Did Augustine really 'stray' from the Fathers?

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True North | Forum Activity | Posted: Wed, Nov 25 2020 8:31 AM

I just read this and was wondering if anyone could suggest some resources that talk about the subject line.

The 500-year-old theology of John Calvin was directly derived from Augustine who strayed from the foundation of traditional Patristic theology over 1,000 years prior to Calvin 

https://ref.ly/logosres/9780998138558?ref=Page.p+34&off=94

mm.

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Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 9:17 AM

Oh boy. This is a complicated topic. First of all, I will admit that I am not an expert in this, but I am aware of discussion related to the following questions:

Is there a consensus on nature and grace before Augustine? If so, how detailed was it? Where there regional distinctions (was Augustine building on a North African way of talking)? What was Augustine's actual teaching? Is Augustine's defense of the goodness of nature against the Manicheans (eg. Lib. Arb.) consistent with his talk about Original Sin against the Pelagians (eg. Contra Julian)? Pelagians were condemned at the Council of Ephesus. Was this just politics to get the West on the side of the council, or might Cyril's Christology imply that Pelagianism is heresy? A significant part of Augustine's teaching comes out of his view of Baptism. What is his view of Baptismal efficacy and regeneration? How does this fit with traditional Patristic theology? Does Calvin share this?

And I am sure that there are many other rabbit holes one will start to find when investigating further.

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DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 9:36 AM

Simpler to ask yourself who you most identify with, Tertullian or Augustine? Later protestants were a minor deviation.

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 10:10 AM

so i guess it's not as easy as I thought then.

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 11:56 AM

I'm familiar with the Pelagian Controversy, vaguely. But what I'm thinking I should do is to read both Augustine & Pelagius theological works. Both of which I'm not even clear on what they taught.

Questions:

1. Any recommendations on reading them?

a. Do they have theological works that are available some where?

2. does it matter who I start with?

3. Are there any other background materials leading up to the Controversy that I should familiarize myself with?

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Bobby Terhune | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 12:15 PM

R C Sproul has an excellent book called "Willing to Believe, The Controversy over Free Will". He has separate chapters on on pelagius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finnely and Lewis Sperry Chafer. He does the best overview of anyone I've read on the .Free Will controversy.

Somewhere it the files on the forum I once saw a PPB for Pelagius commentary on Romans.

For Augustine, the book "Augustine through the Ages - An Encyclopedia", would give you a wealth of articles on every aspect of Augustine's life and teaching.

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 12:26 PM

Looks like Sproul's book is in production as we speak.

Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation | Logos Bible Software

Augustine through the Ages looks pretty good. May have to sell a bit more milk to get it. Put it in my wish list.

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Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 12:36 PM

For Pelagius, most of his works have been lost because no one copied them, so it is hard to really hear him as he wanted to be understood. That said, his commentary on the letters of Paul has been reconstructed, and IIRC, was even passed out here as a personal book.

Augustine, however, was quite prolific, and his works have been copied and translated multiple times. This kind of gives the opposite problem - there is so much evidence, it is harder to summarize and digest. That said, I would recommend the following:

1) His Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love. Here Augustine writes of the chief theological virtues in a way meant to be understandable to non-experts. It will give both an overview of his thought and teach you a bit about how he writes.

2) On the Spirit and the Letter. This is one of his most famous anti-Pelagian writings. It was a work that was quite often referenced in the Reformation - with multiple ways of reading it...

3) The Problem of Free Choice. Here Augustine argues that Humans do, in fact, have free will by using the classical philosophical dialogue. Evidently Augustine's arguments were quoted back to him by Pelagians, and in his Retractions, he argues that they are mis-reading what he said.

After this, just read whatever you want of the Anti-Pelagian writings.

The Gospel is not ... a "new law," on the contrary, ... a "new life." - William Julius Mann

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 1:04 PM

Thanks Ken,

I have Handbook & On the Spirit in the NPNF but not The Problem of Free Choice nor Retractions.

considering my questions about the Controversy, which one would u recommend?

Ken McGuire:

For Pelagius, most of his works have been lost because no one copied them, so it is hard to really hear him as he wanted to be understood. That said, his commentary on the letters of Paul has been reconstructed, and IIRC, was even passed out here as a personal book.

Augustine, however, was quite prolific, and his works have been copied and translated multiple times. This kind of gives the opposite problem - there is so much evidence, it is harder to summarize and digest. That said, I would recommend the following:

1) His Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love. Here Augustine writes of the chief theological virtues in a way meant to be understandable to non-experts. It will give both an overview of his thought and teach you a bit about how he writes.

2) On the Spirit and the Letter. This is one of his most famous anti-Pelagian writings. It was a work that was quite often referenced in the Reformation - with multiple ways of reading it...

3) The Problem of Free Choice. Here Augustine argues that Humans do, in fact, have free will by using the classical philosophical dialogue. Evidently Augustine's arguments were quoted back to him by Pelagians, and in his Retractions, he argues that they are mis-reading what he said.

After this, just read whatever you want of the Anti-Pelagian writings.

Posts 1917
Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 1:07 PM

Milkman:

I have Handbook & On the Spirit in the NPNF but not The Problem of Free Choice nor Retractions.

considering my questions about the Controversy, which one would u recommend?

