The Battle for Religious and Political Freedom
Part 5 – Augustinianism
Constantine had his new church, but it was not lost on the people of the time, that it was a political creation – a political creation for political purposes. For example, a movement arose among the Christians called Donatism and their concerns were directly related to the monstrosity (in their eyes), that Constantine had created. Slogans and tag lines are not a modern phenomenon – the Donatists expressed their objections with two slogans which they shouted throughout the Empire:
“Quid est imperiatori cum ecclesia?”
“What has the emperor to do with the church?”
“Quid Christianis cum regibi, aut quid episcopis cum palatio?”
“What have Christians to do with kings,
or what have bishops to do at court?”
William Jones, The History of the Christian Church,
(Paternoster Row, London, 5th ed.,1826), pp. 389, 390.
Obviously, if the new empire church was going to survive and prosper a way had to be found to justify its creation. In other words, the empire church had to find a philosophical and/or theological reason for its existence. The Constantinian supporters had a major task in front of them. It was a difficult task because they were setting out to do something unique – something that had never been done before – deliberately merge two major religions (Christianity and paganism) into one. It required some innovative thinking:
One of the most discouraging features of the Constantinian change is the fact that some of the best minds of the church imposed on themselves the difficult task of putting together a theology that supported the new order. Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid, p. 101.
The most prominent of these ‘best minds’ was Aurelius Augustine, better known as Augustine of Hippo. Hippo was a city in North Africa and North Africa was the Donatist’s stronghold. Therefore, as the eventual bishop of Hippo, Augustine had many encounters and disputations with the Donatists. Augustine became the campion and chief apologist for the fledgling Empire Church – he was the man of the hour:
Augustine of Hippo made it his life’s task to devise a map of the church that would fit on top of the map of the empire, that would make Corpus Christi [the body of Christ] into Corpus Christianum [the body of Christianity – a Christian empire]. For this service he was canonized as Saint Augustine. Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid p. 105.
Up until the Constantinian change, the Christian Church was made up of committed believers – people who were willing to be persecuted and even die for their faith. But even more importantly, people who would ‘produce the fruits worthy of repentance,’ that John the Baptist spoke about – what Jesus spoke about when he said, ‘you must be born again’ – and – ‘you will know them by their fruits.’ This ‘fruit issue’ was a major problem, because the Church had to be made a welcoming place, for both committed Christians and those who only bent with the prevailing Constantinian wind blowing through the Empire. So, how did Augustine pull off this conjuring trick? Answer: he found his solution in the philosophy of Plato:
Aurelius Augustine (born Nov. 13, 354, Tagaste, died Aug. 430, Hippo), bishop, the dominant personality of the Western Church of his time, generally recognized as the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity. He fused the religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy. Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 1, art. Augustine, pp. 649,650.
Under Augustine’s influence, the Empire Church became a fusion of Christianity and Platonism. This fact, that Augustine fused Christianity with pagan Platonism, is not disputed anywhere. What is disputed is whether this was a good thing or not. The Roman Catholic position is, that all these pagan elements were ‘christianized,’ when they were adopted into the church. However, one can hardly argue, that Platonism could be ‘christianized’ as it was adopted into the church. The principles of Platonism are diametrically opposed to the principles of Christianity. Platonism is all about nation, community and collectivism. Christianity is all about individualism, liberty of the conscious, and personal responsibility.
So, how did Augustine do it? How did he merge these two opposites into one and establish a viable working church? There were many obstacles to overcome:
The task to which Augustine set himself was far from easy. The New Testament was still in men’s hands, with its blueprints of a church that ignores all existing boundaries as it draws its own. Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid, p. 105.
Platonism was a natural solution, for what Constantine and Augustine wanted to achieve. According to Plato, the nation/community/religion had to be all part of one. This was also what Constantine wanted – Plato, Constantine and Augustine were all sacralists. The essence of sacralism is oneness or singularity. Augustine’s dilemma was how to achieve this oneness in a society made up of Christians and pagans. Augustine found the first step for a solution, in the concept of infant baptism.
Prior to the Constantinian change, membership in the Christian Church, was one of personal conviction. But personal choice did not suit the requirements of an Empire Church. The Empire Church needed everyone to join, which meant choice had to be removed. Therefore, infant baptism was the ideal solution – each new citizen, born into the Empire automatically became a member of the church, before it knew how to make a choice.
But the parents of the child had a choice – they could choose whether they baptized their child or not. Of course, Augustine needed an incentive that would compel parents to baptize their children. Augustine found his solution for this problem in the concept of original sin.
