It is interesting how St. Augustine, one of the most influential figures in post apostolic Christian thought, reportedly started his journey of faith on hearing a child sing a simple phrase that went “Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.” Interesting because Augustine was a student of rhetoric who sought worldly wisdom not divine truth at that time. The lantern of his mind must have illuminated, and Augustine rightly saw this child’s turn of phrase as a prick from God. He opened a Bible and began to look into the wisdom of God in His Word (Reading Romans). Eventually, Augustine turned in faith towards God.
Did Augustine’s turning occur by God’s divine decree, whereby God gave Augustine a gift of faith to believe? Had God, before creation, predetermined every thought Augustine had, every movement of matter in and around him, ordaining a child to sing and Augustine to hear at just that moment? Are we all simply Atomata, doing what our maker has made us to do, and nothing more? On the other hand, are we to believe that God is a “hands off” creator? Regardless of where you stand on the degree of God’s control of His creation, the primary source for what we should understand about God’s sovereignty is God’s Word.
I will start with a look at what Augustine believed about these things, for it was through him that these very questions began to split Christians on their view of God over the last 1000 years. I will show how Augustine and his beliefs influenced key players in the coming Reformation from the Catholic Church, leading to view of God that distorts the simple gospel message to the point that no person has a real choice regarding their eternal destiny. Such a view is fundamentally at odds with our God, who is goodness and love, and created adam and eve in that same image. C.S. Lewis made this point in his book Mere Christianity,
God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will thought it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity
THE WISE WILL BE MADE FOOLISH
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
In his college years, Augustine seemed to be searching for something that would explain his existence and free him of the weight of a sinful lifestyle. He first sought answers and meaning in the pagan philosophies and wisdom of the day, but God’s truth, the Bible, was put on the back shelf of his life. His father’s pagan roots seemingly had a great effect on the young Augustine. He knew of the Bible through his mother, a devout Christian and by all accounts he loved his mother, over his pagan father, very much. However, the historical record of this future saint, suggest strongly that he put much more weight on the wisdom of men, that is, until he heard that little child and sought God’s wisdom. Before Augustine came in faith, he immersed himself in an extensive search of Man’s wisdom.
Most notably, Augustine became a Manichaean for a period of about 10 years while in Carthage teaching rhetoric. Manichaeism started in the region of Mesopotamia and contained aspects of most of the major religions of the time. It was a Gnostic movement holding that knowledge is what leads one to salvation and is achieved through victory of the good light over evil darkness. Manichaeism was dominated by the concept of dualism. Dual opposites of light and darkness, good and evil battle it out on the battleground of Earth. Light is good, equated with God; darkness is evil, equated with matter. Because good and evil are both considered primary causes and are eternal in Manichaeism, the of the origin of evil is resolved, but resolved in a way incompatible with Augustine’s mother’s Christianity. Augustine later tells the story of how his mother threw him out of the house when he came home talking of his Manicaen views. Manicaeans had a strong desire to break the chains of personal evil. We can see why a twenty something Augustine would have be drawn to such ideas as he fought with guilt of a Hedonistic lifestyle, at the same time revolting against his mother’s Christian beliefs. It is obvious that such a lifestyle was not atypical of the average young man (and woman), even now in our modern times. Likewise, many young people who grow up with Christian influences (ie parents) like Augustine, end up putting the Bible on the back shelf during this period of their lives. They search for what they can call their “own”, a knowledge or truth apart from their adolescent influences. This was true of Augustine.
Augustine was in his thirties when he finally started to turn towards Christianity. He began to go to church to listen to the preaching of Ambrose, a widely acclaimed priest and orator. His interest was in hearing the skillful use of rhetoric not in the content of what said. Even so, the Holy Spirit was certainly working in Augustine’s heart. His personal life and the demands of his family clashed at this time, and he was forced to abandon his unwed relationship in order to become espoused within his class. This, along with the Holy Spirit, I believe, led Augustine to change, eventually turning from his past sins. He later would become a priest and bishop of the Catholic Church in Hippo.
NOT built on the rock
2 Timothy 4: 3-4
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
The Catholic Church was the emergent religious and political force in the World by the time Augustine became a priest in Hippo. It was a chaotic time with Popes popping up in the East and West and everywhere in between. The Catholic elite (ie. leadership) were doing their best to exert control and stamp out any heretical teaching that would threaten the growing power structure of the Church. There were threats from within and without. It was on this shifting sand that Augustine began to build a theological framework that would eventually become known by the acronym TULIP.
