Thanks 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.