Friday, July 28, 2023

Did Augustine Believe in Sola Scriptura?



Outline.

 

i. Prolegomena.

ii. Defining Sola Scriptura.

1. Augustine, The Necessity of Private Interpretation: The Scriptures as the Ultimate Perspicuous Authority.

A. Where is “The Church” Found? Augustine of Hippo, The Unity of the Church [De Unitate Ecclesiæ].

2. Augustine, The Scriptures as “The” Supreme Authority to which All Else is Subject.

3. Augustine, Dogma, Tradition and Scripture.

4. Augustine, Custom vs. Truth.

5. Augustine, The Perspicuity of Scripture.

B. Perspicuity: Examples.

6. Augustine, The Canon was Established “For” the Church not “By” the Church.

C. Scripture as Self-Authenticating.

D. The Interpretation of Scripture: Scripture Interprets Itself.

7. The Objection.

E. Augustine, The Ultimate Authority of Scripture: The Testimony of Historians (Across Theological Traditions).

8. Appendix: Augustine on Matthew 16:18.

9. Endnotes (Additional Testimony and Alternate Translations).



i. Prolegomena. Return to Outline.



Martin Luther:

     Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither homed nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

     I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.

(Martin Luther, “The Speech of Dr. Martin Luther before the Emperor Charles and Princes at Worms on the Fifth Day after Misericordias Domini [April 18] In the Name of Jesus;” In: Luther’s Works: American Edition: Volume 33: Career of the Reformer, ed. George W. Forell, [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958], pp. 112-113.)

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. …As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 82.1.3 [To Jerome]; PL, 33:277; trans. NPNF1, 1:350.) See also: ccel.org.



ii. Defining Sola Scriptura. Return to Outline.



What Sola Scriptura is not → The Bible is the only source for theology.

What Sola Scriptura is → The Bible is the only infallible source for theology.


Tony Lane:

It is popularly supposed that sola scriptura (i.e. ‘Scripture alone’) was one of the slogans of the sixteenth-century Reformation. In fact the slogan emerged at a later date, but it can be seen as encapsulating a key idea of the Reformation. What was that idea? The Reformers certainly did not see the Bible as the sole source or resource in doing theology. They made considerable use of earlier teaching, such as that of Augustine. They did not regard the Bible as the sole authority since they were very ready to draw up new confessions of faith which had authority in their churches. The key point, though, was that all of these resources and authorities were subordinate to the authority of Scripture and were to be tested by it.

(Tony Lane, Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christians Believe, [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014], p. 14.) [1.]

Cf. Anthony (Tony) Lane:

     Stated differently, sola Scriptura is the statement that the church can err. Tradition and the teaching office of the church are unavoidable and invaluable resources. They have a real authority—but not a final authority. …This authority is real but limited, in that both are subject to the Word and therefore to Scripture. They are open to be reformed and corrected, while Scripture is not. In the words of the traditional formula, Scripture is the norma normans non normata, the norm or rule that rules but is not itself ruled.

(Anthony N. S. Lane, “Sola Scriptura? Making Sense of a Post-Reformation Slogan;” In: A Pathway Into the Holy Scripture, eds. Philip E. Satterthwaite, David F. Wright, [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994], p. 324.)

Karl Barth:

All that we have still to say about the authority of the Church itself can be understood in the light of the commandment in Ex. 2012: “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Obviously there can be no conflict between this commandment and the first: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” What it demands is self-evidently limited by the first commandment. But the dignity of what it demands is not reduced and lessened by the demand of the first commandment. On the contrary, because the first commandment is valid, in its own sphere the commandment to honour father and mother is also valid. …there is an authority of the Church which does not involve any contradiction or revolt against the authority of Jesus Christ, which can only confirm the disciplina Dei, and which for its part is not negated by the authority of Jesus Christ, by the disciplina Dei, but is established, confirmed and yet also defined and delimited by it. …Under the Word and therefore under Holy Scripture the Church does have and exercise genuine authority.

(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: Volume I: The Doctrine of the Word of God: Second Half-Volume, eds. G. W. Bromiley, T. F. Torrance, trans. G. T. Thomson, Harold Knight, [Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1963], pp. 585, 586, 586.) [2.]

Note: Nations have authority over their citizens (Cf. Rom. 13:1-2; 1Pe. 2:13-14; Mat. 22:20-22; 1Ti. 2:1-2; Jhn. 19:11) and parents have authority over their children (Cf. Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20; Luke 2:49-51; Exo. 20:12; Deu. 5:16, 21:18-21), yet if a parent commands their child to steal, lie or murder, the child is not to obey (submit to the authority of) their parents in this. Why? Because the authority of the parents (a legitimate authority) is derived from, and subordinate to, the Word of God. So too with the Church. The Church is authoritative, possessing the ability to bind the conscience, however that authority is binding (legitimate) only in-so-far as it is consistent with the holy Scriptures. Furthermore, just as each individual child must judge for themselves whether or not the commands of their parents have violated (or are consistent with) God’s law, so too must each individual do the same with the authority exercised by the Church. [3.]


Click here for more on the necessity of private interpretation.


Richard Hooker:

     There are two opinions concerning the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, each opposite to the other, but both repugnant to the truth. Rome teaches Scripture to be so insufficient that, without adding traditions, it would not contain all revealed and supernatural truth necessary for salvation. Others, rightly condemning this view, fall into the opposite ditch—just as dangerous—thinking that Scripture contains not only all things necessary for salvation, but indeed simply all things, such that to do anything according to any other law is not only unnecessary to salvation but unlawful, sinful, and downright damnable. But whatever is spoken of God or things pertaining to God other than the truth, even if it seems like an honor, is actually an injury. And just as exaggerated praises given to men often turn out to diminish and damage their well-deserved reputations, so we must likewise beware lest, in attributing too much to Scripture, such unbelievable claims cause even those virtues which Scripture truly possesses to be less reverently esteemed. I therefore leave them to consider whether they might not have overshot their mark here. God knows this can happen to the best of us, even when we mean well, as I am very much persuaded they do.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2.8.7; In: The Library of Early English Protestantism: The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: In Modern English: Volume 1: Preface–Book IV, eds. Bradford Littlejohn, et al., [Lincoln: The Davenant Institute, 2019], p. 150.) [4.]


Click here for additional information accurately defining the historical concept of Sola Scriptura.



1. Augustine, The Necessity of Private Interpretation: The Scriptures as the Ultimate Perspicuous Authority. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I do not want you to depend on my authority, so as to think that you must believe something because it is said by me; you should rest your belief either on the canonical Scriptures, if you do not see how true something is, or on the truth made manifest to you interiorly, so that you may see clearly.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 147.2 [To Paulina]; trans. FC, 20:171.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let us treat scripture like scripture, like God speaking… So if anybody reads my book, let him pass judgment on me. If I have said something reasonable, let him follow, not me, but reason itself; if I’ve proved it by the clearest divine testimony, let him follow, not me, but the divine scripture. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 162C.15; trans. WSA, III/11:176.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But if it is supported by the evident authority of the divine Scriptures, namely, of those which in the Church are called canonical, it must be believed without any reservation. In regard to other witnesses of evidence which are offered as guarantees of belief, you may believe or not, according as you estimate that they either have or have not the weight necessary to produce belief.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 147.4 [To Paulina]; trans. FC, 20:173.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Assuredly, as in all my writings I desire not only a pious reader, but also a free corrector, so I especially desire this in the present inquiry, which is so important that I would there were as many inquirers as there are objectors. But as I do not wish my reader to be bound down to me, so I do not wish my corrector to be bound down to himself. Let not the former love me more than the catholic faith, let not the latter love himself more than the catholic verity. As I say to the former, Do not be willing to yield to my writings as to the canonical Scriptures; but in these, when thou hast discovered even what thou didst not previously believe, believe it unhesitatingly; while in those, unless thou hast understood with certainty what thou didst not before hold as certain, be unwilling to hold it fast: so I say to the latter, Do not be willing to amend my writings by thine own opinion or disputation, but from the divine text, or by unanswerable reason. If thou apprehendest anything of truth in them, its being there does not make it mine, but by understanding and loving it, let it be both thine and mine; but if thou convictest anything of falsehood, though it have once been mine, in that I was guilty of the error, yet now by avoiding it let it be neither thine nor mine.

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Holy Trinity, Book 3, Preface, §. 2; trans. NPNF1, 3:56.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!” 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 82.1.3 [To Jerome]; PL, 33:277; trans. NPNF1, 1:350.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 148.4.15 [To Fortunatianus], trans. NPNF1, 1:502.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Accordingly, with respect also to the passages which he has adduced,—not indeed from the canonical Scriptures, but out of certain treatises of catholic writers,—I wish to meet the assertions of such as say that the said quotations make for him. The fact is, these passages are so entirely neutral, that they oppose neither our own opinion nor his. Amongst them he wanted to class something out of my own books, thus accounting me to be a person who seemed worthy of being ranked with them. For this I must not be ungrateful, and I should be sorry—so I say with unaffected friendliness—for him to be in error, since he has conferred this honour upon me. As for his first quotation, indeed, why need I examine it largely, since I do not see here the author’s name, either because he has not given it, or because from some casual mistake the copy which you forwarded to me did not contain it? Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures) [quia solis canonicis debeo sine ulla recusatione consensum], whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author that disturbs me.

(Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise on Nature and Grace, 71 [LXI.]; PL, 44:282 [Cap. LXI, §. 71]; trans. NPNF1, 5:146.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

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. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to Maximinus the Arian, 2.3; trans. WSA, I/18:282.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

As regards our writings, which are not a rule of faith or practice, but only a help to edification, we may suppose that they contain some things falling short of the truth in obscure and recondite matters, and that these mistakes may or may not be corrected in subsequent treatises. For we are of those of whom the apostle says: “And if ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” Such writings are read with the right of judgment, and without any obligation to believe. In order to leave room for such profitable discussions of difficult questions, there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the Church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood. In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. In other books the reader may form his own opinion, and perhaps, from not understanding the writer, may differ from him, and may pronounce in favor of what pleases him, or against what he dislikes. In such cases, a man is at liberty to withhold his belief, unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement either must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of the canonical books either puts an end to that authority altogether, or involves it in hopeless confusion.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 11.5; trans. NPNF1, 4:180.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

We do no wrong to Cyprian in distinguishing his epistles from the canonical authority of the divine scripture; for it is not without reason, that the canon of the church has been settled with so much caution and exactness, containing only certain books of prophets and apostles, which we cannot presume to judge; and by which we freely judge of the writings of all others, whether believers or unbelievers.

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXI, §. 39; PL, 43:489-490; trans. Nathaniel Lardner, The Credibility of the Gospel History, Chapter 117, §. 11.6; In: The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, D. D.: With a Life by Dr. Kippis: In Ten Volumes: Vol. IV, [London: John Dowding, 1827], p. 516.) [5.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I am not bound by the authority of this letter, since I do not hold Cyprian’s letters as canonical, but consider them to come from canonical writings. And whatever in them agrees with the authority of the divine scriptures I accept with praise to him; but what does not agree I reject with peace to him. Hence, concerning those things you have mentioned, written by him to Jubaianus, if you should recite from some canonical book of the apostles or prophets, I would have nothing at all to contradict. But now, since you recite what is not canonical, in that freedom to which the Lord has called us, the view of this man (whose praise I am unable to reach, to whose letters I do not compare my own writings, whose mind I love, in whose speech I delight, at whose love I marvel, whose (martyrdom I venerate) about which he thought otherwise, I do not accept.

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXII, §. 40; PL, 43:490; trans. Dr. Michael Woodward; In: David T. King, William Webster, eds. Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith: Volume III, [Battle Ground: Christian Resources, Inc., 2001], p. 141.) [6.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.): 

However, if you inquire or recall to memory the opinion of our Ambrose, and also of our Cyprian, on the point in question, you will perhaps find that I also have not been without some whose footsteps I follow in that which I have maintained. At the same time, as I have said already, it is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 82.3.24 [To Jerome]; trans. NPNF1, 1:358.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

My reason for inserting these opinions of such great men on such a great subject was not to make you think that anyone’s interpretation should be accepted with the authority due to the canonical Scripture, but that those who are otherwise minded may try to see with their mind what is true, and to seek God in the simplicity of their heart, and cease to find fault so rashly with the learned expounders of the divine words.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 147.54 [To Paulina]; trans. FC, 20:223.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let us not bring in deceitful balances, to which we may hang what weights we will and how we will, saying to suit ourselves, “This is heavy and this is light;” but let us bring forward the sacred balance out of holy Scripture, as out of the Lord’s treasure-house, and let us weigh them by it, to see which is the heavier; or rather, let us not weigh them for ourselves, but read the weights as declared by the Lord.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2.6.9; trans. NPNF1, 4:429.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Wherefore, my brother, refrain from gathering together against divine testimonies so many, so perspicuous [tam clara], and so unchallenged, the calumnies which may be found in the writings of bishops either of our communion, as Hilary, or of the undivided Church itself in the age preceding the schism of Donatus, as Cyprian or Agrippinus; because, in the first place, this class of writings must be, so far as authority is concerned, distinguished from the canon of Scripture. For they are not read by us as if a testimony brought forward from them was such that it would be unlawful to hold any different opinion, for it may be that the opinions which they held were different from those to which truth demands our assent.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 93.10.35 [To Vincentius]; PL, 33:338-339; trans. NPNF1, 1:395.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

On our side there shall be no appeal to men’s fear of the civil power; on your side, let there be no intimidation by a mob of Circumcelliones. Let us attend to the real matter in debate, and let our arguments appeal to reason and to the authoritative teaching of the Divine Scriptures, dispassionately and calmly, so far as we are able; let us ask, seek, and knock, that we may receive and find, and that to us the door may be opened, and thereby may be achieved, by God’s blessing on our united efforts and prayers, the first towards the entire removal from our district of that impiety which is such a disgrace to Africa.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 23.7 [To Maximin]; PL, 33:98; trans. NPNF1, 1:244.) See also: ccel.org. 



A. Where is “The Church” Found? Augustine of Hippo, The Unity of the Church [De Unitate Ecclesiæ]. (PL, 43:391-446; CSEL, 52:231-322.) Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let us not hear, You say this, I say that; but let us hear Thus saith the Lord. There are the Dominical books, whose authority we both acknowledge, we both yield to, we both obey; there let us seek the Church, there let us discuss the question between us.

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. III, §. 5; PL, 43:394; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 164. Cf. WSA, I/21:611.) [7.]

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

By the mouth of God, which is the truth, I know the Church of God which is partaker of the truth [Ex veritatis ore agnosco Ecclesiam participem veritatis].

(S. Augustini, In Psalmum LVII Enarratio, §. 6 [vers. 4]; PL, 36:679; trans. Humphrey Lynde, “The By-Way (Via Devia),” 18; In: Supplement to Gibson’s Preservative Against Popery: Vol. IV: Sir Humphrey Lynde’s Via Tuta and Via Devia, [London: Published by the British Society for Promoting the Religious Principles of the Reformation, 1850], p. 279. Cf. WSA, III/17:128.) [8.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Therefore let those testimonies which we mutually bring against each other, from any other quarter than the divine canonical books, be put out of sight. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. III, §. 5; PL, 43:395; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 164. Cf. WSA, I/21:611.) [9.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I would not have the holy Church demonstrated by human testimonies, but by divine oracles. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. III, §. 6; PL, 43:395; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], pp. 164-165. Cf. WSA, I/21:612.) [10.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Whoever dissents from the sacred Scriptures, even if they are found in all places in which the church is designated, are not the church. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. IV, §. 7; PL, 43:395-396; trans. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology: Volume Three: Eighteenth Through Twentieth Topics, trans. George M. Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., [Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1997], pp. 109-110. Cf. WSA, I/21:613.) [11.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

We adhere to this Church; against those divine declarations we admit no human cavils.

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XI, §. 28; PL, 43:410; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 165. Cf. WSA, I/21:634.) [12.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let no one say to me, What hath Donatus said, what hath Parmenian said, or Pontius, or any of them. For we must not allow even Catholic bishops, if at any time, perchance, they are in error, to hold any opinion contrary to the Canonical Scriptures of God [Quia nec catholicis episcopis consentiendum est, sicubi forte falluntur, ut contra canonicas Dei Scripturas aliquid sentiant]. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XI, §. 28; PL, 43:410-411; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 165. Cf. WSA, I/21:634-635.) [13.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

All such matters, therefore, being put out of sight, let them show their Church, if they can; not in the discourses and reports of Africans, not in the councils of their own bishops, not in the writings of any controversialists, not in fallacious signs and miracles, for even against these we are rendered by the word of the Lord prepared and cautious, but in the ordinances of the Law, in the predictions of the Prophets, in the songs of the Psalms, in the words of the very Shepherd himself, in the preachings and labours of the Evangelists, that is, in all the canonical authorities of sacred books. Nor so as to collect together and rehearse those things that are spoken obscurely, or ambiguously, or figuratively, such as each can interpret as he likes, according to his own views. For such testimonies cannot be rightly understood and expounded, unless those things that are most clearly spoken are first held by a firm faith.

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XVIII, §. 47; PL, 43:427-428; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 165. Cf. WSA, I/21:660.) [14.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

We ought to find the Church, as the Head of the Church, in the Holy Canonical Scriptures, not to inquire for it in the various reports, and opinions, and deeds, and words, and visions of men. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XIX, §. 49; PL, 43:429; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 165. Cf. WSA, I/21:662-663.) [15.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Whether they [i.e. the Donatists] hold the Church, they must show by the Canonical books of the Divine Scriptures alone; for we do not say, that we must be believed because we are in the Church of Christ, because Optatus of Milevi, or Ambrose of Milan, or innumerable other bishops of our communion, commended that Church to which we belong, or because it is extolled by the Councils of our colleagues, or because through the whole world in the holy places which those of our communion frequent such wonderful answers to prayers or cures happen. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XIX, §. 50; PL, 43:430; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 165. Cf. WSA, I/21:663-664.) [16.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Whatever things of this kind take place in the Catholic Church, are therefore to be approved of because they take place in the Catholic Church; but it is not proved to be the Catholic Church, because these things happen in it. The Lord Jesus himself when he had risen from the dead . . . judged that his disciples were to be convinced by the testimonies of the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms… These are the proofs, these the foundations, these the supports for our cause. We read in the Acts of the Apostles of some who believed, that they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. What Scriptures but the Canonical Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets? To these have been added the Gospels, the Apostolical Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John.

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XIX, §§. 50-51; PL, 43:430; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], pp. 165-166. Cf. WSA, I/21:664-665.) [17.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But if they do not choose to understand, it is sufficient for us that we adhere to that Church which is demonstrated by such extremely clear testimonies of the Holy and Canonical Scriptures. 

(S. Augustini, Contra Donatistas Epistola, vulgo De Unitate Ecclesiæ, Lib. I, Cap. XXII, §. 62; PL, 43:437; trans. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], p. 166. Cf. WSA, I/21:) [18.]

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The authority of the scriptures themselves commends the church; therefore since the holy scripture cannot deceive, let him who fears to be misled by the obscurity of the present question (concerning baptism) consult concerning it the same church, which without any ambiguity the holy scripture demonstrates.

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. I, Cap. XXXIII, §. 39; PL, 43:466; trans. William Palmer, A Treatise on the Church of Christ: Designed Chiefly for the Use of Students in Theology: In Two Volumes: Vol. II: Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1842], p. 59.) [19.]


Cf. Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

St. Augustine has written more on the Church, its unity and authority, than all the other Fathers put together. Yet, from all his numerous works, filling ten folios, only one sentence, in one letter, can be quoted, where he says that the principality of the Apostolic Chair has always been in Rome,—which could, of course, be said then with equal truth of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Any reader of his Pastoral Letter to the separated Donatists on the Unity of the Church, must find it inexplicable, on the Jesuit theory, that in these seventy-five chapters there is not a single word on the necessity of communion with Rome as the centre of unity. He urges all sorts of arguments to show that the Donatists are bound to return to the Church, but of the Papal Chair, as one of them, he knows nothing.

(Janus [Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger], The Pope and the Council: New Edition, [London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1873], pp. 88-89.)



2. Augustine, The Scriptures as “The” Supreme Authority to which All Else is Subject. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

If you believe the report about Christ, see whether this is a proper witness; consider what disaster you are headed for. You reject the Scriptures which are confirmed and commended by such great authority; you perform no miracles, and if you performed any, we would shun even those in your case according to the Lord’s instruction, Matt. 24:24. He wanted absolutely nothing to be believed against the confirmed authority of the Scriptures [Usque adeo nihil credi voluit adversus confirmatam Scripturarum auctoritatem]…

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 13.5; PL, 42:284; trans. Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Part I, trans. Fred Kramer, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], 1.6.6, p. 172. Cf. NPNF1, 4:201.) [20.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

This Mediator, having spoken what He judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has paramount authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves.

(Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 11.3; trans. NPNF1, 2:206.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole “oracles of God.”

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 82.2.5 [To Jerome]; trans. NPNF1, 1:351). See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For, as regards any writing professing to come immediately from Christ Himself, if it were really His, how is it not read and acknowledged and regarded as of supreme authority in the Church, which, beginning with Christ Himself, and continued by His apostles, who were succeeded by the bishops, has been maintained and extended to our own day, and in which is found the fulfillment of many former predictions, while those concerning the last days are sure to be accomplished in the future?

