Writings of Augustine. Letters of St. Augustin

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Letters of St. Augustin

Translated by the Rev. J. G. Cunningham, M.A.

Published in 1886 by Philip Schaff, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co.


Letter CXXX.

(a.d. 412.)

To Proba, [2420] a Devoted Handmaid of God, Bishop Augustin, a Servant of Christ and of Christ's Servants, Sends Greeting in the Name of the Lord of Lords.

Chap. I.

1. Recollecting your request and my promise, that as soon as time and opportunity should be given by Him to whom we pray, I would write you something on the subject of prayer to God, I feel it my duty now to discharge this debt, and in the love of Christ to minister to the satisfaction of your pious desire. I cannot express in words how greatly I rejoiced because of the request, in which I perceived how great is your solicitude about this supremely important matter. For what could be more suitably the business of your widowhood than to continue in supplications night and day, according to the apostle's admonition, "She that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications night and day"? [2421] It might, indeed, appear wonderful that solicitude about prayer should occupy your heart and claim the first place in it, when you are, so far as this world is concerned, noble and wealthy, and the mother of such an illustrious family, and, although a widow, not desolate, were it not that you wisely understand that in this world and in this life the soul has no sure portion.

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2. Wherefore He who inspired you with this thought is assuredly doing what He promised to His disciples when they were grieved, not for themselves, but for the whole human family, and were despairing of the salvation of any one, after they heard from Him that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. He gave them this marvellous and merciful reply: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." [2422] He, therefore, with whom it is possible to make even the rich enter into the kingdom of heaven, inspired you with that devout anxiety which makes you think it necessary to ask my counsel on the question how you ought to pray. For while He was yet on earth, He brought Zaccheus, [2423] though rich, into the kingdom of heaven, and, after being glorified in His resurrection and ascension, He made many who were rich to despise this present world, and made them more truly rich by extinguishing their desire for riches through His imparting to them His Holy Spirit. For how could you desire so much to pray to God if you did not trust in Him? And how could you trust in Him if you were fixing your trust in uncertain riches, and neglecting the wholesome exhortation of the apostle: "Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation, that they may lay hold on eternal life"? [2424]

Chap. II.

3. It becomes you, therefore, out of love to this true life, to account yourself "desolate" in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be. For as that is the true life, in comparison with which the present life, which is much loved, is not worthy to be called life, however happy and prolonged it be, so is it also the true consolation promised by the Lord in the words of Isaiah, "I will give him the true consolation, peace upon peace," [2425] without which consolation men find themselves, in the midst of every mere earthly solace, rather desolate than comforted. For as for riches and high rank, and all other things in which men who are strangers to true felicity imagine that happiness exists, what comfort do they bring, seeing that it is better to be independent of such things than to enjoy abundance of them, because, when possessed, they occasion, through our fear of losing them, more vexation than was caused by the strength of desire with which their possession was coveted? Men are not made good by possessing these so-called good things, but, if men have become good otherwise, they make these things to be really good by using them well. Therefore true comfort is to be found not in them, but rather in those things in which true life is found. For a man can be made blessed only by the same power by which he is made good.

4. It is true, indeed, that good men are seen to be the sources of no small comfort to others in this world. For if we be harassed by poverty, or saddened by bereavement, or disquieted by bodily pain, or pining in exile, or vexed by any kind of calamity, let good men visit us, men who can not only rejoice with them that rejoice, but also weep with them that weep, [2426] and who know how to give profitable counsel, and win us to express our feelings in conversation: the effect is, that rough things become smooth, heavy burdens are lightened, and difficulties vanquished most wonderfully. But this is done in and through them by Him who has made them good by His Spirit. On the other hand, although riches may abound, and no bereavement befal us, and health of body be enjoyed, and we live in our own country in peace and safety, if, at the same time, we have as our neighbours wicked men, among whom there is not one who can be trusted, not one from whom we do not apprehend and experience treachery, deceit, outbursts of anger, dissensions, and snares, in such a case are not all these other things made bitter and vexatious, so that nothing sweet or pleasant is left in them? Whatever, therefore, be our circumstances in this world, there is nothing truly enjoyable without a friend. But how rarely is one found in this life about whose spirit and behaviour as a true friend there may be perfect confidence! For no one is known to another so intimately as he is known to himself, and yet no one is so well known even to himself that he can be sure as to his own conduct on the morrow; wherefore, although many are known by their fruits, and some gladden their neighhours by their good lives, while others grieve their neighbours by their evil lives, yet the minds of men are so unknown and so unstable, that there is the highest wisdom in the exhortation of the apostle: "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God." [2427]

5. In the darkness, then, of this world, in which we are pilgrims absent from the Lord as long as "we walk by faith and not by sight," [2428] the Christian soul ought to feel itself desolate, and continue in prayer, and learn to fix the eye of faith on the word of the divine sacred Scriptures, as "on a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts." [2429] For the ineffable source from which this lamp borrows its light is the Light which shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not--the Light, in order to seeing which our hearts must be purified by faith; for "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God;" [2430] and "we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." [2431] Then after death shall come the true life, and after desolation the true consolation, that life shall deliver our "souls from death" that consolation shall deliver our "eyes from tears," and, as follows in the psalm, our feet shall be delivered from falling; for there shall be no temptation there. [2432] Moreover, if there be no temptation, there will be no prayer; for there we shall not be waiting for promised blessings, but contemplating the blessings actually bestowed; wherefore he adds, "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living," [2433] where we shall then be--not in the wilderness of the dead, where we now are: "For ye are dead," says the apostle, "and your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." [2434] For that is the true life on which the rich are exhorted to lay hold by being rich in good works; and in it is the true consolation, for want of which, meanwhile, a widow is "desolate" indeed, even though she has sons and grandchildren, and conducts her household piously, entreating all dear to her to put their hope in God: and in the midst of all this, she says in her prayer, "My soul thirsteth for Thee; my flesh longeth in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;" [2435] and this dying life is nothing else than such a land, however numerous our mortal comforts, however pleasant our companions in the pilgrimage, and however great the abundance of our possessions. You know how uncertain all these things are; and even if they were not uncertain, what would they be in comparison with the felicity which is promised in the life to come!

6. In saying these things to you, who, being a widow, rich and noble, and the mother of an illustrious family, have asked from me a discourse on prayer, my aim has been to make you feel that, even while your family are spared to you, and live as you would desire, you are desolate so long as you have not attained to that life in which is the true and abiding consolation, in which shall be fulfilled what is spoken in prophecy: "We are satisfied in the morning with Thy mercy, we rejoice and are glad all our days; we are made glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil." [2436]

Chap. III.

7. Wherefore, until that consolation come, remember, in order to your "continuing in prayers and supplications night and day," that, however great the temporal prosperity may be which flows around you, you are desolate. For the apostle does not ascribe this gift to every widow, but to her who, being a widow indeed, and desolate, "trusteth in God, and continueth in supplication night and day." Observe, however, most vigilantly the warning which follows: "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth;" [2437] for a person lives in those things which he loves, which he greatly desires, and in which he believes himself to be blessed. Wherefore, what Scripture has said of riches: "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them," [2438] I say to you concerning pleasures: "If pleasures increase, set not your heart upon them." Do not, therefore, think highly of yourself because these things are not wanting, but are yours abundantly, flowing, as it were, from a most copious fountain of earthly felicity. By all means look upon your possession of these things with indifference and contempt, and seek nothing from them beyond health of body. For this is a blessing not to be despised, because of its being necessary to the work of life until "this mortal shall have put on immortality" [2439] in other words, the true, perfect, and everlasting health, which is neither reduced by earthly infirmities nor repaired by corruptible gratification, but, enduring with celestial rigour, is animated with a life eternally incorruptible. For the apostle himself says, "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof," [2440] because we must take care of the flesh, but only in so far as is necessary for health; "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh," [2441] as he himself likewise says. Hence, also, he admonished Timothy, who was, as it appears, too severe upon his body, that he should "use a little wine for his stomach's sake, and for his often infirmities." [2442]

8. Many holy men and women, using every precaution against those pleasures in which she that liveth, cleaving to them, and dwelling in them as her heart's delight, is dead while she liveth, have cast from them that which is as it were the mother of pleasures, by distributing their wealth among the poor, and so have stored it in the safer keeping of the treasury of heaven. If you are hindered from doing this by some consideration of duty to your family, you know yourself what account you can give to God of your use of riches. For no one knoweth what passeth within a man, "but the spirit of the man which is in him." [2443] We ought not to judge anything "before the time until the Lord come who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall every man have praise of God." [2444] It pertains, therefore, to your care as a widow, to see to it that if pleasures increase you do not set your heart upon them, lest that which ought to rise that it may live, die through contact with their corrupting influence. Reckon yourself to be one of those of whom it is written, "Their hearts shall live for ever." [2445]

Chap. IV.

9. You have now heard what manner of person you should be if you would pray; hear, in the next place, what you ought to pray for. This is the subject on which you have thought it most necessary to ask my opinion, because you were disturbed by the words of the apostle: "We know not what we should pray for as we ought;" [2446] and you became alarmed lest it should do you more harm to pray otherwise than you ought, than to desist from praying altogether. A short solution of your difficulty may be given thus: "Pray for a happy life." This all men wish to have; for even those whose lives are worst and most abandoned would by no means live thus, unless they thought that in this way they either were made or might be made truly happy. Now what else ought we to pray for than that which both bad and good desire, but which only the good obtain?

Chap. V.

10. You ask, perchance, What is this happy life? On this question the talents and leisure of many philosophers have been wasted, who, nevertheless, failed in their researches after it just in proportion as they failed to honour Him from whom it proceeds, and were unthankful to Him. In the first place, then, consider whether we should accept the opinion of those philosophers who pronounce that man happy who lives according to his own will. Far be it, surely, from us to believe this; for what if a man's will inclines him to live in wickedness? Is he not proved to be a miserable man in proportion to the facility with which his depraved will is carried out? Even philosophers who were strangers to the worship of God have rejected this sentiment with deserved abhorrence. One of them, a man of the greatest eloquence, says: "Behold, however, others, not philosophers indeed, but men of ready power in disputation, who affirm that all men are happy who live according to their own will. But this is certainly untrue, for to wish that which is unbecoming is itself a most miserable thing; nor is it so miserable a thing to fail in obtaining what you wish as to wish to obtain what you ought not to desire." [2447] What is your opinion? Are not these words, by whomsoever they are spoken, derived from the Truth itself? We may therefore here say what the apostle said of a certain Cretan poet [2448] whose sentiment had pleased him: "This witness is true." [2449]

11. He, therefore, is truly happy who has all that he wishes to have, and wishes to have nothing which he ought not to wish. This being understood, let us now observe what things men may without impropriety wish to have. One desires marriage; another, having become a widower, chooses thereafter to live a life of continence; a third chooses to practise continence though he is married. And although of these three conditions one may be found better than another, we cannot say that any one of the three persons is wishing what he ought not: the same is true of the desire for children as the fruit of marriage, and for life and health to be enjoyed by the children who have been received,--of which desires the latter is one with which widows remaining unmarried are for the most part occupied; for although, refusing a second marriage, they do not now wish to have children, they wish that the children that they have may live in health. From all such care those who preserve their virginity intact are free. Nevertheless, all have some dear to them whose temporal welfare they do without impropriety desire. But when men have obtained this health for themselves, and for those whom they love, are we at liberty to say that they are now happy? They have, it is true, something which it is quite becoming to desire; but if they have not other things which are greater, better, and more full both of utility and beauty, they are still far short of possessing a happy life.

Chap. VI.

12. Shall we then say, that in addition to this health of body men may desire for themselves and for those dear to them honour and power? By all means, if they desire these in order that by obtaining them they may promote the interest of those who may be their dependants. If they seek these things not for the sake of the things themselves, but for some good thing which may through this means be accomplished, the wish is a proper one; but if it be merely for the empty gratification of pride, and arrogance, and for a superfluous and pernicious triumph of vanity, the wish is improper. Wherefore, men do nothing wrong in desiring for themselves and for their kindred the competent portion of necessary things, of which the apostle speaks when he says: "Godliness with a competency [contentment in English version] is great gain; for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out: and having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition; for the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." [2450] This competent portion he desires without impropriety who desires it and nothing beyond it; for if his desires go beyond it, he is not desiring it, and therefore his desire is improper. This was desired, and was prayed for by him who said: "Give me neither poverty nor riches: feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." [2451] You see assuredly that this competency is desired not for its own sake, but to secure the health of the body, and such provision of house and clothing as is befitting the man's circumstances, that he may appear as he ought to do among those amongst whom he has to live, so as to retain their respect and discharge the duties of his position.

13. Among all these things, our own welfare and the benefits which friendship bids us ask for others are things to be desired on their own account; but a competency of the necessaries of life is usually sought, if it be sought in the proper way, not on its own account, but for the sake of the two higher benefits. Welfare consists in the possession of life itself, and health and soundness of mind and body. The claims of friendship, moreover, are not to be confined within too narrow range, for it embraces all to whom love and kindly affection are due, although the heart goes out to some of these more freely, to others more cautiously; yea, it even extends to our enemies, for whom also we are commanded to pray. There is accordingly no one in the whole human family to whom kindly affection is not due by reason of the bond of a common humanity, although it may not be due on the ground of reciprocal love;

Chap. VII.--but in those by whom we are requited with a holy and pure love, we find great and reasonable pleasure.

For these things, therefore, it becomes us to pray: if we have them, that we may keep them; if we have them not, that we may get them.

14. Is this all? Are these the benefits in which exclusively the happy life is found? Or does truth teach us that something else is to be preferred to them all? We know that both the competency of things necessary, and the well-being of ourselves and of our friends, so long as these concern this present world alone, are to be cast aside as dross in comparison with the obtaining of eternal life; for although the body may be in health, the mind cannot be regarded as sound which does not prefer eternal to temporal things; yea, the life which we live in time is wasted, if it be not spent in obtaining that by which we may be worthy of eternal life. Therefore all things which are the objects of useful and becoming desire are unquestionably to be viewed with reference to that one life which is lived with God, and is derived from Him. In so doing, we love ourselves if we love God; and we truly love our neighbours as ourselves, according to the second great commandment, if, so far as is in our power, we persuade them to a similar love of God. We love God, therefore, for what He is in Himself, and ourselves and our neighbours for His sake. Even when living thus, let us not think that we are securely established in that happy life, as if there was nothing more for which we should still pray. For how could we be said to live a happy life now, while that which alone is the object of a well-directed life is still wanting to us?

Chap. VIII.

15. Why, then, are our desires scattered over many things, and why, through fear of not praying as we ought, do we ask what we should pray for, and not rather say with the Psalmist: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple"? [2452] For in the house of the Lord "all the days of life" are not days distinguished by their successively coming and passing away: the beginning of one day is not the end of another; but they are all alike unending in that place where the life which is made up of them has itself no end. In order to our obtaining this true blessed life, He who is Himself the True Blessed Life has taught us to pray, not with much speaking, as if our being heard depended upon the fluency with which we express ourselves, seeing that we are praying to One who, as the Lord tells us, "knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him." [2453] Whence it may seem surprising that, although He has forbidden "much speaking," He who knoweth before we ask Him what things we need has nevertheless given us exhortation to prayer in such words as these: "Men ought always to pray and not to faint;" setting before us the case of a widow, who, desiring to have justice done to her against her adversary, did by her persevering entreaties persuade an unjust judge to listen to her, not moved by a regard either to justice or to mercy, but overcome by her wearisome importunity; in order that we might be admonished how much more certainly the Lord God, who is merciful and just, gives ear to us praying continually to Him, when this widow, by her unremitting supplication, prevailed over the indifference of an unjust and wicked judge, and how willingly and benignantly He fulfils the good desires of those whom He knows to have forgiven others their trespasses, when this suppliant, though seeking vengeance upon her adversary, obtained her desire. [2454] A similar lesson the Lord gives in the parable of the man to whom a friend in his journey had come, and who, having nothing to set before him, desired to borrow from another friend three loaves (in which, perhaps, there is a figure of the Trinity of persons of one substance), and finding him already along with his household asleep, succeeded by very urgent and importunate entreaties in rousing him up, so that he gave him as many as he needed, being moved rather by a wish to avoid further annoyance than by benevolent thoughts: from which the Lord would have us understand that, if even one who was asleep is constrained to give, even in spite of himself, after being disturbed in his sleep by the person who asks of him, how much more kindly will He give who never sleeps, and who rouses us from sleep that we may ask from Him. [2455]

16. With the same design He added: "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him?" [2456] We have here what corresponds to those three things which the apostle commends: faith is signified by the fish, either on account of the element of water used in baptism, or because it remains unharmed amid the tempestuous waves of this world,--contrasted with which is the serpent, that with poisonous deceit persuaded man to disbelieve God; hope is signified by the egg, because the life of the young bird is not yet in it, but is to be--is not seen, but hoped for, because "hope which is seen is not hope," [2457] --contrasted with which is the scorpion, for the man who hopes for eternal life forgets the things which are behind, and reaches forth to the things which are before, for to him it is dangerous to look back; but the scorpion is to be guarded against on account of what it has in its tail, namely, a sharp and venomous sting; charity, is signified by bread, for "the greatest of these is charity," and bread surpasses all other kinds of food in usefulness,--contrasted with which is a stone, because hard hearts refuse to exercise charity. Whether this be the meaning of these symbols, or some other more suitable be found, it is at least certain that He who knoweth how to give good gifts to His children urges us to "ask and seek and knock."

17. Why this should be done by Him who "before we ask Him knoweth what things we have need of," might perplex our minds, if we did not understand that the Lord our God requires us to ask not that thereby our wish may be intimated to Him, for to Him it cannot be unknown, but in order that by prayer there may be exercised in us by supplications that desire by which we may receive what He prepares to bestow. His gifts are very great, but we are small and straitened in our capacity of receiving. Wherefore it is said to us: "Be ye enlarged, not bearing the yoke along with unbelievers. [2458] For, in proportion to the simplicity of our faith, the firmness of our hope, and the ardour of our desire, will we more largely receive of that which is immensely great; which "eye hath not seen," for it is not colour; which "the ear hath not heard," for it is not sound; and which hath not ascended into the heart of man, for the heart of man must ascend to it. [2459]

Chap. IX.

18. When we cherish uninterrupted desire along with the exercise of faith and hope and charity, we "pray always." But at certain stated hours and seasons we also use words in prayer to God, that by these signs of things we may admonish ourselves, and may acquaint ourselves with the measure of progress which we have made in this desire, and may more warmly excite ourselves to obtain an increase of its strength. For the effect following upon prayer will be excellent in proportion to the fervour of the desire which precedes its utterance. And therefore, what else is intended by the words of the apostle: "Pray without ceasing," [2460] than, "Desire without intermission, from Him who alone can give it, a happy life, which no life can be but that which is eternal"? This, therefore, let us desire continually from the Lord our God; and thus let us pray continually. But at certain hours we recall our minds from other cares and business, in which desire itself somehow is cooled down, to the business of prayer, admonishing ourselves by the words of our prayer to fix attention upon that which we desire, lest what had begun to lose heat become altogether cold, and be finally extinguished, if the flame be not more frequently fanned. Whence, also, when the same apostle says, "Let your requests be made known unto God," [2461] this is not to be understood as if thereby they become known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered, but in this sense, that they are to be made known to ourselves in the presence of God by patient waiting upon Him, not in the presence of men by ostentatious worship. Or perhaps that they may be made known also to the angels that are in the presence of God, that these beings may in some way present them to God, and consult Him concerning them, and may bring to us, either manifestly or secretly, that which, hearkening to His commandment, they may have learned to be His will, and which must be fulfilled by them according to that which they have there learned to be their duty; for the angel said to Tobias: [2462] "Now, therefore, when thou didst pray, and Sara thy daughter-in-law, I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One."

Chap. X.

19. Wherefore it is neither wrong nor unprofitable to spend much time in praying, if there be leisure for this without hindering other good and necessary works to which duty calls us, although even in the doing of these, as I have said, we ought by cherishing holy desire to pray without ceasing. For to spend a long time in prayer is not, as some think, the same thing as to pray "with much speaking." Multiplied words are one thing, long-continued warmth of desire is another. For even of the Lord Himself it is written, that He continued all night in prayer, [2463] and that His prayer was more prolonged when He was in an agony; [2464] and in this is not an example given to us by Him who is in time an Intercessor such as we need, and who is with the Father eternally the Hearer of prayer?

20. The brethren in Egypt are reported to have very frequent prayers, but these very brief, and, as it were, sudden and ejaculatory, lest the wakeful and aroused attention which is indispensable in prayer should by protracted exercises vanish or lose its keenness. And in this they themselves show plainly enough, that just as this attention is not to be allowed to become exhausted if it cannot continue long, so it is not to be suddenly suspended if it is sustained. Far be it from us either to use "much speaking" in prayer, or to refrain from prolonged prayer, if fervent attention of the soul continue. To use much speaking in prayer is to employ a superfluity of words in asking a necessary thing; but to prolong prayer is to have the heart throbbing with continued pious emotion towards Him to whom we pray. For in most cases prayer consists more in groaning than in speaking, in tears rather than in words. But He setteth our tears in His sight, and our groaning is not hidden from Him who made all things by the word, and does not need human words.

Chap. XI.

21. To us, therefore, words are necessary, that by them we may be assisted in considering and observing what we ask, not as means by which we expect that God is to be either informed or moved to compliance. When, therefore, we say: "Hallowed be Thy name," we admonish ourselves to desire that His name, which is always holy, may be also among men esteemed holy, that is to say, not despised; which is an advantage not to God, but to men. When we say: "Thy kingdom come," which shall certainly come whether we wish it or not, we do by these words stir up our own desires for that kingdom, that it may come to us, and that we may be found worthy to reign in it. When we say: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we pray for ourselves that He would give us the grace of obedience, that His will may be done by us in the same way as it is done in heavenly places by His angels. When we say: "Give us this day our daily bread," the word "this day" signifies for the present time, in which we ask either for that competency of temporal blessings which I have spoken of before ("bread" being used to designate the whole of those blessings, because of its constituting so important a part of them), or the sacrament of believers, which is in this present time necessary, but necessary in order to obtain the felicity not of the present time, but of eternity. When we say: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," we remind ourselves both what we should ask, and what we should do in order that we may be worthy to receive what we ask. When we say: "Lead us not into temptation," we admonish ourselves to seek that we may not, through being deprived of God's help, be either ensnared to consent or compelled to yield to temptation. When we say: "Deliver us from evil," we admonish ourselves to consider that we are not yet enjoying that good estate in which we shall experience no evil. And this petition, which stands last in the Lord's Prayer, is so comprehensive that a Christian, in whatsoever affliction he be placed, may in using it give utterance to his groans and find vent for his tears--may begin with this petition, go on with it, and with it conclude his prayer. For it was necessary that by the use of these words the things which they signify should be kept before our memory.

