Archive for the ‘Augustine’ Category

Garry Wills on Augustine and the Real Presence

May 27, 2014

Garry Wills is the author of “Why I am a Catholic,” but also of “Why Priests?” and “Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit.”  His “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won a Pulitzer Prize.  He also wrote a biography of Augustine, St. Augustine (a Penguin Lives Biography).  So, it might be good for folks to pay attention when he says (Why Priests, p. 16):

Indeed, Eucharist (“Thanksgiving”) in its later sense, of sharing bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, is never used in the New Testament, not even in the Letter to Hebrews, which alone calls Jesus a priest. Even when the term “Eucharist” came in, as with the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, it was still, as in Paul, simply a celebration of the people’s oneness at the “one altar.” That meaning for the “body of Christ” would persist as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, in Augustine’s denial of the real presence of Jesus in the elements of the meal.
What you see passes away, but what is invisibly symbolized does not pass away. It perdures. The visible is received, eaten, and digested. But can the body of Christ be digested? Can the church of Christ be digested? Can Christ’s limbs be digested? Of course not. [[Augustine, Sermon 227]]
If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle [Paul] tells believers: “You are Christ’s body, and his limbs” [1 Cor 12.27]. If, then, you are Christ’s body and his limbs, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar–what you receive is a symbol of yourselves. When you say “Amen,” and you must be the body of Christ to make that “Amen” take effect. And why are you bread? Hear again the Apostle, speaking of this very symbol: “We are one bread, one body, many as we are” [1 Cor 10.17].[[Augustine, Sermon 272]]
Believers recognize the body of Christ when they take care to be the body of Christ. They should be the body of Christ if they want to draw life from the spirit of Christ. No life comes to the body of Christ but from the spirit of Christ.[[Augustine, In Joannem Tractatus 26.13]]
There are more quotations that could be added to the above, but those are certainly three of the key quotations that establish Wills point.

Michuta on Augustine on the Canon – Some Mistakes Corrected

May 25, 2014

One of the faults of Gary Michuta’s “Why are Catholic Bibles Bigger,” is its apparent uncritical reliance on a number of secondary sources, especially Breen’s “General and Critical Introduction,” (here is one problem that came from that) and Gigot’s “General Introduction.” In the section on Augustine, Michuta seems to draw mostly from Charles J. Costello’s “St. Augustine’s Doctrine on the Inspiration and Canonicity of Scripture.”  Unfortunately, it seems that Michuta did not dig deep enough into Augustine in preparing to write his book.

Michuta – evidently relying on Costello – states: “Augustine calls Sirach ‘Holy Scripture’ and states plainly that the book contains the words of a prophet.” (p. 158)  Unfortunately for Michuta (and perhaps also for Costello), Augustine took back this particular claim, later in his life.

Moreover, I do not seem to have correctly called prophetic the words in this passage: “Why is earth and ashes proud?” [Sirach 10:9] for the book in which this is read is not the work of one whom we can be certain that he should be called a prophet. 

Augustine, Retractions, Section 3 of the Retractions regarding On Genesis Against the Manicheans, p. 43, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 60, Sister M. Inez Bogan, R.S.M. translator.(as previously posted here)

Keep in mind that Augustine’s Retractions were written around 426-27 – over thirty years after the famous Council of Hippo that identified Sirach as canonical (in some sense).  It’s unclear what this change of position on Augustine’s part is based on mature reflection, Jerome’s influence, or other factors.  You may recall that Augustine had recognized the conflict between the Jewish canon and the Christian canon in City of God, Book 18, Chapter 36:

After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all. For by consulting the Gospel we learn that Christ is the Truth. From this time, when the temple was rebuilt, down to the time of Aristobulus, the Jews had not kings but princes; and the reckoning of their dates is found, not in the Holy Scriptures which are called canonical, but in others, among which are also the books of the Maccabees. These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils.

It is interesting to note that Michuta quotes only the sentence beginning “These are held as canonical,” without providing the preceding sentence (whether due to his reliance on Costello is unclear).  Regardless of his reasons for omitting that sentence, the sentence does suggest that Augustine is distinguishing between books that are edifying reading and books that are actually inspired.  After all, it would be hard to have an inspired book without a prophet.

Moreover, in the next chapter, Augustine clearly adopts the Jewish view of cessation of prophecy after Ezra (Esdras) (Book 18, Chapter 37):

In the time of our prophets, then, whose writings had already come to the knowledge of almost all nations, the philosophers of the nations had not yet arisen—at least, not those who were called by that name, which originated with Pythagoras the Samian, who was becoming famous at the time when the Jewish captivity ended. Much more, then, are the other philosophers found to be later than the prophets. For even Socrates the Athenian, the master of all who were then most famous, holding the pre-eminence in that department that is called the moral or active, is found after Esdras in the chronicles. Plato also was born not much later, who far out went the other disciples of Socrates.

Similarly, Augustine provides more clues in the next chapter (Book 18, Chapter 38):

What of Enoch, the seventh from Adam? Does not the canonical epistle of the Apostle Jude declare that he prophesied? [Jude 14] But the writings of these men could not be held as authoritative either among the Jews or us, on account of their too great antiquity, which made it seem needful to regard them with suspicion, lest false things should be set forth instead of true. … But the purity of the canon has not admitted these writings, not because the authority of these men who pleased God is rejected, but because they are not believed to be theirs. Nor ought it to appear strange if writings for which so great antiquity is claimed are held in suspicion, seeing that in the very history of the kings of Judah and Israel containing their acts, which we believe to belong to the canonical Scripture, very many things are mentioned which are not explained there, but are said to be found in other books which the prophets wrote, the very names of these prophets being sometimes given, and yet they are not found in the canon which the people of God received. Now I confess the reason of this is hidden from me; only I think that even those men, to whom certainly the Holy Spirit revealed those things which ought to be held as of religious authority, might write some things as men by historical diligence, and others as prophets by divine inspiration; and these things were so distinct, that it was judged that the former should be ascribed to themselves, but the latter to God speaking through them: and so the one pertained to the abundance of knowledge, the other to the authority of religion. In that authority the canon is guarded. So that, if any writings outside of it are now brought forward under the name of the ancient prophets, they cannot serve even as an aid to knowledge, because it is uncertain whether they are genuine; and on this account they are not trusted, especially those of them in which some things are found that are even contrary to the truth of the canonical books, so that it is quite apparent they do not belong to them.

Notice that Augustine apparently has room for certain books as canonical books that lack prophetic authority but are an “aid to knowledge.” 

We see some questions in Augustine’s head even back in 396 when he wrote “On Christian Doctrine.”  In discussing the canon (book 2, chapter 8, section 13) he wrote: 

For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative.

Still, even this list – coming after the council of Hippo – is presented with the following caveat (book 2, chapter 8, sections 12-13):

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.

13. Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:

Augustine is still asserting – after Hippo – that the individual must exercise judgment, despite the fact that Augustine believes that the individual should weigh the testimony of the churches (plural) in making the judgment.

There’s another puzzle in considering Augustine’s canon.  In On Christian Doctrine, at Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 13, Augustine lists within his canon: “the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles.”  While such a description is not unambiguous, it would be a good description of LXX Esdras A (aka “the Book of Esdras” or “the First Book of Esdras” ).  That book begins with an excerpt from 2 Chronicles, adds material from Ezra and Nehemiah, reordering some of the Ezra material, and adding a small amount of unique material.

I say, “unique material,” because the material is not canonical.  The material, however, is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica this way: “The only new material is the “Tale of the Three Guardsmen,” a Persian folk story that was slightly altered to fit a Jewish context.”

Michuta does have an interesting section on The Book of Esdras (pp. 238-42) in which he remarkably argues that the Roman Catholic canon is still open with respect to this book.  Michuta fails to apprise the reader of the source of the distinguishable material. He notes that “A few Church Fathers may have used Esdras as a canonical book, but this usage disappeared around the fifth century, although it remained in the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint” (emphasis Michuta’s).  Michuta does not note there – or in the Augustine section – that Augustine is one of those fathers.

In particular, in City of God, at book 18, chapter 36, quoted at more length above, Augustine wrote:

After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all.

This passage is Book of Esdras, chapters 3 and 4, the “unique” material from that book.  This seems to be pretty clear evidence that Augustine (and by extension, probably also the North African bishops who met in council at Hippo and Carthage) viewed the Book of Esdras as one of the two canonical books (rather than considering Ezra and Nehemiah as separate books).

I don’t mean to suggest for a second that we should adopt the Book of Esdras as canonical on Augustine’s say-so. I do think Augustine was wise to retract his error regarding Sirach (and presumably Wisdom as well, as he ascribes both of those writings to the same author, not to Solomon).  Likewise, I do not mean to suggest that we should hold the canon as tentatively as Augustine did or that we need to use precisely the same methods he did to come to the conclusions to which he came.  The point is, instead, to clear up some misinformation about Augustine – and to provide some important nuance regarding Augustine’s use of the term “canonical,” as not always implying that the books in question are inspired.


