Augustine is obviously not James White. James White thinks he is a Calvinist because James White is a Calvinist and taking some other Church Father is going to refute him. So he takes the guy that the Eastern Orthodox conflate as being a Calvinist. He takes Augustine and tries to make a point out of that.
Augustine and Image Worship
Honestly, I would agree with James White here. So would all Roman Catholics as James White himself points out near the end. And yes, sometimes when one prays before an image, one does often find themselves praying to an image. But the problem that James White has to face is the fact that almost all Christians on Earth (except for Calvinists) have some sort of image reminding them at least of Jesus. I attend a Covenantal Church right now that comes from Lutheranism. We have a cross. A cross is an image that reminds people of Jesus. Do we worship the cross? No. Some people prostrate themselves before crosses but they are doing this because the sign points to God.
As for the Augustine quote, the problem with it is that is from John Calvin’s own work and there is no rational way to demonstrate that this is in fact what Augustine said. James White needs to go to what Augustine himself said, re-read that, and then ask whether or not Augustine actually said those things. But since there is no direct quote here, White has really set this up as a winning argument for himself to which no one else can answer to. This is exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses do with the “history” of the Trinity!
Augustine and Mary’s Sinlessness
Next, James White tries to tell us Augustine rejected her sinlessness. Which is actually an utter lie.
We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. Well, then, if, with this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin while they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer? Would it be in the language of our author, or in the words of the Apostle John? I put it to you, whether, on having such a question submitted to them, however excellent might have been their sanctity in this body, they would not have exclaimed with one voice: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?
(Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 42)
James White either has not read any of Augustine’s original works, or he has just simply not given much concern to the overall context. It is quite explicit that Augustine excepts Mary from having sin in her and is referring to the other holy men and women.
Was Augustine a TULIP Calvinist?
Honestly, nothing could be farther from the truth. Nevertheless, James White thinks he is!
This site explains what TULIP is and what TULIP is not.
However, it misrepresents the other side of the argument which is a typical tactic of Calvinists.
With reference to those persons who so preach and defend man’s free will, as boldly to deny, and endeavour to do away with, the grace of God which calls us to Him, and delivers us from our evil deserts, and by which we obtain the good deserts which lead to everlasting life: we have already said a good deal in discussion, and committed it to writing, so far as the Lord has vouchsafed to enable us. But since there are some persons who so defend God’s grace as to deny man’s free will, or who suppose that free will is denied when grace is defended, I have determined to write somewhat on this point to your Love, my brother Valentinus, and the rest of you, who are serving God together under the impulse of a mutual love.
(Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, 1)
Since, then, Christ’s Passion was a sufficient and a superabundant atonement for the sin and the debt of the human race, it was as a price at the cost of which we were freed from both obligations.
(The Efficiency of Christ’s Passion, 4)
According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia on Calvinism, “[Calvin] does, indeed, quote St. Augustine, but he leaves out all that Catholic foundation on which the Doctor of Grace built.” (Barry, William. “Calvinism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Augustine’s teachings come no where close to Calvinist teaching on limited atonement and he certainly does not hold the position that people are so depraved that they cannot make the decision to believe unaided by God. Salvation comes from God and that is all that is at the core of the Roman Catholic teaching. Double pre-destination is condemned, God pre-destines all to happiness and eternal life, but some people do not want this and prefer emptiness instead and God also respects that decision. Christ’s atonement, contrary to Calvinist thought, is “superabundant” or more than abundant. Does that sound limited to you?
No, only Calvinists teach limited atonement (that Christ died for only a certain elect). The majority of Christians teach excessive atonement, just that not everyone accepts this atonement and that God ultimately honors that decision and does not puppet anyone into accepting or rejecting him.
I don’t want to be too harsh on Dr. White or any other Calvinist here. I’m not going to say that White himself is the Augustinian revisionist, but rather that White should reject John Calvin’s insights on Augustinian theology and actually read directly from the source itself if he wants to know more. There are also good Catholic Encyclopedias out there that also maintain to the true teachings of Augustinianism as well. The Eastern Orthodox misinterpret him as well but the Catholics have been able to explain Augustine according to Augustine sufficiently enough.