Hebrews 13:8-9 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them.
The other day, I was having a very fruitful conversation with a gentleman on what I would label it as more or less epistemology and morality. In that particular discussion, the gentleman revealed that St. Augustine of Hippo is cited to have expressed the idea of forced conversions in regards to the Donatist. I have read quite a bit of Augustine’s own work and studied his biography, at least in comparison to the average layperson, so I was a bit surprised at the accusation against Augustine in regards to the Donatist.
Augustine’s written work is quite vast, so much so that I once heard a professor quip, “If anyone has ever said they have read all of Augustine…they are a liar. So I admitted that it’s very possible I just haven’t encountered Augustine’s thought on the matter in a particular document. Again, what struck me odd about the accusation is that the celebrated works of Augustine against the Donatist is his ten homilies on the first letter of St. John. In those works, Augustine illuminated in the conflict what the writer in that particular letter did which is “God is love.” It would be much to my surprise in comparison to that body of work that in another body of work that Augustine should then insist on forced conversion.
(I also think it should be wise at this point to define what is meant by forced conversions, which I would characterize as coercive measures as loss of life, freedom, and property. In regards to being converted by weight of theological ideas—as the Donatist were already Christians– such as Hell, I do not consider that to be a forced conversion.)
The gentleman sent a link from a website which did not cite that particular source from it claimed that Augustine spoke about compelling the Donatist. Nonetheless, it appears that Augustine of Hippo did advocate for forced conversions. My research has led me to a document of collected works called: A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatist. In that particular document, there is a letter that I’ve read several paragraphs in which it doesn’t seem to be taking out of context that Augustine advocated for forced conversions:
19. But as to the argument of those men who are unwilling that their impious deeds should be checked by the enactment of righteous laws, when they say that the apostles never sought such measures from the kings of the earth, they do not consider the different character of that age, and that everything comes in its own season. For what emperor had as yet believed in Christ, so as to serve Him in the cause of piety by enacting laws against impiety, when as yet the declaration of the prophet was only in the course of its fulfillment, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and their rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed;” and there was as yet no sign of that which is spoken a little later in the same psalm: “Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” How then are kings to serve the Lord with fear, except by preventing and chastising with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord? For a man serves God in one way in that he is man, in another way in that he is also king. In that he is man, he serves Him by living faithfully; but in that he is also king, he serves Him by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse. Even as Hezekiah served Him, by destroying the groves and the temples of the idols, and the high places which had been built in violation of the commandments of God;2or even as Josiah served Him, by doing the same things in his turn; or as the king of the Ninevites served Him, by compelling all the men of his city to make satisfaction to the Lord;4or as Darius served Him, by giving the idol into the power of Daniel to be broken, and by casting his enemies into the den of lions; or as Nebuchadnezzar served Him, of whom I have spoken before, by issuing a terrible law to prevent any of his subjects from blaspheming God.6In this way, therefore, kings can serve the Lord, even in so far as they are kings, when they do in His service what they could not do were they not kings.
“’Tis well, I ween, by shame the young to train, And dread of meanness, rather than by pain.”
This is unquestionably true. But while those are better who are guided aright by love, those are certainly more numerous who are corrected by fear. For, to answer these persons out of their own author, we find him saying in another place,
“Unless by pain and suffering thou art taught,
Thou canst not guide thyself aright in aught.”
But, moreover, holy Scripture has both said concerning the former better class, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear;” and also concerning the latter lower class, which furnishes the majority, “A servant will not be corrected by words; for though he understand, he will not answer.”4In saying, “He will not be corrected by words,” he did not order him to be left to himself, but implied an admonition as to the means whereby he ought to be corrected; otherwise he would not have said, “He will not be corrected by words,” but without any qualification, “He will not be corrected.” For in another place he says that not only the servant, but also the undisciplined son, must be corrected with stripes, and that with great fruits as the result; for he says, “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell;” and elsewhere he says, “He that spareth the rod hateth his son.”6For, give us a man who with right faith and true understanding can say with all the energy of his heart, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” and for such an one there is no need of the terror of hell, to say nothing of temporal punishments or imperial laws, seeing that with him it is so indispensable a blessing to cleave unto the Lord, that he not only dreads being parted from that happiness as a heavy punishment, but can scarcely even bear delay in its attainment. But yet, before the good sons can say they have “a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,”8many must first be recalled to their Lord by the stripes of temporal scourging, like evil slaves, and in some degree like good-for-nothing fugitives.