Hoffer – Real Presence and Transubstantiation

June 12, 2012

Paul Hoffer had posted some responses in our on-going dialog regarding Augustine and transubstantiation, which included the following kind of comment:

Before we begin addressing errors and omissions specific to Turretinfan’s commentary on Sermon 272, I would refer the reader to Part I where I have already addressed Mr. Fan’s apparent confusion between the term of “Real Presence” and the term “transubstantiation” in my commentary on his thoughts about Letter 36.


It was gratifying, therefore, to read the following from Fr. Dwight Longenecker:

The problem with this is that “the Real Presence” is a term that is also used by non-Catholics to refer to their beliefs about the Eucharist. I’ve heard Anglicans, Methodists and even a Baptist talk about “the Real Presence” at Holy Communion. They all mean something different by the same term.

This reflects a major problem in all theological and ecumenical discussion: people use the same terminology to describe totally different beliefs. The Catholic uses the term (or should) to refer to transubstantiation. The Anglican says he believes in “the Real Presence” and may be referring to consubstantiation (the belief that Christ is “with” or “beside” the consecrated bread and wine) or receptionism (Christ is received by the individual as he receives the bread and wine by faith) The term “Real Presence” used by a Baptist or Methodist may simply mean, “I feel close to Jesus when I go to communion.”

(source – emphasis added)

He links to a further entry, in which he provides a more detailed explanation:

So–like Ridley and Latimer before him– he used the term ‘real presence’ to sound as close to Catholicism as possible while in fact rejecting Catholic doctrine. Pusey believed the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the sacrament was only a spiritual and sacramental presence. In this way the Victorian Anglo-Catholic actually agreed with the reformer Ridley who wrote, “The blood of Christ is in the chalice… but by grace and in a sacrament…This presence of Christ is wholly spiritual.”

So why does it matter if the presence is only spiritual and sacramental? It matters because the whole work of Christ is more than spiritual. It is physical.

So likewise the church has always insisted–despite the difficulties– that the presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament is not simply spiritual and subjective. It is objective and corporeal. In some way it is physical. At the Fourth Lateran Council that explained that belief with the term transubstantiation. As the Oxford Dominican, Fr.Herbert McCabe has said, “Transubstantiation is not a complete explanation of the mystery, but it is the best description of what we believe happens at the consecration.”

So what should Catholics do when confronted with this confusing term ‘real presence’? First of all Catholics should realise that it is not a Catholic term at all. It’s history is mostly Anglican, and as such it was always used as a way to adroitly sidestep the troublesome doctrine of transubstantiation; and as such it is not an accurate term to describe true Catholic Eucharistic doctrine.

So as Catholics, we must use clear language about the sacrament. We can affirm the ‘real’ presence of Christ which non-Catholics affirm in the fellowship of the church, in the preaching of the gospel and in the celebration of the Eucharist, but we must also affirm that the fullest sense of the ‘real presence’ is that which we worship in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

Although Paul VI used the term ‘real presence’ in Mysterium Fidei the whole thrust of the encyclical is to support and recommend the continued use of the term ‘transubstantiation’ as the Catholic terminology. With this in mind I suggest Catholics should avoid the ambiguous term ‘real presence’ and speak boldly of transubstantiation. Instead of ‘real presence’ we should also use the terminology used in the twelfth century when the doctrine of transubstantiation was being hammered out. Then there was no talk of a vaguely spiritual ‘real presence’, instead they referred to the ‘real body and real blood of Christ.’

Mr. Hoffer has a lot more to say in the post which the first snippet referenced. In that much larger segment, Hoffer provides some discussion regarding “real presence” and “transubstantiation.”  But, at most, the distinction between the two within modern Roman theology is that “transubstantiation” describes the change as a change, whereas “real presence” in modern Roman theology describes the result of that change. We might add that transubstantiation implies not only the “real presence” of the body, blood, soul, and divinity after the consecration but also the “real absence” of bread at that time – but some would say that the modern Roman “real presence” view includes that aspect as well.

As it relates to our discussion of Augustine, Mr. Hoffer’s nuance is one that is interesting.  It seems that Mr. Hoffer is not willing to defend the idea that Augustine held to transubstantiation, even under a different name.  Thus, he seems to have conceded the major point we have consistently alleged.

On the other hand, it seems that Mr. Hoffer believes that Augustine held to the modern Roman concept of “real presence,” which would require Augustine to believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ are all “really” present under each species (both under the species that has the appearance of bread, and under the species that has the appearance of wine diluted with water).

Augustine, we contend, held to a divine, spiritual and sacramental (in the Augustinian sense, not the modern Roman sense) presence.  That kind of presence is real, yet it is not the modern Roman conception of “real presence,” but rather more like one of the Reformation conceptions of real presence, as Longenecker explains above.

So, at least a minor point of disagreement remains between us, namely whether Augustine held to a full-blown conception of modern Roman “real presence,” or whether Augustine merely held to something like the Reformation view of a divine, spiritual, and sacramental (in the Augustinian sense) presence. 


Trent, Augustine, Scripture, and Justification

May 16, 2012

Trent makes a number of explicit claims about justification.

Of this Justification the causes are these:
the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting;
while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance;
but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father;
the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified;
lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation.

Trent immediately explains:

For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.

Whether or not other aspects of Trent can be reconciled to Augustine, these conceptions are not consistent with Augustine. Augustine took the position that the thief on the cross had the faith that justifies without having baptism. To use Trent’s categories, the instrumental means for the thief was (in Augustine’s view) faith, not baptism.

Augustine connects the dots with Cornelius as well. Clearly he had the Spirit before baptism, which demonstrated his right standing with God (compare the argument about circumcision in Acts 15).
Augustine points out that the fact that the benefit can be invisibly applied (applied without the sacrament, the visible sign) should not lead us to scorn the sacrament. After all, even Cornelius was subsequently baptized.

Acts 10:30-48

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.’ Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
Then answered Peter, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

Augustine goes on to say: “But what is the precise value of the sanctification of the sacrament (which that thief did not receive, not from any want of will on his part, but because it was unavoidably omitted) and what is the effect on a man of its material application, it is not easy to say.”
That’s perhaps the most troubling piece of all for those hoping to make Augustine in the image of Trent. Trent treats baptism itself as the instrumental means of justification, but it seems pretty clear that’s not what Augustine thinks.

And in case you think I’m speculating about his view on Cornelius, look at the parallel Augustine himself draws just shortly after:

And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received by God’s earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized.

Notice what Augustine concedes: he concedes that baptism and circumcision are parallel, that Abraham was justified before circumcision, and that Cornelius was analogously “enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit” before baptism.

If Rome would concede the same, we would find faith alone as the instrumental means of justification, rather than baptism. Moreover, we would find reputed righteousness, rather than actual righteousness, the formal cause. Whether that latter point is something that Augustine himself held, perhaps we can consider another time.

– TurretinFan

Roma Locuta Est – Causa Finita Est – Debunked Some More

December 16, 2011

Advocates of the papacy frequently allege that Augustine said, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.”  Augustine did not say this.  My friend Dr. White debunked this urban legend some time ago.  Others have also debunked it.  I’d like to add my own two cents.

After all, I’ve recently encountered a couple of advocates of the papacy who argue that, although Augustine didn’t say “Roma locuta est,” he did say “causa finita est” (the cause is ended).  This is true.

Here’s the relevant portion from Sermon 131 in context:

For already two councils have, in this cause, sent letters to the Apostolic See, whence also rescripts have come back. The cause is ended: would that the error might some day end! Therefore we admonish so that they may take notice, we teach so that they may be instructed, we pray so that their way be changed.

Although he did say “the cause is ended,” this sound bite doesn’t actually help the papal advocate, for at least the following three reasons:

1) The appeal is to settled conciliar authority (not papal authority as such).  So, “Rome has spoken, the case is closed” is not a very accurate summary.  A more accurate summary would be “two councils have spoken – the case is closed.”  That’s not to say that the rescripts weren’t from Rome – they were.

2) The reference to rescripts is a reference to a response from Rome regarding the decisions of the councils. Such a rescript neither has its own infallibility nor gives infallibility to the decrees of the councils, whether considered by Roman standards of that day or this day.

3) Notice that there were two councils, not just one.  This is part of Augustine’s point.  His point is that, in terms of church court process, continuing this debate is beating a dead horse.  He’s not saying that two councils is a magic number, just as he’s not saying that getting a response from Rome magically makes the conciliar decisions correct. 

– TurretinFan

Waltz, Nicaea and Shea

August 16, 2011

David Waltz (no great fan of mine, if memory serves correctly) has nevertheless provided a helpful two-part post in response to my rebuttal to Shea’s post on Nicaea. Mr. Waltz has, I suspect, read more about the Nicene and early post-Nicene period than most people ever will. So, I appreciate that he took the time to read and comment on my post.

