Discussion: Prayer is the Encounter of God’s Thirst with Ours.

“Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.[1]

In our monthly discussion group, today we began our discussion on Christian Prayer. I wanted to highlight something in particular that Fr. Dominic expressed early in our discussion where the Catechism focuses on the woman encountering Jesus at the well in the Gospel of John Ch. 4. Christ asks her for a drink, and in fact, in prayer, it is here where it is revealed that God thirsts so we may thirst for Him. The woman at the well is such a beautiful image of the give and take of prayer life. The woman encounters the Incarnation is the prime revelation of God and the prime revealer. The more I thought about it today with its connection to Jesus on the cross, “I thirst” and St. Mother Teresa the more and more it became clear. So, I thank Fr. Dominic highlighting it. It is when we take up our cross and join it with Jesus that our thirst begins to be quenched by living water.
In fact, St. Teresa of Avila uses the imagery of well in her famous autobiography to illuminate the development of prayer. She explains that it is the constant struggle of pulling up buckets sometimes filled with mud that is part of the development of prayer. The more one sends down the bucket the more one begins to pull up water to grow a beautiful garden.

What is this beauty? It is the fruit of joy from our relationship with God! It must all begin with prayer or there can be no relationship with God. “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God[2]” So, if prayer is the response of faith then ask yourself “how is your prayer life?” What does this tell you about your faith?

This discussion group is available for all patrons of the Pilgrims of Christ tier.

God Bless!

[1] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 614.

[2] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 614.

The Ark of History: St. Augustine’s City of God

640px-Church_of_Our_Lady_the_Queen_of_Poland_(Ark_of_Our_Lord),_view_from_N,_1_Obroncow_Krzyza_street,_Nowa_Huta,_Krakow,_Poland

via wikipedia commons: “The Arka Church” in Nowa Huta, Poland.

St. Augustine’s City of God is such a vast body of work that to write several thousand words on the document would be futile. Instead of writing a quasi-commentary on the text, the hope here to highlight the theme of salvation historiography that Augustine attempts to flesh out from the fall of the Roman empire. The decline and fall of the Roman empire is also the subject and title of a famous work on the subject written by Edward Gibbon. It is a work still trumpeted in History and Classics departments at many universities. What is strange about the study of that particular work, which blames the Catholic Church for the fall of the Roman empire, is that many academics seem to miss the fact that Gibbon wrote it as a diatribe against Catholicism—a common theme in 18thcentury England.

Interestingly enough, the work is often used today as a source to criticize all of Christianity as a whole. The trouble about Gibbon’s particular text is that St. Augustine had utterly refuted it 1300 years prior. After learning the contexts of Augustine’s City of Godin comparison to Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I’d be utterly embarrassed to assign that particular text in a classroom.

Rodney Stark, professor of Religious Studies at Baylor University, writes in his book Bearing False Witness at length about Edward Gibbon’s misrepresentation for the fall of the Roman empire. Stark explains, “Edward Gibbon (1737-94) would surely have been in deep trouble had the bitterly antireligious views he expressed in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not been incorrectly seen as applying to Roman Catholicism … Gibbon’s readers assumed his attacks were specific to Catholicism and not aimed at religion in general.”[1]

A student may spend their entire academic career at multiple colleges studying Roman civilization and culture and never read Augustine, one of the great Latin writers, but will almost definitely read Gibbon. A sad testimony to many history departments on college campuses.

Augustine’s work, The City of God, was written from the year 413 to 426 A.D. Matthew Levering examines that The City of God can be broken into either two parts or five depending on the topics in the work.[2]Levering explains, “Divided into two parts, the work consists in ten books against the pagan gods, followed by twelve books on the origin, progress, and end of the City of God. Divided into five parts the work consists in five books against pagan worship as beneficial for this life; five books against pagan worship…as beneficial for the life to come; four books on the origin of the City of God; four books on its progress; and four books on its end.”[3]

In the frameworks of St. Augustine’s City of God, Augustine employs a particular method of recording history, an approach called by the author as an Augustinian historiography. Levering explains that Augustine seeks to illustrate what “we can expect from historical existence, Augustine painstakingly transforms it into a biblical understanding of history according to which our lives can only be rightly appreciated in terms of ecclesial participation in the eternal God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.”[4]A method commonly thought to have been concentrated in the 7thcentury by the Saint the Venerable Bede, but is Augustine’s use of it in a more expansive role is 300 years before Bede’s work on Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

 In the opening paragraph, St. Augustine examines that the task he is about to undertake is one of great difficulty writing:

