There is unfortunately within the Orthodox Church a minority of teachers who, in their zeal to guard the Faithful from some of the errors in St. Augustine's teachings, have gone to the extreme of maligning him and impious heresy-hunting. In their often legitimate criticism of the writings of this blessed Church Father from Hippo, they irreverently seek to prove that he was never, nor should be, considered a Saint of the Orthodox Church. They admonish the Faithful to disavow him as a Father. Moreover, they often wrongly attribute heretical teachings of later "Augustinians" to St. Augustine himself. In this way a few of these people even try to show that he was a heretic. This is shocking and absolutely incorrect, as this compilation and the works cited herein will prove.
Closing out this compilation
are excerpts from On the Mystagagy of the Holy Spirit, by St. Photios
the Great. His arguments were addressed to those who called Augustine
and Ambrose Fathers, but then used them to refute the consensus patrum.
These ninth-century Latin-minded Christians were attempting to muster support
for the Filioque heresy from the writings of some Western Fathers;
thus the historical situation is admittedly different than the one I am
addressing with this compilation. Nonetheless, St. Photios' logic is entirely
applicable. —Patrick Barnes
Letters of Fr. Seraphim Rose Concerning Blessed Augustine
Sept. 29/Oct. 12, 1975
Dear Father Igor [Kapral],*
... Now, something at last that is not a request, but an expression of our deep concern over our present-day Orthodox mission. Fr. N— in his latest "Witness" again makes a self-assured and quite unfounded attack on Blessed Augustine. Everyone knows of the erroneous doctrine of Blessed Augustine on grace—but why this "fundamentalist" attempt to destroy entirely someone who has never in Orthodox tradition been denied a place among the Fathers of the Church? Fr. Theodoritos, doubtless speaking for other zealots in Greece and on the Holy Mountain, writes us that of course he accepts Augustine as a Saint, because St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain does. Our Vladika John** had a service written to him and had great devotion for him. St. Nikodemos put him in our Eastern Calendar (much as Vladika John put St. Patrick there), and our Russian 19th-century Fathers followed him. The Fifth Ecumenical Council ranks Augustine as a theological authority on the same level as Sts. Basil, Gregory and John Chrysostom, with no qualification. The contemporaries of Augustine who disagreed with him (St. Vincent of Lerins, St. John Cassian) corrected his teaching without mentioning his name out of respect, far less calling him a "heretic." His other contemporaries, including great Fathers, always addressed him with the utmost respect. The universal Orthodox tradition accepts him as an undoubted Holy Father, although with a flaw in his teaching—rather like St. Gregory of Nyssa in the East. Whence, then, this strangely "Protestant" campaign to declare Blessed Augustine a heretic, and to utterly condemn anyone who disagrees with this? This greatly disturbs us, not so much for the sake of Blessed Augustine (who, after all, is a Father of less weight than many others), but because it reveals a very unhealthy "party" spirit which threatens the whole English-speaking Orthodox mission. Fr. N— as much as says: If you do not believe exactly as Fr. P— believes, you are not Orthodox! If you recommend a 19th-century catechism (as Vladika John always did to converts) you are a Latin; if you read Unseen Warfare you are under Latin influence; if you refuse to believe in evolution (!), you are under Western influence!!!
We share our concern with you, because we are really being discouraged by this unhealthy attitude, which is really zeal not according to knowledge [Romans 10:2]. We and others have tried gently to communicate with Fr. N— and Fr. P— about such things, but the impression is that no communication is possible; on every subject they are "right," they are the "experts," and no other opinion is possible....
Please forgive us for burdening you with all this. We would very much like to know your thoughts with regard to any of this. Is there are way that [they] can be persuaded to be less reckless? There seems to be no one from the "Russians" for whom they have any respect,—everyone is under "Western influence." (This is Schmemanism!) How can they be made to see, before it is too late, that we should all be humble and not think much of our own "theology," that we are all perhaps under "Western influences" of various sorts (this is very evident in the case of Fr. N— himself), but that this should not exclude us from Orthodoxy, as long as we are struggling to understand the truth.
We ask your prayers for us.
With love in Christ,
*The future Bishop Hilarion.—ED.
**Archbishop John Maximovitch.—ED.
March 17/30, 1976
St. Patrick of Ireland
Dear Brother in Christ, Nicholas [Moreno],
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray you are faring well in the Fast and will be prepared to meet the Holy Passion and Resurrection of our Saviour. This is spiritually a very rich part of the year for us, with the long services, the special Lenten tone of life, the readings from the Holy Fathers. I imagine all the readings there are in Russian, but I hope that somehow you are able to get benefit from this practice of readings during the services. Here we have been reading The Ladder, The Lausiac History, Abba Dorotheos, and the Life of the Fathers [Vita Patrum] of St. Gregory of Tours. Reading some of these books over again every year only puts them deeper into one's Orthodox consciousness, and there are always "new" things there no matter how often one has read them—which, of course, only shows how dense we are and how much we need such things.
