During the time of Augustine, there was much confusion and superstition concerning Christianity. The doctrine of baptism has always been much debated and misunderstood. At this time period in history, waiting until the age of thirty was considered proper for baptism, because it followed the example of Christ. In Augustine’s infancy, the idea was that the water of baptism washed away all sin; In his young adulthood, he believed it was well to defer the cleansing bath till the temptations of youth were past. (Augustine waited until he was 33 to get baptized). In his maturity the belief was that without baptism salvation was not possible; infants must be baptized in order to be saved. The Roman Catholic Church agreed and was baptizing babies. Although Augustine failed to understand that baptism was for the Jews, this presented no problem for the Romish Church because it believes they have replaced Israel and therefore, all the promises God made to the Jewish people now belong to this Religion.
Pelagius, a monk and theologian, who often clashed with Augustine, taught free will, which became known as Palagianism. He believed that one is saved by being good and used the words of Jesus, “If thou will enter into life, keep the commandments.” Anybody could do that if they tried hard enough. The church is not necessary, the sacraments are not necessary, the grace of God is not necessary. These are all helpful, Pelagius taught, but not essential. Be good! This is the desire of God, and it is possible to every child of God.
Pelagius found himself often in the crossfire of Augustine, who taught that man has no free will, that salvation comes by grace and that grace comes from God and cannot be had outside the church. It is a subtle something which is imparted by the sacraments. Outside the Roman church, among the schismatics, there is no salvation. All the heathen are lost. Infants dying unbaptized are not saved. Unless we join this religion and stay in, we shall certainly be drowned in an ocean of everlasting fire.
The Pelagians (followers of Pelagius) said that Augustine’s doctrines were immoral and blasphemous. If a man has no free will, then he has no responsibility, and there is no difference between vice and virtue. They claimed that because Augustine had been a Manichee (an adherent of Manichean, a religious cult that taught a combination of Gnostic, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism), that he believed in a bad god, and had never been converted.
Augustine fired back that every human being is born bad. The race is lost, and every member of it, by nature is inclined to evil, unable to do good and is doomed in consequence of this inability, to everlasting punishment. Therefore, salvation cannot come by any effort of our own. It must be derived from without. The saved were chosen by God, elected and predestined to eternal life, before the world began.
The Catholic Church went with Augustine. So did John Calvin, who, after reading Augustine’s teachings on Predestination, not only ran with it, but expanded it. Calvinism was soon born and the damnable heresy of Predestination, that God created some people for heaven and the rest were destined for hell. All the prayers, repentance, fasting and wearing of sackcloth could never change the fate of the doomed.
In the latter years of his life, Augustine did an honorable thing. He published a book called: “Retractatations.” In it he confessed the errors of his teachings. He had changed his mind, been enlightened, due to experience and truth. He humbly admitted that some of his teachings were false. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t care. They made him a Saint. John Calvin didn’t care either. To this very day, Calvinism thrives in Presbyterian, some Baptist and Reformed Churches. It would take a miracle from heaven before they would ever write a book of retractions, like Augustine did, and admit their errors.