Both. Handbook to get a handle on his thought in general, and the Spirit and the Letter as an intro to his anti-Pelagian thought.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 1:56 PM

I'd like to question your forming of the question. As a Church Father, Augustine cannot stray from the Fathers. To ask the question in that form is to assume more uniformity than there is among them. Rather, the way I was taught to think of it (which shows my age) was as a vinyl record. The hole in the center is the core everyone agrees upon. On everything else, theologians are nearer or farther from the general consensus and nearer or farther from common alternative views. Think of consensus as nearer the middle and alternatives spread across the record in relation to their distance from each other - opposites 180 degrees apart. Some are so far from the center that they fall off the edge of the record - those are called heresies. But everything that stays on the vinyl record is legitimate theology of the Church Fathers. Augustine, like many patristic writers, was near the center on some topics and close to falling off the record on others.

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 2:00 PM

Do you think I should get The Problem of Free Choice AND Retractions?

I already have the Handbook AND On the Spirit.

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 2:08 PM

I read that in a book and it was surprised by it and since I really don't know a lot about Augustine's theology and the Controversy I thought I'd throw it out there to those much more equipped to handle my question(s).

Your record analogy makes sense. Of course those 45's which I used to buy do have a larger hole in the middle.

MJ. Smith:

I'd like to question your forming of the question. As a Church Father, Augustine cannot stray from the Fathers. To ask the question in that form is to assume more uniformity than there is among them. Rather, the way I was taught to think of it (which shows my age) was as a vinyl record. The hole in the center is the core everyone agrees upon. On everything else, theologians are nearer or farther from the general consensus and nearer or farther from common alternative views. Think of consensus as nearer the middle and alternatives spread across the record in relation to their distance from each other - opposites 180 degrees apart. Some are so far from the center that they fall off the edge of the record - those are called heresies. But everything that stays on the vinyl record is legitimate theology of the Church Fathers. Augustine, like many patristic writers, was near the center on some topics and close to falling off the record on others.

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Liam Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 2:57 PM

MJ. Smith:
the way I was taught to think of it (which shows my age) was as a vinyl record. The hole in the center is the core everyone agrees upon. On everything else, theologians are nearer or farther from the general consensus and nearer or farther from common alternative views. Think of consensus as nearer the middle and alternatives spread across the record in relation to their distance from each other - opposites 180 degrees apart. Some are so far from the center that they fall off the edge of the record - those are called heresies. But everything that stays on the vinyl record is legitimate theology of the Church Fathers. Augustine, like many patristic writers, was near the center on some topics and close to falling off the record on others.

I remember you talking about this a year or so ago and it has stuck with me ever since. Thank you for sharing this useful illustration with the community, MJ.

Carpe verbum.

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Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 4:12 PM

Milkman:
Do you think I should get The Problem of Free Choice AND Retractions?

The relevant part of The Retractions is in the ECW edition of The Problem of Free Choice. I am not exactly sure how legal it is, but you can read it online at https://archive.org/details/ancientchristian009933mbp

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Olli-Pekka Ylisuutari | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 4:18 PM

Milkman:

if anyone could suggest some resources that talk about the subject line.

Could this article from the Encyclopedia of Christianity - regarding “grace” be helpful: first the eastern view on grace, then the western etc.?

Some pickings:

“Patristic theology did not regard human action and the work of grace as antithetical. Attention and expectation focus on God’s action…”

“The antithesis of our work and God’s (cf. the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius; see 3) never bothered the Eastern church…”

“Theologically, East and West took different paths, especially in → anthropology…”

“In the East human beings were seen from the very first more in their anchoring in God, the image of God being manifested in the teaching activity of the Logos. In the West, however, attention focused on human beings in their subjectivity and autonomy…”

“The approach in terms of the → incarnation differs from the approach in terms of redemption, the restoration of the broken order by expiation. With logical historical consistency, then, it follows that very early (beginning with Tertullian) the West worked out the difference between subjective and objective redemption. Grace comes into play as a specific divine power by which we who are independent by nature attain to → salvation…”

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 5:45 PM

I'm just popping in to note that St. Augustine did not write a work called the Retractions. He wrote a work called the Retractations.

Please use descriptive thread titles to attract helpful posts & not waste others' time. Thanks!

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Nov 25 2020 8:12 PM

SineNomine:

I'm just popping in to note that St. Augustine did not write a work called the Retractions. He wrote a work called the Retractations.

All this time and until I never noticed that was the real title until you said it

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Nov 27 2020 8:24 AM

Milkman:
Do you think I should get The Problem of Free Choice AND Retract[at]ions?

If your goal is to understand St. Augustine's thought related to what we now commonly call "free will", then yes.

The latter volume will also help with other studies of Augustine. It is especially useful for understanding where and how Augustine changed his mind on different topics over the years.

Please use descriptive thread titles to attract helpful posts & not waste others' time. Thanks!

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True North | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Nov 27 2020 8:38 AM

Thanks.

SineNomine:

Milkman:
Do you think I should get The Problem of Free Choice AND Retract[at]ions?

If your goal is to understand St. Augustine's thought related to what we now commonly call "free will", then yes.

The latter volume will also help with other studies of Augustine. It is especially useful for understanding where and how Augustine changed his mind on different topics over the years.

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