St. Augustine on Our Separated Christian Brethren

In Tuesday’s Office of Readings, St. Augustine offered one of the most beautiful Scriptural meditations on how we should approach those Christians who refuse to be in Communion with us, including those who regard us as less than Christian.  I immediately thought of both the sedevacantist Catholics who claim we’re Modernist heretics, the fundamentalist Protestants who regard us as half-pagan, and the Baptists who reject the validity of our Baptism.  Regardless of which group we’re talking about, Augustine’s advice is sound:

From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Ps. 32, 29; CCL 38, 272-273) 
Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the Church are our brothers 
Benozzo Gozzoli,
St Augustine Teaching in Rome (detail) (1465)

We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father

The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who do not believe in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and common fraud, and this against your brothers. 

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognizing our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers. 

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head. 

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realize that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.


  1. On Tuesday I read this several times over. It was one of those pieces that seems to have been written just for me. No, I’m not quite that narcissistic, but it seems that what I need the most is being put right in front of me. In AA we call it “God incidence.”

  2. I agree with it all, though the line “They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same” applies more so to the Eastern Orthodox, rather than anyone else.

  3. I wondered about that as well, Jonathon. I suppose at the time Augustine was writing this, the protestant version of communion had not yet been ‘born’? I also find myself wondering about those protestant churches that baptize ‘in the name of Jesus’ instead of the Holy Trinity. My understanding of Catholicism is that such a baptism is not recognized by the Church– so are these sects Christian? This was a great article! Much to consider here……..

    1. The Eastern Orthodox preserve all seven sacraments – we acknowledge their Holy Orders as valid, and all of the sacramental graces that flow from that. Protestants don’t have valid Holy Orders, because they severed their connection to Christ’s ordained priesthood. This impedes their ability to offer valid sacraments other than Baptism and Holy Matrimony. But those Protestants who don’t have Trinitarian Baptisms don’t have any valid sacraments.

      I’m not sure what’s meant by the question, “are these sects Christian?” What are you meaning by “Christian”?



  4. Sheesh. They celebrate the same Sacraments as we do?????? I am lost. Don’t deny the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?. And THIS IS THE SUPRA SACRAMENT, Jesus Himself – Emmanuel – the Centre, the Apex and the Source of all Graces where all the other Sacraments derive their Sacredness and Divinity. And what of those those who baptize in the name of Jesus and not In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit??????…..surely that is not “Baptism” which Jesus Christ Himself gave us. He pronounced that Formula….. The rest of the Article, I entire agree with.

  5. Mary, I think historical context comes into play here. When this was written, Augustine was probably speaking of churches which do baptize in the Trinitarian form.

  6. I completely agree that anyone who is a follower of Christ is my brother/sister, and even though we share different beliefs as long as you are a servant of Christ we are united.

    I guess you can call me a baptist because I grew up in a baptist church. Though I would consider myself as Paul considered me a follower of Jesus Christ.
    I believe that if you confess Jesus and Lord and believe that he died for your sins you are saved of all past, present and future sins. (Romans 10:9-10). I believe the 100% validity of the Bible, Genesis to Revelations. I also believe in the trinity of God, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I do not believe baptist holds any power except as a human institution that declares a divine action has occurred in a person. Repentance is important to grow and overcome ones sinful nature, however I do not believe that unconfessed sins send a man to hell, since technically you confessed all sins when you accepted Christ. I also believe in prayer in all its forms.

    These are some of my belief in their simplest form and after reading certain things on this site, I am sure now that I am believe differently than most who frequent this site. I am unfamiliar with Catholic beliefs, though I would like to learn more. Could a Catholic possibly explain their beliefs and how mine differ from theirs.

    1. I am unfamiliar with Catholic beliefs, though I would like to learn more. Could a Catholic possibly explain their beliefs and how mine differ from theirs.

      There are many differences, but i guess the biggest is the Baptist doctrine of faith alone. We believe this doctrine contradicts Scripture:

      James 2:24
      King James Version (KJV)
      24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

      We believe that God will only save the righteous who have done good deeds in obedience to His Commandments:

      Revelation 22:13-15
      King James Version (KJV)
      13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
      15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

      Another big difference is Sola Scriptura. We don’t see it taught in Scripture and therefore consider it a doctrine of men.

      Scripture says:
      2 Thessalonians 2:15
      Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

      There are many others. But those are the two biggies. You have come to a good place to learn more about Catholicism compared and contrasted to the Protestant faith in general. Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is on line if you want to go directly to the source for teaching on Catholic doctrine:

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