It’s interesting to note that Augustine did speak of the “argument of those men” who claimed that the Apostles didn’t look for the “state” to incite forced conversions. It appears that in the letter Augustine looks to prove his case by looking through the Old Testament and finding where Jewish Kings use coercive measures. However, as Augustine is a Christian, it would seem much more prudent to look to the message of Jesus Christ, whom he professes is God.
Now those who wish to claim that Jesus makes some sort of comments to support violent measures will often cite: Luke 22:36 and Mt. 10:34. However, it appears in the context that both are symbolic in regard to the context of what Jesus is saying those particular passages. For example, in Luke 22:36, Christ says:
In this particular passage of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is likening himself to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant in Is. 53:12. However, as the Apostles’ take him literally by saying “here are two swords,” Christ’s indication that is “good enough” is as Theophylact claims “Very well, leave it” because they did not understand his meaning.
In Matthew 10:34-38, the context of his meaning is a bit more clear as he is speaking to the division caused by his overall message:
34 ¶“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 ¶ He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. 
So, Jesus’ message causes division. Naturally, this would be the case if one claims to have the truth and to be the truth (John 14:6). However, Jesus doesn’t seem to indicate the need for violent coercion for believing in his message. Mark 12:29-34 he teaches that one should love their neighbor as themselves. It is in Lk 10:29 that we find that our neighbor is those who are in need of our mercy regardless of their affiliation. In Mark 10:22, after Jesus proposes that the Rich Young Man give up all his possessions and the young man responded by leaving, Jesus allows him to depart:
22 At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. 
John chapter 6:65-66 also indicates when disciples stop believing in his message are allowed to depart from his presence:
65 ¶ And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Time and Time again, Jesus proposes; doesn’t impose, and allows people to leave and go back to their everyday lives. In fact, Jesus implies in the parable of Wheat and Tares that it isn’t the job of those here to remove the tares as they may uproot the wheat with them, but rather it is reserved for the day of judgment.
So, what about the Catholic Church? During the Vatican II council and during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, it appears that the Church saw the error to the common phrase of more traditional-minded Catholics “error has no right.” Pope John Paul II wrote in On the Value and Content of Freedom of Conscience and of Religion:
3. The Catholic Church has synthesized her thinking on this subject in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration, Dignitatis humanae, promulgated on December 7, 1965, a document which places the Apostolic See under a special obligation.
This declaration had been preceded by Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical, Pacem in terris, dated April 11, 1963, which solemnly emphasized the fact that everyone has “the right to be able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his conscience.”
The same declaration of the Second Vatican Council was then taken up again in various documents of Pope Paul VI, in the 1974 Synod of Bishops’ message, and more recently in the message to the United Nations Organization during the papal visit on October 2, 1979, which repeats it essentially: “In accordance with their dignity, all human beings, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and, therefore, bearing a personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and to direct their whole lives in accordance with its demands” (Dignitatis humanae, no. 2). “The practice of religion by its very nature consists primarily of those voluntary and free internal acts by which a human being directly sets his course towards God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. But man’s social nature itself requires that he give external expression to his internal acts of religion, that he communicate with others in religious matters and that he profess his religion in community” (Dignitatis humanae, no. 3).
“These words,” the UN address added, “touch the very substance of the question. They also show how even the confrontation between the religious view and the agnostic or even atheistic view of the world, which is one of the ‘signs of the times’ of the present age, could preserve honest and respectful human dimensions without violating the essential rights of conscience of any man or woman living on earth” (Address to the 34th General Assembly of the United Nations, no. 20).
