A Challenge to Protestant Readers

A Challenge to Protestant Readers June 5, 2012

A meme that has popped up in recent years on Protestant sites is this “quote” attributed to St. Augustine: “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”

I’m sorry, but I call BS. I don’t believe, for one nanosecond, that Augustine ever said any such thing. I don’t believe he ever so much as thought any such thing. I don’t believe he would have been anything other than utterly horrified at saying any such thing.

So, my challenge: Document where Augustine ever said this. My pledge and promise to you: you will fail, because this is just about the most unAugustinian thing you could possibly attribute to Augustine. It’s an utterly Protestant sentiment, and a deeply modern one. I can believe anybody from Luther to Nancy Pelosi saying it. But the attribution to Augustine is, I am absolutely certain, an urban legend born either of ignorance or a dishonest need to have Augustinian Authority backing up a sentiment of contempt for the Church.

I’m so certain I’m right on this, that I’m tempted to attach a $100 bet, payable to me in one week, if a challenger claims he can find the Augustine cite, because I know he will fail. But I will refrain and simply content myself with the fact no one will find the cite, because Augustine would *never* say this.

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  • Matthew

    I’ve seen the same quote (wrongly) attributed to Dorothy Day.

    • Colin

      Not “wrongly” attributed, if you count synonyms:

      “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

      Source: Dorothy Day, “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter,” http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/daytext.cfm?TextID=250

      • Colin

        Ah! Someone already posted this. My apologies.

  • JDH

    I’m going to start repeating that quotation and attribute it to Mark Shea. Yes, that would technically be a “lie,” but morally speaking, discrediting Fake Catholics like Mark is much more important that simplistic notions of “truth.” Mark’s refusal to accept the True Catholic position on many important issues, instead relying for guidance on the word of “popes” and “bishops”, is a cancer eating away at the Church’s ability to deliver an electoral victory to the correct presidential candidate.

    • my prayers go out to you JDH if you believe that the Pope and bishops arent’t the voice inspired by God of my one holy catholic church.
      If you think people like Nancy Palosi or Sebelis represent a “new voice” of the church then you and they are more fickle then the wind.
      This is the bloodiest century in history.
      you need to read your catechism of the catholic church.
      the churches position has not changed for two thousand years, and it won’t be deflected off course by the whims of a secular, sinfilled world that protects animals, but kills babies, removes God, and sets aside time for muslim prayer in schools.

      • note to robert – please turn on your sarcasm detector…

      • Beadgirl

        I think JDH was being facetious.

        • Mark Shea

          No. He is in deadly earnest.

          • Beadgirl

            Really? Yeesh.

          • Chris M

            Wait.. was THAT sarcasm??

            • Linebyline

              Sarcasm on the Internet is hard. Let’s go shopping!

              • T

                There needs to be an emoticom to indicate sarcasm, and solve the problem 😉
                But yeah, that was sarcasm: all of it.

              • Lyonet

                I agree, sarcasm, irony and other nuanced, context bound rhetorical approaches are not suitable for the internet!

      • Mark Shea

        On the contrary, JDH is a rad Trad who thinks the bishops and the Pope are “liberal heretics”.

        • Richard A

          I think JDH reads much better as satire. Even if previous experience suggests that it is not, it would be better not to weigh in and deflect anyone else’s reading away from the ‘satire’ interpretation.

        • Steve T.

          Mark, I’m the Brooklyn Trad that has had a few email conversations with you.
          If JDH is a representative sample of the sort of Trad with whom you deal, I now understand your past vitriol. I am so sorry for this sede’s monkey talk. As for JDH: run along, you sede heretic, there’s a sale on tinfoil hats down at the bunker.

          • Mark Shea

            He is indeed pretty typical of Internet Trads. And he has already run along, thanks to my ban function. Thanks for demonstrating that not all Trads are like JDH.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Anyone who disagrees that telling White Lies and Honest Calumnies about Mark is right and just, must secretly be a member of the Gestapo who want to kill the Jews in your basement.

      • JDH

        Hey, now how come Andy didn’t get ripped for his comment? I guess I should have put “Bad Person” after my comment, too! 🙂

    • Mark Shea

      No. It would not “technically” be a lie. It would be a lie, and you a liar who thinks it okay to bear false witness against somebody because of your hatred for a Council of Holy Church and the post-conciliar Magisterium. More of the bitter fruits of schismatic Rad Tradism. Sick.

      • thomas tucker

        Now I’m confused. It’s an awful feeling when you can’t tell parody from sincerity. Or as Dan Quale said: It’s a terrible thing lo lose your mind. Or did Augustine say that?

        • Andy, Bad Person

          It was Jefferson, quoting Aristotle.