Prior to Augustine, the doctrine of original sin was floating around, in the more extreme peripheries of Christianity. It was certainly not the core doctrine, the pillar that it is today, in the theological systems of many modern churches. The fact that, original sin is the doctrine that holds up many other doctrines, in many modern churches, is solely due to Augustine. This is because, Augustine found in original sin, the solution to his need for an incentive to get people baptized and make them members of the Empire Church.
The doctrine of original sin teaches, that all of mankind shares in the sin of Adam. This is because when Adam sinned ‘we were all in Adam’ when he sinned. Therefore, we are all just as guilty as Adam. And if a solution was not found to remove this guilt, then we are all destined to suffer in an eternally burning hell.
Augustine coupled the doctrine of original sin with infant baptism. He taught that baptism washed away the guilt of original sin. He also taught that, if a child died before it could be baptized, it would go to an eternally burning hell. Driven by fear, parents were now totally dependent on the church and its priests, to perform the rite of baptism in order to save their children, from hell. Therefore, frightened parents, rushed to get their children baptised, as soon as possible, after birth. Consequently, everyone automatically became members of the church in their infancy – it was the perfect solution.
Augustine himself, struggled with the concept of children suffering in an eternally burning hell. He wanted to find a way of escape for this horrendous doctrine. Augustine knew that many would suffer torment because of his ad hoc arrangements. But in the end, he could not escape the internal logic of his own theology. [The Catholic Church came up with a solution hundreds of years later, called purgatory – but purgatory is an addition to Augustinian theology, it was never part of Augustine’s original theology].
The Empire Church embraced the Augustinian system with enthusiasm. It was the theological glue that bound the people and the church together. And just importantly it bound the people to the state, through the church. It gave the church and its priests great power over the people. In the minds of the people the priests became more important for their salvation, than Jesus Christ Himself.
This dependence on the supervision of superiors (the priests) is pure Platonism. Salvation was no longer a matter of personal choice. Salvation was now a matter of participating in the approved rites and rituals at the right time. In other words, the Constantinian/Augustinian version of Christianity had become a sacral religio/political society. This was a backward step for humanity. However, going backward was what Platonism required. Going back to the perfect ordering of society as exemplified by Atlantis, was the way forward. The result was the enslavement of the people, both spiritually and eventually physically (feudalism) – because all spiritual enslavement will ultimately end up with physical enslavement. [Note: see Appendix 1, for more on ‘Original Sin’].
‘Fruits Worthy of Repentance’
But, there were still more problems for Augustine to solve. The Bible was still widely available. People knew what Jesus taught. They knew about the imperative ‘must’ in ‘you must be born again.’ They knew about ‘fruits worthy of repentance.’ They knew about ‘my sheep hear my voice and they follow me’ etc. etc. Augustine had to work hard to dispose of these unwanted words. He accomplished the task by redefining the concept of logic into oblivion:
Augustine was inventive; with all his self-imposed hurdles he had to be. He found a way around this obstacle (fruit in the life) too. He made the exemplary life indicative not of discipleship, as the New Testament has it, but of heresy! He began to refer to the probity of those who were resisting the innovation of Corpus Christianum (the empire church) as “quasi.” Where John the Baptist had applied the water of baptism whenever he saw “fruits worthy of repentance,” Augustine now began to apply words of reproach. Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid, p. 105.
Augustine’s solution was not only to abolish the necessity of fruit in the life, he even went one step further; he made the fruit issue a crime. Being born again was toned down to simply mean accepting Jesus as a saviour – it no longer referred to a changed life. But this ‘solution’ created even more problems. If the change of life is no longer a measure of true Christianity, how do we know who is a true Christian? After all, did not Jesus say, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Augustine’s answer was that we cannot know who is a true Christian or not – only God would know who was a true Christian. How did Augustine conjure up the justification for this twist of logic? Augustine solved the ‘fruit’ problem, by removing what was observable (the changed life – ‘you will know them by their fruits), and replacing it with something that was unobservable – pre-destination.
The Doctrine of Pre-destination, was the solution to Augustine’s ‘fruit’ problem. Again, this was not a totally new concept. But again, it was not a part of mainstream Christianity. It certainly is part of mainstream Christianity now (at present in decline), and, this is solely because Augustine introduced it into the Empire Church, of necessity, to solve his self-imposed problems.
