On The Nature of Good (399)

Saint_Augustine_PortraitThanks for reading this latest installment from my current project of reading (and blogging) through Augustine’s works.

This book, known as On The Nature of Good, is one of Augustine’s short early works at around 62 pages. In this book, Augustine continues to deal with the Manichaean heresy.

In this first quote below, the editor of the book discusses the general contents.


It is one of the most argumentative of the Anti-Manichæan treatises, and so one of the most abstruse and difficult. The lines of argument here pursued have already been employed in part in the earlier treatises. The most interesting portions of the contents of the treatise, and the most damaging to the Manichæans, are the long extracts from Mani’s Thesaurus , and his Fundamental Epistle .— A.H.N.

Augustine states that God is the highest good. And as he never changes, he is eternal and immortal. As God is the only One who is unchangeable, all of His creation is changeable.

The highest good, than which there is no higher, is God, and consequently He is unchangeable good, hence truly eternal and truly immortal. All other good things are only from Him, not of Him. For what is of Him, is Himself. And consequently if He alone is unchangeable, all things that He has made, because He has made them out of nothing, are changeable.

God is above every measure, form, and order of His creatures.

God is, therefore, above every measure of the creature, above every form, above every order, nor is He above by local spaces, but by ineffable and singular potency, from whom is every measure, every form, every order. These three things, where they are great, are great goods, where they are small, are small goods; where they are absent, there is no good.

“Hyle” was a term for “matter” basically. Augustine states that we can’t just say it’s evil as the Manichees do.

For neither is that material, which the ancients called Hyle, to be called an evil. I do not say that which Manichæus with most senseless vanity, not knowing what he says, denominates Hyle, namely, the former of corporeal beings; whence it is rightly said to him, that he introduces another god.

Here is another good definition of sin – the forsaking of better thigs.

Therefore, as I have said, sin is not the striving after an evil nature, but the desertion of a better, and so the deed itself is evil, not the nature which the sinner uses amiss.


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Augustine on the difference between the Old and New Covenants

It is therefore apparent what difference there is between the old covenant and the new—that in the former the law is written on tables, while in the latter on hearts; so that what in the one alarms from without, in the other delights from within; and in the former man becomes a transgressor through the letter that kills, in the other a lover through the life-giving spirit. We must therefore avoid saying, that the way in which God assists us to work righteousness, and works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, [ Philippians 2: 13 ] is by externally addressing to our faculties precepts of holiness; for He gives His increase internally, [ 1 Corinthians 3: 7 ] by shedding love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us. [ Romans 5: 5 ]

Augustine, On The Spirit and The Letter

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The Federalist Papers, No 14 – Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered


Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered

From the New York Packet

Friday, November 30, 1787

James Madison




Madison reviews somewhat where we’ve been thus far. This first section is a great summary of what he believed the Federalists have proven in The Papers so far. A further objection will now be met – that of the size and extent of the Union’s territory.

WE HAVE seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the Old World, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming symptoms have been betrayed by our own. All that remains, within this branch of our inquiries, is to take notice of an objection that may be drawn from the great extent of country which the Union embraces. A few observations on this subject will be the more proper, as it is perceived that the adversaries of the new Constitution are availing themselves of the prevailing prejudice with regard to the practicable sphere of republican administration, in order to supply, by imaginary difficulties, the want of those solid objections which they endeavor in vain to find.

To prove why the proposed Democratic Republic is needed, Madison here reiterates the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. His theory is that over such a great extent of land. Recall, too, that at this time the land for most of the 13 colonies wasn’t confined to the size of the states today. They basically extended westward to the Mississippi River. Even at that, we can see the wisdom in the consideration of the Federalists that the Republican form of government was better equipped for larger territories of land.

The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was also adverted to on a former occasion. It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.

Here is the rub and something that it would, in my opinion, behoove everyone in my day to understand – that the intention was never for a Federal Government with unlimited power and reach into all aspects of it’s citizens’ lives. Here Madison relates 4 observations we must remember.

Favorable as this view of the subject may be, some observations remain which will place it in a light still more satisfactory. In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.

And the immediate need is for the federal Constitution to Unionize the 13 States.

A second observation to be made is that the immediate object of the federal Constitution is to secure the union of the thirteen primitive States, which we know to be practicable; and to add to them such other States as may arise in their own bosoms, or in their neighborhoods, which we cannot doubt to be equally practicable.

Third, and this may be seen as one of the enumerations for a federal government to provide, we see that it can help to maintain roads, accommodations, and navigation on the Atlantic.

Let it be remarked, in the third place, that the intercourse throughout the Union will be facilitated by new improvements. Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of the thirteen States.

Fourthly, the individual states will be frontiers on their western borders and the federal government could assist with safety. In order to do that, states will have to send representatives to a central location. This will be less burdensome for each state than dealing with invading enemies on their own.

