Influence of Augustine on the Church…

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Dr. Barry Horner. The nature of Reformed eschatology is comprised of several distinguishing characteristics. To begin with there is the thread of Augustinianism. From the fourth century onward, Aurelius Augustine has continued to be a hovering influence over Christendom, and particularly with regard to the church in its institutional form.

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Crawford Gribben provides an excellent summary of this prime historic root: “After the rapid decay of the early church, Puritanism really began with St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354‐430), as Richard Muller noted in Christ and the Decree (1986): ‘Reformed theology appears not as a monolithic structure – not, in short, as ‘Calvinism’ – but as a form of Augustinian theology and piety capable of considerable variation in its form and presentation.’ Many elements of Augustine’s thought remained paradigmatic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His City of God [prepared between 413 and 426 AD], for example, was the first catalyst of puritanism’s eschatological innovations.”[1]

A ‘spiritual’ understanding of the Kingdom of God

The alleged purpose of Augustine in this classic was to oppose carnal millennialism and uphold a more spiritual understanding of the kingdom of God. “[H]is antipathy towards millennialism was such that, mainly under his influence, it was declared heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431. . . . Augustine’s teaching exercised phenomenal influence in succeeding centuries, but the fact that the Reformation confessions needed to reiterate the Ephesian council’s ban – one thousand years after its composition – demonstrates the perennial popularity of millenarian ideas.”[2]

A double-edged sword

However, allow James Carroll, as a Catholic, to sum up Augustine’s eschatological/ecclesiological doctrinal endowment: “The legacy of Augustine’s teaching on the Jews is a double-edged sword. On one side, against Chrysostom and even Ambrose, it requires an end to all violent assaults against synagogues, Jewish property, and Jewish persons. . . . On the other side, Augustine’s relatively benign attitude toward Jews is rooted still in assumptions of supercessionism that would prove to be deadly. The “witness” prescription attributed to him—Let them survive, but not thrive!—would underlie the

destructive ambivalence that marked Catholic attitudes toward Jews from then on. . . This is the legacy that haunts the Catholic Church into the twenty‐first century, a perverse legacy from which, despite the twentieth‐century’s jolts, the Church is not yet free.”[3]

Ethnic Israel denied in evangelical Reformed Christianity

It only needs to be added that a considerable part of evangelical Reformed Christianity, alone with many associated strains of Calvinism, with their common admiration for Augustine, similarly need to face up to their imbibing of an eschatological legacy that, from an ethical perspective, ranging from indifference to antipathy concerning the Jew, is to be condemned. The eschatology of the Reformed churches, notwithstanding their united creedal affirmations, did not represent the recovery of eschatological biblical truth, as was surely the case with regards to the gospel awakening that Luther was used of God to initiate. To be sure, they revised their understanding of the doctrine of the church. However, insofar as supercessionism is concerned with regard to the place of national and ethnic Israel in

the covenant plan of God, there was continuation of a doctrinal emphasis that, not surprisingly, also resulted in the continuation of the general disparagement of the Jews. Of course there were exceptions to this general result, such as in parts of Scotland, Holland, and Denmark, though it often involved a desire for Jewish conversion so that they might lose their Jewishness by means of incorporation and absorption into the Gentile Christian church. Consequently, the thread of Augustinianism has continued on unsevered.

Influence of classical philosophy

Furthermore, we could perhaps mention the influence of Aristotle, Plato, later Hellenism and scholasticism that have been additional threads that permeated earlier university and ministerial training. The evangelical Reformed movement, for all of its Puritan loyalties, has placed great store upon the learning of its fathers, especially that which emanated from Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, and Amsterdam. This is in no way meant to play down the great Biblicism that earlier came from these influential institutions. But if we think that the historical, theological threads already mentioned were not woven within this arena of Christian academia, we are deluding ourselves. Hence we are suggesting that those who claim attachment to this broad, historic eschatological lineage need to carefully assess to what extent they should continue their allegiance based upon a Reformed heritage rather than the biblical text.