Waltz concedes the central theses of my post, namely that Augustine was referring to the council of Nicaea, and that Nicaea was not properly a “local council.” Once those points are conceded, Shea’s argument is shot. The central, and oft-repeated, premise of Shea’s post was that Augustine was referring to a local council.

One might expect that Waltz would realize that the point of the post was right on the money, and stop there. He did not. I won’t speculate on his motives. After all, a man of his reading may simply have wanted to correct what he perceived to be some errors in my post. For such correction, where appropriate, I am always appreciative.

Let’s consider Waltz’s points:

Waltz corrects some citation and quotation problems in a post by the reader to whom Shea’s post was addressed. While I appreciate Waltz’s attention to details in this regard, I haven’t bothered to confirm these matters, since they don’t seem to have any direct connection to my own post.

Waltz corrects a typo in the name of the editor (“JohnE” should have been “John E”) and pointed out that the quotation actually begins on page 281 (the citation had indicated p. 282). These errors have been corrected in the post. Thanks very much to Waltz for pointing them out.

Waltz next discusses the “little background” I provided with respect to the quotation from Augustine. Waltz writes:

Strictly speaking, TF’s “little background” is deficient, for it fails to accurately portray the historical context of Augustine’s statement. The period between the council of Nicaea in 325 and Augustine’s Contra Maximinum Arianum (427/428) was one of the most contested in the history of the Christian Church; more than 130 councils were convened! (Consult Ramsay MacMullen’s, Voting About God, pp. 3, 4 for the names and dates of the councils—see this thread for information about the book).

Without discussing his precise claims, I willingly concede that my background (which was completely accurate) was nevertheless not as complete a picture as could be drawn. In other words, Waltz has here mistaken the idea of precision (detail) with accuracy. Nevertheless, his error is of little significance, so let us proceed to his next comment regarding the background.

Concerning this turbulent period, Shea is certainly correct when he states that, “the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“. Directly related to this historical fact is [the] nature and role of the various councils that were held during this period; the understanding that some councils were “ecumenical”, that the “ecumenical” councils were infallible when teaching on faith and morals, and needed to be accepted de fide, was a much later doctrinal development. As such, to write that, “Augustine didn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome“, concerning nature and role of councils convened in 4th and early 5th centuries, is to state the obvious. IMO, TF is pretty much wasting our time here, for even Shea is in agreement with him on this point!

Shea certainly did not express an opinion that Augustine doesn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome. In that regard, Waltz is wrong. Which is why Waltz’s view about time being wasted should be revised. On the contrary, Shea claims that Augustine “is, instead, assuming a thoroughly Catholic backdrop to the whole discussion.” (emphasis added) Perhaps Mr. Waltz thinks Shea doesn’t mean “Catholic” to refer to the modern Roman conception of what it means to be “Catholic,” but such a hypothesis is untenable. In short, my comments were a needed corrective to Shea, and I am glad that in substance Waltz agrees and even thinks my point is “obvious.” It’s obvious to Waltz, but it wasn’t obvious to Shea.

The idea of the universal church arriving at a consensus by the time of Augustine on the topic of Arianism is, of course, to some extent an anachronism. In that sense, Shea is – we might say – accidentally correct (you will notice I didn’t dispute his claim in my original post, I merely highlighted it and pointed out its inconsistency with the modern Roman view). He didn’t mean to imply what he implied about Nicaea, but in this case we might almost say that two wrongs make a right. Viewed through the lens of modern Roman dogma regarding conciliar authority, Nicaea did represent a consensus view. However, there are serious problems with that kind of claim.

Waltz continued:

Moving on, TF’s statement that, “Maximinus was an Arian“, is, at best, breathtakingly simplistic. An Arian is one who adheres to the basic theology of Arius—did Maximinus endorse Arius’ basic theology? No, he did not. In fact, he emphatically denied THE defining doctrine of Arius, the doctrine that the Son of God was created ex nihilo; note the following:

The part of Arius’ doctrine which most shocked and disturbed his contemporaries was his statement that the Father made the Son ‘ out of non-existence’ (ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων). (R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, p. 24.)

This particular view of Arius [i.e. creation of the Son of God ex nihilo] has never been supplied with a convincing antecedent. It has always been an erratic boulder in his doctrine, preventing that doctrine being easily fitted into any known system…(Ibid., p. 88)

Waltz’s criticism here is bizarre. The title usually given for Augustine’s work from which the quotation in question comes, as Waltz knows, is “Contra Maximinum Haereticum Episcopum Arianorum libri duo.” That “Arianorum” is the Latin word that we translate “Arian.” It’s normal and customary to refer to Maximinus as an Arian, without implying that his views are identical to those of Arius.

Moreover, R.P.C. Hanson identifies Maximinus as an example of a source for Arian writing (p. 100), as an example of Homoian Arianism (p. 126) of the work that Waltz cited, even though Hanson also acknowledges that Maximinus “explicitly denies” the tenet that Waltz highlighted above (p. 564).

At most, Waltz has correctly identified that there is more than one species of Arians, and that the normal practice of referring to Maximinus as an “Arian” is to paint Arianism with a broad brush.

Waltz continued:

Before getting to Maximinus’ theology, I think it would be prudent to supply a little background. Shortly after the council of Nicaea (325), the ordained bishops of the Christian Church at large split into 4 distinct factions; modern patristic scholars have termed those 4 factions as: 1.) the homoousians, those who accepted the Nicene Creed; 2.) the homoiousians, those who replaced homoousios (same being/essence/substance) with homoiousios (like being/essence/substance); 3.) the homoians, those who rejected the terms homoousios and homoiousios as being un-Biblical, and embraced the view that the Son of God was homoiōs (like, similar, in the same way) with respect to God the Father; and 4.) the ‘Neo-Arians’, sometimes termed the anhomoians (see Hanson, Search, p. 598 for the reason why many modern patristic scholars prefer the name ‘Neo-Arian’ over others).

Of the 4 factions, only the ‘Neo-Arians’ accepted Arius’ most basic tenant that the Son of God was created ex nihilo, with the other 3 emphatically rejecting this doctrine.

Now, Maximinus was a staunch homoian, his theology being essentially that of the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople, which creed was a slight revision of so-called “Dated Creed” that was adopted in 359 AD via the convocation of a general council by emperor Constantius II, which convened at two separate locations: Ariminium (now Rimini) and Seleucia.

Of course, none of this contradicts anything I said. In fact, most of what Waltz said is relatively non-controversial (in terms of the various divisions that existed, and so forth). One surprising point is Waltz’s claim that regarding the creed of Ariminium, namely that it was “the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople… .

Whether or not we should dispute this claim, I think Waltz must admit that Shea cannot accept this claim. Shea cannot admit that the “Christian Church” universally accepted an Arianizing creed, such as that of Ariminium.

Waltz wraps up the first part of his post this way:

Commenting on this creed of 360 AD, the esteemed patristic scholar, J.N.D. Kelly wrote:

Arianism, it will be appreciated, is really a misnomer, for the creed asserts none of the articles of the old heresy [i.e. Arius/Arianism] and explicitly condemns Anomoeanism [i.e. ‘Neo-Arianism’]. (Early Christian Creeds, 2nd edition, 1960, p. 294.)

So, is it accurate to call Maximinus an Arian? With all due respect to the scholars that do attribute the label “Arian” to Maximinus, to do so is, IMO, a “mis[n]omer“, for Maximinus emphatically denied (as did all homoians) the most basic tenant of Arian theology: the creation of the Son of God ex nihilo. To call Maximinus an Arian would be analogous to calling someone who emphatically rejects TULIP a Calvinist!

Kelley himself, while conceding that the term is something of a misnomer, calls the very chapter from which Waltz is citing “The Triumph of Arianism,” of which the very creed to which Waltz has been referring is the crown jewel. So, while it is a misnomer in the sense that the creed isn’t fully consistent with Arius and/or Neo-Arianism, it is a description that is given to it not only by Hanson but also by Kelley.

Regarding TULIP, the comparison is somewhat inapt. TULIP was the production of the Synod of Dordt, held after Calvin’s death. And even to this day, Amyraldians insist that Dordt departed from Calvin on the “L” (they’re wrong, but that debate clearly is for another topic and day).

Moving from part 1 to part 2, Waltz begins:

In part 1, I demonstrated that Maximinus was not an Arian, but rather a homoian, and that homoian Christian bishops condemned Arianism.

This insistence on not referring to Homoian Arianism as “Arianism,” is not something that Waltz actually demonstrated is necessary. Indeed, his own sources refer to Homoian Arianism as a species of Arianism, even if not fully consistent with Arius’ own beliefs.

