Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bart van Egmond - Christology and Salvation History in Augustine's anti-donatist polemic

In this paper it is argued that the roots of Augustine’s ecclesiological critique of the Donatists can be traced back to his view of the place of Christ in salvation history. In order to elaborate this thesis, his way of reading biblical history is explored. Augustine uses a scheme of promise and fulfillment: God the Word promises in the Old Testament, God the Word who became flesh, fulfils this promise in the New. By the priestly office of the Old Testament He promises reconciliation between God en his people, he fulfils this promise by assuming this office and sacrificing himself in the New. He promises universal blessing through the Davidic King and fulfils this promise by his ascension and the world-wide spread of the gospel. 
In relation to this salvation-historical scheme the holiness and catholicity of the Church are viewed by Augustine as dependent on Christ alone. The Church possesses them through faith in Him, expecting the definite revelation of her hope when Christ returns in glory. Her life between Christ’s ascension and his second coming is marked by patience. It is the patience of a farmer who sows and waters, but who expects the growth and harvest from the Lord: “Because the Lord knows who are his.”

Donatist ecclesiology neglects this place of Christ in relation to the Church. The holiness and catholicity of the Church are made into things originating from and dependent upon the human liberum arbitrium, not on Christ’s will to fulfill his promises. This human faculty is not a trustworthy foundation for the life of the Church, according to Augustine. By sketching Augustine’s view of Christ in salvation history in relation to the Church, this paper contributes to the understanding of the relationship between soteriology and ecclesiology in Augustine.

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