Addressed to Vincentius Victor.
Augustine points out to Vincentius Victor the corrections which he ought to make in his books concerning the origin of the soul, if he wishes to be a Catholic. Those opinions also which had been already refuted in the preceding books addressed to Renatus and Peter, Augustine briefly censures in this third book, which is written to Victor himself: moreover, he classifies them under eleven heads of error.
As to that which I have thought it my duty to write to you, my much-loved son Victor, I would have you to entertain this above all other thoughts in your mind, if I seemed to despise you, that it was certainly not my intention to do so. At the same time I must beg of you not to abuse our condescension in such a way as to suppose that you possess my approval merely because you have not my contempt. For it is not to follow, but to correct you, that I give you my love; and since I by no means despair of the possibility of your amendment, I do not want you to be surprised at my inability to despise the man who has my love. Now, since it was my bounden duty to love you before you had united with us, in order that you might become a catholic; how much more ought I now to love you since your union with us, to prevent your becoming a new heretic, and that you may become so firm a catholic that no heretic may be able to withstand you! So far as appears from the mental endowments which God has largely bestowed upon you, you would be undoubtedly a wise man if you only did not believe that you were one already, and begged of Him who makes men wise, with a pious, humble, and earnest prayer, that you might become one, and preferred not to be led astray with error rather than to be honoured with the flattery of those who go astray.
The first thing which caused me some anxiety about you was the title which appeared in your books with your name; for on inquiring of those who knew you, and were probably your associates in opinion, who Vincentius Victor was, I found that you had been a Donatist, or rather a Rogatist, but had lately come into communion with the catholic Church. Now, while I was rejoicing, as one naturally does at the recovery of those whom he sees rescued from that system of error—and in your case my joy was all the greater because I saw that your ability, which so much delighted me in your writings, had not remained behind with the enemies of truth—additional information was given me by your friends which caused me sorrow amid my joy, to the effect that you wished to have the name Vincentius prefixed to your own name, inasmuch as you still held in affectionate regard the successor of Rogatus, who bore this name, as a great and holy man, and that for this reason you wished his name to become your surname. Some persons also told me that you had, moreover, boasted about his having appeared in some sort of a vision to you, and assisted you in composing those books the subject of which I have discussed with you in this small work of mine, and to such an extent as to dictate to you himself the precise topics and arguments which you were to write about. Now, if all this be true, I no longer wonder at your having been able to make those statements which, if you will only lend a patient ear to my admonition, and with the attention of a catholic duly consider and weigh those books, you will undoubtedly come to regret having ever advanced. For he who, according to the apostle's portrait,
transforms himself into an angel of light, 2 Corinthians 11:14 has transformed himself before you into a shape which you believe to have been, or still to be, an angel of light. In this way, indeed, he is less able to deceive Catholics when his transformations are not into angels of light, but into heretics; now, however, that you are a catholic, I should be sorry for you to be beguiled by him. He will certainly feel torture at your having learned the truth, and so much the more in proportion to the pleasure he formerly experienced in having persuaded you to believe error. With a view, however, to your refraining from loving a dead person, when the love can neither be serviceable to yourself nor profitable to him, I advise you to consider for a moment this one point— that he is not, of course, a just and holy man, since you withdrew yourself from the snares of the Donatists or Rogatists on the score of their heresy; but if you do think him to be just and holy, you ruin yourself by holding communion with Catholics. You are, indeed, only feigning yourself a catholic if you are in mind the same as he was on whom you bestow your love; and you are aware how terribly the Scripture has spoken on this subject:
The Holy Spirit of discipline will flee from the man who feigns. Wisdom 1:5 If, however, you are sincere in communicating with us, and do not merely pretend to be a catholic, how is it that you still love a dead man to such a degree as to be willing even now to boast of the name of one in whose errors you no longer permit yourself to be held? We really do not like your having such a surname, as if you were the monument of a dead heretic. Nor do we like your book to have such a title as we should say was a false one if we read it on his tomb. For we are sure Vincentius is not Victor, the conqueror, but Victus, the conquered—may it be, however, with fruitful effect, even as we wish you to be conquered by the truth! And yet your thought was an astute and skilful one, when you designated the books, which you wish us to suppose were dictated to you by his inspiration, by the name of Vincentius Victor; as much as to intimate that it was rather he than you who wished to be designated by the victorious appellation, as having been himself the conqueror of error, by revealing to you what were to be the contents of your written treatise. But of what avail is all this to you, my son? Be, I pray you, a true catholic, not a feigned one, lest the Holy Spirit should flee from you, and that Vincentius be unable to profit you at all, into whom the most malignant spirit of error has transformed himself for the purpose of deceiving you; for it is from that one that all these evil opinions have proceeded, notwithstanding the artful fraud which has persuaded you to the contrary. If this admonition shall only induce you to correct these errors with the humility of a God-fearing man and the peaceful submission of a catholic, they will be regarded as the mistakes of an over-zealous young man, who is eager rather to amend them than to persevere in them. But if he shall have by his influence prevailed on you to contend for these opinions with obstinate perseverance, which God forbid, it will in such a case be necessary to condemn them and their author as heretical, as is required by the pastoral and remedial nature of the Church's charge, to check the dire contagion before it quietly spreads through the heedless masses, while wholesome correction is neglected, under the name but without the reality of love.
