How important is it that the Reformers recovered apostolic/post-apostolic teaching?

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Recently I've been reading Augustine, both for a class and for my own enjoyment, as well as some historical theology dealing with the reception of Patristic theology. While it seems to me that Reformed soteriology is Augustinian in a lot of ways, I also see lots of very important ways in which it differs, ways in which, in fact, Augustine more closely resembles what I know of Roman Catholic theology.

I'm just wondering how important the notion of our having recovered Patristic teaching, especially Augustinianism, is to you. If it were apparent that the Medieval theologians had actually, on a whole, remained faithful to Augustine and not lapsed into Pelagianism, and that Luther and Calvin were the divergent ones, would it bother you, or does it not matter because of sola scriptura?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There is some good analysis in this podcast:
Reformed Forum The Church Fathers

Summarizing one point that was made: Calvin appreciated Augustin highly, but he did not slavishly follow him.

Another: Augustin was bound to take "iustificare" in the Latin sense, that practically demanded a "make" righteous sense; however that's not the import of the Bible's own terms, especially given the Hebrew background.

It has been said the Reformers were students of Augustin soteriologically, but not in ecclesiology. They (and we) must first be Christ's disciples, and that means a slavish devotion to the Word. Which is generally the attitude the Reformers found in Augustin--a kindred spirit; so they could disagree with him without despising him.

It's probably most fair to say that neither Protestantism nor Rome is a pristine adherent to Augustin's theology. Rome's theology is generally understood to be semi-Pelagian, and been so for a long time, despite her official respect for this one of her early Doctors. History shows us a number of Medieval era theologians who were either openly or quietly at odds with the RCCs drift away from Augustin, the canons of the Council of Orange, etc. One or more of them faced ecclesial censure for cleaving too closely to Augustinian predestinarianism.


Puritan Board Freshman
You know...there are some prominent reformed scholars that suggest....not sure how seriously....that our theology should be referred to as Augustinian rather than Calvanistic.

To more directly answer your question...I would suggest that without Augustines views on vs works...there would have been no reformation. He was in fact, THE catalyst for many of the principle reformers from Luther to Knox.


Staff member
Is it accurate to say the Puritans 'rediscovered' Augustine? (Not arguing, just questioning)


Puritan Board Sophomore
Dear Davidius,

It's an excellent question you raise and one that really worried me for while (particularly when I was a theological college student). It raises a whole host of other questions, like why did it take so long for justification by faith alone to be clarified, i.e. until the reformation.

What is critical in this whole discussion is the recognition that the development in theology over the centuries teaches us how powerful our own cultural blinkers can be. Augustine reflected long and hard on Scripture, but didn't have the benefit of the 2000 years of churchly thinking that we have. For his time, he made incredible breakthroughs theologically in the area of grace, the Trinity, and evil. However, he still was a man of his time. For example, he laid some foundations for Purgatory, works of satisfaction, and the like.

The Reformers returned to specific Augustinian insights (on grace), but did not accept all that Augustine said (justification and ecclesiology). The key is to get back to the Bible, and in so doing it utilize the best insights of past theologians where their thinking unlocked the Bible. But that doesn't mean we embrace everything a past theologian says.

Perhaps the best way to view the history of Christian thought is to see it as a process of growing clarification. The earlier we go back doesn't necessarily mean the more pure the doctrine. Indeed, the high and late medieval era wasn't all a disaster; there was some brilliant thinking done on the doctrine of God, upon which the reformers relied. At the reformation we find all sorts of continuity with medieval Catholicism (doctrines of God, creation, etc.) and great discontinuity (soteriology, ecclesiology, revelation) with it.

One last thing: it's really important to read Augustine, and works of the past because it helps us get rid of our own cultural blinkers.

Blessings brother.
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