Pastor's Blog

Augustine: The Doctor of Grace

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

We might think that the concept of total depravity due to original sin and salvation by grace were concepts that arose from the reformation in the 16th century. While the terminology, largely, is associated with the Reformation, the idea (which is wholly biblical) was fought for in the 5th century by a Bishop in Africa, Augustine. Augustine, known as Augustine of Hippo, Bishop Augustine, or the Doctor of Grace, lived from 354 – 430 AD and resided, for the most part in Hippo, Africa in modern day Algeria.

His early life was certainly filled with by lewdness and scandal as a pagan, until he was converted to Christianity in 386 AD. Sometime afterwards, Augustine would pen his autobiography about his conversion and his praise to God in his, notable work Confessions (it can be found here in English: Augustine was bright and a great rhetorician, at one point, prior to his conversion, he taught rhetoric in Milan, Italy. This skill would be used greatly to stand for biblical truth and lead him to be one of the most influential theologians throughout church history.

Two occasions, specifically, would try his skill and intellect and to this day make him a hero of both the Catholic and Protestant Church. The two controversies he faced was against Donatists and Pelagius. The first is held in high regard by the Catholic Church, while the latter in high regard by Protestants.

Donantism, named after an African churchman, Donatus, claimed that the effectiveness of the sacraments administered by priests only had effect if the priests themselves were pure. Specifically, if a priest were to have committed a serious enough sin, any baptism they performed would have been to no benefit. And according to doctrine at the time their salvation could be on the line. Donatus and those that followed him applied this to priests that, under persecution of the Roman Empire, temporarily ‘denied’ Christ. Augustine fought against this position claiming that the purity of the church is made up of the church not the individual. His doctrine of the church or magisterium makes him as a hero of the Catholic church.

Later, Augustine would stand strong against the English Priest, Pelagius. Pelagius believed, and taught, that there was no such thing at original sin and that people started sin free and had the capacity on their own of living and may not need Christ. Augustine stood strong against this and argued for Grace, what we would say now, grace alone. It is a beautiful doctrine and one that would be revived due to Augustinian monk 1100 years later, Martin Luther. This debate is an important one to consider and so we will consider this in more depth next week.

Augustine would die, at the age of 75 in Hippo, Africa during the siege of the town by Vandals. Vandals, while holding a different connotation today, were a group of barbarians that were known for their destructive force, hence the name.


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