Accepting Augustine: The Dialectic of Opposition in Orthodoxy

Beginning with Adolph von Harnack and Reinhold Seeberg in the Nineteenth century, the first historians of doctrine in the modern, comprehensive and systematic sense, there is a growing awareness of a sea-change in the fourth century, a change associated with the name of St. Augustine of Hippo Regius. The Byzantinist Joan M. Hussey remarks, in her little book, Church and Learning in the Byzantine Empire that “insofar as it is possible to assign a watershed, that comes in the fourth century, between those who follow Augustine on the one hand, and those who follow the Cappadocians on the other.”  The comment, coming as it does from a scholar of a civilization, and by no means a theologian, is a significant one, for it means that underlying all other expressions of the problem, be they cultural, canonical, or even liturgical, the underlying problem is dogmatic and more specifically Trinitarian.

Even St. Maximus the Confessor indicates as much.  When the inquiry is made concerning the presence of the filioque in some of the formularies of the Latin West, he accepts the doctrine, but only insofar as expressing the sending of the Spirit by the Son, and explicitly rejects the doctrine in its Augustinian form.

But the most succinct statements of the problem may be found in the early twentieth century Calvinist historian James Orr’s Progress of Dogma:

“With Augustine, theology passes from East to West, and from the region of theology proper to that of anthropology.  Not that this great Father was not a theologian in the stricter sense as well.  No man plunged deeper than he into the mysteries of the divine nature in his discussions of the Trinity.” (p. 131)

On this point, the perception both of Eastern Orthodox and Western scholars regarding the position and significance is the same. 

Orthodox “Traditionalists”

But the interpretation of this significance, at least for the Orthodox, is problematic, perhaps the most problematic of all points with which we have to deal.  On it hinges everything we have to say, and do not have to say, to the Christian West, and on it hinges how we must come to listen to the Christian West.  There are essentially two broad approaches, the “assimilationist approach” of Fr. Seraphim Rose, and the “Rejectionist-Purist approach” exemplified by Father Michael Azkoul.

A.   Fr. Seraphim Rose

The Assimilationist approach of Fr. Seraphim Rose has been surveyed in his little book, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church.  Both the title and the fact that it was published by a traditionalist within a “traditionalist” jurisdiction hint at the profundity of the problem.  Basically, this approach says that one must simply accept Augustine, since he is accepted by the Church, and not go into detailed examinations or speculations on his doctrinal and dogmatic errors.  If St. John Cassian accepted ST. Augustine, that is good enough for us.  To criticize Augustine is to fall into that horrid trap of academic theology into which Fr. Azkoul falls, of wanting to have everything perfectly consistent and rational.

The difficulty with this approach is that it is a species of unreality, and leads to quite absurd results.  Thus, the same Fr. Seraphim, rejecting out of hand any sound theological appraisal of Augustinism as “rationalism” or “academic theology” ends teaching a doctrine of “Toll House Eschatology” that for all intents and purposes is a much cruder form of purgatory than purgatory itself.  Rejecting a critique of augustinism while accepting Augustine without such a critique seems to end by making one an Augustinian.  We end on this approach, quite literally with the picture of an educated Western convert to Orthodoxy looking like a strangely attired Hasidic Jew, smelling like a camel, practicing a severe form of asceticism perhaps more akin to the flagellant orders of the medieval West or the Coptic monks of the Egyptian desert, presuming to have found the key to “Western Orthodoxy” and presuming to teach those who imbibed the best in the Christian West, as well as those in the Orthodox Church, on the true meaning of Western Orthodoxy.  An absurd picture, but nevertheless true.

B.   Fr. Michael Azkoul

The opposite picture, of course, is presented to us by the Azkoul School of proper Polemics: Augustine is the Father of the Schism of the West, taught every manner of heresy by teaching the abominable filioque, and ergo he is not a Father of the Church, and neither he nor the West have anything actually to teach us, remove him from the dyptichs because he is even worse then Origen! 

There are two profound errors here, and I am bold to assert that they are dogmatic errors.  First, as St. Photios himself acknowledges, Augustine is a father.  To be a father of the Church does not mean to be free from error, even extreme errors.  A father must also be holy, repentant, and devout, which Augustine certainly was.  To be a father, one must precisely be accepted as such by the Church.  Thus, and secondly, Fr. Azkoul himself slips into a subtle form of the very “Augustinian” rationalism he seeks to deny.  The Church has accepted Augustine, how dare he, or anyone else, do otherwise.  Contained within this is yet another problem.  Augustinian theology is not the sum total of Western Christianity.  The Western rite, for example, is no more “Augustinian” than is the Eastern.  Of course, there are a few accretions over time, and of course, things within the Western Rite come to be interpreted in an Augustinian sense, for example, the phrase in the Western Rite “through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, o Father Almighty, world without end.”