I hope that in the midst of your learning (which we pray may be very fruitful!) you are also getting the feel for that which can't be directly taught—the tone of Orthodox life and thought which comes "between the lines" as it were, the respect for the older generation which is handing down the sacred treasure of Orthodoxy, the approach to the teaching of the Holy Fathers which should be not academic but practical, and should see beyond superficial "disputes" to the deeper meaning of the Patristic teaching. The Patristic "experts" of the newer school miss this, and this is a great temptation in our Church now also, since everyone is now affected to some degree or other by the soul-less academic air around us. Of late we have noticed how shallow has been the discussion of Blessed Augustine—a cold, calculating approach to him which would either condescendingly "accept" him or else "throw him out of the calendar" based solely on an abstract analysis of his teaching. But the true Orthodox perspective is, first of all, to distrust one's abstract "theological" outlook and ask: what do our elders think; what did the recent Fathers think? And taking these opinions respectfully, one then begins to put together the picture for oneself. But the "new theologians," when they hear that our recent fathers such as St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain or our own Archbishop John had great respect for Blessed Augustine, can only say with disdain—"they were under Western influence"—and throw out their weighty opinions with a quite "Western" lack of feeling and understanding. Anyone who has read Blessed Augustine's Confessions with sympathy will not readily want to "throw him out of the calendar"—for he will see in this book precisely that fiery zeal and love which is precisely what is so lacking in our Orthodox life today! Have you read this book, by the way?—you should. Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, in his 19th-century Patrology, while setting forth clearly Blessed Augustine's mistakes rather overemphases—still highly praises this book for its warmth and piety. And perhaps Blessed Augustine's very "Westernness" makes him more relevant for us today who are submerged in the West and its way of thought; it is surely pride for us to think that we will read only the great "Eastern" and "mystical" books.
Well, I didn't really mean to digress so much on this subject. But at least you know that we are thinking of you and are very anxious for you to get the maximum from your seminary and monastery experience. Above all, keep your heart open and learn to be a little detached from the many intellectual arguments and currents that buzz about our Church. Let us know how you are doing. Pray for us—we have started to print the book on the Life of Blessed Paisius, which is an immense project for us....
With love in Christ,
June 13/26, 1981
St. Tryphillius of Cyprus
Dear Father Michael [Azkoul],
Christ is in our midst!
Thank you for your letter. I am frankly happy to see someone with your views on Blessed Augustine willing to do something besides hit him (and all of us who have any respect for him) over the head.
You ask for cooperation on what seems to be a "thorough study" of Blessed Augustine. I really wonder about the value of such a study—for someone who wishes to expose the source of "Western influence" in Orthodox theology, this detailed analysis itself seems so terribly Western!
If your attempt is to find out Augustine's real place in the Orthodox Church, I think your approach is all wrong. It assumes that "we moderns" are the ones who can do this—that we can "know better" than anyone in the Orthodox past. I don't think so. I have a deep distrust of all of us who are writing on theological subjects today—we are more under "Western influence" than anyone before, and the less we are aware of it the more obnoxious our "Westernism" becomes. Our whole cold, academic, and often disdainful approach to theology is so remote from the Fathers, so foreign to them. Let us admit this and try not to be so presumptuous (I speak for myself also).
I have no time (and probably not the sources) to find out how much St. Photios or St. Mark read of Blessed Augustine. I would suspect that St. Photios had read rather little apart from the texts under dispute, and St. Mark probably more (in fact, St. Mark can probably be shown to be under Augustine's "influence" in some way if you search hard enough! —his disciple Gennadius, after all, was the translator of Thomas Aquinas into Greek). Undoubtedly their respect for Augustine was based on the general respect for him in the Church, especially in the West from the very beginning.
And this brings up the only real question I think you might fruitfully research: what did the Western Church think of Blessed Augustine in the centuries when it was Orthodox? The West knew him as one of their own Fathers; it knew his writings well, including the disputes over them. What did the Western Fathers who were linked with the East think of him? We know St. Cassian's opinion—he challenged (politely) Augustine's teaching on grace while accepting his authority on other questions. St. Vincent of Lerins' argument is more with the immoderate followers of Augustine. In neither case was there talk of "heresy," or of someone who was totally un-Orthodox. St. Faustus of Lerins—if anyone, he should be an enemy of Augustine, but the evidence seems to the contrary. St. Caesarius of Arles, St. Gregory the Great-admirers of Augustine, while not following his exaggerations on grace. I don't mention some of the enthusiastic followers of Augustine.
