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.

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