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Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 9 – Breaking The Silence of Augustine

Augustine_of_Hippo

Introduction

Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view much of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

The 4th Century Silence of Augustine

At the heart of Dr. Wilson’s thesis, we find the belief that Augustine’s works are “not only silent in explicating these novel doctrines [that we read in Ad Simplicianum], but actually persist in teaching his prior traditional theology.” This can be seen below on page 7 of Wilson’s dissertation. I hope to post further from Ad Simplicianum (A letter written to Simplicianus), but suffice it to say here that while it was written in the year 396, Wilson posits that what we have today in that letter was not what Augustine wrote at the time (the theory is that Ad Simplicianum was later revised to reflect his updated theology). However, if Augustine did this it would have gone against much of his ethic regarding lying since in Retractions he did not mention that what was extant as Ad Simplicianum was not representative of his theology at the time). If what Augustine wrote in Ad Simplicianum was from 396, it would mean that Wilson’s entire thesis would be overturned and (even more) completely without foundation.

Note that Wilson makes the following claims, among others, on page 7:

  1. Augustine “resolutely delineated” certain doctrines about the will and original sin in Ad Simplicianum, but we are not able to see them in subsequent writings until 412.
  2. His works during this time teach “his prior traditional theology” and not these other doctrines.
  3. These doctrines (“grace, original sin, dependence upon God instead of being prideful, predestination”) all appear in his later works to a great degree.
Wilson-Page7b

I would like to take you on another adventure in reading some things that Augustine wrote about these topics above. Many of the passages below were actually written prior to 396 when he wrote Ad Simplicianum.

But before doing that, I would like to make a general statement in passing. Wilson speaks of Augustinian “traditional theology” from 396 and up to 412. There are many assumptions in that assertion which may not be entirely correct. Wilson tries to stem some of the discussion around this in the last sentence above when he says that if Augustine was using different terminology that it would take “a meticulous examination” of concepts instead of just locating certain words and phrases. It would seem that Wilson is admitting that one could find such similar words and phrases but that there will never be a “meticulous” enough “examination” to overturn his own theories regarding Augustine. I hope that from seeing the passages below that the reader can come to his own conclusions.

Augustine Breaks the Silence

In 392, Augustine wrote his Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus (who was a Manichee). We have looked at some other citations from this work in previous posts. For the purposes of this post, I would like to focus on sections 22 and 25. I have highlighted relevant phrases in bold below. I ask that you take note of Augustine’s line of thinking:

  1. What Augustine is about to say, he believes is in accordance with Scripture and consistent with his faith.
  2. Adam had free will and could have had a strong will had he kept God’s law.
  3. He sinned and all mankind was “plunged into necessity”.
  4. As we bear Adam’s image (i.e. since we are his descendants), we have a “necessity of our habit” – so that we may not do what we will!
  5. When God breathes His grace upon us, He makes us subject to his will.
  6. In addition to being plunged into the necessity to sin, we will also physically die.
  7. Adam brought death and Christ brought a resurrection of the dead.

As you can see, Augustine was stating just a few years after his conversion that because of Adam’s sin we are plunged into a necessity of habit so that we cannot even do what we will. This is in line with some of the things that he would state about Romans 7 in Ad Simplicianum, yet Wilson claims that Augustine could not have written such things in 396 because it would betray some understanding of traditional theology on that topic.

22 I recognize and embrace the testimonies of the divine Scriptures, and I will show in a few words, as God may deign to grant, how they are consistent with my faith. I say that there was free exercise of will in that man who was first formed. He was so made that absolutely nothing could resist his will, if he had willed to keep the precepts of God. But after he voluntarily sinned, we who have descended from his stock were plunged into necessity…. As long therefore as we bear the image of the earthly man, that is, as long as we live according to the flesh, which is also called the old man, we have the necessity of our habit, so that we may not do what we will. But when the grace of God has breathed the divine love into us and has made us subject to His will, to us it is said: “You are called for freedom,” Galatians 5:13 and “the grace of God has made me free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:2 …. For from this very fact we are all so born, because we are earth, and from the fact that we are all so born because we are earth, we shall all go into earth on account of the desert of the sins of the first man. But on account of the grace of God, which frees us from the law of sin and of death, having been converted to righteousness we are freed; so that afterwards this same flesh tortures us with its punishment so long as we remain in sins, is subjected to us in resurrection, and shakes us by no adversity from keeping the law of God and His precepts.

25 Why the soul is here in this world involved in miseries has been explained by me not just now, but again and again a little while ago. The soul sinned, and therefore is miserable. It accepted free choice, used free choice, as it willed; it fell, was cast out from blessedness, was implicated in miseries. As bearing upon this I recited to you the testimony of the apostle who says: As through one man death, so also through one man came the resurrection of the dead.
Augustine, Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus

For emphasis, one of the things he said in Ad Simplicianum 10 was that “We are born into this life with [original sin], and add to the latter [of repeated sinning] as we live. These two things, nature and custom conjoined, render cupidity strong and unconquerable.”

