Church Fathers FAQ by Joe Gallegos

This document will provide answers to popular questions I've answered over the years. Many of these questions have been answered countless times; hence, the creation of Church Fathers FAQ. This document is intended to be dynamic, as questions and answers will be added continuously. If you feel a question needs to be added feel free to email me.

(1) Are all the writings of the Church Fathers available on the internet?

95% of all the writings of the Church Fathers on the internet are derived from the Oxford/Edinburgh "Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers" 38 volume series. This effort was completed in the late 19th century by the Anglican divines. This entire 38 volume set is in the public domain. Nevertheless, this effort only provides a small selection of writings of the Church Fathers.

(2) How were the Church Fathers chosen?

There is no Catholic magisterial statement listing the names of the Church Fathers. In essence, the names of the Church Fathers were derived from a general consensus of the ancient faith traditions(ie. Catholic, Orthodoxy, Coptic, Syrian, Armenian etc.) over the past 2000 years. The Church Fathers were chosen on the basis of four attributes: orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life, ecclesiastical approval and antiquity.

(3) Are all the Fathers of the Church male?

No. Most of the Church Fathers were bishops, a few were lower clerics and a fewer yet were laymen. However, there were a few female Church Fathers. One such female ecclesiastical writer in the ancient Church was Egeria of Spain. She wrote and lived during 5th century.

(4) Did St. Augustine write the following citation, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity"

No. Unfortunately, no one has found the primary text of this citation from the vast corpus of St. Augustine's writings. No Church Father has left us with more pregnant proverbial sayings than St. Augustine; hence, it is no wonder why this citation is popularly attributed to St. Augustine. The earliest use of this citation has been traced to a German theologian of the 17th century - named Rupert Meldenius.

(5) How does one get started in Patrology?

a) Read my primer on the Church Fathers.

b) Read an introductory work on the Church Fathers;such as, Fr. Hamell's "Handbook of Patrology" or Pier Franco Beatrice's "The Fathers of the Church"

c) Obtain a work which includes selections of writings from the Church Fathers; such as, Fr. Jurgen's three volume work, "The Faith of the Early Fathers".

See Corunum's bibliography for other source material on the Church Fathers.

(6) Who are the Great Fathers of the West and the East?

West: St. Ambrose(+397),St. Jerome(+420), St. Augustine(+430), & Pope Gregory the Great(+604)
East: St. Athanasius(+373), St. Basil(+379), St. Gregory of Nazianzian(+398), St. John Chrysostom(+407)

(7) Who is the Greatest of all the Church Fathers?

Without question and hesitation -- St. Augustine! No Father wrote on more theological matters with such insight than the prelate from Hippo. St. Augustine is the only Father to have routed three heresies during his lifetime - Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. It is difficult to convey the estimate of St. Augustine in so few words. Augustine is the most erudite, concise, and penetrating writer the Church has ever known. Of all the Fathers, Augustine wrote more than all. St. Isidore of Seville once wrote that anyone who claimed to have read all of Augustine's writings could be considered a 'liar.' His works make up 14 of 217 volumes of Patrologia Latina Migne. I offer no higher praise than to recommend St. Augustine's Confessions to any reader interested in the Church Fathers.

(8) Which Church Father first used the word "Catholic"?

The honor goes to the Bishop of Antioch, St. Ignatius. In his epistle to the Symrnaens he writes: "Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church"(8:1 A.D. 110). Interestingly enough, this is the same Antiochian Church which first used the term "Christian"(Acts 11:26).

(9) Which Church Father was the first to use the word "Trinity" to describe the nature of God?

In Greek, the honor goes to St. Theophilus of Antioch. In his epistle to Autolycus he writes: "The three days before the luminaries were created are type of the Trinity(trias): God, His Word, and His Wisdom."(2:15 A.D. 181). In Latin, the honor goes to Tertullian of Carthage. In his polemic against Praxeas the modalist he writes: "And at the same time the mystery of the dispensation is safeguarded, for Unity is distributed in a Trinity(trinitas). Placed in order, the Three are Father, Son, and Spirit"(2:1 A.D. 213)

(10) Where is the citation in Clement's Letter to the Corinthians which warns the Corinthian Church of "no small danger" in disobeying the Roman Church?