Waltz continues:

TF then states that, “Augustine was the orthodox (“catholic” but not “Catholic”) bishop of Hippo, as everyone knows”. Once again, TF is anachronistically portraying this historical period, for ‘orthodoxy’ was anything but a settled issue. (As for Augustine being “catholic” but not “Catholic“, I will deal with this silliness in a subsequent post.)

Waltz is here arguing against a straw man. I didn’t insist that orthodoxy was a “settled issue,” at the time when Augustine was debating with Maximinus. Shea would need to insist that, given the modern Roman view of councils. I, however, am under no such obligation. I’m not sure why, given his penchant for decrying anachronism (even without it being offered), Waltz finds the distinction between “catholic” and “Catholic,” silly. However, since he has left it for another post, and since it was a relatively minor point in my own post, it can safely be tabled for now.

Waltz once more:

He then gives one a misleading impression with his statement that, “both Augustine and Maximinus were in the same locale and region“—fact is, Maximinus had just arrived in Hippo with, “Count Sigiswulf (Segisvultus), a Goth,” who in 427, “led a Roman army to Africa in order to suppress the rebellion of Bonifacius” [see John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., Debate With Maximinus, Introduction (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 175.]—his ordination, and conciliar loyalty, had NOTHING to do with the Hippo locale/region. Yet once again, though neither Shea, nor TF have a good grasp of the historical landscape of this period, Shea is the more accurate.

Waltz’s points about where Maximinus came from doesn’t really have a bearing on the fact (undisputed by Waltz) that Maximinus was the Arian bishop of Hippo (Waltz doesn’t like that “Arian” label for the homoians, as noted above). In fact one scholar expressed it this way:

Nearly ten years after his Answer to the ‘Arian Sermon’ (between A.D. 427 and A.D. 428), Augustine entered into a public debate at Hippo with a major representative and vigorous defender of Homoian Arianism. Bishop Maximinus had only recently arrived in North Africa in the company of Count Sigiswulf (or Segisvultus), a Goth who led a Roman force against a local uprising, and who had encouraged this encounter with Augustine in order to secure peace between Arians and Catholics in the region.

Studia Patristica vol. 38, St. Augustine and His Opponents: Other Latin Writers, Wiles and Yarnold eds., “The Significance of the communication idiomatum in St. Augustine’s Christology, with special reference to his rebuttal of later Arianism,” by Joseph Torchia, O.P., pp. 314-15.

Waltz is dead wrong about Shea being more accurate. Shea had claimed, “[Augustine] regards himself as bound by the teaching and discipline of the synod whose jurisdiction is over his local geographic region, and the person he is writing to likewise feels bound by his local synod,” (and Shea compared the situation to that of local fasting rules in Rome vs. Milan) but in fact the issue wasn’t geographic and at the time of the dispute, the two bishops were in the same locale, directly contrary to Shea’s analogy to Milanese vs. Roman fasting rules.

Waltz continued:

The only point that TF has “debunked” is that neither of the two councils being discussed were “local“, the rest of his musings are [sic] do not fit the facts. FACT #1: no council and/or creed up to this period was recognized as universally binding; FACT #2: if any council up to the date of the debate between Augustine and Maxinimus (427/428) had any semblance of a claim to universal authority it was the dual councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, which were convoked by emperor Constantius II in 359. These two parallel councils were really essentially one council held in two different geographical locations for the sake of logistics. The estimates of the number of bishops that attended range between 550+ and 750+, which means that this dual council was significantly larger than council of Nicaea held in 325. Not only the size, but also the geographical and theological representation was considerably more significant—Augustine was engaging in a bit of ‘damage control’ when he demanded that competing councils be left out of the equation.

Waltz here concedes the main point of my post, and yet insists that the rest of my “musings” “do not fit the facts.” But actually, Waltz cannot point to any of my musings that don’t fit with his two purported facts. Moreover, of course, Shea is not free to admit with Waltz that Nicaea was not universal binding. I am free to agree with Waltz on that point, but Shea is not – because Shea’s church insists on a particular view of conciliar authority – one that wasn’t shared by Augustine.

Waltz is right about the fact that the size of the councils of Ariminum and Seleucia were (in combination – and perhaps even Ariminum individally) considerably bigger and more geographically diverse than Nicaea. That’s one of those inconvenient conciliar truths I try to warn people about, when they place their confidence in large councils.

Waltz’s final point is to argue that Augustine’s quotation makes it sound as though Maximinus had tried to suggest that Ariminum was binding, whereas Maximinus had likewise agreed to settle the matter by the Scriptures. Of course, the purpose of my post was not to suggest that Maximinus believed what Shea believes about councils, or even to discuss at all what Maximinus thought of conciliar authority. So, while I might quibble over whether Augustine’s comments give a misleading impression regarding Maximinus’ position, it seems Waltz’s comments in Maximinus’ defense are at best tangential to the thrust of my post.

Waltz concludes:

To sum up, apart from incorrectly terming the councils of Armininum (359) and Nicaea (325) as “local“, Shea’s assessment that, “What Augustine is doing is appealing to a common authority in a dispute where the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“, is quite accurate, whilst TF’s overall critique is significantly flawed.

As noted above, if Shea is correct in that sentence, it is only because, although he has a wrong view of conciliar authority, he mistakenly thought that Nicaea was a local council. Thus, while Shea may be accidentally correct in that statement (as mentioned above – and as was not denied in my original post), Shea’s underlying rationale is at odds with his Roman views of Nicaea.

So, thanks again to Waltz for his additional comments and – frankly – reinforcement of the points I was making. I don’t find Waltz’s objection to referring to Homoian Arians as “Arians,” to be particularly compelling, and that seems to be the major beef he has with my post. I also reiterate my thanks to him for his identification of the editorial problems in my original post to which I’ve now attended.


Nicaea Was Local Council, Arianism Not Settled Controversy, Implies Shea

August 9, 2011

I admit that I’ve never had a high view of Mark Shea’s scholarship, yet a mixture of surprise and amusement washed over me as I took in Shea’s breathtakingly ignorant response to a reader’s question regarding Augustine and Sola Scriptura. A reader had pointed out to Shea that Augustine, in responding to the Arian heretic Maximinus, had sounded exactly like a Sola Scriptura Christian.

Augustine (354-430 AD):

The Father and the Son are, then, of one and the same substance. This is the meaning of that “homoousios” that was confirmed against the Arian heretics in the Council of Nicaea by the Catholic fathers with the authority of the truth and the truth of authority. Afterward, in the Council of Ariminum it was understood less than it should have been because of the novelty of the word, even though the ancient faith had given rise to it. There the impiety of the heretics under the heretical Emperor Constantius tried to weaken its force, when many were deceived by the fraudulence of a few. But not long after that, the freedom of the Catholic faith prevailed, and after the meaning of the word was understood as it should be, that “homoousios” was defended far and wide by the soundness of the Catholic faith. After all, what does “homoousios” mean but “of one and the same substance”? What does “homoousios” mean, I ask, but the Father and I are one (Jn 10:30)? I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicaea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicaea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witnesses for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., Answer to Maximinus, Book II, XIV – On the Sameness of Substance in the Trinity, Section 3 (New York: New City Press, 1995), pp. 281-82.

Shea responded: “What Augustine is doing is appealing to a common authority in a dispute where the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus.”

Perhaps a little background would be helpful here. Maximinus was an Arian. The question was whether the Father and the Son are consubstantial. This is a matter that was directly addressed by the Council of Nicaea. We can agree with Shea in a limited way, namely that the Council of Nicaea was not ecumenical in the sense of speaking for every person who professed to be a part of the Christian faith: after all, it condemned the Arians. By that standard, there have not been any ecumenical councils, ever. If that’s Shea’s position, he’s at loggerheads with Rome.

Judging Nicaea by modern Roman standards, though, Nicaea did not just “arrive at a consensus” but actually defined dogma that must be accepted de fide. That’s obviously not how Augustine judged Nicaea, but that’s because Augustine didn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome.

Shea continued: “The councils he is referring to are local synods.”

Augustine refers to two councils: Ariminum and Nicaea. Neither was a “local synod.” Ariminum and Nicaea were both massive councils involving hundreds of bishops. Nicaea is typically identified by Rome as the “First Ecumenical Council.” The Arians viewed Ariminum as having similar weight, given its similar size in terms of number of bishops. Perhaps Shea would not want to call Ariminum an “ecumenical council,” but he must at a minimum acknowledge it to be a regional council. On the other hand, it is only out of ignorance that Shea can claim that Nicaea is a “local synod.” Nicaea was dominated by Eastern bishops, to be sure, but again it is minimally a regional synod, and Shea’s own church declares it to be an ecumenical synod.

Shea again: “He regards himself as bound by the teaching and discipline of the synod whose jurisdiction is over his local geographic region, and the person he is writing to likewise feels bound by his local synod.”

