Tuesday, May 8, 2012

St. Augustine’s early synthesis on Grace, Law, and Predestination: An Overview Summary of the teachings in the Miscellany

I should have made this post a long while back before releasing my two outlines on the Miscellany of Questions in Response to St. Simplicianus, but here will be a main summary of St. Augustine’s view of justification, grace, law, and predestination as presented in the Miscellany. Much of what is presented in St. Augustine’s Miscellany shows up in the very late Augustinian corpus, such as St. Augustine’s usage of the Three Stages in life (lawlessness, imprisonment under the law, and finally the freedom of grace to fulfill the law), his development of original sin (in the second half of his miscellany is it fully developed), the primacy of grace, and many other things.

If you want to read the full outlines of the Miscellany you can find them in two parts:

The Call to Grace:
The very beginning of salvation in St. Augustine’s idea in the Miscellany comes from the very act of being called by God. Many persons according to St. Augustine are called to become Christians, but not all are chosen, that is not all receive the call of grace that moves them to become righteous. God never has mercy in vain on anyone but some receive a call from God that isn’t appropriate to their being compelled to accept the Gospel, but in some manner God does not call in an appropriate manner to each man according to his merits or anything in the man. All men are in some manner sinners and form a lump of sinners (see the second part of the miscellany; in the first part St. Augustine only attributes mortality and the inclination to sin as part of original sin, not what seems to be an inherited guilt), and so God’s mercy is what lifts a man out of this condition, which He bestows on who He wills, according to His inscrutable wisdom. And so in the case of loving Jacob and hating Esau, God loves all men as His creatures but hates all sin in that it is a perversion of what He desires for the world though He allows it to be. God’s loving Jacob is the act of God directly causing and bringing the good in Jacob and blessing him with His grace and mercy, of His own free volition and mercy. Esau is simply passed over, and his heart is hardened, not by any act of God, but from God’s abstaining and not adding anything to Esau that he might sin or that he might do right. In such a manner St. Augustine writes that God grants nothing to Esau to make him become any worse, but nothing to Esau that he might become any better, for God’s grace and mercy is necessary to become holy and just. This withholding is how God may show His unwillingness to be merciful, that is His justice, and can be used as a means of instruction to lukewarm believers or to the conversion of others. God owes no mercy to any sinners since all are taken from a single lump of clay from Adam that is wicked.

The Call to Grace, and entrance into the Body of Christ:
The call to grace is a motive impulse and force in the soul, for which after receiving the call and having one’s will moved to accept God’s call, there are two occasions presented by St. Augustine. On one manner some men are of so great faith that upon their death they are given life with Christ, to which he cites the Good Thief on the cross next to Christ. In this manner, it seems St. Augustine says that the faith of martyrs or some particularly graced men can be saved by faith alone, but to the rest he says that faith is like conception, and without coming to the waters of baptism one is not born anew in Christ. St. Augustine says this is why Cornelius was told to be baptized by St. Peter, and why Christ said that one must be born of water and the Holy Spirit to enter into the kingdom of God. St. Augustine is keen to alert us that all of our salvation is not of our willing and running, or of any of our good works, but rather of God’s grace which precedes and carries us through good works and sacramental receptions. Baptism does effect new life, but it is grace that carries us to the sacrament and through good works. Thus any good work that we do is because of God’s grace that we received to help us through the task.

Good works and grace:
As I said above all good works are preceded by grace, which is causative, because God has mercy on none in vain, and so too then is it that it is not a matter of willing and running but of God who has mercy. In such a manner St. Augustine affirms the dignity and free will of mankind, but seems to understand the grace of God as to call a man as appropriate to his inclination and personal being, which causes him to act in accordance with a holy mindset that is obedient to God. It is still the man who is working and doing, but not without God’s providing him the means and capacity for doing so. It is then only in the gift of the Holy Spirit who pours love into our hearts that we can do any good works that make us righteous and live uprightly. When we struggle in temptations we learn how our will is weak and how we must pray humbly to God to enable us to receive His aid and assistance in carrying out a holy and good deed. Hence in its finality God rewards every man for living uprightly and meriting to be blessed forever, however this meriting is not on any part of what the man could do alone, but of God Who had mercy, Who touched his heart with the Holy Spirit granted as a gift through love, and moved his mind to these good deeds. I think it is appropriate then to say what St. Augustine says near the end of his episcopate that when God rewards a man for his life, He is crowning His own work in that man.

The Three Stages of Man:
Related though tangentially is St. Augustine’s reading of St. Paul whereby man undergoes three stages in life, the first is of lawlessness where a man (or mankind) does not understand right from wrong and simply does as he pleases.

The second stage is where the man is introduced to the law or a kind of law that teaches him right from wrong. Here is where the covetousness of fallen man comes into play and the mere fact that he is prohibited from doing something wracks his nerves to the point where he does wrong even though he knows it to be wrong, and so sin comes into the world. A man committed sinful acts before knowing the law, but they were not known to the man as sins and so the law caused sin to abound. From this understanding of sin man understands the punishment of sin is death and so enters into a heavy guilt about his sins but cannot do anything to remit this guilt or even to reform his ways because his bad habits of covetousness have rendered him a slave to his sinful desires (a slave to sin). Thus the more one sins the more one becomes trapped by bad habits and more heavily wracked by guilt, which can only be relieved by an increased covetousness and seeking for release from guilt. This is in some ways a very vicious cycle. The law and commandments given to man are not bad or in any way unjust, but this is the condition of man, that he becomes ever troubled by sin and guilt as well as by his increasing sinfulness. Only the man who has access to God’s mercy through grace and faith can escape this cycle and become truly holy and just by God’s aid.

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