PODCAST: Augustine of Hippo, Part 9 (History of Christianity #168 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #168, titled, “Augustine of Hippo (Part 9): Minister and Theologian of the Western Church (Part 4).”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Matthew 5:14-16 which reads: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Augustine. He said: “Since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Augustine of Hippo (Part 9): Minister and Theologian of the Western Church (Part 4)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The controversy lasted several years, and eventually Pelagianism [PELL-AY-JEE-UHN-ISM] was rejected. It simply did not take into account the terrible hold of sin on human will, nor the corporate nature of sin, which is manifest even in infants before they have opportunity to sin for themselves. Augustine’s views, however, did not gain wide acceptance. He was accused of being an innovator. In southern France, where opposition to Augustine was strongest, Vincent of Lerins [LE-RAA] argued that one should believe only what has been held “always, everywhere, and by all”–criteria that Augustine’s critics claimed his doctrines did not meet. Many contested Augustine’s view that the beginning of faith is in God’s action rather than in a human decision. These opponents of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination have been called, somewhat inexactly, “Semi-Pelagians [PELL-AY-JEE-UHNS].” (They could also be called “Semi-Augustinians.”) Through a process that took almost a century, Augustine was reinterpreted, so that theologians came to call themselves “Augustinian” while rejecting his views on irresistible grace and predestination. In 529, the Synod of Orange upheld Augustine’s doctrine of the primacy of grace in the process of salvation, but left aside the more radical consequences of that doctrine. It was thus that subsequent generations–with notable exceptions–interpreted the teachings of the great bishop of Hippo.

Two of Augustine’s writings are particularly significant. The first is his Confessions, a spiritual autobiography, addressed in prayer to God, which tells how God led him to faith through a long and painful pilgrimage. It is unique in its genre in all of ancient literature, and even to this day it witnesses to Augustine’s profound psychological and intellectual insight.

The other work worthy of special mention is The City of God. The immediate motive impelling Augustine to write it was the Fall of Rome in 410 CE. Since there were many who still clung to ancient paganism at that time, some charged that Rome had fallen because it had abandoned its ancient gods and turned to Christianity. It was to respond to such allegations that Augustine wrote The City of God, a vast encyclopedic history in which he claims that there are two cities–that is, two social orders–each built on a foundation of love. The city of God is built on the love of God. The earthly city is built on the love of self. In human history, these two cities always appear mingled with each other. But in spite of this there is between the two of them an irreconcilable opposition, a fight to the death. In the end, only the city of God will remain. Meanwhile, human history is filled with kingdoms and nations, all built on love of self, which are no more than passing expressions of the earthly city. All of these kingdoms and nations, no matter how powerful, will wither and pass away, until the end of time, when only the city of God will remain standing. In the case of Rome in particular, God allowed it and its empire to flourish so that they served as a means for spreading the gospel. Now that this purpose has been fulfilled, God has let Rome follow the destiny of all human kingdoms, which is simply punishment for their sins. But even so, Christians do well to learn even the history of the human city, for–as Augustine says in another treatise–“all we may learn about the past helps us understand the Scriptures.”

Next time, we will continue looking at “Augustine of Hippo.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.