October 1997

Arianism and Other Heresies.  By St. Augustine. New City Press. 486 pages. $39.

This book, from the series The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, brings us six writings by the Bishop of Hippo, and two works that he is concerned to expose as heretical, along with an introduction and plentiful annotation.

Through historians like John Henry Newman, we may know that Arianism, which denied Christ’s equality with the Father, dominated the Imperial court, seduced bishops, and threatened the Church in the fourth century. We might also know that the formula in the Athanasian Creed — that Christ is true God and true man — was promulgated in the fourth century to combat the Arians. But with these original texts as presented by Fr. Teske, we find ourselves “inside” the struggle, in the middle of the controversy.

To illustrate: one of these texts is “The Arian Sermon and the Answer to the Arian Sermon.” The sermon, whose author is anonymous, takes up five pages. St. Augustine’s answer runs 28 pages. The Arian sermon speaks about Christ and cites Scripture heavily: Unless alerted, we might very well not recognize the sermon as heretical. There follows the response of Augustine, who meticulously analyzes the sermon — and also cites Scripture copiously. He disputes the Arian exposition, showing how it distorts the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. He does not, however, employ philosophical categories. Nor does he invoke the authority of the Church. Rather he draws from Scripture and shows that the Arian position can be held only by reading Scripture in an artificial way. Augustine considers the whole of Scripture, and thus he gives a consistent and harmonious account of the formula “true God and true man.”

I hadn’t fully realized that doctrinal formulations could be so clearly substantiated by an appeal to Scripture. Indeed, reading Augustine’s text reminded me of some articles in the NOR written by former Protestants who had become Catholics through a study of Scripture, articles that show the harmony between Scripture read as a whole and the Catholic doctrines I had long ago learned. But I had not known that so strong a case for points of doctrine could thus be made. Nor had I realized how “connected” the accounts in Scripture are with each other, with one event illuminating another. Augustine dramatizes how connected Christian doctrines are with one another and with a sound reading of the Bible. We begin to see scriptural events in doctrinal formulations and, in turn, these formulations in scriptural events. Bible and doctrine become real to the mind.

- Richard Geraghty





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