A fourth and still more important consideration is, that as almost every State will, on one side or other, be a frontier, and will thus find, in regard to its safety, an inducement to make some sacrifices for the sake of the general protection;

It may be inconvenient for Georgia, or the States forming our western or northeastern borders, to send their representatives to the seat of government; but they would find it more so to struggle alone against an invading enemy, or even to support alone the whole expense of those precautions which may be dictated by the neighborhood of continual danger.

Here he speaks of what binds Americans together. We should continually recall this! We can live harmoniously and together guard our mutual happiness. We shed our blood together to defend our rights.

Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire.

the kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their sacred rights, consecrate their Union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies.

Looking back, America successfully accomplished the greatest revolution in the history of mankind and we were then on a path to chart “a new and more noble course.”

Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe.

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The Didache (~150): Baptism is by Immersion and for Converts

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whatever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

The Didache, Chapter 7

I have generally not been making any notes on these posts, but felt that I should make a note on this one. The date I’m providing for this is one that R. Scott Clark has suggested as the date. Though the document could have been earlier.

If you have been reading the previous posts in this series, you will recall that many of the Patristics have stated unequivocally that baptism is by full immersion into water. Further, most of them have been clear that they practiced an immersion 3 times into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. With that information in mind, it would seem that the first statement above is understood and even clarified by how the early church practiced baptism. The Didache states that it is “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water”. Knowing what we know about thrice full immersion, we can understand that The Didache was most likely stating exactly what we read in it: baptism by immersion. And most likely, it was a thrice baptism as we see the Godhead invoked. Whether it actually called for a thrice immersion could be debated as we don’t see that it was the prescribed practice for the Church from the New Testament. Perhaps the thrice immersion was a later modification to the practice of baptism. Many would argue that it would be nearly impossible for the sacrament of baptism to be distorted so early in the Church. They would cite the many who talked about infant baptism as being practiced as proof that it was an ancient practice even with apostolic origins. Yet many (or, rather most) of those same people now argue against baptism by immersion as the apostolic practice. First of all, some consistency would be nice. If infant baptism should be practiced because of Patristic support, these same people should be overwhelmingly in support of practicing immersion as this is far more well-documented than even infant baptism. Secondly, if immersion is wrong and the Patristics got it wrong going back to the 2nd Century, then this would show that there was not any debate when the early church and Patristics apparently introduced the practice of immersion. With this being the case, we must also ask ourselves if the practice of infant baptism could have also been introduced and continued in practice with no debate. For those who would point to church history for support of infant baptism, if they are not practicing immersion then they are highly inconsistent.

Back to The Didache, if and only if, there is not running or standing water enough available for immersion, we read that pouring (or effusion) is allowed. This echoes some statements by Patristics that we also later read in Church History that pouring was allowed on one’s deathbed or sickbed. I have also cited them in this blog series. At this point, I would like to note that what we’ve seen in the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament as only allowable if there is not enough water or if one is dying has been elevated to the preferred and normative practice of a large number of Protestant denominations today.

This should cause one to pause.

Especially as we have seen in this series that some of the most important Reformers have even said that immersion is the Biblical mode as properly practiced.

With regards to The Didache stating that baptism is for converts, this is also the way that R. Scott Clark reads this passage. However, he would argue along the lines that it just isn’t dealing with infant baptism that was probably being practiced at that time (again, there is no proof that it was) – the argument is that it was a baptismal instruction only written for converts so it had no concern for discussing the baptism of infants. I would like to say that it is just as plausible that, as we have the concession in The Didache that if there is not moving or still water only then you can pour, then we could make the argument that since there is no concession made for fasting by proxy here that there was not a practice of infants (who cannot themselves be ordered to fast) being baptized. I would also argue that since it only describes the baptism of converts that perhaps the baptism of converts was the only baptism being practiced then and in the New Testament.

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Against Faustus, Part 8 (398)

Augustine_of_HippoThanks for reading this latest installment from my current project of reading (and blogging) through Augustine’s works.

This book, known as Contra Faustum, is one of Augustine’s longest early works at around 375 pages and comprised of 33 books. In this book, Augustine deals with the works of Faustus the Manichaean through a sustained point and counterpoint type of argument. It is extremely enlightening with regards to what the Manichaeans believed. Since I had around 150 highlighted passages, this will be a multi-part series with some of the more important passages.

This post will, finally, complete the posts through Contra Faustum.

Augustine hits Faustus hard here stating that he always finds a way to defame Scripture.

It is remarkable how, amid his wild irrelevancies, this wretched trifler loses no available opportunity of darkening the declarations of Scripture by the fabulous creations of his own fancy.

We find here the point being made that by faith, and some basic knowledge, our minds must be cleared from worldly ideas. Faustus is prevented from doing this, though.

