Church History vs. Calvinism (Part Two)

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Emperor Constantine (AD 272-337), according to Laurence M. Vance,

      became the sole ruler of the Western branch of the Roman empire after defeating Maxentius (c. 283-312) at the famous Battle of the Mulvian Bridge, near Rome, in 312. It was here that Constantine claimed to have seen a vision of a shining cross that led to his victory. . . .

After supposedly attributing his victory to the “Christian God,” Constantine joined with Licinius (c. 265-325), one of the emperors of the East, in issuing in 313, at Milan, a decree of toleration toward Christianity.1

By this time, the marriage of the Church to the state would be her downfall. Thus, in many cases, the redeemed sat alongside the unredeemed in every church service. Theodosius, Constantine’s successor, by AD 381, proclaimed to all people that they “steadfastly adhere to the religion which was taught by St. Peter to the Romans, which has been faithfully preserved by tradition.”2

Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus, AD 354-430) was born in North Africa and studied at Carthage. Before his conversion he was a lustful, sexually promiscuous young man, consumed by pride and arrogance. He had become infatuated with the philosophy of Cicero and joined with the gnostic Manichaean religion. These things would have a profound impact on his theology in later years.

Upon hearing a child’s voice, saying, “Take up and read,” Augustine turned to the first text upon which his eyes could fix. That text was Romans 13:14, which convicted him of his sexually perverse lifestyle. His repentance was followed by baptism the following Easter. He then returned to Rome for a year. After his mother died, he returned to his hometown and entered the monastery to study theology.

Besides his Confessions and The City of God, he is most known for three disputes. He fervently debated the Manichaean heresy, as well as the Donatists, and lastly, Pelagius. The debates with Pelagius would be his most famous theological conflict.

From what we read in yesterday’s post, however, it seems to me that Augustine was not only battling Pelagius but also the majority of the early Church fathers, at least on the subject of unconditional predestination and free will. Vance writes:

      This is his most significant theological conflict, and one which bears directly on the subject of Calvinism, for as the Calvinists David Steele and Curtis Thomas maintain: “The basic doctrines of the Calvinistic position had been vigorously defended by Augustine against Pelagius during the fifth century.”

And it is because of the modern comparison of the opposing systems of Augustinianism and Pelagianism to Calvinism and Arminianism that Pelagius and his system demand further study.3

Unfortunately, given that a man is a prolific writer does not guarantee that everything which he writes will always be correct. In fact, the amount of material one writes could contain 100% heresy. So, one must never assume that being a prolific author really bears any weight.

Among the many, many theological errors to which Augustine held, includes the following:

  • The inspiration of many of the Apocryphal books;
  • the subjective and dangerous Allegorical Hermeneutic;
  • Replacement theology;
  • Baptismal Regeneration (and even necessary for the salvation of infants);
  • the false idea that martyrdom could replace baptism;
  • Cessationism;
  • Amillenialism (though this one is disputed even by orthodox Christians);
  • the Apostolic Succession of Bishops from Peter;
  • the sinlessness of Mary;
  • the intercession of dead saints;
  • the adoration of relics;
  • purgatory;
  • the idea that the worst sin behind the fallen human condition was sexual intercourse, and was considered by him to be sinful unless used for procreation;
  • polygamy — if it was solely for propagation;
  • the notion that God’s grace is distributed through Roman Catholic sacraments;
  • and, of course, that God had predestined to save some and not others by a mere decree and for His glory.4

When one considers the amount of false, or even heretical, views to which he held, it is truly a wonder how he became such a respected “authority” in the Church. In some circles, to quote Augustine is tantamount to quoting Scripture.

But for the purpose of this post, one thing stands out above his other errors. It is more than merely interesting that Augustine was the first one to introduce the idea that God had unconditionally predestined some unto salvation and not others. And in admitting this, he did not attribute it to God’s foreknowledge, as did his predecessors, but to God’s sole prior decision and delight.

Even more shocking, however, is his statement, that, “It is, indeed, to be wondered at, and greatly to be wondered at, that to some of His own children — whom He has regenerated in Christ — to whom He has given faith, hope, and love, God does not give perseverance also”5 (emphasis added). One never hears the Calvinist quoting this statement from Augustine!

Granted, this could have been the “early” Augustine, as opposed to the “late” Augustine. Such a distinction is important if we are to be fair, for he did not always hold consistently to his beliefs throughout his entire life. But one thing he was consistent on was his belief that God had unconditionally predestined some and reprobated the majority of humanity.

Compare that doctrine to the foreknowledge view of Justin Martyr, Tatian, Clement of Rome, Melito, Theophilus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Bardesanes, Hippolytus, and Origen, who lived between one to two hundred years before Augustine. Clearly, Church history stands against an Augustinian (and by default, a Calvinistic) understanding of salvation.

To be continued . . .

1 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999), 43-44.

2 Ibid., 46.

3 Ibid., 49-50.

4 Ibid., 53-59.

5 Ibid., 58.