That phrase itself is indicative of the mammoth task we must now perform.  How is this to be interpreted.  Clearly, in the Azkoul school, “in the unity of the Holy Ghost” means that the Holy Ghost is confessed to be the new source and principle of Unity in the Godhead” which is of course filioquism, and to be rejected.  And of course, that is the interpretation most informed Western Augustinians would give it.  But was there and is there an Orthodox way of understanding it?  Of course.  Recall that St. Basil the Great’s polemic with Eunomios was precisely over the Presuppositions used in the doxology at Liturgy: Glory be to the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost”, onto which prepositions Eunomius engrafted his heretical subordination of the Son and the Spirit.  But do we not, argued St. Basil, confess God in the love and unity of the Holy Spirit?  Of course.  Does that mean He is less than the Father?  Of course not.  Does that mean, then, by the same token, that this phrase necessarily confesses the false doctrine of the Spirit being the principle of the unity of the Godhead?  Of course not.  The Azkoul School, then, also appears unable to draw some necessary and subtle distinctions when dealing with Augustine and the West.  For this school, Augustine is nothing more than the icon of every apparent wrong of the West, and the West is the icon of everything wrong in Augustine.  Neither, quite bluntly, are true.

C. Dr. Pelikan

Dr. Pelikan perhaps summarizes the problem with the most judiciousness when he writes “If one affirmed, as all orthodox and even most semi-orthodox theologians did, that the incarnate Logos was “homoousios” with us according to his humanity just as he was “homoousios with the father according to his divinity”, it became necessary to specify the referent of the former as well as of the latter.  For reasons whose ultimate cultural origins go beyond the scope of this book, it fell to Western Christianity to be the primary locus of this doctrinal controversy, apart from, and to a considerable degree in spite of the Eastern tradition.”(p. 279)

In stating this, Pelikan has softened somewhat, but not escaped, the fact that he has accepted the same division within the consensus patrum as Azkoul and Rose, but done so on cultural grounds.

At this stage, I would submit that the only safe approach for the Orthodox is to accept Augustine and the West within the consensus patrum, and to acknowledge that the differences do not stem from the culture, but that the cultural differences stem from the differences in the liturgies of the East and the West.  St. Photios the Great, unsparing as he was in his assessment of the filioque as doctrine, nevertheless has no difficulty embracing Augustine in communion and Pope John VIII, Gregorian Rite and all; he, unlike Azkoul, Rose, and Pelikan, looked beyond culture and Augustinism.

–Joseph P. Farrell, exceprt from God, History, and Dialectic

42 Responses to Accepting Augustine: The Dialectic of Opposition in Orthodoxy

  1. Jonathan Companik says:

    Sorry for the repitition. My first post didn’t show up immediately so I rewrote it.

  2. Jonathan Companik says:

    Just a quick question for anyone who can answer it: Didn’t Fr. John Romanides reject the sainthood status of Augustine?

  3. Jonathan Companik says:

    Quick question for anyone who can answer it: Didn’t Fr. John Romanides reject the sainthood status of Blessed Augustine?

  4. […] for hating the new Batman film (which I didn’t). A consideration of St. Augustine from an Orthodox perspective. From Gene Expression: the contingent conditions of of religion and some data on why […]

  5. James Kelley says:

    Wow! This is a great exchange. I’ve read it a few times, and I have to say, this is what I envisioned when I started my own website, which has much to say about Augustine.

    Photius Jones, Fr. Michael (Yes, I’ve read your works very carefully, even the book on St. Gregory of Nyssa. I even interlibrary loaned your dissertation from Michigan on microfilm. Your early stuff is very dear to me, but so is the latest book on the ordination of women), and all the others, feel free to re-open this very informed discussion of Augustine either here or at my site,

  6. What did St Justin Martyr say about the holy Trinity? You read him in the original Greek?
    Augustine and Origen have much good to say; but neither is Orthodox.
    Good observation about St Gregory of Nyssa.

  7. photios says:

    ugh…I wouldn’t say that Justin Martyr is entirely Orthodox on his speculations on the holy trinity.

    But the answer to your question depends on what you mean.

  8. Andrew says:

    As far as I can tell, Justin the Martyr and Gregory of Nyssa are fully Orthodox in their theology. See for example bishop Ierotheos’ explanation of why St. Gregory of Nyssa didn’t say what some people today think he said.

    And, having read Justin the Martyr’s works, I see him being 100% Orthodox in his trinitarian views…

    I have one question to make.

    Is Augustine greater than Origen?

