This recent dialogue between myself and a fellow neophyte friend of mine over email is partially reprinted with permission. (His words in green & in block quotes) Originally I told him in my email about a protestant friend who is an elder at an Orthodox Prebyterian church who made the comment that St. Augustine single handedly kept the Church from 'going off the deep end'. My friend erroneously viewed him as the only one with his 'head on straight' in the 300s.
Joe you're exactly right about the "personal Jesus" phenomenon. Ive noticed that too. Like St. Jerome said "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ". And the Protestants call God Father - yet like St. Cyprian of Carthage said "He cannot have God as Father who has not Church as mother". Both of these 4th century like you pointed out. The personal Jesus issue is one of the posts for my blog that I have had on the back burner for a while.
When I read your second paragraph I must admit that I was a bit annoyed. It's a struggle to prevent myself from reacting that way, though I really should. Especially since I was exactly like your Protestant friend a little over a year ago. I guess, for the most part, it is the obstinate ignorance that bugs me the most. Why doesn't he read about it instead of commenting on things he has no knowledge of or doesn't understand? Of course, it was only by the grace of God that I was accepting of the Fathers writings... so, prayer for your friend would be the best thing. the 4th century was the richest century for the Doctors of the Church. That statement he made was out of complete ignorance, an ignorance that I would challenge him to back up with honest research... since I know he made that comment off the top of his head, like most Protestants. The more I hear Protestants talk, the more I realize that the "personal Jesus" concept is a reality with them. All of their "knowledge" (in reality, opinions) has been supposedly personally revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. All without careful study, without changing their lifestyle, without seeking humility, etc.
Anyhow I want to point out the level of ignorance your Protestant friend has in his personal "revelation" from who he believes is the Holy Spirit.
First, the Councils which established the canon of the Holy Scriptures took place in the 4th century... St. Augustine didn't even convert until 386 (5 years after the First Council of Constantinople). Also, he wasn't on the council when the Nicene Creed was approved. So, to say that the Church was going astray in the 300s is either utter ignorance or utter blasphemy. Even a Protestant believes that the canon of Scriptures was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and many Protestant denominations recite the Creed. Two things St. Augustine wasn't a part of.
Second, the council of Nicaea (325 AD - pre-St. Augustine) approved the canons for the structure of the Church heirarchy, defined the divinity of the Son of God against Arius, and fixed the date to keep Easter. These things, like all doctrines and dogmas of the Church, were already in existence, passed down by the Tradition of the Apostles as can be seen in all of the pre-Nicene Fathers writings. As we both know, Protestants foolishly reject the Traditions of the Apostles and the authority of the Church. The First Council of Constantinople (381 AD - also pre-St. Augustine) added the Holy Spirit portion to the Creed and further defined the heirarchial structure. St. Augustine became bishop of Hippo in 396 AD, so according to your friend, it would have taken him only four years to influence the Church enough to keep the wheels from falling off, since in your friend's blissful ignorance he stated that it was in the 4th century that St. Augustine did everything. Another thing to note is that St. Augustine became bishop after the First Council of Constantinople and he entered heaven in 430 AD, just prior to the next Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, it is hard to imagine that he was physically present at any of the Ecumenical Councils. Though he was present at the Local Council of Carthage and he actually helped to further approve and frame the heirarchial structure of the Church!
Third, I'm sure that your Protestant friend believes that the wheels came off when doctrines like Apostolic Succession were affirmed, canons of Church heirarchy were affirmed, Apostolic Tradition was used as a means of framing doctrines and dogmas, the belief in the Real Presense of our Lord in the Eucharist was handed down through the Faith and Tradition of the Apostles, etc. Because, if he believes any of that, then he should give up his perceived Christian "independence", his trust in himself, and his "personal Jesus" and enter the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But, chances are he doesn't believe any of those things. Besides the other points I made, which plainly show his ignorance, I think, this point is the most crucial: St. Augustine believed all of those things listed above... the things your friend does not believe! I'll add a couple more things too. St. Augustine also believed in the primacy of the successor of St. Peter. Using Protestant terms, he was a papist. Also, St. Augustine was the Doctor of the Church who defined the Ten Commandments as the first three being in relation to God and the last seven being in relation to our neighbor. Protestants believe that the first four are in relation to God and the last seven are in relation to our neighbor. Though it's not a matter of faith, it is a scandalous matter to some Protestants who think the Catholic Church took liberty with Her exposition of the Ten Commandments. That was St. Augustine!
