Monday, September 21, 2009

The Great Saint Augustine: A Friend of the Pontiffs.

Pope Innocent I

Saint Augustine

There are certain Protestant bloggers who take the writings of St. Augustine out of context, attempting to pit him against the Catholic faith. Of course this type of argumentation is easily refuted when a person simply reads the entire works of Augustine for themselves. A few posts back I pointed out how anyone can be taken out of context. I used the writings of Pope Benedict XVI to show how easily I could cut and paste his quotes out of context to turn him into a proponent of the heresy of Sola Scriptura.

There is a wonderful encyclical that was penned by Pope Pius XI on Saint Augustine called Ad Salutem. I wanted to put up some excerpts from the beginning of that document that I found to be very interesting. I bold typed the text of particular interest, and I also gave my own thoughts on the text below each excerpt as well. As we will see, Saint Augustine was very much in tune with the Roman Pontiffs, and hence very much in line with Catholic doctrine. I recommend reading the entire document when you have some time. It is too long too quote at any length on this blog, but it gives a very in depth look at how the great Saint influenced the Church while always remaining a stern, faithful Catholic. No one knows their child better than a mother, and no one knows a Saint and their writings better than their mother, the Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XI - Ad Salutem - On Saint Augustine - 30 April 1930

2. The praise of Augustine has never ceased to be proclaimed in the Church of God, even by the Roman Pontiffs. While the holy Bishop was yet alive, Innocent I greeted him as a beloved friend[1] and extolled the letter which he had received from the Saint and from four Bishops, his friends: "A letter instinct with faith and staunch with all the vigor of the Catholic religion."[2] Shortly after the death of Augustine, Celestine I defends him against his opponents in the following noble words: "We have ever deemed Augustine a man to be remembered for his sanctity, because of his life and services in our communion, nor has rumor at any time darkened his name with the suspicion of evil. So great was his knowledge, as we recall, that he was always reckoned by my predecessors also among our foremost teachers. All alike, therefore, thought highly of him as a man held in affection and honor by all."[3]

Pope Innocent I was very instrumental in protecting the Church, as well as protecting some very well known Saints such as the great John Chrysostom and Saint Jerome. The Popes from the time of Augustine hailed him as one of their own, aligning his teachings with that of orthodox Catholicism in refuting the heresies of the time. The great Saint was quite instrumental in personally communicating with the Pope of Rome in doing this. In fact as we will see, the Church often had to fight heretics who tried to take Augustine's writings out of context, just like John Calvin would do many centuries later. What I find so interesting is that Pope Innocent knew Augustine personally as a friend, and confirmed his teachings with that of the Church regarding may doctrines including the Trinity, freewill and predestination. Of course it is those who never knew Saint Augustine who later have distorted his writings.

3. Gelasius I hailed Jerome and Augustine as "luminaries among ecclesiastical teachers."[4] Hormisdas wrote in answer to Bishop Possessor's request for direction these weighty words: "What the Roman, that is, the Catholic Church follows and maintains touching free will and the grace of God, can be learned from the different works of blessed Augustine, those especially which he addressed to Hilary and Prosper, though the formal chapters are contained in the ecclesiastical records."[5] A like testimony was uttered by John II, when in refutation of heretics he appealed to the works of Augustine: "Whose teaching," he said, "according to the enactments of my predecessors, the Roman Church follows and maintains."[6]

As we can see there is nothing new under the sun. The Church preserves the writings of her Saints, while the heretics labor night and day to undermine them.

Can anyone be unaware how thoroughly familiar with the doctrine of Augustine were the Roman Pontiffs, during the ages that followed close upon his death, as Leo the Great, for example, and Gregory the Great? Thus Saint Gregory, thinking as highly of Augustine as he thought humbly of himself, wrote to Innocentius, prefect of Africa: "If you wish to feast on choice food, read the works of blessed Augustine, your fellowcountryman. His writings are as fine wheat. Seek not for our bran."[7] It is well known that Adrian I was in the habit of quoting passages from Augustine, whom he styled "an eminent doctor."[8] Again, Clement VIII, to throw light on the obscure features of abstruse debates, and Pius VI, in his Apostolic Constitution "Auctorem fidei," to unmask the evasions of the condemned Synod of Pistoia, availed themselves of the support of Augustine's authority.