A couple of years later, in 394, Augustine wrote a work On The Sermon on Mount. As expected, it was an exposition of the beatitudes, Lord’s Prayer, etc… Note the following things that Augustine tells us regarding “on earth as it is in heaven”:

  1. At present, the body “is prone to fleshly habit” (i.e. sin, see above on being “plunged into necessity”).
  2. An element of our eternal life will be that not only will we have our wills present, but “also the performance of that which is good” (we will no longer be prone to fleshly habit – one of the curses of original sin and the Fall will be removed)
  3. In our “misery” (flesh) the “will of God is done” through the suffering due to us in our mortality. This is deserved by our nature because of sin.

One key takeaway here is that Augustine was speaking about the loss of performance for our will towards “that which is good”.

But when death shall have been swallowed up in victory, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, which will happen at the resurrection of the flesh, and at that change which is promised to the righteous, according to the prediction of the same apostle, let the will of God be done on earth, as it is in heaven; i.e., in such a way that, in like manner as the spirit does not resist God, but follows and does His will, so the body also may not resist the spirit or soul, which at present is harassed by the weakness of the body, and is prone to fleshly habit: and this will be an element of the perfect peace in the life eternal, that not only will the will be present with us, but also the performance of that which is good. For to will, says he, is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not: for not yet in earth as in heaven, i.e. not yet in the flesh as in the spirit, is the will of God done. For even in our misery the will of God is done, when we suffer those things through the flesh which are due to us in virtue of our mortality, which our nature has deserved because of its sin.
Augustine, On The Sermon on Mount, II.6.23

The next year, 395, Augustine wrote a work On Continence. The relevant passage is in section 12 as quoted below. Note that we should not have confidence in ourselves (i.e. our own power or will) and that it is the Holy Spirit Who gives us the continence to be able to overcome sin.

12 Therefore, Grace causes that sin reign not over you. Do not, therefore, have confidence of yourself, lest it thence reign much more over you. And, when we hear it said, “If by the Spirit you shall mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live,” let us not lay this so great good unto our own spirit, as though of itself it can do this. For, in order that we should not entertain that carnal sense, the spirit being dead rather than that which puts others to death, straightway he added, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Therefore that by our spirit we may mortify the works of the flesh, we are led by the Spirit of God, Who gives Continence, whereby to curb, tame, overcome lust.
Augustine, On Continence

Finally, let us move ahead a few years to 401 when Augustine wrote On Baptism, Against the Donatists. Here we see in Book IV that Augustine states that God, by His foreknowledge, knows the people He has predestined before the foundation of the world. He did not say that God merely knew who would choose Him. Rather, Augustine said that God knew who He had foreordained. According to our human perception, we see Christians as they profess to be today – we don’t know if they will apostatize. But God “with whom the future is already present” knows already what they will be.

For, according to His foreknowledge, who knows whom He has foreordained before the foundation of the world to be made like to the image of His Son, many who are even openly outside, and are called heretics, are better than many good Catholics. For we see what they are today, what they shall be tomorrow we know not. And with God, with whom the future is already present, they already are what they shall hereafter be.
Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, IV.5

Then in Book V of the same work we read the following. Augustine says that those who are the true Jews inwardly make up “the fixed number of the saints predestined before the foundation of the world.”

So far therefore, as the lily extends, so far does “the garden enclosed and the fountain sealed,” namely, through all those just persons who are Jews inwardly in the circumcision of the heart Romans 2:29 (for “the king’s daughter is all glorious within” ), in whom is the fixed number of the saints predestined before the foundation of the world.
Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, V.38

One final note from this work. I brought this up in my third post as well. On Baptism, Against the Donatists was the first time that Augustine positively defended infant baptism (he mentioned that he would do so in a curious and questioning statement in On The Greatness of The Soul). As I proved in that third post, Augustine (and the church as a whole as he understood it) saw that baptism was the sacrament of regeneration that was given to wash away both original sin and actual sin. It performed the same function for infants even though they had no actual sin of which they were guilty. This meant that Augustine saw that they had the guilt of original sin that needed to be washed away.

so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body.
Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, IV.24

Conclusion

As I have demonstrated, even excluding Ad Simplicianum we can see that Augustine spoke with similar language in the 10 years surrounding that letter. With that in mind, what does that mean with regards to the dating of Ad Simplicianum? At the very least, we see that what Dr. Wilson has conceded as non-traditional language in Ad Simplicianum is echoed by further non-traditional language in other works around that time (and the quotes that I have posted above are not exhaustive). If Augustine believed in 396 what he wrote in Ad Simplicianum, then Wilson’s entire thesis is a house of cards. But Dr. Wilson has stacked this house of cards on a single card at the bottom in order to serve as the firm foundation for this flimsy house. That single card is the fact that the word “reatus” is never found to be used prior to 412. This means that nobody believed that there was damnable guilt associated with original sin. But I have clearly just shown that Augustine, at least in 401, did believe in the inherited guilt of original sin such that he would recommend that children must be baptized to cleanse and regenerate them. This was made clear in my third post and I just wanted to highlight that fact once again.

Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 8 – Council of Carthage

Augustine_and_donatists

Introduction

Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view much of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

The Council of Carthage, According to Wilson

In the year 419, there was a Church Council held in Carthage. Dr. Wilson discussed some of the findings from that Council on Page 267 in his dissertation. Note that there are several points that Wilson makes regarding Canon 110 of the Council’s proceedings which are relevant to this discussion:

  1. Canon 110 did not claim that infant baptism was a worldwide Church practice.
  2. Canon 110 did not claim that infants have the guilt of original sin passed on to them.
  3. Canon 110 is a compromise offering a rule of faith that could let Augustine refer to it as supporting his “novel views against the Pelagians”.
  4. Augustine could not even convince this African council of his “novel” views of original sin. But that didn’t stop Augustine “from utilizing whatever tacticts” necessary to win against his opponents. Who were, by the way, the actual Pelagians. One can clearly see the bias in Dr. Wilson on this point.
Wilson-Page267

Canon 110 from the Council of Carthage

Here is the text from Canon 110 as it relates to this. After reading this, we will analyze Wilson’s assertions regarding the Council’s findings:

Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.

For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, that the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.
Council of Carthage, Canon 110

Council of Carthage In Context

1. Canon 110 did not claim that infant baptism was a worldwide Church practice.

This Canon begins with a clear assertion that “whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized…. is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.”

If the Council believed that infant baptism was only a local African practice or something that was only occurring in a particular area, it would not have anathematized the rest of the worldwide church that was not practicing it. On this first point, Wilson is incorrect in his assertion.

2. Canon 110 did not claim that infants have the guilt of original sin passed on to them.

This Canon states that “whosoever… says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they [infants] derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration…. is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.”

The Council was clear here that if someone says that infants do not derive original sin from Adam, such sin that needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, that person should be anathema. Again, as with #1 above, the Council would have to anathematize all in the Church who did not believe that infants had original sin needing to be forgive and washed by baptism. The rub is in the way that Wilson framed his assertion – that infants did not have the “reatus“, or guilt, of original sin passed to them. It’s like a secret code-word that is necessary and proves the point. But the fact of the matter is that the Council saw that infants, who had committed no actual sin in their own persons, needed to have their “original sin” remitted. If one is not guilty of the original sin, then one would not to have that sin remitted – unless Wilson would like to assert that the Church was in the habit of saying that when an adult was baptized and had his sins remitted that the adult was not “guilty” of those sins because the Church did not formally describe that as “reatus“. On this second point, we can see that when one does not parse the language as Wilson does with his demand for writers to have been using the term “reatus” then it is clear that the Church thought that infants were guilty of original sin that needed remission in baptism.

3. Canon 110 is a compromise offering a rule of faith that could let Augustine refer to it as supporting his “novel views against the Pelagians”.

As we look at this final assertion (yes there is a fourth assertion below but it was a biased jab at the character of Augustine), it actually brings together nicely the first two assertions by Wilson who is admitting that the Council gave Augustine an “out” by laying out some type of rule of faith that he could use to show that there was some type of support for the views he held. As we will see, this is further demonstrating that both #1 and #2 above were stated incorrectly by Wilson. For in this part “the Catholic Church everywhere diffused” understands this “rule of faith [that] even infants…are truly baptized for the remission of sins.”

Now, let us look again at what Canon 110 stated regarding this rule of faith: “By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, that the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.

I am really not sure how much more clearly the Council could have been short of using “reatus” here. Just read that last sentence – infants have not committed personal sins but they are baptized for the remission of sins anyway. Why? so that “what in them is the result of generation” can be washed away in the laver of regeneration. Consider that last quote once more while answering this question:

What did the Church believe was washed away by baptism?

The correct answer would be “sin”. And by supplying that answer into the statement above, we clearly see that the Council of Carthage was saying that the “sin that is in them is the result of generation”. This sin is what they referred to as “original sin”. And this original sin needs to be cleansed by baptism since the infant has it through “generation” (i.e. carnal generation received from the first man).

Rather than proving that this was some type of compromise, it becomes clear that Carthage was doubling down on their clear statements which were in line with how Augustine had already been speaking for well over 10 years but especially with how he had been speaking for the past 7 years.

