Did St. Augustine support calvinism?

So did support Calvinism or are Calvinists twisting his teachings by quoting things out of context?

Embracing heresy does not get one to the status of Saint and Doctor of the Church. No, Augustine did not teach or support calvinist doctrines.

. . . not to mention the fact that it would have been kinda hard for him to “support” something that didn’t appear until a millennium after he had died.

As he was engaged in fighting Pelagianism, Augustine emphasized the indispensable role of grace in salvation. But in other writings-and there are an immense amount of them- he didn’t abandon the role of man’s free will as Calvinism does. So while he can often be quoted in support of a “total depravity” kind of position, he’s still overall more balanced towards the Catholic position, at least relative to Calvin.

Calvinism within Christianity is virtually identical to traditional Islamic theology: God guides whom He wills, and He leads astray whom He wills. Men such as Luther and Calvin were known in life to have a very intense fear of hellfire, and as part of reconciling their fears, their theology ended up being heavily structured around the concept of irresistible grace. That all men were hopelessly depraved and destined for Hell, and those that were called to repentance were thus assured of salvation. This act of God was the same as though he were calling forth the rain: there was no acceptance or rejection of the offer on behalf of man itself; if God chose to spare you, you were incapable of resisting the call.

St. Augustine was a very early apologist in Church history, and the theology surrounding predestination was still very adolescent and developing at that point (as it is still developing today). His views were definitely not synonymous with Calvinism, as he definitely believed in the idea of an independent human will and choice, but yes, some of his writings would not be a part of Church teaching today and you will not find them echoed in the Catechism. This article discusses St. Augustine’s pioneering theological works surrounding predestination, as well as the areas where he is regarded as wrong.

Excellent post. Calvin did crib from St. Augustine, but he rejected a lot of Augustine as well, especially his ecclesiology and his respect for Sacred Tradition. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve seen several Calvinists try to claim that Augustine was one of them. In response to one I wrote the following:

Unity with the whole Church in faith and sacraments was a fundamental principle of his thought and action. He used the expression “orbis terrarum”–-the whole world—for this in several works. His famous line securus judicat orbis terrarum (the whole world judges securely) occurs in his first major work against the Donatists: “The whole world judges securely that they are not good who separate themselves from the whole world.” (Contra Parmeniani, 3, 4, 24) The faith of the whole church that Augustine assented to and taught was sacramental, hierarchical, and transmitted God’s word through scripture and tradition in the church.

Augustine stressed the necessity and efficacy of baptism against the Donatists (De baptismo), he teaches the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Enarrationes in psalmos 99, 8; Sermon 227; 272; De Trinatate 3, 4, 10; In Ioannis 11, 3); the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist (Questionum in heptateuchum 3, 57; Contra Faustus 20, 21; De Civitas Dei 10, 5 & 20; Letter 98:9), and that Holy Orders is a sacrament (Contra Parmeniani 2, 13, 28; De bono conjugali 24, 32).

But most of all, a central principle in Augustine’s theology and exegetical method is the role of tradition. There is of course his well-known statement: “If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the Gospel, what should you answer him when he says: ‘I do not believe?’ Indeed, I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.” (Contra ep. mani 5, 6) He argued vigorously for infant baptism convinced that its origin was apostolic because it was handed on by tradition (De baptismo 2, 7, 12; 4, 24, 32; De Genesi ad litteram, 10, 23, 39). This apostolic tradition is guarded and handed on by the succession of bishops of Rome beginning with Peter. In one instance Augustine asks rhetorically what keeps him in the church and answers first the consent of the church throughout the world, the church’s authority, and then “The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate.” (Contra epistulam manichaei, 4, 5). He specifies even further in his letter to Generosus (Letter, 53, 1, 2): “For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these:—Clement, . . . [etc., etc., all the way down to the current Pope at the time of his writing ] Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found.” (See also Letter 54, 1, 1; Contra Iulianum, 2, 10, 33-34; In Ioannis, 37, 6)

