Augustine Denied Free Will, Supported Brutal Coercion?

I have a friend who is pretty learned about early Church history, but is not Catholic. I don’t want to say too much about him, in order to protect his privacy. And he is a good man. He is also just. For example, he strongly acknowledges that the early Church believed in the Papacy. He is also very critical of Protestantism. He thinks that Luther and Calvin were terrible Biblical exegetes and that Calvinwas a terrible heretic. (Probably he believes that about Luther too).

However, he has a negative view of Augustine both as a man and as a Church father. He believes that Augustine was closer to Protestantism than Catholicism. he says that in the 1500s Catholic scholars did a study of Augustine called “Augustinum” (sp?), which meant to prove Augustine’s Catholicity but concluded instead that Augustine was closer to Protestantism (the Protestantism of that day, not ours).

Anyway, here’s the biggest point: he believes that Augustine denied free will and that this is what caused him to be “the father of the inquisition”. That is, he says that because Augustine denied free will, he says that Augustine approved of the theft from and murder of people who disagreed with the Church and other coercion I guess.

How do I respond to this, if at all?

Require sources for positive claims.

Augustine neither denied free will nor did he encourage forced conversion, although he did correctly hold that the state may prohibit the practice of heretical versions of Christianity.

Here are some words from Augustine’s “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will”, coming very early in the 2nd chapter of the writing:

"Now He has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will."

It doesn’t sound to me like St. Augustine denied the existence of Free Will, to the contrary he says God shows scripturally that we do.

So, I guess the question I would ask is, can he reference these claims.

Peace and All Good!

I think it’s a far too simplistic claim to assert that Augustine thought that humanity had no free will.

Now, he did write that humanity’s free will was damaged by original sin – and therefore, anyone who examined pre-lapsarian free will and post-lapsarian free will would certainly notice the difference. However, this does not imply that post-lapsarian humanity is devoid of free will. Rather, we now require God’s grace in order to exert virtuous free will choices.

This means that our free will is weakened, but not destroyed. It also means that our ability to choose the good, in a certain way, is no longer imputed as merit to ourselves; rather, when we make a choice, it is still through our free will, but it is also done through our acceptance of God’s grace in us.

Thank you, everyone.

If Augustine supported the state’s right to prohibit the practice of heresies, what penalties did he allow the state to use against heresy?

Are we saying that the state could imprison people for heresy?, take their property away?, or even kill them?

Also, I read over some of Augustine’s “On Grace and Free Will” and Augustine seems to be strongly defending free will and grace and the necessity of good works–freely done through Christ–in our salvation.

There seems to be so much in this treatise that is incompatible with Calvinism that I don’t understand how Calvin and Luther believed they were being faithful to Augustine. Can anyone explain this?

So I’m confused as to where my good friend is coming from. I called him to ask for some sources and for more explanation, so I’ll have to see what he says.

Okay, so my understanding is that Pelagius was basically denying that Adam’s sin damaged our human nature. He was overemphasizing our free will, and not only that, but even asserting our ability to work out our salvation for ourselves, without any strict need for the redemption worked by Jesus. Right?

On the other side, Calvin claimed that Adam’s sin made our nature totally evil, right? And not only that but he taught that God actively caused Adam to sin, and that God hated some of his human creatures of His Own Will, from all eternity.

Meanwhile the Church teaches that even those without grace can do things that are morally good–such as feeding the poor–but that these acts cannot in any way merit eternal life. Is that right?


Peace of Mary and Jesus,

To my knowledge he didn’t address specific penalties for specific crimes.

In general, the state can fine and imprison people for crimes in general. And can even impose death if the crime is serious and if it is necessary to protect society from the crime.

This is the big thing. Pelagianism claimed that Jesus was a good example, but that He wasn’t necessary for our salvation. It claimed that we could save ourselves, through our own works. That was the biggest problem with his teaching, and it’s the one that Augustine homed in on and pounded away at, with his insistence of the doctrine of original sin and its effects.

On the other side, Calvin claimed that Adam’s sin made our nature totally evil, right? And not only that but he taught that God actively caused Adam to sin, and that God hated some of his human creatures of His Own Will, from all eternity.

Offhand, I couldn’t tell you – I don’t consider myself well-versed enough in Calvinistic theology to make claims about what he was teaching.

Meanwhile the Church teaches that even those without grace can do things that are morally good–such as feeding the poor–but that these acts cannot in any way merit eternal life. Is that right?

There’s a little bit more to it than that, I think, if you’re getting at what I think you’re trying to get at…!

The Catholic Church teaches that we are justified through baptism, which is given to us as a completely gratuitous, unmerited gift of God’s grace. Through the graces of baptism, we are made able to act in cooperation with that grace and do acts of supernatural virtue. (That speaks both to the act and to the motivation for the act. You and I both can do good deeds, but if you’re doing them out of love of God and humanity, and I’m doing them out of a desire to make money by starting a non-profit to feed the poor or to kickstart my political career… well, you can see how one is an act of supernatural virtue and the other is just a self-serving act – even though the actions might resemble each other!)