The Clementine text that is found in the Internet is derived from the "Ante-Nicene Fathers" by Oxford/Eerdmans. This text is based on the "incomplete" Codex A(Alexandrinus). If you want to see the complete text see volume 1 of the ACW or Jurgens or Giles.

(11) Is there a biblical commentary which provides numerous references and citations from the Church Fathers?

Yes. It is a three(3) volume set published by Catholic Treasures in Monrovia,CA. They reprinted the Douay-Rheims OT and NT with a comprehensive Catholic commentary by Rev. Fr. Geo. Leo Haydock. This work was originally published in 1859.

(12) Did Pope Gelasius deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?

Here is the relevant passage often foisted by critics of the Catholic faith:

"Sacred Scripture, testifying that this Mystery[ie. The Incarnation] began at the start of the blessed Conception, says; 'Wisdom has built a house for itself'(Prov 9:1), rooted in the solidity of the sevenfold Spirit. This Wisdom ministers to us the food of the Incarnation of Christ through which we are made sharers of the divine nature. Certainly the sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive are a divine reality, because of which and through which we 'are made sharers of the divine nature'(1 Pt 1:4). Nevertheless the substance or nature of bread and wine does not cease to exist. And certainly the image and likeness of the Body and Blood of Christ are celebrated in the carrying out the Mysteries."

Pope Gelasius I[regn A.D. 492-496],Tract on the two natures against Eutchyes & Nestorius.

First, Pope Gelasius categorically affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is denied by White. Second, Pope Gelasius was concerned in defending the nature of Christ not the Eucharist. So he was not so concerned in giving his understanding of the Eucharist as he was in explaining the mystery of the Incarnation. Remember, the Church was concerned with various Christological heresies at this time which denied the two natures, the two wills, and the one [divine]personhood of Christ. At this point in time, the mystery of the Eucharist had not so developed in the mind of the Church to force upon the mind of Pope Gelasius an expression of the Eucharist in the terms of transubstantiation. The Church had to develop a theological language to express the mind of the Church on various matters of faith. The Church was just beginning to express its thoughts to describe the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. There was no question regarding a Real Presence in the Eucharist; however, it is another matter regarding the type of change(consubstantiation, transubstantiation etc.). At best, Pope Gelasius was simply saying that the appearance[accidents] of bread/wine remain alongside the Real Presence in an attempt to explain the mystery of the Incarnation, since Christ humanity remains alongside His divinity. Some scholars interpret the above passage to refer to the accidents of the bread and wine. Even this analogy has some holes in it. At worst, Pope Gelasius was simply incorrect in his Eucharistic theology. I tend to believe the Pope was somewhere in the middle. That is, Pope Gelasius was not so concerned with explaining the doctrine of the Eucharist, but wanted to explain the Incarnation via an analogy. As with most analogies, they are imperfect. In addition, his theological vocabulary did not allow him to express the mystery of the Eucharist with any more precision.

Therefore, do not base your understanding of the Eucharist during this time on one single passage from Pope Gelasius. Instead cull the passages from contemporaries of Pope Gelasius which speak directly on the Eucharist. Here you will find a clear and broad witness on behalf of Transubstantiation.

For more info see:

James T. O'Connor's "The Hidden Manna" pgs 71-73
Ludwig Ott's "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" p. 382

You wonder why critics of the Faith don't downplay the divinity of Christ by citing Fathers prior to Nicea that seemingly subordinate the nature of Christ. Prior to definition, the Fathers are developing a theological vocabulary as they reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation, so it is no surprise to see some Fathers prior to Nicea seemingly downplay the divinity of Christ. This is the nature of development. Prior to definition, the Fathers are all over the theological landscape as they attempt to explain a divine mystery, and as time goes on the mystery becomes a little more clearer and more defined.

(13) Did Pope Honorius invalidate the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility?

