St Augustine on Non-Catholic Christians as “Brothers”

Jul 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The Second Vatican Council taught that non-Catholic Christians were to be recognized as “brothers” in light of their valid baptisms “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Some traditionalist Catholics look askance at this teaching, but it is worth noting that Saint Augustine also recognized that non-Catholic Christians who were baptized and recognized the resurrection of Christ were to be reckoned as “brothers.”

Check out what Augustine has to say on this matter:

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptise us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognising our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realise that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.

Saint Augustine, Ex Enarratiónibus sancti Augustíni epíscopi in psalmos (Ps 32, 29: CCL 38, 272-273).

Let me stress here that Saint Augustine is NOT advocating a “visible church” contrary to an “invisible church.” The other difference is that Saint Augustine is here discussing the Donatist heresy – those ancient schismatics who in fact possessed all the sacraments validly. Since Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al. formally rejected transubstantiation, Eucharistic sacrifice, and the sacerdotal priesthood, Protestants do not possess a valid Eucharist since they have denied its essence and apostolic succession.

Regardless, Augustine’s words are helpful in that they show that baptism (even in the context of schism) creates a permanent bond of fraternity.

For more writings by Taylor Marshall about Catholicism and Reformed Theology, please visit here.

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  1. What about groups that baptize in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier? (or some other variation on these titles). If I know my theology, then those are not valid baptisms and must be repeated.

    These days it’s really hard to tell what formulary was used over any given individual. Thus, I am wondering if there’s a place for an increased practice of conditional baptisms…

  2. Michael,

    That is absolutely correct. If the baptizer does NOT use the divinely instituted formula “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” it is not a valid baptism.

    Technically, the baptism isn’t “repeated” since the “first one” wasn’t ever sacramental baptism.

    It’s true that as more liberal churches use the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” formula, that Catholics will have to be more careful and particular about receiving converts and making sure that they are validly baptized.


  3. ;)

    I didn’t realise St (or is it Bl?) Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430), was *Catholic* as understood in common parlance, since The One, Holy, Catholic-as-in-Universal and Apostolic Church at that time had yet to diverge…

    But I digress…

  4. Excellent post Taylor. Just to touch on some points you have already made we have to remember that Augustine while considering the baptism of heretics (i.e., Donatists) as in a certain sense true (since it is Christ who baptizes not the worthiness of the human who is conducting the rite) and that baptism like the brand on the Roman soldier once done (correctly) is always valid – Augustine would on the other hand argue that this baptism of heretics does not become effectual until they have returned to the full bond of Christian fellowship (returning to the Catholic Church).

    In Christ,
    RE Aguirre

  5. Mr. Aguirre,

    What do you mean by “effectual”? Why would/how could he call them brothers if their baptism wasn’t effectual?

  6. That’s a great passage from St Augustine. Is it available online? I’m having trouble identifying it at New Advent, if it is there at all. :-( Thanks.

  7. Wow, many thanks for this great quote!

  8. Augustine in many places (following Cyprian) is in line with the prior regula fidei in relating the teaching that outside the Catholic Church there can be no salvation. This is the overarching principle that drives the early formulations of the Sacraments among the Fathers. Baptism according to Augustine finds it’s true and full expression only whence found in the context of full communion with Catholicism as he understood it in his time.

    More recent Catholic pronouncements are not in disagreement with this early strain of thought but have only better refined and nuanced it.

    RE Aguirre

  9. Taylor,
    Thanks for this post. It makes a powerful point about the hermeneutic of continuity.

    In XC,
    J. Andrew

  10. Thank you for the Augustine reference to the brotherhood of validly baptised believers. I was aware of the Vatican II position but, having read Augustine, I did not remember that item.

    Laura, when I was coming out of Protestantism, I had been pressed hard by Baptists and Calvinists (which often are the same theologically but differ in terms of church governance) and Augustine was a favorite which they used for their purposes. In my reading I remember seeing Saint Augustine (whose mother is Saint Monica) as a Catholic, in the Roman sense. He was a Catholic, a bishop, and had a great deal to do with advancing Athenasius’ position to the pope for handling.

    When you check in at the beginning of C2C, you’ll see a quotation from Saint Augustine to the effect that Augustine would not have believed the Gospels if not for the authority of the Church. He is also recognized for the phrase, “where Peter is, there is the Church” which is a reference to the pope. He needed Peter’s successor to do what he could not do – even from his elevation as a bishop – which was to recognize Athenasius’ position as the orthodox position. It took Peter’s successor to do that.

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