St. Augustine


Excerpt from "Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine Of the Christian Church During Its First Five-Hundred Years" - a book by J.W. Hanson - 1899

(from http://hellbusters.8m.com/upd20.html)

Augustine--Deterioration Continued
  Aurelius Augustinus was born in Tagaste, Numidia, November 13, 354, and died in 420. He was the great fountain of error destined to adulterate Christianity, and change its character for long ages. In disposition and spirit he was wholly unlike the amiable and learned fathers who proclaimed an earlier and purer faith. He fully developed that change in opinion which was destined to influence Christianity for many centuries. He himself informs us that he spent his youth in the brothels of Carthage after a mean, thieving boyhood.1 He cast off the mother of his illegitimate son, Adeodatus, whom he ought to have married, as his sainted mother, Monica, urged him to do. It is an interesting indication of the Latin type of piety to know that his mother allowed him to live at home during his shameless life, but that when he adopted the Manichæan heresy (A dualistic philosophy dividing the world between good and evil principles) she forbade him her house. And afterward, when he become " orthodox," though still living immorally, she received him in her home. His life was destitute of the claims of that paternal relation on which society rests, and which our Lord makes the fundamental fact of his religion, Fatherhood. He transferred to God the characteristics of semi-Pagan kings, and his theology was a mix born of the Roman Code of Law and Pagan Mythology.

Augustine and Origen Contrasted

   The contrast between Origen's system and Augustine's is as that of light and darkness; with the first, Fatherhood, Love, Hope, Joy, Salvation; with the other, Vengeance, Punishment, Sin, Eternal Despair. With Origen God triumphs in final unity; with Augustine man continues in endless rebellion, and God is defeated, and an eternal dualism prevails. And the effect on the believer was in the one case a pitying love and charity that gave the melting heart that could not bear to think of even the devil unsaved, and that antedated the poet's prayer,--

"Oh, wad ye tak a thought and mend,"

and that believed the prayer would be answered; and in the other a stony-hearted indifference to the misery of mankind, which he called "one damned batch and mass of perdition."2

Augustine's Acknowledgment

   Augustine brought his theology with him from Manichæism when he became a Christian, only he added perpetuity to the dualism that Mani made temporal. "The doctrine of endless punishment assumed in the writings of Augustine a prominence and rigidity which had no parallel in the earlier history if theology and which savors of the teaching of Mohammed more than of Christ. 3 Hitherto, even in the West, it had been an open question whether the punishment hereafter of sin unrepented of and not forsaken was to be endless. Augustine has left on record the fact that some, indeed very many, still fell back upon the mercy and love of God as a ground of hope for the ultimate restoration of humanity. 4 He is the first writer to undertake a long and elaborate defense of the doctrine of endless punishment, and to wage a refutation against its impugners. He rallies the 'tender-hearted Christians,' as he calls them, who cannot accept it." About 420 he speaks of his "merciful brethren," 5 or party of pity, among the orthodox Christians, who advocate the salvation of all, and he challenges them, like Origen, to advocate also the redemption of the devil and his angels. Thus though the virus of Roman Paganism was extending, the truth of the Gospel was yet largely held. And it was the immense power Augustine came to wield that so dominated the church that it afterwards stamped out the doctrine of universal salvation.

Augustine's Criticisms, Mistakes, and Ignorance

   Augustine assumed and insisted that the words defining the duration of punishment, in the New Testament, teach its endlessness, and the claim set up by Augustine is the one still held by the advocates of "the dying belief," that aeternus in the Latin, and aionios in the original Greek, mean interminable duration. It seems that a Spanish presbyter, Orosius, visited Augustine in the year 413, and besought him for arguments to meet the position that punishment is not to be without end, because aionios does not denote eternal, but limited duration. Augustine replied that though aion signifies limited as well as endless duration, the Greeks only used aionios for endless, and he originated the argument so much resorted to even yet, based in the fact that in Matt. 25:46, the same word is applied to "life," and to "punishment." The student of Greek need not be told that Augustine's argument is incorrect, and he scarcely needs to be assured that Augustine did not know Greek. This he confesses. He says he "hates Greek," and the "grammar learning of the Greeks." 6 It is a deviation in the history of criticism that generations of scholars should take their cue in a matter of Greek definition from one who admits that he had "learned almost nothing of Greek," and was "not competent to read and understand" the language, and reject the position held by those who were born Greeks! That such a man should contradict and subvert the teachings of such men as Clement, Origen, the Gregories and others whose mother-tongue was Greek, is passing strange. But his powerful influence, aided by civil arm, established his doctrine till it came to rule the centuries. Augustine always quotes the New Testament from the old Latin version, the Itala, from which the Vulgate was formed, instead of the original Greek. See Preface to "Confessions." It seems that the doctrine of Origen prevailed in Northeastern Spain at this time, and that Jerome's translation of Origen's "Principiis" had circulated with good effect, and that Augustine, to counteract the influence of Origen's book, wrote in 415, a small work, "Against the Priscillianists and Origenists." From about this time began the efforts of Augustine and his followers that subsequently entirely changed the character of Christian theology.

