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Wherein He expounds the peculiar and natural blessings of marriage. He shows that among these blessings must not be reckoned fleshly concupiscence; insomuch as this is wholly evil, such as does not proceed from the very nature of marriage, but is an accident thereof arising from original sin. This evil, notwithstanding, is rightly employed by marriage for the procreation of children. But, as the result of this concupiscence, it comes to pass that, even from the lawful marriage of the children of God, men are not born children of God, but of the world, and are bound with the chain of sin, although their parents have been liberated therefrom by grace; and are led captive by the devil, if they be not in like manner rescued by the self-same grace of Christ. He explains how it is that concupiscence remains in the baptized in act though not in guilt. He teaches, that by the sanctity of baptism, not merely this original guilt, but all other sins of men whatever, are taken away. He lastly quotes the authority of Ambrose to show that the evil of concupiscence must be distinguished from the good of marriage.
Our new heretics, my dearest son Valerius, who maintain that infants born in the flesh have no need of that medicine of Christ whereby sins are healed, are constantly affirming, in their excessive hatred of us, that we condemn marriage and that divine procedure by which God creates human beings by means of men and women, inasmuch as we assert that they who are born of such a union contract that original sin of which the apostle says,
By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for in him all sinned; and because we do not deny, that of whatever kind of parents they are born, they are still under the devil's dominion, unless they be born again in Christ, and by His grace be removed from the power of darkness and translated into His kingdom, Colossians 1:15 who willed not to be born from the same union of the two sexes. Because, then, we affirm this doctrine, which is contained in the oldest and unvarying rule of the catholic faith, these propounders of the novel and perverse dogma, who assert that there is no sin in infants to be washed away in the laver of regeneration, Titus 3:5 in their unbelief or ignorance calumniate us, as if we condemned marriage, and as if we asserted to be the devil's work what is God's own work — the human being which is born of marriage. Nor do they reflect that the good of marriage is no more impeachable on account of the original evil which is derived therefrom, than the evil of adultery and fornication is excusable on account of the natural good which is born of them. For as sin is the work of the devil, from whencesoever contracted by infants; so man is the work of God, from whencesoever born. Our purpose, therefore, in this book, so far as the Lord vouchsafes us in His help, is to distinguish between the evil of carnal concupiscence from which man who is born therefrom contracts original sin, and the good of marriage. For there would have been none of this shame-producing concupiscence, which is impudently praised by impudent men, if man had not previously sinned; while as to marriage, it would still have existed even if no man had sinned, since the procreation of children in the body that belonged to that life would have been effected without that malady which in
the body of this death Romans 7:24 cannot be separated from the process of procreation.
Now there are three very special reasons, which I will briefly indicate, why I wished to write to you particularly on this subject. One is, because by the gift of Christ you are a strict observer of conjugal chastity. Another is, because by your great care and diligence you have effectually withstood those profane novelties which we are resisting in our present discussion. The third is, because of my learning that something which they had committed to writing had found its way into your hands; and although in your robust faith you could despise such an attempt, it is still a good thing for us also to know how to bring aid to our faith by defending it. For the Apostle Peter instructs us to be
ready always to give an answer to every one that asks us a reason of the faith and hope that is in us; and the Apostle Paul says,
Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man. Colossians 4:6 These are the motives which chiefly impel me to hold such converse with you in this volume, as the Lord shall enable me. I have never liked, indeed, to intrude the perusal of any of my humble labours on any eminent person, who is like yourself conspicuous to all from the elevation of his office, without his own request, — especially when he is not blessed with the enjoyment of a dignified retirement, but is still occupied in the public duties of a soldier's profession; this has always seemed to me to savour more impertinence than of respectful esteem. If, then, I have incurred censure of this kind, while acting on the reasons which I have now mentioned, I crave the favour of your forgiveness, and kindly regard to the following arguments.
That chastity in the married state is God's gift, is shown by the most blessed Paul, when, speaking on this very subject, he says:
But I would that all men were even as I myself: but every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 1 Corinthians 7:7 Observe, he tells us that this gift is from God; and although he classes it below that continence in which he would have all men to be like himself, he still describes it as a gift of God. Whence we understand that, when these precepts are given to us in order that we should do them, nothing else is stated than that there ought to be within us our own will also for receiving and having them. When, therefore, these are shown to be gifts of God, it is meant that they must be sought from Him if they are not already possessed; and if they are possessed, thanks must be given to Him for the possession; moreover, that our own wills have but small avail for seeking, obtaining, and holding fast these gifts, unless they be assisted by God's grace.
What, then, have we to say when conjugal chastity is discovered even in some unbelievers? Must it be said that they sin, in that they make a bad use of a gift of God, in not restoring it to the worship of Him from whom they received it? Or must these endowments, perchance, be not regarded as gifts of God at all, when they are not believers who exercise them; according to the apostle's sentiment, when he says, Romans 14:23 But who would dare to say that a gift of God is sin? For the soul and the body, and all the natural endowments which are implanted in the soul and the body, even in the persons of sinful men, are still gifts of God; for it is God who made them, and not they themselves. When it is said, faith those things which seem to appertain to conjugal chastity, they do them either to please men, whether themselves or others, or to avoid incurring such troubles as are incidental to human nature in those things which they corruptly desire, or to pay service to devils. Sins are not really resigned, but some sins are overpowered by other sins. God forbid, then, that a man be truly called chaste who observes connubial fidelity to his wife from any other motive than devotion to the true God.