There is room for research here in Latin sources, but no research can overthrow the obvious fact (it seems to me)—the Orthodox West accepted him as a Father. If he's really a "heretic," then doesn't the whole West go down the drain with him? I'm sure you can find enough signs of "Western mentality" in Gregory the Great, for example, to disqualify him as a Father and Saint in the eyes of many of today's Orthodox scholars—he also is accepted in the East on the basis of his general reputation in the West, and on the basis of his "Dialogues" (which I'm sure a few would now question as having a right to be called an Orthodox book).
I think the "heresy hunt" over Augustine reveals at least two major faults in today's Orthodox scholars who are pursuing it:
1. A profound insecurity over their own Orthodoxy, born of the uncertainties of our times, the betrayal of ecumenism, and their own purely Western education. Here Augustine is a "scapegoat"—hit him hard enough and it proves how Orthodox you yourself really are!
2. An incipient sectarian consciousness-in attacking Augustine so bitterly one not only attacks the whole Orthodox West of the early centuries, but also a great many Orthodox thinkers of recent centuries and today. I could name you bishops in our Church who think like Augustine on a number of points-are they, then, "heretics" too? I think some of our anti-Augustinians are coming close to this conclusion, and thus close to schism and the formation of an "Orthodox" sect that prides itself on the correctness of its intellectual views....
I myself am no great admirer of Augustine's doctrines. He does indeed have that Western "super-logicalness" which the Eastern Fathers don't have (the same "super-logicalness" which the critics of Augustine today display so abundantly!). The one main lovable and Orthodox thing about him is his Orthodox feeling, piety, love for Christ, which comes out so strongly in his non-dogmatic works like the Confessions (the Russian Fathers also love the Soliloquies). To destroy Augustine, as today's critics are trying to do, is to help to destroy also this piety and love for Christ—these are too "simple" for today's intellectuals (even though they also claim to be "pious" in their own way). Today it is Augustine; tomorrow (and it's already begun) the attack will be on the "simple" bishops and priests of our Church. The anti-Augustine movement is a step towards schism and further disorders in the Orthodox Church.
Let us assume that one's exegesis of Romans 5:12 is incorrect; that one believes like Augustine on the transmission of original sin; that one knows little of the difference between the "transcendent" and the "economic" Trinity and sometimes confuses them. Can't one still be Orthodox? Does one have to shout so loudly one's "correctness" on such matters, and one's disdain (and this disdain is strongly felt!) for those who believe thus? In the history of the Church, opinions such as these which disagree with the consensus of the Church have not been a cause for heresy hunts. Recognizing our fallible human nature, the Fathers of the past have kept the best Orthodox views and left in silence such private views which have not tried to proclaim themselves the only Orthodox views.
I myself fear the cold hearts of the "intellectually correct" much more than any errors you might find in Augustine. I sense in these cold hearts a preparation for the work of Antichrist (whose imitation of Christ must also extend to "correct theology"!); I feel in Augustine the love of Christ.
Forgive me for my frankness, but I think you probably welcome it. I have spoken from the heart, and I hope you will not pass this letter around so it can be put in various "files" and picked apart for its undoubted shortcomings.
May God preserve us all in His grace! Please pray for us.
With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim
P.S. An important point I didn't specify in the letter above the extreme criticism of Augustine shows such a lack of trust in the Orthodox Fathers and bishops of the past who accepted him as a Father (including the whole Orthodox West before the Schism). This lack of trust is a symptom of the coldness of heart of our times.
* From Father Seraphim Rose, The Place of Blessed
Augustine in the Orthodox Church (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, 1996 ), pp. 93-101.
An Orthodox Tradition Q&A:
I know that you have refused to say that the Blessed Augustine of Hippo was a heretic. Nonetheless, there are those who would say that his teachings on "original sin," created grace, and the Holy Trinity are errors that cast doubt on his sanctity. Would you address a few words to your readers about this subject? (B.C., OR)
In an epoch when basic Christian virtues are rare, there are perhaps more fruitful pursuits than those of arguing against the sanctity of a Churchman who, whatever his alleged errors and misunderstandings, has long served as an inspiring example of the power of the Christian Faith to bring sinful men and women out of the delusions of paganism and the ways of iniquity to a life of pious morality, if not Christian enlightenment. Nonetheless, we will make a few comments about the famous and revered Bishop of Hippo, a pivotal figure in the history of North African Christianity who is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on June 15.