If you ask me what the particular errors are, you may read what I have written to our brethren, that servant of God Renatus, and the presbyter Peter, to the latter of whom you yourself thought it necessary to write the very works of which we are now treating,
in obedience, as you allege,
to his own wish and request. Now, they will, I doubt not, lend you my treatises for your perusal if you should like it, and even press them upon your attention without being asked. But be that as it may, I will not miss this present opportunity of informing you what amendments I desire to have made in these writings of yours, as well as in your belief. The first is, that you will have it that soul must be of the nature of God; and you know very well, of course, how impious such an opinion is. Now, to avoid such impiety as this, you ought so to say that God is the Author of the soul as that it was made by Him, but not of Him. For whatever is of Him (as, for instance, His only-begotten Son) is of the self-same nature as Himself. But, that the soul might not be of the same nature as its Creator, it was made by Him, but not of Him. Or, then, tell me whence it is, or else confess that it is of nothing. What do you mean by that expression of yours,
That it is a certain particle of an exhalation from the nature of God? Do you mean to say, then, that the exhalation itself from the nature of God, to which the particle in question belongs, is not of the same nature as God is Himself? If this be your meaning, then God made out of nothing that exhalation of which you will have the soul to be a particle. Or, if not out of nothing, pray tell me of what God made it? If He made it out of Himself, it follows that He is Himself (what should never be affirmed) the material of which His own work is formed. But you go on to say:
When however, He made the exhalation or breath out of Himself, He remained at the same time whole and entire; just as if the light of a candle did not also remain entire when another candle is lighted from it, and yet be of the same nature, and not another.
But, you say,
when we inflate a bag, no portion of our nature or quality is poured into the bag, while the very breath, by the current of which the filled bag is extended, is emitted from us without the least diminution of ourselves. Now, you enlarge and dwell upon these words of yours, and inculcate the simile as necessary for our understanding how it is that God, without any injury to His own nature, makes the soul out of His own self, and how, when it is thus made out of Himself, it is not what Himself is. For you ask:
Is this inflation of the bag a portion of our own soul? Or do we create human beings when we inflate bags? Or do we suffer any injury in anything at all when we impart our breath by inflation on diverse things? But we suffer no injury when we transfer breath from ourselves to anything, nor do we ever remember experiencing any damage to ourselves from inflating a bag, the full quality and entire quantity of our breath remaining in us notwithstanding the process. Now, however elegant and applicable this simile seems to you, I beg you to consider how greatly it misleads you. For you affirm that the incorporeal God breathes out a corporeal soul—not made out of nothing, but out of Himself—whereas the breath which we ourselves emit is corporeal, although of a more subtle nature than our bodies; nor do we exhale it out of our soul, but out of the air through internal functions in our bodily structure. Our lungs, like a pair of bellows, are moved by the soul (at the command of which also the other members of the body are moved), for the purpose of inhaling and exhaling the atmospheric air. For, besides the aliments, solid or fluid, which constitute our meat and drink, God has surrounded us with this third aliment of the atmosphere which we breathe; and that with so good effect, that we can live for some time without meat and drink, but we could not possibly subsist for a moment without this third aliment, which the air, surrounding us on all sides, supplies us with as we breathe and respire. And as our meat and drink have to be not only introduced into the body, but also to be expelled by passages formed for the purpose, to prevent injury accruing either way (from either not entering or not quitting the body); so this third airy aliment (not being permitted to remain within us, and thus not becoming corrupt by delay, but being expelled as soon as it is introduced) has been furnished, not with different, but with the self-same channels both for its entrance and for its exit, even the mouth, or the nostrils, or both together.