  9. I offer your a description not a definition. — a manner of speaking. You are looking to trip me, which suggests that you are not looking for the truth but for a defense. All of Augustine’s errors emerge fundamentally from his idea of God. Think; read his books. Become a student of the Fathers, not their judge.
    Have you read St Gregory of Nyssa or St Justin Martyr in the Greek or English. You would be surprised what the Greek discloses. Add to this an honest study of history, and you might find my position plausible.
    True a person can be holy without being a Father, but he cannot be a Father without being holy. A heretic cannnot be holy. Holiness involves not only righteousness but assimilation of the revealed truth.
    “Gamesmanship”? Yours ore mine? You are free to believe about me what you will.

  10. So, how many “grievous errors” is too many?

    Look, don’t mistake me. I’m not stumping for St. Augustine as being a Church Father in the sense of, let’s say, the Three Hierarchs.

    But if we go to St. Gregory of Nyssa, except for, say, the scope of salvation, if we rely on St. Justin the Philosopher except for, say, a developed Trinitarianism, if we rely on any Church Father for this, but not for that, then what’s the issue with giving St. Augustine his due?

    Alright fine, let’s draw up a canonical list of Church Fathers and leave off St. Augustine. There’s a ton of saints we don’t list as Church Fathers, and yet we go to them for their intercessions and holiness of life.

    I just find some of this invective against St. Augustine to be gamesmanship more than an objective and loving account aimed at the truth.

  11. St Gregory is a Church Father. The 7th Ecumenical Council declared him “Father of Fathers.” What makes you think he is not. You have read the material that shows his works were doctored by heretics in Alexandria?
    Augustine is barred because he had too many grievous errors.

  12. Is St. Gregory of Nyssa a Church Father?

    If so, how then is St. Augustine barred from being one?

  13. I wish I could find the exact quote from St Cyril of Jerusalem. He says that piety and doctrinal orthodoxy are together necessary for salvation. You must surely have read Tixeront’s Patrology. He says that one of the marks of a Father is orthodoxy.
    You say that you have read many of the books I’ve mentioned? Of course, that includes Augustine? “Sectarian bias…..”
    The problem may be that we do not agree on “orthodoxy.” I stand with the holy Tradition of the Orthodox (patristic) Church. Augustine does not “measusre up.” The filioque alone is sufficient to keep him from the patristic brotherhood; but we may pile heresy upon heresy on his head.
    I would urge to study the intellectual history of the West. Secularism was inevitable. Start with the Scholastics and travel the road from the Renaissance to post-modern philosophy. Darwin, Marx, Freud, etc. all are products of the Western phronema.
    I know what the Fathers would have done, precisely because they were witnesses to the Apostolic Tradition. It does not change; they did not change. Augustine urged us to accept his innovations, arguing that the Fathers had not gone far enough in their presentation of the Faith. I hope I am not immodest to urge you to read my book on Augustine.
    Why do you fail to adress the profound errors of Augustine? Compare his theology with the theology of St Ambrose, St Hilary Poitiers, St Vincent of Lerins, St Cyprian of Carthage, St Zeno Verona, St Neketas of Remesiana, St Valerian of Ciemez, St John Cassian, St Faurstus of Riez, St Gregory the Great, St Leo the Great, etc.
    What will you do with all his heresies? How do you continue to call Augustine a Father, a teacher, a witness to “the Faith once delivered to the saints.” How do you figure? Who is talking nonsense here?

  14. “What is your “sectarian bias”? All the values, principles and ideals of Western thought.”

    How do you figure this? Where has it been shown or what we have written that we capitulate to western principles and ideals?

    So, if I agree with you theologically, does this then in turn mean that you have “values, principles and ideals of Western thought” too?

    Come on Father, you’re not making any sense here.

    My point is this (and I’ve read most of the works you’ve already suggested): it’s pure speculation to say, “If St. Photios knew he held this opinion, or if Justinian read this, or if St. Mark understood this.., they would not accepted him as a Saint.” You have no way of knowing this, which is why the safest approach is to accept St. Augustine in the SAME WAY that they did: acknowledging many of his eroneous theological opinions, yet not impugning his character as being one of the Saints of the Church.


  15. Interesting! What “sectarian bias”? For one: if Augustine is wrong so is the post-patristic Western version of Christianity. Outside the Scriptures, what (who) was Aquinas’ theological source?The Renaissance philosophers were not only the students of Plato, but also Augustine. Have you read Scotus Eriugena, Bonaventure, Pico, Descartes, Leibnitz, etc. Even Hegel adopted the triadological model of Augustine. Read the first few chapters of Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy.
    What is your “sectarian bias”? All the values, principles and ideals of Western thought.