There are those who argue that Saint Augustine (†430) wrote a number of things inconsistent with the consensus of the Fathers, especially with regard to sin and human guilt before God and the nature of Grace. This is partly because distortions and overstatements of certain among his theological precepts by Medieval and Reformation thinkers have been unfairly attributed to the Saint himself. In fact, though, one would be hard-pressed to find in the writings of St. Augustine evidence of an intentional distortion of the Church’s teachings or signs of tenacious resistance to correction by his contemporaries. Indeed, Pope Vigilius [†555], in reconciling himself to the decisions of the Fifth Oecumenical Synod, invoked the memory, among "...our Fathers," of the "blessed Augustine" for his willingness to retract and correct various among his "writings" and "sayings" ("Decretal Letter," The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, Vol. XIV). Rather, St. Augustine’s works are marked by profound personal piety, a spirit of contrition, and a relentless deference to the teaching authority of the Church: traits of spiritual enlightenment. Moreover, while some may argue that his notions about "created" Grace are incompatible with Orthodox teachings about our illumination by Uncreated Grace, this does not mean, if such were indeed true, that he did not experience true Glorification, as his lofty spiritual writings clearly affirm. A purported inability to describe the ineffable, or the perpetuation of supposed conceptual ambiguities in doing so, it seems to us, does not necessarily obviate the possibility of one’s experiencing it. We can also note that such historical luminaries as St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome (†604), St. Photios the Great (†895), and St. Mark of Ephesus (†1444 or 1445), while citing him, in specific instances, with certain qualifications, nonetheless also paid homage to his sanctity:
In his letter, "To Innocent, Prefect of Africa," Pope Gregory calls St. Augustine "blessed" (see Epistles, 10.37 [NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. XIII]), and St. Photios refers to him as the "divine Augustine" ("Augoustinon ton hieron") (see his "Epistle to the Archbishop of Aquileia," Patrologia Graeca, Vol. CII, col. 809D), as does St. Mark in the thirty-fourth of his syllogistic chapters in defense of the Orthodox Faith against the Latins at the Council of Florence ("Syllogistika kephalia pros Latinous" ) . (While it may be argued, here, that many Eastern Church Fathers held the Blessed Augustine in high esteem simply because they had not read his writings, both St. Photios and St. Mark, once more, were at least familiar enough with his works to evaluate, qualify, and, more significantly, praise his theological discourses.) In our own times, quoting St. Augustine in his arguments against the Latin teaching on the immaculate conception—indeed, from a passage in which the Bishop of Hippo speaks of sanctification and individual union with God (Glorification) in a way consistent with the most exalted teachings of the Church Fathers—, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (†1966) also refers to him as "blessed" (see The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God [Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1987], p. 42).
A rather more balanced assessment of St. Augustine than one usually finds among Western writers is that of the late Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina, who, in his monograph The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1983),* writes:
...[He] has always been regarded with some reserve in the East. In our own days, ...there have risen two opposite and extreme views of him. One view, influenced by Roman Catholic opinions, sees rather more importance in him as a Father of the Church than the Orthodox Church has given him in the past; while the other view has tended to underestimate his Orthodox importance, some even going as far as to call him a ‘heretic.’ ...The Orthodox view of him..., held consistently down the centuries by the Holy Fathers of the East and (in the early centuries) of the West as well, goes to neither extreme, but is a balanced appraisal of him with due credit given both to his unquestioned greatness and to his faults. (p. 8).Though Father Seraphim’s view is, as we have noted, more balanced than most, we are obliged to say that his observations, too, evidence a critical approach to sanctity that can obfuscate its true dimensions. It is in their fidelity to the common phronema of the Church, and not in the expression of personal opinions that may or may not reflect that commonality, that our Fathers and Saints make manifest their holiness. It is also in their universal recognition by the Orthodox Church that the verity of their witness is ultimately established. It is, thus, worthy of note that our Father among the Saints Augustine is cited as "shining forth most resplendently among the African Bishops" in the Acts of the Fifth Oecumenical Synod (553) ("Ruling of the Synod," P. Labbe and G. Cossart, Sacrasancta Concilia, 1671, Vol. V). Similarly, in his epistle to the Fathers of the same Synod, St. Justinian (†565) includes, in his references to the "holy Fathers," Augustine among such luminaries as Sts. Athanasios (†373), Basil (†379), Gregory the Theologian (†389), Gregory of Nyssa (†395), John Chrysostomos (†407), Cyril of Alexandria (†444), et al. (ibid.).
* We should observe in passing, incidentally, that among his collected testimonials from the Fathers to the sanctity of the Blessed Augustine in this work, Father Seraphim wrongly attributes to St. Gregory the Dialogist a reference to "Saint" Augustine in a letter which was, in fact, not written by the Saint, but addressed to him by Licinianus, the Bishop of Carthagena, in Spain. Using Russian sources for other of his references, his citations from various Greek Fathers are also, at times, not wholly faithful to the original Greek. Finally, the use of the words "blessed" and "saint" to distinguish between two categories of holiness, while a common device in some Orthodox circles, has no counterpart in the Patristic literature. The words "divine," "blessed," "righteous," and "holy" (the actual meaning of the title "saint," which in Greek is expressed in two words "hagios" and "hosios"), among others, are used interchangeably to refer to the sanctified.
