First Person Life

2006-06-16

Life must have been simpler before the Tower of Babel

I tend not to take the word of others very easily-- especially when it comes to hearing second hand what someone else thinks or said. I'll often take the "evidence" or report of a second hand source under advisement, but I will often not readily "accept" it without additional corroboration - preferably from primary sources.

Such has been the case in Luther's "break" with Augustine over the nature of grace.

I had taken a seminar on Augusine in the mid 90's when I was at Concordia College, Ann Arbor. Since then, I have rather liked his writings and found a lot of "good stuff" in them (and on this, I haven't really changed my mind).

When I took a seminar on Luther, there was mention of a 'break' between Augustine and Luther on the nature of grace. Aside from the assertion that such a break occurred, there was no real evidence of it. And even though I had read a fair amount of Augustine's writings, I just couldn't "see" (or rather believe) it.

In reading Augustine, I had often come across the word "grace." Sometimes it seemed to refer to how Lutherans would understand the grace of God in relation to justification (imputed righteousness). Other times, it seemed to refer to the gifts of God which effect our sanctification. Therefore, as I read Augustine, I simply interpreted the word, "grace," in the appropriate way based on the context and my own ("Lutheran") understanding -- figuring he just hadn't been careful about separating the two, but assuming he meant what I thought he meant.

This, of course, meant that I didn't see the gulf that exists between the Lutheran understanding of "grace" in terms of justification (imputation), and Augustine's understanding of "grace" (infusion). It also explained my perplexity with those who saw this gulf. I, therefore, assumed that other people had misread Augustine, seeking to be critical of him where no such criticism was necessary.

Well, I found it today. For anyone else out there who may believe that Augustine's conceptualization of grace was misunderstood and that there is no difference between Augustine and Luther... I recommend that you read the following quotation:


As therefore in Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac, who was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, the seal of this righteousness of faith was given first, and afterwards, as he imitated the faith of his father, the righteousness itself followed as he grew up, of which the seal had been given before when he was an infant; so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body. And as in the thief the gracious goodness of the Almighty supplied what had been wanting in the sacrament of baptism, because it had been missing not from pride or contempt, but from want of opportunity; so in infants who die baptized, we must believe that the same grace of the Almighty supplies the want, that, not from perversity of will, but from insufficiency of age, they can neither believe with the heart unto righteousness, nor make confession with the mouth unto salvation. - Augustine, On Baptism, Book IV - Chapter 24



It's clear that Augustine viewed grace as an infused substance which must be acted upon in order to effect our justification. Oddly enough, this treatise was against the Pelagians... So, sadly, Augustine has been taken down a notch in my eyes. It's sad... but I probably idolized him too much anyway. I think I'll probably continue to reinterpret Augustine as I read him... but at least now I know I'm doing it.

As I've mused many times, life must have been so much easier before the Tower of Babel. Then, at least, we knew what each other was saying.

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