Vatican I fathers were intimately familiar with all the failures and alleged failures of the papacy;such as, Pope Honorius, Pope Vigilius and Pope Liberius. The doctrine of the infallibiltiy of the papacy was framed with these cases and the previous 19 centuries of Catholic tradition in mind. Hence, after much deliberation, theological debate and discussion the very precise doctrine of papal infallibility was defined. The doctrine in short is as follows: 1)The Pope must speak ex cathedra as Pope, ie. as the supreme pastor of the Church, 2)he must define a doctrine on faith and morals and 3)the ex-cathedra announcement must be addressed to the whole world!

There are two schools of thought in Catholic tradition regarding Pope Honorius--both are acceptable. The first position is that Pope Honorius writings to Sergius were not heretical but ambiguous--here Honorius simply allowed the faith to be sullied, an act of negligence if you will. Here the definition of infallibility is intact since items 1 & 3(maybe 2) are not involved. Here "heresy/heretic" simply means he allowed the faith to sullied. Full-blown heretics used his ambiguous writings to develop and propagate their wayward doctrines. The second position is that Honorius writings ("One will") were heretical. Here "heresy/heretic" means that Pope Honorius taught a heterodox teaching. Even here the doctrine of infallibility remains intact. The Fathers at Vatican I framed the definition very precisely; Again items 1) and 3) are not met. Remember the writings of Pope Honorius were to Sergius not the world--and it is clear in Pope Honorius writings to Sergius that he did not intend to teach with the authority of Peter and bind the consciences of the whole world to a new doctrine!

In both cases the precise Vatican I definition invalidates both of these instances as infallible exercizes of the papacy. One only has to look at some examples of ex-cathedra pronouncements to get a feel how the Vatican I definition is met:

For example, regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception:

" the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ...of...Peter ... and by our own, We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine...has been revealed by God...Wherefore, if any should presume to think otherwise than as it has been defined by Us...that they have suffered shipwreck in regard to faith, and have revolted from the unity of the Church..."

Pope Pius IX 1854

Liekwise, regarding Mary's bodily Assumption:

" the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ...of...Peter ... and by our own authority We pronounce, declare, and define that the dogma was revealed by God...Therefore,if anyone, which may God forbid, should dare either deny this, or voluntary call into doubt what has been defined by us, he should realize that he has cut himself entirely from the divine and Catholic faith."

Pope Pius XII, 1950

IOW the force and meaning one puts behind the word "heresy/heretic" is moot since Pope Honorius clearly showed he was nowhere near the Vatican I guidelines. Which shouldn't surprise anyone since the Vatican I definition took Pope Honorius episode in mind.

(14) When did the use of the word "Pope" apply to only to the Roman Bishop?

The word "Pope" was used early on as a title to the primatial sees of Carthage and Alexandria(A.D. 250). The first time it was used to reference a Roman Bishop was in A.D. 304, "my Pope Marcellus". The title "Pope" became popular in use during the 4th century and was applied to the various Sees of Christendom. It wasn't till Pope Gregory VII(regn A.D. 1073-1085) that the title became reserved only for the bishop of Rome. Pope Gregory VII decreed that the title be confined only the Roman See.

(15) What is the earliest equation of Matthew 16:18 and 'this rock' with Peter in the Church Fathers?

Tertullian of Carthage in A.D. 200 wrote:

"Was anything hidden from Peter who was called the rock on which the Church would be built, who received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on eath?"
Prescription Against the Heretics,22(A.D. 200)