Vol. XIV, No. 4, pp. 33-35.
Excerpt from a book review of The Teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church, Vol. 1, God, Creation, Old Israel, Christ. By Michael Azkoul. Ed. by Archimandrite Gregory. Buena Vista, CO: Dormition Skete, 1986. Reviewed by Bishop [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 32 (87), pp. 101-103:
Thirdly, this volume does just what it says it will not do. It presents a personal theology. I have already hinted at this in noting that Father Michael is not always fair in his treatment of heterodox views. This hint becomes an open statement in the book's treatment of Saint (the Blessed) Augustine, who has always held, despite Father Michael's unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, a high position of respect in the Orthodox Church. The various theological errors found in some of Augustine's work are brought together, in numerous references in the book, to paint the portrait of someone who, we are told, may have been a heretic, who may have contributed to the downfall of Western Christianity, and who may have had roots in abstruse Jewish thought or pagan Hellenism. Father Michael's curious preoccupation with the errors of Saint Augustine, which may disfigure some of the theological writings of this Father, but which in no way compromise his sanctity and the enduring beauty of the bulk of his writings, betrays a certain personal problem with this figure. One can only speculate the author's early education in a fundamentalistic Protestant college brought this figure, so important to many reformed theological traditions, into some kind of negative focus. At any rate, so extreme is his view that, violating scholarly propriety, he juxtaposes, wholly out of context, Father Georges Florovsky's comments on a process of "pseudomorphosis" in the theological development of the Church with his own assessment of Saint Augustine. As those of us who knew Father Florovsky and who benefited from his teaching can attest, at no time did he question the position of Augustine of Hippo in the ranks of the Fathers and saints of the Orthodox Church. Suggesting such a thing even by moot juxtaposition is wholly wrong.
I should add that Father Michael softens some of his views about Saint Augustine in an appendix—an addition which must reflect the reaction of other critics to references within the text to Saint Augustine. Here, Father Michael notes that Augustine never had much impact on the Orthodox world, and thus his heretical views did not change the Church's teachings. (We might then ask why such great attention is placed on the "errors" in Augustine's teachings in a book which purports to examine the teachings of Orthodoxy.) He restates his view that the Fathers of the Church who did cite Saint Augustine did not know his writings (a completely erroneous claim). He comments on the sincerity of Saint Augustine, while wondering why some Orthodox writers have ranked him among the saints of the Orthodox Church (and, by extension, questions the authority of the Church to place Saint Augustine in its list of saints). In effect, his appendix attempts to place his personal views on Augustine within the consensus of the Fathers and the conscience of the Church. He fails. Let me illustrate this point in two ways.
While many Orthodox writers have questioned some of Saint
Augustine's views (see, for example, Father John Romanides' Franks,
Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine [Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox
Press, 1981]), even attributing later Western heresies to his theological
errors, they have always done so with a certain moderation. This is a point
which we should not overlook. It is one which reflects rather negatively
on Father Michael's polemical treatment of Saint Augustine. Moreover, there
is a popular veneration of Saint Augustine among the Orthodox faithful,
especially in Greece, which belies Father Michael's idea that the saint
is an unimportant one. Veneration does not survive in the Orthodox Church
(even if it is only a few hundred years old, as Father Michael claims—a
point easily challenged by Father's own admission of Russian and Byzantine
references to the Saint through the course of many centuries—, if it does
not express the faith of the people and divine Providence. Nor does it
reach the highness of expression that we see in the comments of one very
respected Greek writer in his recent book on Saint Augustine, The Son
of Tears: The Divine Augustine (Archimandrite Theodore K. Berates)
[Thessalonike, 19851 [in Greek]: "More than all else that he was, the Divine
Augustine was a soul which struggled.... In the life of Saint Augustine
of Hippo is one of the greatest figures of our Church and, more generally,
of history." If, as Father Michael says, Saint Augustine is a figure whom
"it would be inappropriate to hold up as a teacher" in the Church, this
opinion is largely his and that of a small minority of Orthodox somewhat
excessive in their zeal.
The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church. By Seraphim Rose. Introduction by Alexey Young. California: Saint Herman of Alaska Press, 1982. Paperbound. Pp. 45 + addenda.
