04.0 Augustine, the Most Influential Christian Theologian of All Time

Wayne Grudem, in his SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, says that Augustine’s On the Trinity, “is considered the most thorough development of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in the history of the church.”[i]

That is just one example of how the accolades for Augustine abound everywhere in Christian texts.

Williston Walker begins his chapter on Augustine with “In Augustine the ancient church acheived its highest religious attainment since apostolic times.”[ii]  He goes on to say that while the east wasn’t influenced that much “all Western Christianity was to become his debtor,  Such superiority as Western Religious life came to possess over that of the East was primarily his bequest to it.  He was to be the father of much that was most characteristic in Mediaeval Roman Catholicism.”[iii]

So Augustine was incredibly influential in the development of Christianity over the centuries but we need to remember that Augustine wasn’t Jesus or the Apostle Paul.

Amazingly, Walker goes on to attribute Augustine as “the spiritual ancestor to the Reformation”[iv]  This statement is significant here as it implies that whatever reforming was to be done in the Reformation was only to be restoring back to the concepts of Augustine as opposed as restoring to apostolic times.  Now this might be okay if Augustine if Augustine’s work was to promote original Christianity but, in fact Walker says the opposite:

“His theology, though buttressed by the scriptures, philosophy, and ecclesiastical tradition, was so rooted in his own experience as to render his story more than usually the story of a man.”[v]

Woah right there!  Walker attributes the direction of the Roman Catholic Church to Augustine which is fine.  But note that he attributes Augustine as an ancestor of the Reformation while he says that Augustine was not necessarity interested in restoring original Christianity as he was in promoting his own conceptions. And these concepts still held sway over Luther and other reformers.  That is something to watch out for.

So, Augustine was a pillar of the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation.  He was both extremely intelligent and a great communicator, but he was a fourth century product of Greek and Roman education (including philosophy) who applied that learning to analyze Christian concepts and expound on them.  If analyzing Christian concepts using classical education is God’s method for developing the faith then this was great.  But that appears to be a clear departure from the standard of communicating faith through Prophets, Apostles, and Teachers in both the Old Testament and the New.

[i] SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Wayne Grudem, InterVarsity Press, Leicester, England, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1994, p.260

[ii] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959  p.160

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

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