Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Srsly? Moments with St. Augustine

Disclaimer: this has some denominational ranting.

Slowly, I've been reading Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy by B. B. Warfield.  It's been slow because life has come at me.  Legal research assignments, youth group planning, and trying to have a life, have all bombarded me and out of 98 pages, I'm still 71% read and I downloaded it two weeks ago.  If there's one man both RCs and RCs (Reformed Christianity) love, it's Augustine.

Augustine was the first man since Paul to really refine monergistic soteriology.  Btw, I was just adding the last two words to the spellcheck dictionary.  I have to take a moment and laugh at the suggestions.  Monergism: synergism.  Yes I know, that's the opposite of monergism.  Monergism means only one person works.  Synergism, we work together.  Augustine taught monergism: only God works in our salvation.  Next, monergistic: energetic and modernistic.  Soteriology: bacteriology. 

Okay, back to business.  Augustine, to his detriment, also loved Plato.  I can't blame him.  I really like Plato, too.  I love his cave allegory where this life is like you are in a cave looking out a window that keeps getting darker, and when you die, the afterlife is the true reality outside the cave.  C. S. Lewis so took that idea and ran with it.  Plato, however, believed in the reality of the invisible world so much that he did not want to live in this world.  He said it was more spiritual to be ascetic and deny fleshly reality which is evil and just a shadow to embrace the invisible which is true reality.  This early gnosticism led to monasticism which is very much what God never intended for Christians.  He wanted us to not be of the world, but in the world making disciples of all nations and being blessings to people.  He wanted us to marry, increase, and multiply in number.  He didn't want us to die before our time.

Warfield's book is a great picture of Augustine's theology concerning Pelagius, both influencing Catholics and the Protestant reformation for years to come.  I'm still not done with the book, like I said, and when I am done, I'm going to read it again to take notes.  That's the problem with e-readers, you can't underline or write in the margins.  I am still happy that the book was free and that it's not cluttering my floor.  So with no references, I'm going to discuss what I've read so far in the book.

The British monk Pelagius believed that when Adam sin, he did not pass on his sin to his children.  All people are born with a clean slate with none of Adam's sin, and that by being perfect we can find our way back to God.  Why did we need Jesus?  He was the great moral example who only taught us the best way back to God.  (This is eerily what Wrong Bell says in Velvet Elvis).  Clearly, Pelagius did not take seriously 1 Corinthians 15:22, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive."  Actually, anybody who denies that Jesus is the only way to God or even accepts theistic evolution, seriously ignore 1 Corinthians 15:22.

Nobody rebutted Pelagian claims like Augustine.  He wrote books and treatises on everything that is wrong with Pelagianism.  Pelagius taught that our will is always free.  Augustine said our will is never free until Christ saves us.  Adam had free will but lost it when he sinned.  Pelagius's claims insult God's atonement through Christ's sacrifice.  It denies God's grace, and ultimately, you can never be certain of your salvation.

Now, I will get to two of Augustine's arguments that leave me scratching my head and that seriously influenced Catholicism until this day, the first with which I'll partly agree.

"If babies are born without original sin, then why do they need to be baptized?"  With the Catholic belief that water baptism erases sin from a child, that Lutherans still believe, I can understand why credobaptists get so mad.  Water baptism doesn't cleans a person's sin at any age, nor does it signify that the person is truly saved.  The Holy Spirit's baptism that all believers receive on becoming Christian, the invisible one, is what cleanses your sin and makes you truly Christian.  (Actually, Christ's blood cleanses you for all time, but that's applied in the HS's baptism.)  Presbyterians who practice paedobaptism do so to initiate the child into God's covenant community on earth which will always be mixed with true believers and reprobates.  Believing parents have the right to present their child for baptism, and when he grows up, they won't pressure him into making a decision because he's already been baptized.  Now, all he needs to do is learn the Christian faith, surrender his life to Jesus, and join the church.  I relive the baptism I don't remember when someone else gets baptized.  It makes more sense if you are a Calvinist.

Next, Augustine gets into this tiff with Vincentius Victor about the origin of the soul.  Does God make the soul completely holy or is it created during intercourse, making it unholy?  To answer, Augustine wrote On Marriage and Concupiscence.  Warfield is right when he says, "It is naturally tinged or rather stained with the prevalent ascetic notions of the day."  The following is a bit of plagiarism, which the spellcheck likes to substitute for Pelagianism.  Augustine: marriage is good, and God is the maker of the offspring that comes from it, although now there can be no begetting and hence no birth without sin.  Sin made concupiscence (or sexual desire, I just had to look it up), and now sexual desire perpetuates sinners.  It is to distinguish between the evil of carnal concupiscence, form which man, who is born therefrom, contracts original sin, and the good of marriage.  To Augustine, sexual desire is not a give, but conjugal chastity and continence.  If a couple copulates simply to have children, then it is alright, but if there is sexual desire, then it's bad, and that's why children are born in sin.  So he assumes that Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, allows marriage but forbids the disease of desire.  He assumes that the OT men could have many wives because they wanted more children, not more sex, but in the NT, it's not allowed because it increases lust.  "True marriage can exist without offspring, and even without cohabitation, and cohabitation is now, under the New Testament, no longer a duty as it was under the Old Testament, but the apostle praises continence above it."

Alas.  This is a shambles.  Had Augustine never read 1 Corinthians?  I can understand he might be reflecting on his sexual history, which could rival anyone in Corinth.  He had a live-in girlfriend who bore his son, and later on his mother wanted him to marry higher, so he found a richer woman but still just lived with her, and when he became a Christian, he threw the baby out with the bathwater and forsook all sex, even legal married sex, altogether.

So, here is 1 Corinthians 7: First Paul does say it's good not to marry.  Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

So basically, if you must get married, then do not deny sex from each other.  You are actually sinning if you do not have sex.  Sexual desire is not bad.  Unrestrained sexual desire is evil, but God did create sexual desire so that people would get married, have sex, and have children to be fruitful and increase the earth.  Married sex is every bit as holy if not more so than forced virginity if you should take vocations in the Catholic church, and it is a blessing.   Fulfilling sexual desire with your spouse prevents you from giving in to temptation and perversion.  Some people do have the gift to be chaste their whole lives.  I think it was Zwingli who said not many men have that gift, and he would know.  He could have counseled Augustine.

Verse 9, it is better to marry than to burn with passion.  Seriously, I can tell people who are not meant to live as virgins forever because they burn with passion.  I do.  I think everyone does these days.  If you can't find someone to marry, you must learn to restrain it and focus on Jesus and his Word.

Again, verse 36, If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.

You are sinning if you deny marriage to the one you love because you feel called to serve the Lord.  In fact, in chapter 9 verse 5, Paul mentions that both Peter and many apostles had wives who traveled with them.  And don't tell me they were celibate.  God's plan is for married people to have sex both to have children and to bond with each other, so concupiscence is both a gift from God and absolutely good when in the proper context of marriage.  To deny it to your spouse is sin just as having sex outside of marriage.

That's all my ranting for today.  I hope this doesn't become a habit.

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