conflicts with a liberal, universalist view inherited from the Apologists; and in the doctrine of grace two different conceptions are manifestly combined, namely, the thought of grace through (per, propter) Christ, and that of grace emanating, independently of Christ, from the essential nature of God as the supreme good and supreme being (summum bonum, summum esse). The latter inconsistency was of greatest importance for Augustine’s own theology, and for the attitude of Western theology after him. The West, confessedly, never thoroughly appropriated the uncompromising Eastern scheme of Christology as a statement of saving faith. But by Augustine the relation of the doctrine of the two natures (or the Incarnation) to that of salvation was still further loosened. It will be shown that he really prepared the way much more strongly for the Franciscan feeling towards Christ than for Anselm’s satisfaction theory, and that, in general, as a Christologian—in the strict sense of the term—he bequeathed more gaps than positive material to posterity. But in addition to this antithesis of a grace through Christ and without Christ, we have, finally, in Augustine’s doctrine of sin a strong Manichæan and Gnostic element; for Augustine never wholly surmounted Manichæism.

From our exposition up to this point—and only the most important facts have been mentioned—it follows that we cannot speak of Augustine having a system, nor did he compose any work which can be compared to Origen’s περὶ ἀρχῶν. Since he did not, like the latter, boldly proclaim the right of an esoteric Christianity, but rather as Christian and churchman constantly delayed taking this liberating step,160160Tendencies in this direction are found everywhere; but they were never more than tendencies. everything with him stands on one level, and therefore is involved in conflict.161161It is one of Reuter’s chief merits that he has proved the impossibility of constructing a system from Augustine’s thought, and of removing the inconsistencies that occur in it. But it is “not what one knows and says that decides, but what one loves”; he loved God, and his Church, and he was true. This attitude is conspicuous in all his writings, whether it is the Neoplatonist, the earlier Manichæan, the Pauline Christian, the Catholic Bishop, or the Biblicist, that speaks, and it lends to all his expositions a unity, which, though it cannot be demonstrated in the doctrines, can be plainly felt. Therefore, also, the different movements that started or learned from him, were always conscious of the complete man, and drew strength from him. He would not have been the teacher of the future if he had not stood before it as a Christian personality who lent force and weight to every word, no matter in what direction it led. As preacher of faith, love, and the dispensation of grace, he has dominated Catholic piety up to the present day. By his fundamental sentiment: “Mihi adhærere deo bonum est,” as also by his distinction between law and gospel, letter and spirit, and his preaching that God creates faith and a good will in us, he called forth the evangelical Reformation.162162See the testimonies to Augustine of the Reformers and their confessional writings; yet the difference that still existed was not unknown to them. By his doctrine of the authority and means of grace of the Church, he carried forward the construction of Roman Catholicism; nay, he first created the hierarchical and sacramental institution. By his Biblicism he prepared the way for the so-called pre-reformation movements, and the criticism of all extra-Biblical ecclesiastical traditions. By the force of his speculation, the acuteness of his intellect, the subtlety of his observation and experience, he incited, nay, partly created, scholasticism in all its branches, including the Nominalistic, and therefore also the modern theory of knowledge and psychology. By his Neoplatonism and enthusiasm for predestination he evoked the mysticism as well as the anti-clerical opposition of the Middle Ages.163163Even the Anti-Gregorian party in the Middle Ages frequently appealed to Augustine. It was possible to find in him welcome statements as to the meaning of the Empire, the possibility of correcting Councils, and, generally, anti-hierarchical passages. By the form of his ideal of the Church and of felicity, he strengthened the popular Catholic, the monachist, state of feeling, domesticating it, moreover, in the Church, and thereby rousing and capacitating it to overcome and dominate the world as contrasted with the Church. Finally, by his unique power of portraying himself, of expressing the wealth of his genius, and giving every word an individual impress, by his gift of individualising and self-observation, he contributed to the rise of the Renaissance and the modern spirit.

These are not capricious combinations, but historical facts:164164Compare Reuter, Studie VII. the connecting lines that lead back to him, can everywhere be clearly demonstrated. But where, then, in the history of the West is there a man to be compared to him? Without taking much to do with affairs—Augustine was Bishop of a second-rate city, and possessed neither liking nor talent for the rôle of an ecclesiastical leader or practical reformer—by the force of his ideas he influenced men, and made his life permeate the centuries that followed.


