Augustine, the Return to the Monasticism, and the New Soteriology

The main element of medieval theology is monastic theology, which “refers not just to the local setting of the theologians but to the approach that they adopted.”[1] This adopted approach involved a discipline of life characterized by a relative withdrawal from the material world, in order to focus on meditation, self-abnegation, and asceticism.[2] What these aspects of monasticism, as an institution, did, as a result, was not only provide “a way to live out the total commitment that had been required in earlier times,”[3] but create a new Christian church of the Middle Ages that attempted to redefine many of the important early church teachings of Augustine, who was responsible for molding Christian thought.[4]

Augustine of Hippo, subsequently, became the central ideological figure in the medieval church’s doctrines of purgatory and salvation (soteriology) in relation to their return to monasticism. For Augustine, when considering the possibility of salvation from sin, there was “a place of purification for those who died in sin, where they would spend some time before going to heaven.”[5] The medieval church, then, not only affirmed the existence of such a place that Augustine described, but developed a doctrine of purgatory. Where the medieval church differed, however, was with Augustine’s doctrine of salvation that involved predestination[6] and irresistible grace,[7] both of which are concepts built into Augustine’s doctrine of purgatory. Despite Augustine’s doctrines on purgatory and salvation with respect to predestination and God’s irresistible grace, the medieval church “was more concerned with the question of how we are to offer satisfaction to God for sins committed.”[8] Consequently, the medieval church developed an ideology of penance, which consists of contrition and confession, as well as priestly absolution, which confirms the forgiveness granted by God.[9] For the medieval church, since “those who die in the faith and communion of the church without having offered satisfaction for all of their sins will [ultimately] go to purgatory before they attain their final salvation,”[10] the participation of the living in a mass or a communion[11] helped the dead out of purgatory.

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[1] Sinclair Ferguson and David F. Wright, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 441.

[2] William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc., 1980), 365.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (V.1) (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 238.

[4] Geddes MacGregor, ed., Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy (New York, NY: Paragon House, 1989), 47.

[5] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (V.1) (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 247.

[6] Originating with Augustine, this term refers the belief that the individual, left to himself, is so lost in sin and rebellion against God that he will not seek God. His fallen will is so corrupted that he cannot seek salvation. In that sense, humanity has no free will. So, if there is to be salvation for man, it must come at God’s initiative. Sinclair Ferguson and David F. Wright, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 528.

[7] This is based on the notion that God not only provides grace but the will to receive it, with the intent of an individual’s inability to refuse it. If it cannot be refused, then grace is irresistible. William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc., 1980), 200.

[8]Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (V.1) (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 247.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] This permitted Christ to be sacrificed anew. Ibid.

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