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Faustus abhors Moses for the awful curse he has pronounced upon Christ. Augustine expounds the Christian doctrine of the suffering Saviour by comparing Old and New Testament passages.
1. Faustus said: If you ask why we do not believe Moses, it is on account of our love and reverence for Christ. The most reckless man cannot regard with pleasure a person who has cursed his father. So we abhor Moses, not so much for his blasphemy of everything human and divine, as for the awful curse he has pronounced upon Christ the Son of God, who for our salvation hung on the tree. Whether Moses did this intentionally or not is your concern. Either way, he cannot be excused, or considered worthy of belief. His words are, "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree." Deuteronomy 21:23 You tell me to believe this man, though, if he was inspired, he must have cursed Christ knowingly and intentionally; and if he did it in ignorance, he cannot have been divine. Take either alternative. Moses was no prophet, and while cursing in his usual manner, he fell ignorantly into the sin of blasphemy against God. Or he was indeed divine, and foresaw the future; and from ill-will to our salvation, he directs the venom of his malediction against Him who was to accomplish that salvation on a tree. He who thus injures the Son cannot surely have seen or known the Father. He who knew nothing of the final ascension of the Son, cannot surely have foretold His advent. Moreover, the extent of the injury inflicted by this curse is to be considered. For it denounces all the righteous men and martyrs, and sufferers of every kind, who have died in this way, as Peter and Andrew, and the rest. Such a cruel denunciation could never have come from Moses if he had been a prophet, unless he was a bitter enemy of these sufferers. For he pronounces them cursed not only of men but of God. What hope, then, of blessing remains to Christ, or his apostles, or to us if we happen to be crucified for Christ's sake? It indicates great thoughtlessness in Moses, and the want of all divine inspiration, that he overlooked the fact that men are hung on a tree for very different reasons, some for their crimes, and others who suffer in the cause of God and of righteousness. In this thoughtless way lie heaps all together without distinction under the same curse; whereas if he had had any sense, not to say inspiration, if he wished to single out the punishment of the cross from all others as specially detestable, he would have said, Cursed is every guilty and impious person that hangs on a tree. This would have made a distinction between the guilty and the innocent. And yet even this would have been incorrect, for Christ took the malefactor from the cross along with himself into the Paradise of his Father. What becomes of the curse on every one that hangs on a tree? Was Barabbas, the notorious robber, who certainly was not hung on a tree, but was set free from prison at the request of the Jews, more blessed than the thief who accompanied Christ from the cross to heaven? Again, there is a curse on the man that worships the sun or the moon. Now if under a heathen monarch I am forced to worship the sun, and if from fear of this curse I refuse, shall I incur this other curse by suffering the punishment of crucifixion? Perhaps Moses was in the habit of cursing everything good. We think no more of his denunciation than of an old wife's scolding. So we find him pronouncing a curse on all youths of both sexes, when he says: "Cursed is every one that raises not up a seed in Israel." Deuteronomy 25:5-10 This is aimed directly at Jesus, who, according to you, was born among the Jews, and raised up no seed to continue his family. It points too at his disciples, some of whom he took from the wives they had married, and some who were unmarried he forbade to take wives. We have good reason, you see, for expressing our abhorrence of the daring style in which Moses hurls his maledictions against Christ, against light, against chastity, against everything divine. You cannot make much of the distinction between hanging on a tree and being crucified, as you often try to do by way of apology; for Paul repudiates such a distinction when he says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree." Galatians 3:10
2. Augustine replied: The pious Faustus is pained because Christ is cursed by Moses. His love for Christ makes him hate Moses. Before explaining the sacred import and the piety of the words, "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree," I would ask these pious people why they are angry with Moses, since his curse does not affect their Christ. If Christ hung on the tree, He must have been fastened to it with nails, the marks of which He showed to His doubting disciple after His resurrection. Accordingly He must have had a vulnerable and mortal body, which the Manichæans deny. Call the wounds and the marks false, and it follows that His hanging on the tree was false. This Christ is not affected by the curse, and there is no occasion for this indignation against the person uttering the curse. If they pretend to be angry with Moses for cursing what they call the false death of Christ, what are we to think of themselves, who do not curse Christ, but, what is much worse, make Him a liar? If it is wrong to curse mortality, it is a much more heinous offense to sully the purity of truth. But let us make these heretical cavils an occasion for explaining this mystery to believers.