  16. Fr. Michael,

    Your critic, Dr. Farrell, doesn’t believe in any doctrinal development whatsoever. In fact, he’s written probably the most comprehensive work relating the filioque to doctrinal development and their cultural, theological, and political consequences. The question IS not your critique of Augustine’s speculative theology or your own Orthodox theology, which is quite sound, but rather your rationale for excluding Augustine as a Saint.

    What sectarian bias do you believe WE have??


  17. I have been rebuked for adopting the very “rationalism” I criticize in Augustine. It appears that my demand for orthodoxy of doctrine in teachers of the Faith is as unrealistic as it is improbable. What was the attitude of the Fathers towards rigor in theology? This question is directly related to the concept of “heresy”; and, in the case of my critic, to the theory of doctrinal development — a clever that permits us to describe doctrinal innovation as “growth” or “realization” in/of the truth — a la Newman. Look at Augustine’s deviations of the traditional Faith (see my 22 Nov mail). They are the result of his religio-philosophical synthesis. To repeat, his idea of God as “being,” as simple “most real being” is the offspring of his compromise with Greek philosophy. Reading all the letters in this blog, I am not convinced that the positions take on this matter are not the result of sectarian bias.
    I admired Augustine until my post-graduate work in medieval history. He does not perpetuate the Christian Tradition, he mutiliates it; hence, my animus towards him.

  18. Thomas,

    To be fair, I don’t take Pagels seriously, and I think she gets Augustine’s views on sexuality seriously wrong. Van Oort I think does a far better job.

  19. The distinction between “father” and “ecclesiastical writer” is not mine. See the title page of Migne’s patrology. In any case, what would call a theologian of eminence that not a Father? Origen and Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cassiadorus, Tatian, etc.

  20. trvalentine says:

    It seems there is a very large continuum of opinions regarding Augustine of Hippo amongst Orthodox Christians, from one extreme that sees him as the heresiarch to whom all the distortions of Western Christianity can be contributed (I do not know if Fr Michael Azkoul is so extreme, but his writings seem to lean towards that extreme) to the other extreme that sees him a great saint and Father of the Church (this extreme seems to be represented by Fr Seraphim Rose).

    I suspect the appropriate place for Augustine is a via media.

    I think there is more than enough evidence to regard Augustine as of very great importance for Western Christianity and the Western Civilisation. Here are some interesting quotes I’ve gathered.

    From Elaine Pagels:

    Augustine would eventually transform traditional Christian teaching on freedom, on sexuality, and on sin and redemption for all future generations of Christians. Where earlier generations of Jews and Christians had once found in Genesis 1-3 the affirmation of human freedom to choose good or evil, Augustine, living after the age of Constantine, found in the same text a story of human bondage. [em>Adam, Eve, and The Serpent, p. 97]

    From Eugene Webb:

    [Augustine’s] approach to the doctrine of the Trinity … is also coming to be recognized as a distinctly innovative approach which led to a radically original interpreation of that doctrine. …
    Another important consequence of the West’s appropriation and assimilation of Augustine’s anxious circle of metaphoric thinking was that in cutting off theological reflection on one of the central points of the faith from any possible ground in the concrete experience of Christians, it made belief paradigmatically a matter of obedience and submission rather than of recognition or realization. …
    Augustine’s own approach to theology was precisely of a sort to undermine the possibility of the uncoerced and uncompulsive kind of unanimity that could at least in principle develop as a community’s mutual understanding of shared experience. … Augustine was creating for the tradition that followed him a major source of uncertainty and consequently of the kind of anxiety that would inevitably link authority with command and coercion in the generations and centuries that followed. [“Augustine’s New Trinity” from Religious Innovation: Essays in the Interpretation of Religious Change, edited by Michael A. Williams, Collett Cox, and Martin S. Jafee, pp. 191-214.]

    We know Augustine’s writings were generally unknown amongst Eastern Christians for a long time after Augustine’s repose. Richard Haugh, in his Photius and the Carolingians: The Trinitarian Controversy writes:

    The paucity of Latin works translated into Greek is truly remarkable. [footnote: The Latin works translated into Greek were Tertullian’s Apologeticum, some of Cyprian’s Letters, the Acta Martyrum Scillitanorum, Jerome’s De viris illustribus, extracts from the works of John Cassian, and Gregory the Great’s Regula Pastoralis.] It is ironic that the Greek Church historians of the fifth and sixth centuries not once mention the name of Augustine. Until the Carolingian controversy with Byzantium, Augustine was known in the Greek East only through florilegia translated from the original Latin. Thus the existence of certain Augustinian texts in these florilegia in no way implies that the Greek East had first hand knowledge of the works from which these texts were extracted. And, indeed, extracts from the works of Augustine in these florilegia are not abundant. Of the approximately two-hundred and twenty-eight lines from various works and letters of Augustine appearing in Greek translations of Latin florilegia there is only one text from De Trinitate. [pp. 35-36]