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 28.4; trans. NPNF1, 4:325.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Now that all Faustus’ calumnies have been refuted, those at least on the subjects here treated of at large and explained fully as the Lord has enabled me, I close with a word of counsel to you who are implicated in those shocking and damnable errors, that, if you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognise that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 33.9; trans. NPNF1, 4:344-345.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…I think it belongs to my care not only to avail myself of the sacred canonical Scriptures as witnesses against them, which I have already sufficiently done, but, moreover, to bring forward some proofs from the writings of the holy men who before us have treated upon those Scriptures with the most widespread reputation and great glory. Not that I would put the authority of any controversialist on a level with the canonical books, as if there were nothing which is better or more truly thought by one catholic than by another who likewise is a catholic; but that those may be admonished who think that these men say anything as it used to be said, before their empty talk on these subjects, by catholic teachers following the divine oracles, and may know that the true and anciently established catholic faith is by us defended against the receding presumption and mischief of the Pelagian heretics.

(Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4.20[VIII]; trans. NPNF1, 5:425.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Now, who is it that submits to divine Scripture, save he who reads or hears it piously, deferring to it as of supreme authority; so that what he understands he does not hate on this account, that he feels it to be opposed to his sins, but rather loves being reproved by it, and rejoices that his maladies are not spared until they are healed; and so that even in respect to what seems to him obscure or absurd, he does not therefore raise contentious contradictions, but prays that he may understand, yet remembering that goodwill and reverence are to be manifested towards so great an authority? But who does this, unless just the man who has come, not harshly threatening, but in the meekness of piety, for the purpose of opening and ascertaining the contents of his father’s will? “Blessed,” therefore, “are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Let us see what follows.

(Augustine of Hippo, Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, 1.11.32; trans. NPNF1, 6:15.) See also: cccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2.3.4; trans. NPNF1, 4:427.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. The Catholic Encyclopedia:

The œcumenical councils or synods of the Universal Church are called plenary councils by St. Augustine (C. illa, xi, Dist. 12), as they form a complete representation of the entire Church.

(William H. W. Fanning, S.J., “Plenary Council;” In: The Catholic Encyclopedia: In Fifteen Volumes: Volume XII, [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911], p. 164. Ecclesiastical approbation: Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911: Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur: John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.) See also: newadvent.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible [Deus solus securus jurat, quia falli non potest]. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 89.4; PL, 37:1122 [Psalmum LXXXVIII.4]; trans. NPNF1, 8:430.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Or who but Thou, our God, made for us that firmament of authority over us in Thy divine Scripture? As it is said, For heaven shall be folded up like a scroll; and now it is extended over us like a skin. For Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority, since those mortals through whom Thou didst dispense it unto us underwent mortality.

(Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, 13.15.16; trans. NPNF1, 1:195.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I call to witness, Honoratus, my conscience, and God Who hath His dwelling in pure souls, that I account nothing more prudent, chaste, and religious, than are all those Scriptures, which under the name of the Old Testament the Catholic Church retains [retinet, retains].

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Profit of Believing (De Utilitate Credendi), 13; PL, 42:74 [Cap. VI, §. 13]; trans. NPNF1, 3:353.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…the Scriptures of our religion, whose authority we prefer to all writings whatsoever [Sed Scripturas religionis nostræ, quarum auctoritatem cæteris quibusque litteris anteponimus]… 

(Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 14.7; PL, 41:410; trans. NPNF1, 2:266.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Whatsoever ye hear from the holy Scriptures, let that savour well unto you; whatsoever is without them, refuse, lest you wander in a cloud [Quidquid inde audieritis, hoc vobis bene sapiat: quidquid extra est, respuite. Ne erretis in nebula].

(S. Augustini Episcopi, Sermo XLVI, Caput XI, §. 24; PL, 38:284; trans. James Ussher, Archbishop Usher’s Answer to a Jesuit: With Other Tracts on Popery, [Cambridge: Printed at the Pitt Press, 1838], “Answer to a Jesuit’s Challenge,” §. Of Traditions, p. 35.)



3. Augustine, Dogma, Tradition and Scripture. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Therefore, when those disciples have written matters which He declared and spake to them, it ought not by any means to be said that He has written nothing Himself; since the truth is, that His members have accomplished only what they became acquainted with by the repeated statements of the Head. For all that He was minded to give for our perusal on the subject of His own doings and sayings, He commanded to be written by those disciples, whom He thus used as if they were His own hands [Quidquid enim ille de suis factis et dictis nos legere voluit, hoc scribendum illis tanquam suis manibus imperavit]. 

(Augustine of Hippo, The Harmony of the Gospels, 1.35.54; PL, 34:1070; trans. NPNF1, 6:101.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Open the register, read; instruments were drawn up, he didn’t make a purchase without having it in writing, he foresaw the pettifogging objections that would be raised in the future; what can be read is to be trusted. Well now, it’s being read; notice who it’s written by, notice who’s speaking, who’s taking it down. He was the one speaking, it was the apostles taking it down. They left it to us all written down. So let us read the instrument of purchase, brothers; why should we quarrel? What if the register of our Lord, our purchaser, should relieve us of all grounds for quarrelling?

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 340A.11; trans. WSA, III/9:304-305.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You ought to notice particularly and store in your memory that God wanted to lay a firm foundation in the Scriptures against treacherous errors, a foundation against which no-one dares to speak who would in any way be considered a Christian. For when he offered Himself to them to touch, this did not suffice Him unless He also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures, for He foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read [in quo quod palpemus nos non habemus, sed quod legamus habemus].

(S. Aurelii Augustini, In Epistolam Johannis ad Parthos Tractatus Decem, Tractatus II.1; PL, 35:1989; trans. Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 152. Cf. NPNF1, 7:469. Cf. FC, 92:142.) [21.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Receive, my children, the Rule of Faith, which is called the Symbol (or Creed). And when ye have received it, write it in your heart, and be daily saying it to yourselves; before ye sleep, before ye go forth, arm you with your Creed. The Creed no man writes so as it may be able to be read: but for rehearsal of it, lest haply forgetfulness obliterate what care hath delivered, let your memory be your record-roll: what ye are about to hear, that are ye to believe; and what ye shall have believed, that are about to give back with your tongue. For the Apostle says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” For this is the Creed which ye are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which ye have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slow persons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes.

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Creed, 1; trans. NPNF1, 3:369.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

So now, I have paid my debt to you with this short sermon on the whole Symbol. When you hear the whole of this Symbol, you will recognize this sermon of mine briefly summed up in it. And in no way are you to write it down, in order to retain the same words; but you are to learn it thoroughly by hearing it, and not write it down either when you have it by heart, but keep it always and go over it in your memory. After all, everything you are going to hear in the Symbol is already contained in the divine documents of the holy scriptures, from which you regularly hear extracts as the need arises.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 212.2; PL, 38:1060; trans. WSA, III/6:138.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The apostle says: Since if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that the Lord raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto justice, and with the mouth one makes confession unto salvation (Rom 10:9-10). This is what the Symbol builds up in you, what you must both believe and confess, so that you may be saved. And indeed, the things you are going to receive in a short enough form, to be committed to memory and repeated by word of mouth, are not new things which you haven’t heard before. I mean, you are quite used to hearing them in the holy scriptures and in sermons in church. But they have been compressed into a brief summary, and reduced to a definite, tightly knit order; and that is how they are to be handed over to you, to build up your faith and to prepare you to confess it, without burdening your memories. This then is what you are faithfully going to retain, and to give back from memory.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 214.1; trans. WSA, III/6:150.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith [inveniuntur illa omnia quæ continent fidem] and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 2.9.14; PL, 34:42; trans. NPNF1, 2:539. Cf. WSA, I/11:135.) See also: ccel.org. [22.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…what more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For holy Scripture setteth a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wise more than it behoveth to be wise;” but be wise, as himself saith, “unto soberness, according as unto each God hath allotted the measure of faith.” Be it not therefore for me to teach you any other thing, save to expound to you the words of the Teacher, and to treat of them as the Lord shall have given to me.

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Good of Widowhood [De Bono Viduitatis], 2; trans. NPNF1, 3:442.) See also: ccel.org. 



4. Augustine, Custom vs. Truth. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For in the Council itself Castus of Sicca says: “He who, despising truth, presumes to follow custom, is either envious or evil-disposed towards the brethren to whom the truth is revealed, or is ungrateful towards God, by whose inspiration His Church is instructed.”

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 3.5.8; trans. NPNF1, 4:438.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Libosus also of Vaga says: “The Lord says in the gospel, ‘I am the Truth.’ He does not say, ‘I am custom.’ Therefore, when the truth is made manifest, custom must give way to truth.” Clearly, no one could doubt that custom must give way to truth where it is made manifest. 

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 3.6.9; trans. NPNF1, 4:439.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Likewise Felix of Buslacene said: “In admitting heretics without the baptism of the Church, let no one prefer custom to reason and truth; because reason and truth always prevail to the exclusion of custom.” Nothing could be better, if it be reason, and if it be truth; but this we shall see presently. 

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 3.8.11; trans. NPNF1, 4:439.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Likewise Honoratus of Tucca said: “Since Christ is the Truth, we ought to follow truth rather than custom.”

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 3.9.12; trans. NPNF1, 4:439.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“Further,” Cyprian goes on to say, “in vain do some, who are overcome by reason, oppose to us custom, as though custom were superior to truth, or that were not to be followed in spiritual things which has been revealed by the Holy Spirit, as the better way.” This is clearly true, since reason and truth are to be preferred to custom. But when truth supports custom, nothing should be more strongly maintained. 

(Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 4.5.8; trans. NPNF1, 4:449.) See also: ccel.org.



5. Augustine, The Perspicuity of Scripture. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You exaggerate “how difficult the knowledge of the sacred scriptures is,” claiming that “it is suited for only the learned few,”... 

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to Julian, 5.1.2; trans. WSA, I/24:432.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise,” that they should begin by belief in the Scriptures, who would arrive at the knowledge of Thy glory: which hath been raised above the Scriptures, in that it passeth by and transcends the announcements of all words and languages. Therefore hath God lowered the Scriptures even to the capacity of babes and sucklings, as it is sung in another Psalm, “And He lowered the heaven, and came down:” and this did He because of the enemies, who through pride of talkativeness, being enemies of the cross of Christ, even when they do speak some truth, still cannot profit babes and sucklings. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 8.8; trans. NPNF1, 8:29. Cf. WSA, III/15:133.) See also: ccel.org. [23.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Nor is that any reason why they should be crowed over by that holy and perfect man Antony, the Egyptian monk, who is said to have known the divine Scriptures by heart simply through hearing them, though he himself didn’t know how to read, and to have understood their meaning through intelligent reflection on them; or for that matter by that barbarian slave, a Christian, about whom we have recently been informed by the most serious and trustworthy men.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), Prologue, §. 4; trans. WSA, I/11:102. Cf. NPNF1, 2:519-520.) [24.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: “When a man hath done, then he beginneth.” 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 137.1.3 [To Volusianus]; trans. NPNF1, 1:474.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Consider, moreover, the style in which Sacred Scripture is composed,—how accessible it is to all men, though its deeper mysteries are penetrable to very few. The plain truths which it contains it declares in the artless language of familiar friendship to the hearts both of the unlearned and of the learned; but even the truths which it veils in symbols it does not set forth in stiff and stately sentences, which a mind somewhat sluggish and uneducated might shrink from approaching, as a poor man shrinks from the presence of the rich; but, by the condescension of its style, it invites all not only to be fed with the truth which is plain, but also to be exercised by the truth which is concealed, having both in its simple and in its obscure portions the same truth. Lest what is easily understood should beget satiety in the reader, the same truth being in another place more obscurely expressed becomes again desired, and, being desired, is somehow invested with a new attractiveness, and thus is received with pleasure into the heart. By these means wayward minds are corrected, weak minds are nourished, and strong minds are filled with pleasure, in such a way as is profitable to all. This doctrine has no enemy but the man who, being in error, is ignorant of its incomparable usefulness, or, being spiritually diseased, is averse to its healing power.

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter 137.5.18 [To Volusianus]; trans. NPNF1, 1:480.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The person who reads some writing out loud to other listeners obviously knows what he is pronouncing, while the one who teaches people in literacy classes does this so that they too may know how to read. Each of them, all the same, is handing on what he has received. In the same sort of way those too who explain to an audience what they understand in the scriptures are, as it were, performing the office of reader and pronouncing letters they know, while those who lay down rules about how they are to be understood are like the person who teaches literacy, who gives out the rules, that is, on how to read. So just as the person who knows how to read does not require another reader, when he gets hold of a volume, to tell him what is written in it, in the same way, those who have grasped the rules we are endeavoring to pass on will retain a knowledge of these rules, like letters, when they come across anything obscure in the holy books, and will not require another person who understands to uncover for them what is shrouded in obscurity. Instead, by following up certain clues, they will be able themselves to get the hidden meaning of a passage without any error—or at the very least to avoid falling into any absurdly wrongheaded opinion.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), Prologue, §. 9; trans. WSA, I/11:104. Cf. NPNF1, 2:521.) [25.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For if we were not encouraged by Him, and invited to understand Him; if He abandoned us as contemptible, since we were not able to partake His divinity if He did not partake our mortality and come to us to speak His gospel to us; if He had not willed to partake with us what in us is abject and most small,—then we might think that He who took on Himself our smallness, had not been willing to bestow on us His own greatness. This I have said lest any should blame us as over-bold in handling these matters, or despair of himself that he should be able to understand, by God’s gift, what the Son of God has deigned to speak to him. Therefore what He has deigned to speak to us, we ought to believe that He meant us to understand. But if we do not understand, He, being asked, gives understanding, who gave His Word unasked.

(Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, 22.1; trans. NPNF1, 7:144-145.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“And ye have no need that any man teach you, because His unction teacheth you concerning all things.” Then to what purpose is it that “we,” my brethren, teach you? If “His unction teacheth you concerning all things,” it seems we labor without a cause. And what mean we, to cry out as we do? Let us leave you to His unction, and let His unction teach you. But this is putting the question only to myself: I put it also to that same apostle: let him deign to hear a babe that asks of him: to John himself I say, Had those the unction to whom thou wast speaking? Thou hast said, “His unction teacheth you concerning all things.” To what purpose hast thou written an Epistle like this? what teaching didst “thou” give them? what instruction? what edification? See here now, brethren, see a mighty mystery. The sound of our words strikes the ears, the Master is within. Do not suppose that any man learns ought from man. We can admonish by the sound of our voice; if there be not One within that shall teach, vain is the noise we make. Aye, brethren, have ye a mind to know it? Have ye not all heard this present discourse? and yet how many will go from this place untaught! I, for my part, have spoken to all; but they to whom that Unction within speaketh not, they whom the Holy Ghost within teacheth not, those go back untaught. The teachings of the master from without are a sort of aids and admonitions. He that teacheth the hearts, hath His chair in heaven. Therefore saith He also Himself in the Gospel: “Call no man your master upon earth; One is your Master, even Christ.” Let Him therefore Himself speak to you within, when not one of mankind is there: for though there be some one at thy side, there is none in thine heart. Yet let there not be none in thine heart: let Christ be in thine heart: let His unction be in the heart, lest it be a heart thirsting in the wilderness, and having no fountains to be watered withal. There is then, I say, a Master within that teacheth: Christ teacheth; His inspiration teacheth. Where His inspiration and His unction is not, in vain do words make a noise from without. So are the words, brethren, which we speak from without, as is the husbandman to the tree: from without he worketh, applieth water and diligence of culture; let him from without apply what he will, does he form the apples? does he clothe the nakedness of the wood with a shady covering of leaves? does he do any thing like this from within? But whose doing is this? Hear the husbandman, the apostle: both see what we are, and hear the Master within: “I have planted, Apollos hath watered; but God gave the increase: neither he that planteth is any thing, neither he that watereth, but He that giveth the increase, even God.” This then we say to you: whether we plant, or whether we water, by speaking we are not any thing; but He that giveth the increase, even God: that is, “His unction which teacheth you concerning all things.”

(Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, 3.13; trans. NPNF1, 7:481.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

No Gentile, therefore, if he were not perverse and obstinate, would despise these books merely because he is not subject to the law of the Hebrews, to whom the books belong; but would think highly of the books, no matter whose they were, on finding in them prophecies of such ancient date, and of what he sees now taking place. Instead of despising Christ Jesus because He is foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, he would conclude that one thought worthy of being the subject of prophetic description, whoever the writers might be, for so many ages before His coming into the world,—sometimes in plain announcements, sometimes in figure by symbolic actions and utterances,—must claim to be regarded with profound admiration and reverence, and to be followed with implicit reliance. Thus the facts of Christian history would prove the truth of the prophecy, and the prophecy would prove the claims of Christ. Call this fancy, if it is not actually the case that men all over the world have been led, and are now led, to believe in Christ by reading these books.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 16.20; trans. NPNF1, 4:227.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

This, after all, is the reason why a young man corrects his way of life: because he meditates upon the words of God as he ought to meditate upon them, observes them because he meditates upon them, and lives correctly because he observes them. This, then, is the reason for correcting his way of life: because he observes the words of God.

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to Julian, 6.24.76; trans. WSA, I/24:528.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Believe me, whatever there is in these Scriptures, it is lofty and divine: there is in them altogether truth, and a system of teaching most suited to refresh and renew minds: and clearly so ordered in measure, as that there is no one but may draw thence, what is enough for himself, if only he approach to draw with devotion and piety, as true religion demands.

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Profit of Believing (De Utilitate Credendi), 13; PL, 42:74 [Cap. VI, §. 13]; trans. NPNF1, 3:353.) See also: ccel.org.



B. Perspicuity: Examples. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But listen now to the clearest possible testimony from the Lord himself in the gospel according to John. In one place he declares both resurrections, both the one which occurs now according to the spirit, and the one which is going to happen later on according to the flesh, in such a way that none who in any way call themselves Christians and submit to the authority of the gospel can be left in any doubt at all; in such a way too that there is no entry left for the twisters who wish to unsettle Christians by means of what is apparently the Christian faith, by injecting it with their poison so as to kill the souls of the weak. But listen to it from the volume of the gospel itself. The reason, you see, that I am performing the office of reader as well as of expositor is so that this sermon of mine may be supported by the authority of the holy scriptures, and not built upon the sand of human guesswork, if something happens to slip one’s memory. So listen to the gospel according to John; the Lord is speaking.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 362.25; PL, 39:1628 [Cap. XXII, §. 25]; trans. WSA, III/10:261.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

As I said a little ago, when these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 11.2; trans. NPNF1, 4:178.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

And while every man may find there all that he has learnt of useful elsewhere, he will find there in much greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the Scriptures.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 2.42.63; trans. NPNF1, 2:555.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

When the apostle said, Do you not know that your body is the temple in your midst of the Holy Spirit whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a great price, he immediately goes on to say, Glorify God, then, in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20). There he showed with utter clarity that the Holy Spirit is God and that he should be glorified in our body as if in his temple. The apostle Peter said to Ananias, Have you dared to lie to the Holy Spirit? And to show that the Holy Spirit is God, he said, You have not lied to men, but to God (Acts 5:3-4).

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to Maximinus the Arian, 2.21.1; trans. WSA, I/18:304.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The Lord refers to these in a parable, though his meaning is perfectly clear, when he says, Listen to another parable. There was a head of a household who planted a vineyard and fenced it in and dug in it a winepress and built a tower and rented it to laborers, while he set out on a journey. When the harvest time arrived, he sent his servants to the laborers to receive its fruits. But the laborers seized his servants and struck down one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other servants, more than before, and they treated them in a similar fashion. Finally, however, he sent to them his own son, saying, They will respect my son. But when the laborers saw the son, they said to themselves, Here is the heir; come, let us kill him, and we will have his inheritance. They seized and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. When the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to these laborers? They said, He will destroy these evil men as they deserve and rent his vineyard to other laborers who will return to him its fruits at their times. Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord this has been done, and it is marvelous in our eyes? (Ps 117:22-23). Therefore, I say to you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and will be given to a nation that produces its fruits (Mt 21:33-43). What could be plainer, clearer, more evident than this?

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to an Enemy of the Law and the Prophets, 2.4.16; trans. WSA, I/18:421.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But where the matter is obvious, we ought not to add our interpretation to the meaning of the divine scripture, for this is not done out of human ignorance, but out of perverse pride.

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to Julian, 5.2.7; trans. WSA, I/24:436.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You in fact try to obscure the lights of the holy scriptures which shine with certain truth by the complexity of your evil arguments. After all, what is clearer than what I just said: Human beings have become like a vanity; their days pass like a shadow (Ps 144:4)? That surely would not have happened, if they had remained in the likeness of God in which they were created. What is clearer than the statement: As in Adam all die, so too in Christ all will be brought to life (1 Cor 15:22)? What is clearer than the words: Who, after all, is clean from filth? Not even an infant whose life has lasted a single day on earth (Jb 14:4-5 LXX)? And there are many other passages which you try to wrap in your darkness and twist to your perverse meaning by your empty chatter.

