Wednesday, August 19, 2015

So You Often Quote Him? Augustine of Hippo on the Divine Election

Has the potter no right over the clay,
to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

(Romans 9:21,

Augustine here argues that all humanity are contaminated by sin, with the result that salvation is a human impossibility. In his grace, God chose to save some from this “mass of perdition.” [A doctrine that I’m still struggling with and of course this (and many other statements by Augustine) contributed to The Augustine & the Pelagian Controversy]. Note the appeal below to the analogy of the potter and the clay (Romans 9:21), which becomes a frequent element in Augustinian and Reformed discussions of election and predestination. He said,

There are lump of perdition (massa perditionis) out of Adam to which only punishment was due; from this same lump, vessels were made which are destined for honour. For the potter has authority over the same lump of clay (Romans 9:21). What lump? The lump that had already perished, and whose just damnation was already assured. So be thankful that you have escaped! You have escaped the death certainly due to you, and found life, which was not due to you. The potter has authority over the clay from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for contempt. But, you say, why has He made me to honour and another to contempt? What shall I answer? Will you listen to Augustine, if you will not listen to the Apostle [Paul] when he says, ‘O man, who art you who argues with God’? (Romans 11:33). Two little children are born. If you ask what is due to them, the answer is that they both belong to the lump of perdition. But why does its mother carry the one to grace, while the other is suffocated by its mother in her sleep? Will you tell me what was deserved by the one whom its sleeping mother suffocated? Both have deserved nothing good; but the potter has authority over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel for honour, and the other for contempt.”


1) Sermo 26, xii, 13; in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, 38.177A-B.
2) The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath (Oxford UK: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1995), p.217 
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