Augustine’s beliefs about God’s sovereignty in the beginning were in line with 400+ years of early church Christian thought regarding God’s will, human will, and man’s responsibility before God. Namely, that men had a true independent will to choose between pleasing God or self, as well as the responsibility for the consequences of choosing evil.
Early church Christians viewed God’s foreknowledge as simply what it means, God knows all things before they happen, including who will believe in Him. The idea that God determines all He forknows was promoted and defended only by pagan philosophers who were seeking to damage people’s view of Christianity. The Catholic Church saw such ideas as heretical, and actively fought their infiltration into the Church in the later half of the 3rd century. As a result, Augustine was nearly prevented from becoming a Bishop due to his Manichaean past, and was under pressure to reassure the Church that he had completely left such pagan ideas in his past. So, he begins to fight the views he once held. In his writing to Faustus against Manichaeism,
Augustine affirms his agreement with the long history of Christian thought on the origin of sin and the will:
“The origin of sin is in the will; therefore in the will is also the origin of evil, both in the sense of acting against a just precept, and in the sense of suffering under a just sentence. There is thus no reason why, in your search for the origin of evil, you should fall into so great an evil as that of calling a nature so rich in good things the nature of evil, and of attributing the terrible evil of necessity to the nature of perfect good, before any commixture with evil. The cause of this erroneous belief is your pride, which you need not have unless you choose; but in your wish to defend at all hazards the error into which you have fallen, you take away the origin of evil from freewill, and place it in a fabulous nature of evil. “
God cannot sin, as He cannot deny Himself. Man, on the contrary, can sin and deny God, or he can choose not to do so.REPLY TO FAUSTUS THE MANICHAEAN
CONTRA FAUSTUM MANICHAEUM A.D. 400
BOOK XXII Part I
By A.D. 412, Augustine had changed in his understanding of the freedom men have in regard to salvation. Changing to the view that, men, who are evil, have no freedom to choose God, who is good. Augustine, who once called the Manichaean views heresy, reverts to back them. One reason may have been his extra-biblical views on infant baptism, and the question of what happens to babies who die before being baptized. Another factor had to do with the rise of a theology called Pelagianism. Augustine may have instinctively reverted to his pryor pagan and Manichaean belief system in his battle against this greater heresy that undermined God’s Grace which is foundational to his new theology.
The Catholic Church and Augustine were in a battle with Pelagianism, those who believed that man needed only enough will to overcome evil and could do so apart from the grace of God. Pelagianism was the final straw that brought about in Augustine a change from a traditional view of Predestination and the responsibility of men to a more Manichaean, Gnostic view. The traditional view where God does not determine whether or not people choose to believe but rather He knows all who are His, all who will trust in Him. Those He calls the elect are those who are in Christ, the elect one. This traditional view disappears now in Augustine’s writings. Augustine also goes as far as to revise much of his past writings due to glaring contradictions.
The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, by Dr. Ken Wison has a great summary of how Augustine’s idea of God may have shifted around this time.
For Augustine, “Providence” allows or actively prevents infant baptism resulting in salvation for newborns who lack any “will” or choice. This required Augustine to reinterpret infant baptism as salvific from eternal damnation at birth from a mistranslation of Romans 5:12. It also required him to resurrect the Manichaean interpretation of spiritual damnation due to physical birth and revise it into inherited damnation from Adam’s sin.
Augustine converted from traditional Christian free choice to pagan Devine Unilateral Predetermination of Individuals’ Eternal Destinies (DUPIED). Since infants have no “wills’ and no faith, it is the parents’ faith that saves them at baptism (eternal salvation by proxy). God unilaterally determines who will be granted salvation and who will be denied salvation, either by directly intervening to successfully bring the infant to the bishop, or by actively blocking that infan’s access to the baptismal font. Infant baptism for salvation from eternal damnation and Stoic Providence in aiding or blocking that baptism were the foundational building blocks for his novel theology.The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, (pg.67-68) by Dr. Ken Wison
History confirms that Augustine did not build his theology on the rock of God’s word alone. Instead, the pagan philosophies of his past, as well as Augustine’s fight to push back against growing heresys, led Augustine to build on the shifting sand of the philosophies of men. And because of his skill in rhetoric and writing combined with his roll as a Bishop, Augustine was perfectly timed and positioned to become not only a great influencer of the Catholic Church, but also, the greatest influence on John Calvin and Martin Luther of The Reformation fame.