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to the Pelagians, III: Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, 1.5; trans. WSA, I/25:58.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

They turn obscure ideas into their teaching; you try to obscure clear ones with your teaching. What, after all, is clearer than the statement of the apostle that sin entered this world through one man, and through sin death, and in that way it was passed on to all human beings?

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to the Pelagians, III: Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, 1.25; trans. WSA, I/25:66.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Why are you trying to wrap yourself in your obscure statements in opposition to the clear statements of the apostle? In speaking of God, he says, He rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13), and you say that he said this, but excluded the little ones.

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to the Pelagians, III: Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, 1.64; trans. WSA, I/25:90.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

On this account he cries out, Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24). And you close your eyes to the perfectly clear truth and you explain his groan, not as it is evident to all, but as it pleases you, when you say that Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24) means: “Who will set me free from the guilt of my own sins which I committed?” He said, I do the evil that I do not will (Rom 7:19), and you say: “the sins which I committed.”

(Augustine of Hippo, Answer to the Pelagians, III: Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, 1.67; trans. WSA, I/25:95.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But there is another case which evidently must not be overlooked. I mean the case of one coming to you to receive catchetical instruction who has cultivated the field of liberal studies, who has already made up his mind to be a Christian, and who has betaken himself to you for the express purpose of becoming one. It can scarcely fail to be the fact that a person of this character has already acquired a considerable knowledge of our Scriptures and literature; and, furnished with this, he may have come now simply with the view of being made a partaker in the sacraments. For it is customary with men of this class to inquire carefully into all things, not at the very time when they are made Christians, but previous to that, and thus early also to communicate and reason, with any whom they can reach, on the subject of the feelings of their own minds. …if you discover him to have been moved to that decision by books, whether they be the canonical writings or the compositions of literary men worth the studying, you may say something about these at the outset, expressing your approbation of them in a manner which may suit the distinct merits which they severally possess, in respect of canonical authority and of skillfully applied diligence on the part of these expounders; and, in the case of the canonical Scriptures, commending above all the most salutary modesty (of language) displayed alongside their wonderful loftiness (of subject); while, in those other productions you notice, in accordance with the characteristic faculty of each several writer, a style of a more sonorous and, as it were more rounded eloquence adapted to minds that are prouder, and, by reason thereof weaker.

(Augustine of Hippo, On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, 8.12; PL, 40:318, 319; trans. NPNF1, 3:290, 290-291.) See also: ccel.org. 



6. Augustine, The Canon was Established “For” the Church not “By” the Church. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let us treat scripture like scripture, like God speaking; don’t let’s look there for man going wrong. It is not for nothing, you see, that the canon has been established for the Church. This is the function of the Holy Spirit. So if anybody reads my book, let him pass judgment on me. If I have said something reasonable, let him follow, not me, but reason itself; if I’ve proved it by the clearest divine testimony, let him follow, not me, but the divine scripture. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 162C.15; trans. WSA, III/11:176.)



C. Scripture as Self-Authenticating. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think that ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of me;” “If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me, for he wrote of me;” “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;” “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one rose from the dead.” What have you to say for yourselves? Where is your authority? If you reject these passages of Scripture, in spite of the weighty authority in their favor, what miracles can you show? However, if you did work miracles, we should be on our guard against receiving their evidence in your case; for the Lord has forewarned us: “Many false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall do many signs and wonders, that they may deceive, if it were possible, the very elect: behold, I have told you before.” This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 13.5; trans. NPNF1, 4:201.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let us suppose, then, a conversation with a heathen inquirer, in which Faustus described us as making a poor appearance, though his own appearance was much more deplorable. If we say to the heathen, Believe in Christ, for He is God, and, on his asking for evidence, produce the authority of the prophets, if he says that he does not believe the prophets, because they are Hebrew and he is a Gentile, we can prove the truth of the prophets from the actual fulfillment of their prophecies. He could scarcely be ignorant of the persecutions suffered by the early Christians from the kings of this world; or if he was ignorant, he could be informed from history and the records of imperial laws. But this is what we find foretold long ago by the prophet, saying, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the princes take counsel together against the Lord, and against His Christ.” The rest of the Psalm shows that this is not said of David. For what follows might convince the most stubborn unbeliever: “The Lord said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession.” This never happened to the Jews, whose king, David was, but is now plainly fulfilled in the subjection of all nations to the name of Christ. This and many similar prophecies, which it would take too long to quote, would surely impress the mind of the inquirer. He would see these very kings of the earth now happily subdued by Christ, and all nations serving Him; and he would hear the words of the Psalm in which this was so long before predicted: “All the kings of the earth shall bow down to Him; all nations shall serve Him.” And if he were to read the whole of that Psalm, which is figuratively applied to Solomon, he would find that Christ is the true King of peace, for Solomon means peaceful; and he would find many things in the Psalm applicable to Christ, which have no reference at all to the literal King Solomon. Then there is that other Psalm where God is spoken of as anointed by God, the very word anointed pointing to Christ, showing that Christ is God, for God is represented as being anointed. In reading what is said in this Psalm of Christ and of the Church, he would find that what is there foretold is fulfilled in the present state of the world. He would see the idols of the nations perishing from off the earth, and he would find that this is predicted by the prophets, as in Jeremiah, “Then shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth, and from under heaven;” and again, “O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto Thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods? Therefore, behold, I will at that time cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that I am the Lord.” Hearing these prophecies, and seeing their actual fulfillment, I need not say that he would be affected; for we know by experience how the hearts of believers are confirmed by seeing ancient predictions now receiving their accomplishment.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 13.7; trans. NPNF1, 4:202.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

After considering these instances of the fulfillment of prophecy about kings and people acting as persecutors, and then becoming believers, about the destruction of idols, about the blindness of the Jews, about their testimony to the writings which they have preserved, about the folly of heretics, about the dignity of the Church of true and genuine Christians, the inquirer would most reasonably receive the testimony of these prophets about the divinity of Christ. No doubt, if we were to begin by urging him to believe prophecies yet unfulfilled, he might justly answer, What have I to do with these prophets, of whose truth I have no evidence? But, in view of the manifest accomplishment of so many remarkable predictions, no candid person would despise either the things which were thought worthy of being predicted in those early times with so much solemnity, or those who made the predictions. To none can we trust more safely, as regards either events long past or those still future, than to men whose words are supported by the evidence of so many notable predictions having been fulfilled.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 13.14; trans. NPNF1, 4:204-205.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…our belief is determined not by Faustus’ suppositions, but by the declarations of Scripture, resting as they do on foundations of the strongest and surest evidence.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 26.3; trans. NPNF1, 4:321.) See also: ccel.org.



D. The Interpretation of Scripture: Scripture Interprets Itself. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Magnificent and salutary, therefore, is the way the Holy Spirit has so adjusted the holy scriptures, that they ward off starvation with the clearer passages, while driving away boredom with the obscurer ones. There is almost nothing, in fact, that can be extracted from their obscurities, which cannot be found very plainly said somewhere else.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.6.8; trans. WSA, I/11:132. Cf. NPNF1, 2:537.) [26.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     What those who fear God and have a docile piety are looking for in all these books is the will of God. The first step in this laborious search, as I have said, is to know these books, and even if not yet so as to understand them, all the same by reading them to commit them to memory, or at least not to be totally unfamiliar with them. Next, those things that are put clearly in them, whether precepts about how to live or rules about what to believe, are to be studied with the utmost care and diligence; the greater your intellectual capacity, the more of these you will find. The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope and charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.

     Only then, however, after acquiring some familiarity with the actual style of the divine scriptures, should one proceed to try to open up and unravel their obscurities, in such a way that instances from the plainer passages are used to cast light on the more obscure utterances, and the testimony of some undoubted judgments is used to remove uncertainties from those that are more doubtful. In this matter what is of the greatest value is a good memory; if this is wanting, these instructions cannot be of any great assistance.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.9.14; trans. WSA, I/11:135. Cf. NPNF1, 2:539.) [27.]


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

To enumerate all the passages in the Hebrew prophets referring to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, would exceed the limits of a volume, not to speak of the brief replies of which this treatise consists. The whole contents of these Scriptures are either directly or indirectly about Christ. Often the reference is allegorical or enigmatical, perhaps in a verbal allusion, or in a historical narrative, requiring diligence in the student, and rewarding him with the pleasure of discovery. Other passages, again, are plain; for, without the help of what is clear, we could not understand what is obscure. And even the figurative passages, when brought together, will be found so harmonious in their testimony to Christ as to put to shame the obtuseness of the sceptic.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 12.7; trans. NPNF1, 4:185.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But wherever their meaning is clear, there we must learn how they are to be understood in obscurer places.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.26.37; trans. WSA, I/11:185. Cf. NPNF1, 2:566.) [27.5]

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But when from the same words of scripture not just one, but two or more meanings may be extracted, even if you cannot tell which of them the writer intended, there is no risk if they can all be shown from other places of the holy scriptures to correspond with the truth. However, those who are engaged in searching the divine utterances must make every effort to arrive at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit produced that portion of scripture. But as I say, there is nothing risky about it, whether they do get at this, or whether they carve out another meaning from those words which does not clash with right faith, and is supported by any other passage of the divine utterances.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.27.38; trans. WSA, I/11:185-186. Cf. NPNF1, 2:567.) [27.6]


Cf. Casey J. Chalk (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

Luther’s theory that the clearer verses will interpret the obscure ones had ancient pedigree. The Augustinian monk could find validation for this thesis in none other than the inspiration for his religious order, St. Augustine.

(Casey J. Chalk, The Obscurity of Scripture: Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity, [Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2023], p. 25.) Preview.

Note: This is not just the view of Augustine, but of the vast majority of Patristic writers.

E.g. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca (c. 330-379 A.D.): 

     What seems to be said in an ambiguous and veiled way in certain passages of inspired Scripture is made plain by the obvious meaning of other passages. [Τὰ ἀμφίβολα καὶ ἐπικεκαλυμμένως εἰρῆσθαι δοκοῦντα ἔν τισι τόποις τῆς θεοπνεύστου Γραφῆς ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις ὁμολογουμέων σαφηνίζεται.]

(Basil the Great, The Shorter Rules (Regulæ Brevius Tractatæ), 267; PG, 31:1264; trans. Translations of Christian Literature Series I. Greek Texts: The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, trans. W. K. L. Clarke, [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1925], p. 329.)


Note: See further: The Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fidei) in the Early Church (Scripture Interprets Scripture).

Excursus: Additional Principles of Interpretation.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

It is extremely rare, then, and indeed very hard, to find any ambiguity in the literal meaning of words, as far as the books of the divine scriptures are concerned, which cannot be settled either from the context of the word, which indicates the intention of the writers, or from a comparison of different versions, or from an examination of the original language.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.4.8; trans. WSA, I/11:172-173.)


1. Context.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But when ambiguities arise in scripture about the meaning of words used in their proper sense, the first thing we must do is see whether we have phrased or pronounced them wrongly. So when, on paying closer attention, you still see that it is uncertain how something is to be phrased, or how to be pronounced, you should refer it to the rule of faith, which you have received from the plainer passages of scripture and from the authority of the Church, about which we dealt sufficiently when we were talking in the first book about things. But if both possibilities, or all of them, if it is a multiple ambiguity, are consonant with the faith, it remains to refer to the whole context, to the sections that precede and that follow the ambiguous passage, holding it in the middle between them, so that we may see which of the several meanings that present themselves the context will vote for and allow to fit in with itself.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.2.2; trans. WSA, I/11:169.)


Note: Click here for additional information on the Rule of Faith (Tradition).

2. Original Intention of the Author.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But when from the same words of scripture not just one, but two or more meanings may be extracted, even if you cannot tell which of them the writer intended, there is no risk if they can all be shown from other places of the holy scriptures to correspond with the truth. However, those who are engaged in searching the divine utterances must make every effort to arrive at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit produced that portion of scripture.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.27.38; trans. WSA, I/11:185-186.)


3. Original Languages and Accurate Translations.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     The best remedy for ignorance of proper signs is the knowledge of languages; and in addition to the . . . Latin languages, the people whom I have now undertaken to advise have need of the two other languages of the divine scriptures, namely Hebrew and Greek, so that they can have recourse to the earlier versions whenever doubt about the meaning of a text is raised by the infinite variety of Latin . . . translations.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.11.16; trans. WSA, I/11:135-136.)

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But the proper meaning of a passage, which several translators attempt to express, each according to his capacity and judgment, can only be definitely ascertained from an examination of it in the language they are translating from; and translators frequently deviate from the author’s meaning, if they are not particularly learned. So one should either aim at a knowledge of those languages from which the scriptures have come to their Latin . . . versions, or else get hold of translations which have been the most strictly literal, word for word, renderings of the original, not because they are sufficient in themselves, but because they can help one to control the freedom, or even the mistakes, of those translators who have preferred to follow the meanings rather than the words of the authors.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.13.19; trans. WSA, I/11:137-138.)

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Here too the examination and discussion of a variety of versions that can be compared is of the greatest help—provided only that they are not full of mistakes. The first thing, in fact, to which those who wish to know the divine scriptures should devote their careful attention and their skill is the correction of their copies, so that the uncorrected ones give way to the corrected ones, when they derive, that is, from one and the same type of translation.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.14.21; trans. WSA, I/11:139.)


4. Familiarity with Scripture.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     What those who fear God and have a docile piety are looking for in all these books is the will of God. The first step in this laborious search, as I have said, is to know these books, and even if not yet so as to understand them, all the same by reading them to commit them to memory, or at least not to be totally unfamiliar with them. (Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.9.14; trans. WSA, I/11:135.)


5. Humility and Openness.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     But those who read them in a light-minded spirit are liable to be misled by innumerable obscurities and ambiguities, and to mistake the meaning entirely, while in some places they cannot even guess at a wrong meaning, so dense and dark is the fog that some passages are wrapped in. This is all due, I have no doubt at all, to divine providence, in order to break in pride with hard labor, and to save the intelligence from boredom, since it readily forms a low opinion of things that are too easy to work out.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.6.7; trans. WSA, I/11:131.)

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     Where, however, an ambiguity can be resolved neither by the standard of faith nor by the actual context of the passage, there is no objection to your phrasing it in any of the ways that are open to you.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 3.2.5; trans. WSA, I/11:170.)



7. The Objection. Return to Outline.



D. A. Carson: …a text without a context becomes a pretext for a prooftext. (D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies: Second Edition, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996], p. 115.)


Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. 340-397 A.D.): Judge not, Arian, divine things by human, but believe the divine where thou findest not the human [Noli, Ariane, ex nostris æstimare divina: sed divina crede, ubi humana non invenis]. (Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Christian Faith, 1.13.79, PL, 16:547; trans. NPNF2, 10:214.) See also: ccel.org.


Objection.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church [Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicæ Ecclesiæ commoveret auctoritas].

(Augustine of Hippo, Against the Epistle of Manichæus, Called Fundamental, 5.6; PL, 42:176; trans. NPNF1, 4:131.) See also: ccel.org. [28.]


Answer.


James Anthony Froude: It often seems to me as if History was like a child’s box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose. …you have but to select such facts as suit you, you have but to leave alone those which do not suit you, and let your theory of history be what it will, you can find no difficulty in providing facts to prove it. (J. A. Froude, “On the Science of History;” In: Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain: Vol. IV. 1862—1866, [London: William Clowes and Sons, 1866], pp. 180, 189.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

A human being can lie, but it is not possible for Truth to lie. From the womb of truth I recognize Christ, who is Truth itself, and from the words of Truth I recognize the Church, which participates in the Truth [Ex veritatis ore agnosco Ecclesiam participem veritatis].

(Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 57, 6 [on verse 4]; PL, 36:679; trans. WSA, III/17:128.) [29.]

Note: Unless Augustine repeatedly and explicitly contradicts himself (See further: §. 1A, above) then his statement cannot be interpreted in such a way as to comport with the modern Roman Catholic understanding of authority.

Cf. George Florovsky (Eastern Orthodox Theologian and Historian):

In the same sense we have to interpret the well-known and justly startling statement of Augustine: “Ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas” (“Indeed, I should not have believed the gospel, if the authority of the catholic church had not moved me”). This sentence must be read in its context. Augustine did not utter it on his own behalf. He spoke of the attitude which a simple believer has to take when confronted with a heretical claim for authority. In this situation it is proper for a simple believer to appeal to the authority of the church, from which and in which he has received the gospel itself: “ipsi evangelio catholicis praedicantibus credidi” (“I believed the gospel itself, being instructed by catholic preachers”). The gospel and the preaching of the catholici belong together. Augustine had no intention to subordinate the gospel to the church. He merely wanted to emphasize that the gospel is always received in the context of the church’s catholic preaching and simply cannot be separated from the church. Only in this context can it be assessed and properly understood. Indeed, the witness of the Scripture is ultimately self-evident, but only for the faithful, for those who have achieved a certain spiritual maturity; and this is possible only within the church. He contrasted this teaching and preaching auctoritas of the church catholic with the pretentious vagaries of Manichean exegesis. The gospel did not belong to the Manicheans. Catholicae ecclesiae auctoritas (the authority of the catholic church) was not an independent source of faith. But it was the indispensable principle of sound interpretation. Actually, the sentence could be converted: one should not believe the church, unless one is moved by the gospel. The relationship is strictly reciprocal.

(George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader: Second Edition, ed. Daniel B. Clendenin, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], p. 114. Cf. George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View: Volume One in the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, [Belmont: Nordland Publishing Company, 1972], pp. 91-92.)


Cf. Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J. (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

No Catholic would want to say that the authority of the Bible derives simply from the decree of a council. Trent recognized the Bible; it did not create it. The Bible is in the Church, but not from the Church, and the Church is subject to God’s Word. St. Augustine’s statement, “I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me to this,” is often misused. 

(Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., The Bible, The Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology, [Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995], pp. 71-72.)


1. The Classical Protestant Understanding.


Richard Hooker (Protestant Theologian and Historian Who Believed the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura):

     Indeed, what is more, to question the force and strength of human testimony would shake the very fortress of God’s truth. Though Scripture is the ground of whatever we believe concerning salvation in Christ, nevertheless human authority is the very key which opens the door into the knowledge of Scripture. The Scripture cannot teach us the things of God, unless we can trust men who teach us what the words of Scripture signify. Somehow, therefore, human authority may compel assent despite human weakness.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2.8.7; In: The Library of Early English Protestantism: The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: In Modern English: Volume 1: Preface-Book IV, eds. Bradford Littlejohn, et al., [Lincoln: The Davenant Institute, 2019], pp. 139-140.) [30.]

Cf. Richard Hooker:

And by experience we all know, that the first outward motive leading men so to esteem of the Scripture is the authority of God’s Church.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 3.8.14; In: The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker: With an Account of His Life and Death: Seventh Edition: Vol. I, ed. John Keble, rev. by R. W. Church & F. Paget, [Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1888], p. 376.) See also: ofthelaws.com.


Cf. Martin Chemnitz:

…in Contra epistolam Manichaei, ch. 5, Augustine tells how he had been led to the faith of the Catholic church. For he says that he had heeded the Catholics who praised the Gospel and said: “Believe the Gospel.” And there he introduces the common saying: “Indeed, I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic church did not move me.” By the witness of the church, therefore, he was moved to read the Gospel and to believe that the divinely revealed doctrine is contained in it. But does he, after he has come to faith in the Gospel, promise that he would believe the church more than the Gospel if the church should decree or teach something which is either against the Gospel or which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture? This certainly he does not say. Rather, elsewhere he pronounces the anathema on those who preach anything outside of the things which we have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospel. And in that same place he says that because he believes the Gospel, he cannot believe Manichaeus, because he does not read anything there about the apostleship of Manichaeus. Therefore this second kind of traditions leads us to the Scripture and binds us to the voice of doctrine that sounds forth in it, to the point that the axiom of the papalists “that many dogmas must be received which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture” is not proved by it.

(Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Part I, trans. Fred Kramer, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], 2.2.2, pp. 227-228.)


2. The Nature of Knowing.


Mark Ellingsen:

     At other points the convergence between his thinking and Heilsgeschichte theology is even more apparent. Historical events of the Bible, he claims in those contexts (as he addresses those who only believe on rational grounds), cannot be known, but only believed on grounds of credible testimony. “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me so to do.” Elsewhere, in a work concerning epistemology, he claims that with regard to historical events, we must believe in order to understand.[Mag. xi.37/LCC 95.] In any case, when merely expositing the nature of Christian faith or when encountering critiques of Biblical authority head-on in outright polemics, then Augustine asserts the absolute authority of the Bible in all spheres of knowledge. This has been a pattern for most subsequent theology.

(Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: His Contextual and Pastoral Theology, [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005], p. 25.) [31.]


3. Foundation/Authority vs. Witness.


William Goode:

     And this leads me to notice the famous passage so frequently objected to our views from Augustine. Writing against the Manichees, he says, “But I would not believe the Gospel, if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.”