          I’m with Thomas. I really can’t even tell what’s sarcasm and what’s not anymore. That comment was way too stupid to be serious, but what if it is? My head a-splode.

          • Howard

            George Jefferson?

          • John Woolley

            Aristotle Onassis?

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Shaquille “the Big Aristotle” O’Neal.

    • Ted Seeber

      Is that the same True Catholic position as the anti-Pope that died a few years back, Pius XIII of Montana?

    • TKH

      Dear JDH – you needn’t visit these sites if your motive is as un-Christian as your words. Please pray on this – on your hidden anger and why and your need for healing and then seek ways to heal and grow in virtue and you will be happier.

    • JDH

      I am very sorry this post caused so much confusion. I was indeed being sarcastic, and I have made that clear to Mark. I thought it was clear with use of Mark’s common phrases like “True Catholic” and my stated goal of electing the “correct presidential candidate.” I think Mark has done great work recently in discussing the issue of Lying for Jesus, and I was trying to have a little harmless fun with him over that. Again, it was a joke, and my apologies!

      • Mark Shea

        And my apologies for totally misunderstanding you! I’m stupid.

  • Don the Kiwi

    Good on ya Mark.
    I’ll support you on the bet.
    If anyone can come up with a verifiable quote, I’ll split you on the cost.
    BTW I don’t expect half if anyone who takes you up and loses. 😉

    • Rosemarie


      Are you the same Don the Kiwi who used to post regularly on Mark’s previous blog a few years back?

  • TheRealAaron

    Is there possible he writes something like “There are those who say…” and then unleashes a stream of invective against them?

  • Sally Wilkins

    Have you checked Boettner? So many calumnies of the Church trace back to him (and are often supported with fake footnotes when you find them).

  • Cathy K

    The historical novel *The Bronze God of Rhodes*, which I read in the mid 1970s (published in 1960), had a character who kept saying that the city of Rome was a whore, but that she was his mother. So the author, L. Sprague de Camp, put that quote into the mouth of a pagan Roman. FWIW.

    • David J. White

      There is a quote that has been making the rounds on the internet for some time that is attributed to Cicero. Turns out it isn’t actually something written by the real Cicero, but is a line put into the mouth of the *character* “Cicero” in Taylor Caldwell’s novel A Pillar of Iron. It wouldn’t surprise me if something like this is at work here as well. There have to be any number of novels in which St. Augustine figures as a character.

    • Ted Seeber

      That’s at least two decades before my source. Anybody have an e-mail address for L. Sprague De Camp?

    • TeaPot562

      L. Sprague de Camp, like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Azimov, has been a celebrated author of many good Science Fiction & Fantasy stories. If you want Fantasy with moral values, either J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis is a better teacher.

  • A Philosopher

    Not a Protestant, but: Tracking down spurious citations is, of course, very difficult. And I’m decidedly non-expert in this area. But a bit of investigation turns up:
    1. The quote can be documented to Dorothy Day, in her “In Peace is My Bitterness Most Bitter” (Catholic Worker 1967). Here she says (without attribution) “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ. Though she is a harlot at times, she is our mother. We should read the book of Hosea, which is a picture of God’s steadfast love not only for the Jews, his chosen people, but for his Church, of which we are every one of us members or potential members”. (The imagery of Hosea is an obvious source for this sort of thought.)
    2. Augustine’s Sermo 364 contains the claim “Meretrix quam Samson in conjugium sumit Ecclesia est.” The larger context is of the Church as having been made pure through Christ (and hence having been impure).
    3. Similar thoughts can be found elsewhere among the church fathers. Ambrose, for example, says in De Mysteriis 35 “The Church, having put on these garments through the laver of regeneration, says in the Song of Songs `I am black and comely, o daughters of Jerusalem.’ Black through the frailty of her human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. And the daughters of Jersualem beholding these garments say in amazement: `Who is this that comes up made white?’ She was black, how is she now suddenly made white?” Henri de Lubac’s The Splendor of the Church chapter 3 (“The Two Aspects of the One Church”) is a good source for citations to this line of thought.
    4. Obviously there’s a rather huge gap between the Augustine quote and Dorothy Day’s 1967 statement. Better work would try to track down the transmission of the thought between the two, and look for the spot where the shift in emphasis occurs, but this isn’t going to be that better work.

    • Matthew

      Well I’ll be darned. She did say that. Though harlot sounds a little more tame, even though it refers to the same thing.

    • Rosemarie


      A Philosopher: Thank you for researching it.

    • Lyonet

      Good work: research and thinking. Thank you.