Prove now yourself what I say, for your own satisfaction in your own case; emit breath by exhalation, and see whether you can continue long without catching back your breath; then again catch it back by inhalation, and see what discomfort you experience unless you again emit it. Now, when we inflate a bag, as you prescribe, we do, in fact, the same thing which we do to maintain life, except that in the case of the artificial experiment our inhalation is somewhat stronger, in order that we may emit a stronger breath, so as to fill and distend the bag by compressing the air we blow into it, rather in the manner of a hard puff than of the gentle process of ordinary breathing and respiration. On what ground, then, do you say,
We suffer no injury whenever we transfer breath from ourselves to any object, nor do we ever remember experiencing any damage to ourselves from inflating a bag, the full quality and entire quantity of our own breath remaining in us notwithstanding the process? It is very plain, my son, if ever you have inflated a bag, that you did not carefully observe your own performance. For you do not perceive what you lose by the act of inflation by reason of the immediate recovery of your breath. But you can learn all this with the greatest ease if you would simply prefer doing so to stiffly maintaining your own statements for no other reason than because you have made them— not inflating the bag, but inflated yourself to the full, and inflating your hearers (whom you should rather edify and instruct by veritable facts) with the empty prattle of your turgid discourse. In the present case I do not send you to any other teacher than your own self. Breathe, then, a good breath into the bag; shut your mouth instantly, hold tight your nostrils, and in this way discover the truth of what I say to you. For when you begin to suffer the intolerable inconvenience which accompanies the experiment, what is it you wish to recover by opening your mouth and releasing your nostrils? Surely there would be nothing to recover if your supposition be a correct one, that you have lost nothing whenever you breathe. Observe what a plight you would be in, if by inhalation you did not regain what you had parted with by your breathing outwards. See, too, what loss and injury the insufflation would produce, were it not for the repair and reaction caused by respiration. For unless the breath which you expend in filling the bag should all return by the re-opened channel to discharge its function of nourishing yourself, what, I wonder, would be left remaining to you—I will not say to inflate another bag, but to supply your very means of living?
Well, now, you ought to have thought of all this when you were writing, and not to have brought God before our eyes in that favourite simile of yours, of inflated and inflateable bags, breathing forth souls out of some other nature which was already in existence, just as we ourselves make our breath from the air which surrounds us; or certainly you should not, in a manner which is really as diverse from your similitude as it is abundant in impiety, have represented God as either producing some changeable thing without injury, indeed, to Himself, but yet out of His own substance; or what is worse, creating it in such wise as to be Himself the material of His own work. If, however, we are to employ a similitude drawn from our breathing which shall suitably illustrate this subject, the following one is more credible: Just as we, whenever we breathe, make a breath, not out of our own nature, but, because we are not omnipotent, out of that air that surrounds us, which we inhale and discharge whenever we breathe and respire; and the said breath is neither living nor sentient, although we are ourselves living and sentient; so God can— not, indeed, out of His own nature, but (as being so omnipotent as to be able to create whatever He wills) even out of that which has no existence at all, that is to say, out of nothing— make a breath that is living and sentient, but evidently mutable, though He be Himself immutable.
But what is the meaning of that, which you have thought proper to add to this simile, with regard to the example of the blessed Elisha because he raised the dead by breathing into his face? 2 Kings 4:34 Now, do you really suppose that Elisha's breath was made the soul of the child? I could not believe that even you could stray so far away from the truth. If, now, that soul which was taken from the living child so as to cause his death, was itself afterwards restored to him so as to cause his restoration to life: where, I ask, is the pertinence of your remark when you say
that no diminution accrued to Elisha, as if it could be imagined that anything had been transferred from the prophet to the child to cause his revival? But if you meant no more than that the prophet breathed and remained entire, where was the necessity for your saying that of Elisha, when raising the dead child, which you might with no less propriety say of any one whatever when emitting a breath, and reviving no one? Then, again, you spoke unadvisedly (though God forbid that you should believe the breath of Elisha to have become the soul of the resuscitated child!) when you intimated your meaning to be a desire to keep separate what was first done by God from this that was done by the prophet, in that the One breathed but once, and the other thrice. These are your words:
Elisha breathed into the face of the deceased child of the Shunammite, after the manner of the original creation. And when by the prophet's breathing a divine force inspired the dead limbs, reanimated to their original vigour, no diminution accrued to Elisha, through whose breathing the dead body recovered its revived soul and spirit. Only there is this difference, the Lord breathed but once into man's face and he lived, while Elisha breathed three times into the face of the dead and he lived again. Thus your words sound as if the number of the breathings alone made all the difference, why we should not believe that the prophet actually did what God did. This statement, then, requires to be entirely revised. There was so complete a difference between that work of God and this of Elisha, that the former breathed the breath of life whereby man became a living soul, and the latter breathed a breath which was not itself sentient nor endued with life, but was figurative for the sake of some signification. The prophet did not really cause the child to live again by giving him life, but he procured God's doing that by giving him love. As to what you allege, that he breathed three times, either your memory, as often happens, or a faulty reading of the text, must have misled you. Why need I enlarge? You ought not to be seeking for examples and arguments to establish your point, but rather to amend and change your opinion. I beg of you neither to believe, nor to say, nor to teach
Do not, I pray you, believe, say, or teach that souls, although He will not therefore Himself cease to exist. Your phrase,
is ever giving, might be understood
to give without cessation, so long as men are born and get offspring, even as it is said of certain men that they are 2 Timothy 3:7 For this term
ever is not in this passage taken to mean
never ceasing to learn, inasmuch as they do cease to learn when they have ceased to exist in this body, or have begun to suffer the fiery pains of hell. You, however, did not allow your word to be understood in this sense when you said
is ever giving, since you thought that it must be applied to infinite time. And even this was a small matter; for, as if you had been asked to explain your phrase,
ever giving, more explicitly, you went on to say,
just as He is Himself ever existent who gives. This assertion the sound and catholic faith utterly condemns. For be it far from us to believe that God is ever giving souls, just as He is Himself, who gives them, ever existent. He is Himself ever existent in such a sense as never to cease to exist; souls, however, He will not be ever giving; but He will beyond doubt cease to give them when the age of generation ceases, and children are no longer born to whom they are to be given.
Again, do not, I pray you, believe, say, or teach that
the soul deservedly lost something by the flesh, although it was of good merit previous to the flesh, if you wish to be a catholic. For the apostle declares that
children who are not yet born, have done neither good nor evil. Romans 9:11 How, therefore, could their soul, previous to its participation of flesh, have had anything like good desert, if it had not done any good thing? Will you by any chance venture to assert that it had, previous to the flesh, lived a good life, when you cannot actually prove to us that it even existed at all? How, then, can you say:
You will not allow that the soul contracts health from the sinful flesh; and to this holy state, then, you can see it in due course pass, with the view of amending its condition, through that very flesh by which it had lost merit? Perhaps you are not aware that these opinions, which attribute to the human soul a good state and a good merit previous to the flesh, have been already condemned by the catholic Church, not only in the case of some ancient heretics, whom I do not here mention, but also more recently in the instance of the Priscillianists.
Neither believe, nor say, nor teach that
the soul, by means of the flesh, repairs its ancient condition, and is born again by the very means through which it had deserved to be polluted, if you wish to be a catholic. I might, indeed, dwell upon the strange discrepancy with your own self which you have exhibited in the next sentence, wherein you said that the soul through the flesh deservedly recovers its primitive condition, which it had seemed to have gradually lost through the flesh, in order that it may begin to be regenerated by the very flesh through which it had deserved to be polluted. Here you— the very man who had just before said that the soul repairs its condition through the flesh, by reason of which it had lost its desert (where nothing but good desert can be meant, which you will have to be recovered in the flesh, by baptism, of course)— said in another turn of your thought, that through the flesh the soul had deserved to be polluted (in which statement it is no longer the good desert, but an evil one, which must be meant). What flagrant inconsistency! But I will pass it over, and content myself with observing, that it is absolutely uncatholic to believe that the soul, previous to its incarnate state, deserved either good or evil.
Neither believe, nor say, nor teach, if you wish to be a catholic, that sin, especially prior to its coming into the flesh, when it could have possessed no merit either way, either evil or good. How, then, can you say:
If, therefore, the soul, which could not be sinful, deserved to be sinful, it 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, just for a little consider what it is you say, and desist from repeating such a statement. How did the soul deserve, and how was it unable, to be sinful? How, I pray you tell me, did that deserve to be sinful which never lived sinfully? How, I ask again, was that made sinful which was not able to be sinful? Or else, if you mean your phrase,
was unable, to imply inability apart from the flesh, how in that case did the soul deserve to be sinful, and by reason of what desert was it sent into the flesh, when previous to its union with the flesh it was not able to be sinful, so as to deserve any evil at all?