The Doctrine of Pre-Destination, is that, no one knows who is saved and who is not – only God knows – and this was all determined in advance. Free will has nothing to do with salvation or being saved. Therefore, individual choices have nothing to do with our salvation. God has pre-determined who is saved and who is lost. Therefore, evidence of the changed life is no longer required. And those who have the temerity, to exhibit evidence, of a changed life, are ‘quasi’ (spiritual show offs, exhibitors of false piety). As already mentioned Augustine even made Christian morality a matter of reproach and rebuke, even a crime – to use a modern term, Christian morality was condemned to be a form of mediaeval ‘virtue signalling.’
But there were even more problems. What about the people who do not want to join this new empire church? In other words, what is to be done with the non-conformist, the heretic? The solution was to use force, to compel all to comply with the new rules for the Empire. And Augustine thought he found a Bible verse to justify adding compulsion to the Good News of the Gospel: “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Lu. 14:23). Which is of course, a misuse of Scripture.
There was one last problem that needed a solution. Bible prophecy does not predict a time of persecution followed by a time of no persecution – but it does predict a ‘falling away’ (see 2 Thess. 2:1-9), that was beginning to look remarkably like the Constantinian/Augustinian monstrosity being constructed. The ‘falling away’ was followed by ‘strong delusion’ (see 2 Thess. 2:10-12). The general public still had access to the Bible – the questions naturally arose: are we living in the ‘falling away’ time? Are we experiencing ‘strong delusion’?
To settle these questions, Augustine used the commandment of Jesus known as the ‘great commission’ (see Matt. 28:19, 20). Where Jesus told his disciples go into all the world preaching the Gospel, and baptizing believers. Augustine now proclaimed that this commission was now accomplished and no more evangelism was necessary. Furthermore, this meant that the Church had entered into the time of the Millennium and the 1000 years of peace on earth had begun. Therefore, the ‘falling away and the ‘strong delusion’ had already occurred sometime in the past (usually blamed on the time of persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero).
The Constantinian/Augustinian Heritage
The Constantinian/Augustinian/Platonic system created a religion that removed choice and responsibility from the people, and made the people dependent on a priesthood, for their salvation – this is Platonism. Plato’s vision of a society governed by ‘superiors’ supervising the ignorant masses, was coming to fruition. Augustine provided the framework, and in the years to come many political, religious and social rules and regulations were added, until the ordinary people found themselves completely trapped in what came to be known as Feudalism. This was neo-Platonism, the people were totally under the control of their superiors from infancy to the grave, and it persisted into modern times.
The Constantinian/Augustinian system was as sacral as sacralism can get – and as such it had a profound effect on all societies wherever it prevailed. For hundreds of years it molded the nations of western Europe, and the nations of Europe were all sacral in nature. The following description of France during this period gives us a good insight into what life was like- in all these nations where Platonism, Constantinianism and Augustinianism reigned supreme:
“Une foi, un loi, un roi,” (one faith, one law, one king). This traditional saying gives some indication of how the state, society, and religion were all bound up together in people’s minds and experience. There was not the distinction that we have now between public and private, between civic and personal. Religion had formed the basis of the social consensus of Europe for a millennium. Since Clovis, the French monarchy in particular had closely tied itself to the church — the church sanctified its right to rule in exchange for military and civil protection. France was “the first daughter of the church” and its king “The Most Christian King” (le roy tres chretien), and no one could imagine life any other way. “One faith” was viewed as essential to civil order — how else would society hold together? And without the right faith, pleasing to God who upholds the natural order, there was sure to be disaster. Heresy was treason, and treason was heresy. Religious toleration, which to us seems such a necessary virtue in public life, was considered tantamount to letting drug dealers move next door and corrupt your children, a view for the cynical and world-weary who had forgotten God and no longer cared about the health of society. Wars of Religion, http://www.lepg.org/wars.htm
As time went by the Constantinian//Augustinian/Platonic system permeated the whole of society. It became the perfect system/religion/politick for a rulership top down hierarchical ordering of all things societal. It was a perfect system for oligarchical rule, and a perfect system for the suppression of the masses. The inhabitants of the world not only became enslaved spiritually, but physically as well – feudalism and slavery were the norm for hundreds of years. The masses were intellectually and educationally belittled. They became moral and emotional cripples. Life was brutal and life expectancy was low. This was/is the fruit of the system created by Constantine, Augustine and Plato. And yet, we are repeatedly told, that it is this system that created Western Civilization. Western civilization is all about democratic and human and political and religious rights, and the rule of law. Western Civilization is where people choose who rules over them – choice and individuality and personal responsibility are fundamental in any Western society. The insistence that this system of religious and political liberty is the direct opposite of Platonism, should awaken a sense of:
“I wake up in the morning and I step outside,
I take a deep breath and I get real high
and I scream at the top of my lungs,
WHAT’S GOING ON!”