The union, then, of male and female for the purpose of procreation is the natural good of marriage. But he makes a bad use of this good who uses it bestially, so that his intention is on the gratification of lust, instead of the desire of offspring. Nevertheless, in sundry animals unendowed with reason, as, for instance, in most birds, there is both preserved a certain kind of confederation of pairs, and a social combination of skill in nest-building; and their mutual division of the periods for cherishing their eggs and their alternation in the labor of feeding their young, give them the appearance of so acting, when they mate, as to be intent rather on securing the continuance of their kind than on gratifying lust. Of these two, the one is the likeness of man in a brute; the other, the likeness of the brute in man. With respect, however, to what I ascribed to the nature of marriage, that the male and the female are united together as associates for procreation, and consequently do not defraud each other (forasmuch as every associated state has a natural abhorrence of a fraudulent companion), although even men without faith possess this palpable blessing of nature, yet, since they use it not in faith, they only turn it to evil and sin. In like manner, therefore, the marriage of believers converts to the use of righteousness that carnal concupiscence by which
the flesh lusts against the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 For they entertain the firm purpose of generating offspring to be regenerated — that the children who are born of them as
children of the world may be born again and become
sons of God. Wherefore all parents who do not beget children with this intention, this will, this purpose, of transferring them from being members of the first man into being members of Christ, but boast as unbelieving parents over unbelieving children — however circumspect they be in their cohabitation, studiously limiting it to the begetting of children — really have no conjugal chastity in themselves. For inasmuch as chastity is a virtue, hating unchastity as its contrary vice, and as all the virtues (even those whose operation is by means of the body) have their seat in the soul, how can the body be in any true sense said to be chaste, when the soul itself is committing fornication against the true God? Now such fornication the holy psalmist censures when he says:
For, lo, they that are far from You shall perish: You have destroyed all them that go a whoring from You. There is, then, no true chastity, whether conjugal, or vidual, or virginal, except that which devotes itself to true faith. For though consecrated virginity is rightly preferred to marriage, yet what Christian in his sober mind would not prefer catholic Christian women who have been even more than once married, to not only vestals, but also to heretical virgins? So great is the avail of faith, of which the apostle says, Romans 14:23 and of which it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews,
Without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6
Eyes Being Opened.
Now, this being the real state of the question, they undoubtedly err who suppose that, when fleshly lust is censured, marriage is condemned; as if the malady of concupiscence was the outcome of marriage and not of sin. Were not those first spouses, whose nuptials God blessed with the words,
Be fruitful and multiply, Genesis 1:28 naked, and yet not ashamed? Why, then, did shame arise out of their members after sin, except because an indecent motion arose from them, which, if men had not sinned, would certainly never have existed in marriage? Or was it, forsooth, as some hold (who give little heed to what they read), that human beings were, like dogs, at first created blind; and — absurder still — obtained sight, not as dogs do, by growing, but by sinning? Far be it from us to entertain such an opinion. But they gather that opinion of theirs from reading:
She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat: and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. Genesis 3:6-7 This accounts for the opinion of unintelligent persons, that the eyes of the first man and woman were previously closed, because Holy Scripture testifies that they were then opened. Well, then, were Hagar's eyes, the handmaid of Sarah, previously shut, when, with her thirsty and sobbing child, she opened her eyes Genesis 21:17-19 and saw the well? Or did those two disciples, after the Lord's resurrection, walk in the way with Him with their eyes shut, since the evangelist says of them that
in the breaking of bread their eyes were opened, and they knew Him? Luke 24:31 What, therefore, is written concerning the first man and woman, that
the eyes of them both were opened, Genesis 3:7 we ought to understand as that they gave attention to perceiving and recognising the new state which had befallen their body. Now that their eyes were opened, their body appeared to them naked, and they knew it. If this were not the meaning, how, when the beast of the field and the fowls of the air were brought unto him, Genesis 2:19 could Adam have given them names if his eyes were shut? He could not have done this without distinguishing them; and he could not distinguish them without seeing them. How, too, could the woman herself have been beheld so clearly by him when he said,
This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh? Genesis 2:23 If, indeed, any one shall be so determined on cavilling as to insist that Adam might have acquired a discernment of these objects, not by sight but by touch, what explanation will he have to give of the passage wherein we are told how the woman
saw that the tree, from which she was about to pluck the forbidden fruit,
was pleasant for the eyes to behold? Genesis 3:6 No;
they were both naked, and were not ashamed, Genesis 2:25 not because they had no eyesight, but because they perceived no reason to be ashamed in their members, which had all along been seen by them. For it is not said: They were both naked, and knew it not; but
they were not ashamed. Because, indeed, nothing had previously happened which was not lawful, so nothing had ensued which could cause them shame.