If you wish to be a catholic, refrain from believing, or saying, or teaching that
infants which are forestalled by death before they are baptized may yet attain to forgiveness of their original sins. For the examples by which you are misled— that of the thief who confessed the Lord upon the cross, or that of Dinocrates the brother of St. Perpetua— contribute no help to you in defence of this erroneous opinion. As for the thief, although in God's judgment he might be reckoned among those who are purified by the confession of martyrdom, yet you cannot tell whether he was not baptized. For, to say nothing of the opinion that he might have been sprinkled with the water which gushed at the same time with the blood out of the Lord's side, John 19:34 as he hung on the cross next to Him, and thus have been washed with a baptism of the most sacred kind, what if he had been baptized in prison, as in after times some under persecution were enabled privately to obtain? Or what if he had been baptized previous to his imprisonment? If, indeed, he had been, the remission of his sins which he would have received in that case from God would not have protected him from the sentence of public law, so far as appertained to the death of the body. What if, being already baptized, he had committed the crime and incurred the punishment of robbery and lawlessness, but yet received, by virtue of repentance added to his baptism, forgiveness of the sins which, though baptized, he had committed? For beyond doubt his faith and piety appeared to the Lord clearly in his heart, as they do to us in his words. If, indeed, we were to conclude that all those who have quitted life without a record of their baptism died unbaptized, we should calumniate the very apostles themselves; for we are ignorant when they were, any of them, baptized, except the Apostle Paul. Acts 9:18 If, however, we could regard as an evidence that they were really baptized the circumstance of the Lord's saying to St. Peter,
He that is washed needs not save to wash his feet, John 13:10 what are we to think of the others, of whom we do not read even so much as this—Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Silas, Philemon, the very evangelists Mark and Luke, and innumerable others, about whose baptism God forbid that we should entertain any doubt, although we read no record of it? As for Dinocrates, he was a child of seven years of age; and as children who are baptized so old as that can now recite the creed and answer for themselves in the usual examination, I know not why he may not be supposed after his baptism to have been recalled by his unbelieving father to the sacrilege and profanity of heathen worship, and for this reason to have been condemned to the pains from which he was liberated at his sister's intercession. For in the account of him you have never read, either that he was never a Christian, or died a catechumen. But for the matter of that, the account itself that we have of him does not occur in that canon of Holy Scripture whence in all questions of this kind our proofs ought always to be drawn.
If you wish to be a catholic, do not venture to believe, to say, or to teach that
they whom the Lord has predestinated for baptism can be snatched away from his predestination, or die before that has been accomplished in them which the Almighty has predestined. There is in such a dogma more power than I can tell assigned to chances in opposition to the power of God, by the occurrence of which casualties that which He has predestinated is not permitted to come to pass. It is hardly necessary to spend time or earnest words in cautioning the man who takes up with this error against the absolute vortex of confusion into which it will absorb him, when I shall sufficiently meet the case if I briefly warn the prudent man who is ready to receive correction against the threatening mischief. Now these are your words:
We say 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. Is it then really true that any who have been predestinated to baptism are forestalled before they come to it by the failing of this life? And could God predestinate anything which He either in His foreknowledge saw would not come to pass, or in ignorance knew not that it could not come to pass, either to the frustration of His purpose or the discredit of His foreknowledge? You see how many weighty remarks might be made on this subject; but I am restrained by the fact of having treated on it a little while ago, so that I content myself with this brief and passing admonition.
Refuse, if you wish to be a catholic, to believe, or to say, or to teach that
it is of infants, who are forestalled by death before they are born again in Christ, that the Scripture says, 'Speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. Therefore God hastened to take him away from among the wicked; for his soul pleased the Lord; and being made perfect in a short time he fulfilled long seasons.' Wisdom 4:11 For this passage has nothing to do with those to whom you apply it, but rather belongs to those who, after they have been baptized and have progressed in pious living, are not permitted to tarry long on earth—having been made perfect, not with years, but with the grace of heavenly wisdom. This error however, of yours, by which you think that this scripture was spoken of infants who die unbaptized, does an intolerable wrong to the holy laver itself, if an infant, who could have been
hurried away after baptism, has been
hurried away before this, for this reason:—
lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. As if this
deceit which beguiles the soul, and changes it for the worse, if it be not before taken away, is to be believed to be in baptism itself! In a word, since his soul had pleased God, He hastened to remove him out of the midst of iniquity; and he tarried not for ever so little while, in order to fulfil in him what He had predestinated; but preferred to act in opposition to His predestined purpose, and actually hastened lest what had pleased Him so well in the unbaptized child should be exterminated by his baptism! As if the dying infant would perish in that, whither we ought to run with him in our arms in order to save him from perdition. Who, therefore, in respect of these words of the Book of Wisdom, could believe, or say, or write, or quote them as having been written concerning infants who die without baptism, if he only reflected upon them with proper consideration?