On the same occasion, the conviction was expressed that “respect for the dignity of the human person would seem to demand that, when the exact tenor of the exercise of religious freedom is being discussed or determined with a view to national laws or international conventions, the institutions that are by their nature at the service of religion should also be brought in.” This is because, when religious freedom is to be given substance, if the participation of those most concerned in it and who have special experience of it and responsibility for it is omitted, there is a danger of setting arbitrary norms of application and of “imposing, in so intimate a field of man’s life, rules or restrictions that are opposed to his true religious needs” (Address to the UN 34th General Assembly, no. 20).…
6. The Catholic Church is not confined to a particular territory and she has no geographical borders; her members are men and women of all regions of the world. She knows, from many centuries of experience, that suppression, violation or restriction of religious freedom have caused suffering and bitterness, moral and material hardship, and that even today there are millions of people enduring these evils. By contrast, the recognition, guarantee and respect of religious freedom bring serenity to individuals and peace to the social community; they also represent an important factor in strengthening a nation’s moral cohesion, in improving people’s common welfare, and in enriching the cooperation among nations in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
In addition, the wholesome implementation of the principle of religious freedom will contribute to the formation of citizens who, in full recognition of the moral order, “will be obedient to lawful authority and be lovers of true freedom; people, in other words, who will come to decisions on their own judgment, and, in the light of truth, govern their activities with a sense of responsibility, and strive after what is true and right, willing always to join with others in cooperative effort” (Dignitatis humanae, no. 8).
Now, as admitted, I’ve not read everything by Augustine, so if anyone wants to correct me on this particular reading on his work feel free to do so. Augustine did write retractions, so perhaps he may have retracted these statements. I see blog posts as a forum to discuss and discover the truth.
Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatists,” inSt. Augustin: The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. R. King, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 640–641.
An interesting reflection on councils, doctrine, and heresies in regards to the Pope. I wanted to share this post with AATW to see if there were any thoughts of agreements or refutation on thesis presented here. Note, I did comment for a clarification of what is meant by “judge.” Please refer to that for further explanation.
Many of the laity are falling into the heresy of Conciliarism, which was condemned by the Fifth Lateran Council , 1512-1517.
The heresy of Americanism also involves the heresy of Conciliarism, which limits the power of the pope and indicates that people have a right to judge him.
Here are some of the facts surrounding this heresy, under a few bullet points. In other words, as much as we do not like a pope or what he says, the laity cannot judge him, especially cannot judge his soul.
Many commentators on blogs are in error regarding calling the present popes names or labelling him. Beware, your own soul is in danger of not only false judgement, but inappropriate judgement.
• Because of the tendencies of both religious and secular leaders in the 13th and 14th centuries, that is kings and schismatics, the nature of the papacy had to become…
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Pope Francis’ letter on the present scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church. In the original blog’s comments Gertrude had an interesting analysis of the letter.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in…
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One of the points that I was revealing to me in this particular interview was Dreher’s story of catching up a reporter on the sex abuse scandal of 2002. He began to explain to the reporter that much of what has led to this secrecy within the Episcopate was Homosexuality. The reporter, from FoxNews, informed Dreher that they had been instructed by the higher-ups not to address those issues within the context of the entire story.
How can people ever begin to know the truth and seek justice unless we explore every possible avenue!
Listen to the entire interview: http://issuesetc.org/2018/08/16/2281-the-sexual-abuse-crisis-in-the-roman-catholic-church-rod-dreher-8-16-18/
To: Cardinal Wuerl CC: Pope Francis
Your many actions as bishop of Pittsburgh, thoroughly documented in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, are deplorable.
You covered up sexual abuse and shuffled predatory priests between parishes, endangering children’s safety.
You failed in your duty as a shepherd. The human cost of your actions and inaction – lives ruined, faith destroyed – is incalculable.
I call on you to resign as Archbishop of Washington immediately.
This scandal has irreparably marred your episcopate. Step aside so the victims of the priests you oversaw – and the Church – can begin to heal.
Bishop Paprocki does call for this investigator and committee to be led by the laity, but as he says his view is for those names to be sent to the Pope for the removal of Bishops, it is still within this culture of clericalism that the those in the Church who call for action still operate with the Church and outside of the secular law. It stops short of what absolutely needs to be done; the investigator and committee need to provide names and evidence to the secular judicial system to arrest, to try, and to send to prison any citizen, whether it be a member of the clergy, for breaking both secular and divine laws.
I urge every Catholic to demand a different approach from the leadership of the Church. And let’s face it, the only power the laity has is the power of the purse. So, if the USCCB is still unwillingly to do what is needed, and it still appears to be the case, do not give one penny to any parish or diocese. Donate your funds to self-sufficient apostalates instead. It has to be a complete and utter shock to the Bishops that we will take no more.
