Monday, October 29, 2012

The Other Reformation

As Halloween is this week, and as I'm a devout Presbyterian, I will celebrate Reformation Day this week by writing about Augustine.  Augustine of Hippo is the quintessential theologian of all time.  He was born in Africa to Monica, who longed to see him converted to Christ, and to some guy who thought he should be a tough, virile man.  Augustine started out wanting to please his father more than his mother.  He followed the Manichaean cult and had a long-term relationship with a woman who bore him a son.

I cannot recall at the moment why he moved to Milan, but as a rhetorician, he taught in Carthage and Rome, and I believe he came to Milan to study rhetoric under Ambrose.  Either way, he met Ambrose, who challenged Augustine's agnostic beliefs, torturing him mentally with the truths of belief in Jesus.  It is believed that one day, he was in a garden, wrestling with God, when he walked to a Bible and heard a voice saying, "Take up and read."  He did and ended up reading Romans 13:13-14, finding light and hope that he never found as a Manichaean.  Monica's dream came true, and he broke up with his current girlfriend, who was not the one who had is son, and became baptized.  He also became a monk with his son who did died in his teen years.

People know most about Augustine from his book the Confessions and Retractations.  I read part of City of God once, which is an amazing book and a reaction to people worrying about Rome being sacked.  They wondered if Rome fell because they abandoned the pagan gods and turned to Christ.  Augustine gives a giant NO.  The pagans had a god for everything, and even elements within those things.  For example, they had a god of doors, a god of doorknobs, a god of hinges, and a god of thresholds.  It's like those gods could not take care of very much.  Those entities gave you no privacy, and could not support Rome.  Only God can hold the world together.  He then talked about God's completely separate kingdom that is totally different and better than the kingdom of the world, and encouraged the Romans to look for that city and not care about the cities on this planet.  It is extremely relevant today as America looks toward the demise of its empire and forgets that it is not the Promised Land.

A few things I disagree with Augustine about: Augustine never really let go of Neo-Platonism, the idea that matter is evil and that you had to escape the world to be whole.  He is a great influence in the monastic movement which prizes asceticism and retreat.  Granted, I love retreat and do so every day so I can spend time with God.  I am convinced that this same God did not intend for people to live as islands to themselves.  He made us for him and for each other.

Augustine is also the reason that people really prize virginity and even saw marital sex as an evil needed only to produce children.  He put major emphasis on the sacraments of the Lord's Supper and Baptism in a way that taught that they actually saved the people rather than simply rehabilitated them each week on Sunday.  This belief carried over into Lutheranism and Calvinism.  However, we do believe that Christ's blood really is present in both baptism and Eucharist as a sign and seal of our covenant relationship, but we believe in it as spiritual, not physical, which is even more real than anything we could see or touch.

All that aside, Augustine is still the greatest influence on the Protestant Reformers.  There would be no Luther without Augustine.  In regard to the other early Church fathers mentioned today, we can look to them for all five of the Solas.

Sola Scriptura: Jerome knew that people needed a Bible in their language, so he translated it into Latin.  Sadly, when languages and meanings changed, the Church refused to update it, but Jerome did convey the Word of God to people who desperately needed it.  The Eastern fathers believed in reading the Bible at face value in the context of its culture and not try to pull allegories out of thin air.  And God drew Augustine to him by just asking him to pick up a Bible.  It is the reason Ambrose opposed Theodosius and why Augustine contended with Pelagius.

Sola Fide, Gratia, e Christus: When Pelagius preached to the Romans that they had no original sin and that they could be saved only by following Christ's example, Augustine greatly protested to the point of rebuking popes.  If Pelagius was right, then nobody was stuck in sin and nobody really needed Christ.  But from Augustine's seedy past and from Scriptures, he knew that he was hopelessly sinful and could never have come to Christ unless God compelled him.  He was the first to really develop monergism, the belief that only God saves people by giving them faith, that people are not saved by any works or believing the right thing.  He really did coin the phrase "Sola Gratia," knowing that Christ's grace alone brought people to him.  Without this grace, we could not even wake up in the morning.  And he championed for Sola Christos, Christ as the only intercessor and redemptor as he denounced the many Roman gods in City of God.

Soli Deo Gloria: After he became a Christian, he realized how worthless he is in his natural state, that he has no free will except the will to sin.  Only God gets the glory for his life and salvation, and no one else.  Not Ambrose, not Monica, not even himself.  Not the apostles and not any of the saints from the Scriptures.  Only God is to receive glory.  God may have used other people to convey such salvation, but they are not the source, only God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Godhead that continues to sustain us today.

1 comment:

  1. Reformation day. Just as many ghouls as Haloween, just these ghouls look human.