No one that knows you would dream of asking you about the infinitude of God, or of discussing the matter with you. For, before there can be any degree of spirituality in any of your conceptions, you must first have your minds cleared by simple faith, and by some elementary knowledge, from the illusions of carnal and material ideas. This your heresy prevents you from doing, for it invariably represents the body and the soul and God as extended in space, either finite or infinite, while the idea of space is applicable only to the body. As long as this is the case, it will be better for you to leave this matter alone; for you can teach no truth regarding it, any more than in other matters; and in this you are unfit for learning, as you might do in other things, if you were not proud and quarrelsome.

Those in such error as Faustus aren’t even able to distinguish the natural from the unnatural.

People in error, as you are, are unfit to decide what is natural, and what contrary to nature. We admit that what is contrary to the ordinary course of human experience is commonly spoken of as contrary to nature.

Augustine here deals with God’s foreknowledge, theodicy, and will. Augustine rules out such beliefs that we know today as open theism, middle knowledge, and Molinism.

Again, if I am told that something would happen if God did not prevent it from happening, I reply confidently that what is to happen is the action of God, not the event which might otherwise have happened. For God knows His own future action, and therefore He knows also the effect of that action in preventing the happening of what would otherwise have happened; and, beyond all question, what God knows is more certain than what man thinks. Hence it is as impossible for what is future not to happen, as for what is past not to have happened; for it can never be God’s will that anything should, in the same sense, be both true and false. Therefore all that is properly future cannot but happen; what does not happen never was future; even as all things which are properly in the past did indubitably take place.

As the true “fundamentalists” would point out in the early 20th Century, we believe the virgin birth because it is told to us in Scripture. We also believe in his death, burial, and resurrection for the same reasons. Even though some popular preachers in our day, such as Andy Stanley, try to say that we just believe in the resurrection because it happened, we can in no way know that it happened without the plain testimony of Scripture. Further, we must believe in those Scriptures to be saved.

The reason of our believing Him to have been born of the Virgin Mary, is not that He could not otherwise have appeared among men in a true body, but because it is so written in the Scripture, which we must believe in order to be Christians, or to be saved. We believe, then, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, because it is so written in the Gospel; we believe that He died on the cross, because it is so written in the Gospel; we believe that both His birth and death were real, because the Gospel is no fiction.

I like how Augustine points out that Faustus answers arguments that aren’t being used by anyone. Can anyone say “straw man”?

You are always answering arguments which no one uses, instead of our real arguments, which you cannot answer. No one says that Christ could not die if He had not been born; for Adam died though he had not been born.

Again, as in other posts from this book, Augustine states how Faustus would rely on non-canonical sources. Therefore, which book do we trust – those Canonical or those condemned?

But perhaps you will quote some other book bearing the name of an apostle known to have been chosen by Christ; and you will find there that Christ was not born of Mary. Since, then, one of the books must be false, the question in this case is, whether we are to yield our belief to a book acknowledged and approved as handed down from the beginning in the Church founded by Christ Himself, and maintained through the apostles and their successors in an unbroken connection all over the world to the present day; or to a book which this Church condemns as unknown, and which, moreover, is brought forward by men who prove their veracity by praising Christ for falsehood.

Straight to the point…

Our argument against you is, that the Christ you make is such that you cannot be His true disciples unless you too practice deceit. The fact that Christ’s body was the only one born of a virgin does not prove that there was sorcery in His birth, any more than there is sorcery in its being the only body to rise again on the third day, never to die any more.

A little Covenant Theology from Augustine. I appreciate the point he makes that as Christ is the seed of Abraham that we who belong to Christ’s body are also Abraham’s seed.

If we are asked why we do not worship God as the Hebrew fathers of the Old Testament worshipped Him, we reply that God has taught us differently by the New Testament fathers, and yet in no opposition to the Old Testament, but as that Testament itself predicted. For it is thus foretold by the prophet: “Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” [Jeremiah 31:31-32] Thus it was foretold that that covenant would not continue, but that there would be a new one. And to the objection that we do not belong to the house of Israel or to the house of Judah, we answer according to the teaching of the apostle, who calls Christ the seed of Abraham, and says to us, as belonging to Christ’s body, “Therefore you are Abraham’s seed.” [Galatians 3:29]

Pentecost signified the promise that Christ would be proclaimed in all tongues and nations.

For all who first received Him spoke with tongues; [Acts ii] and in this sign there was a promise that in all tongues, or in all nations, the Church of after times would faithfully proclaim the doctrine of the Spirit as well as of the Father and of the Son.

Faustus basically aims to have people picking and choosing which scriptures to believe. Interestingly, this is also the argument that many Catholics would make against the Biblical and Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura but this is a fundamental misunderstanding by them of what Sola Scriptura actually means.