Augustine, is famous for stressing the role of grace, but not at the expense of freedom. He begins a work on grace and freedom with these words: “With reference to those persons who so preach and defend man’s free will, as boldly to deny, and endeavor to do away with, the grace of God which calls us to Him, and delivers us from our evil deserts, and by which we obtain the good deserts which lead to everlasting life: we have already said a good deal in discussion, and committed it to writing, so far as the Lord has vouchsafed to enable us. But since there are some persons who so defend God’s grace as to deny man’s free will, or who suppose that free will is denied when grace is defended, I have determined to write.” (On Grace and Free Will, 1) He also writes: “A man can come to Church unwillingly, can approach the altar unwillingly, partake of the sacrament unwillingly: but he cannot believe unless he is willing credere non potest nisi volens].” (In Ioannis, 26, 2) “He who created you without your cooperation does not justify you without your cooperation. He who created you without your knowing it, he does not justify you without your wanting it.” (Sermon 11, 13)

It is hard to imagine a theological and exegetical method more diametrically opposed to that of the Reformation than Augustine’s. I would say that someone who assented to and taught the faith of the whole church (orbis terrarum) that was sacramental, hierarchical, and transmitted God’s word through scripture and tradition in the church guarded by the succession of bishops of Rome would qualify as Catholic.

I have yet to see a Church father quoted * in context* by “bible Christians.” As to Calvin, he was exactly right regarding one aspect of the Eucharist: it is a sacrifice. He was exactly wrong on the second aspect: the true presence, which he discarded. Luther discarded the sacrificial aspect while holding to the true presence. Calvin and Luther separated permanently over their disagreement regarding these two aspects of the Eucharist. It is almost as if they flipped a coin and settled on their favorite side, while denying the opposite side of the coin. Funny how the devil works - well, not, actually.

St. Augustine preached predestination. The Church teaches predestination.

Calvinists champion predestination. Hence they conclude that St. Augustine was “Calvinist”.

The argument usually gets traction, because so many Catholics are taught the significance of free-will. And it’s not even really a matter of these Catholics being ‘poorly catechized,’ it’s just that basic Catholic education and catechesis simply doesn’t spend a great deal of time, or put a great deal of emphasis, on predestination, ‘the Elect’, etc.–because it is of so little practical importance.

So, when you have a Catholic, or a group of Cat’s hearing about this predestination business for the first time…it’s almost shocking. When they quote St. Augustine up and down, showing that he believed in predestination, etc., then the picture that emerges, is that St. Augustine was therefore Calvinist in his thinking.

But that’s superficial and misleading. Dig deeper, and you find that St. Augustine denied double predestination (as does the Church)–but the Calvinists champion double predestination–that is, that God intentionally created ‘the damned’, that they would be damned, as He created ‘the Elect’, that they would be ‘the Elect’. St. Augustine simply does not have their back on that count.

I tangled with this mess several years ago. It’ll make your head spin. I can save you a whole lotta’ frustration (if you accept my recommendation on this point, but I can fully understand anyone having their reservations–after all, who the heck am I?)–here’s St. Augustine–and to a large extent, the Church’s position, nicely dumbed down, to a couple of lines, for layman’s (mine) understanding:

***God is beyond time; He knows how our destiny plays out.

We do not know; it is not ours to know.

All we can do, is our best via our free will, and in that spirit, heed the words of St. Paul:

Tend to (or ‘work out’) your own salvation with fear and trembling. Phil 2:12*

Practically speaking, predestination of zero use to us, since it is not ours to know, and cannot be known.**

FWIW: I’ve always found the Calvinists to be unbelievably pretentious in this regard, because they automatically (almost without reservation) make the colossal leap from knowing that predestination is, to concluding that therefore, they are among ‘the Elect’ (I’ll fall over and face plant the day I hear a Calv’y say "…I don’t know if I’m one of ‘the Elect’).

Words/phrases you can count on hearing when dealing with Calvinists:

  1. ‘…St. Augustine is ‘nuanced’ (catchphrase), so he can be read either way’ (read: disregard who he was, and what he did, and how he lived is life–i.e.–as a Catholic Bishop, faithful to the Church and to authority, and to Rome…and read what you like by taking his words in isolation, out of context); and

  2. “The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice”–which is how they justify knowing (read: pretend to know) that they are among ‘the Elect’.


