Saint Augustine on Frustration with Pagans

Got this idea in your head that people in the past had it easy? That’s just not true. Take Augustine for example.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got this idea in my head that people in the past had it easy…

That they wrote, thought and taught in a vacuum–free from distractions, objections and frustrations.

Of course we know that’s not true.

What is true is we often read in a vacuum, without the historical context in which a sermon like “” or a book like  is written.

The same is true for Augustine’s , a book that’s part of my morning routine.

In this fat book Augustine is doing two things: One, confronting the accusation that the Christian religion is responsible for the destruction of Rome. And two, defining the city of God.

In  [a chapter called The limit to be imposed on discussion of objections] you sense Augustine’s frustration with those who “are too blind to see what is put before their face, or they are too perversely obstinate to admit what they see.”

Here’s the whole chapter [it’s short and worth reading carefully]:

If the feeble mind of man did not presume to resist the clear evidence of truth, but yielded its infirmity to wholesome doctrines, as to a health-giving medicine, until it obtained from God, by its faith and piety, the grace needed to heal it, they who have just ideas, and express them in suitable language, would need to use no long discourse to refute the errors of empty conjecture. But this mental infirmity is now more prevalent and hurtful than ever, to such an extent that even after the truth has been as fully demonstrated as man can prove it to man, they hold for the very truth their own unreasonable fancies, either on account of their great blindness, which prevents them from seeing what is plainly set before them, or on account of their opinionated obstinacy, which prevents them from acknowledging the force of what they do see.

There therefore frequently arises a necessity of speaking more fully on those points which are already clear, that we may, as it were, present them not to the eye, but even to the touch, so that they may be felt even by those who close their eyes against them.

And yet to what end shall we ever bring our discussions, or what bounds can be set to our discourse, if we proceed on the principle that we must always reply to those who reply to us? For those who are either unable to understand our arguments, or are so hardened by the habit of contradiction, that though they understand they cannot yield to them, reply to us, and, as it is written, speak hard things, and are incorrigibly vain. Now, if we were to propose to confute their objections as often as they with brazen face chose to disregard our arguments, and so often as they could by any means contradict our statements, you see how endless, and fruitless, and painful a task we should be undertaking.

And therefore I do not wish my writings to be judged even by you, my son Marcellinus, nor by any of those others at whose service this work of mine is freely and in all Christian charity put, if at least you intend always to require a reply to every exception which you hear taken to what you read in it; for so you would become like those silly women of whom the  that they are always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Frankly, this reminds me of my own frustration I defined in An Open Letter to Skeptics and Dead: Our Spiritual Condition Apart from the New Birth.

More importantly it highlights the binding obligation we have of giving a simple, but repeated articulation of the Gospel–to Christian and pagan alike–regardless of our frustration.

Bottom line: The truth of God will be resisted in our world. Jesus said as much–and condemned as much those who resisted it–when he said:

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. 

And there is no apology needed on our part for articulating this “foolish and weak” Gospel of Jesus Christ because in the same breath we warn pagan and Christian alike of the coming judgment and offer eternal life to whoever hears our words and believes on Christ.

It’s the greatest act of love.

And so despite our frustration, we continue in our Christian work. Just like Augustine did.

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