4. Augustine could not even convince this African council of his “novel” views of original sin. But that didn’t stop Augustine.

As we have already seen from previous posts, Augustine stated in 412 that Pelagius’s views were the “novel” views as they pertained to original sin and infant baptism. The last assertion was a personal attack on Augustine’s character by Wilson that Augustine would “use whatever tactics” needed to be used to defeat his opponents.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the statements that Dr. Wilson made regarding the Council of Carthage do not hold water when we look at the actual document. They did believe that the church universal was baptizing infants and that it was to remit the sin that was in them as a result of generation from Adam.

Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 7 – What If We Rewrite the Stars?

Augustine_of_Hippo

Introduction

Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view most of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

Astrological Determinism and Stoic Providence

Returning to Dr. Wilson’s dissertation, I would like to take a few moments today to look at his discussion of what he refers to as “Stoic Providence” and Astrological Determinism. If you will note below on page 26, Wilson states that there is a difference between just studying astrology and worshiping the celestial bodies as they control the lives of men. He then refers to some historical evidence from Philo, Josephus, and others that (some of) the Jews were also worshiping the sun. This is then tied back to Qumran determinism where the “elect”, under the influence of “totalitarian (Stoic) Providence” were a typical example of a melding of Astrological influences without the actual worship of the sun. The takeaway is that “Stoic Providence” is guiding this (near) worship of heavenly bodies in Astrology.

Wilson-26

Continuing to page 30, we have some wishy-washy statements about Philo. He had “his Stoic model” and was under “strong Stoic influence” but was “not a Stoic”. Yet his “view of Providence was derived from Stoicism” (i.e. Philo held to “Stoic Providence”) and held that a person’s life was pre-determined by genetic features at their birth. Other ancient systems might say that the alignment of the stars was deterministic of a person’s life – this would include systems influenced by “Stoic Providence” like we have seen above.

Wilson-30

Finally, we will turn to page 129. Here we see that Wilson is discussing some of Augustine’s works between the years 396 and 405. The key statements I wish to point you to in Wilson’s analysis are as follows:

  1. Augustine did not renounce “the determinism of astrology” until meeting with Firminus in Confessions 7.8-10.
  2. Between 400-403, Augustine was still “in the grip of rigid Stoic Providence” believing that the universe was “meticulously controlled down to the ‘fluttering of the leaves.'”
Wilson-129

What Really Happened?

First of all, let me be clear. Dr. Wilson’s statements above are completely wrong and are misrepresentations of the truth regarding Augustine. Wilson, above, is rewriting the stars (to tie a popular song to this post on astrology) in order to further propagate his distortions about Augustine. I would like to say that they are misconceptions about Augustine, but at this point I believe it is safe to say that he is distorting the truth.

He mentioned Confessions Book VII in a few places. This PDF contains a detailed chronology of the events that took place in each chapter of Confessions. The dates in it will be used for this post.

First, Wilson stated that in VII.5 Augustine embraced the catholic faith. This is a skewed statement – in Book V Augustine left Manichaeism. But it was not until Book VIII that Augustine experienced his conversion. This is where we read about the famous “tolle lege” encounter and when Augustine said that “all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” It’s a beautiful conversion story! Books VII-VIII discuss events that took place in the year 386, the year of his conversion.

Note the confusion that Wilson demonstrates – Augustine renounced the determinism of astrology in Confessions VII.8 but he remained “in the grip of rigid Stoic Providence” up to the years between 400-403. I believe that Wilson is saying that Augustine Renounced it earlier but that he didn’t really renounce by the time he wrote Confessions around 401. Therefore, we are looking at Wilson making the claim that for 15-17 years after the events recorded in Confessions VII that Augustine remained in the grip of this Stoic Providence which Wilson himself has already equated with astrology.

With this in mind, I would like to provide some examples from Augustine’s writing. Here is Augustine stating, unequivocally, that by the year 386 at the time of Chapter VII of Confessions he had “rejected the lying divinations and impious dotages of the astrologers”. Yes, Augustine attributed to God here the fact that He is the director of the universe – even to the fluttering of the leaves of the trees. Regarding Firminus, Augustine relates that God gave him to Augustine as a friend who would be unaware that something he heard of his father would be pivotal in “overthrowing” Augustine’s estimation of the art of astrology. Augustine believed in 386 that he “was now almost persuaded that these were but empty and ridiculous follies.”