Your design clearly is to deprive Scripture of all authority, and to make every man’s mind the judge what passage of Scripture he is to approve of, and what to disapprove of. This is not to be subject to Scripture in matters of faith, but to make Scripture subject to you. Instead of making the high authority of Scripture the reason of approval, every man makes his approval the reason for thinking a passage correct.

This has many Covenant Theology ramifications for my P&R brethren. 😉

And so much importance does he attach to this, that the single ground which he specifies for our becoming Abraham’s children, though not descended from him in the flesh, is, that we follow the footsteps of his faith.

Faustus, like so many others throughout history, had a problem with Gospel harmony. Augustine would challenge anyone to tell a story twice and see if all of his own words matched up perfectly with each other.

I wish one of those people who found their silly objections to the Gospels on such trifling difficulties would himself tell a story twice over, honestly giving a true account of what happened, and that his words were written down and read over to him. We should then see whether he would not say more or less at one time than at another; and whether the order would not be changed, not only of words, but of things; and whether he would not put some opinion of his own into the mouth of another, because, though he never heard him say it, he knew it perfectly well to be in his mind; and whether he would not sometimes put in a few words what he had before related at length.


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The Federalist Papers, No. 13 – Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government


Advantage of the Union in Respect to Economy in Government

For the Independent Journal

Wednesday, November 28, 1787

By: Alexander Hamilton



Hamilton cites that as Britain is roughly 8 million people that we should be able to see that a “like portion of power” could also do the same for a greater number of people.

When we consider that the island of Britain, nearly commensurate with each of the supposed confederacies, contains about eight millions of people, and when we reflect upon the degree of authority required to direct the passions of so large a society to the public good, we shall see no reason to doubt that the like portion of power would be sufficient to perform the same task in a society far more numerous. Civil power, properly organized and exerted, is capable of diffusing its force to a very great extent; and can, in a manner, reproduce itself in every part of a great empire by a judicious arrangement of subordinate institutions.

Regarding the economics, it should be plain to all that the more states in the Union, the better their ability to support the Union.

Nothing can be more evident than that the thirteen States will be able to support a national government better than one half, or one third, or any number less than the whole. This reflection must have great weight in obviating that objection to the proposed plan, which is founded on the principle of expense; an objection, however, which, when we come to take a nearer view of it, will appear in every light to stand on mistaken ground.

It would be more detrimental to the economy if the Union were split into many confederacies because of all of the additional overhead (even militarily) necessary to guard each of the borders.

If, in addition to the consideration of a plurality of civil lists, we take into view the number of persons who must necessarily be employed to guard the inland communication between the different confederacies against illicit trade, and who in time will infallibly spring up out of the necessities of revenue; and if we also take into view the military establishments which it has been shown would unavoidably result from the jealousies and conflicts of the several nations into which the States would be divided, we shall clearly discover that a separation would be not less injurious to the economy, than to the tranquillity, commerce, revenue, and liberty of every part.

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Zwingli (1525): Baptism By Immersion Signifies Christ’s Death and Resurrection

What clearer proof could there be than this text from Paul that baptism is an initiatory sign which introduces or pledges us to Christ, that in him we may be new men and live a new life. Immersion in the water signifies death, that as Christ was dead and buried, so we too die to the world. Re-emergence from the water signifies the resurrection of Christ, that as he rose again to die no more, we too have a new life in Christ, and can never die, but have passed from death unto life (John 5). But at this point the Anabaptists object: We must take into account the preceding verses, and we shall then see that the Apostle is answering those who were saying: If Christ redeems us from all sin, and if the grace of God is manifested most clearly where the sin is greatest, we will continue in sin. Therefore Paul is not speaking about external baptism, but internal,. For immediately after it reads: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin,” etc. These words make it quite plain that he is not speaking about external baptism, but internal, that is, true baptism. Answer: I have taken into account both what precedes and what follows, and boasting apart, I knew the meaning of this passage far better than you (verboabsit invidia) long before you had ever seen it. But I must give you a more forceful answer than that. No one denies that in these verses Paul is speaking about the death of the old man and the new life. But to make his meaning plainer he introduces water-baptism as a figure or illustration. It is as though he were saying: How can you live any longer in sin, you who formerly were dead in sin? For your outward baptism ought to show you that you cannot continue the old life. For when you were plunged into the external water, it signified that you were plunged into the death of Christ, that is, as Christ died for you, so you too died to the old man. And when you re-emerged, it signified the resurrection of Christ, that in him you were raised up again and now walk in newness of life. Indeed, in all his teaching concerning the death of the old man and the new life in Christ Paul nowhere makes his meaning clearer than when he uses the illustration or figure of water-baptism. And water-baptism must have had the character which he ascribes to it or else there was no foundation for the lesson which he based upon it. Necessarily, then, water-baptism is an initiatory sign, pledging us to a new life, and engrafting us into Christ.

Zwingli, On Baptism, Page 151

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