Did St. Augustine Accept All Seven Sacraments?

Many Protestants (particularly Calvinists) have tried to “co-opt” Augustine as one of their own. Here’s why they’ve failed.

(photo: Register Files)

It's amazing how often the assertion is made, that the great Church father St. Augustine (354-430) was closer to Protestant beliefs than Catholic. I've written about various aspects of this hallowed Protestant myth many times.

For example, Reformed Baptist James White, the leading anti-Catholic apologist today, stated in an article from 2000, “Whitewashing the History of the Church”: “Roman controversialists should be aware that Augustine is no friend of their cause.”

White, along with many Protestants (particularly Calvinists) try to “co-opt” Augustine as one of their own. This has been standard practice since Luther and Calvin. But what are the facts of the matter? One way we can demonstrate that St. Augustine was thoroughly Catholic is to document his belief in the seven sacraments (most Protestants accept either two, or none at all):


1) Holy Eucharist (Transubstantiation or Real Presence)

I [will] explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. (Sermon 227: A.D. 411)


2) Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture too.

The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration. (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants, A.D. 412; 1:24:34 and 2:27:43)

Baptism washes away all, absolutely all our sins, whether of deed, word, or thought, whether sins original or added, whether knowingly or unknowingly contracted. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, A.D. 420, 3:3:5)


3) Reconciliation: Confession, Absolution, and Penance

I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance. (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed , A.D. 395; 7:15, 8:16 )

Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins. (De agon. Christ., iii)

An abscess had formed in your conscience; it tormented you and gave you no rest. . . . confess, and in confession let the pus come out and flow away. (Explanation of Psalm 66, no. 6; A.D. 420)


4) Matrimony

Undoubtedly the substance of the sacrament is of this bond, so that when man and woman have been joined in marriage they must continue inseparably as long as they live, . . . there is no divorce, no separation forever. . . . The sacramental bond, which they lose neither through separation nor through adultery, this the spouses should guard chastely and harmoniously. (Marriage and Concupiscence, A.D. 419; 1:10:11 and 1:17:19)


5) Confirmation

And by this ointment you wish the sacrament of chrism to be understood, which is indeed holy as among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself. (Against Petilian the Donatist, A.D. 403; 2,104:239; in NPNF 1, IV:592)

And in the Acts of the Apostles it is more plainly written of Him, “Because God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit.” Certainly not with visible oil but with the gift of grace which is signified by the visible ointment wherewith the Church anoints the baptized. And Christ was certainly not then anointed with the Holy Spirit, when He, as a dove, descended upon Him at His baptism. For at that time He deigned to prefigure His body, i.e. His Church, in which especially the baptized receive the Holy Spirit. (On the Trinity, c. A.D. 417; Book XV, 26:46)


6) Holy Orders or Ordination

In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people, although the congregation of people follow not, yet there remains in the ordained persons the Sacrament of Ordination; and if, for any fault, any be removed from his office, he will not be without the Sacrament of the Lord once for all set upon him, albeit continuing unto condemnation. (On the Good of Marriage, A.D. 401; 24:32; in NPNF1, III:412)


7) Extreme Unction or Anointing or "Last Rites":

In St. Augustine's Speculum de Scripturâ (an. 427); in P.L., XXXIV, 887-1040), which is . . . intended as a handy manual of Christian piety, doctrinal and practical, the injunction of St. James regarding the prayer-unction of the sick is quoted. This shows that the rite was a commonplace in the Christian practice of that age; and we are told by Possidius, in his Life of Augustine (c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56), that the saint himself “followed the rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows in their tribulation (James 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay”. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913; “Extreme Unction”).