But this time also had I rejected the lying divinations and impious dotages of the astrologers. Let Thine own mercies, out of my very inmost soul, confess unto Thee for this also, O my God. For Thou, Thou altogether (for who else calls us back from the death of all errors, save the Life which cannot die, and the Wisdom which needing no light enlightens the minds that need it, whereby the universe is directed, down to the whirling leaves of trees?) -Thou madest provision for my obstinacy wherewith I struggled against Vindicianus, an acute old man, and Nebridius, a young man of admirable talents; the first vehemently affirming, and the latter often (though with some doubtfulness) saying, “That there was no such art whereby to foresee things to come, but that men’s conjectures were a sort of lottery, and that out of many things which they said should come to pass, some actually did, unawares to them who spake it, who stumbled upon it, through their oft speaking.”

Thou providedst then a friend for me, no negligent consulter of the astrologers; nor yet well skilled in those arts, but (as I said) a curious consulter with them, and yet knowing something, which he said he had heard of his father, which how far it went to overthrow the estimation of that art, he knew not. This man then, Firminus by name, having had a liberal education, and well taught in Rhetoric, consulted me, as one very dear to him, what, according to his so called constellations, I thought on certain affairs of his, wherein his worldly hopes had risen, and I, who had herein now begun to incline towards Nebridius’ opinion, did not altogether refuse to conjecture, and tell him what came into my unresolved mind; but added, that I was now almost persuaded that these were but empty and ridiculous follies.
Augustine, Confessions VII.8

And regarding the statement that Augustine believing in some type of Providence which could even control “the fluttering leaves of the trees”, this is a category error. As a Christian, we must deal with Psalm 104 which attributes to God the flowing of springs giving water to livestock, “causing” the grass to grow and plants. Literally, God causes the trees to grow which have the leaves. And God made the moon, seasons, sun, etc… And we must deal with passages such as Matthew 8:23-27 in which Jesus has control over “even winds and sea”. Leaves “flutter” by the action of the wind which is controlled by God! And in Revelation 7:1, we read that the winds will be held back at some point to not blow on “trees” (as one specific example). To be consistent, Dr. Wilson should claim that those passages of scripture speak of the type of determinism that he is attributing to Augustine.

But we must press on. If Augustine’s own statements from Confessions were not enough as he looked back in retrospect, let us back up to the year 398 when Augustine wrote Contra Faustum – he was writing against Faustus the Manichee. Specifically he was combating an assertion by Faustus that the incarnation of Christ was the result of the placement of the stars. Augustine said that the star which was seen by the Magi was only a witness. In direct contradiction to the Astrology of Stoic Determinism, Augustine said that by the star paying homage to the birth of Christ that it was only acknowledging Him rather than having any control over Christ.

We, too, deny the influence of the stars upon the birth of any man; for we maintain that, by the just law of God, the free-will of man, which chooses good or evil, is under no constraint of necessity. How much less do we subject to any constellation the incarnation of the eternal Creator and Lord of all! When Christ was born after the flesh, the star which the Magi saw had no power as governing, but attended as a witness. Instead of assuming control over Him, it acknowledged Him by the homage it did.
Augustine, Contra Faustum, II.5

The following statement is from 2 years later, and still prior to the writing of Confessions. We find this statement in Letter 55, to Januarius from the year 400. In Chapter V he stated that it is God who causes the sun to rise and in Chapter VII he “denounces with abhorrence and contempt” the things that the astrologers teach.

For that sun which is visible to the eye of sense, God makes to rise upon the evil and the good alike.

We are therefore bound to denounce with abhorrence and contempt the ravings of the astrologers, who, when we find fault with the empty inventions by which they cast other men down into the delusions where into they themselves have fallen, imagine that they answer well when they say, Why, then, do you regulate the time of the observance of Easter by calculation of the positions of the sun and moon? — as if that with which we find fault was the arrangements of the heavenly bodies, or the succession of the seasons, which are appointed by God in His infinite power and goodness, and not their perversity in abusing, for the support of the most absurd opinions, those things which God has ordered in perfect wisdom.
Augustine, Letter 55, to Januarius, V and VII

Going Back Even Further

As I was finishing up this post, it was Providential (pun intended) that I just read De Animae Quantitate (On The Magnitude of The Soul) this week. This work was from the year 388 – in the second year of Augustine’s life as a Believer. It’s also one of his earliest works. On Page 96 of his dissertation, Wilson was discussing this work and stated that “He embraces meticulous Stoic Providence” as guiding “every miniscule individual event”. As we have seen the Wilsonian correlation between Stoic Providence and Astrology, we must consider with tremendous weight what Augustine stated at one point in De Animae Quantitate. He stated the following:

For, whatever the soul adores as God, it must deem more excellent than itself, and it is impossible to believe that the earth is superior to the nature of the soul, or the stars, or moon, or sun, or anything at all that is touched or seen by these eyes.

If Augustine believed in a “meticulous Stoic Providence”, then he would have had to believe that the stars, moon, and sun were superior to the nature of soul (i.e. on a level of being that soul’s God). But Augustine, again, explicitly denied the superiority of any heavenly bodies (or even anything visible to our eyes). As the stars are not superior, this would mean that they were not some “meticulous Stoic Providence” guiding “every miniscule individual event”.