3. Death comes upon man as the punishment of sin, and so is itself called sin; not that a man sins in dying, but because sin is the cause of his death. So the word tongue, which properly means the fleshy substance between the teeth and the palate, is applied in a secondary sense to the result of the tongue's action. In this sense we speak of a Latin tongue and a Greek tongue. The word hand, too, means both the members of the body we use in working, and the writing which is done with the hand. In this sense we speak of writing as being proved to be the hand of a certain person, or of recognizing the hand of a friend. The writing is certainly not a member of the body, but the name hand is given to it because it is the hand that does it. So sin means both a bad action deserving punishment, and death the consequence of sin. Christ has no sin in the sense of deserving death, but He bore for our sakes sin in the sense of death as brought on human nature by sin. This is what hung on the tree; this is what was cursed by Moses. Thus was death condemned that its reign might cease, and cursed that it might be destroyed. By Christ's taking our sin in this sense, its condemnation is our deliverance, while to remain in subjection to sin is to be condemned.
4. What does Faustus find strange in the curse pronounced on sin, on death, and on human mortality, which Christ had on account of man's sin, though He Himself was sinless? Christ's body was derived from Adam, for His mother the Virgin Mary was a child of Adam. But God said in Paradise, "On the day that you eat, you shall surely die." This is the curse which hung on the tree. A man may deny that Christ was cursed who denies that He died. But the man who believes that Christ died, and acknowledges that death is the fruit of sin, and is itself called sin, will understand who it is that is cursed by Moses, when he hears the apostle saying "For our old man is crucified with Him." Romans 6:6 The apostle boldly says of Christ, "He was made a curse for us;" for he could also venture to say, "He died for all." "He died," and "He was cursed," are the same. Death is the effect of the curse; and all sin is cursed, whether it means the action which merits punishment, or the punishment which follows. Christ, though guiltless, took our punishment, that He might cancel our guilt, and do away with our punishment.
5. These things are not my conjectures, but are affirmed constantly by the apostle, with an emphasis sufficient to rouse the careless and to silence the gainsayers. "God," he says, "sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, that by sin He might condemn sin in the flesh." Romans 8:3 Christ's flesh was not sinful, because it was not born of Mary by ordinary generation; but because death is the effect of sin, this flesh, in being mortal, had the likeness of sinful flesh. This is called sin in the following words, "that by sin He might condemn sin in the flesh." Again he says: "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21 Why should not Moses call accursed what Paul calls sin? In this prediction the prophet claims a share with the apostle in the reproach of the heretics. For whoever finds fault with the word cursed in the prophet, must find fault with the word sin in the apostle; for curse and sin go together.
6. If we read, "Cursed of God is every one that hangs on a tree," the addition of the words "of God" creates no difficulty. For had not God hated sin and our death, He would not have sent His Son to bear and to abolish it. And there is nothing strange in God's cursing what He hates. For His readiness to give us the immortality which will be had at the coming of Christ, is in proportion to the compassion with which He hated our death when it hung on the cross at the death of Christ. And if Moses curses every one that hangs on a tree, it is certainly not because he did not foresee that righteous men would be crucified, but rather because He foresaw that heretics would deny the death of the Lord to be real, and would try to disprove the application of this curse to Christ, in order that they might disprove the reality of His death. For if Christ's death was not real, nothing cursed hung on the cross when He was crucified, for the crucifixion cannot have been real. Moses cries from the distant past to these heretics: Your evasion in denying the reality of the death of Christ is useless. Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree; not this one or that, but absolutely every one. What! The Son of God? Yes, assuredly. This is the very thing you object to, and that you are so anxious to evade. You will not allow that He was cursed for us, because you will not allow that He died for us. Exemption from Adam's curse implies exemption from his death. But as Christ endured death as man, and for man; so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in His own righteousness, but dying for our offenses, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death. And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offenses, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment. And these words "every one" are intended to check the ignorant officiousness which would deny the reference of the curse to Christ, and so, because the curse goes along with death, would lead to the denial of the true death of Christ.