Milman on Augustinianism

   Says Milman: "The Augustinian theology coincided with the tendencies of the age towards the growth of the strong clerical system; and the priestly system reconciled Christendom with the Augustinian theology." And it was in the age of Augustine, at the maturity of his powers, that the Latin church developed its theological system, "differing at every point from the earlier Greek theology, starting from different premises, and actuated throughout by another motive," 7 and from that time, for nearly fifteen centuries it held sway, and for more than a thousand years the sentiment of Christendom was little more or less than the echo of the voice of Augustine. "When Augustine appeared the Greek tongue was dying out, the Greek spirit was waning, the Paganism of Rome and its civil genius were combined, and a Roman emperor usurped the throne of the God of love."8

   Augustine declared that God had no kind purpose in punishing; that it would not be unjust to torment all souls forever; a few are saved to illustrate God's mercy. The majority "are predestined to eternal fire with the devil." He held, however, that all punishments beyond the grave are not endless. He says, "Non autem omnes veniunt in sempiternas poenas, quæ post illud judicium sunt futuræ, qui post mortem sustinent temporales."9

Augustine Less Severe Than Modern Orthodoxy

   Augustine, however, held the penalties of sin in a much milder form than do his degenerate theological descendants in modern times. He teaches that the lost still retain goodness,--too valuable to be destroyed, and on that account the worst are not in absolute evil, but only in a lower degree of good. "Grief for lost good in a state of punishment is a witness of a good nature. For he who grieves for the lost peace for his nature, grieves for it by means of some remains of peace, by which it is caused that nature should be friendly to itself." He taught that while unbaptized children must be damned in a Gehenna of fire, their torments would be light (levissima) compared with the torment of other sinners, and that their condition would be far preferable to non-existence, and so on the whole a blessing. In a limbus infantum they would only receive a mitissima damnatio. He also taught that death did not necessarily end probation, as is quite fully shown under "Christ's Descent into Hades." Augustine's idea was reduced to rhyme in the sixteenth century by the Rev. Michael Wigglesworth, of Malden, Mass., who was the Puritan pastor of the church in that place. A curious fact in the history of the parish is this,--that the church in which these ridiculous sentiments were uttered became, in 1828, by vote of the parish, Universalist, and is now the Universalist church in Malden. The poem represents God as saying to non-elect infants:

"You sinners are, and such a share
As sinners may expect,
Such you shall have, for I do save
None but my own elect.
Yet to compare your sin with theirs
Who lived a longer time,
I do confess yours is much less
Though every sin's a crime.
A crime it is, therefore in bliss
You may not hope to dwell,
But unto you I shall allow
The easiest room in hell!"

  Augustine thought that the cleansing fire might burn away pardonable sins between death and the resurrection. He says: "I do not refute it, because, perhaps, it is true;" 10 and that the sins of the good may be eradicated by a similar process.

   He was certainly an example that might advantageously have been copied by opponents of Universalism in very recent years. Though he said the church "detested" it, he kindly added: "They who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be deceived by a certain human tenderness," and he urged Jerome to continue to translate Origen for the benefit of the African church!11

Decadence and Deterioration

   Under such malign influences, however, the broad and generous theology of the East soon passed away; the language in which it was expressed--the language of Clement, Origen, Basil, the Gregories, became unknown among the Christians of the West; the cruel doctrines of Augustine harmonized with the cruelty of the barbarians and of Roman Paganism combined, and thus Africa smothered the milder spirit of Christendom, and Augustine riveted the fetters that were to confine the church for more than ten long centuries. "The triumph of Latin theology was the death of rational exegesis."

   But before this evil influence prevailed, some of the great Latin fathers rivaled the immortal leaders in the Oriental church. Among these was Ambrose, of whom Jerome says, "nearly all his books are full of Origenism," which Huet repeats, while the "Dictionary of Christian Biography" tells us that he teaches that "even to the wicked death is a gain." Thus the gracious, cordial thought of Origen was still potent, even in the West, though a harder theology was overcoming it.

