This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #166, titled, “Augustine of Hippo (Part 7): Minister and Theologian of the Western Church (Part 2).”
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.
Our Scripture for today is John 1:12-13 which reads: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from Augustine. He said: “Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Augustine of Hippo (Part 7): Minister and Theologian of the Western Church (Part 2)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
This was important in order to be able to solve the difficulties having to do with the origin of evil. Augustine insisted that there is only one God, whose goodness is infinite. How, then, can one explain the existence of evil? By simply affirming that the will is created by God, and is therefore good, but that the will is capable of making its own decisions. It is good for the will to be free, even though this means that such a free will can produce evil. The origin of evil, then, is to be found in the bad decisions made by both human and angelic wills–those of the demons, who are fallen angels. Thus, Augustine was able to affirm both the reality of evil and the creation of all things by a good God.
This, however, does not mean that evil is ever a thing. Evil is not a substance, as the Manichaeans [MAH-NEE-KEE-AHNS] implied when speaking of it as the principle of darkness. It is a decision, a direction, a negation of good.
Another movement that Augustine had to refute was Donatism [DOH-NAYT-ISM]. The reader will remember that this movement centered in North Africa, where Augustine was now a pastor. Therefore, throughout his career Augustine had to deal with the various issues raised by the Donatists [DOH-NAYT-ISTS]. One of these was the question of whether ordinations conferred by unworthy bishops were valid. To this, Augustine responded that the validity of any rite of the church does not depend on the moral virtue of the person administering it. If it were so, Christians would live in constant doubt as to the validity of their baptism. No matter how unworthy the celebrant, the rite is still valid, although obviously the celebrant is at fault. On this point, most of the Western church through the centuries has agreed with Augustine, whose views on the church and on the validity of sacraments became normative in the West.
It was also in trying to deal with the Donatist [DOH-NAYT-IST] issue that Augustine developed his Just War Theory. As has already been said, some Donatists [DOH-NAYT-ISTS]–the circumcellions–had turned to violence. The entire movement had social and economic roots of which Augustine was probably not aware. But he was certain that the depredations of the circumcellions must cease. He thus came to the conclusion that a way may be just, but that in order for it to be so certain conditions must be fulfilled. The first is that the purpose of the war must be just–a war is never just when its purpose is to satisfy territorial ambition, or the mere exercise of power. The second condition is that a just war must be waged by properly instituted authority. This seemed necessary in order to prevent personal vendettas. In later centuries, however, this principle would be applied by the powerful in order to claim that they had the right to make war on the powerless, but that the powerless could not make war on them. Actually, this could already be seen in the case of the circumcellions, who according to Augustine did not have the right to wage war on the state, whereas the state had the right to wage war on them. Finally, the third rule–and the most important one to Augustine–is that, even in the midst of the violence that is a necessary part of war, the motive of love must be central.
It was, however, against the Pelagians [PELL-AY-JEE-UNS] that Augustine wrote his most important theological works. Pelagius [PELL-AY-JEE-US] was a monk from Britain who had become famous for his piety and austerity. He saw the Christian life as a constant effort through which one’s sins could be overcome and salvation attained. Pelagius [PELL-AY-JEE-US] agreed with Augustine that God has made us free, and that the source of evil is in the will. As he saw matters, this meant that human beings always have the ability to overcome their sin. Otherwise, sin would be excusable.
Next time, we will continue looking at “Augustine of Hippo.”
Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.