The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


28 May 2015

The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church

Book Review

1983 edition Table of Contents
 V. Preface
 1. Introduction
 4. A Brief Life of Blessed Augustine of Hippo
 7. The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthdoox cChurch
 9. The Controversy of Grace and free Will
15. The Doctrine of Predestination
20. Opinions in Fifth-century Gaul
25. Sixth-century Opinion, East and West
27. The Ninth Century, St. Photius the Great
29. Later Centuries: St. Mark of Ephesus
32. Opinion of Blessed Augustine in Modern Times
37. A Note on the Contemporary Detractors of Blessed Augustine
42. Appendix

The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church
by Fr. Seraphim Rose  

In the first edition of this book, Fr. Seraphim included a preface he wrote himself, referring to himself in the third person as "the author".   Fr. Seraphim's words are very much worth pondering.   St. Augustine is a "stumbling block" for many.   Fr. Seraphim's understanding is what we want to attain for ourselves, because it is the Royal Path understanding.

A big problem with honoring St. Augustine is that it attracts the wrong kind of attention from the ecumenists, (also from the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox western-riters).   They interpret it to mean that western theological thought has a valid place in Orthodoxy, and is completely acceptable in Orthodoxy, and it supports the ecumenist idea that Orthodox and Roman Catholics should be in communion with each other.   On the opposite side there are the super-correct who condemn St. Augustine as an instant heretic for his errors.  So what is the meaning of all this?  Are errors accepted in the Church or not?

We don't get to heaven by perfecting the outward parts of our Faith.  Having the perfect icons, the perfect chants, and apparently, even perfect theology.  What we need to perfect is our hearts.  St. Augustine's love for God, his transparency when standing in God's presence (his humility before God), is what we want for ourselves.  If we love God, we will also love those who love Him. 

But this still does not make errors in theology acceptable for the Church.  It is worth noting that God led St. Augustine (in His time) to correct his theological errors, and later in his life St. Augustine wrote refutations of some of his earlier writings.  If we read through his service in the June Menaion, we see it is saturated with praise for most of his writings:

from Matins Ode II
Having penetrated with faith that which is inaccessible to the corruptible mind, O father Augustine, thou didst clearly preach it; and thou didst thunder upon all the ends of the world, setting forth the greatness of dogmas...

from Ode III
...For the whole world proclaimeth thy corrections and struggles and hymneth the labors whereby thou didst toil in teaching, instructing and setting forth the divine doctrines which thou hadst imbibed.

St. Augustine's case reminds us of ROCOR Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and his controversial (scandalous) "Dogma of Redemption".   The Righteous Metropolitan Anthony also retracted his ideas before his death, and after death his remains were found incorrupt.  These incidents are worth pondering, but without permitting ourselves any super-correct judgment or ecumenist judgment.   It invites us to rise above the spiritual disease which manifests as either super-correctness or ecumenism, depending on one's inclination.  We want to be where St. Augustine is.

The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church
first edition, 1983

This little study of Blessed Augustine is presented here in book form at the request of a number of Orthodox Christians who read it in its original form in The Orthodox Word (nos. 79 and 80, 1978) and found it to have a message for the Orthodox Christians of today.  It can make no claim to completeness as a study of the theology of Blessed Augustine; only one theological issue (grace and free will) is treated here in detail, while the rest of "the study is chiefly historical.  If it has any value, it is in revealing the attitude of the Orthodox Church to Blessed Augustine over the centuries; and in trying to define his place in the Orthodox Church, we have perhaps thrown some light on the problem of being Orthodox in our contemporary world, where the feeling and savor of true Orthodox Christianity are so rarely encountered among Orthodox theologians.  While setting forth the Orthodox attitude towards Blessed Augustine, the author has also had in mind to remove him as a "scapegoat" for today's academic theologians and thus to help free us all to see his and our own weaknesses in a little clearer light – for his weaknesses, to a surprising degree, are indeed close to our own.

These weaknesses of ours were vividly brought out for the author not long after the publication of the original study, when he met a Russian, a recent emigrant from the Soviet Union, who had become converted to Orthodoxy in Russia but still understood much of it in terms of the Eastern religious views which he had long held.  For him Blessed Augustine also was a kind of scapegoat; he was accused of mistranslating and misunderstanding Hebrew terms, of teaching wrongly about "original sin," etc. Well, yes, one cannot deny that Blessed Augustine applied his over-logicalness to this doctrine also and taught a distorted view of the Orthodox doctrine of ancestral sin – a view, once more, not so much "un-Orthodox" as narrow and incomplete.  Augustine virtually denied that man has any goodness or freedom in himself and he thought that each man is responsible for the guilt of Adam's sin in addition to sharing its consequences; Orthodox theology sees these views as one-sided exaggerations of the true Christian teaching.