No, Calvinism wasn’t invented until 1200 years or more after St. Augustine. Calvinism is based on a misunderstanding of Augustine. Remember, St. Augustine was a Catholic Bishop and taught that The Church that Jesus Christ founded was The Catholic Church. If Calvinists would start with that part, they’d quickly get back on track.

Funny, I’ve noticed that too! :stuck_out_tongue:

As to Calvin, he was exactly right regarding one aspect of the Eucharist: it is a sacrifice. He was exactly wrong on the second aspect: the true presence, which he discarded. Luther discarded the sacrificial aspect while holding to the true presence. Calvin and Luther separated permanently over their disagreement regarding these two aspects of the Eucharist. It is almost as if they flipped a coin and settled on their favorite side, while denying the opposite side of the coin. Funny how the devil works - well, not, actually.

True. As Fr. Jurgens said, the Catholic faith is a seamless garment. Tear away a part of it and, well, it stops making sense.

In Calvin’s Institutes, at some points he appeals to the “authority of Augustine.” (e.g. 3.23.4) However, he is selective as to which writings of Augustine are authoritative because some writings of Augustine contradict Calvin doctrines, as even Calvin admits elsewhere (e.g. 3.22.8).

Father William Most pointed out some of Augustine’s imprudent interpretations on predestination. But as for passages clearly against Calvin, one example from Augustine is:*“What does this mean, “for our justification”? So that He might justify us; so that He might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you be a man. If God made you a man, and you made yourself just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. For you did not lend your consent so that God could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without you willing it.” (Sermon 169, quoted in Jurgens, William A, The Faith of the Early Fathers volume 3, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1979, p. 29)*The bold part contradicts Calvinist thought on predestination and justification.

Just curious are all the reformers considered as heretics?

A heretic is a Catholic who embraces heresy. So, yes. many of the reformers were formal heretics such as Luther, Calvin and others.

Those who came later who were never Catholics would not be formal heretics.

discusses St. Augustine’s pioneering theological works surrounding predestination, as well as the areas where he is regarded as wrong.Thanks so much for the link to Fr. Most’s critique of some of Augustine’s positions. Very interesting and helpful.

Turn the question around - it is asked backward: Did Calvin cherry-pick from Augustinian teachings?


Calvin never would have considered St Augustine right in every area, since he was clearly a bishop that subscribed to papal primacy, all the sacraments, etc., so it would not be accurate to say Calvin cherry-picked, since there was no illusion Calvin was not creating a new and heavily reformed theology of salvation. Certain features of St Augustine’s musings (which are not infallible) inspired Calvin’s own works.

The paramount divide between these two men was one was humble, the other insolent. St Augustine once wrote concerning the effect of his works (paraphrase): if there is error to be found in my writing, the failure is mine. Also, St Augustine’s defenses against Pelagians never approached the infamous 5-point Calvinism that was to come 11 centuries later.

Read your post again. I think you just agreed that Calvin selected certain of Augustine’s words. Is that not cherry-picking? The same occurred with Jerome on the scriptures.

Cherry picking generally means you take a source you consider authoritative and yet still selecting out the bits you like and ignoring /dodging the rest. A Catholic that condones contraception is cherry picking, because they allegedly acknowledge the teaching authority of the Church and yet … don’t? It is beyond me what is going on inside their skull. My first guess would be: not a whole lot.
Calvin, like the rest of his reformist contemporaries, rejected the apostleship of the CC. Really, this is the root heresy that all other heresies flowed from; if they acknowledged the succession of the apostles and their authority up to the present age and beyond, then it would have been impossible for them to scrap, alter, and/or add doctrine that went against the Holy See, because they would have accepted its theology as authentic and divinely protected. Once a rejection of the apostleship occurs, the barriers crumble and a person is open to veritably limitless other reform; you become a counterfeit Magisterium. So since Calvin had rejected the authority of the Church, there was no need to answer to Augustine’s other views; he was by his reckoning a papist and ergo flawed, however some of his insights and musings on predestination were taken and developed.

Actually, protestantism is cafeteria Christianity, as it selects a bit of Jerome here, a bit of Augustine there, all of Paul, and only the tasty morsels from the others.

Howls of protest await.

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