Demand it! Stop posting normal Catholic posts, actually DO something, write a letter, stop your offerings, request meetings with priests and bishops. If you hear something that’s wrong in a meeting or even a homily–say something!
“A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. ” Mk 1:3
I do enjoy the new voices with different traditions that have come here recently to converse, although, in many ways with their short departure, I believe they lack the understanding of this community, a once a community of Christians. It was a place a both peaceful tension; a both/and, and many of those voices who made it such have left for various reasons. Here, I’ve come across one of the voices of a Baptist that I’ve missed Geoffrey RS Sales on original sin and justification–may his voice add to our conversation on Free Will, Divine Sovereignty, and Original Sin.
My understanding of the answer to this question in a Christian context is ‘hell-fire’. You can take whatever understanding your tradition gives you of original sin and theorise, but I don’t think you can take your own life and get away from the conclusion that you have not followed God’s ways. I may be preaching here to a bunch of folks who are outraged by such a suggestion, and who have so conducted themselves that they ‘deserve’ salvation. But were that the case Paul need not have written Romans, and, indeed, Christ need not have hung on that Cross. You can take whatever theory of the atonement your tradition offers you, but I don’t see you can escape having to have some theory, and that theory has to encompass the idea, outrageous to the unsaved, that Christ suffered and died for us – yes, for me, and for you, and…
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ƒ*Below is a combination of two conversations that I’ve had with reformed Christians on the debate between Free Will and Divine Sovereignty. I listened to a podcast where the Professor said he often had his students construct dialogues. I liked the idea; most of this is not based on my imagination but actual conversations, as my first attempt. The bulk of the text is based from one reformed Christian ideas; however, many of his points I thought were weak, so I did tweak them a bit with another reformed Christian’s comments of a debate I’ve had almost a year ago. However, in both cases, it appears that when presented with either proof texts and philosophy they both relied on a sort of personal revelation conclusion. I still think the arguments are weak but I surmise it’s not due to reformed Christians not having good arguments. The two that I had conversations with seemed to want to rely on short deflective statements rather than a development of their position. Again, in searching for truth, I’d ask for any reformed Christian who reads this to comment and present their arguments for dialogue. There are many authors and commenters on AATW and it can be a good experience to develop our ideas. Also, note, the conversations at the behest of the reformed Christians avoided philosophy so topics like determinism were never brought into the conversation.*
Vinnie: Free will is a myth. It’s a philosophical concept that has nothing to do with theology. The concept of Free will is a contradiction of God’s Divine authority based on the idea that the individual’s will is outside the authority of God’s word.
Tomas: I believe you’ve mistaken the permeance of God’s omnipotence and the idea of what constitutes free will.
Vinnie: God is in control of every aspect of our lives. God is the creator; he sustains us and everything in His dominion. Why do you make petitionary prayers for a new job or a promotion, good health, or to have a safe trip unless God is completely sovereign over all things?
Tomas: Much of what you say is true, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. Of course, prayers are for our own good whether we receive what we’ve asked for or not, it’s purpose to build our habits of virtue through God’s grace. For we cannot pray without the Spirit. I suppose I need to ask, “Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?”
Vinnie: Of course! And the scripture shows that Free Will is a myth! Genesis 50:20!
Tomas: Oh yes, the intention of harm being a part of God’s plan for the greater good. Naturally, I have to ask why does the passage necessarily support God’s Divine Sovereignty instead of humanity’s free will? You believe God to be supremely in control and yet you’re willing to put constraints on His power by declaring that because He has Divine sovereignty.
Vinnie: I understand your point and I agree that there are certain ideas within Christianity that don’t make a lot of sense if God is sovereign. Nonetheless, I believe He is.
Tomas: Interesting, so you’re admitting to rejecting observations within your own ability to reason?
Vinnie: Things can be logically proven and still be wrong.
Tomas: Careful down that rabbit hole, The ole’ atheist quip, to argue against a concept of free will one must have a sort of prior knowledge of actions being a free choice of the will. A prior knowledge acts as a sort of proof by the definition itself and admits to the existence of free will by your own argument against it.
Vinnie: This is a prime example of why philosophers make poor theologians. I don’t accept your point, because I believe God is in control, and God has complete freedom. So there is free will, but it’s God’s freedom and not ours. As creatures under God’s sovereign control, we are not free in relation to God’s will.
Tomas: And yet you’re not presenting any substantial proofs for your positive claims here.