“I shall consider it both in its temporal stage here below (where it journeys as a pilgrim among sinners and lives by faith) and as solidly established in its eternal abode—that blessed goal for which we patiently hope ‘until justice be turned into judgment,’ but which, one day, is to be the reward of excellence in a final victory and a perfect peace. The task, I realize, is a high and hard one, but God will help me.”[5]

Whereas Edward Gibbon argued that Catholicism ushered what modern history is realizing to be a mythical dark age, Augustine examines the account, as an eyewitness, that Christianity gave moral restraint to Christian soldiers where pagan soldiers did not exercise such virtue:

Have not even those very Romans whom the barbarians spared for the sake of Christ assailed His Name? To this both the shrines of the martyrs and the basilicas of the Apostles bear witness: amid the city’s devastation, these buildings gave refuge not only to the faithful but even to infidels.[6]

 St. Augustine examines that source for such barbarism was rooted in paganism. Levering explains, “The Romans constructed gods in their own worst image, and then they used those gods to justify their vicious behavior while at the same time openly mocking the behavior of the gods.”[7] A common objection from skeptics of the faith will be, “People don’t believe in the pagan gods anymore, why should I believe in your God.” It’s important to point out what St. Thomas Aquinas understood that a plethora of beings which all shared the same nature but possessed different characteristics or powers wouldn’t be a ‘god’ in the proper sense of the word. Therefore, one can know rationally there can be only one God. Augustine, in his rhetoric, plays against this idea of different attributed God’s when examining the worship of the Goddess of Victory. He observes that Victory in war must be related to some form of Injustice, and if Injustice is a moral good for the Roman empire when they expand it, perhaps, the Romans should worship Injustice.[8]

In our modern age, studies have shown that people who have sworn off the old religions are still inherently religious (or spiritual is what they claim).[9]The question then becomes, how do these people live out their quasi-spiritualism? Some folk feel as though there is a passive distant god, responsible for creation. The idea is similar to deism popular in the 17thand 18thcenturies with adherents like Thomas Jefferson. Others tend to focus on New Ageism, which is similar to pagan pantheism. Moreover, although there may be other variables, people recreate old religion or figures into their image that adherents for generations would fail to recognize.

Catholic Apologist Trent Horn writes, in his new book Counterfeit Christs, noticing his talk did not go over well with a group of Catholic school teachers:

Afterward, I asked one of the teachers, “What did you think of my presentation?”

“No offense,” she said, “but people like you get worked up about minor things like who can and can’t receive Communion, whereas I think we should just focus on being people of faith…

“I just don’t think Jesus would say that,” she continued. “He wouldn’t say , ‘No, you have this because of somebody’s rules.’ Jesus would be compassionate, not judgmental.”

I noticed on her name tag that she taught Theology, but I wasn’t surprised.[10]

 

What Trent is noticing is that people in our society, concerned with not rocking the boat, have made Jesus in the image of a smiling savior and have eliminated the judge. Some would argue that this is a result of a post-conciliar Church concerned with its public relations image in the face of the modern world. The theology and much of the liturgy after Vatican II seemed to move away from the High Christology of the Church (Savior and King) to only the Low Christology (Good Shepherd). The trouble with this perception is that it is an incomplete picture of who is Jesus. A perfect image of Jesus Christ is from an Icon at St. Catherine monastery at Mount Sinai. In that particular icon, the face of Christ is not symmetrical, on one side, it carries the compassionate Jesus, but on the other side is the face of judgment. There’s one aspect of mercy that people tend to forget is that for mercy to be needed, there must be something to be healed from which is sin—and to talk about sin is offensive to our society and many in the Church.

Pagan Gods or Demons?

Interestingly, Augustine makes a connection that because the pagan gods of Rome lead to lack of justice and virtue that they must be demons. Many contemporary Christians would scoff at such an idea of evil and the supernatural with modern psychology. However, not all examples within the Scripture, especially the Gospels, can be explained away as mental illness. For example, the particular witness of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac and the death of the herd of pigs is something that modern psychology would lack with any answers.

For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; 12 and they begged him, “Send us to the swine, let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. [11]

 Augustine understood that there is a spiritual war going on for your soul. It would be in all of our best interest to remember it.

 Augustine Distinguishes between fate, predestination, and free will.