When the first man transgressed the law of God, he began to have another law in his members which was repugnant to the law of his mind, and he felt the evil of his own disobedience when he experienced in the disobedience of his flesh a most righteous retribution recoiling on himself. Such, then, was
the opening of his eyes which the serpent had promised him in his temptation Genesis 3:5 — the knowledge, in fact, of something which he had better been ignorant of. Then, indeed, did man perceive within himself what he had done; then did he distinguish evil from good — not by avoiding it, but by enduring it. For it certainly was not just that obedience should be rendered by his servant, that is, his body, to him, who had not obeyed his own Lord. Well, then, how significant is the fact that the eyes, and lips, and tongue, and hands, and feet, and the bending of back, and neck, and sides, are all placed within our power — to be applied to such operations as are suitable to them, when we have a body free from impediments and in a sound state of health; but when it must come to man's great function of the procreation of children the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had legal right over them, and sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will! Must not this bring the blush of shame over the freedom of the human will, that by its contempt of God, its own Commander, it has lost all proper command for itself over its own members? Now, wherein could be found a more fitting demonstration of the just depravation of human nature by reason of its disobedience, than in the disobedience of those parts whence nature herself derives subsistence by succession? For it is by a special propriety that those parts of the body are designated as natural. This, then, was the reason why the first human pair, on experiencing in the flesh that motion which was indecent because disobedient, and on feeling the shame of their nakedness, covered these offending members with fig-leaves; Genesis 3:7 in order that, at the very least, by the will of the ashamed offenders, a veil might be thrown over that which was put into motion without the will of those who wished it: and since shame arose from what indecently pleased, decency might be attained by concealment.
Forasmuch, then, as the good of marriage could not be lost by the addition of this evil, some imprudent persons suppose that this is not an added evil, but something which appertains to the original good. A distinction, however, occurs not only to subtle reason, but even to the most ordinary natural judgment, which was both apparent in the case of the first man and woman, and also holds good still in the case of married persons today. What they afterward effected in propagation — that is the good of marriage; but what they first veiled through shame — that is the evil of concupiscence, which everywhere shuns sight, and in its shame seeks privacy. Since, therefore, marriage effects some good even out of that evil, it has whereof to glory; but since the good cannot be effected without the evil, it has reason for feeling shame. The case may be illustrated by the example of a lame man. Suppose him to attain to some good object by limping after it, then, on the one hand, the attainment itself is not evil because of the evil of the man's lameness; nor, on the other hand, is the lameness good because of the goodness of the attainment. So, on the same principle, we ought not to condemn marriage because of the evil of lust; nor must we praise lust because of the good of marriage.
This disease of concupiscence is what the apostle refers to, when, speaking to married believers, he says:
This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the disease of desire, even as the Gentiles which know not God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 The married believer, therefore, must not only not use another man's vessel, which is what they do who lust after others' wives; but he must know that even his own vessel is not to be possessed in the disease of carnal concupiscence. And this counsel is not to be understood as if the apostle prohibited conjugal — that is to say, lawful and honourable— cohabitation; but so as that that cohabitation (which would have no adjunct of unwholesome lust, were it not that man's perfect freedom of choice had become by preceding sin so disabled that it has this fatal adjunct) should not be a matter of will, but of necessity, without which, nevertheless, it would be impossible to attain to the fruition of the will itself in the procreation of children. And this wish is not in the marriages of believers determined by the purpose of having such children born as shall pass through life in this present world, but such as shall be born again in Christ, and remain in Him for evermore. Now if this result should come about, the reward of a full felicity will spring from marriage; but if such result be not realized, there will yet ensue to the married pair the peace of their good will. Whosoever possesses his vessel (that is, his wife) with this intention of heart, certainly does not possess her in the
disease of desire, as the Gentiles which know not God, but in sanctification and honour, as believers who hope in God. A man turns to use the evil of concupiscence, and is not overcome by it, when he bridles and restrains its rage, as it works in inordinate and indecorous motions; and never relaxes his hold upon it except when intent on offspring, and then controls and applies it to the carnal generation of children to be spiritually regenerated, not to the subjection of the spirit to the flesh in a sordid servitude. That the holy fathers of olden times after Abraham, and before him, to whom God gave His testimony that
they pleased Him, thus used their wives, no one who is a Christian ought to doubt, since it was permitted to certain individuals among them to have a plurality of wives, where the reason was for the multiplication of their offspring, not the desire of varying gratification.
Now, if to the God of our fathers, who is likewise our God, such a plurality of wives had not been displeasing for the purpose that lust might have a fuller range of indulgence; then, on such a supposition, the holy women also ought each to have rendered service to several husbands. But if any woman had so acted, what feeling but that of a disgraceful concupiscence could impel her to have more husbands, seeing that by such licence she could not have more children? That the good purpose of marriage, however, is better promoted by one husband with one wife, than by a husband with several wives, is shown plainly enough by the very first union of a married pair, which was made by the Divine Being Himself, with the intention of marriages taking their beginning therefrom, and of its affording to them a more honourable precedent. In the advance, however, of the human race, it came to pass that to certain good men were united a plurality of good wives — many to each; and from this it would seem that moderation sought rather unity on one side for dignity, while nature permitted plurality on the other side for fecundity. For on natural principles it is more feasible for one to have dominion over many, than for many to have dominion over one. Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says,
The head of the woman is the man; 1 Corinthians 11:3 and,
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands. Colossians 3:18 So also the Apostle Peter writes: 1 Peter 3:6 Now, although the fact of the matter is, that while nature loves singleness in her dominations, but we may see plurality existing more readily in the subordinate portion of our race; yet for all that, it was at no time lawful for one man to have a plurality of wives, except for the purpose of a greater number of children springing from him. Wherefore, if one woman cohabits with several men, inasmuch as no increase of offspring accrues to her therefrom, but only a more frequent gratification of lust, she cannot possibly be a wife, but only a harlot.
