Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Elizabeth Clark: Augustine and American Professors in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: From Adulation to Critique

The reception of Augustine by American seminary professors saw some dramatic shifts between the early nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries.  From a strong endorsement of Augustine’s theories of original sin, predestination, and damnation of the unbaptized by Princeton Theological professor Samuel Miller in the early and mid-nineteenth century, confidence in these doctrines eroded.  Subsequent professors at Union Theological Seminary (Henry Boynton Smith; Philip Schaff; Arthur Cushman McGiffert) and Harvard Divinity School (George LaPiana) attacked Augustine’s sanctioning the use of coercion against the Donatists, his neglect of public and social ethics, his downplaying the role of the human will in the Pelagian controversy, and his high ecclesiology that had led to unfortunate tactics on the part of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century popes.  By 1917, McGiffert at Union Seminary could respond to an inquirer that there was perhaps one professor in America who still believed in Augustine’s theory of predestination: Benjamin B. Warfield at Princeton.  The sharper critique of Augustine was supported by newer views of God’s benevolence, human nature, and individual liberty.

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