Conclusion

I have to ask the reader one question. Does it sound to you like Augustine was still under the influence of Stoic Providence guided by the stars in 388 and 398 (as well as from 393 and 397 in quotes below) when he explicitly denied the influence of stars over the birth of any man? That statement was about 11 years after his conversion, but it is consistent with what he stated in Confessions that he had abandoned any type of atrological determinism by 386 – even before he was converted! This is basically an example of Augustine in the late 4th Century telling Wilson “every word of what you just said is wrong.” I will continue with more posts in this series, but when you have direct and explicit denials by Augustine of the assertions that Wilson is making, you have to ask yourself why Dr. Wilson is treating Augustine the way that he is.

Augustine, in writings from 388-401 categorically denied any assertion that he continued to worship the heavenly bodies.

Further Proofs

And for further proof that Dr. Wilson’s assertions regarding Augustine are flat-out wrong, I will just post some additional statements from Augustine from the pre-400 time period.

Here we have a statement from the work Of Faith and The Creed from the year 393. He states that they adore the sun as God and not as a creation of God.

Those, therefore, who entertain this opinion ought to ponder the fact that the rays of this sun, which indeed they do not praise as a creature of God, but adore as God, are diffused all the world over, through the noisomenesses of sewers and every kind of horrible thing, and that they operate in these according to their nature, and yet never become debased by any defilement thence contracted, albeit that the visible light is by nature in closer conjunction with visible pollutions. How much less, therefore, could the Word of God, who is neither corporeal nor visible, sustain defilement from the female body, wherein He assumed human flesh together with soul and spirit, through the incoming of which the majesty of the Word dwells in a less immediate conjunction with the frailty of a human body! Hence it is manifest that the Word of God could in no way have been defiled by a human body, by which even the human soul is not defiled.
Augustine, Of Faith and The Creed, IV.10

And from the year 397 in his work Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus we read him encouraging people to worship “The Sun of righteousness” – Jesus who we read about in Malachi. He says that they should “gaze upon his Sun”, but not the physical sun which the Manichaeans worship.

Let those rage against you who know not the difficulty of curing the eye of the inner man that he may gaze upon his Sun—not that sun which you worship, and which shines with the brilliance of a heavenly body in the eyes of carnal men and of beasts—but that of which it is written through the prophet, The Sun of righteousness has arisen upon me;” [Malachi 4:2] and of which it is said in the gospel, “That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world.” [John 1:9]”
Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, II

Finally, in Contra Faustum Book XX (from 398) Augustine makes an extended argument that the Manichaeans are pagan (Augustine actually says they are far worse than pagans!) sun-worshipers and not worshipers of the Triune God that we worship. It would be a fascinating read for those who might be interested in more of what the pre-400 Augustine had to say about the faith and worship of the Mainichaeans.

Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 6 – The Depths of Augustine’s Manichaeism

Augustine_of_Hippo

Introduction

Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view most of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

Augustine’s Manichaeism

On pages 34-36, Dr. Wilson begins the discussion of the influence of Manichaeism on the discussion of free will. My last post also dealt with some specifics from this passage. Here is a section from pages 35 and 36:

Wilson-Page35
Wilson-Page36

Wilson’s Augustine – The Deep-Rooted Manichaean

One of the major components of Wilson’s dissertation is that it was Augustine’s staunch beliefs in Manichaeism and its doctrines of determinism which caused Augustine to sneak these doctrines into his teachings. In this section of the book above, Dr. Wilson builds a case surrounding the determinism in Manichaeism. Since Augustine was in that cult for 10 years, he would have been steeped in those doctrines and would never be able to rid himself of some of them. The teachings of Mani related to determinism that so indoctrinated Augustine would have been difficult, at best, for Augustine to rid himself of. In fact, according to Wilson, they completely tainted all of Augustine’s later beliefs on soteriology and even anthropology. It is a “Christianized Manichaeism” as Wilson labels it.

Overlooking the fact that time and time again Augustine would discuss how he renounced so many of the un-Biblical doctrines of Manichaeism, we are presented with an argument that he should be seen as someone who’s past membership in that heretical group influenced not only his own personal beliefs and teachings but he was also able, by his great influence as a Bishop and scholar, to dupe his entire generation and all later generations in the church regarding the imputed guilt of original sin and moral inability of man as it related to being able to choose to follow God from his own libertarian free will.

Certainly there was nobody who would have taken Augustine to task back then if they thought that his teachings were novel, right? And we all, especially those of us in the Reformed/Calvinistic camp, have been reeled in by Augustine hook, line, and sinker. The church (partly due to Augustine’s influence, certainly) condemned the Pelagian doctrines as heresy and contrary to the faith delivered to the saints. And this Pelagian doctrine of the human will is what Wilson is quite close to arguing for as the “traditional” teachings on free will. That should cause one to pause.