    From a strictly historical perspective it must be stated that the majority of the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council were not even acquainted with the works of Augustine. There was only one aspect of the thought of Augustine which interested Emperor Justinian (527-565). Justinian, in an attempt to bring the Monophysites back to Orthodoxy, wanted to condemn posthumously certain works of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), Ibas of Edessa (d. 457), and Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 466) for Nestorian tendencies. But Justinian met with certain opposition from those who claimed that no one could condemn the dead, especially if they had died in harmony with the Church. Complicating the matter was the fact that Theodoret and Ibas had been declared Orthodox by the Council of Chalcedon. An African priest by the name of Mocianus provided Justinian with texts from the works of Augustine which stated that the Church had the power to excommunicate a heretic posthumously. Although some of the texts came from the pseudo-Augustinian corpus, the text from Augustine’s Epistola 185, was authentic. It was this aspect of Augustine’s thought which became useful to Justinian and the decree of the Fifth Ecumenical Council acknowledges its debt to Augustine in this regard. [pp. 76-77]

    This is echoed by Metropolitan Emilianos Timiades:

    Saint Augustine’s writings remained almost unknown to the Orthodox East, and only in the thirteenth century did a translation of On the Trinity appear in Greek, done by the monk Maximos Planudis. [“Saint Photios on Transcendence of Culture”, from the Myriobiblos site]

    Although it may not have been particularly important in past centuries, I think that as the Church begins to really engage the West, she needs a clear stance on Augustine to clarify the differences between Orthodox Christianity and heterodox Christianity of the West. For that reason, I’d like to see the issue settled by an Ecumenical Synod. (I do not, however, see it as the most pressing issue a Synod needs to address!)

    To be fair, I think it should be noted that some Western Christians have noted problems with Augustine. For instance, Étienne Gilson, in God and Philosophy writes:

    The first epoch-making contact between Greek philosophical speculation and Christian religious belief took place when, already a convert to Christianity, the young Augustine began to read the works of some Neo-Platonists, particularly the Enneads of Plotinos. [p. 44]

    Here is a young convert to Christianity who, for the first time in his life, reads the Enneads of Plotinos, and what he sees there at once is the Christian God himself, with all his essential attributes. … In short, as soon as Augustine read the Enneads, he found there the three essentially Christian notions of God the Father, of God the Word, and of the creation.

    That Augustine found them there is an incontrovertible fact. That they were not there is a hardly more controvertible fact. To go at once to the fundamental reason why they could not possibly be there, let us say that the world of Plotinos and the world of Christianity are strictly incomparable; no single point in the one can be matched with any single point in the other one, for the fundamental reason that their metaphysical structure is essentially different. Plotinos was living in the third century A.D.; yet his philosophical thought remained wholly foreign to Christianity. [pages 48-49]

    Similarly, Pierre Hadot, writes in What is Ancient Philosophy?:

    In the years following his conversion, Augustine of Hippo confronted Platonism and Christianity in his book, On the True Religion. For Augustine, the essential part of Platonic doctrines overlapped with the essential part of Christian doctrines…Such, for Augustine, is the essence of Platonism, and such is also the essence of Christianity. As proof, he cites a number of passages from the New Testament, which oppose the visible and invisible world, the flesh and the spirit. What, however, one might ask, is the difference between Christianity and Pagan philosophy? For Augustine, it consists in the fact that Platonism was not able to convert the masses and turn them away from earthly things, in order to orient them toward spiritual things; whereas, since the coming of Christ, people of all conditions have adopted the Christian way of life, so that a true transformation of humanity is under way. If Plato were to come back to earth, he would say “This is what I did not dare to preach to the crowd.” Although “blinded by corporeal stains,” souls have been able “without the help of philosophical discussions” to return within themselves and look toward their homeland” because God, through the Incarnation, has lowered the authority of divine reason down to the human body. From this Augustinian point of view, Christianity has the same content as Platonism: The key is to turn away from sensible reality in order to contemplate God and spiritual reality, but only Christianity has been able to make the masses adopt this way of life. Nietzsche could have used Augustine to confirm his formula “Christianity is Platonism for the people.” [pages 251-252]