   Says Hagenbach: "In proportion to the development of ecclesiastical orthodoxy into fixed and systematic shape was the loss of individual freedom in respect to the formulation of doctrines, and the increased peril of becoming heretical. The more liberal tendency of former theologians, such as Origen, could no longer be tolerated, and was at length condemned. But, notwithstanding this external condemnation, the spirit of Origen continued to encourage the chief theologians of the East, though it was kept within narrower limits. The works of this great teacher were also made known in the West by Jerome and Rufinus, and exerted an influence even upon his opponents." After Justinian the Greek empire and influence contracted, and the Latin and Roman power expanded. Latin became the language of Christianity, and Augustine's system and followers used it as the instrument of molding Christianity into an Africo-Romano heathenism. The Apostles' and Nicene creeds were disregarded, and Arianism, Origenism, Pelagianism, Manichæism and other so-called heresies were nearly or quite obliterated, and the Augustinian inventions of original and inherited depravity, predestination, and endless hell torments, became the theology of Christendom.

Christianity Paganized

   Thus, says Schaff, "the Roman state, with its laws, institutions, and usages, was still deeply rooted in heathenism. The Christianizing of the state amounted therefore to a paganizing and secularizing of the church. The world overcame the church as much as the church overcame the world, and the temporal gain of Christianity was in many respects canceled by spiritual loss. The mass of the Roman Empire was baptized only with water, not with the spirit and fire of the Gospel, and it smuggled heathen practices and manners into the sanctuary under a new name." The broad faith of the primitive Christians paled and faded before the lurid terrors of Augustinianism. It vanished in the Sixth Century, "crushed out," says Bigg, "by tyranny and the leaden ignorance of the age." It remained in the East a while, was "widely diffused among the monasteries of Egypt and Palestine," and only ceased when Augustinianism and Catholicism and the power of Rome ushered in and fostered the darkness of the Dark Ages. Says an accurate writer: "If Augustine had not been born an African, and trained as a Manichee, nay, if he had only faced the labor of learning Greek--a labor from which he confesses that he had shrunk--the whole stream of Christian theology might have been purer and more sweet."

Augustinianism Cruel

   In no other respect did Augustine differ more widely from Origen and the Alexandrians that in his intolerant spirit. Even Tertullian conceded to all the right of opinion. Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Athanasius and Augustine himself in his earlier days, recorded the tolerance that Christianity demands. But he afterwards came to advocate and defend the persecution of religious opponents. Milman observes: "With shame and horror we hear from Augustine himself that fatal premise which impiously arrayed cruelty in the garb of Christian charity." 12 He was the first in the long line of Christian persecutors, and illustrates the character of the theology that swayed him in the wicked spirit that impelled him to advocate the right to persecute Christians who differ from those in power. The dark pages that bear the record of subsequent centuries are a damning witness to the cruel spirit that influenced Christians, and the cruel theology that propelled it. Augustine "was the first and ablest asserter of the principle which led to Albigensian crusades, Spanish armadas, Netherland's butcheries, St. Bartholomew massacres, the accursed infamies of the Inquisition, the vile espionage, the hideous bale fires of Seville and Smithfield, the racks, the gallows, the thumbscrews, the subterranean torture-chambers used by churchly torturers."13 And George Sand well says that the Roman church committed suicide the day she invented an implacable God and eternal damnation.14
1 Confessions, III, Chap. i-iii.
2 Conspersio damnata, massa perditionis.
3 Allen, Cont. Christ. Thought.
4 Enchiridion cxii: "Frustra itaque nonulli, imo quam plurimi, æternam damnatorum poenam et cruciatus sine intermissione perpetuos humano miserantur affectu, atque ita futurum esse non credunt."
5 Misericordibus nostris. De Civ. Dei., xxi: 17.
6 Græcæ autem linguæ non sit nobis tantus habitus, ut talium rerum libris legendis et intelligendis ullo modo reperiamur idonei, (De Trin. lib III); and, et ego quidem græcæ linguæ perparum assecutus sum, et prope nihil. (Contra litteras Petiliani, lib II, xxxviii, 91. Migne, Vol. XLIII.) Quid autem erat causæ cur græcas litteras oderam quibus puerulus imbuebar ne nunc quidem mihi satis exploratum est: "But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand." Conf. I:13. This ignorance of the original Scriptures was a poor outfit with which to furnish orthodox critics for a thousand years. See Rosenmuller, Hist. Interp., iii, 40.
7 Latin Christ. I.
8 Allen, Cont. Christ Thought, p. 156.
9 De Civ. Dei.
10 De Civ. Dei. "non redarguo, quia forsitan verum est."
11 Ep. 8.
12 Latin Christianity, I, 127.
13 Farrar's Lives of the Fathers.
14 " L' Eglise Romaine s'est porte le dernier coup: elle a consomme son suicide le jour on elle a fait Dieu implacable et la damnation eternelle." Spiridion.



Other Writings in This Series:

Gregory of Nyssa
Aoin / Aoinios
St. Augustine