Radical novelty of Augustine's alterations to Christianity

Radical novelty of Augustine's alterations to Christianity

Augustine wanted to endow the church with a solidly constructed doctrine, says Father Combès. Hadn't Christ and the Apostles already done that? It was certainly not their intention to work out a system that would please the schoolmen. Just before he was put to death, the Lord told his disciples not to be afraid, because he had overcome the world. That was as far as the ancient saints would go: they made no attempt to win popularity with those who would not accept the gospel as it stood. The Apostles were instructed when the people would not accept their teachings, simply to depart and go to others—not to change those teachings under any circumstances into something the world would accept. But that is precisely what St. Augustine did. He, and not the Lord or the Apostles, is, in Grabmann's words, "the true creator of the theology of the West."

What a comedown from the days of revelation! Let us summarize what Father Combès has told us:

(1) Augustine found the Church without a solid doctrinal foundation;
(2) he took it upon himself to steady the ark—but who gave him the necessary knowledge or authority to do it? Where did he go for his information? Combès tells us that
(3) he went to the pagan schools—he took their theodicy, metaphysics, moral teachings, and politics and worked them into his system. Is that the proper source for Christian doctrine?
(4) That question worried Augustine too, but
(5) he had to go ahead with his project because the times required it urgently.
And what was the world clamoring for? A theology that would appeal on rational grounds alone to a Christian world which was, as Duchesne puts it, Christian in name only, and which had forgotten the meaning of a testimony. The wedding of the sickly philosophy of the fourth century to Christian doctrine could take place only after Christianity had been once for all definitely divorced from the gift of prophecy and revelation. St. Augustine fully deserves his title of the man who changed the whole course of world history and of church history. He found himself in an intolerable situation, and he made the best of it. It is the situation, not the man, that teaches us what hard necessity and fateful decisions faced the Church once the gifts of revelation and prophecy were withdrawn.[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 10, references silently removed—consult original for citations.