(16) What was the OT canon of the early Church Fathers?
The Septuagint(following the Alexandrian tradition was the OT canon of the early Church. The recognition of the larger Septuagint canon varied from Father to Father. For example St. Athanasius favored a shorter canon wihtout denying the efficacy of the deuterocanonical books; many of the Apostolic Fathers allude to many of the deuterocanonical books while some are silent on the deuterocanonical books in their writings; like St. Athanasius, St. Jerome favored the shorter Palestinian canon without denying the Church's reccognition of the larger Septuagint canon; and Origen applies the word canon to the shorter OT while in practice cites the deuterocanonical books in his writings. However, when we examine the entire landscape of the writings and faith of the early Church we find a broad and firm witness on behalf of the larger Septuagint canon not the shorter Palestinian canon. If one examines the various testimonies on behalf of the Church; such as, the expressions of faith found in Councils/Synods(Hippo AD 393, Carthage AD 397/419) and Papal pronouncements(Pope Innocent AD 405, Pope Gelasius AD 496) , we find a clear witness on behalf of the Septuagint canon. The Anglican patrisitic scholar JND Kelly writes: "It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the twenty-one, or twenty-four, books of the Hebrew Bible of the Palestinian Judaism...It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocyrpha, or the deutero-canonical books."

(17) Were there any writers in the early Church who embraced a proto-Protestant concept of sola Scriptura?

First, no Church Father embraced sola Scriptura. The Church Fathers' rule of faith embraced Scripture(the larger canon), Tradition, and a teaching Church. The Fathers never pitted Scripture against Apostolic tradition or visa-versa. The Fathers never would interpret Scripture apart of Apostolic Tradition --in fact, many Church Fathers would take to task many of the early heretics for seperating Scripture, Tradition and Church. For every proclamation from the Fathers regarding the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, one will be able to find an equally authoritative testimony on behalf of Tradition and Church. The Fathers freely spoke in this manner to emphasize the subject at hand - be it Scripture, Tradition, or Church. In the end, the Fathers followed the tripartite rule of faith(Scripture, Tradition, and Church. After all, these early writers who embraced the Church's Scripture and the Church's Tradition were named the 'CHURCH Fathers' not the 'private orphans' of the early Church. However, there were a number of early writers who embraced a sola Scriptura mentality, but these were the heretics of the early Church. See my article on this subject Sola Scripura & Heretics

(18) Who is 'Migne' and what do these references of (PG 39,116) or (PL 45,117) mean?

Abbe Migne who died in 1875 compiled the largest and greatest collection of writings of the early Church -- called Patrologiae Cursus Completus. The Greek section, Patrologia Graeca(PG) contains 161 volumes; whereas, the Latin section, Patrologia Latina(PL) contains 217 volumes. Hence PG 39, 116 means the 39th volume page 116. The Migne collection can be found at most Universities and Seminary libraries. The Latin section is available on CD for several thousands of dollars from Chadwyck-Healey CD Migne(PL only). The Migne collection can still be obtained from Brepols Publishing Paper Migne in Belgium for a few thousand dollars.

(19) Were there collection of the writings of the Church Fathers in the early Church?

Yes. For example: Eubesius includes various citations from early writers in his 'Ecclesiasitical History'. Jerome collected various writings of 135 Christian authors in his 'Lives of Illustrious Men'(A.D. 393); Gennadius of Marseilles(+ AD 494) continued the same effort started by Jerome under the same title; likewise, Isidore of Seville(+ AD 636) continued the same effort of Jerome and Gennadius under the same title; finally, this effort was completed by Ildephnonsus(+ AD 669). The 'Lives of Illustrious Men' is an invaluable resource to this day, as it provides the only historical source for some Church Fathers.

(20) Were there any recorded apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the ancient Church?

Probably the most famous is the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Gregory the Wonderworker. Gregory of Nyssa recounts:

"While [Gregory] was passing a sleepless night because of these worries, someone appeared to him in human form, aged in appearance, clothed in garments denoting a sacred dignity, with a face characterized by a sense of grace and virtue...For it is said that he heard the one who had appeared in womanly form exhorting John the Evangelist ... John, in his turn, declared that he was completely willing to please the Mother of the Lord..."
Gregory of Nyssa,Life of Gregory the Wonderworker