 What is interesting is that Levering in the book, The Theology of Augustine, explains the position of Cicero as understanding that if God had foreknowledge (middle knowledge) that it would destroy any sense of human freedom.[12]Ironically, Cicero’s position is more or less the same understanding of reformed Calvinist theology of Divine Sovereignty and with it Double Predestination. If the Reformation was put into motion by the idea, “What did Augustine really mean?” then naturally it follows since Augustine contradicts by understanding that the creator can operate within our natures without circumventing our wills ontologically. Levering explains, “Augustine argues that we do not need to choose between divine foreknowledge and human freedom…The transcendent God creates the order of finite causes, in which he includes the creation of free, rational agents.”[13]

In college, I had a professor who was devoutly Russian Orthodox and had a very skewed view of Augustine’s understanding of Free Will due to the debates of the Reformation. Naturally, the Reformation, which so dominated the culture of Western society is more or less driven by hearsay in other Christian circles. What Augustine understands is that God being the creator in the order of beings is that creatures can still participate in the will of God with their free will intact as the nature of God is existence. The professor didn’t understand the nuance of Augustine’s understanding that St. Thomas Aquinas would further develop when it came to the will. Augustine’s thoughts on Free Will are sometimes isolated and taken out of context from On the Predestination of the Saints; however, whether it is from the Confessions, City of God, or his Retractions he makes very clear that man does have a capacity to decide his own outcome in salvation history. Augustine writes:

We would certainly not make a choice if we did not choose to make it. On the other hand, if we take necessity to mean that in virtue of which something must be so and so or must happen in such and such a way, I do not see that we should be afraid of such necessity taking away our freedom of will. We do not put the life of God and the foreknowledge of God under any necessity when we say that God must live an eternal life and must know all things. Neither do we lessen His power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is. God is rightly called omnipotent, even though He is unable to die and be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer. He would not, of course, be omnipotent, if He had to suffer anything against His will. It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible.

So with us, when we say we must choose freely when we choose at all, what we say is true; yet, we do not subject free choice to any necessity which destroys our liberty. Our choices, therefore, are our own, and they effect, whenever we choose to act, something that would not happen if we had not chosen. Even when a person suffers against his will from the will of others, there is a voluntary act—not, indeed, of the person who suffers. However, a human will prevails—although the power which permits this is God’s[14]

At the end of book 10, Augustine begins to formulate his theology on the City of God. Part of the foundation of his understanding of the City of God is formulated from his synthesis of Porphyry. What Augustine recognizes is that Neo-Platonists could only move so far in their understanding of the metaphysical (spiritual) world, “The Neo-Platonist attempted to combine the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, believed in a dualism of soul and matter, and God is ultimate transcendence… Although he preferred Neo-Platonist thought, Augustine corrected them, and these corrections found a home with Catholic philosophy” as Augustine synthesizes them within the understanding of the grace of God’s revelation in history.[15]Levering explains, “Scripture records a history in which God acts to reveal himself and to establish a community of holy worship—the City of God.”[16]

Understanding History through Christian lenses.

Augustine begins his treatment of his theology on the City God with a guide, much like On Christian Doctrine, on how to understand Scripture. Levering writes, “For Augustine, Scripture, while written by humans, “is manifestly due to the guiding power of God’s supreme providence, and exercises sovereign authority over the literature of all mankind.”[17]Naturally, this is the understanding and teaching of the Catholic Church:

CCC 105God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

“For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.”

106God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.

107The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”[18]

Augustine has this understanding of what is the purpose and intent for Scripture. He explains in reference to Genesis that there are only four people mentioned, but that doesn’t mean that there are only four people in the entire world. Levering explains, “Augustine reasons that the sacred author mentions only those humans who directly pertain to the narrative’s goal of tracing the heavenly city from Adam to Abraham to the people of God.”[19]Naturally, this is why the narrative mentions Cain going to Nod and knowing his wife.

Levering reminds us that “the path to the City of God is the humility that comes from the mediator who is the Word incarnate…without renewal and elevation by grace, humans cannot know how God intends for us to be united to him.”[20]

There’s another city than the City of God?

Augustine explains that the city of man has its beginning in the fall of some of the angels. Naturally, because God is timeless and eternal as Augustine explains in Book 11 of the City God as well as in the Confession. God was aware that humanity would divide into the two separate camps created by the angels.[21]Levering instructs his readers that “In short, Augustine’s analysis of creation and falls shows that the earthly city, which was created ‘by love of self, even to the contempt of God.’ Turns away from participation in God and seeks happiness strictly in the linear or horizontal dimension of history.”