Chap. XII.

22. For whatever other words we may say,--whether the desire of the person praying go before the words, and employ them in order to give definite form to its requests, or come after them, and concentrate attention upon them, that it may increase in fervour,--if we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord's Prayer. And whoever says in prayer anything which cannot find its place in that gospel prayer, is praying in a way which, if it be not unlawful, is at least not spiritual; and I know not how carnal prayers can be lawful, since it becomes those who are born again by the Spirit to pray in no other way than spiritually. For example, when one prays: "Be Thou glorified among all nations as Thou art glorified among us," and "Let Thy prophets be found faithful," [2465] what else does he ask than, "Hallowed be Thy name"? When one says: "Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved," [2466] what else is he saying than, "Let Thy kingdom come"? When one says: "Order my steps in Thy word, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me," [2467] what else is he saying than, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? When one says: "Give me neither poverty nor riches," [2468] what else is this than, "Give us this day our daily bread"? When one says: "Lord, remember David, and all his compassion," [2469] or, "O Lord, if I have done this, if there be iniquity in my hands, if I have rewarded evil to them that did evil to me," [2470] what else is this than, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"? When one says: "Take away from me the lusts of the appetite, and let not sensual desire take hold on me," [2471] what else is this than, "Lead us not into temptation"? When one says: "Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God; defend me from them that rise up against me," [2472] what else is this than, "Deliver us from evil"? And if you go over all the words of holy prayers, you will, I believe, find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. Wherefore, in praying, we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things; in this we have no choice.

23. These things it is our duty to ask without hesitation for ourselves and for our friends, and for strangers--yea, even for enemies; although in the heart of the person praying, desire for one and for another may arise, differing in nature or in strength according to the more immediate or more remote relationship. But he who says in prayer such words as, "O Lord, multiply my riches;" or, "Give me as much wealth as Thou hast given to this or that man;" or, "Increase my honours, make me eminent for power and fame in this world," or something else of this sort, and who asks merely from a desire for these things, and not in order through them to benefit men agreeably to God's will, I do not think that he will find any part of the Lord's Prayer in connection with which he could fit in these requests. Wherefore let us be ashamed at least to ask these things, if we be not ashamed to desire them. If, however, we are ashamed of even desiring them, but feel ourselves overcome by the desire, how much better would it be to ask to be freed from this plague of desire by Him to whom we say, "Deliver us from evil"!

Chap. XIII.

24. You have now, if I am not mistaken, an answer to two questions,--what kind of person you ought to be if you would pray, and what things you should ask in prayer; and the answer has been given not by my teaching, but by His who has condescended to teach us all. A happy life is to be sought after, and this is to be asked from the Lord God. Many different answers have been given by many in discussing wherein true happiness consists; but why should we go to many teachers, or consider many answers to this question? It has been briefly and truly stated in the divine Scriptures, "Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord." [2473] That we may be numbered among this people, and that we may attain to beholding Him and dwelling for ever with Him, "the end of the commandment is, charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." [2474] In the same three, hope has been placed instead of a good conscience. Faith, hope, and charity, therefore, lead unto God the man who prays, i.e. who believes, hopes, and desires, and is guided as to what he should ask from the Lord by studying the Lord's Prayer. Fasting, and abstinence from gratifying carnal desire in other pleasures without injury to health, and especially frequent almsgiving, are a great assistance in prayer; so that we may be able to say, "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord, with my hands in the night before Him, and I was not deceived." [2475] For how can God, who is a Spirit, and who cannot be touched, be sought with hands in any other sense than by good works?

Chap. XIV.

25. Perhaps you may still ask why the apostle said, "We know not what to pray for as we ought," [2476] for it is wholly incredible that either he or those to whom he wrote were ignorant of the Lord's Prayer. He could not say this either rashly or falsely; what, then, do we suppose to be his reason for the statement? Is it not that vexations and troubles in this world are for the most part profitable either to heal the swelling of pride, or to prove and exercise patience, for which, after such probation and discipline, a greater reward is reserved, or to punish and eradicate some sins; but we, not knowing what beneficial purpose these may serve, desire to be freed from all tribulation? To this ignorance the apostle showed that even he himself was not a stranger (unless, perhaps, he did it notwithstanding his knowing what to pray for as he ought), when, lest he should be exalted above measure by the greatness of the revelations, there was given unto him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him; for which thing, not knowing surely what he ought to pray for, he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him. At length he received the answer of God, declaring why that which so great a man prayed for was denied, and why it was expedient that it should not be done: "My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness." [2477]

26. Accordingly, we know not what to pray for as we ought in regard to tribulations, which may do us good or harm; and yet, because they are hard and painful, and against the natural feelings of our weak nature, we pray, with a desire which is common to mankind, that they may be removed from us. But we ought to exercise such submission to the will of the Lord our God, that if He does not remove those vexations, we do not suppose ourselves to be neglected by Him, but rather, in patient endurance of evil, hope to be made partakers of greater good, for so His strength is perfected in our weakness. God has sometimes in anger granted the request of impatient petitioners, as in mercy He denied it to the apostle. For we read what the Israelites asked, and in what manner they asked and obtained their request; but while their desire was granted, their impatience was severely corrected. [2478] Again, He gave them, in answer to their request, a king according to their heart, as it is written, not according to His own heart. [2479] He granted also what the devil asked, namely, that His servant, who was to be proved, might be tempted. [2480] He granted also the request of unclean spirits, when they besought Him that their legion might be sent into the great herd of swine. [2481] These things are written to prevent any one from thinking too highly of himself if he has received an answer when he was urgently asking anything which it would be more advantageous for him not to receive, or to prevent him from being cast down and despairing of the divine compassion towards himself if he be not heard, when, perchance, he is asking something by the obtaining of which he might be more grievously afflicted, or might be by the corrupting influences of prosperity wholly destroyed. In regard to such things, therefore, we know not what to pray for as we ought. Accordingly, if anything is ordered in a way contrary to our prayer, we ought, patiently bearing the disappointment, and in everything giving thanks to God, to entertain no doubt whatever that it was right that the will of God and not our will should be done. For of this the Mediator has given us an example, inasmuch as, after He had said, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," transforming the human will which was in Him through His incarnation, He immediately added, "Nevertheless, O Father, not as I will but as Thou wilt." [2482] Wherefore, not without reason are many made righteous by the obedience of One. [2483]

27. But whoever desires from the Lord that "one thing," and seeks after it, [2484] asks in certainty and in confidence, and has no fear lest when obtained it be injurious to him, seeing that, without it, anything else which he may have obtained by asking in a right way is of no advantage to him. The thing referred to is the one true and only happy life, in which, immortal and incorruptible in body and spirit, we may contemplate the joy of the Lord for ever. All other things are desired, and are without impropriety prayed for, with a view to this one thing. For whosoever has it shall have all that he wishes, and cannot possibly wish to have anything along with it which would be unbecoming. For in it is the fountain of life, which we must now thirst for in prayer so long as we live in hope, not yet seeing that which we hope for, trusting under the shadow of His wings before whom are all our desires, that we may be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of His house, and made to drink of the river of His pleasures; because with Him is the fountain of life, and in His light we shall see light, [2485] when our desire shall be satisfied with good things, and when there shall be nothing beyond to be sought after with groaning, but all things shall be possessed by us with rejoicing. At the same time, because this blessing is nothing else than the "peace which passeth all understanding," [2486] even when we are asking it in our prayers, we know not what to pray for as we ought. For inasmuch as we cannot present it to our minds as it really is, we do not know it, but whatever image of it may be presented to our minds we reject, disown, and condemn; we know it is not what we are seeking, although we do not yet know enough to be able to define what we seek.

Chap. XV.

28. There is therefore in us a certain learned ignorance, so to speak--an ignorance which we learn from that Spirit of God who helps our infirmities. For after the apostle said, "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it," he added in the same passage, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." [2487] This is not to be understood as if it meant that the Holy Spirit of God, who is in the Trinity, God unchangeable, and is one God with the Father and the Son, intercedes for the saints like one who is not a divine person; for it is said, "He maketh intercession for the saints," because He enables the saints to make intercession, as in another place it is said, "The Lord your God proveth you, that He may know whether ye love Him," [2488] i.e. that He may make you know. He therefore makes the saints intercede with groanings which cannot be uttered, when He inspires them with longings for that great blessing, as yet unknown, for which we patiently wait. For how is that which is desired set forth in language if it be unknown, for if it were utterly unknown it would not be desired; and on the other hand, if it were seen, it would not be desired nor sought for with groanings?

Chap. XVI.

29. Considering all these things, and whatever else the Lord shall have made known to you in this matter, which either does not occur to me or would take too much time to state here, strive in prayer to overcome this world: pray in hope, pray in faith, pray in love, pray earnestly and patiently, pray as a widow belonging to Christ. For although prayer is, as He has taught, the duty of all His members, i.e. of all who believe in Him and are united to His body, a more assiduous attention to prayer is found to be specially enjoined in Scripture upon those who are widows. Two women of the name of Anna are honourably named there,--the one, Elkanah's wife, who was the mother of holy Samuel; the other, the widow who recognised the Most Holy One when He was yet a babe. The former, though married, prayed with sorrow of mind and brokenness of heart because she had no sons; and she obtained Samuel, and dedicated him to the Lord, because she vowed to do so when she prayed for him. [2489] It is not easy, however, to find to what petition of the Lord's Prayer her petition could be referred, unless it be to the last, "Deliver us from evil," because it was esteemed to be an evil to be married and not to have offspring as the fruit of marriage. Observe, however, what is written concerning the other Anna, the widow: she "departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." [2490] In like manner, the apostle said in words already quoted, "She that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day;" [2491] and the Lord, when exhorting men to pray always and not to faint, made mention of a widow, who, by persevering importunity, persuaded a judge to attend to her cause, though he was an unjust and wicked man, and one who neither feared God nor regarded man. How incumbent it is on widows to go beyond others in devoting time to prayer may be plainly enough seen from the fact that from among them are taken the examples set forth as an exhortation to all to earnestness in prayer.

30. Now what makes this work specially suitable to widows but their bereaved and desolate condition? Whosoever, then, understands that he is in this world bereaved and desolate as long as he is a pilgrim absent from his Lord, is careful to commit his widowhood, so to speak, to his God as his shield in continual and most fervent prayer. Pray, therefore, as a widow of Christ, not yet seeing Him whose help you implore. And though you are very wealthy, pray as a poor person, for you have not yet the true riches of the world to come, in which you have no loss to fear. Though you have sons and grandchildren, and a large household, still pray, as I said already, as one who is desolate, for we have no certainty in regard to all temporal blessings that they shall abide for our consolation even to the end of this present life. If you seek and relish the things that are above, you desire things everlasting and sure; and as long as you do not yet possess them, you ought to regard yourself as desolate, even though all your family are spared to you, and live as you desire. And if you thus act, assuredly your example will be followed by your most devout daughter-in-law, [2492] and the other holy widows and virgins that are settled in peace under your care; for the more pious the manner in which you order your house, the more are you bound to persevere fervently in prayer, not engaging yourselves with the affairs of this world further than is demanded in the interests of religion.

31. By all means remember to pray earnestly for me. I would not have you yield such deference to the office fraught with perils which I bear, as to refrain from giving the assistance which I know myself to need. Prayer was made by the household of Christ for Peter and for Paul. I rejoice that you are in His household; and I need, incomparably more than Peter and Paul did, the help of the prayers of the brethren. Emulate each other in prayer with a holy rivalry, with one heart, for you wrestle not against each other, but against the devil, who is the common enemy of all the saints. "By fasting, by vigils, and all mortification of the body, prayer is greatly helped." [2493] Let each one do what she can; what one cannot herself do, she does by another who can do it, if she loves in another that which personal inability alone hinders her from doing; wherefore let her who can do less not keep back the one who can do more, and let her who can do more not urge unduly her who can do less. For your conscience is responsible to God; to each other owe nothing but mutual love. May the Lord, who is able to do above what we ask or think, give ear to your prayers. [2494]

Footnotes

[2420] Anicia Faltonia Proba, the widow of Sextus Petronius Probus, belonged to a Roman family of great wealth and noble lineage. Three of her sons held the consulship, two of them together in 395 A.D., and the third in 406 A.D. When Rome was taken by Alaric m 410, Proba and her family were in the city, and narrowly escaped from violence during the six days in which the Goths pillaged the city. About this time one of the sons of Proba died, and very soon after this sad event she resolved to quit Rome, as the return of Alaric was daily apprehended. Having realized her ample fortune, she sailed to Africa, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Juliana (the widow of Anicus Hermogenianus Olybrius), and the daughter of Juliana Demetrias, the well known religieuse, whose taking of the veil in 413 produced so profound an impression throughout the ecclesiastical world. A considerable retinue of widows and younger women, seeking protection under her escort, accompanied the distinguished refugee to Carthage. After paying a large sum to secure the protection of Heraclianus, Count of Africa, she was permitted to establish herself with her community of pious women in Carthage. Her piety led her to seek the friendship and counsel of Augustin. How readily it was given is seen here, and in Letters CXXXI., CL., and CLXXXVIII. [2421] 1 Tim. v. 5. [2422] Matt. xix. 21-26. [2423] Luke xix. 9. [2424] 1 Tim. vi. 17-19. [2425] Isa. lvii. 18, 19, in LXX. version. [2426] Rom. xii. 15. [2427] 1 Cor. iv. 5. [2428] 2 Cor. v. 6, 7. [2429] 2 Pet. i. 19. [2430] Matt. v. 8. [2431] 1 John iii. 2. [2432] Ps. cxvi. 8. [2433] Ps. cxvi. 9. In the LXX., euaresteso; in Aug., "placebo." [2434] Col. iii. 3, 4. [2435] Ps. lxiii. 1. [2436] Ps. xc. 14, 15, version of LXX. [2437] 1 Tim. v. 5, 6. [2438] Ps. lxii. 10. [2439] 1 Cor. xv. 54. [2440] Rom. xiii. 14. [2441] Eph. v. 39. [2442] 1 Tim. v. 23. [2443] 1 Cor. ii. 11. [2444] 1 Cor. iv. 5. [2445] Ps. xxii. 26. [2446] Rom. viii. 26. [2447] Cicero Hortensius. [2448] Epimenides. [2449] Titus i. 13. [2450] 1 Tim. vi. 6-10. [2451] Prov. xxx. 8, 9. [2452] Ps. xxvii. 4. [2453] Matt. vi. 7, 8. [2454] Luke xviii. 1-8. [2455] Luke xi. 5-8. [2456] Luke xi. 9-13, and Matt. vii. 7-11. [2457] Rom. viii. 24. [2458] 2 Cor. vi. 13, 14. [2459] 1 Cor. ii. 9. [2460] 1 Thess. v. 17. [2461] Phil. iv. 6. [2462] Tobias xii. 12. [2463] Luke vi. 12. [2464] Luke xxii. 43. English version, "more earnestly." [2465] Ecclus. xxxvi. 4, 18. [2466] Ps. lxxx. 7, 19. [2467] Ps. cxix. 133. [2468] Prov. xxx. 8. [2469] Ps. cxxxii. 1 (LXX.). [2470] Ps. vii. 3, 4. [2471] Ecclus. xxiii. 6. [2472] Ps. lix. 1. [2473] Ps. cxliv. 15. [2474] 1 Tim. i. 5. [2475] Ps. lxxvii. 2 (LXX.). [2476] Rom. viii. 26. [2477] 2 Cor. xii. 7-9. [2478] Numb. xi. [2479] 1 Sam. viii. 6, 7. [2480] Job i. 12, ii. 6. [2481] Luke viii. 32. [2482] Matt. xxvi. 39. [2483] Rom. v. 19. [2484] Ps. xxvii. 4. [2485] Ps. xxxvi. 8-10. [2486] Phil. iv. 7. [2487] Rom. viii. 25-27. [2488] Deut. xii. 3. [2489] 1 Sam. i. [2490] Luke ii. 36, 37. [2491] 1 Tim. v. 5. [2492] Juliana, the mother of Demetrias. [2493] Tobit xii. 8. [2494] Eph. iii. 20.

Letter CXXXI.

(a.d. 412.)

To His Most Excellent Daughter, the Noble and Deservedly Illustrious Lady Proba, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

You speak the truth when you say that the soul, having its abode in a corruptible body, is restrained by this measure of contact with the earth, and is somehow so bent and crushed by this burden that its desires and thoughts go more easily downwards to many things than upwards to one. For Holy Scripture says the same: "The corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things." [2495] But our Saviour, who by His healing word raised up the woman in the gospel that had been eighteen years bowed down [2496] (whose case was, perchance, a figure of spiritual infirmity), came for this purpose, that Christians might not hear in vain the call, "Lift up your hearts," and might truly reply, "We lift them up to the Lord." Looking to this, you do well to regard the evils of this world as easy to bear because of the hope of the world to come. For thus, by being rightly used, these evils become a blessing, because, while they do not increase our desires for this world, they exercise our patience; as to which the apostle says, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God:" [2497] all things, he saith--not only, therefore, those which are desired because pleasant, but also those which are shunned because painful; since we receive the former without being carried away by them, and bear the latter without being crushed by them, and in all give thanks, according to the divine command, to Him of whom we say, "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth," [2498] and, "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes." [2499] The truth is, most noble lady, that if the calm of this treacherous prosperity were always smiling upon us, the soul of man would never make for the haven of true and certain safety. Wherefore, in returning the respectful salutation due to your Excellency, and expressing my gratitude for your most pious care for my welfare, I ask of the Lord that He may grant to you the rewards of the life to come, and consolation in the present life; and I commend myself to the love and prayers of all of you in whose hearts Christ dwells by faith.

(In another hand.) May the true and faithful God truly comfort your heart and preserve your health, my most excellent daughter and noble lady, deservedly illustrious.

Footnotes

[2495] Wisd. ix. 15. [2496] Luke xiii. 11-13. [2497] Rom. viii. 28. [2498] Ps. xxxiv. 1. [2499] Ps. cxix. 71 (LXX.).

Letter CXXXII.

(a.d. 412.)

To Volusianus, My Noble Lord and Most Justly Distinguished Son, Bishop Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

In my desire for your welfare, both in this world and in Christ, I am perhaps not even surpassed by the prayers of your pious mother. Wherefore, in reciprocating your salutation with the respect due to your worth, I beg to exhort you, as earnestly as I can, not to grudge to devote attention to the study of the Writings which are truly and unquestionably holy. For they are genuine and solid truth, not winning their way to the mind by artificial eloquence, nor giving forth with flattering voice a vain and uncertain sound. They deeply interest the man who is hungering not for words but for things; and they cause great alarm at first in him whom they are to render safe from fear. I exhort you especially to read the writings of the apostles, for from them you will receive a stimulus to acquaint yourself with the prophets, whose testimonies the apostles use. If in your reading or meditation on what you have read any question arises to the solution of which I may appear necessary, write to me, that I may write in reply. For, with the Lord helping me, I may perhaps be more able to serve you in this way than by personally conversing with you on such subjects, partly because, through the difference in our occupations, it does not happen that you have leisure at the same times as I might have it, but especially because of the irrepressible intrusion of those who are for the most part not adapted to such discussions, and take more pleasure in a war of words than in the clear light of knowledge; whereas, whatever is written stands always at the service of the reader when he has leisure, and there can be nothing burdensome in the society of that which is taken up or laid aside at your own pleasure.


Letter CXXXIII.

(a.d. 412.)

To Marcellinus, [2500] My Noble Lord, Justly Distinguished, My Son Very Much Beloved, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. I have learned that the Circumcelliones and clergy of the Donatist faction belonging to the district of Hippo, whom the guardians of public order had brought to trial for their deeds, have been examined by your Excellency, and that the most of them have confessed their share in the violent death which the presbyter Restitutus suffered at their hands, and in the beating of Innocentius, another Catholic presbyter, as well as in digging out the eye and cutting off the finger of the said Innocentius. This news has plunged me into the deepest anxiety, lest perchance your Excellency should judge them worthy, according to the laws, of punishment not less severe than suffering in their own persons the same injuries as they have inflicted on others. Wherefore I write this letter to implore you by your faith in Christ, and by the mercy of Christ the Lord Himself, by no means to do this or permit it to be done. For although we might silently pass over the execution of criminals who may be regarded as brought up for trial not upon an accusation of ours, but by an indictment presented by those to whose vigilance the preservation of the public peace is entrusted, we do not wish to have the sufferings of the servants of God avenged by the infliction of precisely similar injuries in the way of retaliation. Not, of course, that we object to the removal from these wicked men of the liberty to perpetrate further crimes; but our desire is rather that justice be satisfied without the taking of their lives or the maiming of their bodies in any part, and that, by such coercive measures as may be in accordance with the laws, they be turned from their insane frenzy to the quietness of men in their sound judgment, or compelled to give up mischievous violence and betake themselves to some useful labour. This is indeed called a penal sentence; but who does not see that when a restraint is put upon the boldness of savage violence, and the remedies fitted to produce repentance are not withdrawn, this discipline should be called a benefit rather than vindictive punishment?