     But that “the authority of the Catholic Church” was not the sole motive that induced him to believe the Gospel, is evident from what we have already quoted above from his Confessions; nor does the passage imply as much, but only that “the authority of the Catholic Church” was one necessary ground upon which his belief rested; and that that “authority” was not absolute in his view, is evident, not only from other passages, but from the words that precede, where, after enumerating the motives which induced him to prefer the Catholic Church, and remarking that none of these were to be found with the Manichees, but only the promise of the truth, he adds,—“which indeed, if it is so clearly manifested that it cannot be doubted of, is to be preferred to all those things by which I am retained in the Catholic Church.”

     This passage, therefore, if explained so as to be consistent with Augustine’s own statements elsewhere, means no more than that the witness of the Church to the Scriptures is an important and necessary part of the grounds upon which we believe the Scriptures. And if the construction of the argument seems to imply more, it is an inconsistency in which we must judge of Augustine’s real sentiments by the general tenor of his statements, rather than by a casual argument in a controversial work, and an argument which, if I mistake not, savours more of the ingenuity of the sophist than the simplicity and force of truth.

(William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice: In Three Volumes: Vol. III: Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, [London: John Henry Jackson, 1853], pp. 310-311.)

Cf. William Whitaker:

It does not therefore follow that because the church knows very well the voice of Christ, the authority of the church is greater than that of Christ. But as to his pretence that because the church delivers the rule of faith, it must therefore be the correctest judge of that rule; we must observe that the terms deliver and judge are ambiguous. The church does indeed deliver that rule, not as its author, but as a witness, and an admonisher, and a minister: it judges also when instructed by the Holy Spirit. But may I therefore conclude, that I cannot be certain of this rule, but barely by the testimony of the church? It is a mere fallacy of the accident. There is no consequence in this reasoning: I can be led by the church’s voice to the rule of faith; therefore I can have no more certain judgment than that of the church.

(William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture: Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. & ed. William Fitzgerald, [Cambridge: Printed at the University Press, 1849],p. 288.) [32.]


4. Context.


Herman Bavinck:

     Over against this Roman Catholic doctrine, the Reformation posited the self-attested trustworthiness (αὐτοπιστια) of Scripture. In this controversy the question was not whether the church had to fulfill a responsibility with respect to Scripture, for on both sides it was agreed that the church is of great significance for the Bible. The church’s witness is most important and a motivation toward belief (motivum credibilitatis). In its testimonies the church of the early centuries possesses strong support for Scripture. For every person, the church is the guide that leads one to Scripture. In this sense, Augustine’s saying is and remains true that he was moved by the church to believe the Scriptures. Protestant theologians have weakened this saying of Augustine by applying it only to the past, to the origin of faith. But Augustine’s reasoning in the previously cited text is clear when he confronts his Manichean opponent with a dilemma. Either, he says, you must say to me: believe the Catholics, but they emphatically warn me not to believe you; or do not believe the Catholics, but in that case you cannot appeal to the gospel against me either, “because I have believed by the very gospel the Catholics preach.”

     For Augustine the church is indeed a motive for faith, a motive he here utilizes against the Manicheans. But there is a difference between a motive for believing and the final ground of faith. Elsewhere he himself clears up the way he sees a motive for believing in the church when he says: “Why not rather submit to the authority of the gospel, which is so well founded, so confirmed, so generally acknowledged and admired, and which has an unbroken series of testimonies from the apostles down to our own day.”[fn. 20: Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, I, 32, 19; cf. On the Profit of Believing, 14.] The church with its dignity, power, hierarchy, and so forth always made a profound impression on Augustine. It continually moved him toward faith, supported and strengthened him in times of doubt and struggle; it was the church’s firm hand that always again guided him to Scripture. But Augustine does not thereby mean to say that the authority of Scripture depends on the church, that the church is the final and most basic ground of his faith. Elsewhere he clearly states that Scripture has authority of itself and must be believed for its own sake.

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], §. 119, pp. 456-457.) [33.]


5. What is “The Church”?


Charles Hastings Collette:

     Whenever Augustine speaks of the Church, Roman controversialists at once conclude that he refers to the local Roman Church. For instance, when he said “I should not have believed the Gospel except the authority of the Church had moved me thereunto,”[Cont. Ep. Fund., c. v. Tom. viii. p. 154. Edit. as above.] they would have us believe that he looked to the Roman Church as that authority. What possible reference can these words have to the Roman Church more than to his own Church in Africa, to the Greek Church, or any other Church? Augustine was arguing with a Manichee, who sought to enforce a gospel of his own without dispute. Augustine opposed that gospel as not acknowledged by the Universal Church. The Romish Bishop Canus has himself given the explanation. In this case he says Augustine puts the question: “What if you find one who doth not believe the Gospel? What motive would you use to such a one to bring him to your belief? I, for my part (he adds), should not have been brought to embrace the Gospel if the Church’s authority had not swayed me to it.”[Canus, Loc. Theol., Lib. 2, c. 8, p. 52. Colon. 1605.] We have it sufficiently clear what Augustine meant by the Church from the extracts I have already given, and on that head lie adds the further testimony:—“By the mouth of God, which is the truth, I know the Church of God, which is partaker of the Truth.”[In Pslm. Ivii., p. 545, Tom. iv. Paris, 1681.] Let the Roman Church bring herself to that test!

     …I have already referred to the oft quoted saying that Augustine would not believe the Gospel, but that the authority of the Church moved him. Bellarmine quotes this also. Having the concurrent authority of the entire Christian world, Augustine believed, and such concurrent authority induced him to believe, the Gospel. He was converted to Christianity. Christianity was founded on the Gospel, which the entire Church accepted. What better motive could a man have, in passing from Paganism or other heresy to Christianity? Religion is a matter of education, not a spontaneous inspiration. Bellarmine desired us to believe that Augustine pointed to the authority of the Roman Church as his inducement to accept the Gospel. Rome was but a small part of the whole of Christendom. Had the Roman Church never existed, Augustine would have had the same motives for belief in the Gospel.

     …It will now be my task to examine every single quotation as from Augustine’s writings cited by Dr. Wiseman in these Lectures, and I venture to state that the reader will be satisfied that the appeal results in a lamentable failure.

     I. The first passage quoted is in Lecture V., on “The Catholic Rule of Faith” (p. 140):—“Disputing with a Manichee—he says expressly, as it should be rendered from the peculiarity of the style—‘I should not have believed the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church had not led or moved me.’”

     I have already fully examined this citation, and it is only necessary to add that Augustine nowhere gives us to understand that the Catholic Church was localized in the communion over which the Bishop of Rome presided, or that he derived his knowledge of, or belief in, the Gospel from that quarter.

(Charles Hastings Collette, Saint Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus, Episcopus Hipponiensis). A.D 387-430: A Sketch of His Life and Writings as Affecting the Controversy with Rome, [London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1883], pp. 41, 103, 106.) [34.]


6. Commoveret.


Karla Pollmann:

     Augustine’s most notorious statement of the relationship between church and Scripture, which is frequently quoted out of context, can be found in his contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti 5.6: ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas (‘Indeed, I would not believe the Gospel, would not the authority of the catholic church incite me to do so’). Indeed, this deceptively simple sentence enjoyed a toxic afterlife, and I will not manage here to do more than deconstruct it to some degree. For once, it is important to notice that Augustine says commoveret (not cogeret or the like!), which again brings forward the element of consent which we have already mentioned earlier. Moreover, it is also particularly crucial to consider the context of this sentence, which reveals two issues of importance. First, we have here a highly polemical and, accordingly, highly rhetorical text, where Augustine is first of all eager to demolish the authority of the Manichees and their claim that their teachings can be found in the Bible, especially in the Gospels. Augustine replies that the name of Mani cannot be found in the Gospels, hence there can be no connection between them and the Manichees, although this is precisely what they claim. Then, the Manichees pretend to have rational reasons for their faith, but in fact they nevertheless demand acceptance of their belief on authoritative grounds. In an analogous way, Augustine needs a frame of reference (the catholica auctoritas), which he simultaneously has to reconfirm in this anti-Manichaean altercation. Second, Augustine repeatedly interrogates Holy Scripture itself (as it is Holy Scripture that documents the catholic apostles, but not Mani) as authority—precisely in order to confirm in this way the authority of the catholic church, put in a kind of ‘circular’, or, better, dialectical, argument. In this way, the authority of the church is founded on it being documented by Holy Writ that therefore serves as the ultimate checking reference. Thus the authority of the church can be interrogated by referring back to Scripture in a rational and critical way. It is not, therefore, the catholic church that stands above Scripture and reason but the other way round.

     This is borne out by Augustine’s own ‘conversion story’ in the Confessions. Even if we leave the complex issue aside as to how much in it is fact and how much fiction, it is crystal-clear that the ‘hero’ of the Confessions is not converted because of the authority of the church! Illuminating in this context is Confessions 7.7.11: credebam...et in Christo...atque scripturis sanctis, quas ecclesiae tuae catholicae commendaret auctoritas, viam te posuisse salutis humanae, where Augustine believes in Christ and in those Holy Scriptures which the authority of the Catholic Church recommends. As in the contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti the issue here is what a community selects and accepts as authoritative writing—in one word, the establishing of a canon.

(Karla Pollmann, “Christianity and Authority in Late Antiquity: The Transformation of the Concept of Auctoritas;” In: Being Christian in Late Antiquity: A Festschrift for Gillian Clark, eds. Carol Harrison, Caroline Humfress, & Isabella Sandwell, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014], pp. 168-169.) [35.]


7. Pre- vs. Post- Christian.


Cf. Francis Turretin:

     XXVI. The passage of Augustine, “I would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not move me” (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental 5 [NPNF1, 4:131; PL 42.176]) does not favor the papists. First, Augustine speaks of himself as still a Manichean and not yet a Christian. What he places in the imperfect is equivalent to the preterite pluperfect: “I would believe and it would move” for “I would have believed and it would have moved”—a very common usage with the Africans (as the learned observe); cf. Augustine, “If I would then love that fruit” for “I would have loved” (Confessions 2.8 [FC 21:46; PL 32.682]). Second, the authority of which he speaks is not that of right and power (which our opponents here pretend), as if he would have believed because the church so ordered; but that of worth, derived from the great and remarkable proofs of the providence of God (visible in the church) such as miracles, the agreement of people, the succession, etc. (Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental 4 [NPNF1, 4:130]) which can lead to faith, although unable to produce it primarily. Third, the external motive to faith is here alluded to and not the infallible principle of believing which chap. 4 teaches us is to be sought in the truth alone. For he acknowledges that truth is to be preferred before everything else, if it is so perfectly exhibited as that it cannot be called into question. “Let us follow those who invite us to believe; first, when we are not as yet able to understand, so that being made more able by the faith itself we may deserve to understand what we believe, having not now men, but God himself as the informer and illuminator of our minds within us” (ibid., 14 [NPNF1, 4:136; PL 42.183]). Thus, Peter d’Ailly (Questiones super libros senteniarum [1490/1968], Q. 1, in Sec. 1, Art. 3, [pp. 4–10]) understands it; Canus, “De Locis Theologicis,” 2.8 in Opera [1605], pp. 41–53; Gerson, Driedo and Durandus refer it to the primitive and apostolic church, not to the present for whose authority it is here contended. See our “Disputatio Theologica de Scripturae Sacrae Authoritate” in Francisci Turrettini Opera (1848), 4:253–68.

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology: Volume One, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., [Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992], 2.6.26, p. 94.) [36.]


8. Is Augustine Speaking of Himself?


A. D. R. Polman:

The entire tenor of St. Augustine’s argument leaves no doubt that he could not possibly have spoken of himself. Nörregaard rightly pointed out that the Confessions, which were written at the same time, contain no such views, either in the Prologue (I, 1-5), where he dealt with the question of how man finds God and in which the Church is only mentioned in passing, or in the account of his own conversion. In Rome and Milan he finished up by questioning almost everything, and even threatened to fall prey to scepticism. For a moment he even thought of giving up his search for a personal conviction altogether and of simply submitting to the authority of the Church. However, he bethought himself in time. Not the Church, but Neoplatonism, not the Gospel, but philosophy led St. Augustine to intellectual certainty. Afterwards the achieved complete surrender of his heart and will by consulting the Bible (notably Paul, whom he now read with utterly different eyes) and by his experience in a garden of Milan where he heard the voice of a singing child as the voice of God, and the words of the song as a message from Heaven. For this reason, it is absolutely impossible that he should have proclaimed his belief in the Gospel on Church authority alone.

(A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine, trans. A. J. Pomerans, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961], p. 202.) [37.]


9. Further Study.


For further study see the following:


B. B. Warfield, “Augustine’s Doctrine of Knowledge and Authority;” In: Francis L. Patton, et al., eds. The Princeton Theological Review: Volume V: 1907, [Princeton: The Princeton University Press, 1907], October 1907, Number 4, pp. 529-578; Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1930], pp. 178-225; Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Calvin and Augustine, ed. Samuel G. Craig, [Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971], pp. 430-477.


A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine, trans. A. J. Pomerans, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961], Chapter V: The Word of God and the Church, pp. 177-215.



E. Augustine, The Ultimate Authority of Scripture: The Testimony of Historians (Across Theological Traditions). Return to Outline.



A. D. R. Polman (Protestant Historian and Theologian):

From his first writings onwards, St. Augustine was clearly and fully convinced of the divine authority of Holy Writ, and recognised no authority above it. (A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine, trans. A. J. Pomerans, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961], p. 63.)


Mark Ellingsen (Protestant Theologian and Historian):

     At other points the convergence between his thinking and Heilsgeschichte theology is even more apparent. Historical events of the Bible, he claims in those contexts (as he addresses those who only believe on rational grounds), cannot be known, but only believed on grounds of credible testimony. “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me so to do.” Elsewhere, in a work concerning epistemology, he claims that with regard to historical events, we must believe in order to understand.[Mag. xi.37/LCC 95.] In any case, when merely expositing the nature of Christian faith or when encountering critiques of Biblical authority head-on in outright polemics, then Augustine asserts the absolute authority of the Bible in all spheres of knowledge. This has been a pattern for most subsequent theology.

(Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: His Contextual and Pastoral Theology, [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005], p. 25.)


George Florovsky (Eastern Orthodox Theologian and Historian):

In the same sense we have to interpret the well-known and justly startling statement of Augustine: “Ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas” (“Indeed, I should not have believed the gospel, if the authority of the catholic church had not moved me”). This sentence must be read in its context. Augustine did not utter it on his own behalf. He spoke of the attitude which a simple believer has to take when confronted with a heretical claim for authority. In this situation it is proper for a simple believer to appeal to the authority of the church, from which and in which he has received the gospel itself: “ipsi evangelio catholicis praedicantibus credidi” (“I believed the gospel itself, being instructed by catholic preachers”). The gospel and the preaching of the catholici belong together. Augustine had no intention to subordinate the gospel to the church. He merely wanted to emphasize that the gospel is always received in the context of the church’s catholic preaching and simply cannot be separated from the church. Only in this context can it be assessed and properly understood. Indeed, the witness of the Scripture is ultimately self-evident, but only for the faithful, for those who have achieved a certain spiritual maturity; and this is possible only within the church. He contrasted this teaching and preaching auctoritas of the church catholic with the pretentious vagaries of Manichean exegesis. The gospel did not belong to the Manicheans. Catholicae ecclesiae auctoritas (the authority of the catholic church) was not an independent source of faith. But it was the indispensable principle of sound interpretation. Actually, the sentence could be converted: one should not believe the church, unless one is moved by the gospel. The relationship is strictly reciprocal.

(George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader: Second Edition, ed. Daniel B. Clendenin, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], p. 114. Cf. George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View: Volume One in the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, [Belmont: Nordland Publishing Company, 1972], pp. 91-92.)

Cf. Keith A. Mathison (Protestant Historian and Theologian):

In this Augustine is in agreement with the earlier fathers who insisted on the necessary role of the Church. The evidence simply does not support later medieval concepts of a Church that has metaphysical priority over Holy Scripture. This interpretation (which persists today) stems from taking one sentence out of context and reading far more into it than that context will allow.

(Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, [Moscow: Canon Press, 2001], p. 42.)

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

A human being can lie, but it is not possible for Truth to lie. From the womb of truth I recognize Christ, who is Truth itself, and from the words of Truth I recognize the Church, which participates in the Truth [Ex veritatis ore agnosco Ecclesiam participem veritatis].

(Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 57, 6 [on verse 4]; PL, 36:679; trans. WSA, III/17:128.) [38.]


Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J. (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

No Catholic would want to say that the authority of the Bible derives simply from the decree of a council. Trent recognized the Bible; it did not create it. The Bible is in the Church, but not from the Church, and the Church is subject to God’s Word. St. Augustine’s statement, “I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me to this,” is often misused. 

(Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., The Bible, The Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology, [Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995], pp. 71-72.)


Louis Bouyer, C.O. (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

…the Bible, and in one sense the Bible alone, is the ‘Word of God’ more directly and fully than any of its other expressions, since it alone is so inspired by God as to have him for its author. In making their own this assertion, and giving it the vigour and emphasis so characteristic of their doctrine, the Protestant reformers did not go beyond the unanimous verdict of Judaism on the Old Testament, once constituted, and of the Fathers and theologians on the Bible as a whole. The cautious reservations introduced by modern Catholic writers, as a result of the controversies of the sixteenth century, cannot disguise the fact that the Protestants, in the positive statements we refer to, say no more than the unanimous ecclesiastical tradition. St. Augustine may be said to have given definitive expression to this in a passage of his 19th letter to St. Jerome, repeated so often by writers in the Middle Ages: ‘To those books of Scripture alone that are now known as canonical I have learned to pay the honour and respect of believing firmly that none of their authors made any mistake in what they wrote.’

(Louis Bouyer, C.O., The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, trans. A. V. Littledale, [Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1964], pp. 129-130. Ecclesiastical approbation: Nihil obstat: Ricardus Roche, D.D. Imprimatur: Franciscus, Archiep. Birmingamiensis Datum Birmingamiae, die 28a Novembeis, 1955.)

Cf. Louis Bouyer, C.O. (Roman Catholic Theologian and Historian):

The Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine above all, themselves practiced that devotion derived from Scripture, whose ideal the Protestants steadily upheld; they hardly knew any other. …they were no less enthusiastic, or insistent, or formal, in recommending this use of Scripture and in actually promoting it. …For them, it was not simply one source among others, but the source par excellence, in a sense the only one.”

(Louis Bouyer, C.O., The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, trans. A. V. Littledale, [Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1964], pp. 132-133. Ecclesiastical approbation: Nihil obstat: Ricardus Roche, D.D. Imprimatur: Franciscus, Archiep. Birmingamiensis Datum Birmingamiae, die 28a Novembeis, 1955.)


Jacques Le Goff (Agnostic Historian):

As a priest, a bishop, and a Christian intellectual, Augustine was convinced that the Bible was the “foundation” of all religious teachings (the term “foundation,” borrowed from 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, pleased him enormously). Wherever the Bible is unclear, nothing definite can be asserted, though of course Augustine believed deeply that one might do one’s utmost to make the meaning of the text as clear as possible.

(Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 63.)



8. Appendix: Augustine on Matthew 16:18. Return to Outline.



Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“But whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” One for many gave the answer, Unity in many. Then said the Lord to Him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” Then He added, “and I say unto thee.” As if He had said, “Because thou hast said unto Me, ‘Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God;’ I also say unto thee, ‘Thou art Peter.’” For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and that in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. “Therefore,” he saith, “Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock” which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock which thou hast acknowledged, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;” that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, “will I build My Church.” I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee.

     For men who wished to be built upon men, said, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas,” who is Peter. But others who did not wish to be built upon Peter, but upon the Rock, said, “But I am of Christ.” And when the Apostle Paul ascertained that he was chosen, and Christ despised, he said, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” And, as not in the name of Paul, so neither in the name of Peter; but in the name of Christ: that Peter might be built upon the Rock, not the Rock upon Peter.

     This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced “blessed,” bearing the figure of the Church, holding the chief place in the Apostleship…

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, Sermon 26.1-3 [LXXVI. Ben.]; trans. NPNF1, 6:340.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

So does the Church act in blessed hope through this troublous life; and this Church symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship. For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, “On this rock will I build my Church,” because Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. The Church, therefore, which is founded in Christ received from Him the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Peter, that is to say, the power of binding and loosing sins. For what the Church is essentially in Christ, such representatively is Peter in the rock (petra); and in this representation Christ is to be understood as the Rock, Peter as the Church. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, Tractate 124.5; trans. NPNF1, 7:450.) See also: ccel.org. 


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The blessed Peter, the first of the apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, And I say to you, that you are Peter. He himself, you see, had just said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christ said to him, And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church (Mt. 16:16,18). Upon this rock I will build the faith which you have just confessed. Upon what you have just said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church; because you are Peter. 

     Peter, Rocky, from rock, not rock from Rocky. Peter comes from petra, rock, in exactly the same way as Christian comes from Christ. Do you want to know what rock Peter is called after? Listen to Paul: I would not have you ignorant, brothers, the apostle of Christ says; I would not have you ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized in Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the rock that was following them, and the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4). There you have where Rocky, Peter, is from.

     Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his, whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19). After all, it isn’t just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre–eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. 