It appears that Levering, or Augustine, may have contradicted himself when he asserts that Cain and Abel inaugurated the two cities, as he already stated such with the fall of some of the angels. However, perhaps, Levering is discussing how humanity begins to participate in the two cities is launched by Cain and Abel. Augustine writes:

Now, the first man born of the two parents of the human race was Cain. He belonged to the city of man. The next born was Abel, and he was of the City of God. Notice here a parallel between the individual man and the whole race. We all experience as individuals what the Apostle says: ‘It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.’ The fact is that every individual springs from a condemned stock and, because of Adam, must be first cankered and carnal,2only later to become sound and spiritual by the process of rebirth in Christ. So, too, with the human race as a whole, as soon as human birth and death began the historical course of the two cities, the first to be born was a citizen of this world and only later came the one who was an alien in the city of men but at home in the City of God, a man predestined by grace and elected by grace. By grace an alien on earth, by grace he was a citizen of heaven.[22]

So, if the two cities were made possible by the fall of the Angels and founded by the act of Cain against his brother, what is the role of the City of God that appears surrounded by the city of man?

One of the significant motifs of the City of God is Noah’s Ark. Of course, many of our great Eastern churches, as well as Western, were designed to imitate the hull of a great ark with the Churches’ naves. Augustine explains that all interpreters of the flood narrative must convey “the mind of the writer who described the flood must realize the connections of this story with the City of God which, in this wicked world, is ever tossed like the ark in the waters of a deluge. [23]

This ark a symbolism of the City of God—the Body of Christ—“Undoubtedly, the ark is a symbol of the City of God on its pilgrimage in history, a figure of the Church which was saved by the wood on which there hung the ‘Mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.”[24]

So, how does the mediator, Christ Jesus, mediate on our behalf within the ark on our pilgrimage toward the City of God? Jesus refreshes us on our journey with the sacrament of his Sacred Body and Blood. Augustine stressed two particular themes of Catholic theology. Whereas many Protestant theologies focus on a personal relationship with the savior, Catholic theology stresses a communal relationship of the Body of Christ—the faithful—with Christ as the head:

Augustine stresses this point here:

#1 “There is, then, a true sacrifice in every work which unites us in a holy communion with God, that is, in every work that is aimed at that final Good in which alone we can be truly blessed. That is why even mercy shown to our fellow men is not a sacrifice unless it is done for God. A sacrifice, even though it is done or offered by man, is something divine—which is what the ancient Latins meant by the word sacrificium.[25]

The second point illustrates how the mediator Christ Jesus—the High Priest—offers the sacrifices of our bodies, the faithful, within the whole of his own mystical body to the Father.

#2 “true sacrifices are works of mercy done to ourselves or our neighbor and directed to God, and since works of mercy are performed that we may be freed from misery and, thereby, be happy, and since happiness is only to be found in that Good of which it is said: ‘But it is good for me to adhere to my God,’ it follows that the whole of that redeemed city, that is, the congregation or communion of saints, is offered as a universal sacrifice to God through the High Priest who, ‘taking the form of a servant, offered Himself in His passion for us that we might be the body of so glorious a Head. For it was this ‘form of a servant’ which He offered, it was in this form that He was the victim, since it is in ‘the form of a servant’ that He is Mediator, Priest and Sacrifice.[26]

What Augustine understands here is the foundational theology of early Christianity that works of mercy having an inherently sacramental nature as stated in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25; the Judgment of All Nations:

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[27]

We can see by this particular text that what we do for the least among us, while the ark is being battered by the waves of the city of man, is an act of worship and faith toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this aspect, Christianity cannot be a personal faith, whether that faith is personal in prayer or when those in the secular society, the city of man, call the faithful to have the freedom of worship instead of the freedom to express their religion openly.

If there is no God; there is only politics.

There are a great many different schools of thought when it comes to writing history — a discipline known as historiography. There is the view of “big man” history where people are inspired by leaders and thus moves history. Another viewpoint is that our cultural attachments motivate us, whether they’re ethnic, religious, or forms of beauty. However, the most predominated view of history is that we’re shaped strictly by political factors. The political viewpoint of history has four predominate schools: marxist, New Left, Modernist, and Post-Modernist. Those particular schools breakdown into roughly two categories: class conflict vs. nation-state. How is this important to Augustine and the City of God? Augustine’s text is inherently a historical treatise on the fall of the Roman empire being the result of a transcendent history of the City of God.

Augustine writes:

Nevertheless, the individual in this community is driven by his passions to pursue his private purposes. Unfortunately, the objects of these purposes are such that no one person (let alone, the world community) can ever be wholly satisfied.[28]

Levering understands this as “History on this view, is largely the record of empire and oppression, as it is in the modern study of history.”[29]The irony is that if the world is only material and secular; what is considered to be moral is only built on borrowed capital from Christian ethics. It’s undoubtedly true that atheist can be moral people, but they do not do so from an atheistic viewpoint. If we are all material accidents, then what happens between us is a mere accident. The only moral law becomes Nietzsche’s ‘state of nature,’ where the strongest are free to oppress the weak.