Take the ball and run
Flash forward in time. The dark ages are over and the Catholic Church has emerged as a supreme power in the world, holding a near complete monopoly over Religious thought and great political might. It has done so by brute force via religious wars and the persecution of anyone who’s ideas posed a significant threat. The Church had by this time, created a world of people who could not imagine an existence without it. The great populations under its control were held by its grip to the fullest degree. However, every tyrannical system has a breaking point, and It was through the efforts of many incredibly brave people who could no longer endure the Church’s brutality and hypocrisy, that the Protestant Reformation was born and the tyranny of the medieval Church was ended.
TIME OUT…There are true believers in Christ who call themselves Catholic, just as there are are true believers as well as masquerading unbelievers in any organized church or denomination. It is only God who knows the heart, and so we should not judge anyone’s heart. All true believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. However, institutions that claim biblical authority must be held to the highest scrutiny as to whether their statements, theology and conduct are in fact biblical. In history, Man has created many church institutions and denominations with amazing and glorious temples and yet God has never truly been at the head of of them. God allows our man made theological power playgrounds, but has been using them to build the true church in spite of them...NOW BACK TO THE SUBJECT
We call it The Reformation because those who stood up and opposed the Catholic Church had in mind merely a reformation, or fixing the problems within the Church. It was the Catholic Church who forced the reformers to leave the Church by it’s unyielding butal reaction to their challenges.
The two most famous reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, were both greatly influenced by St. Augustine as we will see.
Martin Luther claimed that what distinguished him from previous reformers was that while they attacked corruption in the life of the church, he went to the theological root of the problem—the perversion of the church’s doctrine of redemption and grace. Luther, a pastor and professor at the University of Wittenberg, deplored the entanglement of God’s free gift of grace in a complex system of indulgences and good works. In his Ninety-five Theses, he attacked the indulgence system, insisting that the pope had no authority over purgatory and that the doctrine of the merits of the saints had no foundation in the gospel. Here lay the key to Luther’s concerns for the ethical and theological reform of the church: Scripture alone is authoritative (sola scriptura) and justification is by faith (sola fide), not by works. While he did not intend to break with the Catholic church, a confrontation with the papacy was not long in coming. In 1521 Luther was excommunicated ; what began as an internal reform movement had become a fracture in western Christendom.https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation
Another important form of Protestantism (as those protesting against their suppressions were designated by the Diet of Speyer in 1529) is Calvinism, named for John Calvin , a French lawyer who fled France after his conversion to the Protestant cause. In Basel, Switzerland, Calvin brought out the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, the first systematic, theological treatise of the new reform movement. Calvin agreed with Luther’s teaching on justification by faith. However, he found a more positive place for law within the Christian community than did Luther. In Geneva, Calvin was able to experiment with his ideal of a disciplined community of the elect.https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation
It was Martin Luther and and John Calvin who took the ball from St. Augustine and ran with it. Augustine’s take on predestination, the elect, sin and justification by faith, were by this time out of step with what the Catholic Church had become. It was only natural for the reformers to turn to the roots of their Catholic faith to try to change the corruption of that system.
B. B. Warfield declared, “The system of doctrine taught by Calvin is just the Augustinianism common to the whole body of the Reformers.” Thus the debt that the creeds coming out of the Reformation owe to Augustine is also acknowledged. This is not surprising in view of the fact that most of the Reformers had been part of the Roman Catholic Church, of which Augustine was one of the most highly regarded saints.
John Piper acknowledges that Augustine was the major influence upon both Calvin and Luther, who continued to revere him and his doctrines even after they broke away from Roman Catholicism.
John Piper, arguably the spokesperson for the modern day Calvinism movement, states that Reformed soteriology should be based on Augustinian teachings…
“And we need to rediscover Augustine’s peculiar slant – a very Biblical slant – on grace as the free gift of sovereign joy in God that frees us from the bondage of sin. We need to rethink our Reformed soteriology so that every limb and every branch in the tree is coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight. We need to make plain that total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy; and unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed; and that limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant; and irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, but will set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and that the perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.”John Piper – https://www.desiringgod.org/
Piper makes TULIP sound good…but… it is a mischaracterization of God’s sovereignty that destroys the gospel. It began with Augustine’s misinterpretations of key bible verses, found root in the Reformation and was then taught to the masses.