It is certainly not fecundity only, the fruit of which consists of offspring, nor chastity only, whose bond is fidelity, but also a certain sacramental bond in marriage which is recommended to believers in wedlock. Accordingly it is enjoined by the apostle: Ephesians 5:25 Of this bond the substance undoubtedly is this, that the man and the woman who are joined together in matrimony should remain inseparable as long as they live; and that it should be unlawful for one consort to be parted from the other, except for the cause of fornication. Matthew 5:32 For this is preserved in the case of Christ and the Church; so that, as a living one with a living one, there is no divorce, no separation forever. And so complete is the observance of this bond in the city of our God, in His holy mountain — that is to say, in the Church of Christ— by all married believers, who are undoubtedly members of Christ, that, although women marry, and men take wives, for the purpose of procreating children, it is never permitted one to put away even an unfruitful wife for the sake of having another to bear children. And whosoever does this is held to be guilty of adultery by the law of the gospel; though not by this world's rule, which allows a divorce between the parties, without even the allegation of guilt, and the contraction of other nuptial engagements — a concession which, the Lord tells us, even the holy Moses extended to the people of Israel, because of the hardness of their hearts. Matthew 19:8 The same condemnation applies to the woman, if she is married to another man. So enduring, indeed, are the rights of marriage between those who have contracted them, as long as they both live, that even they are looked on as man and wife still, who have separated from one another, rather than they between whom a new connection has been formed. For by this new connection they would not be guilty of adultery, if the previous matrimonial relation did not still continue. If the husband die, with whom a true marriage was made, a true marriage is now possible by a connection which would before have been adultery. Thus between the conjugal pair, as long as they live, the nuptial bond has a permanent obligation, and can be cancelled neither by separation nor by union with another. But this permanence avails, in such cases, only for injury from the sin, not for a bond of the covenant. In like manner the soul of an apostate, which renounces as it were its marriage union with Christ, does not, even though it has cast its faith away, lose the sacrament of its faith, which it received in the laver of regeneration. It would undoubtedly be given back to him if he were to return, although he lost it on his departure from Christ. He retains, however, the sacrament after his apostasy, to the aggravation of his punishment, not for meriting the reward.
But God forbid that the nuptial bond should be regarded as broken between those who have by mutual consent agreed to observe a perpetual abstinence from the use of carnal concupiscence. Nay, it will be only a firmer one, whereby they have exchanged pledges together, which will have to be kept by a special endearment and concord — not by the voluptuous links of bodies, but by the voluntary affections of souls. For it was not deceitfully that the angel said to Joseph:
Fear not to take unto you Mary your wife. Matthew 1:20 She is called his wife because of her first troth of betrothal, although he had had no carnal knowledge of her, nor was destined to have. The designation of wife was neither destroyed nor made untrue, where there never had been, nor was meant to be, any carnal connection. That virgin wife was rather a holier and more wonderful joy to her husband because of her very pregnancy without man, with disparity as to the child that was born, without disparity in the faith they cherished. And because of this conjugal fidelity they are both deservedly called Luke 2:41 of Christ (not only she as His mother, but he as His father, as being her husband), both having been such in mind and purpose, though not in the flesh. But while the one was His father in purpose only, and the other His mother in the flesh also, they were both of them, for all that, only the parents of His humility, not of His sublimity; of His weakness, not of His divinity. For the Gospel does not lie, in which one reads,
Both His father and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken about Him; and in another passage,
Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year; Luke 2:41 and again a little afterwards,
His mother said to Him, Son, why have You thus dealt with us? Behold, Your father and I have sought You sorrowing. Luke 2:48 In order, however, that He might show them that He had a Father besides them, who begot Him without a mother, He said to them in answer:
How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business? Luke 2:49 Furthermore, lest He should be thought to have repudiated them as His parents by what He had just said, the evangelist at once added:
And they understood not the saying which He spoke unto them; and He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them. Luke 2:50-51 Subject to whom but His parents? And who was the subject but Jesus Christ, Philippians 2:6 And wherefore subject to them,who were far beneath the form of God, except that
He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, Philippians 2:7 — the form in which His parents lived? Now, since she bore Him without his engendering, they could not surely have both been His parents, of that form of a servant, if they had not been conjugally united, though without carnal connection. Accordingly the genealogical series (although both parents of Christ are mentioned together in the succession) Matthew 1:16 had to be extended, as it is in fact, down rather to Joseph's name, that no wrong might be done, in the case of this marriage, to the male, and indeed the stronger sex, while at the same time there was nothing detrimental to truth, since Joseph, no less than Mary, was of the seed of David, Luke 1:27 of whom it was foretold that Christ should come.