It has been attempted to depict Augustine’s significance as Church teacher, by dividing absolutely the various directions in which his thought moved, and by giving separate accounts of the Neoplatonist, the Paulinist, the earlier Manichæan, and the Catholic Bishop.165165It is unmistakable that there are three planes in Augustine’s theological thoughts, Neoplatonic mysticism (without means of grace, without the Church, nay, in a sense, even without Christ), Christological soteriology, and the plane of the authority and sacraments of the Church. Besides these, rationalistic and Manichæan elements have to be taken into account. But it is to be feared that violence is done him by such an analysis. It is safer and more appropriate, within the limits of a history of dogma, to keep to the external unity which he has himself given to his conceptions. In that case his Enchiridion ad Laurentium, his matured exposition of the Symbol, presents itself as our best guide. This writing we mean to bring forward at the close of the present chapter, after preliminary questions have been discussed which were of supreme importance to Augustine, and the controversies have been reviewed in which his genius was matured. We shall, in this way, obtain the clearest view of what Augustine achieved for the Church of his time, and of the revolution he evoked. It is a very attractive task to centralise Augustinian theology, but it is safer to rest content with the modest result of becoming acquainted with it, in so far as it exerted its influence on the Church. One difficulty meets us at the very outset which can not be removed, and went on increasing in after times. What portion of Augustine’s countless expositions constituted dogma in his own eyes, or became dogma at a later period? While he extended dogma to an extraordinary extent, he at the same time sometimes relaxed, sometimes—as regards ancient tradition—specifically stiffened, the notion to be held of it. The question as to the extent of dogmas was neither answered, nor ever put precisely, in the West, after the Donatist and Pelagian controversies. In other words, no necessity was felt for setting up similarly express positive statements in addition to the express refutations of Pelagians, Donatists, etc. But the necessity was not felt, because Churchmen possessed neither self-confidence nor courage to take ecclesiastical action on a grand scale. They always felt they were Epigones of a past time which had created the professedly adequate tradition. This feeling, which was still further accentuated in the Middle Ages, was gradually overcome by the Popes, though solely by them. Apart from a few exceptions, it was not till the Council of Trent that dogmas were again formed. Till then the only dogmas were the doctrines contained in the Symbols. Next these stood the catalogues of heretics, from which dogmas could be indirectly deduced. This state of matters induces us to present the doctrine of Augustine as fully as possible, consistently with the design of a text-book. Many things must here be brought forward from his works which bore no fruit in his own time, but had a powerful influence on the course of doctrinal development in the following centuries, and came to light in the dogmas of Trent.166166Reuter also recognises (p. 495 f., note) that Augustine held the contents of the Symbol alone to be dogma. But we have here to remember that the most elaborate doctrine of the Trinity and Christology were evolved from the Symbol, and that its words “sancta ecclesia” and “remissio peccatorum” contained theories from which equally far-reaching dogmas could be formed, or heretics be convicted. Even Cyprian refuted the Novatians from the Symbol, and Augustine used it against the Pelagians. A peculiar difficulty in the way of discussing Augustine in the history of dogma consists further in the fact that he created countless theological schemes, but no dogmatic formulas. He was too copious, too earnest, and too sincere to publish catch-words.

In what follows we shall proceed (1) to describe Augustine’s fundamental view, his doctrines of the first and last things;167167Augustine was the first dogmatist to feel the need of considering for himself the questions, which we are now accustomed to treat in the “prolegomena to dogmatics.” The Alexandrians undoubtedly attempted this also; but in their case formal and material, original and derived, were too much intertwined. Nor did they advance to the last problems of psychology and the theory of perception. Enchir., 4: “Quid primum, quid ultimum, teneatur, quæ totius definitionis summa sit, quod certum propriumque fidei catholicæ fundamentum.” (Questions by Laurentius.) for they were fixed when he became a Catholic Christian; (2) and (3) we then describe his controversies with Donatists and Pelagians, in which his conception of faith was deepened and unfolded; and (4) we expound his system of doctrine by the help of the Enchiridion ad Laurentium.


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