  • Bob

    So far as I know, the closest usage is in Sermo 364, 2: Samson … caput Ecclesiae Christum figuravit … Meretrix, quam Samson in coniugium sumit, Ecclesia est, quae ante agnitionem unius Dei cum idolis fornicata fuit, quam postea sibi Christus adiunxit; postquam vero ab eo fidem illuminata suscepit, etiam hoc meruit, ut per eum salutis sacramenta cognosceret, et ab eodem revelarentur ei mysteria caelestium secretorum. (Samson … foreshadowed the head of the Church, Christ… The whore, whom Samson took to wife, is the Church, who before the knowledge of the one God had committed fornication with idols, whom afterwards Christ united to himself; after she received the faith from him, being illuminated, she even merited this, that by him she might come to know the sacraments of salvation, and that the mysteries of the heavenly secrets might be revealed by him too.) And in Sermo 10, he describes the quarrel between the two prostitutes who appear before Solomon, and he sees the mother who is concerned for the salvation of the son as the Church of the Gentiles. Elsewhere, Ambrose refers to the Church as the casta meretrix (the chaste whore). But all of these references are to the fact of the purification of the Church (i.e. of her members) by Christ. Far from contrasting the alleged prostitution of the Church with the cleanness of the son, the point is that God cleanses the mother, and assures the child of salvation through her care (Thus, the Church is Rahab outside whose house there is no salvation).

    Balthasar, much to the indignation of people who haven’t bothered to read what he wrote, titled one of his articles Casta Meretrix, which is well-worth reading, and which considers the question of the sinfulness of the holy Church.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “Meretrix, quam Samson in coniugium sumit, Ecclesia est”

    Do you remember when you were a child, seeing the up arrow on maps and charts, and wondering how you were supposed to manage to walk up twenty steps? When I was a little girl and thus puzzled, and went to my Dad with this question, I learned a new word: convention.

    Augustine’s words, “Meretrix, quam Samson in coniugium sumit, Ecclesia est” are used in the context of explaining a divine allegory, something we moderns aren’t much used to reading or talking about. And with allegories must come explanations. To Latin speakers, the verb esse, is would have been the conventional expression for does “means” (i.e., in this context) or “here signifies”.

    The phrase cannot be understand outside of this context, anymore than we can make sense of an up arrow without knowing whether it appears on a map or a road sign, vs. an elevator-call button.

    • Bob

      Oh yes, and the use of the word ecclesia is also used here slightly differently. Augustine wouldn’t say that the Church, which he calls the totus Christus, is here and now, the whore. Rather, she is cleansed by union with Christ. She has sinful members, for whom she should pray, and thus be cleansed (Sermo 181). The point about the idea of the Church as meretrix is that the Church is composed of those rescued from our idolatry, greed and so on. It is not meant to be an excuse for self-righteous grandstanding.

      • Bob

        “the word ecclesia is used”, not “the use of the word ecclesia is used”. The problem with changing your thought in mid-stream…

      • Rosemarie


        I am reminded of the traditional Western depiction of St. Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute. She’s not presented as a current harlot but as a former harlot and current saint. After her conversion she becomes the quintessential follower of Jesus and even a figure of the Church. The Litany of St. Mary Magdalene calls her the “Spouse of the King of Glory” – not in the literal Duh Vinci Code sense of an earthly wife, of course, but in a spiritual, heavenly sense, even as the Church is the mystical Bride of Christ.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          I am reminded of the traditional Western depiction of St. Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute. She’s not presented as a current harlot but as a former harlot and current saint.

          Which is strange, because Biblically, she was not the prostitute. The “woman caught in sin” is commonly assumed to be Mary Magdalene, but the only things we know about MM is that she had demons cast out of her, was witness to the crucifixion, and was first witness to the Resurrection.

          Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in sin, and Mary the sister of Lazarus are often combined into the same character, but they’re not.

          • Rosemarie


            True, the identification of these three women with one another is debatable. Especially between St. Mary Magdalene and Mary the sister of Lazarus; I strongly doubt they are the same woman since both are mentioned by Sts. Luke and John in their Gospels as though they are two different women.

            Some have tried to make the case that the sinner in Luke 7 is either Magdalene or Mary the sister of Lazarus, but even that’s not 100% definite. As for the woman caught in adultery in John 8, there’s no evidence that she’s Magdelene either even though she’s often tossed into the mix.

            Finally, elements of the life of St. Mary of Egypt also became part of the Magdalene legend at some point – namely, that she did penance in the desert at the end of her life. It’s funny to think that the devotional figure of St. Mary Magdalen in the West may have been a composite of up to five different women!

            • Ted Seeber

              Ok, way off topic and I’m about to show what age I’m a child of, but I’ve seen reruns of Fulton Sheen’s shows where he writes JMJ on the blackboard- and you used it at the head of your post, and it was in no way covered by my catechism classes in the 1970s. I’m assuming it’s a reference to the Holy Family (Jesus Mary and Joseph) but why?