(21) Matthew 16:18 and the Church Fathers

The Fathers interpretation of Matt 16:18 is in harmony with the Catholic understanding of this passage. Matt 16:18 simply talks about the fact that Jesus named Simon the Rock after Simon's declaration of Christ's divinity and that he found the Church on Peter. The Fathers are united on this and is the primary sense of the passage. There are extensions to this passage that do not downplay the force of the primary sense such as applying emphasis on Peter's faith(ie his affirmation of Christ's deity). Note well, when the Fathers applied this sense they did so to emphasize Christ's divinity and not to downplay Peter's authority, as many Protestants and Orthodox do. This is an important distinction, as many critics of the Catholic Church interpret Matt 16:18 to mean either Peter's faith or Christ Himself to 'downplay' the primacy of Peter. The Fathers never drove a wedge between Peter the person and his faith, as to somehow downplay Peter's primacy. Another extension to Matt 16:18 is the basis for the authority of Peter's successors. Again, the Fathers appealed to this sense when the Bishop of Rome's authority was questioned. If you look at any old Catholic commentary you will find the primary sense as I've described above; however, you often do not find it's extension to Peter's faith or to Peter's successor. Any equation of 'this rock' to Peter, his faith, or Peter's successors is never separated from Peter the person. There are a few Fathers who interpreted Matt 16:18 in a unique way; that is, they equated 'this rock' with Christ Himself. The Fathers often used this sense to emphasize the divine nature of the Church without denying the primacy of St. Peter. Some Fathers applied one or more of the senses described above. For example, St. Augustine equated 'this rock' with Peter, his faith, Peter's successors, followers of Christ and Christ Himself. He applied all them without downplaying the authority of St. Peter or his successors.

In sum, in the Ante-Nicene Church and the majority of the later Fathers equated 'this rock' with Peter himself. After the rise of Arianism the Fathers would apply the secondary sense of Matt 16:18 to support the consubstantiality of the Son and emphasize Peter's declaration of faith.

(22) Is there any evidence of the sign of the cross in the Church Fathers?

There is no prayer that is more recognized as Catholic than the 'sign of the cross.' Tertullian of Carthage writes, "In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our clothes and our shoes, at table, in going to rest, whatever we are doing we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross." Ephraem of Syrus writes, "With the sign of the living cross, seal all thy doings, my son. Go not forth from the door of thy house till thou hast signed the cross. Whether in eating or in drinking, whether in sleeping or in waking, whether in thy house or on the road, or again in the season of leisure, neglect not this sign; for there is no guardian like it. It shall be unto thee as a wall, in the forefront of all thy doings. And teach this to thy children, that heedfully they be conformed to it."(Repentance, 17) Likewise St Augustine matter of factly states, "Thou hearest a man assail a shameless man and say, 'He hath no forehead.' What is, 'He hath no forehead'? He hath no shame. Let me not have a bare forehead, let the Cross of my Lord cover it."(Psalm 141:4)

(23) Did St. Augustine consign infants who were not baptized to hell?
Some have concluded that St. Augustine had consigned unbaptized infants in a temporal place/state instead of eternal damnation. However, Augustine had ample opportunity to consign the unbaptized to purgatory, a state which he testified numerous times and according to Augustine, a state that would terminate with the last judgement. Nevertheless, Augustine's writings regarding the fate of unbaptized infants was in the context of the final judgement, which for Augustine consisted of either eternal death or eternal life!

However, Augustine had ample opportunity to consign the unbaptized to purgatory, a state which he testified numerous times and according to Augustine, a state that would terminate with the last judgement. Nevertheless, Augustine's writings regarding the fate of unbaptized infants was in the context of the final judgement, which for Augustine consisted of either eternal death or eternal life!

In sum, according to Augustine there is no eternal life outside of heaven, there is no middle state between the right and left at the LAST JUDGEMENT. Hence, to exclude unbaptized infants from the kingdom of God is to consign them to eternal hell.

