Source:Nibley:CW03:Ch11:4:Augustine demonstrates the perils of non-prophetic governance in doctrine and administration

Augustine demonstrates the perils of non-prophetic governance in doctrine and administration

Augustine demonstrates the perils of non-prophetic governance in doctrine and administration

"Augustine," says Grabmann, "confronted face to face the hardest questions of Christian doctrine; those which have presented the greatest challenge to the human mind; and for years and for decades he worked away trying to solve them." That authority then lists the most important of these as unsolved, and says, "In these questions and others he has largely failed to work through to full clarity of understanding, and if dark and difficult passages on those themes are found in many places in his writings, he at least showed the way for all later theology."28 Wilhelm Christ, in the best-known "standard" history of Greek literature, writes that in the fourth century, Hellenism forced Christianity to go to its schools; "Christianity was squeezed into a system congenial to pagan-Greek-rationalist thought, and in that safe protective suit of armor was able to face up to the world, but in the process it had to sacrifice its noblest moral and spiritual forces." 29 How aptly this recalls Father Combès' declaration that Augustine wanted to give the church a doctrine so strong that she would never again have anything to fear from her enemies. The armor was provided—and at what a price!

As to the administrative problems with which Augustine wrestled, we can do no better than quote from a recent study by the learned Jesuit, Father Bligh: "St. Augustine provides the perplexing spectacle of an extremely wise and holy man who began by condemning the use of force against heretics, but changed his mind after observing the good effects of coercive measures taken without his approval. . . . Reverence for Augustine," he concludes, "forbids me to say that his justification of persecution was wrong; but its fruits were evil in the centuries which followed, and we may suspect that, if he had had as much experience to reflect on as we have, Augustine would have reverted to his first opinion."30

Here two able Catholic scholars have described St. Augustine, the one as toiling away for whole decades trying to work out the basic problems of doctrine and failing to come out with a clear solution, and the other as doing his best in the light of his limited experience to work out a basic policy of church government—with unfortunate results. The Latter-day Saints have always maintained that guidance both in doctrinal and administrational matters can come to the church only by revelation. We couldn't ask for a better case to prove it than that of St. Augustine, precisely because he is such a good and great man. The better man he is, the better he illustrates the point, which is that no man, no matter how good, wise, hard-working, devoted, and well-educated he may be, can give us certainty without revelation. In Father Bligh's opinion, time has not vindicated Augustine's opinions. It has shown that we can trust only the prophets.[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 11, references silently removed—consult original for citations.