2. Fulfil, Christian judge, the duty of an affectionate father; let your indignation against their crimes be tempered by considerations of humanity; be not provoked by the atrocity of their sinful deeds to gratify the passion of revenge, but rather be moved by the wounds which these deeds have inflicted on their own souls to exercise a desire to heal them. Do not lose now that fatherly care which you maintained when prosecuting the examination, in doing which you extracted the confession of such horrid crimes, not by stretching them on the rack, not by furrowing their flesh with iron claws, [2501] not by scorching them with flames, but by beating them with rods, a mode of correction used by schoolmasters, [2502] and by parents themselves in chastising children, and often also by bishops in the sentences awarded by them. Do not, therefore, now punish with extreme severity the crimes which you searched out with lenity. The necessity for harshness is greater in the investigation than in the infliction of punishment; for even the gentlest men use diligence and stringency in searching out a hidden crime, that they may find to whom they may show mercy. Wherefore it is generally necessary to use more rigour in making inquisition, so that when the crime has been brought to light, there may be scope for displaying clemency. For all good works love to be set in the light, not in order to obtain glory from men, but, as the Lord saith, "that they seeing your good works may glorify your Father who is in heaven." [2503] And, for the same reason, the apostle was not satisfied with merely exhorting us to practise moderation, but also commands us to make it known: "Let your moderation," he says, "be known unto all men;" [2504] and in another place, "Showing all meekness unto all men." [2505] Hence, also, that most signal forbearance of the holy David, when he mercifully spared his enemy when delivered into his hand, [2506] would not have been so conspicuous had not his power to act otherwise been manifest. Therefore let not the power of executing vengeance inspire you with harshness, seeing that the necessity of examining the criminals did not make you lay aside your clemency. Do not call for the executioner now when the crime has been found out, after having forborne from calling in the tormentor when you were finding it out.

3. In fine, you have been sent hither for the benefit of the Church. I solemnly declare that what I recommend is expedient in the interests of the Catholic Church, or, that I may not seem to pass beyond the boundaries of my own charge, I protest that it is for the good of the Church belonging to the diocese of Hippo. If you do not hearken to me asking this favour as a friend, hearken to me offering this counsel as a bishop; although, indeed, it would not be presumption for me to say--since I am addressing a Christian, and especially in such a case as this--that it becomes you to hearken to me as a bishop commanding with authority, my noble and justly distinguished lord and much-loved son. I am aware that the principal charge of law cases connected with the affairs of the Church has been devolved on your Excellency, but as I believe that this particular case belongs to the very illustrious and honourable proconsul, I have written a letter [2507] to him also, which I beg you not to refuse to give to him, or, if necessary, recommend to his attention; and I entreat you both not to resent our intercession, or counsel, or anxiety, as officious. And let not the sufferings of Catholic servants of God, which ought to be useful in the spiritual upbuilding of the weak, be sullied by the retaliation of injuries on those who did them wrong, but rather, tempering the rigour of justice, let it be your care as sons of the Church to commend both your own faith and your Mother's clemency.

May almighty God enrich your Excellency with all good things, my noble and justly distinguished lord and dearly beloved son!

Footnotes

[2500] Marcellinus was commissioned by the Emperor Honorius to convene a conference of Catholic and Donatist bishops, with a view to the final peaceful settlement of their differences. He accordingly summoned both parties to a conference, held in the summer of 411, in which he pronounced the Catholic party to have completely gained their cause in argument. He proceeded to carry out with considerable rigour the laws passed for the repression of the Donatist schism, and thus becoming obnoxious to that faction, fell at length a victim to their revenge when a turn of fortune favoured their plots against his life. The honour of a place among the martyrs of the early Church has been assigned to him. His character may be learned from Letters CXXXVI., CXXXVIII., CXXXIX., and CXLIII., and particularly from the beautiful tribute to his worth given in Letter CLI., in which the circumstances of his death are recorded. [2501] Compare "ungulis sulcantibus latera." Codex Justin,, ix. 18. 7. [2502] Magistris artium liberalium; doubtless the name of Master of Arts was originally connected with the office and work of teaching, instead of being a mere honorary title. [2503] Matt. v. 16. [2504] Phil. iv. 5. [2505] Titus iii. 2. [2506] 1 Sam. xxiv. 7. [2507] This letter, No. CXXXIV., is addressed to Apringius, and in somewhat similar terms, but at greater length, urges the same request.

Letter CXXXV.

(a.d. 412.)

To Bishop Augustin, My Lord Truly Holy, and Father Justly Revered, Volusianus Sends Greeting.

1. O man who art a pattern of goodness and uprightness, you ask me to apply to you for instruction in regard to some of the obscure passages which occur in my reading. I accept at your command the favour of this kindness, and willingly offer myself to be taught by you, acknowledging the authority of the ancient proverb, "We are never too old to learn." With good reason the author of this proverb has not restricted by any limits or end our pursuit of wisdom; for truth, [2508] secluded in its original principles, is never so disclosed to those who approach it as to be wholly revealed to their knowledge. It seems to me, therefore, my lord truly holy, and father justly revered, worth while to communicate to you the substance of a conversation which recently took place among us. I was present at a gathering of friends, and a great many opinions were brought forward there, such as the disposition and studies of each suggested. Our discourse was chiefly, however, on the department of rhetoric which treats of proper arrangement. [2509] I speak to one familiar with the subject, for you were not long ago a teacher of these things. Upon this followed a discussion regarding "invention" in rhetoric, its nature, what boldness it requires, how great the labour involved in methodical arrangement, what is the charm of metaphors, and the beauty of illustrations, and the power of applying epithets suitable to the character and nature of the subject in hand. Others extolled with partiality the poet's art. This part also of eloquence is not left unnoticed or unhonoured by you. We may appropriately apply to you that line of the poet: "The ivy is intertwined with the laurels which reward your victory." [2510] We spoke, accordingly, of the embellishments which skilful arrangement adds to a poem, of the beauty of metaphors, and of the sublimity of well-chosen comparisons; then we spoke of smooth and flowing versification, and, if I may use the expression, the harmonious variation of the pauses in the lines. [2511] The conversation turned next to a subject with which you are very familiar, namely, that philosophy which you were wont yourself to cherish after the manner of Aristotle and Isocrates. We asked what had been achieved by the philosopher of the Lyceum, by the varied and incessant doubtings of the Academy, by the debater of the Porch, by the discoveries of natural philosophers, by the self-indulgence of the Epicureans; and what had been the result of their boundless zeal in disputation with each other, and how truth was more than ever unknown by them after they assumed that its knowledge was attainable.

2. While our conversation continues on these topics, one of the large company says: "Who among us is so thoroughly acquainted with the wisdom taught by Christianity as to be able to resolve the doubts by which I am entangled, and to give firmness to my hesitating acceptance of its teaching by arguments in which truth or probability may claim my belief?" We are all dumb with amazement. Then, of his own accord, he breaks forth in these words: "I wonder whether the Lord and Ruler of the world did indeed fill the womb of a virgin;--did His mother endure the protracted fatigues of ten months, and, being yet a virgin, in due season bring forth her child, and continue even after that with her virginity intact?" To this he adds other statements: "Within the small body of a crying infant He is concealed whom the universe scarcely can contain; He bears the years of childhood, He grows up, He is established in the rigour of manhood; this Governor is so long an exile from His own dwelling-place, and the care of the whole world is transferred to one body of insignificant dimensions. Moreover, He falls asleep, takes food to support Him, is subject to all the sensations of mortal men. Nor did the proofs of so great majesty shine forth with adequate fulness of evidence; for the casting out of devils, the curing of the sick, and the restoration of the dead to life are, if you consider others who have wrought these wonders, but small works for God to do." We prevent him from continuing such questions, and the meeting having broken up, we referred the matter to the valuable decision of experience beyond our own, lest, by too rashly intruding into hidden things, the error, innocent thus far, should become blameworthy.

You have heard, O man worthy of all honour, the confession of our ignorance; you perceive what is requested at your hands. Your reputation is interested in our obtaining an answer to these questions. Ignorance may, without harm to religion, be tolerated in other priests; but when we come to Bishop Augustin, whatever we find unknown to him is no part of the Christian system. May the Supreme God protect your venerable Grace, my lord truly holy and justly revered!

Footnotes

[2508] We read here "veritas," instead of "virtus." [2509] "Partitio," defined thus by Quintilian vii. 1: "Sit igitur divisio rerum plurium in singulas--partitio, singularum in partes discretas ordo et recta quædam locatio." [2510] Virgil, Bucol. Ecl. 8, line 13. [2511] Cæsurarum modulata variatio.

Letter CXXXVI.

(a.d. 412.)

To Augustin, My Lord Most Venerable, and Father Singularly Worthy of All Possible Service from Me, I, Marcellinus Send Greeting.

1. The noble Volusianus read to me the letter of your Holiness, and, at my urgent solicitation, he read to many more the sentences which had won my admiration, for, like everything else coming from your pen, they were worthy of admiration. Breathing as it did a humble spirit, and rich in the grace of divine eloquence, it succeeded easily in pleasing the reader. What especially pleased me was your strenuous effort to establish and hold up the steps of one who is somewhat hesitating, by counselling him to form a good resolution. For I have every day some discussion with the same man, so far as my abilities, or rather my lack of talent, may enable me. Moved by the earnest entreaties of his pious mother, I am at pains to visit him frequently, and he is so good as to return my visits from time to time. But on receiving this letter from your venerable Eminence, though he is kept back from firm faith in the true God by the influence of a class of persons who abound in this city, he was so moved, that, as he himself tells me, he was prevented only by the fear of undue prolixity in his letter from unfolding to you every possible difficulty in regard to the Christian faith. Some things, however, he has very earnestly asked you to explain, expressing himself in a polished and accurate style, and with the perspicuity and brilliancy of Roman eloquence, such as you will yourself deem worthy of approbation. The question which he has submitted to you is indeed worn threadbare in controversy, and the craftiness which, from the same quarter, assails with reproaches the Lord's incarnation is well known. But as I am confident that whatever you write in reply will be of use to a very large number, I would approach you with the request, that even in this question you would condescend to give a thoroughly guarded answer to their false statement that in His works the Lord performed nothing beyond what other men have been able to do. They are accustomed to bring forward their Apollonius and Apuleius, and other men who professed magical arts, whose miracles they maintained to have been greater than the Lord's.

2. The noble Volusianus aforesaid declared also in the presence of a number, that there were many other things which might not unreasonably be added to the question which he has sent, were it not that, as I have already stated, brevity had been specially studied by him in his letter. Although, however, he forbore from writing them, he did not pass them over in silence. For he is wont to say that, even if a reasonable account of the Lord's incarnation were now given to him, it would still be very difficult to give a satisfactory reason why this God, who is affirmed to be the God also of the Old Testament, is pleased with new sacrifices after having rejected the ancient sacrifices. For he alleges that nothing could be corrected but that which is proved to have been previously not rightly done; or that what has once been done rightly ought not to be altered in the very least. That which has been rightly done, he said, cannot be changed without wrong, especially because the variation might bring upon the Deity the reproach of inconstancy. Another objection which he stated was, that the Christian doctrine and preaching were in no way consistent with the duties and rights of citizens; because, to quote an instance frequently alleged, among its precepts we find, "Recompense to no man evil for evil," [2512] and, "Whosoever shall smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain;" [2513] --all which he affirms to be contrary to the duties and rights of citizens. For who would submit to have anything taken from him by an enemy, or forbear from retaliating the evils of war upon an invader who ravaged a Roman province? The other precepts, as your Eminence understands, are open to similar objections. Volusianus thinks that all these difficulties may be added to the question formerly stated, especially because it is manifest (though he is silent on this point) that very great calamities have befallen the commonwealth under the government of emperors observing, for the most part, the Christian religion. [2514]

3. Wherefore, as your Grace condescends along with me to acknowledge, it is important that all these difficulties be met by a full, thorough, and luminous reply (since the welcome answer of your Holiness will doubtless be put into many hands); especially because, while this discussion was going on, a distinguished lord and proprietor in the region of Hippo was present, who ironically said some flattering things concerning your Holiness, and affirmed that he had been by no means satisfied when he inquired into these matters himself.

I, therefore, not unmindful of your promise, but insisting on its fulfilment, beseech you to write, on the questions submitted, treatises which will be of incredible service to the Church, especially at the present time.

Footnotes

[2512] Rom. xii. 17. [2513] Matt. v. 39-41. [2514] See Gibbon, chap. xv. vol. II. p. 326.

Letter CXXXVII.

(a.d. 412.)

To My Most Excellent Son, the Noble and Justly Distinguished Lord Volusianus, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

Chap. I.

1. I have read your letter, containing an abstract of a notable conversation given with praiseworthy conciseness. I feel bound to reply to it, and to forbear from alleging any excuse for delay; for it happens opportunely that I have a short time of leisure from occupation with the affairs of other persons. I have also put off in the meantime dictating to my amanuensis certain things to which I had purposed to devote this leisure, for I think it would be a grievous injustice to delay answering questions which I had myself exhorted the questioner to propound. For which of us who are administering, as we are able, the grace of Christ would wish to see you instructed in Christian doctrine only so far as might suffice to secure to yourself salvation--not salvation in this present life, which, as the word of God is careful to remind us, is but a vapor appearing for a little while and then vanishing away, but that salvation in order to the obtaining and eternal possession of which we are Christians? It seems to us too little that you should receive only so much instruction as suffices to your own deliverance. For your gifted mind, and your singularly able and lucid power of speaking, ought to be of service to all others around you, against whom, whether slowness or perversity be the cause, it is necessary to defend in a competent way the dispensation of such abounding grace, which small minds in their arrogance despise, boasting that they can do very great things, while in fact they can do nothing to cure or even to curb their own vices.

2. You ask: "Whether the Lord and Ruler of the world did indeed fill the womb of a virgin? did His mother endure the protracted fatigues of ten months, and, being yet a virgin, in due season bring forth her child, and continue even after that with her virginity intact? Was He whom the universe is supposed to be scarcely able to contain concealed within the small body of a crying infant? did He bear the years of childhood, and grow up and become established in the rigour of manhood? Was this Governor so long an exile from His own dwelling-place, and was the care of the whole world transferred to a body of such insignificant dimensions? Did He sleep, did He take food as nourishment, and was He subject to all the sensations of mortal men?" You go on to say that "the proofs of His great majesty do not shine forth with any adequate fulness of evidence; for the casting out of devils, the curing of the sick, and the restoration of the dead are, if we consider others who have performed these wonders, but small works for God to do." [2515] This question, you say, was introduced in a certain meeting of friends by one of the company, but that the rest of you prevented him from bringing forward any further questions, and, breaking up the meeting, deferred the consideration of the matter till you should have the benefit of experience beyond your own, lest, by too rashly intruding into hidden things, the error, innocent thus far, should become blame-worthy.

3. Thereupon you appeal to me, and request me to observe what is desired from me after this confession of your ignorance. You add, that my reputation is concerned in your obtaining an answer to these questions, because, though ignorance is tolerated without injury to religion in other priests, when an inquiry is addressed to me, who am a bishop, whatever is not known to me must be no part of the Christian system.

I begin, therefore, by requesting you to lay aside the opinion which you have too easily formed concerning me, and dismiss those sentiments, though they are gratifying evidences of your goodwill, and believe my testimony rather than any other's regarding myself, if you reciprocate my affection. For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: "When a man hath done, then he beginneth." [2516]

Chap. II.

4. But why say more as to this? I must rather address myself to the question which you propose. In the first place, I wish you to understand that the Christian doctrine does not hold that the Godhead was so blended with the human nature in which He was born of the virgin that He either relinquished or lost the administration of the universe, or transferred it to that body as a small and limited material substance. Such an opinion is held only by men who are incapable of conceiving of anything but material substances--whether more dense, like water and earth, or more subtle, like air and light; but all alike distinguished by this condition, that none of them can be in its entirety everywhere, because, by reason of its many parts, it cannot but have one part here, another there, and however great or small the body may be, it must occupy some place, and so fill it that in its entirety it is in no one part of the space occupied. And hence it is the distinctive property of material bodies that they can be condensed and rarefied, contracted and dilated, crushed into small fragments and enlarged to great masses. The nature of the soul is very far different from that of the body; and how much more different must be the nature of God, who is the Creator of both soul and body! God is not said to fill the world in the same way as water, air, and even light occupy space, so that with a greater or smaller part of Himself He occupies a greater or smaller part of the world. He is able to be everywhere present in the entirety of His being: He cannot be confined in any place: He can come without leaving the place where He was: He can depart without forsaking the place to which He had come.

5. The mind of man wonders at this, and because it cannot comprehend it, refuses, perhaps, to believe it. Let it, however, not go on to wonder incredulously at the attributes of the Deity without first wondering in like manner at the mysteries within itself; [2517] let it, if possible, raise itself for a little above the body, and above those things which it is accustomed to perceive by the bodily organs, and let it contemplate what that is which uses the body as its instrument. Perhaps it cannot do this, for it requires, as one has said, great power of mind to call the mind aside from the senses, and to lead thought away from its wonted track. [2518] Let the mind, then, examine the bodily senses in this somewhat unusual manner, and with the utmost attention. There are five distinct bodily senses, which cannot exist either without the body or without the soul; because perception by the senses is possible, on the one hand, only while a man lives, and the body receives life from the soul; and on the other hand, only by the instrumentality of the body vessels and organs, through which we exercise sight, hearing, and the three other senses. Let the reasoning soul concentrate attention upon this subject, and consider the senses of the body not by these senses themselves, but by its own intelligence and reason. A man cannot, of course, perceive by these senses unless he lives; but up to the time when soul and body are separated by death, he lives in the body. How, then, does his soul,which lives nowhere else than in his body, perceive things which are beyond the surface of that body? Are not the stars in heaven very remote from his body? and yet does he not see the sun yonder? and is not seeing an exercise of the bodily senses--nay, is it not the noblest of them all? What, then? Does he live in heaven as well as in his body, because he perceives by one of his senses what is in heaven, and perception by sense cannot be in a place where there is no life of the person perceiving? Or does he perceive even where he is not living--because while he lives only in his own body, his perceptive sense is active also in those places which, outside of his body and remote from it, contain the objects with which he is in contact by sight? Do you see how great a mystery there is even in a sense so open to our observation as that which we call sight? Consider hearing also, and say whether the soul diffuses itself in some way abroad beyond the body. For how do we say, "Some one knocks at the door," unless we exercise the sense of hearing at the place where the knock is sounding? In this case also, therefore, we live beyond the limits of our bodies. Or can we perceive by sense in a place in which we are not living? But we know that sense cannot be in exercise where life is not.

6. The other three senses are exercised through immediate contact with their own organs. Perhaps this may be reasonably disputed in regard to the sense of smell; but there is no controversy as to the senses of taste and touch, that we perceive nowhere else than by contact with our bodily organism the things which we taste and touch. Let these three senses, therefore, be set aside from present consideration. The senses of sight and hearing present to us a wonderful question, requiring us to explain either how the soul can perceive by these senses in a place where it does not live, or how it can live in a place where it is not. For it is not anywhere but in its own body, and yet it perceives by these senses in places beyond that body. For in whatever place the soul sees anything, in that place it is exercising the faculty of perception, because seeing is an act of perception; and in whatever place the soul hears anything, in that place it is exercising the faculty of perception, because hearing is an act of perception. Wherefore the soul is either living in that place where it sees or hears, and consequently is itself in that place, or it exercises perception in a place where it is not living, or it is living in a place and yet at the same moment is not there. All these things are astonishing; not one of them can be stated without seeming absurdity; and we are speaking only of senses which are mortal. What, then, is the soul itself which is beyond the bodily senses, that is to say, which resides in the understanding whereby it considers these mysteries? For it is not by means of the senses that it forms a judgment concerning the senses themselves. And do we suppose that something incredible is told us regarding the omnipotence of God, when it is affirmed that the Word of God, by whom all things were made, did so assume a body from the Virgin, and manifest Himself with mortal senses, as neither to destroy His own immortality, nor to change His eternity, nor to diminish His power, nor to relinquish the government of the world, nor to withdraw from the bosom of the Father, that is, from the secret place where He is with Him and in Him?

7. Understand the nature of the Word of God, by whom all things were made, to be such that you cannot think of any part of the Word as passing, and, from being future, becoming past. He remains as He is, and He is everywhere in His entirety. He comes when He is manifested, and departs when He is concealed. But whether concealed or manifested, He is present with us as light is present to the eyes both of the seeing and of the blind; but it is felt to be present by the man who sees, and absent by him who is blind. In like manner, the sound of the voice is near alike to the hearing and to the deaf, but it makes its presence known to the former and is hidden from the latter. But what is more wonderful than what happens in connection with the sound of our voices and our words, a thing, for-sooth, which passes away in a moment? For when we speak, there is no place for even the next syllable till after the preceding one has ceased to sound; nevertheless, if one hearer be present, he hears the whole of what we say, and if two hearers be present, both hear the same, and to each of them it is the whole; and if a multitude listen in silence, they do not break up the sounds like loaves of bread, to be distributed among them individually, but all that is uttered is imparted to all and to each in its entirety. Consider this, and say if it is not more incredible that the abiding word of God should not accomplish in the universe what the passing word of man accomplishes in the ears of listeners, namely, that as the word of man is present in its entirety to each and all of the hearers, so the Word of God should be present in the entirety of His being at the same moment everywhere.

8. There is, therefore, no reason to fear in regard to the small body of the Lord in His infancy, lest in it the Godhead should seem to have been straitened. For it is not in vast size but in power that God is great: He has in His providence given to ants and to bees senses superior to those given to asses and camels; He forms the huge proportions of the fig-tree [2519] from one of the minutest seeds, although many smaller plants spring from much larger seeds; He also has furnished the small pupil of the eye with the power which, by one glance, sweeps over almost the half of heaven in a moment; He diffuses the whole fivefold system of the nerves over the body from one centre and point in the brain; He dispenses vital motion throughout the whole body from the heart, a member comparatively small; and by these and other similar things, He, who in small things is great, mysteriously produces that which is great from things which are exceedingly little. Such is the greatness of His power that He is conscious of no difficulty in that which is difficult. It was this same power which originated, not from without, but from within, the conception of a child in the Virgin's womb: this same power associated with Himself a human soul, and through it also a human body--in short, the whole human nature to be elevated by its union with Him--without His being thereby lowered in any degree; justly assuming from it the name of humanity, while amply giving to it the name of Godhead. The body of the infant Jesus was brought forth from the womb of His mother, still a virgin, by the same power which afterwards introduced His body when He was a man through the closed door into the upper chamber. [2520] Here, if the reason of the event is sought out, it will no longer be a miracle; if an example of a precisely similar event is demanded, it will no longer be unique. [2521] Let us grant that God can do something which we must admit to be beyond our comprehension. In such wonders the whole explanation of the work is the power of Him by whom it is wrought.