    Before the Church can render a definitive judgement on Augustine, I think some gaps in the Church’s historical position regarding Augustine needs to be recovered. For instance, we know the Menologion of Saint Symeon Metaphrastes (10th century) did not include Augustine; neither was he included in Metropolitan Makari’s Cheti Menaya (16th century); Saint Dimitri of Rostov’s Menaion (17th century) likewise omitted Augustine. Not until 1983 was Augustine even listed in the alphabetical index of saints in the Greek Horologion — and even then his name was only in the index, there is no mention of his name in June 15th, much less an apolytikion or kontakion. There is no evidence Augustine was introduced to the Slavs as a saint — in fact, the best evidence indicates Augustine was not introduced to Russia as a saint until after the Westernisation of Russia initiated by Peter the not-so-great (under the Jesuits who ran the educational system, including the seminaries). The Office of Orthodoxy (a handy compendium) neither mentions Augustine as a ‘Father’ nor cites any of his theological or spiritual writings. None of Augustine’s writings are quoted or paraphrased in any of the Church’s services. There was no office for Augustine in any Menaion until one was composed by St John of San Francisco in the 1960s. So just how and why did Augustine appear on any Orthodox calendar? Who made the addition and when did it occur? Perhaps some scholar will find answers to these questions.

    In my experience, those who think Augustine is a great saint and Father of the Church, cite the Fifth Ecumenical Synod for support. But the texts from that synod include a letter purported to be from the Emperor Justinian I that refers to Augustine as a ‘Father’ (and is thus not an expression of the Fathers of that Synod!). Moreover, there were many forgeries added to the Acta of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod that were later exposed (see NPNF, 14, 303) and this purported letter from the emperor is
    questionable because (a) there is no evidence that Justinian even knew of Augustine, (b) Augustine only wrote in Latin and was not translated into Greek for another 800 years, (c) political & military conditions in North Africa were chaotic, the Visigoths having overrun the Romans.

    Personally, I think there is much to admire about Augustine. He certainly exercised great pastoral care for his flock, he demonstrated an admirable willingness to be corrected by the Church, and his Confessions reflect a great humility. I’ve read that his infamous On the Trinity was taken by his friends who copied and disseminated it before Augustine thought it ready. Perhaps, had he taken more time to reflect on the text, the most egregious errors might have been corrected.

    Nevertheless, I do think Fr Michael’s distinction between an ‘ecclesiastical writer’ (I’d prefer a more mundane label of ‘Christian writer’) and a Church Father should, in my opinion, be granted. If we lump all Christian writers of the first few centuries as ‘Church Fathers’ (as, unfortunately, many texts and writers do), then we lack a term to distinguish various classes of Christian writers: those judged to be heretics such as Tertullian and Origen, those judged to be neither heretics nor saints, those deemed saints whose writings fall short of being benchmarks or touchstones of Orthodoxy such as St Clement of Alexandria and St Jerome and, in my opinion, St Augustine, and those who can be regarded as benchmarks or touchstones of Orthodoxy who can be profitably read by Christians such as the Cappadocians, St John of Damascus, St Photius the Great, etc.


  21. To whom it may concern!

  22. Just a footnote: if nothing else, Augustine’s improvement on the Fathers has implications for the development of doctrine and, to be sure, the secularization of the Chrstian Faith. The Orthodox Church recognizes no evolution of “the faith once delivered to the saints.” There are, to be sure, new forms, but not new teachings. Looking at the matter in this way, we cannot deny that Augustine’s name must not appear on the roll of the Fathers, even as Origen is absent.

  23. Fr. Azkoul,

    Thanks for the post, but it is not clear who you are addressing. Please clarify. I hope you enjoy the blog.

  24. Came across your discussion on Augustine in which my critique of this fifth century ecclesiastical writer seems to have had some interest for you. I do not object to your differences with me, but you would greater credibility if we were certain that you had read the works of Augustine. Let me ask a few questions: why do you think the holy Fathers trained their minds in the “external philosophy” before they undertook to contemplate spiritual realities? Is that you think Augustine did? Why do you think that viewed the theology of Fathers, East and West, to be incomplete? Why did he consider himself to be man to correct them? Why did Augustine’s Orthodox doctrine change in the next century after the Pelagian controversy? Why did he pause in 403 with writing of De Trinitate, only to continue it a decade later? What led him to the theory of the analogia entis? Was it not this presupposition that legitimatized his comparison between the Trinity and the human mind? What led him to adopt Plato’s Ideas? Was not his triadology — a fortiori the filioque — inspired by Greek philosophy? How do you explain Augustine’s other innovations? Double predestination, irresistible grace, “perseverence of the saints” (the title of his last work)? Why did he replace his traditional doctrine of “inherited mortality” which his theory of inherited guilt or “original sin”? Why did ante-fifth century exposition of deification virtually disappear thereafter, especially the last decade of his life?
    Did you know that Prosper of Aquitaine (head of the Augustinian party) was secretary to St Pope Leo the Great? Did you know that some of the most important Western Fathers opposed Augustine? (St John Cassian, St Faustus of Riez, etc.) . Do you know how much of Augustine’s writings the Fathers read? St Photius had no knowledge of Augustine, save what the Libri Carolini taught him; and, of course, the mention of his name during the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Some say also his name appears on the list of Fathers cited at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. That list, however, is missing. The Crusaders at Jerusalem added his name to the dyptics of St James Lit;urgy. St Mark of Ephesus knew only a few of his writings, and seems to have adopted St Photius’ estimattion of Augustine. Why was his name more promient at Florence ? Why did St Gennadius Scholarius, once an admirier of Augustine and Aquinas eventually denounce them? Patriarch Dositheus, unable to accept the theological errors attributed to Augustine, insisted that his writings were redacted. Which Menaoion includes his name? Jugie was disconcerted by the absence of Augustine influence in Russian Orthodox theology. Read Hieromartyr Hillarion, discople of St Anthony Khrapovitsky. Only so-called Orthodox ecumenists have seriously sought to rehabilitate the Bishop of Hippo. May I have a refutation of these facts?