              • Rosemarie


                Yes, it is short for Jesus, Mary, Joseph. It is sometimes used as a heading on letters, Catholic schoolwork, etc. as a way of dedicating what is written to the Holy Family. I have been heading my emails with it for a long time and just ended up heading combox posts with it as well.

                • LaVallette

                  There are many other such invocations:

                  At school we used A.M.D.G: “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” i.e For the greater glory of God at the beginning of every lesson page, essays and any work papers.

                  On many Latin inscriptions in Catholic Churches and dedications on public memorials in Old Catholic towns and cities at the very top you see the letters D.O.M. : Deo Optimo Maximo: i.e. To God, the Best and the Greatest.

                  • Gary Keith Chesterton

                    My favorite, having been taught by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is “V+J”, for “Vive Jesus,” Francis’s personal motto and the central theme of all his work.

    • WesleyD

      I agree with Marion. Another way to put it is this: In many languages — including Latin, Greek, and English — the sentence “A is B” and “B is A” are not interchangeable. Thus, “Obama is a politician” is true. “A politician is Obama” is vague and probably meaningless.

      In this case, when Augustine gives a sermon on Samson, he says that Samson’s wife “is” (i.e., she allegorically represents) the Church. That’s very different than him giving a sermon on the Church and saying “The Church is Samson’s wife.”

      Also, look at the full context, in Bob’s translation: “The whore, whom Samson took to wife, is the Church, who before the knowledge of the one God had committed fornication with idols, whom afterwards Christ united to himself; after she received the faith from him, being illuminated, she even merited this, that by him she might come to know the sacraments of salvation, and that the mysteries of the heavenly secrets might be revealed by him too.”

      So even if this were not allegory but literal, it would only say that the Church was a whore before she was given knowledge of God and lifted out of her old state by Christ. Theologically, however, before this event happened the Church could not really be called the Church!

      • Bob

        I think somewhere else, Augustine speaks of the whore being made a virgin. All quoted in the von Balthasar article. If Augustine had said anything remotely resembling “The Church is [at this present point in time] a whore,” he would have been drummed out of town by the Donatists and their nasty brothers, the circumcellions, who held that they belonged to a “pure” Church in contrast to the false Catholics, the rest of the world.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    italics off.

  • This turned into a rather interesting discussion. It seems to me that there is a Lewis or Chesterton quote out there somewhere to the effect that it is sinfulness of the members of the Church contrasted with her doctrinal purity that demonstrates her Divine constitution and support (that’s a terrible paraphrase but perhaps some Chesterton scholar will know what I am getting at and can provide a more accurate quote).

  • The Lisa

    I don’t believe he said it either. Mainly because it’s not clever enough for Agustine. Now if he had said “Nature is a whore, but she is my mother.” I could believe it. That would make a great bumper sticker.

  • joannemcportland

    There is, I recently learned, a whole website devoted to exposing faux quotes attributed to the Buddha. The site administrator says it’s a pretty good shot that a quotation is false if it is simply attributed to “the Buddha” or “Buddha,” without providing a citation of one of the Buddhist scriptures. Another tip-off is reducing complex philosophical constructs into fewer than 140 characters, in order to be tweetable or Facebook postable or to fit on a refrigerator magnet. I think we should have such a site for faux saint/theologian quotes. Short of that, I love your challenge.

    • Peggy Hagen

      There should be one for false quotations of Mother Teresa.

  • I just finished 4 months of deep immersion in Augustine for my masters, so the great man’s voice remains fresh in my mind, and I can guarantee you that he said nothing of the sort. I’ll even double Mark’s bet for the person who can find a legitimate source for it. Augustine was quite capable of colorful language, particularly in his sermons, but this is a formulation that would have been utterly alien to not only his thought, but his way of speaking.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Please say Streetfighter, please say Streetfighter, please say Streetfighter…

  • Frank Weathers
  • orthros

    “Anyone can quote anything on the internet and be believed.” – Abraham Lincoln

    • chris

      You’re lying. It was Mark Twain who wrote that.

      • Chris M

        huh.. here I was thinking it was Einstein.

  • I won

    I said it first. Now stop this partisan bickering and support my campaign.

  • Bobby

    “I’m tempted to attach a $100 bet, payable to me in one week, if a challenger claims he can find the Augustine cite…”

    So if they succeed in finding the cite they pay you $100? 😉

    • Mark Shea

      Say! Great idea. On the other hand, if they fail, they pay me $100. That’s the ticket!

  • antigon

    My gasted remains flabbered that rather than a just parody, Mr. Roberts chose instead to parody hisself.