Chap. III.

9. The fact that He took rest in sleep, and was nourished by food, and experienced all the feelings of humanity, is the evidence to men of the reality of that human nature which He assumed but did not destroy. Behold, this was the fact; and yet some heretics, by a perverted admiration and praise of His power, have refused altogether to acknowledge the reality of His human nature, in which is the guarantee of all that grace by which He saves those who believe in Him, containing deep treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and imparting faith to the minds which He raises to the eternal contemplation of unchangeable truth. What if the Almighty had created the human nature of Christ not by causing Him to be born of a mother, but by some other way, and had presented Him suddenly to the eyes of mankind? What if the Lord had not passed through the stages of progress from infancy to manhood, and had taken neither food nor sleep? Would not this have confirmed the erroneous impression above referred to, and have made it impossible to believe at all that He had taken to Himself true human nature; and, while leaving what was marvellous, would eliminate the element of mercy from His actions? But now He has so appeared as the Mediator between God and men, that, uniting the two natures in one person, He both exalted what was ordinary by what was extraordinary, and tempered what was extraordinary by what was ordinary in Himself.

10. But where in all the varied movements of creation is there any work of God which is not wonderful, were it not that through familiarity these wonders have become small in our esteem? Nay, how many common things are trodden under foot, which, if examined carefully, awaken our astonishment! Take, for example, the propertries of seeds: who can either comprehend or declare the variety of species, the vitality, vigour, and secret power by which they from within small compass evolve great things? Now the human body and soul which He took to Himself was created without seed by Him who in the natural world created originally seeds from no pre-existent seeds. In the body which thus became His, he who, without any liability to change in Himself, has woven according to His counsel the vicissitudes of all past centuries, became subject to the succession of seasons and the ordinary stages of the life of man. For His body, as it began to exist at a point of time, became developed with the lapse of time. But the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and to whom the ages of time owe their existence, did not bow to time as bringing round the event of His incarnation apart from His consent, but chose the point of time at which He freely took our nature to Himself. The human nature was brought into union with the divine; God did not withdraw from Himself. [2522]

11. Some resist upon being furnished with an explanation of the manner in which the Godhead was so united with a human soul and body as to constitute the one person of Christ, when it was necessary that this should be done once in the world's history, with as much boldness as if they were themselves able to furnish an explanation of the manner in which the soul is so united to the body as to constitute the one person of man, an event which is occurring every day. For just as the soul is united to the body in one person so as to constitute man, in the same way God united to man in one person so as to constitute Christ. In the former personality there is a combination of soul and body; in the latter there is a combination of the Godhead and man. Let my reader, however, guard against borrowing his idea of the combination from the properties of material bodies, by which two fluids when combined are so mixed that neither preserves its original character; although even among material bodies there are exceptions, such as light, which sustains no change when combined with the atmosphere. In the person of man, therefore, there is a combination of soul and body; in the person of Christ there is a combination of the Godhead with man; for when the Word of God was united to a soul having a body, He took into union with Himself both the soul and the body. The former event takes place daily in the beginning of life in individuals of the human race; the latter took place once for the salvation of men. And yet of the two events, the combination of two immaterial substances ought to be more easily believed than a combination in which the one is immaterial and the other material. For if the soul is not mistaken in regard to its own nature, it understands itself to be immaterial. Much more certainly does this attribute belong to the Word of God; and consequently the combination of the Word with the human soul is a combination which ought to be much more credible than that of soul and body. The latter is realized by us in ourselves; the former we are commanded to believe to have been realized in Christ. But if both of them were alike foreign to our experience, and we were enjoined to believe that both had taken place, which of the two would we more readily believe to have occurred? Would we not admit that two immaterial substances could be more easily combined than one immaterial and one material; unless, perhaps, it be unsuitable to use the word combination in connection with these things, because of the difference between their nature and that of material substances, both in themselves and as known to us?

12. Wherefore the Word of God, who is also the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, the Power and the Wisdom of God, [2523] mightily pervading and harmoniously ordering all things, from the highest limit of the intelligent to the lowest limit of the material creation, [2524] revealed and concealed, nowhere confined, nowhere divided, nowhere distended, but without dimensions, everywhere present in His entirety,--this Word of God, I say, took to Himself, in a manner entirely different from that in which He is present to other creatures, the soul and body of a man, and made, by the union of Himself therewith, the one person Jesus Christ, Mediator between God and men, [2525] in His Deity equal with the Father, in His flesh, i.e. in His human nature, inferior to the Father,--unchangeably immortal in respect of the divine nature, in which He is equal with the Father, and yet changeable and mortal in respect of the infirmity which was His through participation with our nature.

In this Christ there came to men, at the time which He knew to be most fitting, and which He had fixed before the world began, the instruction and the help necessary to the obtaining of eternal salvation. Instruction came by Him, because those truths which had been, for men's advantage, spoken before that time on earth not only by the holy prophets, all whose words were true, but also by philosophers and even poets and authors in every department of literature (for beyond question they mixed much truth with what was false), might by the actual presentation of His authority in human nature be confirmed as true for the sake of those who could not perceive and distinguish them in the light of essential Truth, which Truth was, even before He assumed human nature, present to all who were capable of receiving truth. Moreover, by the fact of His incarnation, He taught this above all other things for our benefit,--that whereas men longing after the Divine Being supposed, from pride rather than piety, that they must approach Him not directly, but through heavenly powers which they regarded as gods, and through various forbidden rites which were holy but profane,--in which worship devils succeed, through the bond which pride forms between mankind and them in taking the place of holy angels,--now men might understand that the God whom they were regarding as far removed, and whom they approached not directly but through mediating powers, is actually so very near to the pious longings of men after Him, that He has condescended to take a human soul and body into such union with Himself that this complete man is joined to Him in the same way as the body is joined to the soul in man, excepting that whereas both body and soul have a common progressive development, He does not participate in this growth, because it implies mutability, a property which God cannot assume. Again, in this Christ the help necessary to salvation was brought to men, for without the grace of that faith which is from Him, no one can either subdue vicious desires, or be cleansed by pardon from the guilt of any power of sinful desire which he may not have wholly vanquished. As to the effects produced by His instruction, is there now even an imbecile, however weak, or a silly woman, however low, that does not believe in the immortality of the soul and the reality of a life after death? Yet these are truths which, when Pherecydes [2526] the Assyrian for the first time maintained them in discussion among the Greeks of old, moved Pythagoras of Samos so deeply by their novelty, as to make him turn from the exercises of the athlete to the studies of the philosopher. But now what Virgil said we all behold: "The balsam of Assyria grows everywhere." [2527] And as to the help given through the grace of Christ, in Him truly are the words of the same poet fulfilled: "With Thee as our leader, the obliteration of all the traces of our sin which remain shall deliver the earth from perpetual alarm." [2528]

Chap. IV.

13. "But," they say, "the proofs of so great majesty did not shine forth with adequate fulness of evidence; for the casting out of devils, the healing of the sick, and the restoration of the dead to life are but small works for God to do, if the others who have wrought similar wonders be borne in mind." [2529] We ourselves admit that the prophets wrought some miracles like those performed by Christ. For among these miracles what is more wonderful than the raising of the dead? Yet both Elijah and Elisha did this. [2530] As to the miracles of magicians, and the question whether they also raised the dead, let those pronounce an opinion who strive, not as accusers, but as panegyrists, to prove Apuleius guilty of those charges of practising magical arts from which he himself takes abundant pains to defend his reputation. We read that the magicians of Egypt, the most skilled in these arts, were vanquished by Moses, the servant of God, when they were working wonderfully by impious enchantments, and he, by simply calling upon God in prayer, overthrew all their machinations. [2531] But this Moses himself and all the other true prophets prophesied concerning the Lord Christ, and gave to Him great glory; they predicted that He would come not as One merely equal or superior to them in the same power of working miracles, but as One who was truly God the Lord of all, and who became man for the benefit of men. He was pleased to do also some miracles, such as they had done, to prevent the incongruity of His not doing in person such things as He had done by them. Nevertheless, He was to do also some things peculiar to Himself, namely, to be born of a virgin, to rise from the dead, to ascend to heaven. I know not what greater things he can look for who thinks these too little for God to do.

14. For I think that such signs of divine power are demanded by these objectors as were not suitable for Him to do when wearing the nature of men. The Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and by Him all things were made. [2532] Now, when the Word became flesh, was it necessary for Him to create another world, that we might believe Him to be the person by whom the world was made? But within this world it would have been impossible to make another greater than itself, or equal to it. If, however, He were to make a world inferior to that which now exists, this, too, would be considered too small a work to prove His deity. Wherefore, since it was not necessary that He should make a new world, He made new things in the world. For that a man should be born of a virgin, and raised from the dead to eternal life, and exalted above the heavens, is perchance a work involving a greater exertion of power than the creating of a world. Here, probably, objectors may answer that they do not believe that these things took place. What, then, can be done for men who despise smaller evidences as inadequate, and reject greater evidences as incredible? That life has been restored to the dead is believed, because it has been accomplished by others, and is too small a work to prove him who performs it to be God: that a true body was created in a virgin, and being raised from death to eternal life, was taken up to heaven, is not believed, because no one else has done this, and it is what God alone could do. On this principle every man is to accept with equanimity whatever he thinks easy for himself not indeed to do, but to conceive, and is to reject as false and fictitious whatever goes beyond that limit. I beseech you, do not be like these men.

15. These topics are elsewhere more amply discussed, and in fundamental questions of doctrine every intricate point has been opened up by thorough investigation and debate; but faith gives the understanding access to these things, unbelief closes the door. What man might not be moved to faith in the doctrine of Christ by such a remarkable chain of events from the beginning, and by the manner in which the epochs of the world are linked together, so that our faith in regard to present things is assisted by what happened in the past, and the record of earlier and ancient things is attested by later and more recent events? One is chosen from among the Chaldeans, a man endowed with most eminent piety and faith, that to him may be given divine promises, appointed to be fulfilled in the last times of the world, after the lapse of so many centuries; and it is foretold that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. [2533] This man, worshipping the one true God, the Creator of the universe, begets in his old age a son, when sterility and advanced years had made his wife give up all expectation of becoming a mother. The descendants of this son become a very numerous tribe, being increased in Egypt, to which place they had been removed from the East, by Divine Providence multiplying as time went on both the promises given and the works wrought on their behalf. From Egypt they come forth a mighty nation, being brought out with terrible signs and wonders; and the wicked nations of the promised land being driven out from before them, they are brought into it and settled there, and exalted to the position of a kingdom. Thereafter, frequently provoking by prevailing sin and idolatrous impieties the true God, who had bestowed on them so many benefits, and experiencing alternately the chastisements of calamity and the consolations of restored prosperity, the history of the nation is brought down to the incarnation and the manifestation of Christ. Predictions that this Christ, being the Word of God, the Son of God, and God Himself, was to become incarnate, to die, to rise again, to ascend into heaven, to have multitudes of all nations through the power of His name surrendering themselves to Him, and that by Him pardon of sins and eternal salvation would be given to all who believe in Him,--these predictions, I say, have been published by all the promises given to that nation, by all the prophecies, the institution of the priesthood, the sacrifices, the temple, and, in short, by all their sacred mysteries.

16. Accordingly Christ comes: in His birth, life, words, deeds, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension, all which the prophets had foretold is fulfilled. [2534] He sends the Holy Spirit; fills with this Spirit the believers when they are assembled in one house, and expecting with prayer and ardent desire this promised gift. Being thus filled with the Holy Spirit, they speak immediately in the tongues of all nations, they boldly confute errors, they preach the truth that is most profitable for mankind, they exhort men to repent of their past blameworthy lives, and promise pardon by the free grace of God. Signs and miracles suitable for confirmation follow their preaching of piety and of the true religion. The cruel enmity of unbelief is stirred up against them; they bear predicted trials, they hope for promised blessings, and teach that which they had been commanded to make known. Few in number at first, they become scattered like seed throughout the world; they convert nations with wondrous facility; they grow in number in the midst of enemies; they become increased by persecutions; and, under the severity of hardships, instead of being straitened, they extend their influence to the utmost boundaries of the earth. From being very ignorant, despised, and few, they become enlightened, distinguished, and numerous, men of illustrious talents and of polished eloquence; they also bring under the yoke of Christ, and attract to the work of preaching the way of holiness and salvation, the marvellous attainments of men remarkable for genius, eloquence, and erudition. Amid alternations of adversity and prosperity, they watchfully practise patience and self-control; and when the world's day is drawing near its close, and the approaching consummation is heralded by the calamities which exhaust its energies, they, seeing in this the fulfilment of prophecy, only expect with increased. confidence the everlasting blessedness of the heavenly city. Moreover, amidst all these changes, the unbelief of the heathen nations continues to rage against the Church of Christ; she gains the victory by patient endurance, and by the maintenance of unshaken faith in the face of the cruelties of her adversaries. The sacrifice of Him in whom the truth, long veiled under mystic promises, is revealed, having been offered, those sacrifices by which it was prefigured are finally abolished by the utter destruction of the Jewish temple. The Jewish nation, itself rejected because of unbelief, being now rooted out from its own land, is dispersed to every region of the world, in order that it may carry everywhere the Holy Scriptures, and that in this way our adversaries themselves may bring before mankind the testimony furnished by the prophecies concerning Christ and His Church, thus precluding the possibility of the supposition that these predictions were forged by us to suit the time; in which prophecies, also, the unbelief of these very Jews is foretold. The temples, images, and impious worship of the heathen divinities are overthrown gradually and in succession, according to the prophetic intimations. Heresies bud forth against the name of Christ, though veiling themselves under His name, as had been foretold, by which the doctrine of the holy religion is tested and developed. All these things are now seen to be accomplished, in exact fulfilment of the predictions which we read in Scripture; and from these important and numerous instances of fulfilled prophecy, the fulfilment of the predictions which remain is confidently expected. Where, then, is the mind, having aspirations after eternity, and moved by the shortness of this present life, which can resist the clearness and perfection of these evidences of the divine origin of our faith?

Chap. V.

17. What discourses or writings of philosophers, what laws of any commonwealth in any land or age, are worthy for a moment to be compared with the two commandments on which Christ saith that all the law and the prophets hang: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"? [2535] All philosophy is here,--physics, ethics, logic: the first, because in God the Creator are all the causes of all existences in nature; the second, because a good and honest life is not produced in any other way than by loving, in the manner in which they should be loved, the proper objects of our love, namely, God and our neighbour; and the third, because God alone is the Truth and the Light of the rational soul. Here also is security for the welfare and renown of a commonwealth; for no state is perfectly established and preserved otherwise than on the foundation and by the bond of faith and of firm concord, when the highest and truest common good, namely, God, is loved by all, and men love each other in Him without dissimulation, because they love one another for His sake from whom they cannot disguise the real character of their love.

18. Consider, moreover, the style in which Sacred Scripture is composed,--how accessible it is to all men, though its deeper mysteries are penetrable to very few. The plain truths which it contains it declares in the artless language of familiar friendship to the hearts both of the unlearned and of the learned; but even the truths which it veils in symbols it does not set forth in stiff and stately sentences, which a mind somewhat sluggish and uneducated might shrink from approaching, as a poor man shrinks from the presence of the rich; but, by the condescension of its style, it invites all not only to be fed with the truth which is plain, but also to be exercised by the truth which is concealed, having both in its simple and in its obscure portions the same truth. Lest what is easily understood should beget satiety in the reader, the same truth being in another place more obscurely expressed becomes again desired, and, being desired, is somehow invested with a new attractiveness, and thus is received with pleasure into the heart. By these means wayward minds are corrected, weak minds are nourished, and strong minds are filled with pleasure, in such a way as is profitable to all. This doctrine has no enemy but the man who, being in error, is ignorant of its incomparable usefulness, or, being spiritually diseased, is averse to its healing power.

19. You see what a long letter I have written. If, therefore, anything perplexes you, and you regard it of sufficient importance to be discussed between us, let not yourself be straitened by keeping within the bounds of ordinary letters; for you know as well as any one what long letters the ancients wrote when they were treating of any subject which they were not able briefly to explain. And even if the custom of authors in other departments of literature had been different, the authority of Christian writers, whose example has a worthier claim upon our imitation, might be set before us. Observe, therefore, the length of the apostolic epistles, and of the commentaries written on these divine oracles, and do not hesitate either to ask many questions if you have many difficulties, or to handle more fully the questions which you propound, in order that, in so far as it can be achieved with such abilities as we possess, there may remain no cloud of doubt to obscure the light of truth.

20. For I am aware that your Excellency has to encounter the most determined opposition from certain persons, who think, or would have others think, that Christian doctrine is incompatible with the welfare of the commonwealth, because they wish to see the commonwealth established not by the stedfast practice of virtue, but by granting impunity to vice. But with God the crimes in which many are banded together do not pass unavenged, as is often the case with a king, or any other magistrate who is only a man. Moreover, His mercy and grace, published to men by Christ, who is Himself man, and imparted to man by the same Christ, who is also God and the Son of God, never fail those who live by faith in Him and piously worship Him, in adversity patiently and bravely bearing the trials of this life, in prosperity using with self-control and with compassion for others the good things of this life; destined to receive, for faithfulness in both conditions, an eternal recompense in that divine and heavenly city in which there shall be no longer calamity to be painfully endured, nor inordinate desire to be with laborious care controlled, where our only work shall be to preserve, without any difficulty and with perfect liberty, our love to God and to our neighbour.

May the infinitely compassionate omnipotence of God preserve you in safety and increase your happiness, my noble and distinguished Lord, and my most excellent son. With profound respect, as is due to your worth, I salute your pious and most truly venerable mother, whose prayers on your behalf may God hear! My pious brother and fellow bishop, Possidius, warmly salutes your Grace.

Footnotes

[2515] Letter CXXXV. sec. 2, p. 472. [2516] Ecclus. xviii. 6. [2517] We follow the reading of nine Mss., mirata, instead of that of the text, ingrata. [2518] Cicero, Quæst. Tuscul. i. [2519] See Pliny. Nat. Hist. Book vii. 2: "In India sub una ficu turmæ conduntur equitum." See also Book xii. c. 5. [2520] John xx. 26. [2521] This sentence having been misunderstood by Bishop Evodius, who quotes and comments upon it in Letter CLXI.. Augustin, in replying in Letter CLXII., writes a few sentences, which, as the letters then exchanged with Evodius have been omitted in this selection, we here insert:--"Our sense of wonder is excited when either the reason of a thing is hidden from us, or the thing itself is extraordinary, that is, either unique or rare. It was in reference to the former cause of wonder, namely, the reason of a thing being undiscovered, that, when answering those who declare it to be incredible that Christ was born of a virgin, and that she remained a virgin notwithstanding, I said in the letter which you refer to as read by you, `If the reason of this event is sought out, it will be no longer a miracle,' for I said this not because the event was without a reason, but because the reason of it is hidden from those to whom it has pleased God that it should be a miracle.... For all the works of God, both ordinary and extraordinary, proceed from causes and reasons which are right and faultless. When the causes and reasons of any of His operations are hidden from us, we are filled with wonder at the event; but when the causes and reasons of events are seen by us, we say that they take place in ordinary course and in harmony with our experience, and that they are not to be wondered at since they occur, because they are only what reason required to be done.... As to the latter cause of wonder, namely, that an event is unusual, we have an example of this when we read concerning the Lord that He marvelled at the faith of the centurion: for the reason of no event whatever could be concealed from Him, but His wonder has been recorded here for the commendation of one whose equal had not appeared among the Jews, and accordingly the Lord's wondering is sufficiently explained by His words: `I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel' (Luke vii. 9). As to examples of events similar to the miraculous birth of Christ, you are wholly mistaken in supposing that you have found such in the production of a worm within an apple, and other examples which you mention. For instances of a certain degree of resemblance, more or less remote, have been with considerable ingenuity alleged: but Christ alone was born of a virgin; whence you may understand why I said that this was an event without parallel, adding in the letter already referred to the words: `If an example of a precisely similar event is demanded, it will no longer be unique'" (Letter CLXII. sec. 6, 7). [2522] Homo quippe Deo accessit, non Deus a se recessit. [2523] 1 Cor. i. 24. [2524] Wisd. viii. 1. [2525] 1 Tim. ii. 5. [2526] Pherecydes, a native not of Assyria, but of Syros, one of the Cyclades, was a disciple of Pittacus of Mitylene, and teacher of Pythagoras. He flourished B.C. 544. [2527] "Assyrium vulgo nascetur amomum."--Eclogue iv. [2528] Ibid. [2529] Letter CXXXV. sec. 2, p. 472. [2530] 1 Kings xvii. 22; 2 Kings iv. 35. [2531] Ex. vii., viii. [2532] John i. 1. [2533] Gen. xii. [2534] Matt. i. 22. [2535] Matt. xxii. 37-39.

Letter CXXXVIII.

(a.d. 412.)

To Marcellinus, My Noble and Justly Famous Lord, My Son Most Beloved and Longed For, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

Chap. I.

1. In writing to the illustrious and most eloquent Volusianus, whom we both sincerely love, I thought it right to confine myself to answering the questions which he thought proper himself to state; but as to the questions which you have submitted to me in your letter for discussion and solution, as suggested or proposed either by Volusianus himself or by others, it is fitting that such reply to these as I may be able to give should be addressed to you. I shall attempt this, not in the manner in which it would require to be done in a formal treatise, but in the manner which is suitable to the conversational familiarity of a letter, in order that, if you, who know their state of mind by daily discussions, think it expedient, this letter also may be read to your friends. But if this communication be not adapted to them, because of their not being prepared by the piety of faith to give ear to it, let what you consider adapted to them be in the first place prepared between ourselves, and afterwards let what may have been thus prepared be communicated to them. For there are many things from which their minds may in the meantime shrink and recoil, which they may perhaps by and by be persuaded to accept as true, either by the use of more copious and skilful arguments, or by an appeal to authority which, in their opinion, may not without impropriety be resisted.

2. In your letter you state that some are perplexed by the question, "Why this God, who is proved to be the God also of the Old Testament, is pleased with new sacrifices after having rejected the ancient ones. For they allege that nothing can be corrected but that which is proved to have been previously not rightly done, or that what has once been done rightly ought not to be altered in the very least: that which has been rightly done, they say, cannot be changed without wrong." [2536] I quote these words from your letter. Were I disposed to give a copious reply to this objection, time would fail me long before I had exhausted the instances in which the processes of nature itself and the works of men undergo changes according to the circumstances of the time, while, at the same time, there is nothing mutable in the plan or principle by which these changes are regulated. Of these I may mention a few, that, stimulated by them, your wakeful observation may run, as it were, from them to many more of the same kind. Does not summer follow winter, the temperature gradually increasing in warmth? Do not night and day in turn succeed each other? How often do our own lives experience changes! Boyhood departing, never to return, gives place to youth; manhood, destined itself to continue only for a season, takes in turn the place of youth; and old age, closing the term of manhood, is itself closed by death. [2537] All these things are changed, but the plan of Divine Providence which appoints these successive changes is not changed. I suppose, also, that the principles of agriculture are not changed when the farmer appoints a different work to be done in summer from that which he had ordered in winter. He who rises in the morning, after resting by night, is not supposed to have changed the plan of his life. The schoolmaster gives to the adult different tasks from those which he was accustomed to prescribe to the scholar in his boyhoo; his teaching, consistent throughout, changes the instruction when the lesson is changed, without itself being changed.

3. The eminent physician of our own times, Vindicianus, being consulted by an invalid, prescribed for his disease what seemed to him a suitable remedy at that time; health was restored by its use. Some years afterwards, finding himself troubled again with the same disorder, the patient supposed that the same remedy should be applied; but its application made his illness worse. In astonishment, he again returns to the physician, and tells him what had happened; whereupon he, being a man of very quick penetration, answered: "The reason of your having been harmed by this application is, that I did not order it;" upon which all who heard the remark and did not know the man supposed that he was trusting not in the art of medicine, but in some forbidden supernatural power. When he was afterwards questioned by some who were amazed at his words, he explained what they had not understood, namely, that he would not have prescribed the same remedy to the patient at the age which he had now attained. While, therefore, the principle and methods of art remain unchanged, the change which, in accordance with them, may be made necessary by the difference of times is very great.

4. To say then, that what has once been done rightly must in no respect whatever be changed, is to affirm what is not true. For if the circumstances of time which occasioned anything be changed, true reason in almost all cases demands that what had been in the former circumstances rightly done, be now so altered that, although they say that it is not rightly done if it be changed, truth, on the contrary, protests that it is not rightly done unless it be changed; because, at both times, it will be rightly done if the difference be regulated according to the difference in the times. For just as in the cases of different persons it may happen that, at the same moment, one man may do with impunity what another man may not, because of a difference not in the thing done but in the person who does it, so in the case of one and the same person at different times, that which was duty formerly is not duty now, not because the person is different from his former self, but because the time at which he does it is different.

5. The wide range opened up by this question may be seen by any one who is competent and careful to observe the contrast between the beautiful and the suitable, examples of which are scattered, we may say, throughout the universe. For the beautiful, to which the ugly and deformed is opposed, is estimated and praised according to what it is in itself. But the suitable, to which the incongruous is opposed, depends on something else to which it is bound, and is estimated not according to what it is in itself, but according to that with which it is connected: the contrast, also, between becoming and unbecoming is either the same, or at least regarded as the same. Now apply what we have said to the subject in hand. The divine institution of sacrifice was suitable in the former dispensation, but is not suitable now. For the change suitable to the present age has been enjoined by God, who knows infinitely better than man what is fitting for every age, and who is, whether He give or add, abolish or curtail, increase or diminish, the unchangeable Governor as He is the unchangeable Creator of mutable things, ordering all events in His providence until the beauty of the completed course of time, the component parts of which are the dispensations adapted to each successive age, shall be finished, like the grand melody of some ineffably wise master of song, and those pass into the eternal immediate contemplation of God who here, though it is a time of faith, not of sight, are acceptably worshipping Him.

6. They are mistaken, moreover, who think that God appoints these ordinances for His own advantage or pleasure; and no wonder that, being thus mistaken, they are perplexed, as if it was from a changing mood that He ordered one thing to be offered to Him in a former age, and something else now. But this is not the case. God enjoins nothing for His own advantage, but for the benefit of those to whom the injunction is given. Therefore He is truly Lord, for He does not need His servants, but His servants stand in need of Him. In those same Old Testament Scriptures, and in the age in which sacrifices were still being offered that are now abrogated, it is said: "I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God, for Thou dost not need my good things." [2538] Wherefore God did not stand in need of those sacrifices, nor does He ever need anything; but there are certain acts, symbolical of these divine gifts, whereby the soul receives either present grace or eternal glory, in the celebration and practice of which, pious exercises, serviceable not to God but to ourselves, are performed.

7. It would, however, take too long to discuss with adequate fulness the differences between the symbolical actions of former and present times, which, because of their pertaining to divine things, are called sacraments. [2539] For as the man is not fickle who does one thing in the morning and another in the evening, one thing this month and another in the next, one thing this year and another next year, so there is no variableness with God, though in the former period of the world's history He enjoined one kind of offerings, and in the latter period another, therein ordering the symbolical actions pertaining to the blessed doctrine of true religion in harmony with the changes of successive epochs without any change in Himself. For in order to let those whom these things perplex understand that the change was already in the divine counsel, and that, when the new ordinances were appointed, it was not because the old had suddenly lost the divine approbation through inconstancy in His will, but that this had been already fixed and determined by the wisdom of that God to whom, in reference to much greater changes, these words are spoken in Scripture: Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same," [2540] --it is necessary to convince them that this exchange of the sacraments of the Old Testament for those of the New had been predicted by the voices of the prophets. For thus they will see, if they can see anything, that what is new in time is not new in relation to Him who has appointed the times, and who possesses, without succession of time, all those things which He assigns according to their variety to the several ages. For in the psalm from which I have quoted above the words: "I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God, for Thou dost not need my good things," in proof that God does not need our sacrifices, it is added shortly after by the Psalmist in Christ's name: "I will not gather their assemblies of blood;" [2541] that is, for the offering of animals from their flocks, for which the Jewish assemblies were wont to be gathered together; and in another place he says: "I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goat from thy folds;" [2542] and another prophet says: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt." [2543] There are, besides these, many other testimonies on this subject in which it was foretold that God would do as He has done; but it would take too long to mention them.

8. If it is now established that that which was for one age rightly ordained may be in another age rightly changed,--the alteration indicating a change in the work, not in the plan, of Him who makes the change, the plan being framed by His reasoning faculty, to which, unconditioned by succession in time, those things are simultaneously present which cannot be actually done at the same time because the ages succeed each other,--one might perhaps at this point expect to hear from me the causes of the change in question. You know how long it would take to discuss these fully. The matter may be stated summarily, but sufficiently for a man of shrewd judgment, in these words: It was fitting that Christ's future coming should be foretold by some sacraments, and that after His coming other sacraments should proclaim this; just as the difference in the facts has compelled us to change the words used by us in speaking of the advent as future or past: to be foretold is one thing, to be proclaimed is another, and to be about to come is one thing, to have come is another.

Chap. II.

9. Let us now observe in the second place, what follows in your letter. [2544] You have added that they said that the Christian doctrine and preaching were in no way consistent with the duties and rights of citizens, because among its precepts we find: "Recompense to no man evil for evil," [2545] and, "Whosoever shall smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever will compel thee to go a mile with him, go with him twain," [2546] --all which are affirmed to be contrary to the duties and rights of citizens; for who would submit to have anything taken from him by an enemy, or forbear from retaliating the evils of war upon an invader who ravaged a Roman province? To these and similar statements of persons speaking slightingly, or perhaps I should rather say speaking as inquirers regarding the truth, I might have given a more elaborate answer, were it not that the persons with whom the discussion is carried on are men of liberal education. In addressing such, why should we prolong the debate, and not rather begin by inquiring for ourselves how it was possible that the Republic of Rome was governed and aggrandized from insignificance and poverty to greatness and opulence by men who, when they had suffered wrong, would rather pardon than punish the offender; [2547] or how Cicero, addressing Cæsar, the greatest statesman of his time, said, in praising his character, that he was wont to forget nothing but the wrongs which were done to him? [2548] For in this Cicero spoke either praise or flattery: if he spoke praise, it was because he knew Cæsar to be such as he affirmed; if he spoke flattery, he showed that the chief magistrate of a commonwealth ought to do such things as he falsely commended in Cæsar. But what is "not rendering evil for evil," but refraining from the passion of revenge--in other words, choosing, when one has suffered wrong, to pardon rather than to punish the offender, and to forget nothing but the wrongs done to us?

10. When these things are read in their own authors, they are received with loud applause; they are regarded as the record and recommendation of virtues in the practice of which the Republic deserved to hold sway over so many nations, because its citizens preferred to pardon rather than punish those who wronged them. But when the precept, "Render to no man evil for evil," is read as given by divine authority, and when, from the pulpits in our churches, this wholesome counsel is published in the midst of our congregations, or, as we might say, in places of instruction open to all, of both sexes and of all ages and ranks, our religion is accused as an enemy to the Republic! Yet, were our religion listened to as it deserves, it would establish, consecrate, strengthen, and enlarge the commonwealth in a way beyond all that Romulus, Numa, Brutus, and all the other men of renown in Roman history achieved. For what is a republic but a commonwealth? Therefore its interests are common to all; they are the interests of the State. Now what is a State but a multitude of men bound together by some bond of concord? In one of their own authors we read: "What was a scattered and unsettled multitude had by concord become in a short time a State." But what exhortations to concord have they ever appointed to be read in their temples? So far from this, they were unhappily compelled to devise how they might worship without giving offence to any of their gods, who were all at such variance among themselves, that, had their worshippers imitated their quarrelling, the State must have fallen to pieces for want of the bond of concord, as it soon afterwards began to do through civil wars, when the morals of the people were changed and corrupted.

11. But who, even though he be a stranger to our religion, is so deaf as not to know how many precepts enjoining concord, not invented by the discussions of men, but written with the authority of God, are continually read in the churches of Christ? For this is the tendency even of those precepts which they are much more willing to debate than to follow: "That to him who smites us on one cheek we should offer the other to be smitten; to him who would take away our coat we should give our cloak also; and that with him who compels us to go one mile we should go twain." For these things are done only that a wicked man may be overcome by kindness, or rather that the evil which is in the wicked man may be overcome by good, and that the man may be delivered from the evil--not from any evil that is external and foreign to himself, but from that which is within and is his own, under which he suffers loss more severe and fatal than could be inflicted by the cruelty of any enemy from without. He, therefore, who is overcoming evil by good, submits patiently to the loss of temporal advantages, that he may show how those things, through excessive love of which the other is made wicked, deserve to be despised when compared with faith and righteousness; in order that so the injurious person may learn from him whom he wronged what is the true nature of the things for the sake of which he committed the wrong, and may be won back with sorrow for his sin to that concord, than which nothing is more serviceable to the State, being overcome not by the strength of one passionately resenting, but by the good-nature of one patiently bearing wrong. For then it is rightly done when it seems that it will benefit him for whose sake it is done, by producing in him amendment of his ways and concord with others. At all events, it is to be done with this intention, even though the result may be different from what was expected, and the man, with a view to whose correction and conciliation this healing and salutary medicine, so to speak, was employed, refuses to be corrected and reconciled.

12. Moreover, if we pay attention to the words of the precept, and consider ourselves under bondage to the literal interpretation, the right cheek is not to be presented by us if the left has been smitten. "Whosoever," it is said, "shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;" [2549] but the left cheek is more liable to be smitten, because it is easier for the right hand of the assailant to smite it than the other. But the words are commonly understood as if our Lord had said: If any one has acted injuriously to thee in respect of the higher possessions which thou hast, offer to him also the inferior possessions, lest, being more concerned about revenge than about forbearance, thou shouldst despise eternal things in comparison with temporal things, whereas temporal things ought to be despised in comparison with eternal things, as the left is in comparison with the right. This has been always the aim of the holy martyrs; for final vengeance is righteously demanded only when there remains no room for amendment, namely, in the last great judgment. But meanwhile we must be on our guard, lest, through desire for revenge, we lose patience itself,--a virtue which is of more value than all which an enemy can, in spite of our resistance, take away from us. For another evangelist, in recording the same precept, makes no mention of the right cheek, but names merely the one and the other; [2550] so that, while the duty may be somewhat more distinctly learned from Matthew's gospel, he simply commends the same exercise of patience. Wherefore a righteous and pious man ought to be prepared to endure with patience injury from those whom he desires to make good, so that the number of good men may be increased, instead of himself being added, by retaliation of injury, to the number of wicked men.

13. In fine, that these precepts pertain rather to the inward disposition of the heart than to the actions which are done in the sight of men, requiring us, in the inmost heart, to cherish patience along with benevolence, but in the outward action to do that which seems most likely to benefit those whose good we ought to seek, is manifest from the fact that our Lord Jesus Himself, our perfect example of patience, when He was smitten on the face, answered: "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if not, why smitest thou me?" [2551] If we look only to the words, He did not in this obey His own precept, for He did not present the other side of his face to him who had smitten Him but, on the contrary, prevented him who had done the wrong from adding thereto; and yet He had come prepared not only to be smitten on the face, but even to be slain upon the cross for those at whose hands He suffered crucifixion, and for whom, when hanging on the cross, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!" [2552] In like manner, the Apostle Paul seems to have failed to obey the precept of his Lord and Master, when he, being smitten on the face as He had been, said to the chief priest: "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" And when it was said by them that stood near, "Revilest thou God's high priest?" he took pains sarcastically to indicate what his words meant, that those of them who were discerning might understand that now the whited wall, i.e. the hypocrisy of the Jewish priesthood, was appointed to be thrown down by the coming of Christ; for He said: "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest, for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people;" [2553] although it is perfectly certain that he who had grown up in that nation and had been in that place trained in the law, could not but know that his judge was the chief priest, and could not, by professing ignorance on this point, impose upon those to whom he was so well known.

14. These precepts concerning patience ought to be always retained in the habitual discipline of the heart, and the benevolence which prevents the recompensing of evil for evil must be always fully cherished in the disposition. At the same time, many things must be done in correcting with a certain benevolent severity, even against their own wishes, men whose welfare rather than their wishes it is our duty to consult and the Christian Scriptures have most unambiguously commended this virtue in a magistrate. For in the correction of a son, even with some sternness, there is assuredly no diminution of a father's love; yet, in the correction, that is done which is received with reluctance and pain by one whom it seems necessary to heal by pain. And on this principle, if the commonwealth observe the precepts of the Christian religion, even its wars themselves will not be carried on without the benevolent design that, after the resisting nations have been conquered, provision may be more easily made for enjoying in peace the mutual bond of piety and justice. For the person from whom is taken away the freedom which he abuses in doing wrong is vanquished with benefit to himself; since nothing is more truly a misfortune than that good fortune of offenders, by which pernicious impunity is maintained, and the evil disposition, like an enemy within the man, is strengthened. But the perverse and froward hearts of men think human affairs are prosperous when men are concerned about magnificent mansions, and indifferent to the ruin of souls; when mighty theatres are built up, and the foundations of virtue are undermined; when the madness of extravagance is highly esteemed, and works of mercy are scorned; when, out of the wealth and affluence of rich men, luxurious provision is made for actors, and the poor are grudged the necessaries of life; when that God who, by the public declarations of His doctrine, protests against public vice, is blasphemed by impious communities, which demand gods of such character that even those theatrical representations which bring disgrace to both body and soul are fitly performed in honour of them. If God permit these things to prevail, He is in that permission showing more grievous displeasure: if He leave these crimes unpunished, such impunity is a more terrible judgment. When, on the other hand, He overthrows the props of vice, and reduces to poverty those lusts which were nursed by plenty, He afflicts in mercy. And in mercy, also, if such a thing were possible, even wars might be waged by the good, in order that, by bringing under the yoke the unbridled lusts of men, those vices might be abolished which ought, under a just government, to be either extirpated or suppressed.

15. For if the Christian religion condemned wars of every kind, the command given in the gospel to soldiers asking counsel as to salvation would rather be to cast away their arms, and withdraw themselves wholly from military service; whereas the word spoken to such was, "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages," [2554] --the command to be content with their wages manifestly implying no prohibition to continue in the service. Wherefore, let those who say that the doctrine of Christ is incompatible with the State's well-being, give us an army composed of soldiers such as the doctrine of Christ requires them to be; let them give us such subjects, such husbands and wives, such parents and children, such masters and servants, such kings, such judges--in fine, even such taxpayers and tax-gatherers, as the Christian religion has taught that men should be, and then let them dare to say that it is adverse to the State's well-being; yea, rather, let them no longer hesitate to confess that this doctrine, if it were obeyed, would be the salvation of the commonwealth.

Chap. III.

16. But what am I to answer to the assertion made that many calamities have befallen the Roman Empire through some Christian emperors? This sweeping accusation is a calumny. For if they would more clearly quote some indisputable facts in support of it from the history of past emperors, I also could mention similar, perhaps even greater calamities in the reigns of other emperors who were not Christians; so that men may understand that these were either faults in the men, not in their religion, or were due not to the emperors themselves, but to others without whom emperors can do nothing. As to the date of the commencement of the downfall of the Roman Republic, there is ample evidence; their own literature speaks plainly as to this. Long before the name of Christ had shone abroad on the earth, this was said of Rome: "O venal city, and doomed to perish speedily, if only it could find a purchaser!" [2555] In his book on the Catilinarian conspiracy, which was before the coming of Christ, the same most illustrious Roman historian declares plainly the time when the army of the Roman people began to be wanton and drunken; to set a high value on statues, paintings, and embossed vases; to take these by violence both from individuals and from the State; to rob temples and pollute everything, sacred and profane. When, therefore, the avarice and grasping violence of the corrupt and abandoned manners of the time spared neither men nor those whom they esteemed as gods, the famous honour and safety of the commonwealth began to decline. What progress the worst vices made from that time forward, and with how great mischief to the interests of mankind the wickedness of the Empire went on, it would take too long to rehearse. Let them hear their own satirist speaking playfully yet truly thus:--

"Once poor, and therefore chaste, in former times

Our matrons were; no luxury found room

In low-roofed houses and bare walls of loam;

Their hands with labour burdened while 'tis light,

A frugal sleep supplied the quiet night;

While, pinched with want, their hunger held them strait,

When Hannibal was hovering at the gate;

But wanton now, and lolling at our ease,

We suffer all the inveterate ills of peace

And wasteful riot, whose destructive charms

Revenge the vanquished world of our victorious arms.

No crime, no lustful postures are unknown,

Since poverty, our guardian-god, is gone." [2556]

Why, then, do you expect me to multiply examples of the evils which were brought in by wickedness uplifted by prosperity, seeing that among themselves, those who observed events with somewhat closer attention discerned that Rome had more reason to regret the departure of its poverty than of its opulence; because in its poverty the integrity of its virtue was secured, but through its opulence, dire corruption, more terrible than any invader, had taken violent possession not of the walls of the city, but of the mind of the State?

17. Thanks be unto the Lord our God, who has sent unto us unprecedented help in resisting these evils. For whither might not men have been carried away by that flood of the appalling wickedness of the human race, whom would it have spared, and in what depths would it not have engulfed its victims, had not the cross of Christ, resting on such a solid rock of authority (so to speak), been planted too high and too strong for the flood to sweep it away? so that by laying hold of its strength we may become stedfast, and not be carried off our feet and overwhelmed in the mighty whirlpool of the evil counsels and evil impulses of this world. For when the empire was sinking in the vile abyss of utterly depraved manners, and of the effete ancient religion, it was signally important that heavenly authority should come to the rescue, persuading men to the practice of voluntary poverty, continence, benevolence, justice, and concord among themselves, as well as true piety towards God, and all the other bright and sterling virtues of life,--not only with a view to the spending of this present life in the most honourable way, nor only with a view to secure the most perfect bond of concord in the earthly commonwealth, but also in order to the obtaining of eternal salvation, and a place in the divine and celestial republic of a people which shall endure for ever--a republic to the citizenship of which faith, hope, and charity admit us; so that, while absent from it on our pilgrimage here, we may patiently tolerate, if we cannot correct, those who desire, by leaving vices unpunished, to give stability to that republic which the early Romans founded and enlarged by their virtues, when, though they had not the true piety towards the true God which could bring them, by a religion of saving power, to the commonwealth which is eternal, they did nevertheless observe a certain integrity of its own kind, which might suffice for founding, enlarging, and preserving an earthly commonwealth. For in the most opulent and illustrious Empire of Rome, God has shown how great is the influence of even civil virtues without true religion, in order that it might be understood that, when this is added to such virtues, men are made citizens of another commonwealth, of which the king is Truth, the law is Love, and the duration is Eternity.

Chap. IV.

18. Who can help feeling that there is something simply ridiculous in their attempt to compare with Christ, or rather to put in a higher place, Apollonius and Apuleius, and others who were most skilful in magical arts? Yet this is to be tolerated with less impatience, because they bring into comparison with Him these men rather than their own gods; for Apollonius was, as we must admit, a much worthier character than that author and perpetrator of innumerable gross acts of immorality whom they call Jupiter. "These legends about our gods," they reply, "are fables." Why, then, do they go on praising that luxurious, licentious, and manifestly profane prosperity of the Republic, which invented these infamous crimes of the gods, and not only left them to reach the ears of men as fables, but also exhibited them to the eyes of men in the theatres; in which, more numerous than their deities were the crimes which the gods themselves were well pleased to see openly perpetrated in their honour, whereas they should have punished their worshippers for even tolerating such spectacles? "But," they reply, "those are not the gods themselves whose worship is celebrated according to the lying invention of such fables." Who, then, are they who are propitiated by the practising in worship of such abominations? Because, forsooth, Christianity has exposed the perversity and chicanery of those devils, by whose power also magical arts deceive the minds of men, and because it has made this patent to the world, and, having brought out the distinction between the holy angels and these malignant adversaries, has warned men to be on their guard against them, showing them also how this may be done,--it is called an enemy to the Republic, as if, even though temporal prosperity could be secured by their aid, any amount of adversity would not be preferable to the prosperity obtained through such means. And yet it pleased God to prevent men from being perplexed in this matter; for in the age of the comparative darkness of the Old Testament, in which is the covering of the New Testament, He distinguished the first nation which worshiped the true God and despised false gods by such remarkable prosperity in this world, that any one may perceive from their case that prosperity is not at the disposal of devils, but only of Him whom angels serve and devils fear.

19. Apuleius (of whom I choose rather to speak, because, as our own countryman, he is better known to us Africans), though born in a place of some note, [2557] and a man of superior education and great eloquence, never succeeded, with all his magical arts, in reaching, I do not say the supreme power, but even any subordinate office as a magistrate in the Empire. Does it seem probable that he, as a philosopher, voluntarily despised these things, who, being the priest of a province, was so ambitious of greatness that he gave spectacles of gladiatorial combats, provided the dresses worn by those who fought with wild beasts in the circus, and, in order to get a statue of himself erected in the town of Coea, the birthplace of his wife, appealed to law against the opposition made by some of the citizens to the proposal, and then, to prevent this from being forgotten by posterity, published the speech delivered by him on that occasion? So far, therefore, as concerns worldly prosperity, that magician did his utmost in order to success; whence it is manifest that he failed not because he was not wishful, but because he was not able to do more. At the same time we admit that he defended himself with brilliant eloquence against some who imputed to him the crime of practising magical arts; which makes me wonder at his panegyrists, who, in affirming that by these arts he wrought some miracles, attempt to bring evidence contradicting his own defence of himself from the charge. Let them, however, examine whether, indeed, they are bringing true testimony, and he was guilty of pleading what he knew to be false. Those who pursue magical arts only with a view to worldly prosperity or from an accursed curiosity, and those also who, though innocent of such arts, nevertheless praise them with a dangerous admiration, I would exhort to give heed, if they be wise, and to observe how, without any such arts, the position of a shepherd was exchanged for the dignity of the kingly office by David, of whom Scripture has faithfully recorded both the sinful and the meritorious actions, in order that we might know both how to avoid offending God, and how, when He has been offended, His wrath may be appeased.

20. As to those miracles, however, which are performed in order to excite the wonder of men, they do greatly err who compare heathen magicians with the holy prophets, who completely eclipse them by the fame of their great miracles. How much more do they err if they compare them with Christ, of whom the prophets, so incomparably superior to magicians of every name, foretold that He would come both in the human nature, which he took in being born of the Virgin, and in the divine nature, in which He is never separated from the Father!

I see that I have written a very long letter, and yet have not said all concerning Christ which might meet the case either of those who from sluggishness of intellect are unable to comprehend divine things, or of those who, though endowed with acuteness, are kept back from discerning truth through their love of contradiction and the prepossession of their minds in favour of long-cherished error. Howbeit, take note of anything which influences them against our doctrine, and write to me again, so that, if the Lord help us, we may, by letters or by treatises, furnish an answer to all their objections. May you, by the grace and mercy of the Lord, be happy in Him, my noble and justly distinguished lord, my son dearly beloved and longed for!

Footnotes

[2536] Letter CXXXVI. sec. 2, p. 473. [2537] Augustin's four stages of human life are: Pueritia, adolescentia, juventus, senectus. [2538] Ps. xvi. 2. hoti ton agathon mou ou chreian echeis, LXX; quoniam bonorum meorum non eges, Aug. [2539] Observe Augustin's definition of the word sacramentum as used by him: "cum ad res divinas pertinent sacramenta appelantur." [2540] Ps. cii. 26, 27. [2541] Ps. xvi. 3. ou me sunagago tas sunagogas auton ex aimaton, LXX. [2542] Ps. l. 9. [2543] Jer. xxxi. 32. [2544] Letter CXXXVI. sec. 2, p. 473. [2545] Rom. xii. 17. [2546] Matt. v. 39-41. [2547] "Accepta injuria ignoscere quam persequi malebant."--Sallust, Catilina, c. 9. [2548] "Oblivisci soles nihil nisi injurias."--Cicero, pro Ligario, c. 12. [2549] Matt. v. 39. [2550] Luke vi. 29. [2551] John xviii. 23. [2552] Luke xxiii. 34. [2553] Acts xxiii. 3-5. [2554] Luke iii. 14. [2555] Sallust, Bell. Tugurth. [2556] Juvenal, vi. 277-295 (Dryden's translation). [2557] Madaura.


Letter CXXXIX.

(a.d. 412.)

To Marcellinus, My Lord Justly Distinguished, My Son Very Much Beloved and Longed for, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. The Acts [2558] which your Excellency promised to send I am eagerly expecting, and I am longing to have them read as soon as possible in the church at Hippo, and also, if it can be done, in all the churches established within the diocese, that all may hear and become thoroughly familiar with the men who have confessed their crimes, not because the fear of God subdued them to repentance, but because the rigour of their judges broke through the hardness of their most cruel hearts,--some of them confessing to the murder of one presbyter [Restitutus], and the blinding and maiming of another [Innocentius]; others not daring to deny that they might have known of these outrages, although they say that they disapproved of them, and persisting in the impiety of schism in fellowship with such a multitude of atrocious villains, while deserting the peace of the Catholic Church on the pretext of unwillingness to be polluted by other men's crimes; others declaring that they will not forsake the schismatics, even though the certainty of Catholic truth and the perversity of the Donatists have been demonstrated to them. The work, which it has pleased God to entrust to your diligence, is of great importance. My heart's desire is, that many similar Donatist cases may be tried and decided by you as these have been, and that in this way the crimes and the insane obstinacy of these men may be often brought to light; and that the Acts recording these proceedings may be published, and brought to the knowledge of all men.

As to the statement in your Excellency's letter, that you are uncertain whether you ought to command the said Acts to be published in Theoprepia, [2559] my reply is, Let this be done, if a large multitude of hearers can be gathered there; if this be not the case, some other place of more general resort must be provided; it must not, however, be omitted on any account.

2. As to the punishment of these men, I beseech you to make it something less severe than sentence of death, although they have, by their own confession, been guilty of such grievous crimes. I ask this out of a regard both for our own consciences and for the testimony thereby given to Catholic clemency. For this is the special advantage secured to us by their confession, that the Catholic Church has found an opportunity of maintaining and exhibiting forbearance towards her most violent enemies; since in a case where such cruelty was practised, any punishment short of death will be seen by all men to proceed from great leniency. And although such treatment appears to some of our communion, whose minds are agitated by these atrocities, to be less than the crimes deserve, and to have somewhat the aspect of weakness and dereliction of duty, nevertheless, when the feelings, which are wont to be immoderately excited while such events are recent, have subsided after a time, the kindness shown to the guilty will shine with most conspicuous brightness, and men will take much more pleasure in reading these Acts and showing them to others, my lord justly distinguished, and son very much beloved and longed for.

My holy brother and co-bishop Boniface is on the spot, and I have forwarded by the deacon Peregrinus, who travelled along with him, a letter of instructions; accept these as representing me. And whatever may seem in your joint opinion to be for the Church's interest, let it be done with the help of the Lord, who is able in the midst of so great evils graciously to succour you. One of their bishops, Macrobius, is at present going round in all directions, followed by bands of wretched men and women, and has opened for himself the [Donatist] churches which fear, however slight, had moved their owners to close for a time. By the presence, however, of one whom I have commended and again heartily commend to your love, namely, Spondeus, the deputy of the illustrious Celer, their presumption was indeed somewhat checked; but now, since his departure to Carthage, Macrobius has opened the Donatist churches even within his property, and is gathering congregations for worship in them. In his company, moreover, is Donatus, a deacon, rebaptized by them even when he was a tenant of lands belonging to the Church, who was implicated as a ringleader in the outrage [on Innocentius]. When this man is his associate, who can tell what kind of followers may be in his retinue? If the sentence on these men is to be pronounced by the Proconsul, [2560] or by both of you together, and if he perchance insist upon inflicting capital punishment, although he is a Christian and, so far as we have had opportunity of observing, not disposed to such severity--if, I say, his determination make it necessary, order those letters of mine, which I deemed it my duty to address to you severally on this subject, [2561] to be brought before you while the trial is still going on; for I am accustomed to hear that it is in the power of the judge to mitigate the sentence, and inflict a milder penalty than the law prescribes. If, however, notwithstanding these letters from me, he refuse to grant this request, let him at least allow that the men be remanded for a time; and we will endeavour to obtain this concession from the clemency of the Emperors, so that the sufferings of the martyrs, which ought to shed bright glory on the Church, may not be tarnished by the blood of their enemies; for I know that in the case of the clergy in the valley of Anaunia, [2562] who were slain by the Pagans, and are now honoured as martyrs, the Emperor granted readily a petition that the murderers, who had been discovered and imprisoned, might not be visited with a capital punishment.

3. As to the books concerning the baptism of infants, of which I had sent the original manuscript to your Excellency, I have forgotten for what reason I received them again from you; unless, perhaps, it was that, after examining them, I found them faulty, and wished to make some corrections, which, by reason of extraordinary hindrances, I have not yet been able to overtake. I must also confess that the letter intended to be addressed to you and added to these books, and which I had begun to dictate when I was with you, is still unfinished, little having been added to it since that time. If, however, I could set before you a statement of the toil which it is absolutely necessary for me to devote, both by day and by night, to other duties, you would deeply sympathize with me, and would be astonished at the amount of business not admitting of delay which distracts my mind and hinders me from accomplishing those things to which you urge me in entreaties and admonitions, addressed to one most willing to oblige you, and inexpressibly grieved that it is beyond his power; for when I obtain a little leisure from the urgent necessary business of those men, who so press me into their service [2563] that I am neither able to escape them nor at liberty to neglect them, there are always subjects to which I must, in dictating to my amanuenses, give the first place, because they are so connected with the present hour as not to admit of being postponed. Of such things one instance was the abridgement of the proceedings at our Conference, [2564] a work involving much labour, but necessary, because I saw that no one would attempt the perusal of such a mass of writing; another was a letter to the Donatist laity [2565] concerning the said Conference, a document which I have just completed, after labouring at it for several nights; another was the composition of two long letters, [2566] one addressed to yourself, my beloved friend, the other to the illustrious Volusianus, which I suppose you both have received; another is a book, with which I am occupied at present, addressed to our friend Honoratus, [2567] in regard to five questions proposed by him in a letter to me, and you see that to him I was unquestionably in duty bound to send a prompt reply. For love deals with her sons as a nurse does with children, devoting her attention to them not in the order of the love felt for each, but according to the urgency of each case; she gives a preference to the weaker, because she desires to impart to them such strength as is possessed by the stronger, whom she passes by meanwhile not because of her slighting them, but because her mind is at rest in regard to them. Emergencies of this kind, compelling me to employ my amanuenses in writing on subjects which prevent me from using their pens in work much more congenial to the ardent desires of my heart, can never fail to occur, because I have difficulty in obtaining even a very little leisure, amidst the accumulation of business into which, in spite of my own inclinations, I am dragged by other men's wishes or necessities; and what I am to do, I really do not know.

4. You have heard the burdens, for my deliverance from which I wish you to join your prayers with mine; but at the same time I do not wish you to desist from admonishing me, as you do, with such importunity and frequency; your words are not without some effect. I commend at the same time to your Excellency a church planted in Numidia, on behalf of which, in its present necessities, my holy brother and co-bishop Delphinus has been sent by my brethren and co-bishops who share the toils and the dangers of their work in that region. I write no more on this matter, because you will hear all from his own lips when he comes to you. All other necessary particulars you will find in the letters of instruction, which are sent by me to the presbyter either now or by the deacon Peregrinus, so that I need not again repeat them.

May your heart be ever strong in Christ, my lord justly distinguished, and son very much beloved and longed for!

I commend to your Excellency our son Ruffinus, the Provost [2568] of Cirta.

Footnotes

[2558] Gesta--records of judicial procedure. [2559] This is supposed to be the name of a Donatist church in Carthage. [2560] Apringius. See note, p. 471. [2561] Letters CXXXIII. and CXXXIV. [2562] Anaunia, a valley not far from Trent, destined to be so famous for the Council held there. In the month of May, 397 A.D., Martyrius, Sisinnius, and Alexander were killed there by the heathen. [2563] Angariant. See Matt. v. 41. [2564] The Conference presided over by this Marcellinus at Carthage, in the preceding year. [2565] Letter CXLI. [2566] Letters CXXXVII. and CXXXVIII. [2567] Letter CXL. [2568] Principalis.

Letter CXLIII.

(a.d. 412.)

To Marcellinus, My Noble Lord, Justly Distinguished, My Son Very Much Beloved, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. Desiring to reply to the letter which I received from you through our holy brother, my co-bishop Boniface, I have sought for it, but have not found it. I have recalled to mind, however, that you asked me in that letter how the magicians of Pharaoh could, after all the water of Egypt had been turned into blood, find any with which to imitate the miracle. There are two ways in which the question is commonly answered: either that it was possible for water to have been brought from the sea, or, which is more credible, that these plagues were not inflicted on the district in which the children of Israel were; for the clear, express statements to this effect in some parts of that scriptural narrative entitle us to assume this in places where the statement is omitted.

2. In your other letter, brought to me by the presbyter Urbanus, a question is proposed, taken from a passage not in the Divine Scriptures, but in one of my own books, namely, that which I wrote on Free Will. On questions of this kind, however, I do not bestow much labour; because even if the statement objected to does not admit of unanswerable vindication, it is mine only; it is not an utterance of that Author whose words it is impiety to reject, even when, through our misapprehension of their meaning, the interpretation which we put on them deserves to be rejected. I freely confess, accordingly, that I endeavour to be one of those who write because they have made some progress, and who, by means of writing, make further progress. If, therefore, through inadvertence or want of knowledge, anything has been stated by me which may with good reason be condemned, not only by others who are able to discover this, but also by myself (for if I am making progress, I ought, at least after it has been pointed out, to see it), such a mistake is not to be regarded with surprise or grief, but rather forgiven, and made the occasion of congratulating me, not, of course, on having erred, but on having renounced an error. For there is an extravagant perversity in the self-love of the man who desires other men to be in error, that the fact of his having erred may not be discovered. How much better and more profitable is it that in the points in which he has erred others should not err, so that he may be delivered from his error by their advice, or, if he refuse this, may at least have no followers in his error. For, if God permit me, as I desire, to gather together and point out, in a work devoted to this express purpose, all the things which most justly displease me in my books, men will then see how far I am from being a partial judge in my own case.

3. As for you, however, who love me warmly, if, in opposing those by whom, whether through malice or ignorance or superior intelligence, I am censured, you maintain the position that I have nowhere in my writings made a mistake, you labour in a hopeless enterprise--you have undertaken a bad cause, in which, even if myself were judge, you must be easily worsted; for it is no pleasure to me that my dearest friends should think me to be such as I am not, since assuredly they love not me, but instead of me another under my name, if they love not what I am, but what I am not; for in so far as they know me, or believe what is true concerning me, I am loved by them; but in so far as they ascribe to me what they do not know to be in me, they love another person, such as they suppose me to be. Cicero, the prince of Roman orators, says of some one, "He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall." This commendation, though it seems to be the highest possible, is nevertheless more likely to be true of a consummate fool than of a man perfectly wise; for it is true of idiots, [2569] that the more absurd and foolish they are, and the more their opinions diverge from those universally held, the more likely are they to utter no word which they will wish to recall; for to regret an evil, or foolish, or ill-timed word is characteristic of a wise man. If, however, the words quoted are taken in a good sense, as intended to make us believe that some one was such that, by reason of his speaking all things wisely, he never uttered any word which he would wish to recall,--this we are, in accordance with sound piety, to believe rather concerning men of God, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, than concerning the man whom Cicero commends. For my part, so far am I from this excellence, that if I have uttered no word which I would wish to recall, it must be because I resemble more the idiot than the wise man. The man whose writings are most worthy of the highest authority is he who has uttered no word, I do not say which it would be his desire, but which it would be his duty to recall. Let him that has not attained to this occupy the second rank through his humility, since he cannot take the first rank through his wisdom. Since he has been unable, with all his care, to exclude every expression whose use may be justly regretted, let him acknowledge his regret for anything which, as he may now have discovered, ought not to have been said.

4. Since, therefore, the words spoken by me which I would if I could recall, are not, as my very dear friends suppose, few or none, but perhaps even more than my enemies imagine, I am not gratified by such commendation as Cicero's sentence, "He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall," but I am deeply distressed by the saying of Horace, "The word once uttered cannot be recalled." [2570] This is the reason why I keep beside me, longer than you wish or patiently bear, the books which I have written on difficult and important questions on the book of Genesis and the doctrine of the Trinity, hoping that, if it be impossible to avoid having some things which may deservedly be found fault with, the number of these may at least be smaller than it might have been, if, through impatient haste, the works had been published without due deliberation; for you, as your letters indicate (our holy brother and co-bishop Florentius having written me to this effect), are urgent for the publication of these works now, in order that they may be defended in my own lifetime by myself, when, perhaps, they may begin to be assailed in some particulars, either through the cavilling of enemies or the misapprehensions of friends. You say this doubtless because you think there is nothing in them which might with justice be censured, otherwise you would not exhort me to publish the books, but rather to revise them more carefully. But I fix my eye rather on those who are true judges, sternly impartial, between whom and myself I wish, in the first place, to make sure of my ground, so that the only faults coming to be censured by them may be those which it was impossible for me to observe, though using the most diligent scrutiny.

5. Notwithstanding what I have just said, I am prepared to defend the sentence in the third book of my treatise on Free Will, in which, discoursing on the rational substance, I have expressed my opinion in these words: "The soul, appointed to occupy a body inferior in nature to itself after the entrance of sin, governs its own body, not absolutely according to its free will, but only in so far as the laws of the universe permit." I bespeak the particular attention of those who think that I have here fixed and defined, as ascertained concerning the human soul, either that it comes by propagation from the parents, or that it has, through sins committed in a higher celestial life, incurred the penalty of being shut up in a corruptible body. Let them, I say, observe that the words in question have been so carefully weighed by me, that while they hold fast what I regard as certain, namely, that after the sin of the first man, all other men have been born and continue to be born in that sinful flesh, for the healing of which "the likeness of sinful flesh" [2571] came in the person of the Lord, they are also so chosen as not to pronounce upon any one of those four opinions which I have in the sequel expounded and distinguished--not attempting to establish any one of them as preferable to the others, but disposing in the meantime of the matter under discussion, and reserving the consideration of these opinions, so that whichever of them may be true, praise should unhesitatingly be given to God.

6. For whether all souls are derived by propagation from the first, or are in the case of each individual specially created, or being created apart from the body are sent into it, or introduce themselves into it of their own accord, without doubt this creature endowed with reason, namely, the human soul--appointed to occupy an inferior, that is, an earthly body--after the entrance of sin, does not govern its own body absolutely according to its free will. [2572] For I did not say, "after his sin," or "after he sinned," but after the entrance of sin, that whatever might afterwards, if possible, be determined by reason as to the question whether the sin was his own or the sin of the first parent of mankind, it might be perceived that in saying that "the soul, appointed, after the entrance of sin, to occupy an inferior body, does not govern its body absolutely according to its own free will," I stated what is true; for "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, [2573] and in this we groan, being burdened," [2574] and "the corruptible body weighs down the soul," [2575] --in short, who can enumerate all the evils arising from the infirmity of the flesh, which shall assuredly cease when "this corruptible shall have put on incorruption," so that "that which is mortal shall be swallowed up of life"? [2576] In that future condition, therefore, the soul shall govern its spiritual body with absolute freedom of will; but in the meantime its freedom is not absolute, but conditioned by the laws of the universe, according to which it is fixed, that bodies having experienced birth experience death, and having grown to maturity decline in old age. For the soul of the first man did, before the entrance of sin, govern his body with perfect freedom of will, although that body was not yet spiritual, but animal; but after the entrance of sin, that is, after sin had been committed in that flesh from which sinful flesh was thenceforward to be propagated, the reasonable soul is so appointed to occupy an inferior body, that it does not govern its body with absolute freedom of will. That infant children, even before they have committed any sin of their own, are partakers of sinful flesh, is, in my opinion, proved by their requiring to have it healed in them also, by the application in their baptism of the remedy provided in Him who came in the likeness of sinful flesh. But even those who do not acquiesce in this view have no just ground for taking offence at the sentence quoted from my book; for it is certain, if I am not mistaken, that even if the infirmity be the consequence not of sin, but of nature, it was at all events only after the entrance of sin that bodies having this infirmity began to be produced; for Adam was not created thus, and he did not beget any offspring before he sinned.

7. Let my critics, therefore, seek other passages to censure, not only in my other more hastily published works, but also in these books of mine on Free Will. For I by no means deny that they may in this search discover opportunities of conferring a benefit on me; for if the books, having passed into so many hands, cannot now be corrected, I myself may, being still alive. Those words, however, so carefully selected by me to avoid committing myself to any one of the four opinions or theories regarding the soul's origin, are liable to censure only from those who think that my hesitation as to any definite view in a matter so obscure is blameworthy; against whom I do not defend myself by saying that I think it right to pronounce no opinion whatever on the subject, seeing that I have no doubt either that the soul is immortal--not in the same sense in which God is immortal, who alone hath immortality, [2577] but in a certain way peculiar to itself--or that the soul is a creature and not a part of the substance of the Creator, or as to any other thing which I regard as most certain concerning its nature. But seeing that the obscurity of this most mysterious subject, the origin of the soul, compels me to do as I have done, let them rather stretch out a friendly hand to me, confessing my ignorance, and desiring to know whatever is the truth on the subject; and let them, if they can, teach or demonstrate to me what they may either have learned by the exercise of sound reason, or have believed on indisputably plain testimony of the divine oracles. For if reason be found contradicting the authority of Divine Scriptures, it only deceives by a semblance of truth, however acute it be, for its deductions cannot in that case be true. On the other hand, if, against the most manifest and reliable testimony of reason, anything be set up claiming to have the authority of the Holy Scriptures, he who does this does it through a misapprehension of what he has read, and is setting up against the truth not the real meaning of Scripture, which he has failed to discover, but an opinion of his own; he alleges not what he has found in the Scriptures, but what he has found in himself as their interpreter.

8. Let me give an example, to which I solicit your earnest attention. In a passage near the end of Ecclesiastes, where the author is speaking of man's dissolution through death separating the soul from the body, it is written, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." [2578] A statement having the authority on which this one is based is true beyond all dispute, and is not intended to deceive any one; yet if any one wishes to put upon it such an interpretation as may help him in attempting to support the theory of the propagation of souls, according to which all other souls are derived from that one which God gave to the first man, what is there said concerning the body under the name of "dust" (for obviously nothing else than body and soul are to be understood by "dust" and "spirit" in this passage) seems to favour his view; for he may affirm that the soul is said to return to God because of its being derived from the original stock of that soul which God gave to the first man, in the same way as the body is said to return to the dust because of its being derived from the original stock of that body which was made of dust in the first man and therefore may argue that, from what we know perfectly as to the body, we ought to believe what is hidden from our observation as to the soul; for there is no difference of opinion as to the original stock of the body, but there is as to the original stock of the soul. In the text thus brought forward as a proof, statements are made concerning both, as if the manner of the return of each to its original was precisely similar in both,--the body, on the one hand, returning to the earth as it was, for thence was it taken when the first man was formed; the soul, on the other hand, returning to God, for He gave it when He breathed into the nostrils of the man whom He had formed the breath of life, and he became a living soul, [2579] so that thenceforward the propagation of each part should go on from the corresponding part in the parent.

9. If, however, the true account of the soul's origin be, that God gives to each individual man a soul, not propagated from that first soul, but created in some other way, the statement that the "spirit returns to God who gave it," is equally consistent with this view. The two other opinions regarding the soul's origin are, then, the only ones which seem to be excluded by this text. For in the first place, as to the opinion that every man's soul is made separately within him at the time of his creation, it is supposed that, if this were the case, the soul should have been spoken of as returning, not to God who gave it, but to God who made it; for the word "gave" seems to imply that that which could be given had already a separate existence. The words "returneth to God" are further insisted upon by some, who say, How could it return to a place where it had never been before? Accordingly they maintain that, if the soul is to be believed to have never been with God before, the words should have been "it goes," or "goes on," or "goes away," rather than it "returns" to God. In like manner, as to the opinion that each soul glides of its own accord into its body, it is not easy to explain how this theory is reconcilable with the statement that God gave it. The words of this scriptural passage are consequently somewhat adverse to these two opinions, namely, the one which supposes each soul to be created in its own body, and the one which supposes each soul to introduce itself into its own body spontaneously. But there is no difficulty in showing that the words are consistent with either of the other two opinions, namely, that all souls are derived by propagation from the one first created, or that, having been created and kept in readiness with God, they are given to each body as required.

10. Nevertheless, even if the theory that each soul is created in its own body may not be wholly excluded by this text,--for if its advocates affirm that God is here said to have given the spirit (or the soul) in the same way as He is said to have given us eyes, ears, hands, or other such members, which were not made elsewhere by Him, and kept in store that He might give them, i.e. add and join them to our bodies, but are made by Him in that body to which He is said to have given them,--I do not see what could be said in reply, unless, perchance, the opinion could be refuted, either by other passages of Scripture, or by valid reasoning. In like manner, those who think that each soul flows of its own accord into its body take the words "God gave it" in the sense in which it is said, "He gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts." [2580] Only one word, therefore, remains apparently irreconcilable with the theory that each soul is made in its own body, namely, the word "returneth," in the expression "returneth to God;" for in what sense can the soul return to Him with whom it has not formerly been? By this one word alone are the supporters of this one of the four opinions embarrassed. And yet I do not think that this opinion ought to be held as refuted by this one word, for it may be possible to show that in the ordinary style of scriptural language it may be quite correct to use the word "return," as signifying the spirit created by God returns to Him not because of its having been with Him before its union with the body, but because of its having received being from His creative power.

11. I have written these things in order to show that whoever is disposed to maintain and vindicate any one of these four theories of the soul's origin, must bring forward, either from the Scriptures received into ecclesiastical authority, passages which do not admit of any other interpretation,--as the statement that God made man,--or reasonings founded on premises so obviously true that to call them in question would be madness, such as the statement that none but the living are capable of knowledge or of error; for a statement like this does not require the authority of Scripture to prove its truth, as if the common sense of mankind did not of itself announce its truth with such transparent cogency of reason, that whoever contradicts it must be held to be hopelessly mad. If any one is able to produce such arguments in discussing the very obscure question of the soul's origin, let him help me in my ignorance; but if he cannot do this, let him forbear from blaming my hesitation on the question.

12. As to the virginity of the Holy Mary, if what I have written on this subject does not suffice to prove that it was possible, we must refuse to believe every record of anything miraculous having taken place in the body of any. If, however, the objection to believing this miracle is, that it happened only once, ask the friend who is still perplexed by this, whether instances may not be quoted from secular literature of events which were, like this one, unique, and which, nevertheless, are believed, not merely as fables are believed by the simple, but with that faith with which the history of facts is received--ask him, I beseech you, this question. For if he says that nothing of this kind is to be found in these writings, he ought to have such instances pointed out to him; if he admits this, the question is decided by his admission.

Footnotes

[2569] Quos vulgo moriones vocant. [2570] Nescit vox missa reverti. [2571] Rom. viii. 3. [2572] The text here obscure, we have followed the Mss., which omit the words, "interim quod constat peccatum primi hominis." [2573] Gal. v. 17. [2574] 2 Cor. v. 4. [2575] Wisd. ix. 15. [2576] 1 Cor. xv. 53. [2577] 1 Tim. vi. 16. [2578] Eccles. xii. 7. [2579] Gen. ii. 7. [2580] Rom. i. 24.

Letter CXLIV.

(a.d. 412.)

To My Honourable and Justly Esteemed Lords, The Inhabitants of Cirta, of All Ranks, Brethren Dearly Beloved and Longed For, Bishop Augustin Sends Greeting.

1. If that which greatly distressed me in your town has now been removed; if the obduracy of hearts which resisted most evident and, as we might call it, notorious truth, has by the force of truth been overcome; if the sweetness of peace is relished, and the love which tends to unity is the occasion no longer of pain to eyes diseased, but of light and vigour to eyes restored to health,--this is God's work, not ours; on no account would I ascribe these results to human efforts, even had such a remarkable conversion of your whole community taken place when I was with you, and in connection with my own preaching and exhortations. The operation and the success are His who, by His servants, calls men's attention outwardly by the signs of things, and Himself teaches men inwardly by the things themselves. The fact, however, that whatever praiseworthy change has been wrought among you is to be ascribed not to us, but to Him who alone doeth wonderful works, [2581] is no reason for our being more reluctant to be persuaded to visit you. For we ought to hasten much more readily to see the works of God than our own works, for we ourselves also, if we be of service in any work, owe this not to men but to Him; wherefore the apostle says, "Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth: but God that giveth the increase." [2582]

2. You allude in your letter to a fact which I also remember from classic literature, that by discoursing on the benefits of temperance, Xenocrates suddenly converted Polemo from a dissipated to a sober life, though this man was not only habitually intemperate, but was actually intoxicated at the time. Now although this was, as you have wisely and truthfully apprehended, a case not of conversion to God, but of emancipation from the thraldom of self-indulgence, I would not ascribe even the amount of improvement wrought in him to the work of man, but to the work of God. For even in the body, the lowest part of our nature, all excellent things, such as beauty, vigour, health, and so on, are the work of God, to whom nature owes its creation and perfection; how much more certain, therefore, must it be that no other can impart excellent properties to the soul! For what imagination of human folly could be more full of pride and ingratitude than the notion that, although God alone can give comeliness to the body, it belongs to man to give purity to the soul? It is written in the book of Christian Wisdom, "I perceived that no one can have self-restraint unless God give it to him, and that this is a part of true wisdom to know whose gift it is." [2583] If, therefore, Polemo, when he exchanged a life of dissipation for a life of sobriety, had so understood whence the gift came, that, renouncing the superstitions of the heathen, he had rendered worship to the Divine Giver, he would then have become not only temperate, but truly wise and savingly religious, which would have secured to him not merely the practice of virtue in this life, but also the possession of immortality in the life to come. How much less, then, should I presume to take to myself the honour of your conversion, or of that of your people which you have now reported to me, which, when I was neither speaking to you nor even present with you, was accomplished unquestionably by divine power in all in whom it has really taken place. This, therefore, know above all things, meditate on this with devout humility. To God, my brethren, to God give thanks. Fear Him, that ye may not go backward: love Him, that ye may go forward. [2584]

3. If, however, love of men still keeps some secretly alienated from the flock of Christ, while fear of other men constrains them to a feigned reconciliation, I charge all such to consider that before God the conscience of man has no covering, and that they can neither impose on Him as a Witness, nor escape from Him as a Judge. But if, by reason of anxiety as to their own salvation, anything as to the question of the unity of Christ's flock perplex them, let them make this demand upon themselves,--and it seems to me a most just demand,--that in regard to the Catholic Church, i.e. the Church spread abroad over the whole world, they believe rather the words of Divine Scripture than the calumnies of human tongues. Moreover, with respect to the schism which has arisen among men (who assuredly, whatsoever they may be, do not frustrate the promises of God to Abraham, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," [2585] --promises believed when brought to their ears as a prophecy, but denied, forsooth, when set before their eyes as an accomplished fact), let them meanwhile ponder this one very brief, but, if I mistake not, unanswerable argument: the question out of which the dispute arose either has or has not been tried before ecclesiastical tribunals beyond the sea; if it has not been tried before these, then no guilt in this matter is chargeable on the whole flock of Christ in the nations beyond the sea, in communion with which we rejoice, and therefore their separation from these guiltless communities is an act of impious schism; if, on the other hand, the question has been tried before the tribunal of these churches, who does not understand and feel, nay, who does not see, that those whose communion is now separated from these churches were the party defeated in the trial? Let them therefore choose to whom they should prefer to give credence, whether to the ecclesiastical judges who decided the question, or to the complaints of the vanquished litigants. Observe wisely how impossible it is for them reasonably to answer this brief and most intelligible dilemma; nevertheless, it were easier to turn Polemo from a life of intemperance, than to drive them out of the madness of inveterate error.

Pardon me, my noble and worthy lords, brethren most dearly beloved and longed for, for writing you a letter more prolix than agreeable, but fitted, as I think, to benefit rather than to flatter you. As to my coming to you, may God fulfil the desire which we both equally cherish! For I cannot express in words, but I am sure you will gladly believe, with what fervour of love I burn to see you.

Footnotes

[2581] Ps. lxxii. 18. [2582] 1 Cor. iii. 7. [2583] Wisd. viii. 21. [2584] Deum timete ne deficiatis, amate ut proficiatis. [2585] Gen. xxvi. 4.

Letter CXLV.

(a.d. 412 or 413.)

To Anastasius, My Holy and Beloved Lord and Brother, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. A most satisfactory opportunity of saluting your genuine worth is furnished by our brethren Lupicinus and Concordialis, honourable servants of God, from whom, even without my writing, you might learn all that is going on among us here. But knowing, as I do, how much you love us in Christ, because of your knowing how warmly your love is reciprocated by us in Him, I was sure that it might have disappointed you if you had seen them, and could not but know that they had come directly from us, and were most intimately united in friendship with us, and yet had received with them no letter from me. Besides this, I am owing you a reply, for I am not aware of having written to you since I received your last letter; so great are the cares by which I am encumbered and distracted, that I know not whether I have written or not before now.

2. We desire eagerly to know how you are, and whether the Lord has given you some rest, so far as in this world He can bestow it; for "if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it;" [2586] and so it is almost always our experience, that when, in the midst of our anxieties, we turn our thoughts to some of our brethren placed in a condition of comparative rest, we are in no small measure revived, as if in them we ourselves enjoyed a more peaceful and tranquil life. At the same time, when vexatious cares are multiplied in this uncertain life, they compel us to long for the everlasting rest. For this world is more dangerous to us in pleasant than in painful hours, and is to be guarded against more when it allures us to love it than when it warns and constrains us to despise it. For although "all that is in the world" is "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," [2587] nevertheless, even in the case of men who prefer to these the things which are spiritual, unseen, and eternal, the sweetness of earthly things insinuates itself into our affections, and accompanies our steps on the path of duty with its seductive allurements. For the violence with which present things acquire sway over our weakness is exactly proportioned to the superior value by which future things command our love. And oh that those who have learned to observe and bewail this may succeed in overcoming and escaping from this power of terrestrial things! Such victory and emancipation cannot, without God's grace, be achieved by the human will, which is by no means to be called free so long as it is subject to prevailing and enslaving lusts; "For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." [2588] And the Son of God has Himself said, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." [2589]

3. The law, therefore, by teaching and commanding what cannot be fulfilled without grace, demonstrates to man his weakness, in order that the weakness thus proved may resort to the Saviour, by whose healing the will may be able to do what in its feebleness it found impossible. So, then, the law brings us to faith, faith obtains the Spirit in fuller measure, the Spirit sheds love abroad in us, and love fulfils the law. For this reason the law is called a "schoolmaster," [2590] under whose threatenings and severity "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered." [2591] But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?" [2592] Wherefore unto them that believe and call on Him the quickening Spirit is given, lest the letter without the Spirit should kill them. [2593] But by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, [2594] so that the words of the same apostle, "Love is the fulfilling of the law," [2595] are realized. So the law is good to the man who uses it lawfully; [2596] and he uses it lawfully who, understanding wherefore it was given, betakes himself, under the pressure of its threatenings, to grace, which sets him free. Whoever unthankfully despises this grace, by which the ungodly are justified, and trusts in his own strength, as if he thereby could fulfil the law, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish his own righteousness, is not submitting himself to the righteousness of God; [2597] and thus the law becomes to him not a help to pardon, but the bond fastening his guilt to him. Not that the law is evil, but because sin worketh death in such persons by that which is good. [2598] For by occasion of the commandment he sins more grievously who, by the commandment, knows how evil are the sins which he commits.

4. In vain, however, does any one think himself to have gained the victory over sin, if, through nothing but fear of punishment, he refrains from sin; because, although the outward action to which an evil desire prompts him is not performed, the evil desire itself within the man is an enemy unsubdued. And who is found innocent in God's sight who is willing to do the sin which is forbidden if you only remove the punishment which is feared? And consequently, even in the volition itself, he is guilty of sin who wishes to do what is unlawful, but refrains from doing it because it cannot be done with impunity; for, so far as he is concerned, he would prefer that there were no righteousness forbidding and punishing sins. And assuredly, if he would prefer that there should be no righteousness, who can doubt that he would if he could abolish it altogether? How, then, can that man be called righteous who is such an enemy to righteousness that, if he had the power, he would abolish its authority, that he might not be subject to its threatenings or its penalties? He, then, is an enemy to righteousness who refrains from sin only through fear of punishment; but he will become the friend of righteousness if through love of it he sin not, for then he will be really afraid to sin. For the man who only fears the flames of hell is afraid not of sinning, but of being burned; but the man who hates sin as much as he hates hell is afraid to sin. This is the "fear of the Lord," which "is pure, enduring for ever." [2599] For the fear of punishment has torment, and is not in love; and love, when it is perfect, casts it out. [2600]

5. Moreover, every one hates sin just in proportion as he loves righteousness; which he will be enabled to do not through the law putting him in fear by the letter of its prohibitions, but by the Spirit healing him by grace. Then that is done which the apostle enjoins in the admonition, "I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness." [2601] For what is the force of the conjunctions "as" and "even so," if it be not this: "As no fear compelled you to sin, but the desire for it, and the pleasure taken in sin, even so let not the fear of punishment drive you to a life of righteousness; but let the pleasure found in righteousness and the love you bear to it draw you to practise it"? And even this is, as it seems to me, a righteousness, so to speak, somewhat mature, but not perfect. For he would not have prefaced the admonition with the words, "I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh," had there not been something else that ought to have been said if they had been by that time able to bear it. For surely more devoted service is due to righteousness than men are wont to yield to sin. For pain of body restrains men, if not from the desire of sin, at least from the commission of sinful actions; and we should not easily find any one who would openly commit a sin procuring to him an impure and unlawful gratification, if it was certain that the penalty of torture would immediately follow the crime. But righteousness ought to be so loved that not even bodily sufferings should hinder us from doing its works, but that, even when we are in the hands of cruel enemies, our good works should so shine before men that those who are capable of taking pleasure therein may glorify our Father who is in heaven. [2602]

6. Hence it comes that that most devoted lover of righteousness exclaims, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." [2603] Observe how he does not say simply, "Who shall separate us from Christ?" but, indicating that by which we cling to Christ, he says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" We cling to Christ, then, by love, not by fear of punishment. Again, after having enumerated those things which seem to be sufficiently fierce, but have not sufficient force to effect a separation, he has, in the conclusion, called that the love of God which he had previously spoken of as the love of Christ. And what is this "love of Christ" but love of righteousness? for it is said of Him that He "is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." [2604] As, therefore he is superlatively wicked who is not deterred even by the penalty of bodily sufferings from the vile works of sordid pleasure, so is he superlatively righteous who is not restrained even by the fear of bodily sufferings from the holy works of most glorious love.

7. This love of God, which must be maintained by unremitting, devout meditation, "is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us," [2605] so that he who glories in it must glory in the Lord. Forasmuch, therefore, as we feel ourselves to be poor and destitute of that love by which the law is most truly fulfilled, we ought not to expect and demand its riches from our own indigence, but to ask, seek, and knock in prayer, that He with whom is "the fountain of life" "may satisfy us abundantly with the fatness of His house, and make us drink of the river of His pleasures," [2606] so that, watered and revived by its full flood, we may not only escape from being swallowed up by sorrow, but may even "glory in tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed;"--not that we can do this of ourselves, but "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us." [2607]

8. It has been a pleasure to me to say, at least by a letter, these things which I could not say when you were present. I write them, not in reference to yourself, for you do not affect high things, but are contented with that which is lowly, [2608] but in reference to some who arrogate too much to the human will, imagining that, the law being given, the will is of its own strength sufficient to fulfil that law, though not assisted by any grace imparted by the Holy Spirit, in addition to instruction in the law; and by their reasonings they persuade the wretched and impoverished weakness of man to believe that it is not our duty to pray that we may not enter into temptation. Not that they dare openly to say this; but this is, whether they acknowledge it or not, an inevitable consequence of their doctrine. [2609] For wherefore is it said to us, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;" [2610] and wherefore was it that, when He was teaching us to pray, He prescribed, in accordance with this injunction, the use of the petition "lead us not into temptation," [2611] if this be wholly in the power of the will of man, and does not require the help of divine grace in order to its accomplishment?

Why should I say more? Salute the brethren who are with you, and pray for us, that we may be saved with that salvation of which it is said, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." [2612] Pray, therefore, for us that we may be righteous,--an attainment wholly beyond a man's reach, unless he know righteousness and be willing to practise it, but one which is immediately realized when he is perfectly willing; but this full consent of his will can never be in him unless he is healed and assisted by the grace of the Spirit.

Footnotes

[2586] 1 Cor. xii. 26. [2587] 1 John ii. 16. [2588] 2 Pet. ii. 19. [2589] John viii. 36. [2590] Gal. iii. 24. [2591] Joel ii. 32. [2592] Rom. x. 14. [2593] 2 Cor. iii. 6. [2594] Rom. v. 5. [2595] Rom. xiii. 10. [2596] 1 Tim. i. 8. [2597] Rom. x. 3. [2598] Rom. vii. 13. [2599] Ps. xix. 9. [2600] 1 John iv. 18. [2601] Rom. vi. 19. [2602] Matt. v. 16. [2603] Rom. viii. 35-39. [2604] 1 Cor. i. 30, 31; Jer. ix. 24. [2605] Rom. v. 5. [2606] Ps. xxxvi. 8, 9. [2607] Rom. v. 3-5. [2608] Rom. xii. 16. [2609] The heresy of Pelagius is obviously alluded to here as having begun thus early (A.D. 413) to command attention. [2610] Matt. xxiv. 41. [2611] Matt. vi. 13. [2612] Matt. ix. 12, 13.

Letter CXLVI.

(a.d. 413.)

To Pelagius, My Lord Greatly Beloved, and Brother Greatly Longed For, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.

I thank you very much for your consideration in making me glad by a letter from you, and informing me of your welfare. May the Lord recompense you with those blessings by the possession of which you may be good for ever, and may live eternally with Him who is eternal, my lord greatly beloved, and brother greatly longed for. Although I do not acknowledge that anything in me deserves the eulogies which the letter of your Benevolence contains concerning me, nevertheless I cannot but be grateful for the goodwill therein manifested towards one so insignificant, while suggesting at the same time that you should rather pray for me that I may be made by the Lord such as you suppose me already to be.

(In another hand) May you enjoy safety and the Lord's favour, and be mindful of us! [2613]

Footnotes

[2613] Pelagius made use of this letter at the Council of Diospolis, in A.D. 415, which compelled Augustin to vindicate himself in reference to it in his narrative of the proceedings of Pelagius. See Anti-Pelagian Writings, vol. i. p. 413.


Letter CXLVIII.

(a.d. 413.)

A Letter of Instructions (Commonitorium) to the Holy Brother Fortunatianus. [2614]

Chap. I.

1. I write this to remind you of the request which I made when I was with you, that you would do me the kindness of visiting our brother, whom we mentioned in conversation, in order to ask him to forgive me, if he has construed as a harsh and unfriendly attack upon himself any statement made by me in a recent letter (which I do not regret having written), affirming that the eyes of this body cannot see God, and never shall see Him. I added immediately the reason why I made this statement, namely, to prevent men from believing that God Himself is corporeal and visible, as occupying a place determined by size and by distance from us (for the eye of this body can see nothing except under these conditions), and to prevent men from understanding the expression "face to face" [2615] as if God were limited within the members of a body. Therefore I do not regret having made this statement, as a protest against our forming such unworthy and profane ideas concerning God as to think that He is not everywhere in His totality, but susceptible of division, and distributed through localities in space; for such are the only objects cognizable through these eyes of ours.

2. But if, while holding no such opinion as this concerning God, but believing Him to be a Spirit, unchangeable, incorporeal, present in His whole Being everywhere, any one thinks that the change on this body of ours (when from being a natural body it shall become a spiritual body) will be so great that in such a body it will be possible for us to see a spiritual substance not susceptible of division according to local distance or dimension, or even confined within the limits of bodily members, but everywhere present in its totality, I wish him to instruct me in this matter, if what he has discovered is true; but if in this opinion he is mistaken, it is far less objectionable to ascribe to the body something that does not belong to it, than to take away from God that which belongs to Him. And even if that opinion be correct, it will not contradict my words in that letter; for I said that the eyes of this body shall not see God, meaning that the eyes of this body of ours can see nothing but bodies which are separated from them by some interval of space, for if there be no interval, even bodies themselves cannot through the eyes be seen by us.

3. Moreover, if our bodies shall be changed into something so different from what they now are as to have eyes by means of which a substance shall be seen which is not diffused through space or confined within limits, having one part in one place, another in another, a smaller in a less space, a greater in a larger, but in its totality spiritually present everywhere,--these bodies shall be something very different from what they are at present, and shall no longer be themselves, and shall be not only freed from mortality, and corruption, and weight, but somehow or other shall be changed into the quality of the mind itself, if they shall be able to see in a manner which shall be then granted to the mind, but which is meanwhile not granted even to the mind itself. For if, when a man's habits are changed, we say he is not the man he was,--if, when our age is changed, we say that the body is not what it was, how much more may we say that the body shall not be the same when it shall have undergone so great a change as not only to have immortal life, but also to have power to see Him who is invisible? Wherefore, if they shall thus see God, it is not with the eyes of this body that He shall be seen, because in this also it shall not be the same body, since it has been changed to so great an extent in capacity and power; and this opinion is, therefore, not contrary to the words of my letter. If, however, the body shall be changed only to this extent, that whereas now it is mortal, then it shall be immortal, and whereas now it weighs down the soul, then, devoid of weight, it shall be most ready for every motion, but unchanged in the faculty of seeing objects which are discerned by their dimensions and distances, it will still be utterly impossible for it to see a substance that is incorporeal and is in its totality present everywhere. Whether, therefore, the former or the latter supposition be correct, in both cases it remains true that the eyes of this body shall not see God; or if they are to see Him, they shall not be the eyes of this body, since after so great a change they shall be the eyes of a body very different from this.

4. But if this brother is able to propound anything better on this subject, I am ready to learn either from himself or from his instructor. If I were saying this ironically, I would also say that I am prepared to learn concerning God that He has a body having members, and is divisible in different localities in space; which I do not say, because I am not speaking ironically, and I am perfectly certain that God is not in any respect of such a nature; and I wrote that letter to prevent men from believing Him to be such. In that letter, being carried away by my zeal to warn against error, and writing more freely because I did not name the person whose views I assailed, I was too vehement and not sufficiently guarded, and did not consider as I ought to have done the respect which was due by one brother and bishop to the office of another: this I do not defend, but blame; this I condemn rather than excuse, and beg that it may be forgiven. I entreat him to remember our old friendship, and forget my recent offence. Let him do that which he is displeased with me for not having done; let him exhibit in granting pardon the gentleness which I have failed to show in writing that letter. I thus ask, through your kindly mediation, what I had resolved to ask of him in person if I had had an opportunity. I indeed made an effort to obtain an interview with him (a venerable man, worthy of being honoured by us all, writing to request it in my name), but he declined to come, suspecting, I suppose, that, as very often happens among men, some plot was prepared against him. Of my absolute innocence of such guile, I beg you to do your utmost to assure him, which by seeing him personally you can more easily do. State to him with what deep and genuine grief I conversed with you about my having hurt his feelings. Let him know how far I am from slighting him, how much in him I fear God, and am mindful of our Head in whose body we are brethren. My reason for thinking it better not to go to the place in which he resides was, that we might not make ourselves a laughing-stock to those without the pale of the Church, thereby bringing grief to our friends and shame to ourselves. All this may be satisfactorily arranged through the good offices of your Holiness and Charity; nay, rather, the satisfactory issue is in the hands of Him who, by the faith which is His gift, dwells in your heart, whom I am confident that our brother does not refuse to honour in you, since he knows Christ experimentally as dwelling in himself.

5. I, at all events, do not know what I could do better in this case than ask pardon from the brother who has complained that he was wounded by the harshness of my letter. He will, I hope, do what he knows to be enjoined on him by Him who, speaking through the apostle, says: "Forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as God in Christ has forgiven you;" [2616] "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." [2617] Walking in this love, let us inquire with oneness of heart, and, if possible, with yet greater diligence than hitherto, into the nature of the spiritual body which we shall have after our resurrection. "And if in anything we be diversely minded, God shall reveal even this unto us," [2618] if we abide in Him. Now he who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, for "God is love," [2619] --whether as the fountain of love in its ineffable essence, or as the fountain whence He freely gives it to us by His Spirit. If, then, it can be shown that love can at any time become visible to our bodily eyes, then we grant that possibly God shall be so too; but if love never can become visible, much less can He who is Himself its Fountain or whatever other figurative name more excellent or more appropriate can be employed in speaking of One so great.

Chap. II.

6. Some men of great gifts, and very learned in the Holy Scriptures, who have, when an opportunity presented itself, done much by their writings to benefit the Church and promote the instruction of believers, have said that the invisible God is seen in an invisible manner, that is, by that nature which in us also is invisible, namely, a pure mind or heart. The holy Ambrose, when speaking of Christ as the Word, says: "Jesus is seen not by the bodily, but by the spiritual eyes;" and shortly after he adds: "The Jews saw Him not, for their foolish heart was blinded," [2620] showing in this way how Christ is seen. Also, when he was speaking of the Holy Spirit, he introduced the words of the Lord, saying: "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him;" [2621] and adds: "With good reason, therefore, did He show Himself in the body, since in the substance of His Godhead He is not seen. We have seen the Spirit, but in a bodily form: let us see the Father also; but since we cannot see Him, let us hear Him." A little after he says: "Let us hear the Father, then, for the Father is invisible; but the Son also is invisible as regards His Godhead, for `no man hath seen God at any time;' [2622] and since the Son is God, He is certainly not seen in that in which He is God." [2623]

7. The holy Jerome also says: "The eye of man cannot see God as He is in His own nature; and this is true not of man only; neither angels, nor thrones, nor powers, nor principalities, nor any name which is named can see God, for no creature can see its Creator." By these words this very learned man sufficiently shows what his opinion was on this subject in regard not only to the present life, but also to that which is to come. For however much the eyes of our body may be changed for the better, they shall only be made equal to the eyes of the angels. Here, however, Jerome has affirmed that the nature of the Creator is invisible even to the angels, and to every creature without exception in heaven. If, however, a question arise on this point, and a doubt is expressed whether we shall not be superior to the angels, the mind of the Lord Himself is plain from the words which He uses in speaking of those who shall rise again to the kingdom: "They shall be equal unto the angels." [2624] Whence the same holy Jerome thus expresses himself in another passage: "Man, therefore, cannot see the face of God but the angels of the least in the Church do always behold the face of God. [2625] And now we see as in a mirror darkly, in a riddle, but then face to face; [2626] when from being men we shall advance to the rank of angels, and shall be able to say with the apostle, `We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;' [2627] although no creature can see the face of God, according to the essential properties of His nature, and He is, in these cases, seen by the mind, since He is believed to be invisible." [2628]

8. In these words of this man of God there are many things deserving our consideration: first, that in accordance with the very clear declaration of the Lord, he also is of opinion that we shall then see the face of God when we shall have advanced to the rank of angels, that is, shall be made equal to the angels, which doubtless shall be at the resurrection of the dead. Next, he has sufficiently explained by the testimony of the apostle, that the face is to be understood not of the outward but of the inward man, when it is said we shall "see face to face;" for the apostle was speaking of the face of the heart when he used the words quoted in this connection by Jerome: "We, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." [2629] If any one doubt this, let him examine the passage again, and notice of what the apostle was speaking, namely, of the veil, which remains on the heart of every one in reading the Old Testament, until he pass over to Christ, that the veil may be removed. For he there says: "We also, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,"--which face had not been unveiled in the Jews, of whom he says, "the veil is upon their heart,"--in order to show that the face unveiled in us when the veil is taken away is the face of the heart. In fine, lest any one, looking on these things with too little care and therefore failing to discern their meaning, should believe that God now is or shall hereafter be visible either to angels or to men, when they shall have been made equal to the angels, he has most plainly expressed his opinion by affirming that "no creature can see the face of God according to the essential properties of His nature," and that "He is, in these cases, seen by the mind, since He is believed to be invisible." From these statements he sufficiently showed that when God has been seen by men through the eyes of the body as if He had a body, He has not been seen as to the essential properties of his nature, in which He is seen by the mind, since He is believed to be invisible--invisible, that is to say, to the bodily perception even of celestial beings, as Jerome had said above, of angels, and powers, and principalities. How much more, then, is He invisible to terrestrial beings!

9. Wherefore, in another place, Jerome says in still plainer terms, it is true not only of the divinity of the Father but equally of that of the Son and of that of the Holy Spirit, forming one nature in the Trinity, that it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh, but by the eyes of the mind, of which the Saviour Himself says: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." [2630] What could be more clear than this statement? For if he had merely said that it is impossible for the divinity of the Father, or of the Son, or of the Holy Spirit, to be seen by the eyes of the flesh, and had not added the words, "but only by the eyes of the mind," it might perhaps have been said, that when the body shall have become spiritual it can no longer be called "flesh;" but by adding the words, "but only by the eyes of the mind," he has excluded the vision of God from every sort of body. Lest, however, any one should suppose that he was speaking only of the present state of being, observe that he has subjoined also a testimony of the Lord, quoted with the design of defining the eyes of the mind of which he had spoken; in which testimony a promise is given not of present, but of future vision: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

10. The very blessed Athanasius, also, Bishop of Alexandria, when contending against the Arians, who affirm that the Father alone is invisible, but suppose the Son and the Holy Spirit to be visible, asserted the equal invisibility of all the Persons of the Trinity, proving it by testimonies from Holy Scripture, and arguing with all his wonted care in controversy, labouring earnestly to convince his opponents that God has never been seen, except through His assuming the form of a creature; and that in His essential Deity God is invisible, that is, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are invisible, except in so far as the Divine Persons can be known by the mind and the spirit. Gregory, also, a holy Eastern bishop, very plainly says that God, by nature invisible, had, on those occasions on which He was seen by the fathers (as by Moses, with whom He talked face to face), made it possible for Himself to be seen by assuming the form of something material and discernible. [2631] Our Ambrose says the same: "That the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, when visible, are seen under forms assumed by choice, not prescribed by the nature of Deity;" [2632] thus clearing the truth of the saying, "No man hath seen God at any time," [2633] which is the word of the Lord Christ Himself, and of that other saying, "Whom no man hath seen, nor can see," [2634] which is the word of the apostle, yea, rather, of Christ by His apostle; as well as vindicating the consistency of those passages of Scripture in which God is related to have been seen, because He is both invisible in the essential nature of His Deity, and able to become visible when He pleases, by assuming such created form as shall seem good to Him.

Chap. III.

11. Moreover, if invisibility is a property of the divine nature, as incorruptibility is, that nature shall assuredly not undergo such a change in the future world as to cease to be invisible and become visible; because it shall never be possible for it to cease to be incorruptible and become corruptible, for it is in both attributes alike immutable. The apostle assuredly declared the excellence of the divine nature when he placed these two together, saying, "Now, unto the King of ages, invisible, incorruptible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever." [2635] Wherefore I dare not make such a distinction as to say incorruptible, indeed, for ever and ever, but invisible--not for ever and ever, but only in this world. At the same time, since the testimonies which we are next to quote cannot be false,--"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," [2636] and, "We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is," [2637] --we cannot deny that the sons of God shall see God; but they shall see Him as invisible things are seen, in the manner in which He who appeared in the flesh, visible to men, promised that He would manifest Himself to men, when, speaking in the presence of the disciples and seen by their eyes, He said: "I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." In what other manner are invisible things seen than by the eyes of the mind, concerning which, as the instruments of our vision of God, I have shortly before quoted the opinion of Jerome?

12. Hence, also, the statement of the Bishop of Milan, whom I have quoted before, who says that even in the resurrection it is not easy for any but those who have a pure heart to see God, and therefore it is written, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." "How many," he says, "had He already enumerated as blessed, and yet to them He had not promised the power of seeing God;" and he adds this inference, "If, therefore, the pure in heart shall see God, it is obvious that others shall not see Him;" and to prevent our understanding him to refer to those others of whom the Lord had said, "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek," he immediately subjoined, "For those that are unworthy shall not see God," intending it to be understood that the unworthy are those who, although they shall rise again, shall not be able to see God, since they shall rise to condemnation, because they refused to purify their hearts through that true faith which "worketh by love." [2638] For this reason he goes on to say, "Whosoever has been unwilling to see God cannot see Him." Then, since it occurred to him that, in a sense, even all wicked men have a desire to see God, he immediately explains that he used the words, "Whosoever has been unwilling to see God," because the fact that the wicked do not desire to purify the heart, by which alone God can be seen, shows that they do not desire to see God, and follows up this statement with the words: "God is not seen in space, but in the pure heart; nor is He sought out by the eyes of the body; nor is He defined in form by our faculty of sight; nor grasped by the touch; His voice does not fall on the ear; nor are His goings perceived by the senses." [2639] By these words the blessed Ambrose desired to teach the preparation which men ought to make if they wish to see God, viz. to purify the heart by the faith which worketh by love, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, from whom we have received the earnest by which we are taught to desire that vision. [2640]

Chap. IV.

13. For as to the members of God which the Scripture frequently mentions, lest any one should suppose that we resemble God as to the form and figure of the body, the same Scripture speaks of God as having also wings, which we certainly have not. As then, when we hear of the "wings" of God, we understand the divine protection, so by the "hands" of God we ought to understand His working,--by His "feet," His presence,--by His "eyes," His power of seeing and knowing all things,--by His face, that whereby He reveals Himself to our knowledge; and I believe that any other such expression used in Scripture is to be spiritually understood. In this opinion I am not singular, nor am I the first who has stated it. It is the opinion of all who by any spiritual interpretation of such language in Scripture resist those who are called Anthropomorphites. Not to occupy too much time by quoting largely from the writings of these men, I introduce here one extract from the pious Jerome, in order that our brother may know that, if anything moves him to maintain an opposite opinion, he is bound to carry on the debate with those who preceded me not less than with myself.

14. In the exposition which that most learned student of Scripture has given of the psalm in which occur the words, "Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? or He that formed the eye, doth He not behold?" [2641] he says, among other things: "This passage furnishes a strong argument against those who are Anthropomorphites, and say that God has members such as we have. For example, God is said by them to have eyes, because `the eyes of the Lord behold all things:' in the same, literal manner they take the statements that the hand of the Lord doeth all things, and that Adam `heard the sound of the feet of the Lord walking in the garden,' and thus they ascribe the infirmities of men to the majesty of God. But I affirm that God is all eye, all hand, all foot: all eye, because He sees all things; all hand, because He worketh all things; all foot, because He is everywhere present. See, therefore, what the Psalmist saith: `He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, doth He not behold?' He doth not say: `He that planted the ear, has He not an ear? and He that formed the eye, has He not an eye?' But what does he say? `He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, doth He not behold?' The Psalmist has ascribed to God the powers of seeing and hearing, but has not assigned members to Him." [2642]

15. I have thought it my duty to quote all these passages from the writings of both Latin and Greek authors who, being in the Catholic Church before our time, have written commentaries on the divine oracles, in order that our brother, if he hold any different opinion from theirs, may know that it becomes him, laying aside all bitterness of controversy, and preserving or reviving fully the gentleness of brotherly love, to investigate with diligent and calm consideration either what he must learn from others, or what others must learn from him. For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. In fine, I do by the help of the Lord most stedfastly believe, and, in so far as He enables me, I understand what is taught in all the statements which I have now quoted from the works of the holy and learned Ambrose, Jerome, Athanasius, Gregory, and in any other similar statements in other writers which I have read, but have for the sake of brevity forborne from quoting, namely, that God is not a body, that He has not the members of the human frame, that He is not divisible through space, and that He is unchangeably invisible, and appeared not in His essential nature and substance, but in such visible form as He pleased to those to whom he appeared on the occasions on which Scripture records that He was seen by holy persons with the eyes of the body.

Chap. V.

16. As to the spiritual body which we shall have in the resurrection, how great a change for the better it is to undergo,--whether it shall become pure spirit, so that the whole man shall then be a spirit, or shall (as I rather think, but do not yet confidently maintain) become a spiritual body in such a way as to be called spiritual because of a certain ineffable facility in its movements, but at the same time to retain its material substance, which cannot live and feel by itself, but only through the spirit which uses it (for in our present state, in like manner, although the body is spoken of as animated [animal], the nature of the animating principle is different from that of the body), and whether, if the properties of the body then immortal and incorruptible shall remain unchanged, it shall then in some degree aid the spirit to see visible, i,e. material things, as at present we are unable to see anything of that kind except through the eyes of the body, or our spirit shall then be able, even in its higher state, to know material things without the instrumentality of the body (for God Himself does not know these things through bodily senses), on these and on many other things which may perplex us in the discussion of this subject, I confess that I have not yet read anywhere anything which I would esteem sufficiently established to deserve to be either learned or taught by men.

17. And for this reason, if our brother will bear patiently any degree whatever of hesitation on my part, let us in the meantime, because of that which is written, "We shall see Him as He is," prepare, so far as with the help of God Himself we are enabled, hearts purified for that vision. Let us at the same time inquire more calmly and carefully concerning the spiritual body, for it may be that God, if He know this to be useful to us, may condescend to show us some definite and clear view on the subject, in accordance with His written word. For if a more careful investigation shall result in the discovery that the change on the body shall be so great that it shall be able to see things that are invisible, such power imparted to the body will not, I think, deprive the mind of the power of seeing, and thus give the outward man a vision of God which is denied to the inward man; as if, in contradiction of the plain words of Scripture, "that God may be all and in all," [2643] God were only beside the man--without him, and not in the man, in his inner being; or as if He, who is everywhere present in his entirety, unlimited in space, is so within man that He can be seen outside only by the outward man, but cannot be seen inside by the inward man. If such opinions are palpably absurd,--for, on the contrary, the saints shall be full of God; they shall not, remaining empty within, be surrounded outside by Him; nor shall they, through being blind within, fail to see Him of whom they are full, and, having eyes only for that which is outside of themselves, behold Him by whom they shall be surrounded,--if, I say, these things are absurd, it remains for us to rest meanwhile certainly assured as to the vision of God by the inward man. But if, by some wondrous change, the body shall be endowed with this power, another new faculty shall be added; the faculty formerly possessed shall not be taken away.

18. It is better, then, that we affirm that concerning which we have no doubt,--that God shall be seen by the inward man, which alone is able, in our present state, to see that love in commendation of which the apostle says, "God is love;" [2644] the inward man, which alone is able to see "peace and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." [2645] For no fleshly eye now sees love, peace, and holiness, and such things; yet all of them are seen, so far as they can be seen, by the eye of the mind, and the purer it is the more clearly it sees; so that we may, without hesitation, believe that we shall see God, whether we succeed or fail in our investigations as to the nature of our future body--although, at the same time, we hold it to be certain that the body shall rise again, immortal and incorruptible, because on this we have the plainest and strongest testimony of Holy Scripture. If, however, our brother affirm now that he has arrived at certain knowledge as to that spiritual body, in regard to which I am only inquiring, he will have just cause to be displeased with me if I shall refuse to listen calmly to his instructions, provided only that he also listen calmly to my questions. Now, however, I entreat you, for Christ's sake, to obtain his forgiveness for me for that harshness in my letter, by which, as I have learned, he was, not without cause, offended; and may you, by God's help, cheer my spirit by your answer.

Footnotes

[2614] Fortunatianus, Bishop of Sicqua, was one of the seven bishop selected to represent the Catholics in the Conference of Carthage with the Donatists in 411. He was probably a neighbour of the bishop who had regarded himself as aggrieved by the arguments with which Augustin confuted some extravagant speculations of his. [2615] 1 Cor. xiii. 12. [2616] Col. iii. 13. [2617] Eph. v. 1, 2. [2618] Phil. iii. 15, 16. [2619] 1 John iv. 16. [2620] Ambrosius, Lib. i. in Luc. c. i. [2621] John xiv. 16, 17. [2622] 1 John iv. 12. [2623] Ambrosius, Lib. ii. in Luc. c. iii. v. 22. [2624] Luke xx. 36. [2625] Matt. xviii. 10. [2626] 1 Cor. xiii. 12. [2627] 2 Cor. iii. 18. [2628] Hieron, lib. i. in Isai, i. [2629] 2 Cor. iii. 18. [2630] Hieron. lib. iii. in Isa, i. [2631] See the 49th of the discourses published under the name of Gregory of Nazianzum. M. Dupin has shown that the discourse in question must have been the work of some Latin author. [2632] Ambrose on Luke, c. i. 11. [2633] John i. 18. [2634] 1 Tim. vi. 16. [2635] 1 Tim. i. 17. [2636] Matt. v. 8. [2637] 1 John iii. 2. [2638] Gal. v. 6. [2639] Ambrose on Luke, i. 11. [2640] 2 Cor. v. 4-8. [2641] Ps. xciv. 8, 9. [2642] Jerome, in loc. [2643] 1 Cor. xv. 28. [2644] 1 John iv. 8. [2645] Heb. xii. 14.


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