  25. the hobbit says:

    It looks like Dr. Farrell has moved into the realm of science fiction:

  26. Justin Grimmond says:

    Is it possible to get a copy of GHD or get in contact with Dr. Joseph P. Farrell?


  27. Tim Enloe says:

    Sure, Daniel, that would be cool. I don’t have your e-mail address, so drop me a line at tgenloe at gmail.

  28. David Richards says:


    Fair enough.

  29. Photios,

    If Augustine was wrong about grace alone, and did not present a balanced view of synergy and gives support to Protestantism, mostly seen in Calvinism, then I don’t trust him as someone I want to read for how to grow towards theosis.

    He may have been good at confession of his sins and ascetic repentance, but so was Origen and Ghandi. It doesn’t guarantee right teaching.

    But I’ve had some pretty scarring conversations with Calvinists especially, so I don’t want to go anywhere near where that came from. I’ll read Father Seraphim Rose about other things, maybe even tollhouses, but I guess not about Augustine – it exascerbates my post-traumatic stress.

  30. David,

    What I gave is just a snip. It’s to highlight a genuine problem from within our camp, not to draw attention to Azkoul (whom I very much like as a theologian on MANY issues) or Rose specifically as persons. Farrel engages their texts on Augustine, so I’m not real worried about his absence or lack of scholarship. The question is, how do we go about accepting Augustine? That is the purpose of the post.


    I’m on a indefinite absence right now from school, some things in my life have taken more priority. I’m around in the area, so I could see you some time if you wish.


  31. David Richards says:

    Photios, if what you say about Fr. Seraphim’s book is true then Dr. Farrell’s point is well taken. But Farrell seems to have given nothing more than a thumbnail and overly-simple sketch of Fr. Seraphim’s position–and according to several people I know who have read the book, he has built a straw man–and then proceded to ad hominem out of the blue. My initial impression was that Farrell had a personal problem with Fr. Seraphim. Respectfully, such a lapse in critical judgment and detached observation should not be tolerated in a scholarly work.

  32. Tim Enloe says:

    Daniel, sorry to intrude this here, but I don’t know how else to contact you. Are you still at UD?

  33. The point is, is that you can’t have an evaluation of an acceptance or rejection of Augustine’s place in Orthodoxy without a serious analysis of his doctrinal points: both good and bad. I have read Fr. Rose’s book, no disrepsect to him, but it is a very poor book for those who need or want to know how we should take St. Augustine’s place in Orthodoxy.

    My point of this post is to highlight that there has never really been a full evaluation of what St. Vincent of Lerins called for in Orthodoxy: a full examination of St. Augustine’s teachings in light of the consensus patrim.

  34. Quite frankly, I too was quite befuddled by this critique of Fr. Seraphim’s book. I wondered if he had read the same book I read. I read it for a second time two years ago, and as far as I could tell, Fr. Seraphim was not intending to engage St. Augustine’s errors, but to defend his place within the Orthodox Church as a father of Orthodox piety and repentance. He plainly recognizes that there are errors in St. Augustine’s dialectical Trinitarianism/filioquism, but that fact does not justify bumping him off the list of Fathers and saints, like Fr. Michael Azkoul and his cohorts wish to do.

    The issue of St. Augustine’s errors is one matter; we can legitimately take issue with them. As to his sanctity and his place in the Holy Orthodox Church: Sancta Mater Ecclesia locuta est, et causa finita est (Holy Mother Church has spoken, and the matter is closed).