If you wish to be a catholic, I pray you, neither believe, nor say, nor teach that
there are some mansions outside the kingdom of God which the Lord said were in His Father's house. For He does not affirm, as you have adduced his testimony,
There are with my Father (apud Patrem meum) many mansions; although, if He had even expressed Himself so, the mansions could hardly be supposed to have any other situation than in the house of His Father; but He plainly says,
In my Father's house are many mansions. John 14:2 Now, who would be so reckless as to separate some parts of God's house from the kingdom of God; so that, while the kings of the earth are found reigning, not in their house only, nor only in their own country, but far and wide, even in regions across the sea, the King who made the heaven and the earth is not described as reigning even over all His own house?
Kingdom of HeavenMay Not Be Everywhere.
You may, however, not improbably contend that all things, it is true, belong to the kingdom of God, because He reigns in heaven, reigns on earth, in the depths beneath, in paradise, in hell (for where does He not reign, since His power is everywhere supreme?); but that the kingdom of heaven is one thing, into which none are permitted to enter, according to the Lord's own true and settled sentence, unless they are washed in the laver of regeneration, while quite another thing is the kingdom over the earth, or over any other parts of creation, in which there may be some mansions of God's house; but these, although appertaining to the kingdom of God, belong not to that kingdom of heaven where God's kingdom exists with a special excellence and blessedness; and that it hence happens that, while no parts and mansions of God's house can be rudely separated from the kingdom of God, yet not all the mansions are prepared in the kingdom of heaven; and still, even in the abodes which are not situated in the kingdom of heaven, those may live happily, to whom, if they are even unbaptized, God has willed to assign such habitations. They are no doubt in the kingdom of God, although (as not having been baptized) they cannot possibly be in the kingdom of heaven.
Now, they who say this, do no doubt seem to themselves to say a good deal, because theirs is only a slight and careless view of Scripture; nor do they understand in what sense we use the phrase, prayers,
Your kingdom come; Matthew 6:10 for that is called the kingdom of God, in which His whole family shall reign with Him in happiness and for ever. Now, in respect of the power which He possesses over all things, he is of course even now reigning. What, therefore, do we intend when we pray that His kingdom may come unless that we may deserve to reign with Him? But even they will be under His power who shall have to suffer the pains of eternal fire. Well, then, do we mean to predicate of these unhappy beings that they too will be in the kingdom of God? Surely it is one thing to be honoured with the gifts and privileges of the kingdom of God, and another thing to be restrained and punished by the laws of the same. However, that you may have a very manifest proof that on the one hand the kingdom of heaven must not be parcelled out to the baptized, and other portions of the kingdom of God be given to the unbaptized, as you seem to have determined, I beg of you to hear the Lord's own words; He does not say,
Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom or heaven; but His words are,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. His discourse with Nicodemus on the subject before us runs thus:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Observe, He does not here say, the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of God. And then, on Nicodemus asking Him in reply,
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? the Lord, in explanation, repeats His former statement more plainly and openly:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Observe again, He uses the same phrase, the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of heaven. John 3:3-6 It is worthy of remark, that while He varies two expressions in explaining them the second time (for after saying,
Unless a man be born again, He interprets that by the fuller expression,
Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit; and in like manner He explains,
he cannot see, by the completer phrase,
he cannot enter into), He yet makes no variation here; He said
the kingdom of God the first time, and He afterwards repeated the same phrase exactly. It is not now necessary to raise and discuss the question, whether the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven must be understood as involving different senses, or whether only one thing is described under two designations. It is enough to find that no one can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be washed in the laver of regeneration. I suppose you perceive by this time how wide of the truth it is to separate from the kingdom of God any mansions that are placed in the house of God. And as to the idea which you have entertained that there will be found dwelling among the various mansions, which the Lord has told us abound in His Father's house, some who have not been born again of water and the Spirit, I advise you, if you will permit me, not to defer amending it, in order that you may hold the catholic faith.
Again, if you wish to be a catholic, I pray you, neither believe, nor say, nor teach that
the sacrifice of Christians ought to be offered in behalf of those who have departed out of the body without having been baptized. Because you fail to show that the sacrifice of the Jews, which you have quoted out of the books of the Maccabees, 2 Maccabbees 12:43 was offered in behalf of any who had departed this life without circumcision. In this novel opinion of yours, which you have advanced against the authority and teaching of the whole Church, you have used a very arrogant mode of expression. You say,
In behalf of these, I most certainly decide that constant oblations and incessant sacrifices must be offered up on the part of the holy priests. Here you show, as a layman, no submission to God's priests for instruction; nor do you associate yourself with them (the least you could do) for inquiry; but you put yourself before them by your proud assumption of judgment. Away, my son, with all this pretension; men walk not so arrogantly in the Way, which the Humble Christ taught that He Himself is. John 14:6 No man enters through His narrow gate with so proud a disposition as this.
