Augustine's Influence on John Calvin and Reformed Theology
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
It is widely known that Reformed Theology, also known as Calvinism, originated in the writings of Augustine, a Roman Catholic Church father who lived from 354 - 430 A.D. Augustine was one of the most voluminous writers of Catholic theology throughout his lifetime and laid the foundation for many of the official beliefs of the Roman Catholic church. Most Protestant and Baptist denominations still adhere to Catholic doctrines created by him, making him the primary influence of Christians-in-name-only for the past 1600 years.
What is amazing is that even though the Bible clearly states that we can know that we have eternal life by believing on Jesus Christ and that we will know who the false prophets are by their fruits (1 John 5:13, Matthew 7:15-20), Augustine confessed that he believed that nobody could be sure of their own salvation, which would mean that, according to himself, he may or may not have been saved.
(Augustine) On Rebuke and Grace Ch.40 No One is Certain and Secure in His Own Predestination and Salvation: "For who of the multitude of believers can presume, so long as he is living in this mortal state, that he is in the number of the predestinated? Because it is necessary that in this condition that should be kept hidden;"
(Augustine) On Rebuke and Grace Ch.40 No One is Certain and Secure in His Own Predestination and Salvation: "For on account of the usefulness of this secrecy, lest, perchance, any one should be lifted up, but that all, even although they are running well, should fear, in that it is not known who may attain—on account of the usefulness of this secrecy, it must be believed that some of the children of perdition, who have not received the gift of perseverance to the end, begin to live in the faith which works by love, and live for some time faithfully and righteously, and afterwards fall away, and are not taken away from this life before this happens to them."
I can say 100% that Augustine was not saved because of what he believed. He believed that a saved person also had "the gift of perseverance to the end." Therefore, to him, a person who did not live a life that was righteous or served God until the end of this life was not going to Heaven. This proves that Augustine believed in a works salvation. He did not really believe on the finished work of Christ for his salvation. He was trusting in his works that he thought were evidence that he did believe. Trusting in works as evidence of salvation or "perseverance of the saints" is damnable heresy and anyone who is spiritually descended from Augustine is not saved either. In 2020, if you ask a random professing Christian how they know if they are going to Heaven, they will give you an answer that points to their works, whether that be in the sacraments, "following Jesus," "giving their life to Christ," "repenting of their sins and turning to Christ," or any other euphemism for a works-based salvation. It is sad and it needs to be corrected. This includes not only Catholics and Calvinists, but also all Lutherans, other Protestants, the majority of Baptists, and any others who broke away from Catholicism in the 1500s.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, John Calvin demonstrated his heretical belief that Augustine had the same spiritual authority as the scriptures themselves.
(John Calvin) A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God: "Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness of satisfaction to myself out of his writings."
In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin also heavily relies on Augustine's viewpoints, mentioning him about 370 times and directly quoting him over 150 of those times. This, therefore, proves that Calvin's beliefs were the fruit of Augustine's beliefs.
In addition to Calvin, there are other groups who adhere to the same beliefs as him, but are under a different name. In the United States, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which "has made a firm commitment on the doctrinal standards which had been significant in presbyterianism since 1645, namely the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms," also state that their "doctrinal standards express the distinctives of the Calvinistic or Reformed tradition." This is significant because it links them with the reformer John Knox, who founded the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1560. John Knox revealed that he was undeniably under the influence of Calvinism when he described John Calvin's Geneva as "the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles." Though I could not find any direct quotes of Augustine from John Knox, if we refer to the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, written by the Presbyterians 74 years after Knox's death in 1572, we will see Augustine's influence on how the they interpreted scripture.
Since the Westminster Confession of Faith was compiled in 1646, all references to scripture will be quoted using the 1611 King James Bible. However, any quotes of scripture from Augustine will be left to the English translations of his own words, without delving into what manuscript he used during his lifetime.
(Presbyterian/Calvinism) The Westminster Confession of Faith Ch.11 Sec.1: "Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: (a) not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, (b) they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (c)"
(a): Romans 8:30; Romans 3:24; Romans 5:15-16
(b): Romans 4:5-8; 2 Corinthians 5:19,21; Romans 3:22-28; Titus 3:5,7; Ephesians 1:7; Jeremiah 23:6; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Romans 5:17-19
(c): John 1:12; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38-39; Philippians 3:9; Ephesians 2:7-8; John 6:44-45,65; Philippians 1:29
The Presbyterians cite Ephesians 2:7-8 and John 6:44-45 and 65 to attempt to prove the same point that Augustine was trying to make in his writings, that faith is the gift of God. These chapters of Augustine's writings were the origin for when modern day Calvinists heretically teach that choosing to believe on Christ is a work.