It is quite apparent that Calvin did not know Saint Augustine since they are removed by more than thousand years. Yet those who knew him never interpreted his works in the way Calvin did for example. In fact all of those who tried to hi-jack the great Saint's works as their own were always on the losing end of the controversy. The Church has always prevailed against those who try to twist Her Scriptures and Her Saints writings. Saint Augustine has been no exception. The Church has well preserved his authentic teachings.

5. It is a further tribute to the glory of the Bishop of Hippo, that more than once the Fathers in lawful Councils assembled, made use of his very words in defining Catholic truth. In illustration it is enough to cite the Second Council of Orange and the Council of Trent. Yet again, to cast a backward glance at the years of Our own youth, We wish at this point to recall and delightedly to ponder the words in which Our predecessor of immortal memory Leo XIII, after mentioning writers earlier than Augustine, lauded the help afforded by him to Christian philosophy: "But it is Augustine who seems to have borne off the palm from all. Of towering genius and thoroughly versed in sacred and profane knowledge, he waged relentless war on all the errors of his age with matchless faith and equal learning. What part of philosophy did he have untouched? Nay rather into what part did he not make thorough search as when he unfolded to the Faithful the deepest mysteries of the Faith or defended them against the mad attacks of foes; or again when, brushing away the false theories of Academics and Manicheans, he laid a sure and solid foundation for human knowledge, or studied in detail the nature and source and causes of the evils which harass mankind?"[9]

It is a fact that Saint Augustine has always been close to the Roman Pontiffs in regards to defining doctrine. He has been cited throughout the ages by the Church in defining the proper Catholic definitions of free-will and predestination. This encyclical is a great document venerating the great Saint as a defender of the Catholic faith. Heretics feared this great Saint since he did not let heresy go unopposed. The only thing a heretic can do to diffuse his great work is to take it out of context and turn him into something he was not. This is certainly the trademark of satan, who labors ceaselessly to find ways to distort the gospel. The heretic however cannot remove the Saint from his home, the Catholic Church. Saint Augustine never stood on his own in proclaiming the truth and refuting heretics. He did not consider himself to better than, or above the authority of the Catholic Church. He did not put himself over the Sacred Scriptures. He was a faithful and obedient son of the Church, and for that he is commended by the Church and her pontiffs.

50. We have sketched the career and the deserts of our subject, Venerable Brethren; a man to whom none or very few can be compared from among those who have flourished from history's dawn to the present, if we regard his soaring and subtle genius, his wealth and range of learning, his sanctity mounting to the topmost pinnacle, his invincible defense of Catholic truth. We have already cited more than one who spoke his praises. How charmingly, and how truly, Jerome writes to his contemporary and close friend; "My resolution is to love, to welcome, to cherish, to admire you, and to champion your words as though they were my own."[81] And again: "Well done! You are famous throughout the world. Catholics revere and receive you as another builder of the ancient Faith. A mark of greater glory it is, that heretics loathe you. Me too they assail with a like hatred. They would kill in desire those whom they cannot slay with the sword."[82]

Below are a few of my favorite quotes by Saint Augustine.

"This Church is Holy, the One Church, the True Church, the Catholic Church, fighting as she does against all heresies. She can fight, but she cannot be beaten. All heresies are expelled from her, like the useless loppings pruned from a vine. She remains fixed in her root, in her vine, in her love. The gates of hell shall not conquer her."
Sermon to Catechumens, on the Creed, 6,14, 395 A.D.

"Before His suffering the Lord Jesus Christ, as you know, chose His disciples, whom He called Apostles. Among these Apostles almost everywhere Peter alone merited to represent the whole Church. For the sake of his representing the whole Church, which he alone could do, he merited to hear, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:19)."
Sermons 295,2, 391 A.D.

"Tell us straight out that you do not believe in the Gospel of Christ; for you believe what you want in the Gospel and disbelieve what you want. You believe in yourself rather than in the Gospel."
Against Faustus, 17, 3, 400 A.D.

"Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of the kingdom of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church." Christian Combat 31,33, 396 A.D.

"The Catholic Church is the work of Divine Providence, achieved through the prophecies of the prophets, through the Incarnation and the teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the Apostles, through the suffering, the crosses, the blood and the death of the martyrs, through the admirable lives of the saints. When, then, we see so much help on God's part, so much progress and so much fruit, shall we hesitate to bury ourselves in the bosom of that Church? For starting from the Apostolic Chair down through successions of bishops, even unto the open confession of all mankind, it has possessed the crown of teaching authority."
The Advantage of Believing, 391 A.D.

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