Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Augustine. Donatism. The Medieval Church. Scholasticism. Mysticism.

There was one point remaining to be discussed in Augustine, namely his doctrine of the Church, and since this is of extreme influence in all the Christian churches – not only the Roman – we must deal with it. I gave you the basic ideas of Cyprian’s doctrine of the Church, namely that the Church is an institution of salvation; the concept of the communion of the saints (communio sanctorum) was largely replaced by that of the institute of salvation, in Cyprian and the whole development of which he is the representative, the institution of salvation being an objective thing, in which we participate.

In this situation Augustine came into conf lict with the Donatist movement. The consequence of the institution meant a change in the idea of the holiness of the Church (una ecclesia sancta .). These ideas meant something other than what they meant originally. Originally the emphasis was on the sanctification of the individual members and the group as a whole. Now this emphasis is changed to the sacramental reality of the Church, the holiness of the Church is identical with the sacramental gifts, especially with the sacramental power of the clergy. Sanctus, holy, saint, does not mean now, any more, someone who is personally sanctified, but it does mean someone who has the sacramental power. This of course is a fundamental change in meaning, from the subjective to the objective element, from personal holiness to institutional holiness.

There were people in North Africa, where Augustine was bishop, who didn’t want to follow this development and who were interested in the actual sanctification of the Church and its members, especially of the clergy. The points in which this problem arose were the following: 1) the discipline in the act of penitence; 2) the question whether baptism is valid if performed by heretics; 3) the question whether ordination is a possible thing if it is done by traditores , traitors, who in the persecutions delivered over the holy books, or denied they were Christians.

Are the objective graces valid if they are done by people who subjectively are under a strong judgment of the opposite of holiness? The Donatistic movements excluded them, did not allow them to become ministers, because for them the holiness of the Church is the personal holiness of their representatives. This would have had the consequence that the individual Christian would have been dependent on the moral and religious standing of the clergy. He would have been dependent on the inner holiness of the minister. Now Augustine was clear about the fact that you cannot judge about it, that any attempt to judge about it would lead to terrible consequences – to claiming the position of God who alone can look into the hearts of the people. He wanted to save the objectivity of the Church against the demand for subjective holiness in its representatives. He followed the lead of Cyprian. In order to do this he introduced the distinction between faith (including hope) and love. Faith, including hope, are possible outside the Church, because they are determined by their content. You may live among heretics, you may be one yourself, but if you fulfill the formula of baptism in the right way, then the content is decisive and not your personal heretical or morally unworthy status. The formulas are the same as they are in the Catholic church. Therefore if the heretic churches use these same formulas, the contents make their activities valid.

Love, on the other hand, is something which cannot be found where there is not the right faith. Love is the principle which unites the Church – it is not simple moral goodness, which can be found everywhere, but it is the agape relationship of individuals with each other. And this spirit of love, which is embodied in the Church as unity of peace, as the reestablishment of the original Divine unity which is disrupted in the state of existence – this is something which you can have only in the Church. Therefore salvation is only in the Church, since salvation is impossible without the poured-in agape, the agape given like a f luid into the hearts of men.