     I mean, to show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit; and straightway, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained (Jn 20:22-23). This refers to the keys, about which it is said, whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (Mt 16:19). But that was said to Peter. To show you that Peter at that time stood for the universal Church, listen to what is said to him, what is said to all the faithful, the saints: If your brother sins against you, correct him between you and himself alone. If he does not listen to you, bring with you one or two; for it is written, By the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be settled. If he does not even listen to them, refer him to the Church; if he does not even listen to her, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax collector. Amen amen I tell you, that whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt 18:15-18). It is the dove that binds, the dove that looses, the building built upon the rock that binds and looses.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 295.1-2; trans. WSA, III/8:197-198.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:15-19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ.

     Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 229P, §. 1; trans. WSA, III/6:327.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     So is it the case that Peter is now true, or that Christ is true in Peter? When the Lord Jesus Christ wished, he left Peter to himself, and Peter was found to be a man; and when it so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, he filled Peter, and Peter was found to be true. The Rock had made Rocky Peter true, for the Rock was Christ.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 147.3; trans. WSA, III/4:449.)

 

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Previously, of course, he was called Simon; this name of Peter was bestowed on him by the Lord, and that with the symbolic intention of his representing the Church. Because Christ, you see, is the petra or rock; Peter, or Rocky, is the Christian people. I mean, the basic name is “rock,” Therefore Rocky is so called from rock, not the rock from Rocky; Just as Christ is not so called from Christian, but Christian from Christ. So, You, he says, are Peter, and on this rock, which you have acknowledged, on this rock, which you recognized when you said You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church; that is, on myself, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church (Mt 16:18). I will build you on me, not me on you.

(Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 76.1; trans. WSA, III/3:311.)


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For as some things are said which seem peculiarly to apply to the Apostle Peter, and yet are not clear in their meaning, unless when referred to the Church, whom he is acknowledged to have figuratively represented, on account of the primacy which he bore among the Disciples; as it is written, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and other passages of the like purport: so Judas doth represent those Jews who were enemies of Christ, who both then hated Christ, and now, in their line of succession, this species of wickedness continuing, hate Him.

(Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 109 [Lat. CVIII.], §. 1; trans. NPNF1, 8:536.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And this he heard from the Lord: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” See what praises follow this faith. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” What meaneth, “Upon this rock I will build my Church”? Upon this faith; upon this that has been said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Upon this rock,” saith He, “I will build my Church.” Mighty praise!

(Augustine of Hippo, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Hom. 10.1; trans. NPNF1, 7:520.) See also: ccel.org.


Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     In this same period of my priesthood, I also wrote a book against a letter of Donatus who, after Majorinus, was the second bishop of the party of Donatus at Carthage. In this letter, he argues that the baptism of Christ is believed to be only in his communion. It is against this letter that we speak in this book.

     In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter; “On him as on a rock the Church was built.” This idea is also expressed in song by the voice of many in the verses of the most blessed Ambrose where he says about the crowing of the cock: “At its crowing he, this rock of the Church, washed away his guilt.” But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” For, “Thou art Peter” and not “Thou art the rock” was said to him. But “the rock was Christ,” in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter, But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable.

(Augustine of Hippo, The Retractations, 1.20.1; trans. FC, 60:90-91.)   





[1.] Cf. Francis Turretin:

     II. On the state of the question keep in mind: (1) that the question does not concern any kind of judgment (i.e., whether any judgment belongs to the church and its officers in controversies of faith). The orthodox refute the charge made against them by their practice. Rather the question concerns only the supreme and infallible judgment by which everything must necessarily stand or fall—whether this belongs to the Scriptures themselves (as we hold) or to some man or assembly composed of men (as the papists maintain).

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology: Volume One, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., [Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992], 2.20.2, p. 154.)
Cf. Michael F. Bird:

…the Reformers had a slogan of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) as the ultimate authority in the churches. Yet when the Reformers spoke of sola scriptura, they meant the Bible illuminated by the Spirit in the matrix of the church. Sola scriptura is not nuda scriptura (“the bare scripture”). The Protestant confessions are indebted to the ecumenical councils and patristic theologies in every respect. Thus the Reformers’ use of Scripture is more tantamount to suprema scriptura. This means that the Bible is our primary authority, but not our only authority.

(Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013], 1.6.2.4, pp. 68-69. Cf. Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method in Theology, [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992], p. 193.)

Cf. John Jefferson Davis:

Sola scriptura meant the primacy of scripture as a theological norm over all tradition rather than the total rejection of tradition. Creeds, confessions, and councils were to be received insofar as they were consistent with scripture.

(John Jefferson Davis, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984], p. 227.)

Cf. Wafiq Wahba:

The Reformers’ affirmation of sola Scriptura did not imply a rejection of all church traditions. To the contrary, they affirmed the value and the validity of the ecumenical councils, the creeds of the early church, and patristic teaching and writings. For the Reformers, agreement with the early church was proof of the true catholicity and legitimacy of the Reformation. The sola Scriptura principle implies an adherence to the original tradition, unmixed with foreign elements. It meant the primacy of Scripture as a theological norm over all traditions, rather than the total rejection of tradition. Creeds, church councils, and patristic teachings were to be received insofar as they were consistent with Scripture. Since tradition is always in danger of becoming legalistic and falsifying the transmission of the gospel, the correct use of tradition must be guided according to the source and standard of the Christian tradition, viz., Scripture. From that perspective, the gospel message not only liberates us from the false use of tradition, but also liberates us to use it rightly.

(Wafiq Wahba, “The Ecumenical Responsibility of Reformed Theology: The Case of Egypt;” In: Toward the Future of Reformed Theology: Tasks, Topics, Traditions, eds. David Willis, Michael Welker, [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999], pp. 92-93.)
 Return to Article.

[2.] Full. Karl Barth:

All that we have still to say about the authority of the Church itself can be understood in the light of the commandment in Ex. 2012: “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Obviously there can be no conflict between this commandment and the first: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” What it demands is self-evidently limited by the first commandment. But the dignity of what it demands is not reduced and lessened by the demand of the first commandment. On the contrary, because the first commandment is valid, in its own sphere the commandment to honour father and mother is also valid. It is in the people which has none other God but the One who brought them out of Egypt that father and mother are honoured by the children as the visible bearers and representatives of their own adherence to this people. The connexion of this commandment with the basic commandment which as such constitutes the people Israel, and the comprehensive sense in which the latter has to be understood, are clearly brought out in the saying in Lev. 1932: “Thou shalt rise up before a hoary head and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: for I am the Lord.” We can see the same order in what the Old Testament says about the blessing which fathers can and should pronounce on their children and the priests on the whole people: the fact that men bless is not the denial but a confirmation of the real truth that Yahweh blesses and keeps, Yahweh makes His face shine and is gracious, Yahweh lifts up His countenance upon those who are blessed and gives them peace (Num. 622f.). Again, the fact that Yahweh blesses and keeps and is gracious is not a denial but an institution and confirmation of the human blessing, the fatherly and priestly blessing pronounced on His people. At this point, too, we can and must recall the prophetic saying in Jer. 616: “Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” And the saying of Bildad in Job 88 points in the same direction : “For inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to that which their fathers have searched out.” The new and strange word of the witness of revelation in the name of Yahweh points here to an earthly-historical way along which the people has always been led thanks to the revelation within it : “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times” (Ps. 775)—and which as such has something to say to the people in which it will again recognise the “good way.” The former way is not, of course, to be regarded as an autonomous word, distinct from the present revelation of Yahweh, another authority side by side with that of the prophetic word. But the revelation too, the prophetic word, cannot and should not be spoken and heard without remembering the former way of Yahweh with His people. From this standpoint we have to admit basically and generally that Cyprian was right when he said: disciplinam Dei in ecclesiasticis praeceptis observandam esse (Ad Quir. Ill 66). We understand it in this way: that there is an authority of the Church which does not involve any contradiction or revolt against the authority of Jesus Christ, which can only confirm the disciplina Dei, and which for its part is not negated by the authority of Jesus Christ, by the disciplina Dei, but is established, confirmed and yet also defined and delimited by it. Ut sacrilega esset partiiio, si fides vel in minima articulo separatim ab homine penderet, sic ludibrio Deum palam habent, qui praeteritis ministris, per quos loquitur, ilium se magistrum recipere simulant (Calvin, Comm. on Act 1528, C.R. 48, 362). The Church has a genuine authority.

     Under the Word and therefore under Holy Scripture the Church does have and exercise genuine authority.

(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: Volume I: The Doctrine of the Word of God: Second Half-Volume, eds. G. W. Bromiley, T. F. Torrance, trans. G. T. Thomson, Harold Knight, [Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1963], pp. 585-586.)

Cf. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England: Article: XX. The Authority of the Church:

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

(The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, Article 20; trans. Philip Schaff, Bibliotheca Symbolica Ecclesiæ Universalis: The Creeds of Christendom, With a History and Critical Notes: In Three Volumes: Volume III, [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877], p. 500.) See also: ccel.org. Return to Article.

[3.] Cf. Charles Hodge:

…the obligations to faith and obedience are personal. Every man is responsible for his religious faith and his moral conduct. He cannot transfer that responsibility to others; nor can others assume it in his stead. He must answer for himself; and if he must answer for himself, he must judge for himself. It will not avail him in the day of judgment to say that his parents or his Church taught him wrong. He should have listened to God, and obeyed Him rather than men.

(Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Vol. I, [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883], p. 184.) See also: ccel.org and monergism.com.
 Return to Article.

[4.] Original. Richard Hooker:

     Two opinions therefore there are concerning sufficiency of Holy Scripture, each extremely opposite unto the other, and both repugnant unto truth. The schools of Rome teach Scripture to be so unsufficient, as if, except traditions were added, it did not contain all revealed and supernatural truth, which absolutely is necessary for the children of men in this life to know that they may in the next be saved. Others justly condemning this opinion grow likewise unto a dangerous extremity, as if Scripture did not only contain all things in that kind necessary, but all things simply, and in such sort that to do any thing according to any other law were not only unnecessary but even opposite unto salvation, unlawful and sinful. Whatsoever is spoken of God or things appertaining to God otherwise than as the truth is, though it seem an honour it is an injury. And as incredible praises given unto men do often abate and impair the credit of their deserved commendation; so we must likewise take great heed, lest in attributing unto Scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverently esteemed. I therefore leave it to themselves to consider, whether they have in this first point or not overshot themselves; which God doth know is quickly done, even when our meaning is most sincere, as I am verily persuaded theirs in this case was.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2.8.7; In: The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker: With an Account of His Life and Death: Seventh Edition: Vol. I, ed. John Keble, rev. by R. W. Church & F. Paget, [Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1888], pp. 335-336) See also: ofthelaws.com.

Cf. Mark Ellingsen:

When decisions were to be made about ecclesiastical matters, he [i.e. Augustine] appealed to both the Bible and Tradition, allowing the latter to function especially in cases where Scripture laid down no definite rule.

(Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: His Contextual and Pastoral Theology, [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005], p. 27.)

Cf. A. A. Hodge (Commenting on the mode of baptism (i.e. sprinkling, pouring, immersion, etc.)):

This religion is pre-eminently spiritual and reasonable, and not external nor formal. It is designed for all men of all climates, ages and conditions, and to be applied to individuals and communities under all conceivable circumstances. The external mode of performing a rite is insisted upon in no other instance. Christ and his apostles have left no prescriptions as to the form of church government nor as to the manner of induction into church offices. No hints even as to a liturgy or form of prayer or order of general service of the sanctuary are given in their writings. Neither posture in prayer nor form of psalmody is prescribed. The questions as to the use of instrumental music, robes and written or extemporaneous prayers are left absolutely indeterminate. In the case of the sister sacrament of the Lord’s Supper the manner of celebrating it, by absolutely universal consent of all Christians, has been left to the free selection of each ecclesiastical community, some receiving it lying on couches, as the apostles did who received it from the hands of Christ, and some kneeling, and some standing, and some sitting; some using unleavened bread after the original example, and others insisting upon the bread of every-day life.

(Archibald Alexander Hodge, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes, [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1887], Lecture XVI: The Sacraments.—Baptism, p. 374.)
 Return to Article.

[5.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

We do no injustice to Cyprian when we make a distinction between his epistles and the canonical authority of the divine Scriptures. Apart from the Sacred canonical Scriptures, we may freely pass judgment on the writings of believers and disbelievers alike. [Nos enim nullam Cypriano facimus injuriam, cum ejus quaslibet litteras, a canonica divinarum Scripturarum auctoritate distinguimus. Neque enim sine causa tam salubri vigilantia canon ecclesiasticus constitutus est, ad quem certi Prophetarum et Apostolorum libri pertineant, quos omnino judicare non audeamus, et secundum quos de caeteris litteris vel fidelium vel infidelium libere judicemus.]

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXI, §. 39;
PL, 43:489-490; trans. A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine, trans. A. J. Pomerans, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961], p. 65.) Return to Article.

[6.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I am not bound by the authority of that epistle, because the writings of Cyprian are not canonical; but I examine them by the canonical scriptures, and whatever in them is agreeable to the authority of the divine scriptures I receive with applause; and what is not agreeable to it, with his good leave I reject. If you had recited somewhat from a canonical book of apostles or prophets, I should have nothing to object; but as your quotation is not canonical, I make use of that liberty to which the Lord has called us; and wherever Cyprian appears to differ from scripture, I receive it not, though he be above all my praises, though I compare not my writings to his, though I respect him as a man of excellent abilities, and a glorious martyr of Christ.

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXII, §. 40; PL, 43:490; trans. Nathaniel Lardner, The Credibility of the Gospel History, Chapter 117, §. 11.7; In: The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, D. D.: With a Life by Dr. Kippis: In Ten Volumes: Vol. IV, [London: John Dowding, 1827], p. 516.)

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

For that reason Cyprian’s epistles, which have no canonical authority must be judged according to their agreement with the authority of the divine writings. Thus we can accept from Cyprian only what agrees, and safely reject what does not agree, with Scripture [quia litteras Cypriani non ut canonicas habeo, sed eas ex canonicis considero, et quod in eis divinarum Scripturarum auctoritati congruit, cum laude ejus accipio; quod autem non congruit, cum pace ejus respuo].

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXII, §. 40; PL, 43:490; trans. A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine, trans. A. J. Pomerans, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961], p. 65.)

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Demonstrate, from any one of the canonical Apostles and Prophets, the truth of what Cyprian has written to Jubaianus: and I should then have no room for contradiction. But now, since what you produce is not canonical; through the liberty to which the Lord has called us, I receive not the decision even of a man, whose praise I cannot attain unto, with whose writings I presume not to compare my own writings, whose genius I love, with whose eloquence I am delighted, whose charity I admire, whose martyrdom I venerate. [Ac per hoc, si ea quæ commemorasti ab illo ad Jubaianum scripta, de aliquo libro Apostolorum vel Prophetarum canonico recitares, quid omnino contradicerem non haberem. Nunc vero quoniam canonicum non est quod recitas, ea libertate ad quam nos vocavit Dominus, ejus viri cujus laudem assequi non valeo, cujus multis litteris mea scripta non comparo, cujus ingenium diligo, cujus ore delector, cujus charitatem miror, cujus martyrium veneror, hoc quod aliter sapuit, non accipio.]

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. II, Cap. XXXII, §. 40; PL, 43:490; trans. George Stanley Faber, The Difficulties of Romanism in Respect to Evidence: In Two Books: The Third Edition, Revised and Remoulded, [London: Thomas Bosworth, 1853], p. 209.)
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[7.] Sed, ut dicere cœperam, non audiamus, Haæc dicis, hæc dico; sed audiamus, Hæc dicit Dominus. Sunt certe Libri dominici, quorum auctoritati utrique consentimus, utrique cedimus utrique servimus: ibi quæramus Ecclesiam, ibi discutiamus causam nostram.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But, as I was about to say, let us not hear, “You say this; I say that,” but let us hear, “The Lord says this.” There are certainly the Lord’s Books, whose authority we both accept, to which we both yield and we both obey: let us look for the Church there; let us examine our case there. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 3.5; PL, 43:394; trans. WSA, I/21:611.)
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[8.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

A human being can lie, but it is not possible for Truth to lie. From the womb of truth I recognize Christ, who is Truth itself, and from the words of Truth I recognize the Church, which participates in the Truth.

(Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 57, 6 [on verse 4]; PL, 36:679; trans. WSA, III/17:128.)
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[9.] Auferantur ergo illa de medio, quæ adversus nos invicem, non ex divinis canonicis Libris, sed aliunde recitamus.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let those things, then, be removed from our midst, which we both read not out of the Divine Canonical Books but elsewhere. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 3.5; PL, 43:395; trans. WSA, I/21:611.)
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[10.] Quia nolo humanis documentis, sed divinis oraculis sanctam Ecclesiam demonstrari.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Because I do not want the holy Church to be set forth by human proofs but by the divine oracles. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 3.6; PL, 43:395; trans. WSA, I/21:612.)
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[11.] Quicumque de ipso capite, ab Scripturis sanctis dissentiunt, etiamsi in omnibus locis inveniantur in quibus Ecclesia designata est, non sunt in Ecclesia.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Those who disagree with the Sacred Scriptures about that head [i.e. Christ], even if they are found in all places where the Church is represented, are not in the church. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 4.7; PL, 43:395-396; trans. WSA, I/21:613.)
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[12.] Nos hanc Ecclesiam tenemus, contra istas divinas voces nullas humanas criminationes admittimus.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

We ourselves hold to this Church and admit no human objections to these divine words. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 11.28; PL, 43:410; trans. WSA, I/21:634.)
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[13.] Nemo mihi dicat: O quid dixit Donatus, o quid dixit Parmenianus, aut Pontius, aut quilibet illorum! Quia nec catholicis episcopis consentiendum est, sicubi forte falluntur, ut contra canonicas Dei Scripturas aliquid sentiant.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

I have my shepherd’s clearest word, commending and portraying the Church to me without any ambiguity. It will be my fault if I choose to be seduced by the words of men and to wander from his flock, because it is the Church itself, especially since he warned me when he said, Those who are my sheep hear my voice and follow me (Jn 10:27). See how clear and plain his voice is. Once he who has heard it does not follow him, how will he dare to call himself his sheep? Let no one say to me, “Oh, what did Donatus say? Oh, what did Parmenian or Pontius or any one of them say?” Because there must be no commonality with Catholic bishops, they are sometimes by chance deceived into thinking something contrary to God’s canonical Scriptures. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 11.28; PL, 43:410-411; trans. WSA, I/21:634-635.)
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[14.] Remotis ergo omnibus talibus Ecclesiam suam demonstrent, si possunt, non in sermonibus et rumoribus Afrorum, non in conciliis episcoporum suorum, non in litteris quorumlibet disputatorum, non in signis et prodigiis fallacibus, quia etiam contra ista verbo Domini præparati et cauti redditi sumus: sed in præscripto Legis, in Prophetarum prædictis, in Psalmorum cantibus, in ipsius unius Pastoris vocibus, in Evangelistarum prædicationibus et laboribus, hoc est, in omnibus canonicis sanctorum Librorum auctoritatibus. Nec ita, ut ea colligant et commemorent, quæ obscure vel ambigue vel figurate dicta sunt, quæ quisque sicut voluerit, interpretetur secundum sensum suum. Talia enim recte intelligi exponique non possunt, nisi prius ea, quæ apertissime dicta sunt, firma fide teneantur.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Once they have distanced themselves from all of that, then, let them describe their church, if they can, not in the words and gossip of Africans, not by the councils of their own bishops, not by the writings of this or that polemicist, not by false signs and prodigies, because we have even been prepared for and warned against these by the Lord’s word, but rather by the prescripts of the law, by the foretellings of the prophets, by the songs of the Psalms, by the words of the one shepherd himself, by the preaching and labors of the apostles⸺in other words, by all the canonical authorities of the Holy Books, but not so that they may collect and repeat things that have been said obscurely or ambiguously or figuratively, which whoever wants to do so may interpret according to his own sense. For such [texts] cannot be understood and expounded correctly unless the things that are said with great clarity are first held with a firm faith. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 18.47; PL, 43:427-428; trans. WSA, I/21:660.)
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[15.] Ecclesia, quam sicut ipsum caput in Scripturis sanctis canonicis debemus agnoscere, non in variis hominum rumoribus, et opinionibus, et factis, et dictis, et visis inquirere.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

But no one attains salvation and eternal life itself unless he has Christ as his head. No one, however, will be able to have Christ as his head unless he is in his body, which is the Church, which we must recognize in the Holy Canonical Scriptures, just as we do the head itself, rather than looking for it in the various rumors and opinions and deeds and words and visions of men. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 19.49; PL, 43:429; trans. WSA, I/21:662-663.)
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[16.] Sed utrum ipsi Ecclesiam teneant, non nisi de divinarum Scripturarum canonicis libris ostendant: quia nec nos propterea dicimus nobis credi oportere quod in Ecclesia Christi sumus, quia ipsam quam tenemus, commendavit Milevitanus Optatus, vel Mediolanensis Ambrosius, vel alii innumerabiles nostræ communionis episcopi; aut quia nostrorum collegarum conciliis ipsa prædicata est; aut quia per totum orbem in locis sanctis, quæ frequentat nostra communio, tanta mirabilia vel exauditionum, vel sanitatum fiunt…