7. The believer in the true doctrine of the gospel will understand that Christ is not reproached by Moses when he speaks of Him as cursed, not in His divine majesty, but as hanging on the tree as our substitute, bearing our punishment, any more than He is praised by the Manichæans when they deny that He had a mortal body, so as to suffer real death. In the curse of the prophet there is praise of Christ's humility, while in the pretended regard of the heretics there is a charge of falsehood. If, then, you deny that Christ was cursed, you must deny that He died; and then you have to meet, not Moses, but the apostles. Confess that He died, and you may also confess that He, without taking our sin, took its punishment. Now the punishment of sin cannot be blessed, or else it would be a thing to be desired. The curse is pronounced by divine justice, and it will be well for us if we are redeemed from it. Confess then that Christ died, and you may confess that He bore the curse for us; and that when Moses said, "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree," he said in fact, To hang on a tree is to be mortal, or actually to die. He might have said, "Cursed is every one that is mortal," or "Cursed is every one dying;" but the prophet knew that Christ would suffer on the cross, and that heretics would say that He hung on the tree only in appearance, without really dying. So he exclaims, Cursed; meaning that He really died. He knew that the death of sinful man, which Christ though sinless bore, came from that curse, "If you touch it, you shall surely die." Thus also, the serpent hung on the pole was intended to show that Christ did not feign death, but that the real death into which the serpent by his fatal counsel cast mankind was hung on the cross of Christ's passion. The Manichæans turn away from the view of this real death, and so they are not healed of the poison of the serpent, as we read that in the wilderness as many as looked were healed.
8. It is true, some ignorantly distinguish between hanging on a tree and being crucified. So some explain this passage as referring to Judas. But how do they know whether he hung himself from wood or from stone? Faustus is right in saying that the apostle obliges us to refer the words to Christ. Such ignorant Catholics are the prey of the Manichæans. Such they get hold of and entangle in their sophistry. Such were we when we fell into this heresy, and adhered to it. Such were we, when, not by our own strength, but by the mercy of God, we were rescued.
9. What attacks on divine things does Faustus speak of when he charges Moses with sparing nothing human or divine? He makes the charge without stopping to prove it. We know, on the contrary, that Moses gave due praise to everything really divine, and in human affairs was a just ruler, considering his times and the grace of his dispensation. It will be time to prove this when we see any proof of Faustus' charges. It may be clever to make such charges cautiously, but there is great incaution in the cleverness which ruins its possessor. It is good to be clever on the side of truth, but it is a poor thing to be clever in opposition to the truth. Faustus says that Moses spared nothing human or divine; not that he spared no god or man. If he said that Moses did not spare God, it could easily be shown in reply that Moses everywhere does honor to the true God, whom he declares to be the Maker of heaven and earth. Again, if he said that Moses spared none of the gods, he would betray himself to Christians as a worshipper of the false gods that Moses denounces; and so he would be prevented from gathering what he has not brought forth, by the brood taking refuge under the wings of the Mother Church. Faustus tries to ensnare the babes, by saying that Moses spared nothing divine, wishing not to frighten Christians with a profession of belief in the gods, which would be plainly opposed to Christianity, and at the same time appearing to take the side of the Pagans against us; for they know that Moses has said many plain and pointed things against the idols and gods of the heathen, which are devils.
10. If the Manichæans disapprove of Moses on this account, let them confess that they are worshippers of idols and devils. This, indeed, may be the case without their being aware of it. The apostle tells us that "in the last days some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and to doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy." 1 Timothy 4:1-2 Whence but from devils, who are fond of falsehood, could the idea have come that Christ's sufferings and death were unreal, and that the marks which He showed of His wounds were unreal? Are these not the doctrines of lying devils, which teach that Christ, the Truth itself, was a deceiver? Besides, the Manichæans openly teach the worship, if not of devils, still of created things, which the apostle condemns in the words, "They worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Romans 1:25
11. As there is an unconscious worship of idols and devils in the fanciful legends of the Manichæans, so they knowingly serve the creature in their worship of the sun and moon. And in what they call their service of the Creator they really serve their own fancy, and not the Creator at all. For they deny that God created those things which the apostle plainly declares to be the creatures of God, when he says of food, "Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving." 1 Timothy 4:4 This is sound doctrine, which you cannot bear, and so turn to fables. The apostle praises the creature of God, but forbids the worship of it; and in the same way Moses gives due praise to the sun and moon, while at the same time he states the fact of their having been made by God, and placed by Him in their courses — the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night. Probably you think Moses spared nothing divine, simply because he forbade the worship of the sun and moon, whereas you turn