Dr. White is human. To those of us who know and love him, this is no surprise. We realize that he is a man, just like us, and that consequently he makes mistakes. As Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Dr. White is human and he, from time to time, errs.
Recently a lay apologist for Catholicism identified one such proof of Dr. White’s humanity. Specifically, the apologist identified a quotation that should have read:
In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples, ‘Me you will not have always.’ In this respect the Church enjoyed His presence only for a few days: now it possesses Him by faith, without seeing Him with the eyes….He left the world by a bodily withdrawal, He proceeded to the Father by His ascension man, but He forsook not the world in the ruling activity of His presence.
The Lord Jesus, in the discourse which He addressed to His disciples after the supper, when Himself in immediate proximity to His passion, and, as it were, on the eve of departure, and of depriving them of His bodily presence while continuing His spiritual presence to all His disciples till the very end of the world….” (Augustine, John: Tractates 50, 92, 102, and 118).
Instead, the quotation omitted “of departure, and” and also changed “eve” to “even.”
This was a transcription error that Dr. White either made himself or failed to correct (if he took the quotation from another source). Either way, this error is an example of one of the most common kinds of scribal errors: homoeoteleuton owing to (or occasioned by) parablepsis. Those who have listened to the debate on “Misquoting Jesus” between Dr. White and Dr. Bart Ehrman (link) will know what I am referencing. This is an error where a portion of the text (in this case “of departure, and” is omitted due to the transcriber’s eye confusing two similar-looking series of letters. In this case “of departure” and “of depriving” begin with the same first five letters. Thus, Dr. White looked away from the text perhaps while typing “even [sic] of dep…” and landed back on “of depriving” rather than on “of departure,” resulting in the error we see. The spelling variant of “even” for “eve” could be attributed to any number of issues too, but it likewise appears to be occasioned simply by an error in typing. Perhaps Dr. White (or whoever transcribed the text) had recently been reading the KJV, which tends to prefer the spelling “even” (e.g. Exodus 12:18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.)
This error was brought to our attention by an apologist for Catholicism who identified it as Dr. White’s “MISUSE” (caps in original) and “mishandling” of Augustine. He’s right in saying that the quotation was inaccurate, in that it included this transcription error. On the other hand, this sort of error was really trivial. The inadvertent omission of “of departure, and” was simply a formal error, not a substantive one.
In fact, the apologist for Catholicism actually noted only the minor transcription error in the second paragraph of the quotation, but overlooked a similar instance of homoeoteleuton occasioned by parablepsis in the first paragraph it was written “In other words, in respect of His divine presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples,” but the full quotation should be “In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples,” (omitted part shown with underscore). Here the matching series of letters is “in respect of His [divine] presence.” Dr. White, or whoever was transcribing the quotation, appears to have accidentally jumped from one “presence” to the next, and picked up at the second “presence.”
We have fixed all three of these errors at the original web page where they occurred (link).
Unfortunately, however, the apologist for Catholicism by focusing on the transcription error missed the point for which Augustine was cited. Augustine believed that Christ’s bodily presence was removed to heaven. Thus, although Augustine agreed that Christ’s divine presence continued to be with his disciples, Augustine believed that the ascension of Jesus into heaven “deprived” the disciples of Jesus’ presence “in the flesh.”
What does this demonstrate?
This demonstrates that Augustine did not hold to the later medieval innovation of transubstantiation. This fact is not surprising to those who permit the church fathers to be the church fathers. This may, however, be surprising to those who imagine that the church fathers believed everything that the Vatican teaches today.
In conclusion, yes – Dr. White is human and sometimes falls into homoeoteleuton owing to parablepsis, just like any other scribe. Such changes to the text of Augustine are not intentional and do not (at least not in these cases) change the meaning of what Augustine was saying. In fact, with the omitted material reinserted, the text of Augustine and his rejection of the literal bodily presence of Jesus on earth after the ascension becomes even more clear than it was before. Accordingly, I would like to thank the apologist in question (William Albrecht) for bringing this to our attention, but I would also like to encourage this apologist to focus on the fact that Augustine clearly did not view the Eucharist as providing a continued, literal bodily presence of Jesus on Earth, consistent with the Scriptures which teach:
Matthew 26:11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.