Augustine & Calvin – Part 1

Posted: June 19, 2011 in augustine, books, calvin, history, soteriology, theology

It is often noted that much of the theology of the Reformation can be found, at least in part, in the incredibly important and varied works of Saint Augustine.  B.B. Warfield, the last of the great Princeton theologians, writes,

It was through [Augustine’s] voluminous writings, by which his wider influence was exerted, that he entered both the Church and the world as a revolutionary force, and not merely created an epoch in the history of the Church, but has determined the course of its history in the West up to the present day.[1]

This influence is especially obvious in the works of John Calvin, who quoted Augustine 342 times in the final edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.[2]  Although the African bishop of Hippo lived over one thousand years before Calvin, his understanding of God and His salvation had a profound influence on the Protestant Reformer, shaping much of the way that he looked at sin, grace, and faith.  As John Piper writes in his book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy,

“Under Christ, Augustine’s influence on Luther and Calvin was second only to the influence of the Apostle Paul.  Augustine towers over the thousand years between himself and the Reformation, heralding the Sovereign Joy of God’s triumphant grace for all generations.”[3]

This influence can be especially seen in Calvin’s understanding of God’s predestination, by which He sovereignly elects men to salvation.

We have much to learn from both of these great thinkers.  Their written reflections on the Word of God and the salvation that we have in Christ are, in many respects, unparalleled.  Contrary to what is often assumed, their works are generally warm and affectionate, stirring the heart and mind of the one who is willing to mine their depths.  Reading them is not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.

However, before embarking on a journey into the minds of these two men, I should first lay out two foundational convictions.  First, in learning from Augustine and Calvin we should not be foolish and read them uncritically, blindly following wherever they may lead.  These men were sinners saved by grace – nothing more.  The only book with which we can “let down our guard” is the Bible, which we embrace as God’s inerrant and infallible Word.

Second, we must also affirm that it would be equally foolish to disregard Augustine and Calvin, thinking we have nothing to gain from reading what they have written.  Long years and changing times do not necessarily (or even usually) mean something is now irrelevant or unprofitable.  These men (and their writings) have stood the test of time and are still studied by the best and brightest among us.  The idea of a solo Christian, having his “quiet time” alone in his room, uninterested in seeking help from others (dead and alive), is as unbiblical as it is imprudent.  We should listen to those who have gone before.

So, with those foundational convictions in place, let’s start digging!  If you would like to follow along in the source documents, you can access most of them for free at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (direct link to Augustine and Calvin).

Part 2

[1] B.B. Warfield, Calvin and Augustine, p. 306-307
[2] Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p. 25
[3] Ibid., p. 24
  1. laurensheil says:

    I came across this post while TagSurfing on WordPress. Although I’m not much of a fan of either Calvin or Augustine (I’m an Arminian) I do appreciate history and I am interested to see where this is going so I’ve subscribed to the blog.

    Thanks for posting it.

    • Matt Tully says:

      Welcome and thanks for stopping by! I hope you find the blog uplifting and edifying, even though it is written from a Calvinistic perspective. Feel free to interact in the comments.

      – Matt

      PS – You might also be interested in my series of posts about Jonathan Edwards and libertarian free will.

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