towards them in all directions in your worship. But the sun and moon take no pleasure in your false praises. It is the devil, the transgressor, that delights in false praises. The powers of heaven, who have not fallen by sin, wish their Creator to be praised in them; and their true praise is that which does no wrong to their Creator. He is wronged when they are said to be His members, or parts of His substance. For He is perfect and independent, underived, not divided or scattered in space, but unchangeably self-existent, self-sufficient, and blessed in Himself. In the abundance of His goodness, He by His word spoke, and they were made: He commanded, and they were created. And if earthly bodies are good, of which the apostle spoke when he said that no food is unclean, because every creature of God is good, much more the heavenly bodies, of which the sun and moon are the chief; for the apostle says again, "The glory of the terrestrial is one, and the glory of the celestial is another." 1 Corinthians 15:40
12. Moses, then, casts no reproach on the sun and moon when he prohibits their worship. He praises them as heavenly bodies; while he also praises God as the Creator of both heavenly and earthly, and will not allow of His being insulted by giving the worship due to Him to those who are praised only as dependent upon Him. Faustus prides himself on the ingenuity of his objection to the curse pronounced by Moses on the worship of the sun and moon. He says, "If under a heathen monarch I am forced to worship the sun, and if from fear of this curse I refuse, shall I incur this other curse by suffering the punishment of crucifixion?" No heathen monarch is forcing you to worship the sun: nor would the sun itself force you, if it were reigning on the earth, as neither does it now wish to be worshipped. As the Creator bears with blasphemers till the judgment, so these celestial bodies bear with their deluded worshippers till the judgment of the Creator. It should be observed that no Christian monarch could enforce the worship of the sun. Faustus instances a heathen monarch, for he knows that their worship of the sun is a heathen custom. Yet, in spite of this opposition to Christianity, the partridge takes the name of Christ, that it may gather what it has not brought forth. The answer to this objection is easy, and the force of truth will soon break the horns of this dilemma. Suppose, then, a Christian threatened by royal authority with being hung on a tree if he will not worship the sun. If I avoid, you say, the curse pronounced by the law on the worshipper of the sun, I incur the curse pronounced by the same law on him that hangs on a tree. So you will be in a difficulty; only that you worship the sun without being forced by anybody. But a true Christian, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, distinguishes the curses, and the reasons of them. He sees that one refers to the mortal body which is hung on the tree, and the other to the mind which worships the sun. For though the body bows in worship, — which also is a heinous offense — the belief or imagination of the object worshipped is an act of the mind. The death implied in both curses is in one case the death of the body, and in the other the death of the soul. It is better to have the curse in bodily death — which will be removed in the resurrection, — than the curse in the death of the soul, condemning it along with the body to eternal fire. The Lord solves this difficulty in the words: "Fear not them that kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; but fear him who has power to cast both soul and body into hell-fire." Matthew 10:28 In other words, fear not the curse of bodily death, which in time is removed; but fear the curse of spiritual death, which leads to the eternal torment of both soul and body. Be assured, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree is no old wife's railing, but a prophetical utterance. Christ, by the curse, takes the curse away, as He takes away death by death, and sin by sin. In the words, "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree," there is no more blasphemy than in the words of the apostle, "He died," or, "Our old man was crucified along with Him," Romans 6:6 or, "By sin He condemned sin," Romans 8:3 or, "He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin," 2 Corinthians 5:21 and in many similar passages. Confess, then, that when you exclaim against the curse of Christ, you exclaim against His death. If this is not an old wife's railing on your part, it is devilish delusion, which makes you deny the death of Christ because your own souls are dead. You teach people that Christ's death was feigned, making Christ your leader in the falsehood with which you use the name of Christian to mislead men.
13. If Faustus thinks Moses an enemy of continence or virginity because he says, "Cursed is everyone that raises not up seed in Israel," let them hear the words of Isaiah: "Thus says the Lord to all eunuchs; To them who keep my precepts, and choose the things that please me, and regard my covenant, will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Isaiah 56:4-5 Though our adversaries disagree with Moses, if they agree with Isaiah it is something gained. It is enough for us to know that the same God spoke by both Moses and Isaiah, and that every one is cursed who raises not up seed in Israel, both then when begetting children in marriage (for the continuation of the people was a civil duty), and now because no one spiritually born should rest content without seeking spiritual increase in the production of Christians by preaching Christ, each one according to his ability. So that the times of both Testaments are briefly described in the words, "Cursed is every one that raises not up seed in Israel."
Source. Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. 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/140614.htm>.
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