How could Augustine have been mistaken? First, pointed to earlier, his pagan, philosophical bias had a strong influence on his later novel theology, and Second, Augustine relied on incorrect Latin translations of the Bible because he had never mastered Greek.
There is no dispute over the fact that Luther and Calvin were influenced by Augustine. Luther was even an Augustinian monk. William Carlos Martyn said about Luther, “The study of the Bible and of Augustine theology… lead him to the Redeemer.” In his historical account of Luther, Johann Heinrich Kurtz said, “Luther zealously studied the Bible, along with the writings of Augustine…” Principal Tullock said that Luther “nourished himself upon Scripture and St. Augustine…” Robert Dale Owen said, “Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ are based on Augustine’s ‘City of God’” Thomas H. Dyer said in his biography of John Calvin, “The doctrine of predestination, which is generally regarded as that of which principally characterizes Calvin, is in fact that of St. Augustin…” Oliver Joseph Thatcher explains why, “In theology he [Calvin] was a close follower of St. Augustine. His influence was to revivify the ideas of St. Augustine and, joining them to the main ideas of the Reformation, embody them in the Church he organized.” The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics said, “Luther… Zwingli and Calvin, with minor divergences, agree in reverting to St. Augustine on the main issues and in the supposed interests of evangelical piety…” Luther referred to Augustine thirteen times in his book “The Bondage of the Will”, and twenty four times in the “Works of Martin Luther.” John Calvin referred to Augustine two hundred and sixty five times in his “Institutes on Christian Religion.”
Since Luther and Calvin were both students of Augustine and learned much of their theology from him, it is not surprising to find the remains of the Gnostic view of human nature in their theological writings. Martin Luther said, “…man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good… he sins and wills evil necessarily…” He said, “Sin in his nature and of himself he can do nothing but sin.” John Calvin said that man does not have a “free will” in the sense that “he has a free choice of good and evil,” but denied this all together. Calvin paraphrases Augustine saying, “…nature began to want liberty the moment the will was vanquished by the revolt into which it fell… by making a bad use of free will, lost both himself and his will… free will having been made a captive, can do nothing in the way of righteousness… man at his creation received a great degree of free will, but lost it by sinning.” The Christian Spectator said, “Augustine, and Calvin, and all of the reformers, taught the bondage, or moral impotence of the will.” While the Early Church wrote about “the freedom of the will,” Martin Luther wrote an entire book called “The Bondage of the Will.” This shows a clear departure from the views of early Christianity.
Luther defended his position against free will by saying, “Augustine… is wholly on my side…” Calvin, like Luther, appealed to Augustine to support and defend his position. Calvin said, “Let us now hear Augustine in his own words, lest” Calvin be charged with “being opposed to all antiquity…” Calvin tried to dismiss the charge of being opposed to the Early Church by saying, “Augustine hesitated not to call the will a slave…” Charles Partee said “In his teaching on total depravity and bondage of the will Calvin is essentially following Augustine and Luther and not creating a so-called Calvinistic doctrine.”
While Calvin tried to say that he was not “opposed to all antiquity” when it came to free will, what he meant was that he was not opposed to Augustine. Augustine was the only exception. He was opposed to all of the Early Church fathers before Augustine on this topic. John Calvin said, “…all ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are so confused, vacillating, and contradictory on this subject, that no certainty can be obtained from their writings…” Calvin believed that men like Clement of Rome and Ignatius, who personally knew the Apostles, did not understand the Epistles of the Apostles; while Augustine, who did not know the Apostles, apparently did understand them. Calvin admitted, “It may, perhaps, seem that I have greatly prejudiced my own view by confessing that all of the ecclesiastical writers, with the exception of Augustine, have spoken too ambiguously or inconsistently on this subject, that no certainty is attainable from their writings.”
The reason that John Calvin rejected all ancient theologians and dismissed all of their writings on this matter, except for Augustine, is because all ancient theologians affirmed the freedom of the will in their writings, except for Augustine. Gregory Boyd said, “This in part explains why Calvin cannot cite ante-Nicene fathers against his libertarian opponents…. Hence, when Calvin debates Pighuis on the freedom of the will, he cites Augustine abundantly, but no early church fathers are cited.” That is why George Pretyman said, “…the peculiar tenets of Calvinism are in direct opposition to the Doctrines maintained in the primitive Church of Christ…” This we have clearly seen, but he also said, “…there is a great similarity between the Calvinistic system and the earliest [Gnostic] heresies…”
The Reformers sought to return the Church to early Christianity, but actually brought it back to early heresies, because it stopped short at Augustine. The Reformers did not go far back enough. Rather than returning the Church to early Christianity, the Reformation resurrected Augustinian and Gnostic doctrines. The Methodist Quarterly Review said, “At the Reformation Augustinianism received an emphatic re-enforcement among the Protestant Churches.” The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics said, “…it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine… the Reformation came, seeing that it was, on its theological side, a revival of Augustinianism…” The Reformation was to a great extent a resurrection or revival of Augustinian theology and a further departure and falling away from Early Christianity.