So, before your Protestant friend tosses out his personal revelations on who St. Augustine was and what he believed, tell him it would probably be wise to actually read about him first. St. Augustine was Catholic in everything. He believed in the Sacraments and everything else the Church teaches, which hasn't changed since Christ sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel and baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes St. Augustine as a Saint should be enough to let him know that he was Catholic. The Church isn't in the business of canonizing heretics.
Back to my point about the 4th (and 5th) century being the richest in regards to Doctors of the Church, here is a sample of some of them:
St. Ambrose (Bishop of Milan 374-397) - helped to convert St. Augustine, a wealth of writings in the deposit of Faith that are often cited for doctrines and dogmas of the Church
St. Athanasius (Bishop of Alexandria, d. 373)
St. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo 396-430)
St. Basil the Great (Bishop of Caesarea, d. 379)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Bishop of Jerusalem, d. 386)
St. Ephraim the Syrian (d. 373)
Eusebius of Caesarea (Bishop of Caesarea, d. 341)
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Bishop of Nazianzus, d. 389)
St. Hilary of Poitiers (Bishop of Poitiers, d. 368) - one Tradition has it that his relics were taken from the church of St. Hilaire of Poitiers and burned by the Protestants in 1572
St. Jerome (b. 340, d. 420) - translated the Holy Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate and also upheld the Tradition of the perpetual virginity of Theotokos against heretics at the time.
St. John Chrysostom (Bishop of Constantinople b. 347, d. 407) - "golden mouthed", one of the greatest Doctors of the Church
Pope St. Leo I the Great (d. 461, Pope 440-461)
And that list doesn't include those who were not considered Doctors of the Church. I may have even missed a few. I hope that somewhat illustrates the level of ignorance and the contradictory nature of your Protestant friend's statements. It's hard for me not to get a bit annoyed and not to show it in my responses, but man, he should READ the stuff he is spewing opinions out about in complete ignorance. I should really be more relaxed about it since I was in exactly the same boat (sinking) as he was.
Thanks for that list of the Saints. The only big ones I could think of at the time were St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius & St. Jerome but I didnt mention Jerome to him bc Protestants dont like St. Jerome. I looked online later to see if i could find a timeline but I didnt find one and didnt have time to go through each saint.
The sad thing about this particular Protestant is that while what you said is true - he is grossly ignorant of the 4th century and early Church - he is very well educated in reformed doctrine and church (with a lower case c) history after the reformation. He could probably quote the Westminster Confession. Even the very well educated Protestants (in this regard) have a terrible knowledge of the early Church (which is the most important era to learn about imo!!!)
But for Protestants like him I am not too terribly concerned. He's already set in his ways and it would be a personal embarassment for him to change at this point. So im not trying to convert him by any means. To convert for someone like that (he is in his 60s and an elder at his church) would be to admit he's been wrong about many things for a long time.. That is extremely hard to do for mankind and our ego will cause us to "turn a blind eye" to certain truths.
Im more interested in providing resources for protestants (like me before i converted) who knew deep down inside Christianity is true but also knew that there are some huge pieces of the puzzle missing and it didnt make any sense. I was very frustrated with Chrsitianity. Had I known that the Catholic Church had EVERY answer all along, it would have been so much easier. I want to be a resource for those kinds of people.
I obviously don't believe that you should try and convert anyone, as that would be impossible anyway. Catholics have a different understanding of evangelization. We don't (or shouldn't) believe that we are the ones who convert anyone. And we certainly don't believe that we earn "crowns" in heaven for each soul "we" save. It is only through the grace of Faith, given by the Holy Spirit and accepted by the person, that one can believe in Christ, and it is only through Christ that one can see the Father. We aren't even actors in the process since the entire affair is literally between the grace given by the Spirit and the response given by the person. God doesn't control us and we don't control each other.
However, educating the ignorant is something that we are commissioned to do. Not to convert them, but just to give them information that they didn't have before. It is not something we do to add another soul to our personal list of converts, like it is for the evangelicals. It is something we do when the opportunity arises and is also our obligation as Christians, especially to other Christians. The Spirit will move us to do so when it is appropriate too. Unlike evangelicals who cram their false doctrines down everyone's throat after beating them over the head with their Luther bible, we are to carry out our discussions with love and humility. I have engaged in discussions with Protestant friends and family members on topics of Catholic teachings and doctrines. In those cases the discussions unravelled gradually, I didn't go into the conversation with a list of doctrines I was going to shove in their face. On the contrary, they came to me with theirs for the most part. I saw it as my duty to at least explain the Catholic teaching to them, whether they rejected it or not. It isn't my job to convince them of anything. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. That is why Protestants can read the Scriptures and never recognize the Truth, because they obstinately refuse the grace of the Holy Spirit.