The idea that the political sphere is the key factor in moving history was challenged on June 2, 1979. A son of Poland returned home to Warsaw, as Pope John Paul II, he “walked vigorously down the stairway from the…[airplane]…, and kissed the ground of Poland. Church bells began tolling throughout a country electric with anticipation.”[30]A nation, starved for faith by materialist oppression of the Soviet Union, started to drown out their native son with chants, “We want God…We Want God…”

Of course, this gets into Augustine’s view on how the Church, ark, is to operate being battered by the waves of the city of man. It’s essential to note Augustine’s exegesis here because Jesus taught the kingdom of God is at hand, and this something that even a consensus of secular scholars acknowledge as a teaching from a historical Jesus who professed this message in 1stcentury Judea. So, how are we to view the ark and its pilgrimage? Augustine says:
“We conclude, therefore, that even now, in time, the Church reigns with Christ both in her living and departed members. ‘For to this end Christ died,’ says St. Paul, ‘and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.’ If St. John mentions only the souls of the martyrs, that is because they who have battled for the truth unto death reign in death with a special splendor. But, as the part is here used for the whole, we know that the words apply to the remaining faithful who belong to the same Church which is Christ’s Kingdom”[31]

Naturally, this plays into the idea that the Kingdom of God in the Gospels was coming, has come, and will come with the second coming of Christ. Professor of History and Classics Peter Burnell writes in his book The Augustinian Personhow the those who are living in the ark of the City of God should civilly participate in the city of man: “The perfectly just civil society, he says, is so by being a perfect sacrifice to God.”[32]So, it’s certainly not overstated that the duty of the faithful within the Body of Christ is to live a life of sacrifice.

[1]Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History(West Conshohocken: Templeton Press. 2016), 3.

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 113.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid, 114.

[5]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Demetrius B. Zema and Gerald G. Walsh, vol. 8, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 17–18.

[6]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Demetrius B. Zema and Gerald G. Walsh, vol. 8, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 19.

[7]Levering, 115.

[8]Ibid, 116.

[9]Michael Lipka, and Claire Gecewicz. “More Americans Now Say They’re Spiritual but Not Religious.” Pew Research Center. September 06, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/.

[10]Trent Horn, Counterfeit Christs(El Caljon: Catholic Answers, 2018), 15-16.

[11]Mk 5:8–13 RSV

[12]Levering, 117.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, 263.

[15]Phillip Hadden, Discussion Thread #1. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[16]Levering, 125.

[17]Ibid, 126.

[18]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 31.

[19]Levering, 131.

[20]Ibid, 126.

[21]Ibid, 127.

[22]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, vol. 14, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 414.

[23]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 478–479.

[24]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 477–478.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 125.

[26]Ibid, 126–127.

[27]Mt 25:31–46. RSV

[28]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 84.

[29]Levering, 134.

[30]George Wiegel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II(New York: Harper, 2001), 305.

[31]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, vol. 24, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 278.

[32]Peter Burnell, The Augustinian Person (Washington: Catholic University of America, 2005), 142.

Has God chosen you to love? St. Augustine: On the Predestination of the Saints

1024px-The_Last_Judgement_-_Stefan_Lochner_-_Wallraf-Richartz_Museum_-_Cologne_-_Germany_2017

St. Augustine is the cornerstone, so to speak, with the development of predestination theology and with its role of Grace and justification in the Christian life. The New Catholic Encyclopedia informs that “Prior to the time of St. Augustine the Fathers of the Church were not preoccupied with the problem of predestination. It was the bishop of Hippo who first treated the mystery exhaustively, with the theological decisiveness so characteristic of him.”[1]

The development of theology is often brought about from an expressed error in doctrine. Naturally, Augustine’s development of predestination theology was a response to Pelagius, a 4th-century priest from Britain, who argued that our will was utterly free to do good or evil and merit salvation from purely good works of one’s own accord. Pelagius’ heresy bears his name: Pelagianism. However, what is vital to understanding the Augustinian notion of predestination and justification is Augustine’s development of the concept of original sin.