Vinnie: To simply state, Reformed theology gives theological answers to theological questions in the context of the Reformed and Covenantal tradition in which it is presented. It really doesn’t advance the argument to erect straw men just to burn them down…
Tomas: Well, you’d have to show how I’ve erected a straw man on your position, which again you provide no proofs for such a claim. Furthermore, I can only surmise that your proofs would be weak arguments that Free Will doesn’t exist. In fact, what you do do is create a tautological argument by repeating words “reformed” and “theology” without implying anything of substance. Furthermore, as you indicate that only true theology can be done by doing theology—see the Tautology there?—you’ve erected a sort of Every True Scotsmen fallacy, as your saying, “Every true theologian uses theology, not philosophy.” I will use both philosophy and scripture as proof for the existence of the Free Will.
Thomas: If free will is a myth, it contradicts the theological doctrine of Original Sin and that of an omnibenevolent God. Naturally, if God creates and sustains all, including all of humanity’s will, then wills a programmed fall from grace; doesn’t give grace sufficient for all to be saved then he ultimately would be responsible for all subsequent evil actions made by humanity. Of course, in such a scenario, a judgment would be made on some who have no opportunity to cooperate with His grace–reprobate–to atone for sins they could not freely choose not to commit. As these concepts contradict with the essence of Divine Justice one cannot articulate the Augustinian view of the elect as double predestination because Augustine, in his Confessions book 7, explains quite clearly that humanity is solely responsible for evil, as it has no substance, as all of God’s creations share in his goodness and that evil is a privation of said goodness.
Furthermore, God gives humanity, government, the authority in scripture to punish criminals–Romans 13: 3-4. To give authority to punish criminals who are not responsible for their actions would be intrinsically disordered within the frameworks of divine justice. The Theologian makes the argument that the judgment of any action would be illogical if free does not exist unless of course, one argues that society’s response is a predetermined one.
Vinnie: if God has free will and man has free will, if the two come into conflict God’s free will wins. It’s called the Sovereignty of God…
Tomas: Okay, now take that to its conclusion. No Free Will means God is responsible for Adam’s fall. Therefore, it would contradict the need for atonement as Adam could not create a free act of disobedience against God, which consequently renders Christ’s ransom of our sins meaningless. So, let’s make this clear so a straw man argument cannot be claimed. if God’s will wins out, there’s no need for atonement of sins that one did not freely choose on their own. No need for atonement, no need for Christ. You’ve rendered Christianity as needless.
Vinnie: As I said, if God is truly sovereign (i.e. omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent) then this creates problems for the Christian worldview, which you rightly point out. Nevertheless, I believe that God is Sovereign because of the Divine revelation of scripture.
Tomas: So let’s move into scripture and let’s not forget the whole context of Hebrews 10:26-29:
26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?
Vinnie: The context in reformed theology expressed by James White is that “he was sanctified” means Christ. Your argument is not with me, but it seems at minimum you fallen into Semi-Pelagian heresy.”
Tomas: Shall we take the sentence to a linguist to graph the sentence? I would presume that the vast majority will choose the man as the one who was sanctified by Christ being God would have no need for sanctification. The heresy of Semi-Pelagianism is starting with Free Will without God’s grace. Of course, this isn’t the position I’m claiming to hold. Now, your statement is a prime example of a straw man fallacy, so let me explain why…
God’s grace gives each person sufficient grace to choose Him. It begins with Him but then we’re allowed by God, who is sovereign, to cooperate with Him. After this initial grace, we can certainly pray, choose to do his will through his Church; however, this isn’t a radical separation from God’s will. As God is existence, our will’s do not function outside of God. By God’s omnipotence, he can certainly will us to have free will and still operate within his Divine Providence. So, when we pray, help others as Christ commands in Mt. 25, or fast as Christ mentions in Mt. 5, etc. God continues to give us perseverant grace to actualize our will through His Grace to order our will toward His own. The will isn’t radically free but formed through the habits of virtue and vice. Again Hebrews 10:26-29 illustrates this by acknowledging those who are sanctified can fall from God’s grace.
Vinnie: It’s not that I’m mildly impressed with your ability to move effortlessly conflating one category with another but at some point to engage in such novelties is unproductive. I believe God is Divinely Sovereign. Good day.
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