Maximinus was the Arian bishop of Hippo (see Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature). Augustine was the orthodox (“catholic” but not “Catholic”) bishop of Hippo, as everyone knows. Even if the two councils mentioned were “local” councils, or even regional councils, both Augustine and Maximinus were in the same locale and region. Thus, this is the sort of impossible explanation for Augustine’s words that can only come out of gross ignorance of the people involved in the dispute.

Shea again: “With Augustine’s particular question the issue is this, lacking a verdict from the Church universal, and faced with differing rulings from different local councils, he is attempting to come to concensus [sic] by appeal to Scripture, since it is an authority appealed to by both him and his correspondent.”

This is basically the same debunked theory we’ve already addressed above.

Shea once more: “But (getting back to your question) the point is this: Augustine is attempting “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in a particular discussion centering different juridical differences between two local councils.”

Leaving aside Shea’s continued nonsense about these councils being “local,” who knows what Shea is trying to say with his garbled phrasing, ” … in a particular discussion centering different juridical differences … .” Perhaps “different” should be “on.” But the issue in question is whether Father and Son are consubstantial. That can hardly be characterized as primarily a juridical question.

Shea continues: “Since the Church universal has not addressed the matter via either an ecumenical council, nor via the Holy Father, he appeals to the authority that both he and his correspondent hold in common: Scripture.”

This can only be true if no bishop of Rome had weighed in on the Arian controversy, and if Nicaea is not an ecumenical council. Surely Shea would not be so brash as to try to assert those things. So, actually, what Shea is saying is really more a reflection on the fact that Augustine does not consider the bishop of Rome’s comments or the comments of Nicaea to be of equal authority with Scripture, or even to be binding on the Arian bishop with whom he’s dealing.

Shea again: “He is not trying to make any point at all about sola but is, instead, assuming a thoroughly Catholic backdrop to the whole discussion.”

So now Arianism is “thoroughly Catholic” and so is Maximinus’ rejection of Nicaea!?! Of course, that conclusion would assume that Shea actually had the foggiest clue about what Augustine and Maximinus were discussing. He doesn’t. Instead, he offers his comment from the foundation of dogmatic affirmation of whatever Rome says and ignorance of the fathers.

Shea once more: “Be careful of importing post-Reformation categories into patristic arguments.”

That’s actually good advice. It’s not particularly relevant advice, but it is good advice. We should be on guard against anachronism. But in this case, it is clear where the anachronism lies: it lies on the one trying to turn Augustine into a modern Roman Catholic.

While it might be instructive to consider in detail the absurdity of comparing the Arian controversy (as Shea does – see his post) to the controversy over when to celebrate Easter or the question of whether to fast on Saturdays in Milan and in Rome, I’ll simply let the reader decide whether even by modern Roman standards those issues would be deemed disciplinary or dogmatic.

To sum up, no, Mr. Shea, Nicaea wasn’t a local council. Nevertheless, Augustine did not view Nicaea as binding on Arian bishops such as Maximinus, but nevertheless appealed to the Scriptures as the alone Rule of Faith by which to settle the Arian controversy in Hippo.


Augustine’s Letter 36 and Transubstantiation

June 16, 2011

Another passage where Augustine describes the Lord’s Supper can be found in one of his many letters. Augustine writes:

But, he who says that the old things have passed away, so that in Christ altar yields to altar, fire to prayers, animal victims to bread, blood to the chalice, does not know that the word “altare” is used quite often in the Law and the Prophets, and that an altar [altare] was first raised to God by Moses in the Tabernacle, while the word “ara” is also found in the writings of the Apostles, while the martyrs cry out under the altar [ara]. He says that the sword has yielded to fasting, forgetting that two-edged sword of both Testaments, with which the soldiers of the Gospel are armed. He says the fire has given place to prayers, as if prayers were not then offered in the temple, and fire is not now cast by Christ upon the world. He says that animal victims have been replaced by bread, as if he did not know that even then the loaves of proposition were placed upon the table of the Lord, and that now he partakes of the Body of the immaculate Lamb. He says that blood has given place to the chalice, not thinking that he now receives the Blood in the chalice. How much more truly and more appropriately could he say that the old things are passed away and are made new in Christ, so that altar yields to altar, sword to sword, fire to fire, bread to bread, victim to victim, blood to blood. Surely, we see by this that the carnal old things give place to spiritual newness. This, then, is what we have to understand – whether we dine on that changeable seventh day or whether some fast on that day – that the carnal sabbath has been transformed into the spiritual one, and that a true and eternal rest is looked for in the latter, while a merely physical rest is now despised in the former as a superstitious observance.

Letter 36 (to Casulan), Chapter 10, Section 24 (translation from Fathers of the Church Series, Writings of St. Augustine, Volume 9, Letters, Volume 1(1-82), trans. Wilfrid Parsons, pp. 158-60)

The context of this quotation is a much longer letter from Augustine to Casulan regarding a pamphlet by an anonymous Roman author. The Roman author is trying to insist that Christians ought to fast on Saturday. Part of his rationale is premised on a consideration of the Old and New Testament administrations. As can be seen from the beginning of the discussion, he makes a variety of comparisons, which Augustine then proceeds to attempt to dismantle.

Frankly, Augustine’s argument here is not exceptionally good. Nevertheless, the argument he employs shines some light on Augustine’s view of the sacrament.

Notice how Augustine affirms that we receive “the Immaculate Lamb” in the Lord’s Supper and “Blood” in the chalice. But this is in parallel to the “fire” that is cast by Christ upon the world (referring, doubtless, to the Holy Spirit) and the “two-edged sword” of the Bible. Finally, Augustine sums up his counter-point by taking the position that the physical/carnal has been replaced by the spiritual. Thus, a physical sword is replaced by the metaphorical sword of the Bible. The fire is replaced by the Holy Spirit, who is symbolized by fire. With prayers he notes that prayers continue and with altars, he points out that his opponent’s linguistic point is incorrect.

When Augustine comes to bread replacing the animal sacrifices, Augustine provides an interesting double response. First, he points out that there was already bread (the shewbread) in the Old Testament. Next, he points out that we have an “animal sacrifice” in the form of the “Immaculate Lamb.” Likewise, rather than animal blood, we have Christ’s blood.

The way that this makes best sense within Augustine’s argument is if Augustine understands “Lamb” and “blood” non-literally, but figuratively. A carnal sword with a spiritual sword, carnal fire with literal fire, carnal bread with spiritual bread, carnal victim with spiritual victim, carnal blood with spiritual blood, and (drumroll please!) therefore a carnal sabbath with a spiritual sabbath. In that spiritual sabbath we look forward to a true and eternal rest, not placing our hope in mere physical rest.

Although Augustine does not say that the Bible is a metaphorical sword or that the Holy Spirit is metaphorical fire, we can still figure that out from the context. Likewise, we can understand Augustine’s metaphorical description of the bread and chalice. Augustine’s punchline about the sabbath makes little sense if he means literal blood is replaced by literal blood, for example. Notice how in the conclusion of this argument he omits the prayers. Why? Because prayers are (for the purposes of his argument) the same, not spiritualized.

– TurretinFan

P.S. For those who want the original Latin, here it is:

Iste autem qui vetera transisse sic dicit, ut “in Christo cederet ara altari, gladius ieiunio, precibus ignis, pani pecus, poculo sanguis”, nescit altaris nomen magis Legis et Prophetarum Litteris frequentatum, et altare Deo prius in tabernaculo, quod per Moysen factum est, collocatum; aram quoque in apostolicis Litteris inveniri, ubi Martyres clamant sub ara Dei. Dicit cessisse ieiunio gladium, non recordans illum quo milites evangelici armantur ex utroque Testamento, gladium bis acutum. Dicit cessisse precibus ignem, quasi non et tunc preces deferebantur in templum, et nunc a Christo ignis est missus in mundum. Dicit cessisse pani pecus, tanquamnesciens et tunc in Domini mensa panes propositionis poni solere, et nunc se de agni immaculati corpore partem sumere. Dicit cessisse poculo sanguinem, non cogitans etiam nunc se accipere in poculo sanguinem. Quanto ergo melius et congruentius vetera transisse, et nova in Christo facta esse sic diceret, ut cederet altare altari, gladius gladio, ignis igni, panis pani, pecus pecori, sanguis sanguini. Videmus quippe in his omnibus carnalem vetustatem spiritali cedere novitati. Sic ergo intellegendum est, sive in isto die volubili septimo prandeatur, sive a quibusdam etiam ieiunetur, tamen sabbato spiritali sabbatum carnale cessisse; quando in isto sempiterna et vera requies cuncupiscitur, in illo vacatio temporalis iam superstitiosa contemnitur.

Augustine’s Sermon 227 and Transubstantiation

June 15, 2011

As with Sermon 272 (which we have already discussed), some folks who allege that Augustine shared modern Rome’s view of the Eucharist like to point to Sermon 227. It is easy to confuse the two sermons, since the numbers are so similar. Additionally, both sermons are short. Given the brevity of this sermon, it will be possible for me to go through the sermon from beginning to end, with my comments interspersed as with Sermon 272.