Unity in diversity in the people of God

As we have repeatedly enquired with regard to the distinctiveness of saved Israel within the unity of the people of God, and granted that in a broad sense there is simply “the age to come,” how can it be biblically maintained that this unity in no way incorporates diversity as well as complexity? Is there no complexity in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation? And further, it is a false simplicity when critical exegetical particulars, such as the relationship between Revelation 19 and 20 are so cavalierly passed over.

Gentile legacy

Finally, this writer is convinced that much of Reformed eschatology is the result of a Gentile mindset, certainly rooted in Gentile patristic dominance, that has tended to disparage a Jewish perspective of Scripture as Jewish fable or potential Galatianism or carnal chiliasm and dispensationalism. There is the implication that the eschatology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has settled the issues of biblical eschatology once and for all. This is simply foolish thinking. There is a legacy involved here that not only originates from the Constantinian revolution, but also passes through the illustrious Reformation. More recently, a reevaluation of this legacy has indicated that these roots have involved raw theological anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism based upon supercessionism channeled through church authoritarianism.

Reformed millennialism

Hence in this regard it is fascinating to consider what factors contributed toward the sudden eruption of millennialism during the sixteenth century that so rent a longstanding eschatological tradition. The centuries preceding the Reformation were times of doctrinal repression, especially concerning teaching that would deny that the Church of Rome is the new Israel. Once printing was followed by liberation of personal investigation and expression, then truth, displacing centuries of error, resulting from individual biblical enquiry, could not be suppressed. It is not surprising then that an awakened interest in millennialism burst forth, especially amongst Puritanism, and along with it a revival of interest in Judeocentric eschatology.

Return to the mother church

Hence, at the present, along with the rise of a diverse Messianic Judaism, there has come about a more objectively biblical and scholarly reevaluation of the place of national and ethnic Israel in the New Testament, some of which sources have been employed in the exegetical sections of Future Israel. The time may have come, in a manner of speaking, for the Gentile church at Antioch to return to the mother church at Jerusalem and confess its need to ask forgiveness for its disregard of Paul’s warning in Romans 11:18, “do not be arrogant toward the [natural] branches.”

[1] Gribben, The Puritan Millennium, pp. 33-34. The reference is to Richard Muller, Christ and the Decree, p.


[2] Ibid., p. 34.

[3] James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, pp. 218-219.

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2 Comments to “Influence of Augustine on the Church…”

  1. Mrs A vd Laan Leito says:

    Indeed, Paul did tell Christians not to be arrogant, proud. For they had no reason to be. They are branches of a wild olive tree that has been joined to the cultivated olive tree (Romans11:18). He also made clear that Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ) enabled them to be part of the commonwealth of Israel. So they were not meant to replace the Israelites. As written in, Ephesians 2: 11-14 (King James Version):

    Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

    That we haven’t seen much of that peace between non-Israelites and Israelites (Jewish people) is, I believe partly due to the arrogance of Christians. That led sadly to all kinds of replacement theologies for Gods people, the Israelites. Non- Israelites were always invited by God Almighty to worship him at the Temple in Jerusalem. Read more about this: The Kingdom of God: on earth? (My response on Why Israel to the article about: Should a Jew become a Christian or …) By the way if both Israelites and non-Israelites should accept the choices and wishes of the Almighty Father, things would not be that complicated. Would it? For in a family, children don’t normally get to choose who their brothers and sisters are. Nor who there adoptive brothers and sisters will be.

    God bless you,

    Mrs A. vd Laan-Leito

  2. Deon Barnard says:

    AUGUSTINE ! many won’t believe this, but this man was and is responsible for the decline and mis- interpretation of Scripture in many denominations and churches of our day. He is hailed as a “church Father” – completely denying Math. 23 :9 – we can claim but one Father as the rest of the quotation states.

    When reading and quoting the writings of men, even the Reformers. we must remember that they are just that – “the writings of men” – not Spirit- breathed Scripture which remain our ultimate guide to distinguish between “truth and error”. At the same time I would like to challenge true children of our Father, to obtain and study E H Broadbent’s (1861-1945) book “The Pilgrim Church”, to read about the true church – its martyrs, great efforts for reform, and the many ordinary men and people of name and their zeal to keep the church free from Rome.

    May God bless you in you search for truth.

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