  • jy

    “The whore is the Church” (Meretrix…Ecclesia est) means something drastically different than “The Church is a whore” (Ecclesia…meretrix est). It’s the same problem—of predication—that can arise in John 1.

  • David J. White

    Except, jy, that in Latin, “Meretrix … Ecclesia est” can certainly m ean “The Church is a whore”, i.e., it is easily plausible in Latin that in the sentence “Meretrix … Ecclesia est”, “meretrix” is the predicate and “eccelsia” is the subject. That is one of the things that makes Latin difficult: so much depends on context.

    I agree with you, though, that, in the context of the Augustine passage quoted further up in the comments, “Meretrix … Ecclesia est” does in fact mean “The whore is the Church”, i.e. “meretrix” is the subject and “ecclesia” is the predicate. This is a real problem of quoting Latin out of context, perhaps even greater than quoting English out of context. This is one reason why so many Latin “mottos” are really meaningless; they are generally snippets quoted out of context.

    • jy

      The difficulty of ascertaining subject and predicate in nominal simple sentences, David J. White, is usually less than advertised in homiletic gimmicks and the delights of controversialism. There is little need or reason here to exaggerate the difficulty in interpreting subject and predicate in the above-quoted passage.

      That “Meretrix…Ecclesia est” can certainly mean “The Church is a whore”, as you say, is true, but would only *be* true in a deliberately perverse formulation. A fluent speaker of Latin would never make that reading of that order of words prima facie. If an author meant it to be read so, he would at the same time be drawing attention to the phrase by intentionally inverting the conventions of word order. These are stronger than we tend to allow when we teach elementary Latin, because then our goal is to persuade native speakers of English to abandon the expectations which the iron-clad word order of English trains in us.

      I agree with your comment on the whole, but with regard to the suggestion that Augustine’s comment “Meretrix…&c.” is ambiguous, I respectfully but firmly disagree.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Whereas in poetic Latin words may be scattered like candy at Mardi Gras and trust in declension endings to maintain order, in normal Latin the usual word order was SVO or SOV. If meretrix comes first it is almost certainly the subject. This was even more so the case in the 5th century, when the Vulgate form was replacing the classical. Although retained in formal written Latin, the case endings had largely disappeared from the spoken tongue and so much greater reliance was placed on word order and prepositions than on case endings.

  • The Deuce

    As a Protestant just let me say that *I’m* offended by this almost certainly fabricated quote and the sentiment therein.

  • Mary

    I heard Archbishop Timothy Dolan quote Dorothy Day in referring to the Church as a (sometimes) whore. I believe it was at event honoring Dorothy Day. It made it very hard for me to view her as saintly, regardless of her good works. I would love to hear you comment on this as it is very troubling to me.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      Mary, perhaps Mark will comment on this, and his will be better, but here goes:

      I can’t get solid documentation on any quote from Servant of God Dorothy Day employing the word wh*re in connection with the holy Church. The attribution occurs frequently on various sites, but on none of these do I find anything citation such as: “Unpublished letter written by D. Day from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Wilkes, Dayton, Ohio to P. Maurin in Fairfax, Virginia, dated 9 June 1951. Collection of the P. Maurin estate. ” or other specific citation. So, I’ve learned without a citation that would stand up to a persnickety editor, remember that we have no yet fulfilled the famous dictum, “Trust but verify.” If we can’t verify it, the safest conclusion is: maybe she said it; maybe she did it; but if we can’t specify when, where, to whom, and in what form, and how I may obtain a copy of the article, notes, letter, or what have you, then we can’t take it to the bank.

      Secondly, before her conversion to Christ the Servant of God’s life story includes some episodes that would, to say the least, raise a few eyebrows among godly people – Catholic or Protestant. The point is, she later did convert, and maybe our gracious Lord, in His wisdom saw fit to transform His Servant’s life gradually, over a period of time, rather than all at once. So, even after her initial conversion, it may have been some time before Mrs. Day actually attained to the full sanctity that we hope is found ultimately to have been hers. And during this transitional period, Mrs. Day may have said and done certain things which reveal opportunities for the growth in holiness . . . opportunities for growth that we all possess.

      We can think of God as that wonderful math teacher who told the class, “this is a difficult class; what I’m looking for is an upward trend in the quality of your work. If you don’t make a good start, don’t worry. Continue to try as hard as you can, do your homework, come to me for extra help. If I see solid effort and solid progress, I will consider dropping early failing test scores if they’re before mid-term.”

