Augustinianism is the system of theology based on the teachings of Augustine (AD 354–430), also known as St. Augustine or Augustine of Hippo (in northern Africa), one of the Nicene church fathers. He is revered as the “Doctor of the Church” according to Roman Catholicism. Augustine is also considered by evangelical Protestants to have correctly understood and taught the biblical doctrines of the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation. It is those two doctrines—total depravity and divine sovereignty—that people usually have in mind when they refer to “Augustinianism.” Sometimes, the term Augustinianism is used as a synonym for Calvinism.
Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin found much to their liking in Augustinianism, because they found it to be biblical. Like Calvinism, Augustinianism holds that, due to the Fall, mankind is unable to avoid sinning. His nature has been overrun by sin to the extent that man does not truly have freedom of the will; rather, he is in bondage to sin. Only an act of God can release him. This corresponds to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and accords with Jesus’ words in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Augustinianism also teaches that no one can be saved apart from God’s grace. In fact, grace is necessary for the performance of any righteous act, including the exercise of faith. Without that saving grace, no sinner can ever make a decision for Christ. In agreement with the I of Calvinism’s TULIP, Augustinianism teaches that grace is irresistible and effectual. That is, every recipient of God’s grace will come to faith in Christ. As Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me” (John 6:39).
Furthermore, according to Augustinianism, saving grace is given to those whom God has predestined before “the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4–5). This predestination, again in sync with Calvinism, is not rooted in God’s foreknowledge or omniscience. In other words, God did not “look down through history” to see the choice a sinner will make and elect him based on that knowledge. In Augustinianism, the choice is completely God’s.
Augustinianism was at odds with Pelagianism, which denied original sin and taught that man was completely free to choose either good or evil for himself, apart from grace. Pelagius was a British monk who lived at the same time as Augustine, and his doctrines were condemned as heretical at the Councils of Carthage in AD 407 and 416 and by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in AD 431. Augustinianism was then recognized as an expression of Christian orthodoxy in the Western church and much later became a major influence in the doctrine of the Reformers.