I have a friend who is in two of my classes this semester at Seminary. He is pretty fabulous. He has glasses, some little bit of facial hair that fits no category and absolutely no hair on top of his head. Seriously, the man’s cranium shines in the lights of our classrooms. I want to rub it sometimes before exams–I always wonder if that’s like rubbing a Buddha’s belly–does it really bring good luck? Well, I wouldn’t mind trying….if I wasn’t such a Calvinist.
Anyway, this friend of mine, he wanted to get together recently to discuss Saint Augustine. We’re writing a paper on him for my church history class after reading The Confessions. But we just could not get our schedules together to chat. I would like to impart this conversation to you…
Sara: Hey, done w/ work and will be leaving campus unless you want to meet. Just a heads up on the movements of an Augustine Expert…
J: You’re awesome. Would love to, but am out to dinner with a buddy of mine. Unfortunatley, I”ll have to tackle this heretic on my own.
Sara: Heretic? Awh, J. That’s a wee bit strong. If it were Origen-yes. But Saint Augustine? Come now… you cry heretic like the boy who cried wolf…
I love this man, he cracks me up. But at the same time, this is a point of contention in our budding friendship. He, like many, sometimes jumps to conclusions regarding those who wrote and lived in a different time and era. I’m not saying that culture is an excuse for incorrect or heretical doctrine. Of course we have heretics from the early church–Origen, Marcion, Sabellius. There are always people who step outside the lines of orthodoxy and they must be addressed, corrected.
But someone who the church has long considered a Father in the faith? From whom much doctrine and clarification has been derived? These men need to be treated with care. They wrote to a different audience, a different worldview.
I don’t think my friend is alone in this, and I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. He comes from an age that values rational thought* and a Protestant background which was born of rebellion. In some ways, how could he do anything but argue against the Church Fathers who dabble in experiential reality and spirituality?
How many of us look at church fathers or authority and we don’t understand what they are saying, or we don’t like it, and so we reject it? Augustine’s understanding of time is over my head (dealing with the question of eternality). I don’t love his near obsession with his sins. I want to shout at him, “Augustine! Grace! It’s THERE!” But at the same time, to call him a heretic for not leaning into grace as I understand it? Or perhaps he does lean into grace more than I do, because he sees confession as the way to unbuild the wall between himself and God and to dive into a deeper relationship with the Father.
Either way. He lived sixteen hundred years ago. And he was brilliant. And the Church made him a Saint. So he can’t be all that bad. Maybe as Protestants who still struggle to not define themselves in opposition…maybe we should learn to remember our history, our heritage, and as the creed says: the communion of all saints.
J. He’s not a heretic. But I do love that we can have these conversations and walk away laughing like old friends.
*Though Post Modernism increasingly emphasizes experiential spirituality and living