      Finally, the only grown-up or nearly grown-up saints of whose lives we have an account, whom we know to have been utterly without sin at all would seem to be the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without sin, and Saint John the Evangelist, who was justified from his mother’s womb when he leapt for joy at the sound of Our Lady’s voice. There may be others, lots of others, but almost all of the accounts of even the holiest of the canonized saints mention their grieving over the sins of their past lives, and sometimes inflicting rather severe penances specifically in reparation for their own past sins. Just because she lived during the 20th century, we have access to more well-documented biographical details for Mrs. Day than we have for approximately one-fifth of all the saints and blesseds raised to the altars during the previous nineteen centuries combined. That is to say, we simply have no way to know about many of the dodgy, iffy, and downright disappointing pre-conversion moments which may well have occurred in some of our 8th century Burgundian saints, or 11th century Tuscan saints, or 14th century Rhineland saints.

      Anyway, I hope this helps.

      • Bob

        Somewhere, I came across someone attributing this quote to Erasmus, another unlikely candidate.

      • Mary

        Thank-you Marion. I was able to find the talk given by then Archbishop Dolan – I believe it was several months ago: “Dorothy Day Loved the Church – YouTube”. To quote him, “One of her (Dorothy Day) saltier quotes: ‘Yes, the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, but at other times, she’s the whore of Babylon…’ “. He said she was referring to the flaws, the imperfections, the uglier side of the Church. But coming from an Archbishop – and now Cardinal – it certainly seems to lend credence to the statement as having been made. I can see how Protestants could easily be misled. I do hope Mark will comment!

        • Mark Shea

          I have no doubt the statement has been made. I just don’t believe for one second that Augustine would say any such thing.

      • Dan C
        • Dan C

          1967…long after Ms. Day (she never married) converted.

          • Marion (Mael Muire)

            There we have it! Thank you, Dan.

            Day, Dorothy. “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter.” The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2. The Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy Day Library on the Web (URL: http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=250).

            The honorific Mrs. usually indicates that the subject is a married woman, but was traditionally also bestowed on a spinster of a certain age, to indicate her social or professional prominence. As you rightly point out, nowadays people use Ms. for ladies generally – married or unmarried, young or past youth, prominent or otherwise. For me, that honorific is tainted with an ideology inimical to the faith, and I avoid the use of Ms. if at all possible.

  • Ted Seeber

    Looks like it’s really Tony Compolo- or at least the misattribution is, having been printed in one of his books 6 years ago.
    But it’s borrowed from a longer form attributed to anonymous:
    “Yes, the Church is a whore; but that whore is the bride of Christ and your mother, and you have no right to abandon her.”

    And that blog is arguing whether it was Luther or Augustine.

    But since it seems to be originally from Dr. Tony Compolo, and I’m a friend of his on facebook ( I have a cousin’s wife who is *seriously* into the post-modern-post-Christian-post-Protestant Emergence movement) I posted a link to this blog here. Perhaps he’ll take you up on it and cite his source.

  • Battista Gorla

    Grazie, Mark Shea! La Chiesa è una santa cattolica apostolica. Il vertice della creazione di Dio.

  • “The problem with quotations that one finds on the internet is that they are rather spurious in citing their sources” -Peter Lombard, Libri Quattuor Sententiarum

  • antigon

    Apologies to Mr. Robert. Overlooked that the self-parody was not his, but that of Mr. JDH.

  • jorge

    I don’t know if St. Augustine ever said something like that, but you can find it in the writings of St. Jerome, where many women of bad reputation are compared with the church, like St. Mary of Magdala, the wives of the prophet Osea and others.

  • Don the Kiwi

    Your 2.28 p.m.

    Yes I am the same. Comment very rarely now, but still an often reader. So many other blogs, so little time…….;-)
    Also visit The American Catholic and others.
    How’re you and husband (Scott ? ) and family keeping?

    • Rosemarie


      Hello again! We’re okay, all things considered. We have three children, they’re all on the autism spectrum but at least the youngest one speaks. Life isn’t easy (is it ever easy?) but Our Lord’s grace gets us through it all. How are you and yours?

  • David C

    I realize that Mark has as much experience in the “Protestant” world as I do, but when I hear that quote among my fellow Protestants, it is used as a way of rejecting congregationalism. “Yes, the Church has many flaws, but she is nevertheless our Mother. There is no Christianity without the Church.” It’s not the kind of thing I would say, and I’ll be glad to correct anyone who uses it in the future.

  • I heard protestant preacher/writer Tony Campolo say this quote was from Augustine. I researched it using a software database of all the writings of the Church fathers.(This is the Faith Database) I found that it was never said by anyone, including Saint Augustine. I wrote to Campolo and one of his handlers got back to me and apologized saying he heard that it was said by Augustine and passed it on. Always easy to pass on something that is a bit scandalous vs trying to find the truth, especially when it comes to Catholicism.