" 'An infant,' [the Pelagians] say, 'even if he be not baptized, by merit of innocence, since he has no sin at all, neither his own or original sin, contracted neither on his own nor from Adam,--it is necessary,' they say, 'that he have salvation and ETERNAL life, even if he not be baptized; but for this reason he is to be baptized, so that he may also enter into the kingdom of God,that is, into the kingdom of heaven'...Is there ETERNAL life, then, outside the kingdom of heaven? First, turn your ears away from this error, eradicate it from your minds. This is something new in the Church, previously unheard of: that there is ETERNAL life outside the kingdom of heaven, that there is ETERNAL salvation outside the kingdom of God. First, brother, see whether you ought not perhaps agree with us, that whoever does not belong to the kingdom of God, UNDOUBTEDLY belongs to damnation. The Lord, who will come and who will judge the living and the dead, just as the Gospel says, will make a division in TWO parts, on the right and on the left. To those on the left He will say: "Go into **ETERNAL FIRE** , which was prepared for the Devil and his angels'; and to those on his right He will say: 'Come,blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' To one group He designates a kingdom, to the other, damnation in the company with the Devil. There is NO one left for a middle place, where you may try to place infants. Judgement will be made of the living and of the dead. Some will be on the right hand, others will be on the left had: ANOTHER hand I never knew."
Sermon 294

Hence, it is clear St. Augustine consigned unbaptized infants who die to spiritual death, hell, and condemnation. The question at hand is: Is it eternal death/condemnation or a temporal one(via Purgatory).

I will let St. Augustine speak:

"For we mean by eternal life that life where there is endless happiness. For if the soul live in eternal punishments, by which also those unclean spirits shall be tormented, that is rather ETERNAL DEATH than eternal life. For there is no greater or worse death than when death never dies. But because the soul from its very nature, being created immortal, cannot be without some kind of life, its utmost death is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment."
City of God VI:12

"But when he wished to answer with respect, however, to those infants who are prevented by death from being first baptized in Christ, he was so bold as to promise them not only paradise, but also the kingdom of heaven,--finding no way else of avoiding the NECESSITY of saying that God condemns to ETERNAL DEATH innocent souls which, without any previous desert of sin, He introduces into sinful flesh."
On the Soul and its Origin,1:10[ix]

"For the fact undoubtedly is, that numberless souls of infants pass out of the body before they are baptized....That owing to one man all pass into condemnation who are born of Adam unless they are born again in Christ, even as He has appointed them to be regenerated, before they die in the body, whom He predestinated to everlasting life, as the most merciful bestower of grace; whilst to those whom He has predestinated to ETERNAL DEATH , He is also the most righteous awarder of punishment not only on account of the sins which they add in the indulgence of their own will, but also because of their original sin, even if, as in the case of infants, they add nothing thereto. Now this is my definite view on that question, so that the hidden things of God may keep their secret, without impairing my own faith."
On the Soul and its Origin,4:16

"They[ie. the Pelagians], however, who will not say that any one who has died is judged according to those things which God foreknew that he would have done if he had lived, considering with how manifest a falsehood and how great an absurdity this would be said, have no further reason to say, what the Church condemned in the Pelagians, and caused to be condemned by Pelagius himself,--that the grace of God, namely, is given according to our merits,--when they see some infants not regenerated taken from this life to ETERNAL DEATH, and others regenerated, to eternal life; and those themselves that are regenerated, some going hence, persevering even to the end, and others kept in this life even until they fall, who certainly would not have fallen if they had departed hence before their lapse; and again some falling, but not departing from this life until they return, who certainly would have perished if they had departed before their return."
On the Gift of Perseverance,32

"[T]he fact of his[ie. Pelagius] unwillingness openly to confess that infants incur ETERNAL DEATH who depart this life without the sacrament of baptism. We[ie. African bishops] argued: 'If, as he seems to admit, eternal life can only accrue to them who have been baptized, it follows of course that they who die unbaptized incur EVERLASTING DEATH. This destiny, however, cannot by any means justly befall those who never in this life committed any sins of their own, unless on account of original sin.'"
On Original Sin, 2:22[xx]

"Certain brethren, however, afterwards failed not to remind us that Pelagius possibly expressed himself in this way, because on this question he is represented as having his answer ready for all inquirers, to this effect: 'As for infants who die unbaptized, I know indeed whither they go not; yet whither they go, I know not;' that is, I know they do not go into the kingdom of heaven. But as to whither they go, he was (and for the matter of that, still is) in the habit of saying that he knew not, because he dared not say that those went to ETERNAL DEATH, who he was persuaded had never committed sin in this life, and whom he would not admit to have inherited original sin."
On Original Sin,2:23[xxi]

Lastly, may I submit the opinions of two of foremost authorities on St Augustine.