Gnosticism, Augustinianism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism have much in common. Augustinianism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism teach Gnostic views of human nature and free will but under a different name. It’s the same old Gnosticism in a new wrapper. Other doctrines also seem to have originated in Gnosticism, from Basilianism, Valentianism, Marcionism, and Manichaeism, such as the doctrines of easy believism, individual predestination, constitutional regeneration, a sinful nature or a sinful flesh, eternal security or once saved always saved, and others. But no Gnostic doctrine has spread so widely throughout the Church, with such great acceptance as the doctrine of man’s natural inability to obey God.
This view has been held in both Catholic and Protestant Churches, taught by both Arminian and Calvinist theologians. Augustine taught many false doctrines such as the sinless life of Mary, praying to the dead, persecuting heretics, infant damnation, infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, etc. Yet it is his false teaching in regards to human nature and free will that has spread beyond the Catholic Church into the Protestant realm.
Consider these facts that have been shown:
- Augustine’s mind was highly influenced by the teachings of Manichaeism on the topic of human nature and free will; and in his views on the subject, he clearly departed from the views of the Early Church.
- The minds of Martin Luther and John Calvin were highly influenced by the teachings of Augustine on the topic of human nature and free will and admitted to departing from the views of the Early Church.
- The greatest contributors to modern theology have been Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.
Isn’t it abundantly clear that Gnostic doctrine has infected the Church? The Gnostic doctrine of the bondage of the will, or the doctrine of man’s natural inability to obey God, has crept into the Church through a “Trojan horse” and has been masquerading as Christianity ever since. It has survived the centuries through Augustinian, Lutheran, and Calvinistic theology. These groups have preserved and promoted the doctrine of natural inability. This belief has spread like a dangerous plague, finding acceptance in many denominations and churches, but what it is not what orthodox Christianity believed.
“The Natural Ability of Man: A Study On Free Will & Human Nature” by Jesse Morrell **Note
reformation Jack O’ Lanterns
Today is October 31st and is widely known as All Hallows’ Eve in many countries. It is also celebrated by some Protestant denominations as Reformation Day. It is the day Martin Luther is said to have nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg.
In truth, all protestants owe a debt of gratitude to the reformers because it was through them that the Bible was finally opened up to the masses. But before you break out your Martin Luther and John Calvin Jack O’ Lanterns, you should remember this: The Reformation, while ultimately used by God for good.. is a sad testimonial of Christian unity. It is sad that Christianity was corrupted to the point of needing such a revolution.
Why celebrate the great Christian refusal to listen to Jesus’ Prayer that we all remain One (John 17:20-23)?
Why celebrate the refusal to listen to Hebrews 13:17-18, which says,
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
And finally, why celebrate the commission of many of the sins that St. Paul condemns in Galatians 5:19-21:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
While much good came out of The Reformation, there was also the propagation of the mistakes of Men, namely, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Mistakes that have continued to divide the brotherhood of Christ, making the gospel’s good news only good for the lucky elect few. All that Jesus Christ did while on earth to show us he was in fact God the Son, was to help us believe in him with the heart in faith. And the Bible is clear that we are able to believe or to deny him. God Sovereignly decided to give all humanity a choice.
We are not the Atomata that Augustine, Luther and Calvin’s theology would make us. May you look to the God of the Bible and see and know Him while there is still yet time to do so!
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
If you would like to know more about the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, go to “My hearts desire” blog.
Please Note: I do not agree with Jesse Morrell on his street preaching tactics and much of his theology. However in his study on the will of men quoted above (In blue) he has rightly traced the historical influence of extra biblical, man made philosophy, on Augustine and subsequently Luther and Calvin.
Jesse Morrell is in error on some key beliefs – I believe there is Christian assurance of salvation and also in the truth of original sin and our sin nature. and that God is all knowing and not surprised by what men do or do not do.