In Catholicism, there are two competing ideas of free will and predestination. One is held by the Jesuits called Molinism, and the other is held by the Dominicans as a development of Thomistic theology. Fr. Luis De Molina, a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest, is the one whose name is the origin of the Jesuit developed theology of predestination:

“Molina taught that there exists in God a knowledge of all possible beings, as well as a knowledge of all possible orders of things. As a result, God knows all possible free acts of all possible men in all possible world orders. Presupposing this knowledge on the part of God, He, for His own reasons, freely chooses one order of things and wills its fulfillment. Thus, He chooses, those men to be saved whom in this world order He has foreseen would make good use of the graces that would be granted to them in these particular circumstances, men whom He has foreseen would persevere and ultimately merit eternal felicity…The explanation of Molina is founded on his opinion concerning the manner by which God knows future free acts. He maintains that this knowledge is in God independently of any decree of the will of God that would physically predetermine the will of man to one course of action, PREDETERMINATION, he holds, would destroy human freedom.”[2]

 The New Catholic Encyclopedia examines the response to Molinism from the Dominicans, namely from Fr. Domingo Banez:

Domingo Báñez. In opposition to Molina, the Spanish Dominican theologian held that predestination to glory, viewed in itself, is decreed before the provision of any merits whatsoever (ante praevisa merita). The very first action of God concerning the chosen group of men (the elect) is their election to glory, and, conversely, His very first action concerning the rest of men is their exclusion from glory or from an efficacious election to glory. This predestination of certain souls to glory before the prevision of their merits is, of course, not a result of any merit on the part of man, but is entirely gratuitous. God wills this by reason of His absolute dominion over all creatures and through His inscrutable counsel. This is the first decree of God in the order of intention…To those who were not elected, the negatively reprobated, God, subsequently to the decree excluding them from glory or from an efficacious election to glory, decrees not to give them efficacious graces, but graces that are merely sufficient.”[3]

 What is interesting, as explained by Matthew Levering in his book The Theology of Augustine, is that St. Augustine seems to hold the former view at one point and moves to what the Dominican view holds today. Of course, The Dominican view, influenced from St. Thomas Aquinas, is more or less a synthesis of the latter Augustinian understanding of Grace and predestination. Levering writes, “His opponents advocated a view that Augustine himself once held—namely, that predestination depended on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s free act of faith. On the Predestination of the Saints, however, Augustine argues that God’s Grace causes the free charitable actions by which we attain eternal life.”[4]

Naturally, the understanding of the history of St. Augustine’s debate with Pelagianism, the Dominicans viewed the Jesuit understanding, God’s ‘middle knowledge’ as Molina called it, to be Pelagius in origin. At which point both sides labeled the other heretics, and the matter was brought before Pope Clement VIII and decided by Pope Paul V. The papacy did not make a doctrinal pronouncement on the, and it was determined either view could be held by a Catholic.

In both systems, the elect is chosen by God for salvation. The difficulty in Molina’s system is that by attaching a radical free will away from God and asserting that God gives efficacious Grace to those whom he knows will only accept due to his all-knowingness tends to struggle with the philosophical understanding of God’s nature and Divine Revelation. The knowledge of God’s nature through the proofs of God’s existence by St. Thomas Aquinas indicates that God’s nature is existence itself. In some respect, one might say that all creation participates in God’s Divine nature. If there is no God—there would be nothing. Therefore, it would be hard to explain how humanity’s will would then somehow be outside of God’s very own nature. Naturally, the Molinists will state that God merely respects our free choice, but that sentiment isn’t unique to Molinism and can still be used within the Dominican understanding of Grace.

In accord with Holy Scripture, the Catholic Church teaches that God desires us all to be saved—not that we all will be saved:

CCC 74God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”: that is, of Christ Jesus.30Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:[5]

 1 Tim. 2:3-4 RSV

 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.[6]

Mathew Levering examines that Augustine, “emphasizing the radical priority of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Augustine focuses the debate away from the difficulties caused by the fact that God does not predestine all persons.”[7]How are we to feel about this? It’s a concept that would be surmised that many Catholics do not know or understand it. Bishop Robert Barron explains the difficulty of this theological understanding in a short video on the differences between Grace and karma, why does God choose some and others? Why did God choose David—forgive David—and not Saul, whom he did not forgive?

God desires all to be saved and gives us all grace sufficient to be saved. However, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White explains in his book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism, “no one can come to know God personally and approach God with genuine love for God unless God first acts upon a person’s mind and heart by Grace. Grace is a participation in the very life of God…Grace makes us friends with God…” Prevenient grace” is a term used frequently by St. Augustine. It denotes a central New Testament teaching: we cannot take any initiative to turn toward God unless he first takes the initiative to turn us toward himself. This mystery does not entail a denial of free will, but its affirmation.”[8]

