Friday, 28 August 2009

Doctor Gratiae

Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose day this is, is an important forebear of the Dominican tradition in which some of us stand. His Rule remains part of the Constitutions to this day, and his influence suffuses the great theologians and spiritual writers of Dominicanism.

Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. Far from being the rupture with Augustinianism that is often asserted, his thought is wholly within it, and indeed utterly incomprehensible apart from it. Other attempts to affirm the Augustinian vision of all knowledge as divine illumination are not necessarily in opposition to Thomism; rather, under the Magisterium (its own point of reference and correction), it provides their point of reference and correction.

This applies to the entire rational and empirical systems, since, at least in the context of those who devised these systems in Early Modern Europe, the very belief in the possibility of true knowledge by rational or empirical means (indeed, of true knowledge at all) is Augustinian, and indeed Thomist.

Luther belonged to an Augustinian monastic institution. Yet, tragically, he was never exposed to that intellectual tradition, but only to the real rupture with it, Nominalism. Thus he knew little of Saint Augustine and his successors on grace and salvation, and was unable to identify the Nominalist character of the concept of sola scriptura, at which he arrived – it is vitally important to understand that his thought developed in this order – because of his pre-existing views on saving grace.

Those views are in any case contrary to Scripture. As he would have known, if the proper integration of prayer, study and labour had been observed in his religious house, as it was in that of Saint Thomas, and originally in that of and under Saint Augustine. Was the Protestant Schism the answer? No. But was the Late Mediaeval Church in serious trouble? Oh, yes. A heavy dose of Augustinianism was very much required. Just as it is today, when we have been given a Pope on whose work the Augustinian influence is impossible to overstate.


  1. Old Labour Old Catholic28 August 2009 at 14:58

    With Dominicans including Lay Dominicans in the vanguard.