The entire good, therefore, of the nuptial institution was effected in the case of these parents of Christ: there was offspring, there was faithfulness, there was the bond. As offspring, we recognise the Lord Jesus Himself; the fidelity, in that there was no adultery; the bond, because there was no divorce. [XII.] Only there was no nuptial cohabitation; because He who was to be without sin, and was sent not in sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3 could not possibly have been made in sinful flesh itself without that shameful lust of the flesh which comes from sin, and without which He willed to be born, in order that He might teach us, that every one who is born of sexual intercourse is in fact sinful flesh, since that alone which was not born of such intercourse was not sinful flesh. Nevertheless conjugal intercourse is not in itself sin, when it is had with the intention of producing children; because the mind's good-will leads the ensuing bodily pleasure, instead of following its lead; and the human choice is not distracted by the yoke of sin pressing upon it, inasmuch as the blow of the sin is rightly brought back to the purposes of procreation. This blow has a certain prurient activity which plays the king in the foul indulgences of adultery, and fornication, and lasciviousness, and uncleanness; while in the indispensable duties of the marriage state, it exhibits the docility of the slave. In the one case it is condemned as the shameless effrontery of so violent a master; in the other, it gets modest praise as the honest service of so submissive an attendant. This lust, then, is not in itself the good of the nuptial institution; but it is obscenity in sinful men, a necessity in procreant parents, the fire of lascivious indulgences, the shame of nuptial pleasures. Wherefore, then, may not persons remain man and wife when they cease by mutual consent from cohabitation; seeing that Joseph and Mary continued such, though they never even began to cohabit?
Now this propagation of children which among the ancient saints was a most bounden duty for the purpose of begetting and preserving a people for God, among whom the prophecy of Christ's coming must needs have had precedence over everything, now has no longer the same necessity. For from among all nations the way is open for an abundant offspring to receive spiritual regeneration, from whatever quarter they derive their natural birth. So that we may acknowledge that the scripture which says there is
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing, Ecclesiastes 3:5 is to be distributed in its clauses to the periods before Christ and since. The former was the time to embrace, the latter to refrain from embracing.
Accordingly the apostle also, speaking apparently with this passage in view, declares:
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains, that both they that have wives be as though they had them not; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as though they used it not: for the fashion of this world passes away. But I would have you without solicitude. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 This entire passage (that I may express my view on this subject in the shape of a brief exposition of the apostle's words) I think must be understood as follows:
This I say, brethren, the time is short. No longer is God's people to be propagated by carnal generation; but, henceforth, it is to be gathered out by spiritual regeneration.
It remains, therefore, that they that have wives be not subject to carnal concupiscence;
and they that weep, under the sadness of present evil, should rejoice in the hope of future blessing;
and they that rejoice, over any temporary advantage, should fear the eternal judgment;
and they that buy, should so hold their possessions as not to cleave to them by overmuch love;
and they that use this world should reflect that it is passing away, and does not remain.
For the fashion of this world passes away: but, he says,
I would have you to be without solicitude,— in other words: I would have you lift up your heart, that it may dwell among those things which do not pass away. He then goes on to say:
He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 1 Corinthians 3:32-33 And thus to some extent he explains what he had already said:
Let them that have wives be as though they had none. For they who have wives in such a way as to care for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord, without having any care for the things of the world in order to please their wives, are, in fact, just as if they had no wives. And this is effected with greater ease when the wives, too, are of such a disposition, because they please their husbands not merely because they are rich, because they are high in rank, noble in race, and amiable in natural temper, but because they are believers, because they are religious, because they are chaste, because they are good men.
But in the married, as these things are desirable and praiseworthy, so the others are to be tolerated, that no lapse occur into damnable sins; that is, into fornications and adulteries. To escape this evil, even such embraces of husband and wife as have not procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence, are permitted, so far as to be within range of forgiveness, though not prescribed by way of commandment: 1 Corinthians 7:6 and the married pair are enjoined not to defraud one the other, lest Satan should tempt them by reason of their incontinence. 1 Corinthians 7:5 For thus says the Scripture:
Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one the other; except it be with consent for a time, that you may have leisure for prayer; and then come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 Now in a case where permission must be given, it cannot by any means be contended that there is not some amount of sin. Since, however, the cohabitation for the purpose of procreating children, which must be admitted to be the proper end of marriage, is not sinful, what is it which the apostle allows to be permissible, but that married persons, when they have not the gift of continence, may require one from the other the due of the flesh — and that not from a wish for procreation, but for the pleasure of concupiscence? This gratification incurs not the imputation of guilt on account of marriage, but receives permission on account of marriage. This, therefore, must be reckoned among the praises of matrimony; that, on its own account, it makes pardonable that which does not essentially appertain to itself. For the nuptial embrace, which subserves the demands of concupiscence, is so effected as not to impede the child-bearing, which is the end and aim of marriage.
It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin. For although propagation of offspring is not the motive of the intercourse, there is still no attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong desire or evil appliance. They who resort to these, although called by the name of spouses, are really not such; they retain no vestige of true matrimony, but pretend the honourable designation as a cloak for criminal conduct. Having also proceeded so far, they are betrayed into exposing their children, which are born against their will. They hate to nourish and retain those whom they were afraid they would beget. This infliction of cruelty on their offspring so reluctantly begotten, unmasks the sin which they had practised in darkness, and drags it clearly into the light of day. The open cruelty reproves the concealed sin. Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or, if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born. Well, if both parties alike are so flagitious, they are not husband and wife; and if such were their character from the beginning, they have not come together by wedlock but by debauchery. But if the two are not alike in such sin, I boldly declare either that the woman is, so to say, the husband's harlot; or the man the wife's adulterer.
Forasmuch, then, as marriage cannot be such as that of the primitive men might have been, if sin had not preceded; it may yet be like that of the holy fathers of the olden time, in such wise that the carnal concupiscence which causes shame (which did not exist in paradise previous to the fall, and after that event was not allowed to remain there), although necessarily forming a part of the body of this death, is not subservient to it, but only submits its function, when forced thereto, for the sole purpose of assisting in the procreation of children; otherwise, since the present time (as we have already said) is the period for abstaining from the nuptial embrace, and therefore makes no necessary demand on the exercise of the said function, seeing that all nations now contribute so abundantly to the production of an offspring which shall receive spiritual birth, there is the greater room for the blessing of an excellent continence.