Certainly, it is because of his deep roots in Manichaeism that we are even discussing this. But we must remember that Augustine may not have been as deep into that heretical cult as one might be led to believe.

History’s Augustine – Manichaean Auditor

In one of the biographies that I have of Augustine, by Jacques Chabannes, he stated the following on pages 44-45:

But in Carthage, at eighteen years of age, Evil and pain were incomprehensible to him. The Manichaeans suggested an explanation – he accepted it. Moreover, the Manichaeans did not require him to sacrifice his pleasures (in particular the pleasures of the flesh) in which he set such store. He would never be an Elect, but only a hearer, a “sympathizer” as we say today, a lecturer and an eloquent propagandist of the Manichaean teachings. This is the reason that later he took so much trouble to demolish a theology he had once accepted. To assuage his own conscience he felt he must pull down, stone by stone, the edifice of Manichaeism. Many times and with great anxiety he returned to this question. This Christian philosopher and doctrinarian was essentially a tormented man and would so remain until the day of his death. He always wrote first to convince himself.

There were in Africa seventy-two Manichaean bishops and twelve Masters who constituted a sort of directive body presided over by a supreme chief representing Mani. At the same time there were the Hearers who followed rules much less austere. If they fasted on Sunday, they could eat meat on other days; they could possess goods and property. They were permitted to marry and to have a sexual life, but must try to avoid having children in order not to prolong the Purgatory of earthly existence. Because of the good will they showed, these Hearers could qualify, in a later life, to be re-born in the perfection of the Elect.

Chabannes gives us a very brief overview of the differences between on of the Elect in Manichaeism and a “hearer”. The translation of his work also calls it a “sympathizer” and we will see that it has also been called an “auditor” (which is another term for “hearer”).

In the year 392, Augustine wrote Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus, a Manichee. Augustine wrote no less than 15 works in opposition to Manichaean doctrines just between 386 and 400. (I have personally read 9 of those works and you can find them grouped here under the Manichaean writings section with some quotations.) That’s averaging more than one work per year. To say, like Chabannes, that Augustine “felt he must pull down, stone by stone, the edifice of Manichaeism” is an understatement. Here is what Augustine wrote to Fortunatus the Manichean back in 392.

You call me to something else, when I had proposed to discuss faith, but concerning your morals only those who are your Elect can fully know. But you know that I was not your Elect, but an Auditor…. But what you who are Elect do among yourselves, I have no means of knowing. For I have often heard from you that you receive the Eucharist. But since the time of receiving it was concealed from me, how could I know what you receive? So keep the question about morals, if you please, for discussion among your Elect, if it can be discussed. You gave me a faith that I today disapprove.
Augustine, Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus, I.3

As you can see, he stated that there were several things that only the “Elect can fully know”. This included their morals. But don’t miss the fact that Augustine had never even been allowed to receive the Manichaean equivalent of the eucharist as an Auditor! He even asked how he could know what they receive in it. To me, this would seem like quite a big deal. Augustine, as an 18 year old, spent the following 9 years as a Manichaean and did not even know from personal experience what was received in their Eucharist.

Conclusion

You gave me a faith that I today disapprove.” This is a great summary of Augustine’s thoughts on Manichaeism as he stated above in the section that I quoted. It is historical revisionism to assert that Augustine would have assimilated into Christianity some novel doctrine of election, original sin, and free will from the Manichaeism that he spent decades tearing down. Furthermore, let us use Dr. Wilson’s own statement from my previous post to define what Mani, and later Augustine, would understand as “faith” – it was from a “Redeemer” known as Zoroaster (who Wilson equated with Christ)! commanding one to awake from their slumber and that Redeemer gave the grace for someone to even be able to awaken.

This is the “faith” that Wilson would say is foundational to the post-412 Augustine as well as to later generations who followed after him in these doctrines.

This foundational part of “faith” that Augustine supposedly snuck into Christianity was approved by Augustine, per Wilson. Yet it does not take into account that Augustine was quite explicit that the “faith” he had as a Manichaean was disapproved of by him. Certainly this “faith” would include such non-catholic beliefs in astrology (more on that in an upcoming post) and the false god along with Zoroaster the Redeemer in Manichaeism.

The doctrines of predestination, election, foreknowledge, original sin, free will, etc… were not some carry-over from Manichaeism but were part of the Christian faith as Augustine understood it. To say that something as foundational to Augustine’s theology of these things listed above were brought in wholesale as a novel system without any push-back from the theologians of his time is not something that actually holds water.

Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 5 – Using Equal Scales in the Discussion

Augustine_of_Hippo

Introduction

Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view most of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

An Example of Inconsistency

On pages 34-36, Dr. Wilson begins the discussion of the influence of Manichaeism on the discussion of free will and Augustine. Here is a section from page 35:

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Using Different Scales

Originally I intended to make some remarks on Augustine’s Manichaeism. However, I have put that off until the next post. In this post, I want to discuss something that I noticed in Dr. Wilson’s comments above. He stated “The Redeemer commands (an awakening from drunken slumber) and then gives what he commanded by granting grace (in order to gaze upon deity)” (I will note that it appears Wilson is further poisoning the well by using this same phraseology from one of the most famous lines in Augustine’s Confessions where he stated “O Lord, command what you will and give what you command.” This is done in order to associate what Augustine said with what is retroactively attributed to come from Mani’s thought in Wilson’s work.) This statement by Wilson is followed by a quote from Mani in which it was stated that The Redeemer said “awake and gaze upon me!”

If you will refer back to my first post, you will see how Wilson thought that he was able to see and prove “traditional free choice” from the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. Dr. Wilson stated such things as “Humanity’s creation in God’s image provided current opportunity for moral behavior” and when Clement used scripture’s calls for repentance from iniquity, Wilson stated that such things were only a “rhetorical strategy” which “could only be effective if the author and readers shared [part of God’s Image] retained within humans as free choice.” This meant that when Clement (and by extension God through His Word) exhorted sinners to repent (i.e. awaken) that he was appealing to their free choice to overcome their sin.

Another example from Dr. Wilson’s dissertation can be seen on page 42:

“[Hermas] sternly warns Christians of the dangers of the evil desire leading to death (Herm. Mand. 12.1 [44.1-2]). This and similar admonitions may presuppose some residual ability to respond to God.” (Page 42)

As he stated with Clement and here from the Shepherd of Hermas, “admonitions” by God only prove that mankind has “some residual ability to respond to God.”

However, on page 35 above we come across the same sort of thing here in these statements of Mani. We read there that this “Redeemer” told a person to “awake and gaze upon me”. Rather than being seen as proof of “total inability”, why would Wilson not see that as mankind being “provided current opportunity for moral behavior” or Mani using some “rhetorical strategy” in order to urge on man’s free choice to wake up and come to this redeemer? The answer is rather obvious. Manichaeism, and Augustine afterwards, was deterministic and therefore anything that the Manichaean god was telling man to do meant that there was not anything that man could do to thwart the will of god. That man must wake up because the Manichaean god commanded it.

Jesus The Redeemer?

Also, and I will not pull much on this thread, who was it above that Mani stated was “The Redeemer” who called for people to awaken? It was Jesus who Mani spoke of as the Redeemer, right? Wilson stated right after the quote from Mani about “The Redeemer” that “Manichaean salvation emphasized Christ’s grace”.

But please do not let this slip by you! Mani said that the “Redeemer” was “that just Zoroaster“. Mani was not saying that the Trinitarian God who we follow was the “Redeemer” but rather it was Zoroaster about whom he spoke! Yet we are supposed to believe that Augustine assimilated the beliefs about this false god of Manichaeism into Christianity because, obviously, Augustine’s God was not the God of Scripture. This is what it boils down to – it’s the logical conclusion that Wilson is making.

Conclusion

I hope that you can also see the inconsistency in how Wilson would attribute to Augustine some latent Manichaeism being inserted into Christianity. According to Wilson, when we read about these calls to awaken or repent in Manichaean writings, that “emphasizes Christ’s grace” (even though he was talking about Zoroaster and not Christ!). The theory is that Augustine was promoting the doctrines which he knew as a former Manichaean – ideas regarding God’s determinism in salvation and the loss of man’s will.

However, someone like Wilson has also asserted that Biblical calls to repent or wake up must mean that man has that capability within himself to fulfill that call. Here we have just seen a similar statement by Mani where one is told to awaken. The “traditionalist” would read these statements in Scripture as meaning that man has moral ability to heed the call himself and wake up, but the same person will read some type of determinism into a statement by Mani. I would urge that we try to be consistent with regards to how we interpret passages based off of our presuppositions. I am in no way trying to defend the statement by Mani – he was, as we have seen, not even talking about the Christ of the Bible as the Redeemer but rather was talking about Zoroaster! What I am trying to do is to urge you to consider whether you are using the same criteria when you read traditional libertarian free will into early church fathers but not into what Mani was saying. Either admonishments to wake up “emphasize Christ’s grace” over man’s will or they don’t!

Regarding the statement from Wilson on this same page (that “free will was totally lost after humanity’s fall”), I see that Dr. White has written a post on the inconsistencies in that particular sentence. After reading his post along with what I have demonstrated above, the reader can understand how Dr. Wilson is not using equal scales in his approach to Augustine.