No man is a better guide to straight thinking than St. Augustine. Fourteen centuries ago he lived in a world more like our own than any intervening century has been like our times. Heathenism was not wholly gone, by any means. The Vandals were on the ramparts of the old empire and fast crumbling its shaky defenses. The Christian church was newly out of hiding, and proliferating amid the cross-currents of thought which have always marked the greatest enterprises. Paul the Apostle found “fears within and fightings without.” Augustine pointed out the uneven stones in the holy edifice of the Church as described in Bible times: David’s family history; a traitor in our Lord’s own select band; and revolution in heaven itself when the angels fell.
Augustine wrote a letter in A.D. 397 in which he gave a wise caution: “Though the doctrine which men hold be false and perverse, if they do not maintain it with passionate obstinacy, especially when they have not devised it by the rashness of their own presumption, but have accepted it from parents who have been misguided and had fallen into error, and if they are with anxiety seeking the truth, and are prepared to be set right when they have found it, such men are not to be counted heretics.” For his part also hear John Calvin in the opening pages of his fourth book of The Institutes (The Church) where he wrote: “Let us learn from her single title of Mother (i.e., the Church) how useful, nay how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, devested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels.”1
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