I asked the following:

JG>Did Augustine consign upbatized infants to eternal damnation? In other words, according the Augustine, does Original Sin alone consign one to eternal damnation? What is your position on the above questions?

"Augustine infers from the practice of infant baptism that infants must need it, and so comes (in the course of his life) to accept a strong position on original sin."
James O'Donnell,Email to J.Gallegos dated 5/5/99

James O'Donnell earned his Ph.D from Yale University in 1975. He has published numerous articles on St. Augustine and has translated his various works. He maintains the popular Web Site dedicated to St. Augustine. He presently teaches at the University of Pennsylvannia in Classical studies.

"I don't think there is any question about it. Augustine thought that infants who died without baptism were not saved and, hence, entered into eternal condemnation. He may not have thought that they suffered hell fire, and he did say in at least one place that they met with the mildest condemnation. But he is perfectly clear that original sin alone sufficed for eternal condemnation.

A doctine of limbo did not arise until later. He did not even know of baptism of desire. The only alternative to the sacrament of baptism which he saw was martyrdom, such as the Holy Innocents suffered.

Tough doctrine, but that's what he held."

Roland Teske, S.J., Email to J. Gallegos dated 5/6/99

Roland J. Teske, S.J. earned his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1973 and his S.T.L. from St. Louis University in 1966. He has published several books on topics relating to early Church history, including translations of works by William of Auvergne, Augustine and Henry of Ghent. He has recently translated all of St. Augustine's work on grace for New City Press, finishing with the first English translation of Augustine's unfinished work against Julian's Second Reply. He has also published over 50 articles on a variety of topics relating to medieval theological thought and has served on the editorial boards of several journals. Currently, Fr. Teske teaches medieval philosophy at Marquette University.

(24) Has the 'race' of St. Augustine ever been established to any certainty?

No. St. Augustine would have most likely been a "Mediterannean medium", as Thagaste consists primarily of Berber people. He was swarthy enough to offend Aryan bigots, but not black to be considered negroid.

Augustine preaching to his flock writes:

"Thou hast given him for a morsel to the Ethiopian peoples." What is this? How do I understand the Ethiopian peoples? How but by these all nations? And properly by black men: for Ethiopians are black."
Psalms, 74:13

(25) Did Irenaeus contrast the Catholic rule of faith consisting of sola scriptura against the Gnostic rule of faith consisting of Scripture and tradition. In other words, is St. Irenaeus critiquing the Catholic rule of faith consisting of Scripture and tradition, for Irenaeus writes:

"When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of [Gnostic's secret] tradition." AH 3,2:1


In this passage St. Irenaeus is NOT contrasting Scripture alone versus Scripture+Gnostic tradition, as it seems you are arguing. Instead, St. Irenaeus is contrasting Scripture+Gnostic tradition versus Scripture+Apostolic Tradition -- which is entirely a different matter. For St. Irenaeus, the Gnostic tradition was secret, below board and it did not have the apostles as its origin. In contrast, apostolic tradition was public, above board and was derived from the apostles.