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.): 

But let them not show that they hold to the Church except from the canonical books of the Divine Scriptures. For we ourselves do not say that we should be believed that we are in Christ’s Church because Optatus of Mievis or Ambrose of Milan or countless other bishops of our communion have commended that very thing which we hold to; or because it was foretold in the councils of our colleagues; or because in the holy places throughout the world that our communion frequents great miracles take place, when prayers are hearkened to and healings occur, such that the bodies of martyrs that had lain hidden for many years⸺which those who are interested can hear from may people⸺would be revealed to Ambrose and that a man blind for many years and very well known in the city of Milan would gain the use of his eyes near those bodies; or because someone had a vision and, while in a state of ecstasy, heard either that he should not go to the party of Donatus or that he should withdraw from the party of Donatus. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 19.50; PL, 43:430; trans. WSA, I/21:663-664.)
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[17.] Quæcumque talia in Catholica fiunt, ideo sunt approbanda, quia in Catholica fiunt; non ideo ipsa manifestatur Catholica, quia hæc in ea fiunt. Ipse Dominus Jesus cum resurrexisset a mortuis . . . eos [i.e., discipulos] testimoniis Legis et Prophetarum et Psalmorum confirmandos esse judicavit… Hæc sunt causæ nostræ documenta, hæc fundamenta, hæc firmamenta. 51. Legimus in Actibus Apostolorum dictum de quibusdam credentibus, quod quotidie scrutarentur Scripturas, an hæc ita se haberent: quas utique Scripturas, nisi canonicas Legis et Prophetarum? Huc accesserunt Evangelia, apostolicæ Epistolæ, Actus Apostolorum, Apocalypsis Joannis.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.): 

Whatever things like that happen in the Catholic Church should be approved because they take place in the Catholic Church, not because the Catholic Church itself is proven because these things happen in it. When the Lord Jesus himself had risen from the dead and offered his body to be seen by the eyes of his disciples and touched by their hands, he judged it better that they should be strengthened by testimonies from the law and the prophets and the Psalms, lest they think that they were still suffering from a delusion; in this way he showed that the things that had been foretold about him so long before had been fulfilled. He also commended his Church when he said that in his name repentance and the forgiveness of sins are to be preached throughout all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. He himself testified that this was written in the law and the prophets and the psalms; we hold to it as having been commended to us by his mouth. These are the proofs for our case; these are the fundamentals; these are the foundations. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that it says of certain believers that they would examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Which scriptures, indeed, if not the canonical ones of the law and the prophets? To these were added the Gospels, the apostolic epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 19.50-51; PL, 43:430; trans. WSA, I/21:664-665.)
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[18.] Quod si nolunt intelligere, sufficit nobis quod eam tenemus Ecclesiam, quæ manifestissimis sanctarum et canonicarum Scripturarum testimoniis demonstratur.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.): 

If they do not want to understand this, it is enough for us that we hold to the Church that is shown forth by the clearest testimonies of the holy and canonical Scriptures. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Letter to Catholics on the Sect of the Donatists, 22.62; PL, 43:437; trans. WSA, I/21:)
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[19.] Full. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Furthermore, although there is no certain example can be brought out of the canonical scriptures of this thing, yet in this very thing do we hold the truth, when we do that which pleaseth the whole church, which the authority of the scriptures themselves commendeth; that seeing the holy scripture cannot deceive, whosoever fears to be deceived in the obscurity of this question, (whether heretics are to be again baptized,) let him consult the same church concerning it, which the scripture demonstrateth without any ambiguity.

(S. Augustini, Contra Cresconium Donatistam, Lib. I, Cap. XXXIII, §. 39; PL, 43:466; trans. William Beveridge, Ecclesia Anglicana Ecclesia Catholica: Or the Doctrine of the Church of England: In Two Volumes: Vol. II, [Oxford At the University Press, 1840], Article XX, pp. 127-128.)

Cf. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England: Article: XX. The Authority of the Church:

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

(The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, Article 20; trans. Philip Schaff, Bibliotheca Symbolica Ecclesiæ Universalis: The Creeds of Christendom, With a History and Critical Notes: In Three Volumes: Volume III, [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877], p. 500.) See also: ccel.org.

Note: Historical Protestant confessions are in full agreement with Augustine.
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[20.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think that ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of me;” “If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me, for he wrote of me;” “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;” “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one rose from the dead.” What have you to say for yourselves? Where is your authority? If you reject these passages of Scripture, in spite of the weighty authority in their favor, what miracles can you show? However, if you did work miracles, we should be on our guard against receiving their evidence in your case; for the Lord has forewarned us: “Many false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall do many signs and wonders, that they may deceive, if it were possible, the very elect: behold, I have told you before.” This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other [nihil credi voluit adversus confirmatam Scripturarum auctoritatem]; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence.

(Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichæan, 13.5; trans. NPNF1, 4:201.) See also: ccel.org.
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[21.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

And yet even in regard of them, (a thing which ye ought especially to observe, and to commit to your memory, because that which shall make us strong against insidious errors, God has been pleased to put in the Scriptures, against which no man dares to speak, who in any sort wishes to seem a Christian), when He had given Himself to be handled by them, that did not suffice Him, but He would also confirm by means of the Scriptures the heart of them that believe: for He looked forward to us who should be afterwards; seeing that in Him we have nothing that we can handle, but have that which we may read. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Hom. 2 [1 John II. 12–17], §. 1; PL, 35:1989; trans. NPNF1, 7:469.) See also: ccel.org.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

And yet for them—something that you ought especially to notice and commit to your memory because against treacherous errors God wanted to put a buttress in the Scriptures against which no one would dare to speak who in any way wanted himself to be seen as a Christian—when he offered himself to be touched, it was not sufficient for him unless from the Scriptures he might confirm the hearts of the believers. For he foresaw that we would come after them, for in him we do not have something to touch but we do have something to read. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the First Epistle of John 1-10, Tractate 2.3; PL, 35:1989 [Tractatus 2.1]; trans. FC, 92:142.)
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[22.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope, charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.

(Augustine of Hippo, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), 2.9.14; PL, 34:42; trans. WSA, I/11:135.)
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[23.] Full text. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise,” that they should begin by belief in the Scriptures, who would arrive at the knowledge of Thy glory: which hath been raised above the Scriptures, in that it passeth by and transcends the announcements of all words and languages. Therefore hath God lowered the Scriptures even to the capacity of babes and sucklings, as it is sung in another Psalm, “And He lowered the heaven, and came down:” and this did He because of the enemies, who through pride of talkativeness, being enemies of the cross of Christ, even when they do speak some truth, still cannot profit babes and sucklings. So is the enemy and defender destroyed, who, whether he seem to defend wisdom, or even the name of Christ, still, from the step of this faith, assaults that truth, which he so readily makes promise of. Whereby too he is convicted of not possessing it; since by assaulting the step thereof, namely faith, he knows not how one should mount up thereto. Hence then is the rash and blind promiser of truth, who is the enemy and defender, destroyed, when the heavens, the works of God’s fingers, are seen, that is, when the Scriptures, brought down even to the slowness of babes, are understood; and by means of the lowness of the faith of the history, which was transacted in time, they raise them, well nurtured and strengthened, unto the grand height of the understanding of things eternal, up to those things which they establish. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 8.8; trans. NPNF1, 8:29. Cf. WSA, III/15:133.) See also: ccel.org.

Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Out of the mouths of infants and suckling children you have perfected praise, in the sense that those who want to gain knowledge of your magnificence should begin from belief in the scriptures. Your magnificence is raised above the scriptures because it surpasses and stretches beyond the proclamations of all words and tongues. Therefore God has brought the scriptures right down within the range of infants and nurslings, as is sung in another psalm: He bowed the heavens and came down (Ps 17:10(18:9)). This he did on account of his enemies who, being enemies of the cross of Christ through their pride and talkativeness, cannot be of any use to infants and nurslings, even when they say some things that are true. This is how the enemy-cum-defender is toppled. Whether it is wisdom or the very name of Christ which he gives the impression of upholding, nonetheless it is from the step of this very faith that he mounts his attack on that truth which he is so ready to promise. It is crystal-clear that he does not have the truth, for by attacking its first step, which is faith, he proves he has not the faintest idea how to climb up to it. By this means, therefore, that rash and blind person who promises truth but who is also its enemy-cum-defender is toppled. This happens when the heavens are seen as the works of God’s fingers, that is, when the scriptures, brought right down to the slowness of babies’ comprehension, are understood. They raise these infants up to the very things of which they tell with such conviction; but the infants are now well nurtured and strengthened to scale the heights and understand things eternal, through the humility of faith rooted in a history which has been worked out within time. 

(Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms, 8.8; trans. WSA, III/15:133.)
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[24.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Now, they would hardly think it right that they should for that reason be held in contempt by the Egyptian monk Antony, a just and holy man, who, not being able to read himself, is said to have committed the Scriptures to memory through hearing them read by others, and by dint of wise meditation to have arrived at a thorough understanding of them; or by that barbarian slave Christianus, of whom I have lately heard from very respectable and trustworthy witnesses, who, without any teaching from man, attained a full knowledge of the art of reading simply through prayer that it might be revealed to him; after three days’ supplication obtaining his request that he might read through a book presented to him on the spot by the astonished bystanders.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, Preface, §. 4; trans. NPNF1, 2:519-520.) See also: ccel.org.
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[25.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

He who reads to an audience pronounces aloud the words he sees before him: he who teaches reading, does it that others may be able to read for themselves. Each, however, communicates to others what he has learnt himself. Just so, the man who explains to an audience the passages of Scripture he understands is like one who reads aloud the words before him. On the other hand, the man who lays down rules for interpretation is like one who teaches reading, that is, shows others how to read for themselves. So that, just as he who knows how to read is not dependent on some one else, when he finds a book, to tell him what is written in it, so the man who is in possession of the rules which I here attempt to lay down, if he meet with an obscure passage in the books which he reads, will not need an interpreter to lay open the secret to him, but, holding fast by certain rules, and following up certain indications, will arrive at the hidden sense without any error, or at least without falling into any gross absurdity. 

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, Preface, §. 9; trans. NPNF1, 2:521.) See also: ccel.org.
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[26.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 2.6.8; trans. NPNF1, 2:537.) See also: ccel.org.
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[27.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 2.9.14; trans. NPNF1, 2:539.) See also: ccel.org.
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[27.5] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     Now from the places where the sense in which they are used is more manifest we must gather the sense in which they are to be understood in obscure passages.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 3.26.37; trans. NPNF1, 2:566.) See also: ccel.org. Return to Article.

[27.6] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

     When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth. And if a man in searching the Scriptures endeavours to get at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit spake, whether he succeeds in this endeavour, or whether he draws a different meaning from the words, but one that is not opposed to sound doctrine, he is free from blame so long as he is supported by the testimony of some other passage of Scripture.

(Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 3.27.38; trans. NPNF1, 2:567.) See also: ccel.org. Return to Article.

[28.] Context. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

You can find nothing better than to praise your own faith and ridicule mine. So, after having in my turn praised my belief and ridiculed yours, what result do you think we shall arrive at as regards our judgment and our conduct, but to part company with those who promise the knowledge of indubitable things, and then demand from us faith in doubtful things? while we shall follow those who invite us to begin with believing what we cannot yet fully perceive, that, strengthened by this very faith, we may come into a position to know what we believe by the inward illumination and confirmation of our minds, due no longer to men, but to God Himself.

(Augustine of Hippo, Against the Epistle of Manichæus, Called Fundamental, 14.17; trans. NPNF1, 4:136.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

Let me hear and understand how in the beginning Thou didst make the heaven and the earth. Moses wrote this; he wrote and departed,—passed hence from Thee to Thee. Nor now is he before me; for if he were I would hold him, and ask him, and would adjure him by Thee that he would open unto me these things, and I would lend the ears of my body to the sounds bursting forth from his mouth. And should he speak in the Hebrew tongue, in vain would it beat on my senses, nor would aught touch my mind; but if in Latin, I should know what he said. But whence should I know whether he said what was true? But if I knew this even, should I know it from him? Verily within me, within in the chamber of my thought, Truth, neither Hebrew, nor Greek, nor Latin, nor barbarian, without the organs of voice and tongue, without the sound of syllables, would say, “He speaks the truth,” and I, forthwith assured of it, confidently would say unto that man of Thine, “Thou speakest the truth.” As, then, I cannot inquire of him, I beseech Thee,—Thee, O Truth, full of whom he spake truth,—Thee, my God, I beseech, forgive my sins; and do Thou, who didst give to that Thy servant to speak these things, grant to me also to understand them.

(Augustine, The Confessions, 11.3.5; trans. NPNF1, 1:164-165.) See also: ccel.org.

Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

That statement, therefore, which occurs in the gospel, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every one that cometh into the world,” has this meaning, that no man is illuminated except with that Light of the truth, which is God; so that no person must think that he is enlightened by him whom he listens to as a learner, although that instructor happen to be—I will not say, any great man—but even an angel himself. For the word of truth is applied to man externally by the ministry of a bodily voice, but yet “neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” Man indeed hears the speaker, be he man or angel, but in order that he may perceive and know that what is said is true, his mind is internally besprinkled with that light which remains for ever, and which shines even in darkness. But just as the sun is not seen by the blind, though they are clothed as it were with its rays, so is the light of truth not understood by the darkness of folly.

(Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, 1.37; trans. NPNF1, 5:29.) See also: ccel.org.
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[29.] Alt. Trans. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

By the mouth of God, which is the truth, I know the Church of God which is partaker of the truth [Ex veritatis ore agnosco Ecclesiam participem veritatis].

(S. Augustini, In Psalmum LVII Enarratio, §. 6 [vers. 4]; PL, 36:679; trans. Humphrey Lynde, “The By-Way (Via Devia),” 18; In: Supplement to Gibson’s Preservative Against Popery: Vol. IV: Sir Humphrey Lynde’s Via Tuta and Via Devia, [London: Published by the British Society for Promoting the Religious Principles of the Reformation, 1850], p. 279. Cf. WSA, III/17:128.)
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[30.] Original. Richard Hooker:

     Yea, that which is more, utterly to infringe the force and strength of man’s testimony were to shake the very fortress of God’s truth. For whatsoever we believe concerning salvation by Christ, although the Scripture be therein the ground of our belief; yet the authority of man is, if we mark it, the key which openeth the door of entrance into the knowledge of the Scripture. The Scripture could not teach us the things that are of God, unless we did credit men who have taught us that the words of Scripture do signify those things. Some way therefore, notwithstanding man’s infirmity, yet his authority may enforce assent.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2.7.3; In: The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker: With an Account of His Life and Death: Seventh Edition: Vol. I, ed. John Keble, rev. by R. W. Church & F. Paget, [Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1888], p. 321.) See also: ofthelaws.com.
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[31.] Cf. J. K. S. Reid:

     If Manichaeism had earlier appeared to Augustine attractive because it appealed to proof and reason, how much more the Christian faith when firmly based on Scripture! His apologetic invitation to the hostile and the indifferent is contained in the lapidary phrase: Intellige ut credas; crede ut intelligas (understand in order to believe; believe in order to understand) (Sermo, 43.7, of: Ep, 120.3, de Trin, 1.1.1). Here faith and understanding are held in fruitful tension; and here too Scripture has a crucially important role. “The Holy Scriptures,” says Augustine (Ep, 120.3.13), “which persuade us to have faith in great matters before we understand them, cannot themselves be useful to you unless you rightly understand them.” Augustine never trivializes, and he never over-simplifies. He will neither endorse the peremptory demand for a sacrificium intellectus (that intellect be sacrificed), nor concede the claim that understanding must precede belief: he will side neither with the later existentialist who proposes a trivial Pascal’s wager, nor with the rationalist who insists on knowing all from outside at the very start. His view rather is: “Authority has precedence in time, reason in inner reality” (de Ordine, 2.9.26). It is in the light of this clear understanding of the issues involved that we have to interpret his famous phrase on which Roman Catholics and Protestants are apt to come to loggerheads if not to blows, that ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas (I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the catholic Church moved me thereto). Augustine touches here what is perhaps the crucial issue in Apologetics, and as we might expect does not fail to illumine it. The former adherent of Manichaeism who preferred argument to the authoritarianism he found in the Church is not likely to surrender the value embedded in this position upon his conversion to the Church’s teaching. On the other hand he has too great insight to think that God constrains men to belief by mindless pressures.

(J. K. S. Reid, Christian Apologetics, [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1970], pp. 84-85.)
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[32.] Cf. Christopher Wordsworth:

The Church presents us with a Volume, called the HOLY BIBLE, containing writings which she affirms to be inspired by God. But, observe, she does not require us to receive them on her sole authority. The Church of England does not found the claims of the English Bible on the sanction of the existing English Church. No: she appeals to the testimony of the Church Universal, in and from the time of Christ and His Apostles to this hour. “In the name of the HOLY SCRIPTURES,” she says, in her sixth Article, “we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.” Thus the Church of England takes us as it were by the hand, and leads us upward by an ascending scale of past generations, and places us on the elevated platform of primitive Christianity; she lands us, as it were, on a mountain of transfiguration, in the company of Moses, and Elias, and the Apostles, and of CHRIST HIMSELF

(Christopher Wordsworth, On the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture: Or, On the Canon of the Old and New Testament, and on the Apocrypha: Twelve Lectures, Delivered Before the University of Cambridge: From the Last London Edition, [Philadelphia: Herman Hooker, 1854], Lecture I, pp. 23-24.)

Cf. W. G. T. Shedd:

The individual, in the opinion of Augustine, is to respect the authority of the Church in seeking an answer to the questions: What books are canonical, and what apocryphal? and what is the doctrinal system contained in them? In answering these questions, he contended, that the Church universal had an authority higher than that of any one member; and higher, particularly, than a man like Manichaeus who claimed to be an inspired apostle. When therefore, a single individual, or a particular party like the Manichaeans, insisted that they were right in rejecting certain portions of the canon that had been, and still were, deemed canonical by the Church at large, and in deriving from the portions of it which they acknowledged to be of divine authority, a set of doctrines respecting the origin and nature of evil, such as the apostolic and catholic Church did not find in the scriptures,—when the individual, and the heretical party, in this way opposed their private judgment to the catholic judgment, Augustine denies the reasonableness of the procedure. He affirms the greater probability of the correctness of the Catholic Mind, in comparison with the Heretical or Schismatic Mind, and thereby the authority of the Church in relation to the individual, without dreaming however of affirming its absolute infallibility,—an attribute which he confines to the written revelation.

     The position which the Church sustains to the individual is indicated, remarks Augustine, in the words of the Samaritans to the Samaritan woman: “Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John iv. 42). The individual first hears the concurrent testimony of the great body of believers in every age, and then verifies it for himself. He finds a general unanimity in the Church catholic respecting the canonical and apocryphal books, and also respecting their meaning and doctrinal contents. He goes to the examination with the natural expectation of finding that the general judgment is a correct one, and in so far, he comes under the influence of traditional or catholic opinions. This is the “ecclesiastical authority” which has weight with him. At the same time he exercises the right of private judgment; the right namely to examine the general judgment and to perceive its correctness with his own eyes. The Samaritans put confidence in the testimony of the woman, but at the same time they went and saw, and heard for themselves. They came into agreement with her by an active, and not by a passive method. In employing this illustration, Augustine adopts the Protestant, and opposes the Papal theory of tradition and authority. The Papist’s method of agreeing with the catholic judgment is passive. He denies that the individual may intelligently verify the position of the Church for himself, because the Church is infallible, and consequently there is no possibility of its being in error. The individual is therefore shut up to a mechanical and passive reception of the catholic decision. The Protestant, on the other hand, though affirming the high probability that the general judgment is correct, does not assert the infallible certainty that it is. It is conceivable and possible that the Church may err. Hence the duty of the individual, while cherishing an antecedent confidence in the decisions of the Church, to examine these decisions in the light of the written word, and convert this presumption into an intelligent perception, or else demonstrate their falsity beyond dispute. “Neither ought I to bring forward the authority of the Nicene Council,” says Augustine (Contra Maximianum Arianum II. xiv. 3), “nor you that of Ariminum, in order to prejudge the case. I ought not to be bound (detentum) by the authority of the latter, nor you by that of the former. Under the authority of the Scriptures,[GIESELER (History, Vol. I. § 90) remarks, that down to the council of Chalcedon, in 451, “in answering opponents men did not endeavour to prove [merely] that the council was oecumenical, but [also] that its decision was true according to scripture and tradition.”] not those received by particular sects, but those received by all in common, let the disputation be carried on, in respect to each and every particular.”[AUGUSTINE’S mind, while he was inquiring and doubting, and before he attained to Christian faith, was much influenced by the fact that the scriptures and the Christian system were the faith of the world. He argued that God would not have permitted a system of error to have obtained such universal currency, and so wide-spread influence. “Since we are too weak to find out truth by abstract reasonings, and for this very cause need the authority of Holy Writ, I began to believe that Thou wouldest never have given such excellency of authority to Scripture in all lands, hadst Thou not willed thereby to be sought and believed in. . . . . . . It is no vain and empty thing, that the excellent dignity of the authority of the Christian faith hath overspread the whole world.” Confessions, VI. v. xi. TERTULLIAN: (De praescriptionibus, c. 28, 29) employs the same reasoning. “Is it possible that so many churches, and so great ones, should have gone astray into the same erroneous belief? Never is there one result among many chances. In case the doctrinal system of the churches were error there must have been variety in its forms and statements. But where one and the same thing is found amongst many, this is not error but catholic tradition. . . . . Is it probable that a gospel of error was preach- ed through the whole earth; that all mankind erroneously believed it; that so many thousands of thousands were baptized into error; that so many works of faith and miracles were wrought by error; and finally that so many martyrdoms in behalf of error were erroneously crowned?”]