As noted previously, Easter was a time when new converts were baptized. This sermon was directed specifically to them.


Of course, there is no date on the sermon itself. Some scholars date this as early as 412-413, while other pick as late as 416-417. Part of me wonders whether this isn’t simply a second scribe’s copying down of the same sermon as sermons 272.

You are yourselves what you receive

This is the theme of the sermon. If you have read Sermon 272, than you can probably already see where this is going.

I haven’t forgotten my promise. I had promised those of you who have just been baptized a sermon to explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table, which you can see right now, and which you shared in last night.

You may recall a similar line in Sermon 272. These newly baptized people had taken communion the previous night and now see the elements on the Lord’s table.

You ought to know what you have received, what you are about to receive, what you ought to receive every day.

It seems that Augustine may be advocating daily communion. Perhaps he means “every day” either as hyperbole, or in some spiritual sense, but he may literally mean daily communion. Regardless, this shows that they had received communion the previous day and were about to receive it again.

That bread which you can see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ.

It may be that Augustine has already consecrated the elements and has now, in essence, interrupted the distribution of the elements to provide this homily. Alternatively, Augustine may not be referring to the consecration at all. He may just be referring to the fact that the word of God is what puts the elements to their sacramental use.

That cup, or rather what the cup contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.

This is just the same explanation applied to the cup. Some people seem to be willing to quote this sentence and the prior one in an effort to allege that Augustine held to transubstantiation. But, of course, such a statement is a statement that could be used by those who are bare symbolists in their view, as well as everyone in between.

It was by means of these things that the Lord Christ wished to present us with his body and blood, which he shed for our sake for the forgiveness of sins.

Here’s an interesting problem for those who think that Augustine is speaking after the consecration: Augustine is saying that “by means of these things” Christ wanted to present us with his body and blood. “These things” refers to something other than the body and blood. As you can see, Augustine is affirming that the elements are really bread and wine, and yet they present us with Christ’s body and his blood that he shed for our sake. If this is after the consecration, then Augustine definitely does not believe in transubstantiation. But perhaps it is before the consecration, so let us continue.

If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive.

Here we come back to Augustine’s theme, the same theme we saw in the previous sermon.

You see, the apostle says, We, being many, are one loaf, one body (1 Cor 10:17).

You will recognize this familiar theme from the previous sermon. Augustine is providing his exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:

1 Corinthains 10:16-17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

That’s how he explained the sacrament of the Lord’s table; one loaf, one body, is what we all are, many though we be.

Notice that Augustine is pointing his listeners to the apostolic explanation of the sacrament. Augustine doesn’t simply use his creativity: he seems to try to stick to what the text says for his main point.

In this loaf of bread you are given clearly to understand how much you should love unity.

This lesson of unity is the same lesson we saw in the previous sermon.

I mean, was that loaf made from one grain? Weren’t there many grains of wheat? But before they came into the loaf they were all separate; they were joined together by means of water after a certain amount of pounding and crushing. Unless wheat is ground, after all, and moistened with water, it can’t possibly get into this shape which is called bread.

Here Augustine is providing the wind-up for his extension of the Pauline metaphor. His listeners, who understand how bread is made, are doubtless nodding along.

In the same way you too were being ground and pounded, as it were, by the humiliation of fasting and the sacrament of exorcism.

The exorcism mentioned here is the denunciation of the devil and all his works. One wonders whether the fasting required of those who were about to be baptized was austere or whether the denunciations requested prior to baptism were particularly onerous. In any event, Augustine finds the rigor of the fasting and the recantations associated with exorcism to be a suitable analogy for grinding and pounding.

Then came baptism, and you were, in a manner of speaking, moistened with water in order to be shaped into bread.

This is pretty self-evident. Baptism involves moistening of the person with water. The similarity to the adding of water to flour is pretty straightforward.

But it’s not yet bread without fire to bake it. So what does fire represent? That’s the chrism, the anointing. Oil, the fire-feeder, you see, is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit.

This is parallel to the third part of Augustine’s analogy in sermon 272. Notice here two interesting things. First, he confirms that he’s referring to the rite of chrismation when he speaks about the fire of the Holy Spirit. He’s talking about oil, which is fuel for fire. But notice that he calls the oil “the sacrament of the Holy Spirit.” Why? If you think that “sacrament of the body and blood” means transubstantiation, then consistently you might believe that Augustine thought that the oil was transubstantiated into the Holy Spirit.

Everyone else, I think, realizes that Augustine means that the oil (called chrism) symbolizes and pictures to us the Holy Spirit. It pictures the Holy Spirit, because it is the fuel for fire, and the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire in Scripture.

Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Luke 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

Acts 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

Notice it, when the Acts of the Apostles are read; the reading of that book begins now, you see. Today begins the book which is called the Acts of the Apostles.

Evidently, the Acts of the Apostles were going to be read later in the service. Whether Augustine also preached a sermon on Acts this same day or whether the reading was not for a homily, we’re not told. If there was another sermon coming, that would explain the brevity of this sermon.

Anybody who wishes to make progress has the means of doing so.

Progress in what? It’s not entirely clear what Augustine is referring to. The means for making progress, though, is clear: it is Scripture.

When you assemble in church, put aside silly stories and concentrate on the scriptures.

That’s the Augustine we Reformed folks know and love. He wants people to concentrate on the Scriptures. For him, the service is a place where people concentrate on the Scriptures. How far removed had the church of Rome and its Latin mass come by the time of the Reformation, when the Scriptures were (in the services) mostly tucked away in a language that people did not know.

We here are your books.

Do I need to point out that Augustine doesn’t mean that we are transubstantiated into books? Probably Augustine means that those who are reading the Scriptures serve a similar role to books for those who either can’t afford their own Bible or who do not know how to read.

So pay attention, and see how the Holy Spirit is going to come at Pentecost. And this is how he will come; he will show himself in tongues of fire.

He’s referring to Acts 2:3, which I already quoted above. Evidently, their reading from Acts was at least up to that point.

You see, he breathes into us the charity which should set us on fire for God, and have us think lightly of the world, and burn up our straw, and purge and refine our hearts like gold.

Who would think that one would find in Augustine talk about being “on fire for God”! But here it is. More interestingly, Augustine ascribes this fiery capacity to love that God breathes into us. Moreover, this fire is a purging fire that burns up the straw and refines our heart like gold. One wonders whether Augustine is alluding to 1 Corinthians 3:

1 Corinthians 3:11-16
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Viewed as a commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:11-16, Augustine’s comments are interesting, because they suggest a purification of a man’s heart in this life through the action of charity breathed into the man via the Holy Spirit of God. In other words, an internal purification or sanctification that is the work of the Spirit.

But all of this explanation about how the Holy Spirit is represented by fire (and by oil, the fuel for fire) is an aside, and Augustine is about to come back to his point.

So the Holy Spirit comes, fire after water, and you are baked into the bread which is the body of Christ.

This reference to fire after water may be an allusion to the gospel passages I provided above, or possibly some kind of contemporary scientific reference with respect to the order of elements (fire and water being two of the four elements). Either way, Augustine fills out his metaphor by saying that the believers are baked into the bread, which bread is the body of Christ.

And that’s how unity is signified.

Notice how he says that unity is signified. He does not, of course, say that unity is transubstantiated, nor does he mean any such thing. What means here is that unity is pictured through the bread.

Now you have the sacraments in the order they occur.

Whether this is a reference back to the sacraments of baptism and chrismation (the most obvious sense to me in view of his “fire after water”) or whether he is referring to the pictures within the rite of Communion (the other obvious sense and perhaps preferable on the fact that this sentence is followed by “First”) is probably not crucial.

First, after the prayer, you are urged to lift up your hearts; that’s only right for the members of Christ. After all, if you have become members of Christ, where is your head? Members have a head. If the head hadn’t gone ahead before, the members would never follow. Where has our head gone? What did you give back in the creed? On the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. So our head is in heaven. That’s why, after the words Lift up your hearts, you reply, We have lifted them up to the Lord.

I’ve kept this section a little longer since the wording may be a little hard to follow in pieces. Augustine is saying that it is proper to lift up our hearts, because we are members of Christ and Christ is our head (no mention of the bishop of Rome as our head, but that’s no surprise, since Augustine didn’t believe such a thing). Our head is in heaven, and so we properly lift up our hearts to the Lord, as members of Him. Remember, Augustine has in the background the metaphor of the one bread. That one bread is the body of Christ, and we – like grains – are members of that one bread, in Augustine’s explanation. Notice Augustine’s reference to the creed, as in the other sermon. He clearly assumes that these new converts are at least familiar with the creed and that they can recite it (give it back).

And you mustn’t attribute it to your own powers, your own merits, your own efforts, this lifting up of your hearts to the Lord, because it’s God’s gift that you should have your heart up above.

