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Saturday, August 22, 2009



On the topic of St. Augustine, the OT, and imagery, I have a question for you Augustine scholars. There is an article this weekend with a quote from the Rev. Tony Campolo, "a progressive evangelical professor at Eastern University." The article is "Film takes on the issue of Christianity in America" and can be found here:

From the article:

Campolo quotes St. Augustine as having said, "The Church is a whore, and she is my mother."

"Are you talking about unfaithfulness? You're talking about the church," Campolo says in the film. "... It's a whore. But she's also my mother. I wouldn't be a Christian today ... if it wasn't for this thing called `the church."'

I know of Luther and others having made a comment like this, but St. Augustine?

There is no reference to the quote. Doing a google search led to sites of former students of Campolo who say that he often made this same point in class ... once again without referencing where the alleged St. Augustine passage comes from.

Von Balthasar has an essay, "Casta Meretrix," that deals with a related theme, but in the bits I remember from it, he does not attribute a "Church is a whore" statement to Augustine. Perhaps I need to read it again.

Does anyone know if St. Augustine ever said this and what the source is?

Carl E. Olson

W.: It looks like a number of people have been puzzled by Campolo's statement.

I've never heard such a thing ever attributed to Augustine, and I doubt he ever said/wrote it. I have never been impressed with Campolo as a theologian or scholar (or even as a popular writer/speaker), and that goes back to when I was still an Evangelical. He tends to be flippant, glib, needlessly sensational, sloppy, and self-serving. Perhaps this is a case of some of those qualities at work?



Balthasar's essay is a gem. I decided to go back to it and read it this weekend. Then I went through various Augustine works I could find. Still looking for a full copy of sermon 213. That might be the place where he comes closest to what Campolo said.

What I found from Sermon 213, which von Balthasar quotes:

"We are the Holy Church. ... Let us honor her, for she is the spouse of such a great Lord. What else can I say? Great and singular is the condescension of the Bridegroom. When he found her, she was a harlot. He made her a virgin. That she was a harlot we must not deny, lest we forget the mercy of him who set her free. How can we fail to call her a harlot, when we think how she lusted after idols and demons? There was fornication of the heart in all: in some, of the flesh; in all, of the heart. And he came and made her a virgin. He made the Church a virgin. In faith she is a virgin. In the flesh she has a few consecrated virgins. In faith all her members must be virgins, men as well as women." (Sermon 213.7 in "Casta Meretrix" from Explorations in Theology, vol. II, 245; emphasis added.)

This is after much documentation from biblical and patristic sources of Jerusalem as a harlot for having betrayed the Lord and of how the Church is born out of that and when she is born, she is remade a virgin, though mindful of her harlot past (through the sins and betrayal of her members). A sinner who is changed but remembers her past in an effort to not fall back into the sin, in an effort to remember from where she came, and to appreciate the new life given her.

The point, as I see it: The Church came from having been a harlot (before Christ) and (with Christ and Pentecost) is no longer a harlot in form but is now a virgin.

In St. Augustine's reply to the Manichean Faust, which VB quotes, Augustine uses words to the effect of "a harlot abandoning her fornication and being changed into a chaste spouse." (22.80; 265 in VB) There is nothing wrong with conversion!

Carl E. Olson

W.: Here is an interesting discussion about the passage from Explorations in Theology. I've not been able to find the exact source in Augustine's corpus either...

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