Following the above citation from Irenaeus we find Irenaeus extolling the virtues of apostolic tradition in contrast to the secret Gnostic tradition, for he writes:

"But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition." AH 3,2:2

Hence, Irenaeus embraces both -- Scripture and apostolic tradition not scripture alone. In this citation, Irenaeus weaves both Scripture and tradition into his defense against the Gnosticsa single rule of faith:

Similarly, Ireneaus upholds the authorities of Scripture and the Church's faith/tradition :

"Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist. Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, in harmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures." AH 5,20:2

Irenaues contrasts the Apostolic tradition with the Gnostic tradition, as apostolic tradition is authenticated by the faith contained in the principle Sees of Christendom. According to Irenaeus, apostolic tradition is validated by the faith contained in the principle Sees of Christendom which are led by bishops who have succeeded from the apostles themselves. Now I suppose one could experience the faith in all these principle Sees to get a feel for the faith in each of these great cities, but it would take a lots of time and energy. So I ask you what shortcut does S. Irenaeus have in mind to validate true authentic apostolic tradition? Again does he go for the alleged sola scriptura card which would have been the natural thing to do if he affirmed such a novelty or does he go elsewhere? Instead Irenaeus directs everyone instead to a single church:

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." AH 3,3:2

(26)Was Peter ever in Rome?

"If this evidence for Peter's martyrdom be not be deemed sufficient, there are few things in the history of the early Church which it will be possible to demonstrate"
George Salmon "Infallibility of the Church" (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959) pp. 348-9

"Some Protestant controversialists have asserted that Peter was never in Rome...I think the historical probability is that he was...Protestant champions had undertaken the impossible task of proving the negative, that Peter was never in Rome. They might as well have undertaken to prove out of the Bible that St. Bartholomew never preached in Pekin...For myself, I am willing, in absence of any opposing tradition, to accept the current account that Peter suffered martyrdom at Rome. If Rome, which early laid claim to have witnessed that martyrdom, were not the scene of it, where then did it take place? Any city would be glad to claim such a connexion with the name of the Apostle, and none but Rome made the claim."
ibid. pp. 348-9

"If this evidence for Peter's martydom be not be deemed sufficient, there are few things in the history of the early Church which it will be possible to demonstrate"
ibid. p. 349

"[T]o deny the Roman stay of Peter is an error which today is clear to every scholar who is not blind. The Martyr death of Peter at Rome was once contested by reason of Protestant prejudice."
A. Harnack "History of Doctrine"

"It is sufficient to let us include the martyrdom of Peter in Rome in our final historical picture of the early Church, as a matter of fact which is relatively though not absolutely assured. We accept it, however facts of antiquity that are universally accepted as historical. Were we to demand for all facts of ancient history a greater degree of probability, we should have to strike from our history books a large portion of their contents."
Oscar Cullman "Peter, Disciple, Apostle, Martyr" (London:SCM,1953) p. 114

"That Peter and Paul were the most eminent of many Christians who suffered martyrdom in Rome under Nero is certain..."
F.F. Bruce "New Testament History" (New York:Doubleday,1969) p. 410

"It seems certain that Peter spent his closing years in Rome"
JND Kelly "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" (Oxford:OUP, 1986) p. 6

"We certainly do not even have the slightest reference that points to any other place besides Rome which could be considered as the scene of his death. And in favor of Rome, there are important traditions that he did actually die in Rome. In the second and third centuries when certain churches were in rivalry with those in Rome it never occurred to a single one of them to contest the claim of Rome that it was the scene of the martyrdom of Peter."
William McBirnie "The Search for the Twelve Apostles" (Wheaton:Tyndale, 1973) p. 64.

"The martyrdom of both Peter and Paul in Rome...has often been questioned by Protestant critics, some of whom have contended that Peter was never in Rome. But the archaeological researches of the Protestant Historian Hans Lietzmann, supplemented by the library study of the Protestant exegete Oscar Cullman, have made it extremely difficult to deny the tradition of Peter's death in Rome under the emperor Nero. The account of Paul's martyrdom in Rome, which is supported by much of the same evidence, has not called forth similar skepticism."
Jaroslav Pelikan, "The Riddle of Catholicism" (New York:Abingdon, 1959) p. 36

"[A]nd quite certain that he[Peter] died there[Rome] a martyr's death in the persecution under Nero(about AD 65)."
Bishop Charles Gore "Roman Catholic Claims" (London:Longmans, 1920) pp. 93-94


"Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record. Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon: 'She who is in Babylon elect together with you saluteth you and so doth Mark my son.' " Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 8(AD 393)

(27) To be Continued

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