Once more, if you desire to be a catholic, do not believe, or say, or teach that
some of those persons who have departed this life without Christ's baptism, do not in the meantime go into the kingdom of heaven, but into paradise; yet afterwards in the resurrection of the dead they attain also to the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven. Even the Pelagian heresy was not daring enough to grant them this, although it holds that infants do not contract original sin. You, however, as a catholic, confess that they are born in sin; and yet by some unaccountable perverseness in the novel opinion you put forth, you assert that they are absolved from that sin with which they were born, and admitted into the kingdom of heaven without the baptism which saves. Nor do you seem to be aware how much below Pelagius himself you are in your views on this point. For he, being alarmed by that sentence of the Lord which does not permit unbaptized persons to enter into the kingdom of heaven, does not venture to send infants there, although he believes them to be free from all sin; whereas you have so little regard for what is written,
Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, John 3:5 that (to say nothing of the error which induces you recklessly to sever paradise from the kingdom of God) you do not hesitate to promise to certain persons, whom you, as a catholic, believe to be born under guilt, both absolution from this guilt and the kingdom of heaven, even when they die without baptism. As if you could possibly be a true catholic because you build up the doctrine of original sin against Pelagius, if you show yourself a new heretic against the Lord, by pulling down His statement respecting baptism. For our own part, beloved brother, we do not desire thus to gain victories over heretics: vanquishing one error by another, and, what is still worse, a less one by a greater. You say,
Should any one perhaps be reluctant to allow that paradise was temporarily bestowed in the meantime on the souls of the dying thief and of Dinocrates, while there still remains to them the reversion of the kingdom of heaven at the resurrection, seeing that the principal passage stands in the way of the opinion, 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,' he may still hold my ungrudging assent on this point; only let him do full honour to both the effect and the aim of the divine mercy and foreknowledge. These are your own words, and in them you express your agreement with the man who says that paradise is conferred on certain unbaptized for a time, in such a sense that at the resurrection there is in store for them the reward of the kingdom of heaven, in opposition to
that principal passage which has determined that none shall enter into that kingdom who has not been born again of water and the Holy Ghost. Pelagius was afraid to oppose himself to this
principal passage of the Gospel, and he did not believe that any (whom he still did not suppose to be sinners) would enter into the kingdom of heaven unbaptized. You, on the contrary, acknowledge that infants have original sin, and yet you absolve them from it without the laver of regeneration, and send them for a temporary residence in paradise, and subsequently permit them to enter even into the kingdom of heaven.
Now these errors, and such as these, with whatever others you may perhaps be able to discover in your books on a more attentive and leisurely perusal, I beg of you to correct, if you possess a catholic mind; in other words, if you spoke in perfect sincerity when you said, that you were not over-confident in yourself that what statements you had made were all capable of proof; and that your constant aim was not to maintain even your own opinion, if it were shown to be improbable; and that it gave you much pleasure, if your own judgment were condemned, to adopt and pursue better and truer sentiments. Well now, my dear brother, show that you said this in no fallacious sense; so that the catholic Church may rejoice in your capacity and character, as possessing not only genius, but prudence withal, and piety, and moderation, rather than that the madness of heresy should be kindled by your contentious persistence in these errors. Now you have an opportunity of showing also how sincerely you expressed your feelings in the passage which immediately follows the satisfactory statement which I have just now mentioned of yours.
For, you say,
as it is the mark of every highest aim and laudable purpose to transfer one's self readily to truer views; so it shows a depraved and obstinate judgment to refuse to return promptly to the pathway of reason. Well, then, show yourself to be influenced by this high aim and laudable purpose, and transfer your mind readily to truer views; and do not display a depraved and obstinate judgment by refusing to return promptly to the pathway of reason. For if your words were uttered in frank sincerity, if they were not mere sound of the lips, if you really felt them in your heart, then you cannot but abhor all delay in accomplishing the great good of correcting yourself. It was not, indeed, much for you to allow, that it showed a depraved and obstinate judgment to refuse to return to the pathway of reason, unless you had added
promptly. By adding this, you showed us how execrable is his conduct who never accomplishes the reform; inasmuch as even he who effects it but tardily appears to you to deserve so severe a censure, as to be fairly described as displaying a depraved and obstinate mind. Listen, therefore, to your own admonition, and turn to good account mainly and largely the fruitful resources of your eloquence; that so you may promptly return to the pathway of reason, more promptly, indeed, than when you declined therefrom, at an unstable period of your age, when you were fortified with too little prudence and less learning.