(William G. T. Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine: In Two Volumes: Vol. I, [New York: Charles Scribner, 1864], pp. 146-150.)
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[33.] Cf. George Florovsky (Eastern Orthodox Theologian and Historian):

In the same sense we have to interpret the well-known and justly startling statement of Augustine: “Ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas” (“Indeed, I should not have believed the gospel, if the authority of the catholic church had not moved me”). This sentence must be read in its context. Augustine did not utter it on his own behalf. He spoke of the attitude which a simple believer has to take when confronted with a heretical claim for authority. In this situation it is proper for a simple believer to appeal to the authority of the church, from which and in which he has received the gospel itself: “ipsi evangelio catholicis praedicantibus credidi” (“I believed the gospel itself, being instructed by catholic preachers”). The gospel and the preaching of the catholici belong together. Augustine had no intention to subordinate the gospel to the church. He merely wanted to emphasize that the gospel is always received in the context of the church’s catholic preaching and simply cannot be separated from the church. Only in this context can it be assessed and properly understood. Indeed, the witness of the Scripture is ultimately self-evident, but only for the faithful, for those who have achieved a certain spiritual maturity; and this is possible only within the church. He contrasted this teaching and preaching auctoritas of the church catholic with the pretentious vagaries of Manichean exegesis. The gospel did not belong to the Manicheans. Catholicae ecclesiae auctoritas (the authority of the catholic church) was not an independent source of faith. But it was the indispensable principle of sound interpretation. Actually, the sentence could be converted: one should not believe the church, unless one is moved by the gospel. The relationship is strictly reciprocal.

(George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader: Second Edition, ed. Daniel B. Clendenin, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], p. 114. Cf. George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church;” In: Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View: Volume One in the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, [Belmont: Nordland Publishing Company, 1972], pp. 91-92.)

Cf. Keith A. Mathison (Protestant Historian and Theologian):

In this Augustine is in agreement with the earlier fathers who insisted on the necessary role of the Church. The evidence simply does not support later medieval concepts of a Church that has metaphysical priority over Holy Scripture. This interpretation (which persists today) stems from taking one sentence out of context and reading far more into it than that context will allow.

(Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, [Moscow: Canon Press, 2001], p. 42.)

Cf. Martin Chemnitz:

     2 This tradition, by which the books of the Holy Scripture are given into our hands, we receive reverently; but this does not support the papalists, who are fighting for dogmas which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture. For by this tradition the church confesses that it is bound to that voice of doctrine which sounds forth in the Scripture, and when it passes on this tradition, it teaches that posterity also is bound to the Scripture. And in the time of the fathers those who sought the truth in the church were led to the Scriptures, as can be seen from Augustine in De catechizandis rudibus.

     And in Contra epistolam Manichaei, ch. 5, Augustine tells how he had been led to the faith of the Catholic church. For he says that he had heeded the Catholics who praised the Gospel and said: “Believe the Gospel.” And there he introduces the common saying: “Indeed, I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic church did not move me.” By the witness of the church, therefore, he was moved to read the Gospel and to believe that the divinely revealed doctrine is contained in it. But does he, after he has come to faith in the Gospel, promise that he would believe the church more than the Gospel if the church should decree or teach something which is either against the Gospel or which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture? This certainly he does not say. Rather, elsewhere he pronounces the anathema on those who preach anything outside of the things which we have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospel. And in that same place he says that because he believes the Gospel, he cannot believe Manichaeus, because he does not read anything there about the apostleship of Manichaeus. Therefore this second kind of traditions leads us to the Scripture and binds us to the voice of doctrine that sounds forth in it, to the point that the axiom of the papalists “that many dogmas must be received which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture” is not proved by it.

(Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Part I, trans. Fred Kramer, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], 2.2.2, pp. 227-228.)

Cf. Mark D. Thompson:

In 397, Augustine wrote Against the Basic Letter of the Manichees, in which he explained, “Indeed I would not have believed the Gospel except the authority of the Catholic Church roused me to action.” From the context of this quote, it is clear that Augustine was not insisting on a contingent authority of Scripture, one that depended on the prior authority of the church. Instead, he was insisting that the church that promotes the gospel rejects the doctrine of the Manichaeans. In this light the claim that Mani was a genuine apostle of Jesus Christ had to be seen as spurious. The enduring principle to which he was appealing was that the catholic church is the proper context for reading, understanding, and appealing to Scripture. Indeed, it was in this context that Augustine himself came to faith in Christ as the church pointed him to the Scriptures. Yet this church sat under the authority of apostolic teaching in the Scriptures, not over it. It pointed to the authoritative text as it fulfilled its own role as guardian and witness; it did not invest that text with authority. The other frequently cited comments of Augustine make this point clear.

(Mark D. Thompson, “Sola Scriptura;” In: Matthew Barrett, ed., Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2017], pp. 147-148.)

Cf. Mark D. Thompson:

Augustine was not suggesting that the authority of the Catholic Church is greater than that of Holy Scripture, nor did he consider Scripture to be somehow inadequate or insufficient for Christian living or the formulation of Christian doctrine. Certainly he recognised the Church as the authoritative context for biblical study, as well as her authoritative direction to believe what is written there. Nevertheless, one extraordinary difference separated Scripture and the teaching of the Church. In his treatise On Baptism, Augustine explained:

However, who does not know that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is contained within its own established limits, and that it is to be preferred to all later letters of bishops to such a degree, that it ought not to be possible to doubt or dispute at all, whether anything established as written in it is true or right (utrum uerum uel utrum rectum sit quidquid in ea scriptum esse constiterit)? But on the other hand, the letters of bishops which have been written or are being written, since the closing of the canon (post confirmatum canonem), may be refuted if there be anything in them which by chance deviates from the truth (forte a ueritate deuiatum est).[Augustine, De Baptismo contra Donatistas, II.3 (4) (CSEL, LI, 178).]

The foundation of his argument here is the assumption of a closed canon and therefore an unalterable body of biblical material. In contrast he reminded his readers that the teaching of bishops remains susceptible to refutation by other more learned people, by more experienced bishops, or by the authority of Church Councils. Further, even the authority of universal councils is relative. Their decisions can be altered by other, later councils. Only Holy Scripture stands above and beyond contradiction or correction.[Augustine, De Baptismo contra Donatistas, II.3 (4) (CSEL, LI, 178).] Augustine was remarkably consistent at this point, even insisting that anyone who reads his own work should be ‘not only a pious reader but a free corrector (non solum pium lectorem sed etiam liberum correctorem)’. He followed these words with a warning: ‘Do not desire to serve my writings as [you would] canonical Scripture (Noli meis litteris quasi scripturis canonicis inseruire)’.[Augustine, De Trinitate, III. pr. 2 (CCSL, L, 128).]

(Mark D. Thompson, Paternoster: Studies in Christian History and Thought: A Sure Ground on Which to Stand: The Relation of Authority and Interpretive Method in Luther’s Approach to Scripture, [Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006; Previously published by Paternoster, 2004], p. 29.)

Cf. John Calvin: 

     Indeed, I know that statement of Augustine is commonly referred to, that he would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not move him to do so. But it is easy to grasp from the context how wrongly and deceptively they interpret this passage. Augustine was there concerned with the Manichees, who wished to be believed without controversy when they claimed, but did not demonstrate, that they themselves possessed the truth. Because in fact they used the gospel as a cloak to promote faith in their Mani, Augustine asks: “What would they do if they were to light upon a man who does not even believe in the gospel? By what kind of persuasion would they bring him around to their opinion?” Then he adds, “Indeed, I would not believe the gospel,” etc., meaning that if he were alien to the faith, he could not be led to embrace the gospel as the certain truth of God unless constrained by the authority of the church. And what wonder if someone, not yet having known Christ, should have respect for men! Augustine is not, therefore, teaching that the faith of godly men is founded on the authority of the church; nor does he hold the view that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it. He is simply teaching that there would be no certainty of the gospel for unbelievers to win them to Christ if the consensus of the church did not impel them. And this he clearly confirms a little later, saying: “When I praise what I believe, and laugh at what you believe, how do you think we are to judge, or what are we to do? Should we not forsake those who invite us to a knowledge of things certain and then bid us believe things uncertain? Must we follow those who invite us first to believe what we are not yet strong enough to see, that, strengthened by this very faith, we may become worthy to comprehend what we believe [Col. 1:4-11, 23]—with God himself, not men, now inwardly strengthening and illumining our mind?”[Augustine, Contra epistolam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti xiv (MPL 42. 183; tr. NPNF IV. 136).]

     These are Augustine’s very words. From them it is easy for anyone to infer that the holy man’s intention was not to make the faith that we hold in the Scriptures depend upon the assent or judgment of the church. He only meant to indicate what we also confess as true: those who have not yet been illumined by the Spirit of God are rendered teachable by reverence for the church, so that they may persevere in learning faith in Christ from the gospel. Thus, he avers, the authority of the church is an introduction through which we are prepared for faith in the gospel. For, as we see, he wants the certainty of the godly to rest upon a far different foundation. I do not deny that elsewhere, when he wishes to defend Scripture, which they repudiate, he often presses the Manichees with the consensus of the whole church. Hence, he reproaches Faustus[Augustine, De ordine II. ix. 27-x. 28 (MPL 32.1007 f.; tr. R. P. Russell, Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil: A Translation of Augustine’s De ordine, pp. 122-127); Against Faustus the Manichee xxxii. 19 (MPL 42. 509; tr. NPNF IV. 399).] for not submitting to the gospel truth so firm, so stable, celebrated with such glory, and handed down from the time of the apostles through a sure succession. But it never occurs to him to teach that the authority which we ascribe to Scripture depends upon the definition or decree of men. He puts forward only the universal judgment of the church, in which he was superior to his adversaries, because of its very great value in this case. If anyone desires a fuller proof of this, let him read Augustine’s little book The Usefulness of Belief.[Augustine, The Usefulness of Belief i. 2, 3 (MPL 42. 65 ff.; tr. LCC VI. 292 ff.).] There he will find that the author recommends no other inducement to believe except what may provide us with an approach and be a suitable beginning for inquiry, as he himself says; yet we should not acquiesce in mere opinion, but should rely on sure and firm truth. 

(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.3; In: The Library of Christian Classics: Volume XX: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: In Two Volumes (Vol. XX: Books I.i to III.xix), ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960], pp. 76-78.)

Cf. B. B. Warfield:

     In the same line follow all the Reformers, and much the same mode of statement may be read, for example, in Butzer, or Calvin, or Bullinger, or Peter Martyr. “I will not now remember”, writes Bullinger,[Decades, v. 2 (Parker Soc. ed. iv, p. 67).] “how by manifest words the standard bearers of that see do write, that the Canonical Scripture taketh her authority of the Church, abusing the sentence of the ancient father St. Augustine, ‘I would not have believed the Gospel, if the authority of the early Church had not moved me’.” . . . How they abused it Peter Martyr tells us more fully:[Loci Communes, Zurich, 1580, i. 251 (iii. 3. 2).] “But they say that Augustine writes Against the Epistola Fundamenti, ‘I would not believe the Gospel except the authority of the Church moved me’. But Augustine wished to signify by these words nothing else than that much is to be attributed to the ministry of the Church which proposes, preaches, and teaches the Gospel to believers. For who of us came to Christ or believed the Gospel except as excited by the preaching of the Gospel which is done in the Church? It cannot be inferred from this, however, that the authority of the Gospel hangs on the Church in the minds of the auditors. For if that were true, long ago the Epicureans and Turks had been persuaded . . . .” As was to be expected it was Calvin who gives us the solidest piece of reasoning upon the subject. The gist of what he says is that Augustine was not setting forth the source whence the Gospel derives its authority, but the instrument by which men may be led to recognize that authority. The unbeliever, he remarks, may well be brought to trust the Gospel by the consent of the Church; but the believer’s trust in the Gospel finds its authority not in the Church, but in the Gospel itself, and this is logically prior to that of the Church, though no doubt, it may be chronologically recognized last by the inquirer. The Church may thus bring us to the Gospel and commend the Gospel to us; but when we have accepted the Gospel our confidence in it rests on something far more fundamental than the Church. Augustine, he insists, “did not have in mind to suspend the faith which we have in the Scriptures on the will and pleasure (nutu arbitrioque) of the Church, but only to point out, what we too confess to be true, that those who are not yet illuminated by the Spirit of God, are by reverence for the Church brought to docility so as to learn from the Gospel the faith of Christ; and that the authority of the Church is in this way an introduction, by which we are prepared for the faith of the Gospel”. Augustine is perfectly right, then, he continues, to urge on the Manichæans the universal consent of the Church as a reason why they should come believingly to the Scriptures, but the ground of our faith in the Scriptures as a revelation of truth is that they are from God.[Institutes, i. 7. 3. Calvin very appositely points out that Augustine in the immediately preceding context represents the proper course to be to “follow those who invite us first to believe what we are not yet able to see, that, being made able by this very faith, we may deserve to understand what we believe, our mind being now inwardly strengthened and illuminated not by men but by God Himself” (c. 5). In these words, Calvin remarks, Augustine grounds our confidence in the Gospel on the internal operation of God Himself upon our minds. Cf. below, note 88.]

(B. B. Warfield, “Augustine’s Doctrine of Knowledge and Authority;” In: The Princeton Theological Review: Volume V: 1907, eds. Francis L. Patton, et al., [Princeton: The Princeton University Press, 1907], October 1907, Number 4, pp. 559-560.)

Cf. B. B. Warfield:

We reserve for the moment comment on “the celebrated declaration” from the Contra Epist. Man. Fund. and content ourselves with observing that if it indeed implies that Augustine based the authority of Scripture on that of the “living” Church, it receives no support from the companion passages cited. They certainly appeal to the “historical” Church, that is to say adduce the testimony of the Church extended in time rather than the bare authority of the Church extended in space. So clear is this in the latter case[Contra Faustum Manichaeum, xxviii, 2.] that Augustine in it sets the testimony of the Manichæans to the genuineness of their founder’s writings side by side, as the same in kind, with the testimony of the Church to the genuineness of the Apostolic writings. I believe, he says, that the book you produce is really Manichæus’, because from the days of Manichæus until to-day it has been kept in continuous possession and estimation as his, in the society of the Manichæans: similarly you must believe that the book we produce as Matthew’s is his on the same kind of testimony in the Church. To the fixed succession of bishops among the Christians is assigned no different kind of authority than is allowed to the fixed succession of presiding officers among the Manichæans; in both alike this succession is adduced merely as a safeguard for trustworthy transmission. No doubt Augustine represents the testimony of the Church as indefinitely more worthy of credit than that of the Manichæans, but this is a different matter: gradus non mutant speciem. Similarly, in the former citation[Ibid., xxii. 79.] Augustine’s appeal is not specifically to the Church of his time, but to the “holy and learned men” who were living in the time of the writers—real or alleged—of the books in question, who, he says, would be in position to know the truth of the matter. Nothing can be clearer in this case either, than that the point of Augustine’s argument turns on the validity of the testimony of the Church, not on the dogmatic authority of the Church.

     The note struck by these passages is sustained in all Augustine’s discussions of the matter and sometimes swells to an even clearer tone. Take for instance the argumentum ad absurdum with which he plies Faustus[Ibid., xxxiii. 6] to the effect that we can never be assured of the authorship of any book “if we doubt the apostolic origin of those books which are attributed to the apostles by the Church which the apostles themselves founded, and which occupies so conspicuous a place in all lands”. Clearly the appeal to the Church here is for testimony, not for authorization, as is evidenced very plainly in the sequel. For Augustine goes on to contrast the hardiness of the Manichæans in attempting to doubt the apostolicity of books so attested, with their equal hardiness in accepting as apostolic books brought forward solely by heretics, the founders of whose sect lived long after the days of the apostles; and then adduces parallels from classical authors. There are, he tells us, spurious books, in circulation under the name of Hippocrates, known to be spurious among other things from the circumstance “that they were not recognized as his at the time when his authorship of his genuine productions was determined”. And who doubts the genuineness of these latter? Would not a denial of it be greeted with derision—“simply because there is a succession of testimonies to these books from the time of Hippocrates to the present day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject”. Is it not by this continuity of the chain of evidence that any book is authenticated—Plato’s, Aristotle’s, Cicero’s, Varro’s or any of the Christian authors’—“the belief becoming more certain as it becomes more general, up to our own day”? Is not the very principle of authentication this: the transmission of information from contemporaries through successive generations? How then can anyone be so blinded by passion as “to deny the ability of the Church of the apostles—a community of brethren as numerous as they were faithful—to transmit their writings unaltered to posterity, as the original seats of the apostles have been occupied by a continuous succession of bishops to the present day?” Are we to deal with the apostolic writings differently from the natural dealing we accord day by day to ordinary ones,—whether of profane or religious authors?[Cf. ibid. xxii. 19: “Why not rather submit to the authority of the Gospel which is so well-founded, so confirmed, so generally acknowl edged and admired, and which has an unbroken series of testimonies from the Apostles down to our own day, that you may have an intelligent belief?” Cf. also xi. 2, xiii. 4. xxxiii. 6 and 9. Because Augustine was deeply impressed by the catholicity of the Church’s testimony (as. e. g., De morr. eccles, cath. xxix. 61) is no reason why we should fail to see that he is equally impressed by its continuity, that is, by its historical character.]

     The matter is not different when at an earlier place in the same treatise[xili. 4. 5.] he takes up much the same point on which he is arguing in the famous passage “I would not believe the Gospel, etc.”. When Manichæus calls himself an apostle, he says, it is a shameless falsehood, “for it is well known that this heresy began not only after Tertullian, but after Cyprian”. And what evidence can Manichæus or Faustus bring forward, which will satisfy anyone not inclined to believe either their books or themselves? “Will Faustus take our apostles as witnesses? Unless he can find some apostles in life, he must read their writings: and these are all against him. . . . He cannot pretend that their writings have been tampered with; for that would be to attack the credit of his own witnesses. Or if he produces his own manuscripts of the apostolic writings, he must also obtain for them the authority of the Churches founded by the apostles themselves, by showing that they have been preserved and transmitted by their sanction. It will be difficult for a man to make me believe him on the evidence of writings which derive their authority from his own word, which I do not believe. . . . The authority of our books, which is confirmed by the agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you. Your books have no authority, for it is an authority maintained by only a few and these the worshippers of an untruthful God and Christ. . . . The established authority of the Scriptures must outweigh every other: for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfilment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence.” Of course this is a piece of polemic argumentation, not a historical investigation: but the gist of the polemic is simply that the Scriptures of the Christians owe their authority to a valid historical vindication of them as of apostolic origin, while the Scriptures of the Manichæans lack all authority because they lack such a validation. Augustine does not think of such a thing as simply opposing the authority of the Church to the Manichæan contentions; and much less of course does he take a roundabout way to the same result, by opposing to them the authority of Scriptures which owe all their authority to the mere ipse dixit of the Church. If he speaks of authority as given to sacred books only “through the Churches of Christ”, it is clear that this does not mean that these churches communicate to these Scriptures an authority inherent in the Churches, but only that it is by their testimony that that supreme authority which belongs to the Scriptures from their apostolic origin is vindicated to them, as indeed it is confirmed to them by other testimonies also, those, to wit. of miracles and fulfilled prophesy and the consent of the nations and the succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, to confine ourselves to items enumerated here. Surely it cannot be doubted that here also Augustine’s appeal to the Church as authenticating the Scriptures is to the Church as a witness, not as an authorizer.