In certain ultra-conservative Orthodox circles in the United States, there has developed an unfortunate bitter and harsh attitude toward one of the great Fathers of the Church, the blessed (Saint) Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.). These circles, while clearly outside the mainstream of Orthodox thought and careful scholarship, have often been so vociferous and forceful in their statements that their views have touched and even affected more moderate and stable Orthodox believers and thinkers. Not a few writers and spiritual aspirants have been disturbed by this trend. So it is that I am absolutely delighted to have a copy of Father Seraphim's small, but powerful, tome on the significance and status of Saint Augustine in the Orthodox Church. His book is particularly significant since it comes from the pen of a spiritual writer, who, before his untimely death in 1982, was a chief advocate of moderation and careful, charitable thinking about the Church and her Fathers among some of the most conservative Orthodox elements in this country—an advocacy that earned him, more often than not, the flat condemnation of the ultra-conservative factionalists mentioned above.
It is certainly true that, in terms of classical Orthodox thought on the subject, Saint Augustine placed grace and human free will at odds, if only because his view of grace was too overstated and not balanced against the Patristic witness as regards the efficacy of human choice and spiritual labor. Likewise, as an outgrowth of his understanding of grace, Augustine developed a theory of predestination that further distorted the Orthodox understanding of free will. And finally, Augustine's theology proper, his understanding of God, in its mechanical, overly logical, and rationalistic tone, leads one, to some extent, away from the mystery of God-which is lost, indeed, in Saint Augustine's failure to capture fully the very mystery of man. About these general shortcomings in Augustinian thought there can be no doubt. And it is with these precise weaknesses in mind that Father Seraphim formulates his understanding of Augustine's place in Orthodoxy.
Father Seraphim convincingly argues, with a multitude of primary references, that, while Augustine's ideas may have been used and distorted in the West to produce more modern theories (such as Calvinistic predestination, sola gratia, or even deism), the Saint himself was not guilty of the kind of innovative theologizing that his more extreme detractors would claim he championed. Indeed, Father Seraphim shows that Augustine never denied the free will of the individual; that his view of grace was one which, in later years, largely through the influence of his Western contemporaries, he felt compelled to revise; and that his understanding of God, despite his overly logical approach to theology, was derived from a deeply Orthodox encounter with the Trinity—something which a passing interest in his Confessions would aver. Attached to his argument for a moderate understanding of Saint Augustine are gleanings from Father Seraphim's study of the Patristic reaction to Augustine. To a number, the great Fathers of the Church whom he cites count Augustine among the great Fathers, qualifying their praise with precisely, the words of the author of this little book: that Saint Augustine wrote from an Orthodox heart and with an Orthodox mind, but erred in expressing himself with too much dependence on human logic and philosophical rigor, thus exposing his teaching to later gross distortions, making his small errors great ones.
What is most impressive about this book is that one can see clearly that Father Seraphim has read. This may startle some of my readers, but it is an important point. I have been reading the Fathers for almost twenty years, and every extreme statement that I read on this or that Patristic figure or witness rings a certain bell in me. Almost without exception, this polemical literature begins with an exposition of what is 'wrong' with a person or issue, never weighing against this the positive elements. I have come to understand that this is simply because these polemicists do not, in fact, have a reading knowledge of the Fathers; they have gleaned from indices and secondary sources, controversial material, which they then proceed to attack, never having read this material in context. Moreover, their polemical tone and ugly treatment of often sincere figures belie the spirit of charity and gentleness which is so much more present in the Fathers than the occasional (though necessary) outbursts of righteous indignation.
I recently read a 'first draft' of a work by one of the ultra-conservative theologians whom Father Seraphim tries to answer in his little book. Though this theologian is hailed as "the foremost Orthodox thinker of this time," he is unknown outside his own circles. His grasp of basic English is abominably poor, and his writings have the telltale signs of the kind of selective reading I mention above. I am sure that this man is wholly sincere, but as I compared his work to that of Father Seraphim, I began to see that he had depersonalized his subjects, making great Fathers of the Church nothing but cold, stone figures. What Seraphim has done in this small book is to personalize Saint Augustine—to bring a man, a human being, before us, demonstrating to us how the greatness of God, nonetheless, worked through the littleness of the man (if, indeed, we can but rhetorically call so great a man as Augustine 'little'). It is this personal element which commends Father Seraphim's book to the Orthodox believer and the Orthodox scholar alike.
I might lastly add that the Introduction to this book, by Father Alexey Young, is a useful piece of writing in itself. With an almost 'pastoral' tone, it sets the stage for Father Seraphim's scholarly drama—and that is just what the book is: a drama. It brings to life a character and, in so doing, throws a shadow of grave doubt over the writings of those who would make the 'divine Augustine,' as Saint Mark of Ephesus calls him, the Father of heresies and the source of all Western error. In fact, the shadow throws not only doubts but unbelief.
