Augustine on “Visible-Invisible Church”

Augustine on “Visible-Invisible Church” November 23, 2003

In another talk at the Augustine seminar, a Princeton grad student provocatively claims that Augustine never used the “visible-invisible church” distinction. Admittedly, Augustine has some elements of that distinction, and he was read by the Reformers as supporting the Protestant view. But Augustine never uses the terminology (so far as this student has found). The earliest use of something like the later Reformed distinction (invisible = elect, visible = external structured church) is found in Wyclif, where the distinction is used in order to critique the hierarchy and with whom “visible” carries connotations of “ostentatious” and “fleshly.” The earliest use of the terminology itself is found (again, as far as this student has found) in Zwingli around 1530. A very provocative paper that challenges something we always knew must be the case, though we never bothered to check.

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