Mary, the mother of God, is the perfect example of how our will works with Grace. Now, according to Catholic teaching, Mary was conceived without sin due to a special grace afforded to her by God in which the paschal mystery sanctifies her so that she can be Christ’s mother. In Luke’s Gospel, there is some indication of the special Grace afforded to her by the particular tense of the participle used by Luke. “In the RSV translation, Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”…[9]The importance of this particular passage is “full of grace,” which comes from the Greek word “kecharitomene.” The tense of this specific verb form is a perfect passive participle, and the message that it conveys doesn’t rightly translate into English. A perfect passive participle verb indicates something that occurs in the past, present, and future; therefore, what Gabriel is saying to Mary, and Luke is recording, is that Mary is with Grace through all time of her existence—she is conceived without sin.”[10]

What is understood from Mary in the scripture is that our wills that are not tainted with original sin are properly ordered with the will of God. In fact, the Augustinian understanding is that because all goodness comes from God and his graces, our choices to choose evil against His will which is perfect and all good, therefore must be from our own will alone. It is by this understanding that is revealed that we are saved by God alone and damned by our own actions.

Augustine teaches that since the fall of our first parents, original sin is spread to the entirety of the human race through the propagation of our human race. It’s interesting that Catholic scientist attempt to overlook Augustine in this particular teaching of the Church like Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P., often wrongly labeling Augustine a creation fundamentalist to promote polygenism. However, the magisterium of the Catholic Church from the promulgation of Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical Humani Generiswith authoritative language has declared that because of the doctrine of original sin, our current human race is the progeny of two distinct parents. Pope Pius XII writes:

37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

 38. Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.[11]

 There are three key points to understand when reflecting on these words from Pope Pius XII. The first, we are the progeny of our first parents that disobeyed God. The second, the disobedience of our first parents has created a fallen race, which is not inherently good but is a depraved race. And finally, as Levering points out, “Since Adam and Eve’s fall, the entire human race had been wounded by sin, so as to be in need of a savior.”[12]A Catholic who was to hold to the polygenetic model would simply render Jesus Christ as unneeded because the doctrine of Original Sin is founded on the precept of first parents who then spread that curse to their progeny.

It’s important to note that St. Augustine is making the point that good people who do good things do not go to heaven. God’s friendship is a gift and his invitation to live a life of holiness. Levering reminds us that “Paul here makes it clear that we are not the giver of gifts to God; rather, everything that we have is from God…the act of faith meritorious…It is a good act, and God certainly does reward it. But rewarding a good work of ours. God rewards his gifting that moved us to freely do the good work. All things are radically from God.”[13]

The Dominican understanding is far closer to this particular understand than the Jesuit, as levering points out “we must follow Paul in refusing to claim anything, including our act of faith, as originating from ourselves rather than from God.[14]The Jesuit understanding, Molinism, would argue instead that our actions are our own in response to efficacious Grace rather than the Dominican understanding of an infused movement of habitual Grace. Protestant reformed theology, from Calvin; which influences Evangelicals to Baptist, will attempt to counter this understanding and argue that Catholicism teaches a Gospel of ‘sacramental grace.’ What these objectors do admit is that the Catholic faith is one of Grace—it’s undeniable by those who put forth an effort to study Catholic theology. However, what they fail to understand is the Catholic understanding of the human will and its cooperation with God’s Grace; building the habits of virtue and repenting of the habits of vice. In this context, the salvation of the elect without free will is one that fails to understand Christ’s words, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[15]

Augustine’s opponent attempt to disparage him through his change of position on the matter of Grace and election by showing him to be at odds with Cyprian. Levering explains here that Augustine once held the Molina system of election but then in his Retractionsrejected it:[16]

Augustine writes:

 For thus also the blessed Cyprian would have it to be understood that we say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth,”—that is, as in those who have already believed, and who are, as it were, heaven, so also in those who do not believe, and on this account are still the earth. What, then, do we pray for on behalf of those who are unwilling to believe, except that God would work in them to will also? Certainly the apostle says, “Brethren, my heart’s good will, indeed, and my prayer to God for them, is for their salvation.” He prays for those who do not believe,—for what, except that they may believe? For in no other way do they obtain salvation. If, then, the faith of the petitioners precede the Grace of God, does the faith of them on whose behalf prayer is made that they may believe precede the Grace of God?—since this is the very thing that is besought for them, that on them that believe not—that is, who have not faith—faith itself may be bestowed? When, therefore, the Gospel is preached, some believe, some believe not; but they who believe at the voice of the preacher from without, hear of the Father from within, and learn; while they who do not believe, hear outwardly, but inwardly do not hear nor learn;—that is to say, to the former it is given to believe; to the latter it is not given.[17]

