When Good Men go Wrong.

Augustine is a man beloved by both Calvinists and Catholics. I dare most who read this blog can think of one Augustineor reasons we like him. How many of us are aware of the gross error he taught? Here’s a sample of why Rome loves this man.

Augustine of Hippo, did not shrink from giving a dogmatic basis to what had come to be the practice of the church, and even professed to find warrant for it in Scripture. “It is, indeed, better that men should be brought to serve God by instruction than by fear of punishment, or by pain. But because the former means are better, the latter must not therefore be neglected. Many must often be brought back to their Lord, like wicked servants, by the rod of temporal suffering, before they attain the highest grade of religious development. . . The Lord himself orders that guests be first invited, then compelled, to his great supper.” And Augustine argues that if the State has not the power to punish religious error, neither should it punish a crime like murder. Rightly did Neander say of Augustine’s teaching, that it “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.” Nor was it long before the final step was taken in the church doctrine of persecution. Leo the Great, the first of the popes, in a strict sense of that term, drew the logical inference from the premises already provided for him by the Fathers of the church, when he declared that death is the appropriate penalty for heresy.

Once more, let us be just: the Roman Church is right in this conclusion if we grant its first premise, that salvation depends not on personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as a result of which or in connection with which the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul immediately, but is to be attained only through the church and its sacraments— baptism accomplishing the soul’s regeneration, and this new life being nourished and preserved through the Eucharist and other sacraments. Granting this doctrine of sacramental grace, not only is Rome justified in persecuting, but all who believe in sacramental grace are wrong not to persecute. For if salvation is impossible except through the church and its sacraments, every heretic is, as Rome charges, a murderer of souls. Is it not right to restrain and punish a murderer? From this point of view it becomes the duty of the church to root out heresy at all cost of human life—to make the world a desert, if need be, but at any rate to ensure peace. And all persecutors have been half-hearted in the work except only Rome; she has had the courage of her accursed convictions. She alone has recognized that if you say A you must say B, and so on, to the end of the alphabet; that if you once begin to persecute you must not tremble at blood and tears, nor shrink from sending men to the rack, the gibbet, and the stake. The Inquisition is the perfectly logical, the inevitable outcome of Roman doctrine, and the entire system of persecution is rooted in this idea of sacramental grace.

From Henry Vedder’s A Short History of the Baptists

5 thoughts on “When Good Men go Wrong.

  1. Manfred, what would really be instructive is a list of Augustine’s Retractions. So often, there is hesitancy to refer to Augustine because of the wrong doctrines he taught; yet his retractions are not nearly as well known. A reminder to all to speak/write sparingly on doctrines that we may be in the process of re-evaluating!

  2. Jeremy – Good point. Have ye a link to such a list? Every Christian is a mix of truth and error, we must be humble when discussing those non-essential aspects of the faith. What Augustine said in the quote above is not in that category of non-essentials.

  3. I wish I had such a list. Once I searched in a fairly big Christian bookstore, and there were many books by and about Augustine; alas! the list is elusive. Anyone else who can help? It would be a wonderful education for us all, I am sure.

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