Augustine manages to squeeze a little of the doctrines of grace into this sermon as an aside.

That’s why the bishop, or the presbyter who’s offering, goes on to say, when the people have answered We have lifted them up to the Lord, why he goes on to say, Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have lifted up our hearts.

Augustine is continuing to explain the liturgy of his particular church. It is clear, you see, that they had a particular liturgical form in which after the person who is offering says “lift up your hearts” the congregation replies “we have lifted them up to the Lord,” and then the person offering says “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have lifted up our hearts.” It’s a set form, and interactive, capturing the attention and participation of the congregation.

Augustine is pointing out that this thanks that our hearts are uplifted is done in recognition that it is entirely attributed to God’s gift, not our merit. This is just a continuation of his doctrines of grace tangent.

Let us give thanks, because unless he had enabled us to lift them up, we would still have our hearts down here on earth.

And here is an explanation of what Augustine is saying, namely that God enabled us to lift up our hearts, else we would not have been able to lift them up.

And you signify your agreement by saying, It is right and just to give thanks to the one who caused us to lift up our hearts to our head.

And here is the concluding line of the congregation’s response. The congregation actually acknowledges that God caused them to lift up their hearts to their head (meaning to Christ).

Then, after the consecration of the sacrifice of God, because he wanted us to be ourselves his sacrifice, which is indicated by where that sacrifice was first put, that is the sign of the thing that we are;

Evidently, the text of this sermon is “corrupt” here, and the translator has done his best to convey the sense. So, we should probably be careful about how much weight we place on the exact wording. Nevertheless, the point is that this sacrifice is a sacrifice of us! The bread is the sign of the thing that we are. As in the previous sermon, Augustine’s point is not one that is very helpful for transubstantiation. If Augustine’s terminology about the bread being the “sign” is to be taken in transubstantial terms, we ourselves would be transubstantiated. But if, instead, Augustine means for us to understand simply an ordinary sign, then the sermon makes more sense.

Incidentally, it should be noted that Augustine elsewhere speaks about us being the sacrifice, for example in City of God, Book X, Chapter 6 (“This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.”).

why, then after the consecration is accomplished, we say the Lord’s prayer, which you have received and given back.

In addition to the creed, it is apparent that they were expected to know the Lord’s prayer.

After that comes the greeting, Peace be with you, and Christians kiss one another with a holy kiss.

This practice of ritualistic kissing with the greeting ties in well with Augustine’s theme of unity in the body.

It’s a sign of peace; what is indicated by the lips should happen in the conscience; that is, just as your lips approach of peace; what is indicated by the lips should happen in the conscience; that is, just as your lips approach the lips of your brothers or sisters, so your heart should not be withdrawn from theirs.

I’m sure our modern (at least Western) sensibilities are a little troubled by this spectacle of the congregants kissing one another on the lips, but obviously it was not intended to have the erotic connotations that such kissing would have today. Moreover, notice how the kiss is called here the “sign of peace.”

In Sermon 61, on Almsgiving, Augustine had made a similar point: “After this the Pax Vobiscum [Peace be with you] is said. The kiss of peace is a significant sacrament. Give it and receive it in such a way that you will have charity. Be not a Judas. The traitor Judas kissed Christ with his lips, but in his heart he was plotting against Him. Perhaps someone is hostile in his feelings toward you, and you can neither dissuade nor convince him. You must bear with him. Do not return evil for evil in your heart. Love him, even though he hates you. Cheerfully give him the kiss of peace.”

Notice how there Augustine refers to this kiss as a sacrament and here a sign of peace. The words mean roughly the same thing to Augustine, with sacrament carrying a somewhat more specialized meaning. You see, for Augustine if the term “sacrament” is broadly understood there were not just two sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) but a myriad of sacraments, such as this kiss of peace. In any event, the point Augustine is making there and here is that the kiss symbolizes and signifies a spiritual reality that ought to be present.

So they are great sacraments and signs, really serious and important sacraments.

This is yet another reason to favor the slightly less obvious meaning, namely that it seems that Augustine is referring to each of the elements of the liturgy as themselves “great” and “serious” and “important” sacraments. Alternatively, he may be referring specifically to the sacraments of the body and blood.

Do you want to know how their seriousness is impressed on us?

Of course we do!

The apostle says, Whoever eats the body of Christ or drinks the blood of the Lord unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27).

Notice that again, for authoritative doctrine, Augustine appeals to Scripture.

What is receiving unworthily? Receiving with contempt, receiving with derision.

Augustine does not mean contempt for the elements or derision for them, but for our fellow Christians. After all, Augustine has just explained that they are a sacrament of unity. Contempt and derision are the enemy of unity.

Don’t let yourselves think that what you can see is of no account. What you can see passes away, but the invisible reality signified does not pass away, but remains. Look, it’s received, it’s eaten, it’s consumed.

Here again we can see Augustine’s sacramentology. The sacrament is a visible depiction of a spiritual reality. What is seen is material and transient. What is unseen is spiritual and enduring (whether that peace, or unity, or charity).

Is the body of Christ consumed, is the Church of Christ consumed, are the members of Christ consumed? Perish the thought! Here they are being purified, there they will be crowned with the victor’s laurels.

Notice that Augustine does not explain the sacrament in terms of transubstantiation unless you want to say that the bread becomes the church. Surely no one would say that. Notice as well that Augustine again points to purification and clearly identifies that place of purification as here.

So what is signified will remain eternally, although the thing that signifies it seems to pass away.

He means we (who are signified) will remain eternally, even though through digestion the bread and wine seem to pass away.

So receive the sacrament in such a way that you think about yourselves, that you retain unity in your hearts, that you always fix your hearts up above.

Here Augustine returns to his theme and application. Be unified! He also works in, quite resourcefully, his earlier theme about lifting up our hearts toward our head, namely Christ who is bodily in heaven (recall the hypothetical objection in the previous sermon).

Don’t let your hope be placed on earth, but in heaven.

Our hope is not in the bread and cup before us, but in Christ who is in heaven, which they symbolize. Augustine’s heavenly minded theme is thoroughly Biblical:

Matthew 6:19-21
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Let your faith be firm in God, let it be acceptable to God. Because what you don’t see now, but believe, you are going to see there, where you will have joy without end.

Augustine does not tell them that they see Christ now under a lying appearance of bread and wine. Instead, Augustine tells them that they will see what they don’t see now. They will see Christ in heaven, where also they will see the perfect unity, joy, and peace that the bread and wine symbolize.


Augustine’s Sermon 272 and Transubstantiation

June 15, 2011

Some folks who allege that Augustine shared modern Rome’s view of the Eucharist like to point to Sermon 272. Since this sermon is quite short, it will be possible for me to go through the sermon from beginning to end, with my comments interspersed.



The infantes here are those who are newly baptized. Baptism of new converts typically took place at Easter, and Pentecost is only a few weeks later. These are relatively young believers, spiritual infants, though not physical infants. Some scholars seem to suggest that the sermon may actually have been on Easter rather than on Pentecost. Either way, this is a sermon aimed at those with a relatively small understanding of what is involved in Christianity.

Date: 408

Of course, the date is not in the original. Nevertheless, this is the approximate date (within a range of about 405 – 411) assigned to this sermon using the best available scholarship.

One thing is seen, another is to be understood

This line serves as key theme of the sermon. It is easy to see how this line, standing alone, might seem to fit well with transubstantiation. Of course, it also fits well with a bare symbolism view, and also with everything in between those two. So, let’s read on and see what Augustine says.

What you can see on the altar, you also saw last night; but what it was, what it meant, of what great reality it contained the sacrament, you had not yet heard.

What you can see on the altar is, of course, a reference to the communion elements. Apparently new converts were not given an explanation of the meaning of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper prior to baptism. However, now they are baptized and they are going to be instructed.

Notice Augustine’s word: the things on the altar contain the sacrament of a great reality. For Augustine, a sacrament is a picture. It is something that visibly illustrates something spiritual. The sacrament known as the Lord’s supper illustrates a great reality that Augustine is about to explain.

For Augustine if something pictures faith, it is the sacrament of faith. If something pictures love, it is the sacrament of love. Likewise, this is the sacrament of something, and that something is what is pictured by the sacrament.

So what you can see, then, is bread and a cup; that’s what even your eyes tell you; but as for what your faith asks to be instructed about, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ.

You can probably easily see how this lends itself to the view of transubstantiation. After all, if Augustine were to hold to transubstantiation, he could say this. At the same time, though Augustine could say this and hold to a bare symbolic view or to anything in between. So, we must read on.

After all, Augustine is merely telling us that there is more to the situation than simply bread and a cup. It’s not just a snack.

It took no time to say that indeed, and that, perhaps, may be enough for faith; but faith desires instruction.

Notice that Augustine does not view the instruction and explanation of “this is my body” to be itself an essential. It’s enough that we by faith refer to the bread as the body of Christ and to the cup as his blood. Nevertheless, as Augustine observes, faith desires instruction. That instruction may not be strictly necessary, but it is wanted by those who have faith.