  • I think people have pretty much covered the major ground on this topic. The Balthasar article is the most substantial thing here. Those Catholics here reacting negatively to Dorothy Day’s (alleged) statement about the Church being a harlot are, I think, guilty of a certain type of immanentism. The Church is “black but beautiful.” This does not just mean that individual members are sinful but the institution is perfect. No, imperfect individuals necessarily make an imperfect collective. However, the Church has its two aspects, the human and the divine. The human is further divisible into the Church Triumphant, Church Suffering, and Church Militant. And even the Church Militant can be divided into those actually in a state of grace and those who aren’t.

    The “institutional church” can certainly be called a whore without any heresy or blasphemy. The human institution is a polity like any other, and subject to the same sociological laws. It is the divine element which has guaranteed that pure doctrine and valid sacraments of grace are still transmitted by this institution. But if you think that somehow the Church’s divine status means that the Church-AS-human-polity is somehow immune from corruption or from “sleeping around with the kings of the earth”…you need to catch up on your history. His Kingdom is not of this world.

    In the modern world I tend to think that, politically, the institutional church is currently one of the least evil political players domestically and internationally. But that hasn’t always been the case, and it doesn’t mean that the institutional-church-as-human-polity is always right, or that Catholics are required to support the current hierarchy’s political platforms.

  • Roger

    How exceedingly bizzarre that your “challenge” should attribute anti-Augustinian sentiment with such a broad brush to Protestants. As an Anglican who has spent years studying the Confessions and parts of City of God, with highest regard and reverence ffor Augustine’s intellect and fidelity to scripture, it never occurred to me that Protestants were somehow generally hostile to one this great father of the church. Certainly Luther regarded Augustine as authoritative on central doctrines, as is evident from a number of his sermons. So, I would like to issue a challenge to you. Can you please cite an authority from any mainline Protestant church that attributes your “whore”-church-mother metaphor to Augustine? For that matter, can you please point us to a mainline protest authority that disagrees with Augustine on any central Christian doctrine? Thank you.

    • Mark Shea

      I don’t think the quote is evidence of hostility to Augustine. I think the readiness to believe Augustine said it is evidence that a lot of Protestant see Augustine as a sort of proto-Protestant. Since I never claimed all Protestant cite the quote, or would agree with it, much less that somebody in the Mainlines would, I don’t see the point of your challenge. As to disagreement about central doctrines, that’s rather tricky since the essence of Protestantism consists of redefining what “central” means.

  • I have heard St. Augustine cast as a proto-Calvinist, hence protestant, recently. Nothing new to that. Anyone familiar with St. Augustine or Calvin for that matter would be duly offended at its attribution to St. Augustine.

  • Roger Banks

    In your original challenge you said this quote was attributed to Augustine by Protestants. Now if I’m not mistaken, you suggest these same alleged Protestants actually make the whore-mother-attribution approvingly! — and that such a comparison would support the Protestent conception of the church. Forgive me if I’m misinterpreting your reply. Maybe you meant it as a joke. But if this is what you mean to say, then, to opine about these things with any degree of accuracy, I’m afraid you would need to enhance your familiarity with a few basic tenants of Protestant beliefs.
    As for what is central Christian teaching, I believe that is something on which we can agree — that is, if you adhere to the Catholic Catechism. The Catechism speaks of Protestants as brothers and sisters in Christ. It suggests that our differences, though important, are not about essential doctrines.
    As for your statement that Protestants redefine what is central, again I’m afraid you may need to brush up on Protestant doctrine before making such statements. If you want to know what the Protestant regards as essential to Christian faith, a good place to start would be the Apostle’s Creed. Catholics and Protestants alike regard it as an expression of essential Christian beliefs. We believe in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father (begotten not made), born of the Virgin Mary; and we believe that only by Christ’s death on the cross can we escape the penalty for our sins, and by his resurrection have eternal life. I would be interested to know which of these things Protestants have redefined.
    Finally, Catholic and Protestant churches alike pray for unity. I don’t know that this whole discussion is conducive to that end — alleging without citation that “Protestants” attribute some obnoxious allegory to Augustine, and then going so far as to say that Protestants are wont to redefine the essential Christian faith.

    • Roger,
      First, it just simply seems to be the case that if you google the quote, you find it on Protestant websites. I did exactly that and tracked the quote to Tony Campolo as have others. See e.g., this Evangelical site. Apparently, this faux-quote has some traction among Evangicals. You might not like the fact, but pointing out the fact that it does have such traction by pointing out the fact that you can, like, look it up doesn’t amount to a kind of prejudice.

      It would be interesting to hear from you as a Protestant why you think this faux-quote has such traction among Evangelicals.