     It is natural to turn from this passage immediately to the closely related one in the treatise Against Manichæus’ Epistle called Fundamental, in which the famous words, ‘I would not believe the Gospel, etc.’, occur. If the passage which we have just had before us is rather a piece of sharp polemics than a historical investigation, much more this. Augustine proposes here to join argument with the Manichæans on the pure merits of the question at issue between them. He wishes to approach the consideration of their claims as would a stranger who was for the first time hearing their Gospel and as they promise nothing less than demonstration he demands that they give him nothing less than demonstration before asking of him assent.[Contra Epist. Manich. Fundam. iii. 3.] He warns them that he is held to the Catholic Church by many bonds, which it will be hard to loosen: so that their task of convincing him on the ground of pure reason will not be an easy one. He has found a very pure wisdom in the Catholic Church—not indeed attained to in this life by more than a few spiritual men, while the rest walk by faith, but nevertheless shining steadily forth for all who have eyes to see it. He has been. deeply impressed by the wide extension of the Church. The authority it exercises,—“inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, established by antiquity”—has very strongly moved him. The unbroken succession of rulers in the Church possesses for him a great weight of evidence. He confesses that the very name of ‘Catholic’— retained unchallenged amid so many heresies,—has affected him deeply. What have the Manichæans to offer him which would justify him in setting aside these and such inducements to remain a Catholic? Nothing but the “promise of the truth” (sola veritatis pollicitatio). The “promise” of the truth, observe: not “the truth” itself. If the latter,—why, Augustine gives up the contest at once. For he allows without dispute, that if they give him truth itself—so clearly the truth that it cannot be doubted,—that is something that is to be preferred to all these things which he has enumerated as holding him in the Catholic Church,—these and all other things that can be imagined as holding him there. For nothing is so good as truth. But he persistently demands that there must be something more than a “promise” of truth before he can separate himself from the Catholic Church, or rather, as he puts it, before he can be moved “from that faith which binds his soul with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion”. It is, then, we percieve, strict demonstration which Augustine is asking of the Manichæans, and he conducts the argument on that basis.

     Turning at once to Manichæus’s Fundamental Epistle as a succinct depository of nearly all which the Manichæans believe, he quotes its opening sentence: “Manichæus, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father”. There he stops immediately to demand proof,—proof, remember, not mere assertion. You have promised me truth, he says,—demonstrated truth: and this is what you give me. Now, I tell you shortly, I do not believe it. Will you prove it to me: or will you, in defiance of the whole claim of the Manichæans, that they ask faith of no man save on the ground of demonstration, simply demand of me belief without clear and sound proof? If you propose proof, I will wait for it. Perhaps you will turn to the Gospel and seek there a testimony to Manichæus. But suppose I do not believe the Gospel? Are you to depend for your proof—you who differentiate yourselves from Christians in this, that while they demand faith, you offer them demonstration and ask belief of nothing until you have demonstrated it,—are you to depend for your proof on this very faith of the Christians? For observe, my faith in the Gospel rests on the authority of the Catholic Church. And moreover, I find myself in this quandary: the same Church that tells me to believe the Gospel tells me not to believe Manichæus. Choose, then, which you will. If I am to believe the Catholics, then I cannot believe Manichæus—for they tell me not to. If I am not to believe the Catholics, then, you cannot use the Gospel, because, it was out of the preaching of the Catholics that I have been brought to believe the Gospel. Or if you say I am to believe them in this one matter and not in the other—I am scarcely so foolish as to put my faith thus at your arbitrary disposal, to believe or not believe as you dictate, on no assigned ground. It was agreed that you should not ask faith from me without clear proof—according to your universal boast that you demand no belief without precedent demonstration. It is clear, then, that to render such a proof you must not appeal to the Gospel. “If you hold to the Gospel, I will hold to those by whose teaching I have come to believe the Gospel; by their instructions I will put no credit in you whatever. And if by any chance you should be able to find anything really clear as to the apostolicity of Manichæus you will weaken the authority of the Catholics for me, since they instruct me not to believe you; and this authority having been weakened I shall no longer be able to believe the Gospel for it was through them that I came to believe it.” The upshot of it is that if no clear proof of Manichæus’ apostleship is to be found in the Gospel, I shall credit the Catholics rather than you; while if there is such to be found in the Gospel I shall believe neither them nor you. Where then is your demonstration of the apostleship of Manichæus—that I should believe it? Of course I do not mean I do not believe the Gospel. I do believe it, and believing it I find no way of believing you. You can point out neither in it nor in any other book faith in which I confess, anything about this absurd apostleship of Manichæus. But it is certainly evident that your promise to demonstrate to me your tenets signally fails in this case on any supposition. 

     This is Augustine’s argument in this famous passage. Undoubtedly the exact interpretation of its implications with respect to the seat of authority in Christianity is attended with considerable difficulty. And it is not altogether strange that the Romanists have seized upon it as subordinating the ‘Gospel’ to the ‘Church’: nor even that they have been followed in this, not merely by extreme rationalists predisposed to every interpretation of a Patristic writer which tends to support their notion that the clothing of Scripture with absolute authority was a late and unhistorical dogmatic development, but also by many scholars intent only upon doing complete justice to Augustine’s opinions. There are serious difficulties, however, in the way of this interpretation of the passage. One of them is that it would in that case be out of accord with the entirety of Augustine’s teaching elsewhere. It is quite true that elsewhere also he speaks of the authority of the Church, and even establishes the Church on the “summit of authority”. But in all such passages he speaks obviously of the Church rather as the instrument of the spread of the saving truth than as the foundation on which the truth rests,—in a word as the vehicle rather than the seat of authority. And in general, as we have already seen, Augustine’s allusions to the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” throw the stress on its function of witness-bearing to the truth rather than found the truth on its bare ipse dixit. It is scarcely likely that he has spoken in a contrary sense in our present passage. We must not permit it to fall out of sight that Augustine’s point of view in this passage is that of one repelling the Manichæan claim of strict demonstration of the truth of their teaching. His rejoinder amounts to saying that they cannot ground a demonstration upon a Gospel accepted only on faith. The contrast at this point is not between the weakness of the basis on which they accept their tenets and the incomparable weight of the authority of the Church on which Christians accept the ‘Gospel’. On the contrary, the contrast is between the greatness of their claims to demonstration and the weakness of its basis—nothing but the ‘Gospel’ which is accepted on “authority” not on “demonstration”—on “faith” not on “reason”,—in effect, on “testimony”, not on “sight”. In a word, the “authority of the Church” is adduced here not as superlatively great—so great that, in the face of it, the Manichæan claims must fall away let them be grounded in what they may; but rather as incongruously inadequate to support the weight the Manichæan must put on it if he is to build up his structure of demontration. The Manichæan undertakes a demonstration, scorning a faith that rests on authority: and then actually wishes to rest that demonstration on a premise which has no other basis than a faith that rests on authority. He cannot demonstrate that Manichæus was an Apostle of Christ on the testimony of a ‘Gospel’ which itself is accepted on the authority of the Catholic Church: ‘authority’ being used here in its contrast with ‘reason’, not with ‘testimony’, and in pursuance of Augustine’s general contention that all religious truth must begin with faith on authority and not with demonstration on reason. This being the case, so far is the passage from predicating that Augustine esteemed the ‘authority’ of the Church as ‘the highest of all’ as the Romish contention insists, that its very gist is that the testimony of the Church is capable of establishing only that form of conviction known as ‘faith’ and therefore falls hopelessly short of ‘demonstration’.

(B. B. Warfield, “Augustine’s Doctrine of Knowledge and Authority;” In: The Princeton Theological Review: Volume V: 1907, eds. Francis L. Patton, et al., [Princeton: The Princeton University Press, 1907], October 1907, Number 4, pp. 547-555.)
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[34.] Cf. Michael C. Questier:

Possibly the most contested patristic text of this period was Augustine’s reference to his own conversion where he says that he would not have believed the Scriptures if it had not been for the authority of the Church: ‘ego vero evangelio non crederem nisi me catholicae ecclesiae conmoveret auctoritas’. Though Augustine is making a point irrelevant to the Reformation disputes over authority (in fact, he is saying that he would reject both Gospels and Church if his Manichean opponents could prove their founder to have been one of Christ's apostles), Catholics argued that it proved that Church ‘tradition’ preceded Scripture, while Protestants argued that while ‘the Church must of necessity propose things credible’, ‘Scripture it selfe convinces’, and that Augustine’s statement has no respect to time past; the authority of the Church mattered to Augustine only until he embraced the Scriptures, at which point his effectual conversion was located.

(Michael C. Questier, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History: Conversion, Politics and Religion in England, 1580-1625, [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], pp. 68-69.)

Cf. George Stanley Faber:

     The Romish Clergy, in the way of a set-off, frequently allege a passage, in which Augustine says: that He would not believe the very Gospel itself, unless moved thereto by the authority of the Church Catholic.

     On the strength of this passage, they have been wont, as Wycliffe strongly remarked in the fourteenth century, to destroy Holy Writ and the Belief of Christian Men, by their accursed methods or false reasonings: first, that the Church is of more authority and credence than any Gospel; secondly, that no man now alive knoweth which is the Gospel, except it be by an approval of the Church; and hence, thirdly, that, if men say that they believe this to be the Gospel of Matthew or John, they do so for no cause, but that the Church confirmeth and teacheth it.

     Thus do these unscrupulous individuals, dishonestly substituting the mere Provincial Church of Rome for the entire Church Catholic (as Augustine speaks), and little recking the danger of driving men into direct infidelity, shrink not, for the base interest of their own communion, from giving an advantage to the unbeliever, of which we may be sure he will not be slow in availing himself.

     In thus pointing out the familiar dishonest substitution of the Provincial Church of the Western Patriarchate for the entire Catholic Church in every Quarter of the World, I would by no means be understood as conceding, even to the real Catholic Church, that superiority over the Gospels which the Popish Priesthood, by a wretched perversion of Augustine’s meaning, would ascribe to the Church of Rome. That impiety be far from me. But, though I admit no such superiority to the Church under any aspect, it may be useful for the Protestant Layman to know, that the very mode, in which the Romish Clergy are fond of adducing Augustine, involves a gross misrepresentation of that eminent Father.

     He says, no doubt, that he would not believe the very Gospel itself, unless moved thereto by the authority of the Church Catholic. But what is the true import of his language? He means not to assert, the superiority of the Church over the Bible; as if the Bible were only a sort of ancillary dependant upon the Church. His statement purely respects a modification of the QUESTION OF EVIDENCE. We none of us can believe without EVIDENCE of some kind: but this process of the understanding does not make the EVIDENCE, upon which the Gospel is received, superior to THE GOSPEL ITSELF.

     Precisely of this nature, is the particular kind of Evidence, without which Augustine very reasonably declares, that he could not receive any one of the Four Gospels.

     It is abundantly easy to explain his declaration.

     Let us suppose, that any one in the present day should suddenly produce a Document, purporting to be a Gospel written by St. Paul. How would such a Document be received? Doubtless, it would be forthwith rejected, on the perfectly sufficient ground, that the Catholic Church, in no one of its branches, had ever either heard of or received the pretended Pauline Gospel.

     On the same principle, Augustine rightly adduces the evidential authority of the Catholic Church for the reception of our acknowledged Canonical Gospels. Had any one of those Gospels wanted the necessary stamp of Evidential Attestation, by the circumstance of the Catholic Church having rejected it on the ground of detected spuriousness (as in fact it did thus reject sundry still extant Apocryphal Gospels) from the very time of its first appearance: we, assuredly, could not have received that Gospel as genuine and canonical.

     In short, Augustine really says nothing more, than that he would not receive any one of the Gospels without sufficient evidence of its genuineness: and, in thus making the Church a Witness and a Keeper of Holy Writ, he says pretty much the same thing as our own Twentieth Article.

     That this is the whole which he meant, is abundantly clear, both from the context of the much abused passage itself, and likewise from another place in his Treatise on the City of God, where he contrasts the Apocrypha with Canonical Scripture. Many idle fables, he tells us, had been put forth: all of which, under the general name of Apocrypha, had, after a diligent examination, been separated from Canonical Authority.[August. de Civ. Dei, lib. xv. c. 23.]

     Nothing, I suppose, can be more rational than this statement.

(George Stanley Faber, The Difficulties of Romanism in Respect to Evidence: In Two Books: The Third Edition, Revised and Remoulded, [London: Thomas Bosworth, 1853], pp. 210-212.)

Cf. Humphrey Lynde:

     I proceed from the infallibility of the Church to the authority of it, wherein you shall likewise observe the Romanists do insist especially upon that known confession of St. Augustine: “I should not have believed the Gospel, except the authority of the Church had moved me thereunto.” But I pray, what do these words concern the Roman Church? why should they be applied rather to the Roman than his own Church in Africa, or our Church in England? (for he speaks not of the Roman Church or any particular Church, but of the Church indefinitely). Moreover, their own Canus professetht that St. Augustine had to do with a Manichee, who would have a certain Gospel of his own admitted without further dispute: in this case (saith he) St. Augustine puts the question, “What if you find one which doth not believe the Gospel? what motive would you use to such a one to bring him to your belief? I for my part (saith he) should not have been brought to embrace the Gospel if the Church’s authority had not swayed with me.” And from hence also Bishop Canus draws this sound conclusion: “The faith of the Gospel is not founded upon the authority of the Church.” This exposition of the Romanist is agreeable to our belief: for we profess that the first outward motive to bring men to the knowledge of the Scriptures is the authority of God’s Church. “If I believe the Gospel (saith Hooker) yet is reason of singular good use, for that it confirmeth me in this my belief the more: if I do believe as yet, nevertheless to bring me to the number of believers, except reason did somewhat help, and were an instrument which God doth use to such purposes, what should it boot to dispute with infidels and godless persons for their conversion and persuasion in that point.”

     He, therefore, that shall conclude from St. Augustine’s doctrine (which he professed in the name of an heretic), let him receive his answer from the same Father, when he makes his confession as a true Catholic: “By the mouth of God, which is the truth, I know the Church of God which is partaker of the truth.”[Ex veritatis ore agnosco Ecclesiam participem veritatis. Aug. in Psal. 57. [p. 545. tom. 4. Paris. 1681.]] But as it happeneth sometimes that he who hath fallen into the hands of an unskilful physician is loath afterwards to commit himself even to a good one, “So was it in the state of my soul (saith St. Augustine), which could not be healed by believing, and for fear of believing false things, it refused to be cured by true ones.”[Aug. lib. 6. Confess. c. 4. [p. 122. tom. 1, ut supra.]] And in the chapter following, whilst he was yet a Manichee, he makes this humble confession: “Thou, Lord, didst persuade me thus, I say not that they were blameable who believed thy books, which thou hast grounded by such authority throughout almost all the nations of the earth, but that they indeed were blameable who believed them not; and that no ear was to be given to any, if peradventure they should say to me, How dost thou know that these books were imparted to mankind by the Spirit of that one God, who is true in himself, and most true when he speaketh to us; for that is the very thing itself which is especially to be believed.”[Aug. lib. 6. Confess. 1. 6. c. 5. [tom. 1. col. 122, 123. ed. Ben.]] Thus St. Augustine the Catholic interprets Augustine the heretic. After his conversion to the truth the blessed Spirit did persuade him that there was no ear to be given to those men which made such doubts and questions (as are daily made in the Church of Rome), viz. “How do you know the Scriptures to be the Word of God?” but as the Samaritans believed that Christ was the promised Saviour upon the report of a woman, yet afterwards when they heard him themselves, they professed they believed him for his own sake, and not for the woman’s report: so likewise this holy Father first conferred with flesh and blood, as the most known and familiar means to introduce a saving knowledge; but after he had received the Spirit and Word of truth, he, like the Samaritans, believed the Gospel, not for the Church’s sake but for Christ’s own authority and his Gospel’s sake.

     The authority of the “Church is rightly compared to a key, which openeth the door of entrance into the knowledge of the Scripture; now when a man hath entered and viewed the house, and by viewing it, likes it, and upon liking, resolves unchangeably to dwell there; he doth not set up his resolution upon the key that let him in, but upon the goodness and commodiousness which he sees in the house.” 

(Humphrey Lynde, “The By-Way (Via Devia),” 18; In: Supplement to Gibson’s Preservative Against Popery: Vol. IV: Sir Humphrey Lynde’s Via Tuta and Via Devia, [London: Published by the British Society for Promoting the Religious Principles of the Reformation, 1850], pp. 278-280.)

Cf. Gerald Bonner:

     Now there is no question of Augustine’s love and veneration for the Church of Christ nor of the powerful impression which the spectacle of the Church militant made upon his imagination. But two points should be remembered. In the first place, Augustine thinks of the Church as having authority because it is the instrument of divine providence. Thus, he points out for the benefit of Honoratus the many changes which Christianity has introduced into the moral life of society—asceticism; liberality; the contempt of hardship and death—and continues:

All this has divine providence accomplished through the predictions of the prophets, through the Incarnation and teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the apostles, through the reproaches, crosses, blood and deaths of the martyrs, through the laudable lives of the saints, and in every case through miracles worthy of such achievements and virtues, and suitable to the various times. When, therefore, we see such fruit progressively realized by God’s aid, shall we hesitate to place ourselves in the bosom of His Church? For it has reached the highest pinnacle of authority, having brought about the conversion of the human race by the instrumentality of the Apostolic See and the successions of bishops. Meantime heretics have barked around it in vain, and have been condemned partly by the judgement of the common people, partly by the weighty judgement of Councils, partly also by the majesty of miracles. To be unwilling to give it the first place is assuredly the mark of consummate impiety or of heady arrogance. [De Util. Cred., xvii, 35. Burleigh, p. 321.]

     The emphasis in this passage is on the unity and continuity of the Church. It is not to the visible Church of his age as such to which Augustine appeals but to the Church spread out through time and rooted in eternity, proclaimed in the prophets, established in the Incarnation and teaching of Christ, and today to be seen in the universal Church. There is here no sense of division between Christ and His Church; rather, there is in this passage an expression of the doctrine of the Mystical Body, which Augustine found expressed in the Donatist theologian Tyconius whose writings he later commended to his Catholic brethren as an aid to the understanding of Scripture. [De Doctr. Christ., III, xxxi, 44] 

     Again, it is important to observe that when Augustine declared that he would not have believed the Gospel if he had not been moved thereto by the authority of the Catholic Church, he was speaking in a controversial situation. The Manichees are supposed, in effect, to say: ‘Here is the Gospel. We will now demonstrate to you the truth of our religion’, to which the Catholic replies: ‘I believe in the Gospel, because the Church tells me to do so. The Church with the same authority tells me not to believe in Manichaeism.’ And we may note that even in this context, Augustine does not say: ‘I would not have believed Christ’ but, ‘I would not have believed the Gospel’; and there is a difference between the two.

     Furthermore, we must allow for the exaggeration produced by controversy, for Augustine elsewhere maintains that the Scriptures are the first rule of authority for the Church. ‘Who but Thou, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of Thy divine Scripture to be over us? . . . Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom Thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life.’ [Conf., XIII, xv, 16. Tr. Outler, p. 308.] 

(Gerald Bonner, The Library of History and Doctrine: St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963], pp. 228-230.)
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[35.] Cf. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430 A.D.):

…I believed Thee both to exist, and Thy substance to be unchangeable, and that Thou hadst a care of and wouldest judge men; and that in Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, and the Holy Scriptures, which the authority of Thy Catholic Church pressed [commendaret, recommends] upon me, Thou hadst planned the way of man’s salvation to that life which is to come after this death.

(Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, 7.7.11; PL, 32:739; trans. NPNF1, 1:106.). See also: ccel.org.

Cf. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (c. 347-407 A.D.):

It was the Scriptures which took me by the hand and led me to Christ.

(John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, 1.6.5; trans. FC, 68:24.)

Cf. Louis Berkhof:

Augustine was the first one of the fathers who clearly saw and taught the absolute necessity of inward grace for the acceptance of Scripture as the Word of God. It is true that he attached great value to the testimony of the Church as a motivum credibilitatis, but he did not regard it as the last and deepest ground of faith. Even the Church of Rome virtually agreed with the Churches of the Reformation in teaching that only the Spirit of God can give one absolute certainty respecting the truth of revelation. She does not regard the Church, but the illumination of the Holy Spirit as the deepest ground of faith.

(Louis Berkhof, Reformed Dogmatics: Introduction, [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1932], p. 198.)

Cf. Heiko A. Oberman:

While repeatedly asserting the primacy of Scripture, Augustine himself does not contrast this at all with the authority of the Catholic Church: “…I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me (commovit me).” Here the Church must be understood to have an authority to direct (commovere) the believer to the door which leads to the fullness of the Word itself.

     Toward the end of the Middle Ages the Church came to understand Augustine’s statement of the practical authority of the Church as though it implied a metaphysical priority. The moving authority of the Church becomes in late medieval versions the Church’s approval or creation of Holy Scripture. Until our own time, Augustine’s words have even been taken to imply that Holy Scripture is a product contingent on the life of the Church. Indeed the voice of the fourteenth-century Augustinian, Gregory of Rimini (†1358), protesting that Augustine meant merely a practical priority of the Church over Scripture, went largely unheard. For him the authority of the Church should be compared with the function of the miracles of Jesus to prompt His contemporaries to heed His words.

(Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought, trans. Paul L. Nyhus, [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 166], Chapter Two: Scripture and Tradition, p. 56.)

Cf. Heiko A. Oberman:

While repeatedly asserting the primacy of Scripture, Augustine himself does not contrast this at all with the authority of the Catholic Church: ‘…I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me.’ The Church has a practical priority; her authority as expressed in the direction–giving meaning of commovere, to move, is an instrumental authority, the door which leads to the fulness of the Word itself. 

(Heiko A. Oberman, The Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought, [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1992], “Quo Vadis, Petre? Tradition from Irenaeus to Humani Generis,” p. 278.)

Cf. Richard A. Muller:

Oberman points out that the “practical authority” granted to the church by Augustine was viewed by some late medieval thinkers as a statement of the “metaphysical priority” of the authority of the church over that of Scripture.

(Richard A. Muller,