The prophet says, you see, Unless you believe, you shall not understand (Is 7:9).

You can see here that Augustine is, to some extent, prooftexting this principle from an Old Testament passage that may not really have been intended to convey such a general truth.

Isaiah 7:3-9
Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, “Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:” thus saith the Lord GOD, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.”

You may also note that it appears that Augustine is working with a Latin translation of the Septuagint, rather than a direct translation of the Hebrew original. Nevertheless, Augustine’s point (whether or not it is the point of the Hebrew text) is that first you believe, and then afterward you understand.

I mean, you can now say to me, “You’ve bidden us believe; now explain, so that we may understand.”

So you see, his point is that people can accept Jesus’ words that the bread and cup are his body and blood, but they still may desire (on the foundation of that faith) to have some explanation of those words. Augustine is planning to provide some explanation.

Some such thought as this, after all, may cross somebody’s mind: “We know where our Lord Jesus Christ took flesh from; from the Virgin Mary. …

I interrupt Augustine’s multi-sentence hypothetical comment (the “…” thus is my own as it is below, and not in the text). Notice that these new believers are familiar with the virgin birth.

“… He was suckled as a baby, was reared, grew up, came to man’s estate, suffered persecution from the Jews, was hung on the tree, was slain on the tree, was taken down from the tree, was buried; rose again on the third day, on the day he wished ascended into heaven. …

Again, I interrupt the hypothetical comment. Notice how Augustine summarizes the life of Christ. This summary is similar to what we might find in an ancient version of the so-called Apostles’ creed. There is no mention of descent into hell (as distinct from burial), but then again there is no reason to think that Augustine is trying to exactly copy the creed in his hypothetical objection.

“ … That’s where he lifted his body up to; that’s where he’s going to come from to judge the living and the dead; that’s where he is now, seated on the Father’s right. …

We’re almost finished with the objection. This objection fills out the rest of a basic life of Christ. He lived, he died, he was raised, he sits on the Father’s right, and he’s coming to judge the world.

“ … How can bread be his body? And the cup, or what the cup contains, how can it be his blood?”

Here is the question that allows Augustine to affirm transubstantiation, if that is his belief. Alternatively, it allows Augustine to explain that the bread and cup is a symbol or picture, or whatever else Augustine may think. In some sense, it is the perfect question to get at the matter of what the expression “this is my body” means to Augustine.

The reason these things, brothers and sisters, are called sacraments is that in them one thing is seen, another is to be understood.

This gets us back to the theme of Augustine’s sermon. Augustine is explaining that in every sacrament (in his understanding of sacraments, one thing is seen (the picture) and another thing is understood (the message conveyed by the picture). This, incidentally, rules out confession and penance from being a “sacrament” for Augustine. There is nothing in confession and penance that pictures something else, for him. So, even if Augustine had observed a modern Roman rite of confession and penance, he would not have termed it a “sacrament.”

Augustine provides more explanation:

What can be seen has a bodily appearance, what is to be understood provides spiritual fruit.

This provides a slightly more nuanced explanation. There’s a spiritual lesson to be drawn from what is understood by the things that are seen. This spiritual lesson provides spiritual fruit to the person.

So if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful, You, though, are the body of Christ and its members (1 Cor 12:27).

This is really not good news for the transubstantiationists. Augustine’s explanation is to provide a spiritual lesson about our (believers’) relationship to Christ from this visible illustration of the bread and the cup.

So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you.

So, now Augustine clearly says that “you” have been placed on the Lord’s table. And that we receive is “you.” He means the believers themselves are on the table and that the believers receive themselves when they commune.

If Augustine means this in a transubstantiary way, his view is most curious. Are we transubstantiated into bread and wine? What an odd result!

But the result is much less odd if one realizes that Augustine just means to say that we are pictured and symbolized by the bread and cup. They illustrate us.

It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent.

Again, Augustine is making his point emphatically, continuing the metaphor. He does not say, “It is to what you resemble …” but “to what you are.” Nevertheless, unless someone is going to take Augustine transubstantially speaking of us being physically present under the appearance of bread and wine, it seems obvious that Augustine is speaking metaphorically.

What you hear, you see, is The body of Christ, and you answer, Amen.

Here Augustine is explaining what he means by “what you are” – he means that they are the body of Christ. His reference to the “Amen” is a reference, we assume, either to a liturgical custom of the congregation saying “amen” after the words of consecration or perhaps simply to enthusiastic new converts saying it.

So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true.

Augustine makes a quick point of application. It is interesting to note that Augustine’s mentality here seems to be one of saying that we are united to Christ and part of his body by faith, not by baptism itself. If it were baptism itself, then these infantes would necessarily be members of the body of Christ.

So why in bread? Let’s not bring anything of our own to bear here, let’s go on listening to the apostle himself, who said, when speaking of this sacrament, One bread, one body, we being many are (1 Cor 10:17).

We can see that Augustine is relying solely on the authority of Scripture for his explanation regarding this sacrament. But Augustine’s explanation is one that is not friendly to transubstantiation. He draws his explanation from 1 Corinthians 10:

1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Augustine notes that the passage is explaining that we are one bread, and he is referring that to the communion bread.

Understand and rejoice. Unity, truth, piety, love.

These are the four characteristics of the one bread, for Augustine.

One bread; what is this one bread? The one body which we, being many, are. Remember that bread is not made from one grain, but from many.

Here is how Augustine explains the metaphor. In a loaf of bread, it is not one grain of wheat, but numerous grains of wheat. Even so, one loaf comes from many grains.

When you were being exorcised, it’s as though you were being ground.

The exorcism he’s referring to here is when the new convert, prior to baptism (and associated with it), renounces the devil and all his works. Augustine likens this to them being ground like wheat is ground. Notice that now Augustine has shifted to explicitly using similes (“as though”).

When you were baptized it’s as though you were mixed into dough.

This is rather clever. You add water to flour to make dough. Augustine is spinning out this metaphor.

When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s as though you were baked.

This would seem to be a reference to chrismation. Again, this is something of a clever hook by Augustine, since literal fire bakes, and since the Holy Spirit is sometimes described in terms of fire, although – of course – the oil with which the newly baptized were anointed was not lit on fire literally.

It is interesting to note as an aside that there is no mention of candles here. If Augustine’s church had made religious use of candles, one might expect to see them mentioned here to provide the literal fire. Then again, perhaps Augustine was simply attempting to connect Baptism (broadly construed to include the exorcism and chrismation) with the Lord’s Supper.

Be what you can see, and receive what you are.

This is just a re-emphasis of Augustine’s application above combined with his affirmation that the people of God are the bread and cup.

That’s what the apostle said about the bread. He has already shown clearly enough what we should understand about the cup, even if it wasn’t said.

Here Augustine allows for us to draw inferences from the text. Although it is not explicitly stated that “we are one cup,” Augustine concludes that we can see the same metaphor there.

After all, just as many grains are mixed into one loaf in order to produce the visible appearance of bread, as though what holy scripture says about the faithful were happening: They had one soul and one heart in God (Acts 4:32); so too with the wine.

Augustine hasn’t explicitly stated that the grains are united into a loaf, but the lesson is clear. He’s further explaining that there is a unity of soul and heart among believers (or at least should be). He’s about to explain this via the metaphor of wine.

Brothers and sisters, just remind yourselves what wine is made from; many grapes hang in the bunch, but the juice of the grapes is poured together in one vessel.

This is an easy metaphor to follow.

That too is how the Lord Christ signified us, how he wished us to belong to him, how he consecrated the sacrament of our peace and unity on his table.

Notice how Augustine calls the sacrament “the sacrament of our peace and unity.” That is because, for Augustine, “the sacrament of x” means “the physical illustration of spiritual reality x.” Here the “x” is “peace and unity.” Other times it may be “faith” or something else. In each case, Augustine means that the sacrament pictures the spiritual reality.

Any who receive the sacrament of unity, and do not hold the bond of peace, do not receive the sacrament for their benefit, but a testimony against themselves.

This is a particularly insightful comment of application. I hope that any schismatics who take communion will think about this. This is one way in which Paul’s warning can be understood clearly:

1 Corinthians 11:27-30
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Turning to the Lord, God the Father almighty, with pure hearts let us give him sincere and abundant thanks, as much as we can in our littleness; beseeching him in his singular kindness with our whole soul, graciously to hearken to our prayers in his good pleasure; also by his power to drive out the enemy from our actions and thoughts, to increase our faith, to guide our minds, to grant us spiritual thoughts, and to lead us finally to his bliss; through Jesus Christ his Son. Amen.

These are not so much concluding thoughts as they are a general exhortation to godliness and piety. I’m tempted to try to tie these comments back into the main discussion of the sermon, but I think it would be a mistake not to treat them as more or less a general doxology.


%d bloggers like this: