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In the Shape of a Letter Addressed to the Presbyter Peter.
He advises Peter not to incur the imputation of having approved of the books which had been addressed to him by Victor on the origin of the soul, by any use he might make of them, nor to take as Catholic doctrines that person's rash utterances contrary to the Christian faith. Victor's various errors, and those, too, of a very serious character, he points out and briefly confutes; and he concludes with advising Peter himself to try to persuade Victor to amend his errors.
There have reached me the two books of Vincentius Victor, which he addressed in writing to your Holiness; they have been forwarded to me by our brother Renatus, a layman indeed, but a person who has a prudent and religious care about the faith both of himself and of all he loves. On reading these books, I saw that their author was a man of great resources in speech, of which he had enough, and more than enough; but that on the subjects of which he wished to teach, he was as yet insufficiently instructed. If, however, by the gracious gift of the Lord this qualification were also conferred upon him, he would be serviceable to many. For he possesses in no slight degree the faculty of explaining and beautifying what he thinks; all that is wanted is, that he should first take care to think rightly. Depraved eloquence is a hurtful accomplishment; for to persons of inadequate information it always carries the appearance of truth in its readiness of speech. I know not, indeed, how you received his books; but if I am correctly informed, you are said, after reading them, to have been so greatly overjoyed, that you (though an elderly man and a presbyter) kissed the face of this youthful layman, and thanked him for having taught you what you had been previously ignorant of. Now, in this conduct of yours I do not disapprove of your humility; indeed, I rather commend it; for it was not the man whom you praised, but the truth itself which deigned to speak to you through him: only I wish you were able to point out to me what was the truth which you received through him. I should, therefore, be glad if you would show me, in your answer to this letter, what it was he taught you. Be it far from me to be ashamed to learn from a presbyter, since you did not blush to be instructed by a layman, in proclaiming and imitating your humble conduct, if the lessons were only true in which you received instruction.
Therefore, brother greatly beloved, I desire to know what you learned of him, in order that, if I have already possessed the knowledge, I may participate in your joy; but if I happen to be ignorant, I may be instructed by you. Did you not then understand that there are two somethings, soul and spirit, according as it is said in Scripture,
You will separate my soul from my spirit? And that both of them pertain to man's nature, so that the whole man consists of spirit, and soul, and body? Sometimes, however, these two are combined together under the designation of soul; for instance, in the passage,
And man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7 Now, in this place the spirit is implied. Similarly in sundry passages the two are described under the name of spirit, as when it is written,
And He bowed His head and gave up the spirit; John 19:30 in which passage it is the soul that must also be understood. And that the two are of one and the same substance? I suppose that you already knew all this. But if you did not, then you may as well know that you have not acquired any great knowledge, the ignorance of which would be attended with much danger. And if there must be any more subtle discussion on such points it would be better to carry on the controversy with himself, whose wordy qualities we have already discovered. The questions we might consider are: whether, when mention is made of the soul, the spirit is also implied in the term in such a way that the two comprise the soul, the spirit being, as it were, some part of it — whether, in fact (as this person seemed to think), under the designation soul, the whole is so designated from only a part; or else, whether the two together make up the spirit, that which is properly called soul being a part thereof; whether again, in fact, the whole is not called from only a part, when the term spirit is used in such a wide sense as to comprehend the soul also, as this man supposes. These, however, are but subtle distinctions, and ignorance about them certainly is not attended with any great danger.
Again, I wonder whether this man taught you the difference between the bodily senses and the sensibilities of the soul; and whether you, who were a person of considerable age and position before you took lessons of this man, used to consider to be one and the same that faculty by which white and black are distinguished, which sparrows even see as well as ourselves, and that by which justice and injustice are discriminated, which Tobit also perceived even after he lost the sight of his eyes. If you held the identity, then, of course, when you heard or read the words,
Lighten my eyes, that I sleep not in death, you merely thought of the eyes of the body. Or if this were an obscure point, at all events when you recalled the words of the apostle,
The eyes of your heart being enlightened, Ephesians 1:18 you must have supposed that we possessed a heart somewhere between our forehead and cheeks. Well, I am very far from thinking this of you, so that this instructor of yours could not have given you such a lesson.
And if you happened to suppose, before receiving the instruction from this teacher, which you are rejoicing to have received, that the human soul is a portion of God's nature, then you were ignorant how false and terribly dangerous this opinion was. And if you only were taught by this person that the soul is not a portion of God, then I bid you thank God as earnestly as you can that you were not taken away out of the body before learning so important a lesson. For you would have quitted life a great heretic and a terrible blasphemer. However, I never could have believed this of you, that a man who is both a catholic and a presbyter of no contemptible position like yourself, could by any means have thought that the soul's nature is a portion of God. I therefore cannot help expressing to your beloved self my fears that this man has by some means or other taught you that which is decidedly opposed to the faith which you were holding.
Now, just because I do not suppose that you, a member of the catholic Church, ever believed the human soul to be a portion of God, or that the soul's nature is in any degree identical with God's, I have some apprehension lest you may have been induced to fall in with this man's opinion, that
God did not make the soul from nothing, but that the soul is so far out of Him as to have emanated from Him. For he has put out such a statement as this, with his other opinions, which have led him out of the usual track on this subject to a huge precipice. Now, if he has taught you this, I do not want you to teach it to me; nay, I should wish you to unlearn what you have been taught. For it is not enough to avoid believing and saying that the soul is a part of God. We do not even say that the Son or the Holy Ghost is a part of God, although we affirm that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all of one and the same nature. It is not, then, enough for us to avoid saying that the soul is a part of God, but it is of indispensable importance that we should say that the soul and God are not of one and the self-same nature. This person is therefore right in declaring that
souls are God's offspring, not by nature, but by gift; and then, of course, not the souls of all men, but of the faithful. But afterwards he returned to the statement from which he had shrunk, and affirmed that God and the soul are of the same nature — not, indeed, in so many words, but plainly and manifestly to such a purport. For when he says that the soul is out of God, in such a manner that God created it not out of any other nature, nor out of nothing, but out of His own self, what would he have us believe but the very thing which he denies, in other words, even that the soul is of the self-same nature as God Himself is? For every nature is either God, who has no author; or out of God, as having Him for its Author. But the nature which has for its author God, out of whom it comes, is either not made, or made. Now, that nature which is not made and yet is out of Him, is either begotten by Him or proceeds from Him. That which is begotten is His only Son, that which proceeds is the Holy Ghost, and this Trinity is of one and the self-same nature. For these three are one, and each one is God, and all three together are one God, unchangeable, eternal, without any beginning or ending of time. That nature, on the other hand, which is made is called
creature; God is its Creator, even the blessed Trinity. The creature, therefore, is said to be out of God in such wise as not to be made out of His nature. It is predicated as out of Him, inasmuch as it has in Him the author of its being, not so as to have been born of Him, or to have proceeded from Him, but as having been created, moulded, and formed by Him, in some cases, out of no other substance, — that is, absolutely out of nothing, as, for instance, the heaven and the earth, or rather the whole material of the universe coeval in its creation with the world — but, in some cases, out of another nature already created and in existence, as, for instance, man out of the dust, woman out of the man, and man out of his parents. Still, every creature is out of God — but out of God as its creator either out of nothing, or out of something previously existing, not, however, as its begetter or its producer from His own very self.
All this, however, I am saying to a catholic: advising with him rather than teaching him. For I do not suppose that these things are new to you; or that they have been long heard of by you, but not believed. This epistle of mine, you will, I am sure, so read as to recognise in its statement your own faith also, which is by the gracious gift of the Lord the common property of us all in the catholic Church. Since, then (as I was saying), I am now speaking to a catholic, whence I pray you tell me, do you suppose that the soul, I will not say your soul or my own soul, but the soul of the first man, was given to him? If you admit that it came from nothing, made, however, and inbreathed into him by God, then your belief tallies with my own. If, on the contrary, you suppose that it came out of some other created thing, which served as the material, as it were, for the divine Artificer to make the soul out of, just as the dust was the material of which Adam was formed, or the rib whence Eve was made, or the waters whence the fishes and the fowls were created, or the ground out of which the terrestrial animals were formed: then this opinion is not catholic, nor is it true. But further, if you think, which may God forbid, that the divine Creator made, or is still making, human souls neither out of nothing, nor out of some other created thing, but out of His own self, that is, out of His own nature, then you have learned this of your new instructor; but I cannot congratulate you, or flatter you, on the discovery. You have wandered along with him very far from the catholic faith. Better would it be, though it would be untrue, yet it would be better, I say, and more tolerable, that you should believe the soul to have been made out of some other created substance which God had already formed, than out of God's own uncreated substance, so that what is mutable, and sinful, and impious, and if persistent to the end in the impiety will have to suffer eternal damnation, should not with horrible blasphemy be referred to the nature of God! Away, brother, I beseech you, away with this, I will not call it faith, but execrably impious error. May God avert from you, a man of gravity and a presbyter, the misery of being seduced by a youthful layman; and, while supposing that your opinion is the catholic faith, of being lost from the number of the faithful. For I must not deal with you as I might with him; nor does this tremendous error, when yours, deserve the same indulgence as being that of this young man, although you may have derived it from him. He has but just now found his way to the catholic fold to get healing and safety; you have a rank among the very shepherds of that fold. But we would not that a sheep which comes to the Lord's flock for shelter from error, should be healed of his sores in such a way, as first to infect and destroy the shepherd by his contagious presence.
But if you say to me, He has not taught me this; nor have I by any means given my assent to this erroneous opinion of his, however much I was enchanted by the sweetness of his eloquent and elegant discourse; then I earnestly thank God. Still I cannot help asking, why, even with kisses, as the report goes, you expressed your gratitude to him for having taught you what you were ignorant of, previous to hearing his discussion. Now if it be a false report which makes you to have done and said so much, then I beg you to be kind enough to give me this assurance, that the idle rumour may be stopped by your own written authority. If, however, it is true that you bestowed your thanks with such humility upon this man, I should rejoice, indeed, if he has not taught you to believe the opinion which I have already pointed out as a detestable one, and to be carefully avoided as such. Nor shall I find fault [IV.] if your humble thanks to your instructor were further earned by your having acquired from discussions with him some other true and useful knowledge. But may I ask you what it is? Is it that the soul is not spirit, but body? Well, I really do not think ignorance on such a point is any great injury to Christian learning; and if you indulge in more subtle disputes about the different kinds of bodily substance, I think the information you obtain is more difficult than serviceable. If, however, the Lord will that I should write to this young man himself, as I desire to do, then perhaps your loving self will know to what extent you are not indebted to him for your instruction; although you rejoice in what you have learned from him. And now I request you not to feel annoyance in writing me an answer; so that what is clearly useful and pertinent to our indispensable faith may not by any chance turn out to be something different.
Now with regard to the point, which with perfect propriety and great soundness of view he believes, that souls after quitting the body are judged, before they come to that final judgment to which they must submit when their bodies are restored to them, and are either tormented or glorified in the very same flesh wherein they once lived here on earth; is it, let me ask you, the case that you were really ignorant of this? Who ever had his mind so obstinately set against the gospel as not to hear these truths, and after hearing to believe them, in the parable of the poor man who was carried away after death to Abraham's bosom, and of the rich man who is set forth as suffering torment in hell? But has this man taught you how it was that the soul apart from the body could crave from the beggar's finger a drop of water; Luke 16:24 when he himself confessed, that the soul did not require bodily aliment except for the purpose of protecting the perishing body which encloses it from dissolution? These are his words:
Is it, asks he,
because the soul craves meat and drink, that we suppose material food passes into it? Then shortly afterwards he says:
From this circumstance it is understood and proved, that the sustenance of meat and drink is not wanted for the soul, but for the body: for which clothing also, in addition to food, is provided in like manner; so that the supplying of food seems to be necessary to that nature, which is also fitted for wearing clothes. This opinion of his he expounds clearly enough; but he adds some illustrative similes, and says:
Now what do we suppose the occupier of a house does on an inspection of his dwelling? If he observe the tenement has a shaky roof, or a nodding wall, or a weak foundation, does he not fetch girders and build up buttresses, in order that he may succeed in propping up by his care and diligence the fabric which threatened to fall, so that in the dangerous plight of the residence the peril which evidently overhung the occupier might be warded off? From this simile, says he,
see how the soul craves for its flesh, from which it undoubtedly conceives the craving itself. Such are the very lucid and adequate words in which this young person has explained his ideas: he asserts that it is not the soul, but the body, which requires food; out of a careful regard, no doubt, of the former for the latter, as one that occupies a dwelling-house, and by a prudent repair prevents the downfall with which the fleshly tenement was threatened. Well, now, let him go on to explain to you what probable ruin this particular soul of the rich man was so eager to prevent by propping up, seeing that it no longer possessed a mortal body, and yet suffered thirst, and begged for the drop of water from the poor man's finger. Here is a good knotty question for this astute instructor of elderly men to exercise himself on; let him inquire, and find a solution if he can: for what purpose did that soul in hell beg the aliment of ever so small a drop of water, when it had no ruinous tenement to support?
In that he believes God to be truly incorporeal, I congratulate him that herein, at all events, he has kept himself uninfluenced by the ravings of Tertullian. For he insisted, that as the soul is corporeal, so likewise is God. It is therefore specially surprising that our author, who differs from Tertullian in this point, yet labours to persuade us that the incorporeal God does not make the soul out of nothing, but exhales it as a corporeal breath out of Himself. What a wonderful learning that must be to which every age erects its attentive ears, and which contrives to gain for its disciples men of advanced years, and even presbyters! Let this eminent man read what he has written, read it in public; let him invite to hear the reading well-known persons and unknown ones, learned and unlearned. Old men, assemble with your younger instructors; learn what you used to know nothing about; hear now what you had never heard before. Behold, according to the teaching of this scribe, God creates a breath, not out of something else which exists in some way or other, and not out of that which absolutely has no existence; but out of that which He is Himself, perfectly incorporeal, He breathes a body so that He actually changes His own incorporeal nature into a body, before it undergoes the change into the body of sin. Does he say, that He does not change something out of His own nature, when He creates breath? Then, of course, He does not make that breath out of Himself: for He is not Himself one thing, and His nature another thing. What is this insane man thinking of? But if he says that God creates breath out of His own nature in such a way as to remain absolutely entire Himself, this is not the question. The question is, whether that which comes not of some previously created substance, nor from nothing, but from Him, is not what He is, that is, of the same nature and essence? Now He remains absolutely entire after the generation of His Son; but because He begot Him of His own nature, He did not beget a something which was different from that which He is Himself. For, putting to one side the circumstance that the Word took on Himself a human nature and became flesh, the Word who is the Son of God is another but not another thing: that is, He is another person but not a different nature. And whence does this come to pass, except from the fact that He is not created out of something else, or out of nothing, but was begotten out of Himself; not that He might be better than He was, but that He might be altogether even what He is of whom He is begotten; that is, of one and the same nature, equal, co-eternal, in every way like, equally unchangeable, equally invisible, equally incorporeal, equally God; in a word, that He might be altogether what the Father is, except that He actually is Himself the Son, and not the Father? But if He remains Himself the same God entire and unimpaired, but yet creates something different from Himself, and worse than Himself, not out of nothing, nor out of some other creature, but out of His very self; and that something emanates as a body out of the incorporeal God; then God forbid that a catholic should imbibe such an opinion, for it does not flow from the divine fountain, but it is a mere fiction of the human mind.
Then, again, how ineptly he labours to free the soul, which he supposes to be corporeal, from the passions of the body, raising questions about the soul's infancy; about the soul's emotions, when paralysed and oppressed; about the amputation of bodily limbs, without cutting or dividing the soul. But in dealing with such points as these, my duty is to treat rather with him than with you; it is for him to labour to assign a reason for all he says. In this way we shall not seem to wish to be too importunate with an elderly man's gravity on the subject of a young man's work. As to the similarity of disposition to the parents which is discovered in their children, he does not dispute its coming from the soul's seed. Accordingly, this is the opinion also of those persons who do away with the soul's propagation; but the opposite party who entertain this theory do not place on this the weight of their assertion. For they observe also that children are unlike their parents in disposition; and the reason of this, as they suppose, is, that one and the same person very often has various dispositions himself, unlike each other — not, of course, that he has received another soul, but that his life has undergone a change for the better or for the worse. So they say that there is no impossibility in a soul's not possessing the same disposition which he had by whom it was propagated, seeing that the selfsame soul may have different dispositions at different times. If, therefore, you think that you have learned this of him, that the soul does not come to us by natural transmission at birth — I only wish that you had discovered from him the truth of the case — I would with the greatest pleasure resign myself to your hands to learn the whole truth. But really to learn is one thing, and to seem to yourself to have learned is another thing. If, then, you suppose that you have learned what you still are ignorant of, you have evidently not learned, but given a random credence to a pleasant hearsay. Falsity has stolen over you in the suavity. Now I do not say this from feeling as yet any certainty as to the proposition being false, which asserts that souls are created afresh by God's inbreathing rather than derived from the parents at birth; for I think that this is a point which still requires proof from those who find themselves able to teach it. No; my reason for saying it is, that this person has discussed the whole subject in such a way as not only not to solve the point still in dispute, but even to indulge in statements which leave no doubt as to their falsity. In his desire to prove things of doubtful import, he has boldly stated things which undoubtedly merit reprobation.
Would you hesitate yourself to reprobate what he has said concerning the soul?
You will not have it, he says,
that the soul contracts from the sinful flesh the health, to which holy state you can see it in due course pass by means of the flesh, so as to amend its state through that by which it had lost its merit? Or is it because baptism washes the body that what is believed to be conferred by baptism does not pass on to the soul or spirit? It is only right, therefore, that the soul should, by means of the flesh, repair that old condition which it had seemed to have gradually lost through the flesh, in order that it may begin a regenerate state by means of that whereby it had deserved to be polluted. Now, do observe how grave an error this teacher has fallen into! He says that
the soul repairs its condition by means of the flesh through which it had lost its merit. The soul, then, must have possessed some state and some good merit previous to the flesh, which he would have that it recovers through the flesh, when the flesh is cleansed in the laver of regeneration. Therefore, previous to the flesh, the soul had lived somewhere in a good state and merit, which state and merit it lost when it came into the flesh. His words are,
that the soul repairs by means of the flesh that primitive condition which it had seemed to have gradually lost through the flesh. The soul, then, possessed before the flesh, an ancient condition (for his term
primitive describes the antiquity of the state); and what could that ancient condition have possibly been, but a blessed and laudable state? Now, he avers that this happiness is recovered through the sacrament of baptism, although he will not admit that the soul derives its origin through propagation from that soul which was once manifestly happy in paradise. How is it, then, that in another passage he says that
he constantly affirms of the soul that it exists not by propagation, nor comes out of nothing, nor exists by its own self, nor previous to the body? You see how in this place he insists that souls do exist prior to the body somewhere or other, and that in so happy a state that the same happiness is restored to them by means of baptism. But, as if forgetful of his own views, he goes on to speak of its
beginning a regenerate state by means of that, meaning the flesh,
whereby it had deserved to be polluted. In a previous statement he had indicated some good desert which had been lost by means of the flesh; now, however, he speaks of some evil desert, by means of which it had happened that the soul had to come, or be sent, into the flesh; for his words are,
By which it had deserved to be polluted; and if it deserved to be polluted, its merits could not, of course, have been good. Pray let him tell us what sin it had committed previous to its pollution by the flesh, in consequence of which it merited such pollution by the flesh. Let him, if he can, explain to us a matter which is utterly beyond his power, because it is certainly far above his reach to discover what to tell us on this subject which shall be true.
He also says some time afterwards:
The soul therefore, if it deserved to be sinful, although it could not have been sinful, yet did not remain in sin; because, as it was prefigured in Christ, it was bound not to be in a sinful state, even as it was unable to be. Now, my brother, do you, I ask, really think thus? At any rate, have you formed such an opinion, after having read and duly considered his words, and after having reflected upon what extorted from you praise during his reading, and the expression of your gratitude after he had ended? I pray you, tell me what this means: fate, unless it had been sinful; nor would it have been, unless it could have been, sinful, — so as, by committing sin previous to any evil desert, it might make for itself a position whence it might, under God's desertion, advance to the commission of other sins. When he said,
which could not have been sinful, did he mean, which would not have been able to be sinful, unless it came in the flesh? But how did it deserve a mission at all into a state where it could be sinful, when it could not possibly have become capable of sinning anywhere else, unless it entered that particular state? Let him, then, tell us how it so deserved. For if it deserved to become capable of sinning, it must certainly have already committed some sin, in consequence of which it deserved to be sinful again. These points, however, may perhaps appear to be obscure, or may be tauntingly said to be of such a character, but they are really most plain and clear. The truth is, he ought not to have said that soul, either good or bad, previous to its being in the flesh.
Let us now go on to plainer matters. For while he was confined within these great straits, as to how souls can be held bound by the chain of original sin, when they derive not their origin from the soul which first sinned, but the Creator breathes them afresh at every birth into sinful flesh — pure from all contagion and propagation of sin:— in order that he might avoid the objection being brought against his argument, that thus God makes them guilty by such insufflation, he first of all had recourse to the theory drawn from God's prescience, that
He had provided redemption for them. Infants are by the sacrament of this redemption baptized, so that the original sin which they contracted from the flesh is washed away, as if God were remedying His own acts for having made these souls polluted. But afterwards, when he comes to speak of those who receive no such assistance, but expire before they are baptized, he says:
In this place I do not offer myself as an authority, but I present you with an example by way of conjecture. We say, then, that some such method as this must be had recourse to in the case of infants, who, being predestinated for baptism, are yet, by the failing of this life, hurried away before they are born again in Christ. We read, adds he,
it written of such, Speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. Therefore He hasted to take him away from among the wicked, for his soul pleased the Lord; and, being made perfect in a short time, he fulfilled a long time. Now who would disdain having such a teacher as this? Is it the case, then, with infants, whom people usually wish to have baptized, even hurriedly, before they die, that, if they should be detained ever so short a time in this life, that they might be baptized, and then at once die, wickedness would alter their understanding, and deceit beguile their soul; and to prevent this happening to them, a hasty death came to their rescue, so that they were suddenly taken away before they were baptized? By their very baptism, then, they were changed for the worse, and beguiled by deceit, if it was after baptism that they were snatched away. O excellent teaching, worthy to be admired and closely followed! But he presumed greatly on the prudence of all you who were present at his reading, and especially on yours, to whom he addressed this treatise and handed it after the reading, in supposing that you would believe that the scripture he quoted was intended for the case of unbaptized infants, although it was written of the immature ages of all those saints whom foolish men deem to be hardly dealt with, whenever they are suddenly removed from the present life and are not permitted to attain to the years which people covet for themselves as a great gift of God. What, however, is the meaning of these words of his:
Infants predestinated for baptism, who are yet, by the failing of this life, hurried away before they are born again in Christ, as if some power of fortune, or fate, or anything else you please, did not permit God to fulfil what He had fore-ordained? And how is it that He hurries them Himself away, when they have pleased Him? Then, does He really predestinate them to be baptized, and then Himself hinder the accomplishment of the very thing which He has predestinated?
But I beg you mark how bold he is, who is displeased with hesitancy, which prefers to be cautious rather than overknowing in a question so profound as this:
I would be bold to say— such are his words —
that they can attain to the forgiveness of their original sins, yet not so as to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven. Just as in the case of the thief on the cross, who confessed but was not baptized, the Lord did not give him the kingdom of heaven, but paradise; Luke 23:43 the words remaining accordingly in full force, 'Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.' John 3:5 This is especially true, inasmuch as the Lord acknowledges that in His Father's house are many mansions, John 14:2 by which are indicated the many different merits of those who dwell in them; so that in these abodes the unbaptized is brought to forgiveness, and the baptized to the reward which by grace has been prepared for him. You observe how the man keeps paradise and the mansions of the Father's house distinct from the kingdom of heaven, so that even unbaptized persons may have an abundant provision in places of eternal happiness. Nor does he see, when he says all this, that he is so unwilling to distinguish the future abode of a baptized infant from the kingdom of heaven as to have no fear in keeping distinct therefrom the very house of God the Father, or the several parts thereof. For the Lord Jesus did not say: In all the created universe, or in any portion of that universe, but,
In my Father's house, are many mansions. But in what way shall an unbaptized person live in the house of God the Father, when he cannot possibly have God for his Father, except he be born again? He should not be so ungrateful to God, who has vouchsafed to deliver him from the sect of the Donatists or Rogatists, as to aim at dividing the house of God the Father, and to put one portion of it outside the kingdom of heaven, where the unbaptized may be able to dwell. And on what terms does he himself presume that he is to enter into the kingdom of heaven, when from that kingdom he excludes the house of the King Himself, in whatever part He pleases? From the case, however, of the thief who, when crucified at the Lord's side, put his hope in the Lord who was crucified with him, and from the case of Dinocrates, the brother of St. Perpetua, he argues that even to the unbaptized may be given the remission of sins and an abode with the blessed; as if any one unbelief in whom would be a sin, had shown him that the thief and Dinocrates had not been baptized. Concerning these cases, however, I have more fully explained my views in the book which I wrote to our brother Renatus. This your loving self will be able to ascertain if you will condescend to read the book; for I am sure our brother will not find it in his heart to refuse you, if you ask him the loan of it.
DecidesThat Oblations Should Be Offered Up for Those Who Die Unbaptized.
Still he chafes with indecision, and is nearly suffocated in the terrible straits of his theory; for very likely he descries with a more sensitive eye than you, the amount of evil which he enunciates, to the effect that original sin in infants is effaced without Christ's sacrament of baptism. It is, indeed, for the purpose of finding an escape to some extent, and tardily, in the Church's sacraments that he says:
In their behalf I most certainly decide that constant oblations and incessant sacrifices must be offered up on the part of the holy priests. Well, then, you may take him if you like for your arbiter, if it were not enough to have him as your instructor. Let him decide that you must offer up the sacrifice of Christ's body even for those who have not been incorporated into Christ. Now this is quite a novel idea, and foreign to the Church's discipline and the rule of truth: and yet, when daring to propound it in his books, he does not modestly say, I rather think; he does not say, I suppose; he does not say, I am of opinion; nor does he say, I at least would suggest, or mention — but he says, I give it as my decision; so that, should we be (as might be likely) offended by the novelty or the perverseness of his opinion, we might be overawed by the authority of his judicial determination. It is your own concern, my brother, how to be able to bear him as your instructor in these views. Catholic priests, however, of right feeling (and among them you ought to take your place) could never keep quiet — God forbid it — and hear this man pronounce his decisions, when they would wish him rather to recover his senses, and be sorry both for having entertained such opinions, and for having gone so far as to commit them to writing, and chastise himself with the most wholesome discipline of repentance.
Now it is, says he;
on this example of the Maccabees who fell in battle that I ground the necessity of doing this. When they offered stealthily some interdicted sacrifices, and after they had fallen in the battle, we find, says he,
that this remedial measure was at once resorted to by the priests —sacrifices were offered up to liberate their souls, which had been bound by the guilt of their forbidden conduct. But he says all this, as if (according to his reading of the story) those atoning sacrifices were offered up for uncircumcised persons, as he has decided that these sacrifices of ours must be offered up for unbaptized persons. For circumcision was the sacrament of that period, which prefigured the baptism of our day.
But your friend, in comparison with what he has shown himself to be further on, thus far makes mistakes which one may somewhat tolerate. He apparently felt some disposition to relent; not, to be sure, at what he ought to have misgivings about, namely, for having ventured to assert that original sin is relaxed even in the case of the unbaptized, and that remission is given to them of all their sins, so that they are admitted into paradise, that is, to a place of great happiness, and possess a claim to the happy mansions in our Father's house; but he seems to have entertained some regret at having conceded to them abodes of lesser blessedness outside the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly he goes on to say,
Or if any one is perhaps reluctant to believe that paradise is bestowed as a temporary and provisional gift on the soul of the thief or of Dinocrates (for there remains for them still, in the resurrection, the reward of the kingdom of heaven), although that principal passage stands in the way, — 'Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God.' John 3:5 — he may yet hold my assent as ungrudgingly given to this point; only let him magnify both the aim and the effect of the divine compassion and fore-knowledge. These words have I copied, as I read them in his second book. Well, now, could any one have shown on this erroneous point greater boldness, recklessness, or presumption? He actually quotes and calls attention to the Lord's weighty sentence, encloses it in a statement of his own, and then says,
Although the opinion is opposed to the 'principal passage,' 'Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God;' he dares then to lift his haughty head in censure against the Prince's judgment:
He may yet hold my assent as ungrudgingly given to this point; and he explains his point to be, that the souls of unbaptized persons have a claim to paradise as a temporary gift; and in this class he mentions the dying thief and Dinocrates, as if he were prescribing, or rather prejudging, their destination; moreover, in the resurrection, he will have them transferred to a better provision, even making them receive the reward of the kingdom of heaven.
Although, says he,
this is opposed to the sentence of the Prince. Now, do you, my brother, I pray you, seriously consider this question: What sentence of the Prince shall that man deserve to have passed upon him, who imposes on any person an assent of his own which runs counter to the authority of the Prince Himself?
The new-fangled Pelagian heretics have been most justly condemned by the authority of catholic councils and of the Apostolic See, on the ground of their having dared to give to unbaptized infants a place of rest and salvation, even apart from the kingdom of heaven. This they would not have dared to do, if they did not deny their having original sin, and the need of its remission by the sacrament of baptism. This man, however, professes the catholic belief on this point, admitting that infants are tied in the bonds of original sin, and yet he releases them from these bonds without the laver of regeneration, and after death, in his compassion, he admits them into paradise; while, with a still ampler compassion, he introduces them after the resurrection even to the kingdom of heaven. Such compassion did Saul see fit to assume when he spared the king whom God commanded to be slain; 1 Samuel 15:9 deservedly, however, was his disobedient compassion, or (if you prefer it) his compassionate disobedience, reprobated and condemned, that man may be on his guard against extending mercy to his fellow-man, in opposition to the sentence of Him by whom man was made. Truth, by the mouth of Itself incarnate, proclaims as if in a voice of thunder:
Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5 And in order to except martyrs from this sentence, to whose lot it has fallen to be slain for the name of Christ before being washed in the baptism of Christ, He says in another passage,
He that loses his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 10:39 And so far from promising the abolition of original sin to any one who has not been regenerated in the laver of Christian faith, the apostle exclaims,
By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation. Romans 5:18 And as a counterbalance against this condemnation, the Lord exhibits the help of His salvation alone, saying, Mark 16:16 Now the mystery of this believing in the case of infants is completely effected by the response of the sureties by whom they are taken to baptism; and unless this be effected, they all pass by the offense of one into condemnation. And yet, in opposition to such clear declarations uttered by the Truth, forth marches before all men a vanity which is more foolish than pitiful, and says: Not only do infants not pass into condemnation, though no laver of Christian faith absolves them from the chain of original sin, but they even after death have an intermediate enjoyment of the felicities of paradise, and after the resurrection they shall possess even the happiness of the kingdom of heaven. Now, would this man dare to say all this in opposition to the firmly-established catholic faith, if he had not presumptuously undertaken to solve a question which transcends his powers touching the origin of the soul?
For he is hemmed in within terrible straits by those who make the natural inquiry:
Why has God visited on the soul so unjust a punishment as to have willed to relegate it into a body of sin, since by its consorting with the flesh that began to be sinful, which else could not have been sinful? For, of course, they say:
The soul could not have been sinful, if God had not commingled it in the participation of sinful flesh. Well, this opponent of mine was unable to discover the justice of God's doing this, especially in consequence of the eternal damnation of infants who die without the remission of original sin by baptism; and his inability was equally great in finding out why the good and righteous God both bound the souls of infants, who He foresaw would derive no advantage from the sacrament of Christian grace, with the chain of original sin, by sending them into the body which they derive from Adam, — the souls themselves being free from all taint of propagation — and by this means also made them amenable to eternal damnation. No less was he unwilling to admit that these very souls likewise derived their sinful origin from that one primeval soul. And so he preferred escaping by a miserable shipwreck of faith, rather than to furl his sails and steady his oars, in the voyage of his controversy, and by such prudent counsel check the fatal rashness of his course. Worthless in his youthful eye was our aged caution; just as if this most troublesome and perilous question of his was more in need of a torrent of eloquence than the counsel of prudence. And this was foreseen even by himself, but to no purpose; for, as if to set forth the points which were objected to him by his opponents, he says:
After them other reproachful censures are added to the querulous murmurings of those who rail against us; and, as if tossed about in a whirlwind, we are dashed repeatedly among huge rocks. After saying this, he propounded for himself the very dangerous question, which we have already treated, wherein he has wrecked the catholic faith, unless by a real repentance he shall have repaired the faith which he had shattered. That whirlwind and those rocks I have myself avoided,unwilling to entrust my frail barque to their dangers; and when writing on this subject I have expressed myself in such a way as rather to explain the grounds of my hesitancy, than to exhibit the rashness of presumption. This little work of mine excited his derision, when he met with it at your house, and in utter recklessness he flung himself upon the reef: he showed more spirit than wisdom in his conduct. To what lengths, however, that over-confidence of his led him, I suppose that you can now yourself perceive. But I give heartier thanks to God, since you even before this descried it. For all the while he was refusing to check his headlong career, when the issue of his course was still in doubt, he alighted on his miserable enterprise, and maintained that God, in the case of infants who died without Christian regeneration, conferred upon them paradise at once, and ultimately the kingdom of heaven.
The passages of Scripture, indeed, which he has adduced in the attempt to prove from them that God did not derive human souls by propagation from the primitive soul, but as in that first instance that He formed them by breathing them into each individual, are so uncertain and ambiguous, that they can with the utmost facility be taken in a different sense from that which he would assign to them. This point I have already demonstrated with sufficient clearness, I think in the book which I addressed to that friend o ours, of whom I have made mention above. The passages which he has used for his proofs inform us that God gives, or makes, or fashion men's souls; but whence He gives them, or of what He makes or fashions them, they tell us nothing: they leave untouched the question whether it be by propagation from the first soul or by insufflation, like the first soul. This writer however, simply because he reads that God
gives souls, Isaiah 42:5
has made souls,
forms souls, supposes that these phrases amount to a denial of the propagation of souls; whereas, by the testimony of the same scripture, God gives men their bodies, or makes them, or fashions and forms them; although no one doubts that the said bodies are given, made, and formed by Him by seminal propagation.
As for the passage which affirms that Acts 17:26 and that in which Adam says,
This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, Genesis 2:23 inasmuch as it is not said in the one,
of one soul, and in the other, souls come from their parents, or the first woman's from her husband just as if, forsooth, had the sentence run in the way suggested,
of one soul, instead of
of one blood, anything else than the whole human being could be understood, without any denial of the propagation of the body. So likewise, if it had been said, Holy Scripture indicate the whole by a part, and a part by the whole. For certainly, if in the passage which this man has quoted as his proof it had been said that the human race had been made, not
of one blood, but
of one man, it could not have prejudiced the opinion of those who deny the propagation of souls, although man is not soul alone, nor only flesh, but both. For they would have their answer ready to this effect, that the Scripture here might have meant to indicate a part by the whole, that is to say, the flesh only by the entire human being. In like manner, they who maintain the propagation of souls contend that in the passage where it is said,
of one blood, the human being is implied by the term
blood, on the principle of the whole being expressed by a part. For just as the one party seems to be assisted by the expression,
of one blood, instead of the phrase,
of one man, so the other side evidently gets countenance from the statement being so plainly written,
By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for in him all sinned, Romans 5:12 instead of its being said,
in whom the flesh of all sinned. Similarly, as one party seems to receive assistance from the fact that Scripture says,
This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, on the ground that a part covers the whole; so, again, the other side derives some advantage from what is written in the immediate sequel of the passage,
She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of her husband. For, according to their contention, the latter clause should have run,
Because her flesh was taken out of her husband, if it was not true that the entire woman, soul and all, but only her flesh, was taken out of man. The fact, however, of the whole matter is simply this, that after hearing both sides, anybody whose judgment is free from party prejudice sees at once that loose quotation is unavailing in this controversy; for against one party, which maintains the opinion of the propagation of souls, those passages must not be adduced which mention only a part, inasmuch as the Scripture might mean by the part to imply the whole in all such passages; as, for instance, when we read,
The Word was made flesh, John 1:14 we of course understand not the flesh only, but the entire human being; nor against the other party, who deny this doctrine of the soul's propagation, is it of any avail to quote those passages which do not mention a part of the human being, but the whole; because in these the Scripture might possibly mean to imply a part by the whole; as we confess that Christ was buried, whereas it was only His flesh that was laid in the sepulchre. We therefore say, that on such grounds there is no ground on the one hand for rashly constructing, nor on the other hand for, with equal rashness, demolishing the theory of propagation; but we add this advice, that other passages be duly looked out, such as admit of no ambiguity.
For these reasons I fail thus far to discover what this instructor has taught you, and what grounds you have for the gratitude you have lavished upon him. For the question remains just as it was, which inquires about the origin of souls, whether God gives, forms, and makes them for men by propagating them from that one soul which He breathed into the first man, or whether it is by His own inbreathing that He does this in every case, as He did for the first man. For that God does form, and make, and bestow souls on men, the Christian faith does not hesitate to aver. Now, when this person endeavoured to solve the question without gauging his own resources, by denying the propagation of souls, and asserting that the Creator inbreathed them into men pure from all contagion of sin — not out of nothing, but out of Himself — He dishonoured the very nature of God by opprobriously attributing mutability to it, an imputation which was necessarily untenable. Then, desirous of avoiding all implication which might lead to God's being deemed unrighteous, if He ties with the bond of original sin souls which are pure of all actual sin, although not redeemed by Christian regeneration, he has given utterance to words and sentiments which I only wish he had not taught you. For he has accorded to unbaptized infants such happiness and salvation as even the Pelagian heresy could not have ventured on doing. And yet for all this, when the question touches the many thousands of infants who are born of the ungodly, and die among the ungodly — I do not mean those whom charitable persons are unable to assist by baptism, however desirous of doing so, but those of whose baptism nobody either has been able or shall be able to think, and for whom no one has offered or is likely to offer the sacrifice which, as this instructor of yours thought, ought to be offered even for those who have not been baptized, — he has discovered no means of solving it. If he were questioned concerning them, what their souls deserved that God should involve them in sinful flesh to incur eternal damnation, never to be washed in the laver of baptism, nor atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood, he will then either feel himself at an utter loss, and so will regard our hesitation with a real, though tardy favour; or else will determine that Christ's body must be offered for all those infants which all the world over die without Christian baptism (their names having been never heard of, since they are unknown in the Church of Christ), although not incorporated into the body of Christ.
Far be it from you, my brother, that such views should be pleasant to you, or that you should either feel pleasure in having acquired them, or presume ever to teach them. Otherwise, even he would be a far better man than yourself. Because at the commencement of his first book he has prefixed the following modest and humble preface:
Though I desire to comply with your request, I am only affording a clear proof of my presumption. And a little further on he says,
Inasmuch as I am, indeed, by no means confident of being able to prove what I may have advanced; and moreover I should always be anxious not to insist on any opinion of my own, if it is found to be an improbable one; and it would be my hearty desire, in case my own judgment is condemned, earnestly to follow better and truer views. For as it shows evidence of the best intention, and a laudable purpose, to permit yourself to be easily led to truer views of a subject; so it betokens an obstinate and depraved mind to refuse to turn quickly aside into the pathway of reason. Now, as he said all this sincerely, and still feels as he spoke, he no doubt entertains a very hopeful feeling about a right issue. In similar strain he concludes his second book:
You must not think, says he,
that there is any chance of its ever recoiling invidiously against you, that I constitute you the judge of my words. And lest by chance the sharp eye of some inquisitive reader may have opportunity of turning up and encountering any possible vestiges of elemental error which may be left behind on my illegal sheets, I beg you to tear up page after page with unsparing hand, if need be; and after expending on me your critical censure, punish me further, by smearing out the very ink which has given form to my worthless words; so that, having your full opportunity, you may prevent all ridicule, on the score either of the favourable opinion you so strongly entertain of me, or of the inaccuracies which lurk in my writings.
Forasmuch, then, as he has both commenced and terminated his books with such safeguards, and has placed on your shoulders the religious burden of their correction and emendation, I only trust that he may find in you all that he has asked you for, that you may
correct him righteously in mercy, and reprove him; while the oil of the sinner which anoints his head is absent from your hands and eyes — even the indecent compliance of the flatterer, and the deceitful leniency of the sycophant. If, however, you decline to apply correction when you see anything to amend, you offend against love; but if he does not appear to you to require correction, because you think him to be right in his opinions, then you are wise against truth. He, therefore, is a better man (since he is only too ready to be corrected, if a true censurer be at hand) than yourself, if either knowing him to be in error you despise him with derision, or ignorant of his wandering course you at the same time closely follow his error. Everything, therefore, which you find in the books that he has addressed and forwarded to you, I beg you to consider with sobriety and vigilance; and you will perhaps make fuller discoveries than I have myself of statements which deserve to be censured. And as for such of their contents as are worthy of praise and approbation — whatever good you have learned therein, and by his instruction, which perhaps you were really ignorant of before, tell us plainly what it is, that all may know that it was for this particular benefit that you expressed your obligations to him, and not for the manifold statements in his books which call for their disapproval — all, I mean, who, like yourself, heard him read his writings, or who afterwards read the same for themselves: lest in his ornate style they may drink poison, as out of a choice goblet, at your instance, though not after your own example, because they know not precisely what it is you have drunk yourself, and what you have left untasted, and because, from your high character, they suppose that whatever is drunk out of this fountain would be for their health. For what else are hearing, and reading, and copiously depositing things in the memory, than several processes of drinking? The Lord, however, foretold concerning His faithful followers, that even
if they should drink any deadly thing, it should not hurt them. Mark 16:18 And thus it happens that they who read with judgment, and bestow their approbation on whatever is commendable according to the rule of faith, and disapprove of things which ought to be reprobated, even if they commit to their memory statements which are declared to be worthy of disapproval, they receive no harm from the poisonous and depraved nature of the sentences. To myself, through the Lord's mercy, it can never become a matter of the least regret, that, actuated by our previous love, I have given your reverend and religious self advice and warning on these points, in whatever way you may receive the admonition for which I have regarded you as possessing the first claim upon me. Abundant thanks, indeed, shall I give unto Him in whose mercy it is most salutary to put one's trust, if this letter of mine shall either find or else make your faith both free from the depraved and erroneous opinions which I have been able herein to point out from this man's books, and sound in catholic integrity.
Source. Translated by Peter Holmes and Robert Ernest Wallis, and revised by Benjamin B. Warfield. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15082.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.