However, the deficiencies of Augustine's doctrine were made by this Russian emigrant into an excuse for setting forth a most un-Orthodox teaching of man's total freedom from ancestral sin.  Some one-sided criticisms of Augustine's teaching on original sin even among more Orthodox thinkers have led to similar exaggerations, resulting in unnecessary confusions among Orthodox believers: some writers are so much "against" Augustine that they leave the impression that Pelagius was perhaps, after all, an Orthodox teacher (despite the Church's condemnation of him); others delight in shocking readers by declaring that the doctrine of original sin is a "heresy."

Such over-reactions to the exaggerations of Augustine are worse than the errors they think to correct.  In such cases Blessed Augustine becomes, not merely a "scapegoat" on which one loads all possible theological errors, justly or unjustly, but something even more dangerous: an excuse for an elitist philosophy of the superiority of "Eastern wisdom" over everything “Western."  According to this philosophy, not only Augustine himself, but also everyone under any kind of "Western influence," including many of the eminent Orthodox theologians of recent centuries, does not "really understand" Orthodox doctrine and must be taught by the present-day exponents of the “patristic revival."  Bishop Theophan the Recluse, the great 19th-century Russian Father, is often especially singled out for abuse in this regard: because he used some expressions borrowed from the West, and even translated some Western books (even while changing them to remove all un-Orthodox ideas) since he saw that the spiritually impoverished Orthodox people could benefit from such books (in this he was only following the earlier example of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain) – our present-day "elitists" try to discredit him by smearing him with the name of "scholastic."  The further implication of these criticisms is clear: if such great Orthodox teachers as Blessed Augustine and Bishop Theophan cannot be trusted, then how much less can the rest of us ordinary Orthodox Christians understand the complexities of Orthodox doctrine?  The "true doctrine" of the Church must be so subtle that it can "really" be understood only by the few who have theological degrees from the modernist Orthodox academies where the “patristic revival" is in full bloom, or are otherwise certified as "genuinely patristic" thinkers.

Yet, a strange self-contradiction besets this “patristic elite": their language, their tone, their whole approach to such questions – are so very Western (sometimes even “jesuitical"!) that one is astonished at their blindness in trying to criticize what is obviously so much a part of themselves.

The "Western" approach to theology, the over-logicalness from which, yes, Blessed Augustine (but not Bishop Theophan) did suffer, the over-reliance on the deductions of our fallible mind – is so much a part of every man living today that it is simply foolishness to pretend that it is a problem of someone else and not of ourselves first and foremost.  If only we all had even a part of that deep and true Orthodoxy of the heart (to borrow an expression of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk) which Blessed Augustine and Bishop Theophan both possessed to a superlative degree, we would be much less inclined to exaggerate their errors and faults, real or imagined.

Let the correctors of Augustine's teaching continue their work if they will; but let them do it with more charity, more compassion, more Orthodoxy, more understanding of the fact that Blessed Augustine is in the same heaven towards which we all are striving, unless we wish to deny the Orthodoxy of all those Fathers who regarded him as an Orthodox Saint, from the early Fathers of Gaul through Sts. Photius of Constantinople, Mark of Ephesus, Demetrius of Rostov, to our recent and present teachers of Orthodoxy, headed by Archbishop John Maximovitch.  At the least, it is impolite and presumptuous to speak disrespectfully of a Father whom the Church and her Fathers have loved and glorified.  Our "correctness" – even if it is really as "correct" as we may think it is – can be no excuse for such disrespect.  Those Orthodox Christians who even now continue to express their understanding of grace and ancestral sin in a language influenced by Blessed Augustine are not deprived of the Church's grace; let those who are more "correct" than they in their understanding fear to lose this grace through pride.

Since the original publication of this study there has been a Roman Catholic response to it: we have been accused of trying to “steal” Blessed Augustine from the Latins!  No: Blessed Augustine has always belonged to the Orthodox Church, which alone has properly evaluated both his errors and his greatness.  Let Roman Catholics think what they will of him, but we have only tried to point out the place he has always held in the Orthodox Church and in the hearts of Orthodox believers.  By the prayers of the holy Hierarch Augustine and of all Thy Saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!  Amen.

Hieromonk Seraphim
Pascha, 1980

St. Augustine's feast day is June 15/28.  His service in the menaion was commissioned by St. John S&SF under Metropolitan Anastassy.

Ikos Ode IV
Enlighten the darkened eyes of my heart, O holy hierarch and teach me worthily to hymn they memory and to praise the wondrous life which thou didst live angelically.  Teach me to take thy doctrines into my soul, and guide me in walking the path of virtue, that I may never depart from the path which leadeth to life everlasting.  Show me what I ought to think, to say and to do.  Bind thou my hands and feet with the fear of God: impel me toward the love of Christ, that I may ever perceive and not be deceived by the corruptible beauties of this world.  Strengthen us, that we may assiduously seek the things which are to come; and pray thou ever for us all.

This is the back cover of issue #103 of The Orthodox Word, March 1982, advertizing a new book.  Fr. Seraphim, just before he died, had started to publish St. Augustine's theological texts.

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