(Augustine) On Grace and Free Will Ch.17 The Faith that He Kept Was the Free Gift of God: "...thus showing that even faith itself cannot be had without God's mercy, and that it is the gift of God. This he very expressly teaches us when he says, 'For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.' (Ephesians 2:8) They might possibly say, 'We received grace because we believed;' as if they would attribute the faith to themselves, and the grace to God. Therefore, the apostle having said, 'You are saved through faith,' added, 'And that not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God.' And again, lest they should say they deserved so great a gift by their works, he immediately added, 'Not of works, lest any man should boast.' (Ephesians 2:9)"
Augustine's interpretation of John 6 is the exact same as what can be seen among Calvinists today, creating a logical leap from reliance on God to predestination.
(Augustine) Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 26, Sec.2: "'Murmur not among yourselves: no man can come unto me, except the Father that sent me draw him (John 6:43b - 44a).' Noble excellence of grace! No man comes unless drawn. There is whom He draws, and there is whom He draws not; why He draws one and draws not another, do not desire to judge, if you desire not to err. Accept it at once and then understand;"
Augustine's comments here stating that there "is whom He draws, and there is whom He draws not" are false regarding Gods default action regarding salvation. The Bible states in John 12:32 that Jesus Christ is drawing all men unto Him and in 1 Timothy 2:5 that He is the only mediator between God and men. Therefore, if all men are being drawn to Christ, and no man can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them, then that means God the Father is drawing all men unto Jesus Christ because he is the only mediator between Him and men. More explanation on this subject is found in Calvinism and Islam Compared: Total Depravity.
Furthermore, the Presbyterians preach damnable heresy by adding works to the gospel in their confession of faith, saying that a truly saved person will have faith that is not alone.
(Presbyterian/Calvinism) The Westminster Confession of Faith Ch.11 Sec.2: "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification:(d) yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.(e)"
(d): John 3:18,36; Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1
(e): James 2:17,22,26; Galatians 5:6
The verses referenced in in-text citation (e) are taken completely out of context to preach this works salvation and are done in the same way that Augustine did in his commentaries.
(Augustine) On Grace and Free Will Ch.18 Faith Without Good Works is not Sufficient for Salvation: "Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: 'We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law,' (Romans 3:28) have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed a 'vessel of election' (Acts 9:15) by the apostle, who, after declaring that 'in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision,' (Galatians 5:6) adds at once, 'but faith which works by love.' It is such faith which severs God's faithful from unclean demons—for even these 'believe and tremble,' (James 2:19) as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives—the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life."
Augustine saying that "God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life" should have triggered tons of red flags telling you that he wasn't saved. The truth is you either get saved for free or you don't get saved at all. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, not by our works.
Augustine's interpretations of Galatians 5:6 and James 2:19 to try to back up his works salvation message are possibly the easiest to debunk in the entire Bible.
Galatians 5:6 is self explanatory when it says "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." It is telling the reader that religious rituals are worthless, but loving people, doing good works to help them with whatever need they have, and using it as an opportunity to share your faith, is worth something. That verse has nothing to do with salvation at all.
Both Augustine's reference to James 2:19 and the WCF's references to James 2:17,22,26 require the reading of the whole chapter of James 2 to prove that works are not required for or are the evidence of salvation. When read totally in context, James 2 is talking about how having faith and not working will not benefit other people, whether it be physically when it mentions people who are "destitute of daily food," or spiritually, pertaining to our testimonies, when it says in James 2:18 "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."
The Bible is very clear that simple childlike faith is enough when it says in Romans 4:5 "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." A more detailed explanation of this is given in Debunking Lordship Salvation (False Repentance) at the end of the article.
Though we have just scratched the surface of both Augustine's and the Protestant Reformers' damnable heresies, it should be very eye opening to see just a couple examples of the spiritual blindness exhibited by the supposed leaders of the faith in the past 2000 years. Remember: God wants everyone to be saved; salvation is a free gift that cannot be lost; and there are no works, good deeds or repentance of sins that are required to get that free gift of eternal life, only believing on Jesus Christ the Son of God.
This post is part of the series The Hard Truth About Calvinism and Islam under The Catholic Origins of Calvinism and Islam