I guess my point is that I think you should post this thread. Your friend needs to understand how contradictory and how misinformed his ridiculous statement is and, if he wants to truly find out what St. Augustine thought or what was happening in the Church before and after the Roman persecution (I use the end of the Roman persecution because it is more accurate than the many misinformed Protestant theories on Constantine), that there is plenty of documentation available for research. He needs to put his Westminster Confession, a relatively new invention (in comparison to the age of the Church of Christ) of schismatics and heretics, down and start reading what the mind of the Church thinks today and has ALWAYS thought since Christ sent His Apostles to spread the Gospels.
As far as Protestants not liking St. Jerome, as I recall, their religious father, Martin Luther, didn't like St. James very much either. And St. James' epistle is in their bible too. Why did the heretic, Luther, not like St. James? Simply because he taught how to properly live a Christian life and that "Faith without works is DEAD". Of course Martin Luther would have had the same feelings for St. Jerome because St. Jerome used the Septuagint primarily for his Old Testament translation. It follows that Protestants loyal to their Luther bibles would not like St. Jerome because that might mean they'd have to accept the seven books that the heretic, Luther, removed from the canon. Also, St. Jerome made it clear that the Blessed Virgin was perpetually a Virgin, and he wasn't shy about believing in Catholic teachings. My answer to that is, who cares if Protestants don't like St. Jerome? They don't like anyone that doesn't fit into their own personal "revelation". Why do you think there are 30,000 + Protestant sects in existence? Why is it that being a Protestant is like playing denomination hop-scotch until death? Because, if it doesn't fit their individual interpretation, it isn't true. Changing religions is no big deal as a Protestant, it has no great impact on them. I received an email from a family member of mine that proudfully stated that they had left their church because they didn't like the preacher's teachings. They gave the whole family a warning that we should all trust what the Holy Spirit tells us personally and never to trust a preacher. They went on to talk about how the head of the family had read the whole bible (Protestant, of course), annually, for many years, and that he was more knowledgeable than the preacher of the church they left in the dust. Not only that, we, the rest of the family, should look to him for biblical guidance. That is their mentality. "I'm right! The Holy Spirit talks to me! Nobody else is right! Don't even trust yourself, listen to me! Don't trust anyone else! I've read the bible more than you! I'm older than you so I know more!"
I later told them that they should try reading the writings of the Early Fathers. The response was incredible. I was told that I should not put so much faith in mere "commentaries" and that I should listen only to the Holy Spirit, who talks to me whenever I read the Scriptures as long as I have Jesus in my heart. That men are misleading (so, I guess the Apostles were too?) and that we should only read the Scriptures. Attached to that email was a portion of a Protestant commentary on Scripture!!! Can you believe the hypocrisy? They added that this guy is a guy they could trust.
The best part is next. I read approximately five lines of the commentary (it was three pages long). In that five lines the "scholar" pointed out that we are saved by faith alone and that it is in direct contradiction to Christ's teachings to believe that works have any salvific value. I stopped reading it right there and sent back an email letting them know that "the Church does not teach, nor has it ever taught since Her inaguration at the Cross 2000 years ago, that one can earn salvation by his own merits through works." That was my reply. I should've added that the Church stamped out the heresy of Pelagianism (man can earn salvation by his own merits) centuries ago, which taught exactly what Protestants accuse Catholics of believing.
My friend is right. There is an undeniable double standard when it comes to interpretation of Scripture. If you were to quote an early Church father or a saint (other than St. Augustine whom they like simply because he at one time taught false doctrines that the Church never adopted such as predestination and condemnation of unbaptized infants which John Calvin later adopted) then you are scolded: "its just men's opinion!" But, in the next breath they show you a commentary by James Dobson or John MacArthur (king of the straw man attacks on Catholicism) or any other contemporary Protestant 'scholar' who (at best) pales in comparison to the great Saints of the early Church in both knowledge & wisdom... and woe to you if you don't accept their opinions as God-breathed.
I don't mean to bash my brothers in Christ. Most, if not all of them are very well meaning. But they lack the full gift of the Holy Spirit because they are not in full communion with Christ's Church and they have but one valid sacrament (baptism).