He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 He, however, who cannot receive it,
even if he marry, sins not; 1 Corinthians 7:28 and if a woman have not the gift of continence, let her also marry. 1 Corinthians 7:9 1 Corinthians 7:1 But since
all men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given, Matthew 19:9 it remains that
to avoid fornication, every man ought to have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:2 And thus the weakness of incontinence is hindered from falling into the ruin of profligacy by the honourable estate of matrimony. Now that which the apostle says of women,
I will therefore that the younger women marry, 1 Timothy 5:14 is also applicable to males: I will that the younger men take wives; that so it may appertain to both sexes alike
to bear children, to be fathers and
mothers of families, to give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 1 Timothy 5:14
In matrimony, however, let these nuptial blessings be the objects of our love— offspring, fidelity, the sacramental bond. Offspring, not that it be born only, but born again; for it is born to punishment unless it be born again to life. Fidelity, not such as even unbelievers observe one towards the other, in their ardent love of the flesh. For what husband, however impious himself, likes an adulterous wife? Or what wife, however impious she be, likes an adulterous husband? This is indeed a natural good in marriage, though a carnal one. But a member of Christ ought to be afraid of adultery, not on account of himself, but of his spouse; and ought to hope to receive from Christ the reward of that fidelity which he shows to his spouse. The sacramental bond, again, which is lost neither by divorce nor by adultery, should be guarded by husband and wife with concord and chastity. For it alone is that which even an unfruitful marriage retains by the law of piety, now that all that hope of fruitfulness is lost for the purpose of which the couple married. Let these nuptial blessings be praised in marriage by him who wishes to extol the nuptial institution. Carnal concupiscence, however, must not be ascribed to marriage: it is only to be tolerated in marriage. It is not a good which comes out of the essence of marriage, but an evil which is the accident of original sin.
This is the reason, indeed, why of even the just and lawful marriages of the children of God are born, not children of God, but children of the world; because also those who generate, if they are already regenerate, beget children not as children of God, but as still children of the world.
The children of this world, says our Lord,
beget and are begotten. From the fact, therefore, that we are still children of this world, our outer man is in a state of corruption; and on this account our offspring are born as children of the present world; nor do they become sons of God, except they be regenerated. Yet inasmuch as we are children of God, our inner man is renewed from day to day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 And yet even our outer man has been sanctified through the laver of regeneration, and has received the hope of future incorruption, on which account it is justly designated as
the temple of God.
Your bodies, says the apostle,
are the temples of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, and which you have of God; and you are not your own, for you are bought with a great price: therefore glorify and carry God in your body. The whole of this statement is made in reference to our present sanctification, but especially in consequence of that hope of which he says in another passage,
We ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23 If, then, the redemption of our body is expected, as the apostle declares, it follows, that being an expectation, it is as yet a matter of hope, and not of actual possession. Accordingly the apostle adds:
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans 8:24-25 Not, therefore, by that which we are waiting for, but by that which we are now enduring, are the children of our flesh born. God forbid that a man who possesses faith should, when he hears the apostle bid men
love their wives, Colossians 3:19 love that carnal concupiscence in his wife which he ought not to love even in himself; as he may know, if he listens to the words of another apostle:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever, even as also God abides forever.
That, therefore, which is born of the lust of the flesh is really born of the world, and not of God; but it is born of God, when it is born again of water and of the Spirit. The guilt of this concupiscence, regeneration alone remits, even as natural generation contracts it. What, then, is generated must be regenerated, in order that likewise since it cannot be otherwise, what has been contracted may be remitted. It is, no doubt, very wonderful that what has been remitted in the parent should still be contracted in the offspring; but nevertheless such is the case. That this mysterious verity, which unbelievers neither see nor believe, might get some palpable evidence in its support, God in His providence has secured in the example of certain trees. For why should we not suppose that for this very purpose the wild olive springs from the olive? Is it not indeed credible that, in a thing which has been created for the use of mankind, the Creator provided and appointed what should afford an instructive example, applicable to the human race? It is a wonderful thing, then, how those who have been themselves delivered by grace from the bondage of sin, should still beget those who are tied and bound by the self-same chain, and who require the same process of loosening? Yes; and we admit the wonderful fact. But that the embryo of wild olive trees should latently exist in the germs of true olives, who would deem credible, if it were not proved true by experiment and observation? In the same manner, therefore, as a wild olive grows out of the seed of the wild olive, and from the seed of the true olive springs also nothing but a wild olive, notwithstanding the very great difference there is between the wild olive and the olive; so what is born in the flesh, either of a sinner or of a just man, is in both instances a sinner, notwithstanding the vast distinction which exists between the sinner and the righteous man. He that is begotten is no sinner as yet in act, and is still new from his birth; but in guilt he is old. Human from the Creator, he is a captive of the destroyer, and needs a redeemer. The difficulty, however, is how a state of captivity can possibly befall the offspring, when the parents have been themselves previously redeemed from it. Now it is no easy matter to unravel this intricate point, or to explain it in a set discourse; therefore unbelievers refuse to accept it as true; just as if in that other point about the wild olive and the olive, which we gave in illustration, any reason could be easily found, or explanation clearly given, why the self-same shoot should sprout out of so dissimilar a stock. The truth, however, of this can be discovered by any one who is willing to make the experiment. Let it then serve for a good example for suggesting belief of what admits not of ocular demonstration.