I highly recommend this excellent book to anyone interested in a fair and profound view of the great Father Augustine of Hippo.
Archimandrite [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos
Orthodox Tradition, Vol. II, Nos. 3&4, pp.
Excerpt from Book Review of Fr. Michael's The Teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church, Vol. 1:
It is hard to put up with all these shortcomings. But to them is added yet a further blemish—a perfectly rabid hatred of the blessed Augustine. The blessed Augustine is mentioned not only in a special appendix devoted entirely to him, but also several times in each chapter. Each time, he is dubbed "the greatest heresiarch" (p. 54) or the like. Thus it would sometimes seem the author really wanted to write a book on the blessed Augustine. To him he ascribes all the ills and misfortunes that arose in the West, and, of course, among Orthodox who were influenced by the West. Judging by this book, I am afraid that poor Fr. Michael Azkoul is himself the first victim of such Western influence! If he stood on purely Orthodox foundations, he would not express himself with such hatred. On the last page (206), he blames the blessed Augustine for Calvinism. This shows us the dishonesty of the author's approach. We all know the weaknesses in the writings of the blessed Augustine. But the Church never passed judgement on him for this, especially as he constantly emphasized that he was expressing his personal opinion and did not wish to impose it on others. Many of his writings he reworked and rewrote before the end of his life.
We can find equally weak points in the writings of almost all the Holy fathers, but we are not about to cross out the name of St. Basil the Great from among the saints because he made—from our point of view—incorrect expressions about the Holy Trinity, which are due partly to his caution in polemic with heretics and schismatics and partly to the imperfect theological thought of his time. If the author refers to the lack of a service to St. Augustine, he should look further and seek the reasons in something one might call Greek chauvinism. Must we really give up celebrating the Presanctified Liturgy because the Greeks did not trouble to compose a service in honor of St. Gregory the Dialogist?
In the Russian Church it is customary to call Augustine of Hippo "the blessed." Concerning his significance and veneration, the late priestmonk Seraphim (of Platina) wrote a splendid and truly Orthodox book. With his book one can fully agree.
The Synod of Bishops' least novice,
+BISHOP [now ARCHBISHOP] MARK of Berlin and All Germany
(Translated from the Russian text as published in
CHURCH LIFE, No. 11-12, November/December 1986, the
official organ of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside
Russia. Translated from the Russian by Archpriest John R. Shaw.)
On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, by St. Photios
Webmaster Note: It is clear from the numerous statements by St. Photios in his Mystagogy that he considers Augustine and Ambrose, et. al, to be Fathers of the Church. He does not, however, place the word "Saint" before any of the Fathers he cites throughout his text.
Ch. 68: Who is it who says that Ambrose or Augustine or anyone else affirmed things contrary to the Lord's word? If it is I, I insult your fathers. But if you say it, while I deny it, then you insult them, and I condemn you as a blasphemer of the fathers. But, you retort, they have written so, and their works contain the statement that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. What of it? For if they had been instructed and did not change their opinion, if after just rebukes they were not persuaded (this is again another calumny against your fathers), then you may reckon your own deed and ascribe your own incorrigible opinion to their doctrine. Although in other things they are of equal stature with the best, what does it have to do with you? For if they have either slipped into some error or been subject to any negligence—for such is the human condition—when they were admonished, they did not contradict, nor were they contumacious when corrected. How will they who bear no resemblance to you help deliver you from ineluctable judgment? Although they were admirable by reason of many other qualities which manifest virtue and piety, they professed your godless error either through ignorance or through negligence. But if they in no manner shared the benefit of your advantages, why do you introduce their human defect as a mandate for your blasphemous belief? By your mandate, you attest that men who have legislated nothing of this sort are open transgressors, and so you demand a penalty for the uttermost blasphemy under the mask of benevolence and love. The results of your attempts do not benefit you. Observe the impious exaggeration and the stupidity of a base mind.
Ch. 70: I do not admit that what you assert was so plainly taught by them, but if they happened to express some such thing, if they happened to fall into something unbecoming, then I would imitate the good sons of Noe [Noah] and hide my father's shame, by using silence and gratitude as a cloak. I would not follow Chain's [Ham's] example, as do you. Rather, you are crueler and more impudent than he, for you publish abroad the shame of those you call your fathers. Now, he fell under the curse, not because he uncovered his father, but because he did not cover him. You, however, both uncover your fathers and vaunt your audacity. He tells the secret to his brothers; you tell yours not to brothers, or to one or two persons, but turning the whole world into a great theatre, you trumpet with all urgency and shamelessness that your fathers are ignominous. You revel in their shame and delight in their dishonor, and you seek out fellow revelers with whom to make more conspicuous festival of their disgrace and shame. But you did not consider that they were human, and that no one constituted from clay and mutable matter can maintain himself forever superior to a human blunder. Indeed, it happens that a trace of some blemish clings even to the best of men.
