Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Augustine: The (Lost) Fourth Chapter?

It is not uncommon for Eastern Orthodox (and even some Protestants) to say Saint Augustine was one of the worst heretics in all of Church history. Of course, some don't go so far as to make that an explicit charge, but they'll make all sorts of allusions to the fact, often by saying a certain teaching is one of the most pernicious heresies ever and connecting that back to something Augustine taught.

No small number of Eastern Orthodox believe Augustine's teaching on Original Sin, Predestination, Divine Simplicity, and/or the Filioque to be some of the worst heresies ever devised and propagated in history. They will even go so far as to say the entire Roman Catholic apostasy from the true Church (i.e. Eastern Orthodoxy) is fundamentally built upon Augustine's errors.

But there is a glaring problem in this accusation, and that is the embarrassing fact St Augustine was never even accused of heresy by any Ecumenical Council. Surely such "grave errors" surpass many of those which did get addressed in the early Ecumenical Councils, so the Eastern Orthodox antagonist is stuck affirming a self-refuting, ahistorical conspiracy theory of sorts. To make matters worse, the Ecumenical Councils were well aware of who Augustine was (given the fact he was one of the most prolific and widely read of the Fathers, especially in the West), and not only did they not condemn him, they lauded him as a holy and orthodox man. The following is one fine example.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council was held in 553, about 100 years after Augustine had passed. The main focus of this Council was to condemn what were termed the "Three Chapters," which were three heretical writings by three different heretics. These heretics were dead for about 100 years as well, but their writings were so poisonous that the Church realized it could not but condemn them. On top of that, the same Council held a side trial concerning the writings of Origen, condemning all sorts of errors attributed to him. Yet if Saint Augustine's teachings were no less pernicious, nay even more pernicious that these others, we should have expected him to be condemned along with the Three Chapters. But look what the Emperor's Letter summoning the Fifth Ecumenical Council said:
We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith.
Obviously, this is not saying every jot and tittle these Fathers wrote and said is accurate, but rather that what they said is overwhelmingly accurate and orthodox and by no means pernicious to the Truth. And given Saint Augustine is listed right among the other giants, we can safely say the Church saw no stain of error in his work and life. If any time was ripe for condemning heretics, including ones long dead, it was then, as the official Decree of the Council states:
Moreover several letters of Augustine, of most religious memory, who shone forth resplendent among the African bishops, were read, shewing that it was quite right that heretics should be anathematized after death. And this ecclesiastical tradition, the other most reverend bishops of Africa have preserved: and the holy Roman Church as well had anathematized certain bishops after their death, although they had not been accused of any falling from the faith during their lives: and of each we have the evidence in our hands.
Yet again, we see Saint Augustine called as a chief witness and champion of orthodoxy, not someone of dubious character with writings riddled with heresies. This evidence alone is sufficient to refute these Eastern Orthodox antagonists.

And that's not the only Eastern Orthodox dilemma: the fact is, there are Eastern Orthodox today who consider Augustine to be a Saint, which is outrageous if he's actually a heresiarch. The Greek Orthodox Church in America website has an article titled "Saint Augustine in the Greek Orthodox Tradition", of which I'll highlight some points the article makes:
  • Photios, one of Eastern Orthodoxy's most important saints for battling against the Catholic Church's "errors", defended Augustine as a Saint. Here is what Photios said (I quote from the article, and thus second hand): "If the great Ambrose and Augustine and Jerome and some others who are of the same opinion and on the same level and happen to have the great reputation of virtue and illustrious life, teach among others, that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, this does not lessen their importance for the Church." (Letter of Photios to Metropolitan Archbishop of Aquieleia, Liber, 117. PG 102, c. 809.)

  • Mark of Ephesus, another major Eastern Orthodox saint who battled against the Catholic Church's "errors," likewise held Augustine to be a holy man, and in regards to his errors that we should simply sweep them under the rug as Photios did.
  • Scholarios, a third major Eastern Orthodox saint, again for his bitter opposition to the Catholic Church, defended Augustine. He said (again I quote the article): "if anyone does not believe and call Augustine saint and blessed, he is anathema." Yet Scholarios also felt the "solution" was to quietly ignore Augustine's heresies. 
  • Dositheos, an Eastern Orthodox saint and patriarch quotes Augustine favorably in a major Council held in Jerusalem in 1672 and widely accepted in Eastern Orthodoxy. This would be unthinkable if Augustine was an arch-heretic.
  • Augustine appears to this day on both the Greek Orthodox Calendar (June 15) and Russian Orthodox Calendar (June 15/28) of Saints. This is a huge detail. The Dismissal Hymn for his feast day says: "O blessed Augustine, you have been proved to be a bright vessel of the divine Spirit and revealer of the city of God; you have also righteously served the Saviour as a wise hierarch who has received God. O righteous father, pray to Christ God that he may grant to us great mercy."
  • Various modern Eastern Orthodox seminary textbooks and scholars consider Augustine as a saint or speak favorably of him, even while affirming (yet sweeping aside) his major errors.
This article, in many ways, indirectly proves the Catholic point: if Augustine's errors were on par with Arius, Nestorius, etc, and even more pernicious than they, then it's wrong and absurd to sweep these errors under the rug. And as noted above, it is precisely this realization that has caused many well educated Eastern Orthodox to say Augustine is not a saint and the chief heretic behind the Schism.

But in the end, these Eastern Orthodox antagonists have to face reality and realize if they are going to say Eastern Orthodoxy's split with the Catholic Church is principally due to embracing "Augustine's errors," and yet Augustine was never condemned (but rather praised), then the only reasonable answer is that they never were serious errors in the first place and thus Eastern Orthodoxy has got it all terribly wrong.


Tap said...

Gregory Palamas has been founding copying Augustine's work without attribution. If you like i'll look for the link later on but this is relatively recent Scholarship.

Nick said...

Hello Tap,

Yes, I have heard about that. I cannot read Greek, but according to these recent scholars the similarities are too close to not have been heavily influenced by Augustine's De Trinitate.

costrowski said...

One article which deals with Augustine’s influence on Palamas is by Reinhard Flogaus entitled “Inspiration – Exploitation – Distortion: The Use of Augustine in the Heyschaist Controversy. It appeared beginning on page 63 in Orthodox Readings of Augustine by Aristotle Papanikolaou. There’s a nice google preview available.

It deals with Palamas' plagiarism of Augustine.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this charge before and it seems legit. It seems unlikely that someone like Augustine would not be read in the East at any time nor that a translation would never have been attempted. The John Bekkos Blog has an article on this very issue.

Craig Truglia said...

Augustine taught Sola Scriptura...just sayin :)

But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true;but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them. Libosus also of Vaga says: “The Lord says in the gospel, ‘I am the Truth.’ John 14:6 He does not say, ‘I am custom.’ Therefore, when the truth is made manifest, custom must give way to truth.” Clearly, no one could doubt that custom must give way to truth where it is made manifest (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists Book III, Chapter 6).

Anonymous said...

Craig Truglia,

Oh really? "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church" (Against the Title of the Epistle of Manich├Žus,Ch. 5).
And in case you think you think St. Augustine isn't catholic; "There are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" (Against the Letter of Mani Called 'The Foundation' 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

Pax et Bonum