Levering writes, “from his Retractions that he quotes On the Predestination of the Saints, Augustine points out that there is no reason for supposing that our act of faith, like our other good acts, is not also caused by God’s gracious mercy…Since we receive everything from God, there is no space for an action that is solely or primarily our own…God does not respond to our good action and reward it by Grace; rather, God’s Grace causes our free good action.”[18]

St. Augustine explains, “Therefore I ought first to show that the faith by which we are Christians is the gift of God, if I can do that more thoroughly than I have already done in so many and so large volumes. But I see that I must now reply to those who say that the divine testimonies which I have adduced concerning this matter are of avail for this purpose, to assure us that we have faith itself of ourselves, but that its increase is of God; as if faith were not given to us by Him, but were only increased in us by Him, on the ground of the merit of its having begun from us.”[19]

Naturally, this begs the question, how does our free will exactly cooperate with God’s Grace? The Calvinist answer is that it doesn’t cooperate with it. In fact, the argument proposed by them is that God is sovereign over all things, including those who are to be saved and those who will be damned. Your decision has no bearing on God’s will. Again, this goes back to the understanding of sin as a deprivation of the good. Levering explains that “grace enables us freely to embrace a good we otherwise could not have embraced.”[20]

 So, you may hear an Evangelical street preacher say something of the nature, “I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” which doesn’t contradict any points made by Levering his book The Theology of Augustine. However, the foundation of their theology rests on the premise of faith is the key to justification and no works. “Augustine’s opponents cite Romans 10:9: If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…Augustine observes that those who hold that faith precedes grace get themselves into a tangle regarding infants who die before they are old enough to make an act of faith.”[21]Augustine writes:

Accordingly, as says the apostle, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” who both comes to the help of such infants as He will, although they neither will nor run, since He chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world as those to whom He intended to give His Grace freely,—that is, with no merits of theirs, either of faith or of works, preceding; and does not come to the help of those who are more mature, although He foresaw that they would believe His miracles if they should be done among them, because He wills not to come to their help, since in His predestination He, secretly indeed, but yet righteously, has otherwise determined concerning them. [22]

The problem with this, as Levering points out, “Jesus himself call faith a work of God that we must do.”[23]Naturally, what is pointed out to do a work of God that he commands you to do is no different from the Catholic understanding of doing works of mercy, which Jesus commands us in Matthew 25 and St. Paul explains in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

According to the Gospel of John, doesn’t Christ say that all shall be taught? The difficulty with Augustine’s answer is that he asserts that “God teaches everyone who is taught,” which on the surface seems to be poor logic.”[24]However, this is where, ironically, both the Molinist system and the Calvinist understanding appears to be the strongest. Augustine writes:

“And immediately the evangelist says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the believers, and who should betray Him; and He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me except it were given him of my Father.” Therefore, to be drawn to Christ by the Father, and to hear and learn of the Father in order to come to Christ, is nothing else than to receive from the Father the gift by which to believe in Christ. For it was not the hearers of the Gospel that were distinguished from those who did not hear, but the believers from those who did not believe, by Him who said, “No man cometh to me except it were given him of my Father.”[25]

 So, how exactly can one side who presents a position of radical free will and the other claim God’ total sovereignty hinge on the same argument? It’s where the one stresses it’s the interpretation of Augustine that leads to their conclusion. For example, The Molinist claim that God’s middle knowledge allows him to respect free will and know who will accept efficacious Grace. The Calvinist positon appeals strictly to the idea that there are hearers and there are those who the Gospel falls on deaf ears. Levering explains, “Augustine is aware of the circular argument that results from his position. God does not teach all because those who are perishing do not wish to learn. He teaches all who are open to learning….the Church prays for everyone living, because God may yet turn the hearts of those who now oppose him.”[26]

[1]PALLADINO, A. G. “Predestination (In Catholic Theology).” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Gale, 2003, pp. 647-653. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uis.edu:2048/apps/doc/CX3407709067/GVRL?u=uiuc_uis&sid=GVRL&xid=f22692e8. Accessed 2 June 2019.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 71.

[5]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 24.

[6]1 Tim 2:3–4. RSV

[7]Ibid.

[8]Fr. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2017), 197.

[9]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 1:28.

[10]Phillip Hadden, The Nativity of Christ in History. 2019, Unpublished manuscript

[11]Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 37-38.

[12]Levering, 72.

[13]Ibid, 73.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Mt. 5:48 RSV

[16]Levering, 74.

[17]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 505–506.

[18]Ibid, 74-75

[19]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 499.

[20]Levering, 76.

[21]Ibid, 81.

[22]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 534.

[23]Levering, 81.

[24]Ibid, 77.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, 506.

[26]Levering, 79.