Augustinianism can be broadly defined as theology related to the teachings of Augustine (354-430), one of the early church fathers. However, the term Augustinianism usually has a more specific reference to Augustine's doctrines of the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God's grace in salvation. It was these views that were specifically opposed in the Pelagian controversy during Augustine's later years. These doctrines of Augustine were later revived during the Protestant Reformation and reflected in the teaching of reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. As a result, Calvinism in particular is sometimes referred to as Augustinianism.

Doctrinal distinctives

Augustinianism holds that, after the Fall, mankind is unable to not sin. In other words, due to the corruption of human nature in the Fall, one's will is not free, but rather a slave to sin. As such, every person is born sinful and justly under the condemnation of God. In order for a person to be delivered from this dreadful state (i.e. saved), God must intervene. This view of the natural state of humanity is often referred to as the doctrine of total depravity.

Grace also plays a significant role in Augustinianism. The grace of God is free, necessary, and comes before any righteous act of the sinner. Grace is usually also said to be irresistible and effectual in the sense that all who are given such grace will surely come to faith in Christ.

Furthermore, Augustinianism has a distinct view of predestination. Grace is given to those whom God has predestined before the earth began, and is not based on the foreknowledge of God. The predestination in a fully Augustinian system is without any merit in the sinner themselves. ^[1]^

Early controversy

Augustinianism is a system that grew out the controversy with Pelagius. The Pelagian system taught nearly the opposite of the Augustinian view, making salvation a choice of free will and having a less severe view of the Fall of humanity in the Garden. Augustine wrote many works against Pelagius beginning around 412. The controversy raged in North Africa and stretch to Jerusalem for many years. Several synods condemned Pelagius and his followers and at least one cleared him of all charges of heresy. Both sides appealed to the reigning Pope when matters were not easily resolved. Pope Innocent sided with Augustinianism against Pelagianism, but his successor, Pope Zosimus, was more friendly to Pelagian thought. In the end, Augustinianism triumphed at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. Augustinianism was declared to be the doctrine of the church and Pelagianism a heresy. Augustine himself died the year before the triumph of his doctrine.^[2]^

Latter developments

Although Pelagianism was deemed heretical, in time a Semi-Pelagianism arose against the Augustinian view. This semi-Pelagian theology had great support in France and was declared orthodox by multiple synods, but was finally condemned in the Council of Orange in 529. However, the Council of Orange did not affirm every point of Augustinianism, leading to what is sometimes called semi-Augustinianism. The Canons of the Council of Orange affirmed the depravity of humanity after the Fall and the free nature of grace. It also asserted that grace comes first before any act of a person. However, it did not address predestination nor did it speak of the irresistible nature of grace that is clearly taught and held in Augustinian proper. Thus, a semi-Augustinianism was created that allowed for a rejection of predestination for grace to be given to all and rejected by some.

The Protestant Reformation often referred to itself as a return to a full-fledged Augustinianism. Luther, Calvin, and other reformers often enlisted the works of Augustine in the defense of their theology. In particular, John Calvin incorporated Augustine's teachings on predestination, sovereign grace, and the depravity of man into his theology. Thus, Calvinism and Augustinianism are sometimes used synonymously.

Notes

  1. ? R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe (Baker, 1997), pp.49-66.
  2. ? Ibid., pp.44-46.

See also