My recent conversations with Rhology have taken an interesting turn, and one which is very telling in regards to the origins of our respective interpretations of Scripture. In answer to my assertion that Calvinism is essentially Gnosticism, Rhology found himself nodding his head in agreement with the doctrines of the Gnostics and then responded with the question: Is Augustinian theology Gnostic, then?
The answer is an emphatic YES! Blessed Augustine of Hippo, the father of Western Christendom, introduced many Gnostic concepts into his writings which later became key elements of Western Christian belief. A little background information is necessary here. Augustine, who lived in North Africa during the years 354-430, was a member of a Gnostic sect before becoming a member of the Orthodox Church. He was also working with a flawed Latin translation of the Scriptures, not the original Greek, due to his own ignorance of Greek. In addition, due to a combination of geographic, cultural, political, and linguistic factors, he was cut off from the Greek-speaking half of the Church.
All in all, Augustine found himself in a bad situation, but he worked with what he had. Unfortunately, what he had were false assumptions informed by his time as a Gnostic and that already-mentioned flawed Latin translation of Scripture. As would be expected, the theology that he put together was flawed and Gnostic-tinged.
An example of such a flawed, Gnostic-tinged theology is Augustine’s idea of predestination, that God had elected from eternity to save some while condemning the rest to damnation. Anyone familiar with Gnostic theology can see the influence of the Gnostic belief in the saved pneumatikoi versus the damned somatikoi. Adding to these Gnostic assumptions on Augustine’s part was his flawed Latin translation of Scripture, which translated the Greek word “proorizein” to the Latin “praedestinare.” The Latin verb is much stronger in its meaning than the Greek — and Augustine naturally took this strong Latin word to its logical conclusion, a conclusion which none of the Fathers who worked with the original Greek text reached.
Accordingly, he interpeted other passages of Scripture in this light. For instance, he read Romans 9-11 as if St. Paul were talking about the concept of predestination regarding who would be saved and who damned. There’s no justification for this in the text itself, and no other Father of the Church read it this way. Augustine’s interpretation was entirely novel, and based on his Gnostic assumptions.
Another example of such flawed, Gnostic-tinged theology is Augustine’s introduction of the concept of Original Sin. The closest that we come to such a concept in Christian writings pre-Augustine is in the writings of the Gnostics, who supported the idea that the material world was “utterly depraved.” Sound familiar? It should — this idea, along with predestination, carried over into the grandchild of Gnosticism: Calvinism, and became one of the essential principles thereof. Augustine based his belief in Original Sin on both his Gnostic assumptions and, again, his flawed Latin translation of Scripture. In this flawed translation, Romans 5:12 read as if it were saying that “in Adam all sinned.” The original Greek text, though, says that through Adam’s sin, all die. The key difference between Augustine and Paul is that Augustine claims we are born guilty of evil; Paul claims we are born guilt-free but subject to the consequence of sin — death.
Augustine’s innovations and Gnostic-lite heretical ideas were seen as what they were by Orthodox Christians, and so the Orthodox have duly rejected them. Unfortunately, though, these ideas caught on in the West and became foundational beliefs for all later Western theologies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, achieving their fullest form in the theology of John Calvin.
This should be deeply troubling to Western Christians, and especially Calvinists. The Gnostics were liars and frauds who claimed to possess “secret teachings” given them by the Apostles. The Gnostics actively and explicitly fought against the early Church Fathers, those who had been appointed by the Apostles as heirs to guide the Churches.
This is, of course, why Protestants today find themselves fighting against the Church Fathers — because they are the spiritual heirs of the original heretics. Many Protestants today find themselves doing exactly what the Gnostics did 1800 years ago. They twist the words of those who came before them in the Faith to make it seem they haven’t altered the Apostolic message or, when they realize that this is a dead end, they find themselves saying that the early Christians misunderstood or distorted the message.
In the end, though, the conclusion that logic and history provides for us is one that should make every Protestant take a second look at himself and what he believes. This conclusion is that the reason they find themselves struggling with the Church Fathers is that these are not their Fathers at all; their Fathers are Valentinus, Basilides, Cerinthus, Mani, Simon Magus, and Marcion of Sinope.