Ch. 71: Augustine and Jerome said that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. How can one trust or vouch with confidence that their writings have not been maliciously altered after the passage of so much time? For do not think that you are the only one eager for impiety and bold in things not to be dared. Rather, from this very condition of your own mind, consider that nothing hindered the guileful enemy of our race from finding vessels for such a deed.
Ch. 72: Augustine and Jerome said these things. But perhaps they spoke out of the necessity of attacking the madness of the pagans or of refuting another heretical opinion or of condescending to the weakness of their hearers, or out of the necessity of any one of the many other reasons that human life daily presents. If such a statement perchance escaped their lips because of one or more of the above reasons, why do you make a dogma and law of what was not spoken by them with dogmatic significance and so bring irreparable ruin upon yourself by contentiously enlisting them in your dementia?
Ch. 73: That preacher of the whole world, the contemplator of the ineffable who ennobled nature with his manner of life, what did he say when he opposed himself to the Hellenists who were gushing forth a spate of words? He condescended to their infirmity and prepared to bring down their haughty brow. "For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the Unknown God.' Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." What then? Will you make dogma those utterances of Paul by which that doctor of the Church captured the wise men of Greece and led them by the hand from impiety to piety? Will you dare to denounce Paul, the caster down of idols, of having preached that same one whom the Greeks were worshipping and naming the unknown god? It would not be remarkable when we consider the operation of your wisdom and the web of your quibbling sophistries. Although that altar was erected to Pan, the city of Athens did not know the name of him whom the altar previously honored and so inscribed upon it: "To the unknown god." Now because that adroit and heavenly man saw that the heathen were not convinced by the pronouncements of the prophets and the oracles of the Lord, he recalls them from those execrable devotions to the worship of the Creator. He uses the very proclamations of the devil to condemn the devil's tyranny; from the devil's citadel, he destroys the dominion of his authority; he cultivates piety amidst impiety and produces for us shoots of salvation out of perdition; from the snare of the devil, he strengthens them to run the course of the Gospel; he makes the summit of apostasy a portal of access through which they can enter into the bridal chamber and immaculate nuptials of Christ: the Church. Just so was that sublime mind, wherein was borne strength from on high, vigorous to wound and to subjugate the enemy by the enemy's own weapons. What then? Because Paul overcame him with the enemy's own weapons, will you on that account honor those weapons and call them divine and wield them for your own slaughter? How many like examples can be found in him who wisely disposed all things in the strength of the Spirit!
Ch. 74: But what need is there of examples? He himself says with a clear voice: "unto the Jews I become a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the Law, as under the Law, that I might gain them that are under the Law; to them that are without Law as without Law, (being not without Law to God, but under the Law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without Law." Will you then, on that account, restore Judaism, or will you legislate lawlessness instead of the divine and human laws for the conduct of our life and shamelessly—nay, rather godlessly—say that such are the commandments and such is the preaching of Paul?
Ch. 75: Indeed, in how many of our blessed and holy fathers is it possible to find such things! Look at Clement, the high priest of Rome, and the books which are known from him as Clementine (I do not say write, since ancient report has it that Peter the Coryphaeus commanded that they be written). Consider Dionysios of Alexandria, who from his opposition to Sabellios all but joins hands with Arius. Consider that splendor of sacred-martyrs, Methodios of Patara, who does not reject the belief that the angels had fallen into mortal desire and bodily intercourse, although they are of a bodiless nature and without passions. I shall pass over Pantaenos and Clement, as well as Pierios and Pamphilos and Theognostos, sacred men and teachers of sacred learning, whom we celebrate with great honor and acceptance, especially Pamphilos and Pierios, distinguished by the trials of martyrdom. Although we do not accept every one of their statements, we grant them honor for a distinguished life and for their other doctrines. Along with the aforementioned, we shall also pass by the Fathers from the West: Irenaeus, high priest of God, who received the supervision of sacred things in Lugdunum [i.e., Lyons], and his disciple Hippolytus, the martyr among high priests: men wonderful in many respects, though at times some of their writings do not refrain from digressing from exactitude.
Ch. 76: Will you then apply your disjunctive premise against all of these men and, with raised brows, say: "Either these men ought to be honored and their writings should not be rejected, or, if we reject some of their words, we should at the same time reject the men themselves"? . . .
On the Mystagogy of the Holy
Spirit by Saint Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, trans. by Holy
Transfiguration Monastery (Studion Publishers, Inc: 1983), pp. 98-103.