Now the Christian faith unfalteringly declares, what our new heretics have begun to deny, both that they who are cleansed in the laver of regeneration are redeemed from the power of the devil, and that those who have not yet been redeemed by such regeneration are still captive in the power of the devil, even if they be infant children of the redeemed, unless they be themselves redeemed by the self-same grace of Christ. For we cannot doubt that that blessing of God applies to every stage of human life, which the apostle describes when he says concerning Him:
Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son. Colossians 1:13 From this power of darkness, therefore, of which the devil is the prince — in other words, from the power of the devil and his angels — infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Church's very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns — small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devil's power is exorcised in infants, and that they renounce him by the hearts and mouths of those who bring them to baptism, being unable to do so by their own; in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness, and be translated into the kingdom of their Lord. What is that, therefore, within them which keeps them in the power of the devil until they are delivered from it by Christ's sacrament of baptism? What is it, I ask, but sin? Nothing else, indeed, has the devil found which enables him to put under his own control that nature of man which the good Creator made good. But infants have committed no sin of their own since they have been alive. Only original sin, therefore, remains, whereby they are made captive under the devil's power, until they are redeemed therefrom by the laver of regeneration and the blood of Christ, and pass into their Redeemer's kingdom, — the power of their enthraller being frustrated, and power being given them to become
sons of God instead of children of this world. John 1:12
If now we interrogate, so to speak, those goods of marriage to which we have often referred, and inquire how it is that sin could possibly have been propagated from them to infants, we shall get this answer from the first of them — the work of procreation of offspring:
My happiness would in paradise have been greater if sin had not been committed. For to me belongs that blessing of almighty God: 'Be fruitful, and multiply.' Genesis 1:29 For accomplishing this good work, various members were created suited to each sex; these members were, of course, in existence before sin, but they were not objects of shame. This will be the answer of the second good — the fidelity of chastity:
If sin had not been committed, what in paradise could have been more secure than myself, when there was no lust of my own to spur me, none of another to tempt me? And then this will be the answer of the sacramental bond of marriage, — the third good:
Of me was that word spoken in paradise before the entrance of sin: 'A man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall become one flesh.' Genesis 2:24 This the apostle applies to the case of Christ and of the Church, and calls it then
a great sacrament. What, then, in Christ and in the Church is great, in the instances of each married pair it is but very small, but even then it is the sacrament of an inseparable union. What now is there in these three blessings of marriage out of which the bond of sin could pass over to posterity? Absolutely nothing. And in these blessings it is certain that the goodness of matrimony is entirely comprised; and even now good wedlock consists of these same blessings.
But if, in like manner, the question be asked of the concupiscence of the flesh, how it is that acts now bring shame which once were free from shame, will not her answer be, that she only began to have existence in men's members after sin? [XXII.] And, therefore, that the apostle designated her influence as
the law of sin, Romans 7:23 inasmuch as she subjugated man to herself when he was unwilling to remain subject to his God; and that it was she who made the first married pair ashamed at that moment when they covered their loins; even as all are still ashamed, and seek out secret retreats for cohabitation, and dare not have even the children, whom they have themselves thus begotten, to be witnesses of what they do. It was against this modesty of natural shame that the Cynic philosophers, in the error of their astonishing shamelessness, struggled so hard: they thought that the intercourse indeed of husband and wife, since it was lawful and honourable, should therefore be done in public. Such barefaced obscenity deserved to receive the name of dogs; and so they went by the title of
Now this concupiscence, this law of sin which dwells in our members, to which the law of righteousness forbids allegiance, saying in the words of the apostle,
Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof; neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: Romans 6:12-13 — this concupiscence, I say, which is cleansed only by the sacrament of regeneration, does undoubtedly, by means of natural birth, pass on the bond of sin to a man's posterity, unless they are themselves loosed from it by regeneration. In the case, however, of the regenerate, concupiscence is not itself sin any longer, whenever they do not consent to it for illicit works, and when the members are not applied by the presiding mind to perpetrate such deeds. So that, if what is enjoined in one passage,
You shall not covet, is not kept, that at any rate is observed which is commanded in another place,
You shall not go after your concupiscences. Sirach 18:30 Inasmuch, however, as by a certain manner of speech it is called sin, since it arose from sin, and, when it has the upper hand, produces sin, the guilt of it prevails in the natural man; but this guilt, by Christ's grace through the remission of all sins, is not suffered to prevail in the regenerate man, if he does not yield obedience to it whenever it urges him to the commission of evil. As arising from sin, it is, I say, called sin, although in the regenerate it is not actually sin; and it has this designation applied to it, just as speech which the tongue produces is itself called
tongue; and just as the word
hand is used in the sense of writing, which the hand produces. In the same way concupiscence is called sin, as producing sin when it conquers the will: so to cold and frost the epithet
sluggish is given; not as arising from, but as productive of, sluggishness; benumbing us, in fact.