So, these ‘acts of supernatural virtue’ are ones that we do, but only through our cooperation with God’s grace in our hearts. Therefore, the merit of these actions applies primarily to God – after all, it’s His grace in us that catalyzes us to act! However, we can say that there is a kind of ‘secondary merit’ that can be imputed to us: after all, there is a response to that grace that was necessary in order for the virtuous act to be done, right? I mean, it’s not like God’s grace turns us into good-deed-doing zombies, right? So, the Church teaches that there is something in these acts that reflects positively on us. It’s not like we can say, “see! I gave $1000 to feed the poor in India! I rock! I’m going to heaven 'cause I’m such a great guy!”.

Is that what you were getting at?

He is VERY misinformed. He needs to read a lot more Augustine. Augustine did not deny free will and did not speak of double predestination. There was no inquisition until nearly 1000 years after Augustine.

Does that mean the state could legitimately imprison and fine Protestant groups today? I mean, is that th implication o f defending Augustines views on the donatists?

Right. The Bible is so clear that we cannot merit salvation through our works done of ourselves. So I dint understand why my friend is defending Pelagiansim.

First it should be noted that it would be highly imprudent to attempt such in a majority Protestant country.

But if we’re speaking of a Catholic country, yes that would be legitimate.

Thanks for your answer. Are there diverging schools of thought on this? I mean, have there been Popes, saints, or other respectable Catholic leaders who believe that Augustine got it wrong, and the Church should encourage religious liberty, and that the Church should not encourage secular forces to suppress schisms or heresies?

There are those who hold the Church should encourage religious liberty on principle. However it would be difficult to reconcile their opinions with the Magisterium. See:

for starters.

It is admittedly the practice of Church leaders to use the rhetoric of religious liberty to defend the rights of the Church, however this seems to be a practical matter, and there has not been any magisterial repudiation of the previous teaching.

I want to make it clear before I answer that I respect paleocon and I do not intend to call into question his commitment to following the teachings of the Church. But, if I understand his last couple of posts correctly, my understanding of Church doctrine regarding religious liberty is very different from his.

Historical examples of popes, doctors of the Church, and Church Fathers supporting the right of religious liberty can be found here:

A modern example of the Church teaching the right of religious liberty can be found in the Second Vatican Council: This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. … Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government, in the selection, training, appointment, and transferral of their own ministers, in communicating with religious authorities and communities abroad, in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of suitable funds or properties. (source) Paleocon cited Pope Pius IX’s document Quanta Cura in order to prove that the Church rejects religious liberty. I think that is a great document, but it is frequently quoted out of context. When it was released, it was criticized by secularists for supposedly teaching against religious liberty, and Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman argued that they were cherry picking a few of its statements in order to make a false point. (Recent comments by the media in light of the documents released by Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops show that this is still a common problem – i.e. secularists taking recently-released magisterial statements out of context in order to push their own agenda.)

Cardinal Newman explained that Church teaching distinguishes between a true religious liberty based in the need to respect the freedom of other peoples’ will, and a false religious liberty based in secularist ideas about separation of Church and State. He explained that the pope, if read in context and in light of the prior teaching of the Church, was condemning the false view of religious liberty while leaving alone the true teaching. This explanation appears in Sections 6 and 7 of his book “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”. These sections can be read here. Thus, this blessed man defended Pius IX on the matter of religious liberty in the aftermath of the document’s release. (Other helpful documents re: the Syllabus and modern Church doctrine are this and this.)

I hope that helps. God bless!

With all due respect, there is equivocation in your post. All of the magisterial statements you reference are speaking of forced conversion, which is quite a different matter from freedom of religious practice for heretics.

Now certainly, if there are too many Protestants, for example, in a society, a Catholic sovereign cannot but tolerate their activity, lest they disturb the civil order in an attempt to obtain freedom of religious practice. But if it were possible to suppress their practice safely, this would most certainly be preferable. See Libertas and Question 96, article 2 of the Summa theologica.

Regarding the matter of reconciling supposed contradictions between Dignatas Hamanae and prior teaching, note that DH explicitly states that it is not changing anything regarding the teaching on the duty of the state to the Catholic religion. Also note, that as even your article admits, the Catechism specifies that the due limits mentioned in DH are not simply the public order. So the teaching of many pontiffs, that a Catholic state should repress false religions, remains. See Mirari Vos for yet another of many examples.

Alright guys, friends, thanks for your help. Im getting a better idea of the principles i nvolved.

Paleocon for example agrees that this is alsi a matter not only of objective truth but of prudential judgment.

Heres my questin: was Augustine right to argue for the limited coercion of the donatists under the circumstances and were his arguments sound? For example his argument that Christ used some force to help th conversiin of st paul.

Thanks. Bless you for your help in Mary and Jesus

I would think so. The Donatists were a small minority considering the whole of the Empire. Plus they hadn’t been tolerated for that long (considered from a longer view of the history of the Empire). So I think that the good of suppressing them was not outweighed by any social disturbances which may have resulted.

Thankss , and please bear with me. I want to be ready for my friend. What exactly would be the harm in letting the Donatists do their own thing?

They would have drawn more people away from the true faith, into Donatism.

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