It would take me too long a time to handle and discuss fully all the points which I wish to be amended in your books, or rather in your own self, and to give you even a brief reason for the correction of each particular. And yet you must not because of them despise yourself, so as to suppose that your ability and powers of speech are to be thought lightly of. I have discovered in you no small recollection of the sacred Scriptures; but your erudition is less than was proportioned to your talent, and the labour you bestowed on them. My desire, therefore, is that you should not, on the one hand, grow vain by attributing too much to yourself; nor, on the other hand, become cold and indifferent by prostration or despair. I only wish that I could read your writings in company with yourself, and point out the necessary emendations in conversation rather than by writing. This is a matter which could be more easily accomplished by oral communication between ourselves than in letters. If the entire subject were to be treated in writing, it would require many volumes. Those chief errors, however, which I have wished to sum up comprehensively in a definite number, I at once call your attention to, in order that you may not postpone the correction of them, but banish them entirely from your preaching and belief; so that the great faculty which you possess of disputation, may, by God's grace, be employed by you usefully for edification, not for injuring and destroying sound and wholesome doctrine.
What these particular errors are, I have, to the best of my ability, already explained. But I will run over them again with a brief recapitulation. One is,
That God did not make the soul out of nothing, but out of His own self. A second is, that
the soul lost some merit by the flesh, which it had had previous to the flesh. The fourth is, that
the soul by means of the flesh recovers its ancient condition, and is born again through the very same flesh by which it had deserved to be polluted. The fifth is, that
infants which are forestalled by death before they are baptized, may yet attain to forgiveness of their original sins. The seventh is, that
they whom the Lord has predestinated to be baptized may be taken away from his predestination, or die before that has been accomplished in them which the Almighty has predestined. The eighth is, that
it is of infants who are fore-stalled by death, before they are born again in Christ, that the Scripture says, 'Speedily was he taken away, lest wickedness should alter his understanding,' with the remainder of the passage to the same effect in the Book of Wisdom. The ninth is, that
there are outside the kingdom of God some of those mansions which the Lord said were in His Father's house. The tenth is, that
the sacrifice of Christians ought to be offered in behalf of those who have departed out of the body without being baptized. The eleventh is, that
some of those persons who have departed this life without the baptism of Christ do not in the meanwhile go into the kingdom, but into paradise; afterwards, however, in the resurrection of the dead, they attain even to the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven.
Well, now, as for these eleven propositions, they are extremely and manifestly perverse and opposed to the catholic faith; so that you should no longer hesitate to root them out and cast them away from your mind, from your words, and from your pen, if you are desirous that we should rejoice not only at your having come over to our catholic altars, but at your being really and truly a catholic. For if these dogmas of yours are severally maintained with pertinacity, they may possibly engender as many heresies as they number opinions. Wherefore consider, I pray you, how dreadful it is that they should be all concentrated in one person, when they would, if held severally by various persons, be every one of them damnable in each holder. If, however, you would in your own person cease to fight contentiously in their defence, nay, would turn your arms against them by faithful words and writings, you would acquire more praise as the censurer of your own self than if you directed any amount of right criticism against any other person; and your amendment of your own errors would bring you more admiration than if you had never entertained them. May the Lord be present to your heart and mind, and by His Spirit pour into your soul such readiness in humility, such light of truth, such sweetness of love, and such peaceful piety, that you may prefer being a conqueror of your own spirit in the truth, than of any one else who gainsays it with his errors. But I do not by any means wish you to think, that by holding these opinions you have departed from the catholic faith, although they are unquestionably opposed to the catholic faith; if so be you are able, in the presence of that God whose eye infallibly searches every man's heart, to look back on your own words as being truly and sincerely expressed, when you said that you were not over-confident in yourself as to the opinions you had broached, that they were all capable of proof; and that your constant aim was not to persist in your own sentiments, if they were shown to be improbable; inasmuch as it was a real pleasure to you, when any judgment of yours was condemned, to adopt and pursue better and truer thoughts. Now such a temper as this, even in relation to what may have been said in an uncatholic form through ignorance, is itself catholic by the very purpose and readiness of amendment which it premeditates. With this remark, however, I must now end this volume, where the reader may rest a while, ready to renew his attention to what is to follow, when I begin my next book.
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/15083.htm>.
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