      As for Mark’s point about the protean formlessness of Protestantism, I think that he’s basically right because that is a point that has been made by Protestants such as Alister McGrath and Peter Leithart, who recently wrote:

      “Catholics who charge that Protestantism leads to postmodernism are not entirely wrong. To be Protestant is to believe in some form of differance and dissemination, though to be Protestant is also to believe (against secular postmodernism) that God has spoken intelligibly and will someday speak a final word. Confessionalists often resist the “postmodern” tendencies of Biblicist Protestantism by anchoring in a tradition; but that is a “Catholic” response to the vertigo of unrealized eschatology.”

      We might say, “them’s the cards you’re dealt.” Protestantism which looks with a structural suspicion at tradition has no ability to guarantee that what is “central” today will be “central” tomorrow. In order to make that kind of guarantee it would have to have some feature that allows interpretation of the text of the Bible to transcend time, but that feature is called “tradition.” If you read the Leithart piece and the McGrath book, you can see that “tradition” is an optional feature of Protestantism, which means, in the words of Our Host, “the essence of Protestantism consists of redefining what “central” means.”

      Note please that this is not indictment of Protestantism. McGrath definitely thinks this is the strength of Protestantism, or what he calls “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea.”

      A true ecumenism accepts the truth of the ecumenical partners. It doesn’t force a partner into a politically correct mold simply because we would like things to be a certain way. Our Host is accurate about the “core” of Protestantism, insofar as there is a core, according to Protestants, who think that core is a feature and not a bug. All we can do is say, “yup, that’s the way it looks,” and deal with the truth as it is laid out.

  • Rich

    A challenge? What about, “everyone knows the Catholics added books to the Bible at Trent to justify purgatory, right? Or…A continuous line of Popes? No way Peter lived to the fourth century, right? Just more mindless attacks against GOD’s Holy Church. I am sure you could add dozens more to the mindless banter.


  • Luke

    I did some work on this because it always bothered me too. I’m a protestant who has a MA in Historical Theology, and it never made sense to me that Augustine would use such a word to describe the church. The phrase smacks of modern protestant thought. The first protestant author who cited this in writing was Tony Campolo. I emailed him about it, and he replied that he didn’t have a reference, but that he had heard it from a English preacher who I could never track down. The short of it is that Augustine did NOT say it, nor did a later author quote him as saying it as far as I can tell. However, it is accepted in print for the time being.

  • Q: isn’t there a famous whore called Babylon in Scripture? Could she be the true mother of Western Christians, seeing that both her & them have a long history of violence and bloodshed (genocide vs native Americans, Vietnamese, Afghanis, Iraqis, etc)?

    I don’t know why Evangelical Lefties and social activists waste so much time defending the Evangelical churches. Millions of dead indigenous peoples in the Americas and worldwide is evidence that Christians support genocide and oppression of others, especially non-Westerners. And this proof shows that Evangelicals cannot be the true Church, because “no murderer has eternal life in him,” according to 1 John 3:15. So just as Luther (although he himself promoted genocide against Jews who refuse the Gospel in his last book) rejected the Catholic Church, we must refuse the Protestant one, especially that of Evangelicals.

    Jeremiah 1:9-10 – build afresh and stop frittering away the time defending a Harlot who will only end up in the place where all promoters of genocide go.



  • Lara

    The Church is not a whore but wasn’t Augustine at one point ?

    “Lord make me chaste just not yet…. ” These days it’s, “Anybody’s for a doughnut…. ”

    Maybe you have to descend into ‘hell’ before being able to ‘preach to the spirits there’.

  • Sarah Rossiter

    Augustine’s Essential Sermons, sermon 213:
    “Let us honour her, because she is the bride of so great a Lord. And what am I to say? Great and unheard of is the bridegroom’s gracious generosity; he found her a whore, he made her a virgin. She mustn’t deny that she was once a whore, or she may forget the kindness and mercy of her liberator.”

    There’s nothing un-Catholic about recognising our Mother, the Church, as a whore — a whore who has by God’s mercy and grace been redeemed, again and again and again, and who goes on being unfaithful, and yet is constantly drawn back to the love and mercy of Jesus. The Church is in the process of sanctification, in the process of being brought to the perfection of the spotless bride of Christ. In the meantime, she remains full of sin and stains and infidelity to her Lord. (Read the book of the Prophet Hosea: the Church is the New Israel, and like Israel, displays much unfaithfulness to her Lord; and yet we love her. She is Christ’s body, and his chosen bride, and she has been and will be redeemed.) This is all orthodox and hsitorical Catholic theology.

  • James

    For the record, I found this site because I heard this exact thing said in a Vineyard congregation just over a month ago. I’ve read a number of posters below who requested confirmation that this is actually happening, so let it be known that this vitriol is alive and infecting the minds of innocent people who truly yearn for Christ’s pure message.