  35. David:

    I echo your reaction. For all my deep admiration and respect for Dr. Farrell, his sketch of Fr. Seraphim is, frankly, just wrong. Dr. Farrell has not truly engaged Fr. Seraphim’s comments on St. Augustine (I have the book, David, and have read a handful of times), and is criticizing Fr. Seraphim’s comments with a standard that does not apply to Fr. Seraphim’s treatment of St. Augustine. Fr. Seraphim does not once touch on the matter of dialectical Trinitarianism/filioquism in St. Augustine’s thought, so it’s a diversion at best to tar him with “assimilationism” regarding it. Furthermore, if the criticism is meant to tar Fr. Seraphim with a binaristic psychology (mind vs. heart), this, too, is mistaken and demonstrates a lack of seriousness with what Fr. Seraphim expressly says in his book, and in other of his writings.

    The ad hominem just further demeans Dr. Farrell’s comments themselves by a seeming lack of seriousness and charity.

    I really am in struggle over my reaction to this snippet from Dr. Farrell. I’ve always taken him to be a much more careful scholar, and I certainly have had very high esteem for him and his books. His book on free choice and St. Maximos really contributed to my preparation for becoming Orthodox, and I have his translations of St. Maximos’ disputation and St. Photios’ Mystagogy. I truly hope this sad quote presented here is not characteristic of the entirety of God, History and Dialectic, for if so, I question whether I would want to engage it at all.

  36. David Richards says:

    I wish Dr. Farrell had given more than a thumbnail sketch of the problems with Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book, which I do plan to read. Glancing through this book it did not seem that Fr. Rose contended that we should not examine Augustine’s doctrinal and dogmatic errors *at all*; in fact I though this was what Fr. Rose intended to do, but I could be wrong, not having read the whole book. Also, the criticisms of Fr. Rose and his “Toll House Eschatology” seem smack of ad hominem. For starters, the Toll House “theory” seems to be imbedded into Orthodox hymnography and accepted by many “traditionalist” Orthodox, including Hierotheos Vlachos in his book “Life After Death” and St. Mark Evgenikos himself–albeit not in the admittedly “crude” way the Fr. Rose might present it–but I am open to correction. Finally, if Fr. Rose looked funny (these statements are ad hominem and not at all related to his view of the Blessed Augustine) then so did a lot of the Fathers, especially the Desert Dwellers! “Smelling like a camel”? It is well-documented and known that the strictest ascetics do not bathe, e.g. St. Antony the Great of Egypt, among others. Despite its otherwise fine observations, why did we need that?

  37. Greg DeLassus says:

    Fair enough.

  38. Greg,

    ‘Augustinism’ takes on several synthesis in the history of western dogma. It’s ultimately YOUR problem, it’s merely an observation on our part. Too bad, deal with it.


  39. Greg DeLassus says:

    you’re making another fundamental error that Farrell notes in GHD: the confusion of the person of Augustine with what he identifies as ‘Augustinism.’ Yes one can give Augustine a fair reading within the consensus patrim on that issue, but Augustinism cannot do it.

    Ah, I see. Well, that is fair enough. When divorced from the sense of “what Augustine meant when he said X,” “Augustinism” becomes a word squishy enough to bear any meaning for which one might wish to employ it, so I grant in that respect I am wrong to take issue with the claim. Any claim can be irrefutably true when, like Humpty Dumpty, you make sure to pay the words enough to get them to mean exactly what you want.

  40. Joseph says:


    Where exactly is that dissertation? I have been unable to locate it since you reformatted the website.

  41. photios says:


    You’re blowin it. Did you read the dissertation I have on that very subject, (the link is posted on this blog)? And you’re making another fundamental error that Farrell notes in GHD: the confusion of the person of Augustine with what he identifies as ‘Augustinism.’ Yes one can give Augustine a fair reading within the consensus patrim on that issue, but Augustinism cannot do it. Ratramnus and Alcuin who were masters of the De Trinitate suresaw it this clearly.


  42. Greg DeLassus says:

    When the inquiry is made concerning the presence of the filioque in some of the formularies of the Latin West, [St Maximos the confessor] accepts the doctrine, but only insofar as expressing the sending of the Spirit by the Son, and explicitly rejects the doctrine in its Augustinian form.

    Gosh, this seems rather tendentious to my mind. In his Letter to Marinus St Maximos claims that

    [The Latins] have produced the unanimous evidence of the Latin Fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the study he made of the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit–they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession–but that they have manifested the procession through him and have thus shown the unity and identity of the essence.

    In other words, that which St Maximos explicitly rejects is the understanding of the filioque in which the Son is reckoned a “cause” of the Spirit. Is this the “Augustinian” understanding? Perhaps, but it seems to me that one really has to want it to be. One could well give Augustine a fair reading in which he does not make the Son a cause of the Spirit.

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