This wound which the devil has inflicted on the human race compels everything which has its birth in consequence of it to be under the devil's power, as if he were rightly plucking fruit off his own tree. Not as if man's nature, which is only of God, came from him, but sin alone, which is not of God. For it is not on its own account that man's nature is under condemnation, because it is the work of God, and therefore laudable; but on account of that condemnable corruption by which it has been vitiated. Now it is by reason of this condemnation that it is in subjection to the devil, who is also in the same damnable state. For the devil is himself an unclean spirit: good, indeed, so far as he is a spirit, but evil as being unclean; for by nature he is a spirit, by the corruption thereof an unclean one. Of these two, the one is of God, the other of himself. His hold over men, therefore, whether of an advanced age or in infancy, is not because they are human, but because they are polluted. He, then, who feels surprise that God's creature is a subject of the devil, should cease from such feeling. For one creature of God is in subjection to another creature of God, the less to the greater, a human being to an angelic one; and this is not owing to nature, but to a corruption of nature: polluted is the sovereign, polluted also the subject. All this is the fruit of that ancient stock of pollution which he has planted in man; himself being destined to suffer a heavier punishment at the last judgment, as being the more polluted; but at the same time even they who will have to bear a less heavy burden in that condemnation are subjects of him as the prince and author of sin, for there will be no other cause of condemnation than sin.
Wherefore the devil holds infants guilty who are born, not of the good by which marriage is good, but of the evil of concupiscence, which, indeed, marriage uses aright, but at which even marriage has occasion to feel shame. Marriage is itself
honourable in all Hebrews 13:4 the goods which properly appertain to it; but even when it has its
bed undefiled (not only by fornication and adultery, which are damnable disgraces, but also by any of those excesses of cohabitation such as do not arise from any prevailing desire of children, but from an overbearing lust of pleasure, which are venial sins in man and wife), yet, whenever it comes to the actual process of generation, the very embrace which is lawful and honourable cannot be effected without the ardour of lust, so as to be able to accomplish that which appertains to the use of reason and not of lust. Now, this ardour, whether following or preceding the will, does somehow, by a power of its own, move the members which cannot be moved simply by the will, and in this manner it shows itself not to be the servant of a will which commands it, but rather to be the punishment of a will which disobeys it. It shows, moreover, that it must be excited, not by a free choice, but by a certain seductive stimulus, and that on this very account it produces shame. This is the carnal concupiscence, which, while it is no longer accounted sin in the regenerate, yet in no case happens to nature except from sin. It is the daughter of sin, as it were; and whenever it yields assent to the commission of shameful deeds, it becomes also the mother of many sins. Now from this concupiscence whatever comes into being by natural birth is bound by original sin, unless, indeed, it be born again in Him whom the Virgin conceived without this concupiscence. Wherefore, when He vouchsafed to be born in the flesh, He alone was born without sin.
If the question arises, how this concupiscence of the flesh remains in the regenerate, in whose case has been effected a remission of all sins whatever; seeing that human semination takes place by its means, even when the carnal offspring of even a baptized parent is born: or, at all events, if it may be in the case of a baptized parent concupiscence and not be sin, why should this same concupiscence be sin in the offspring?— the answer to be given is this: Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin. Although its guilt is now taken away, it still remains until our entire infirmity be healed by the advancing renewal of our inner man, day by day, when at last our outward man shall be clothed with incorruption. 1 Corinthians 15:53 It does not remain, however, substantially, as a body, or a spirit; but it is nothing more than a certain affection of an evil quality, such as languor, for instance. There is not, to be sure, anything remaining which may be remitted whenever, as the Scripture says,
the Lord forgives all our iniquities. But until that happens which immediately follows in the same passage,
Who heals all your infirmities, who redeems your life from corruption, there remains this concupiscence of the flesh in the body of this death. Now we are admonished not to obey its sinful desires to do evil:
Let not sin reign in your mortal body. Romans 6:12 Still this concupiscence is daily lessened in persons of continence and increasing years, and most of all when old age makes a near approach. The man, however, who yields to it a wicked service, receives such great energies that, even when all his members are now failing through age, and those special parts of his body are unable to be applied to their proper function, he does not ever cease to revel in a still increasing rage of disgraceful and shameless desire.
In the case, then, of those persons who are born again in Christ, when they receive an entire remission of all their sins, it is of course necessary that the guilt also of the still indwelling concupiscence should be remitted, in order that (as I said) it should not be imputed to them for sin. For even as in the case of those sins which cannot be themselves permanent, since they pass away as soon as they are committed, the guilt yet is permanent, and (if not remitted) will remain for evermore; so, when the concupiscence is remitted, the guilt of it also is taken away. For not to have sin means this, not to be deemed guilty of sin. If a man have (for example) committed adultery, though he do not repeat the sin, he is held to be guilty of adultery until the indulgence in guilt be itself remitted. He has the sin, therefore, remaining, although the particular act of his sin no longer exists, since it has passed away along with the time when it was committed. For if to desist from sinning were the same thing as not to have sins, it would be sufficient if Scripture were content to give us the simple warning,
My son, have you sinned? Do so no more. Sirach 21:1 This, however, does not suffice, for it goes on to say,
Ask forgiveness for your former sins. Sirach 21:1 Sins remain, therefore, if they are not forgiven. But how do they remain if they are passed away? Only thus, they have passed away in their act, but they are permanent in their guilt. Contrariwise, then, may it happen that a thing may remain in act, but pass away in guilt.
For the concupiscence of the flesh is in some sort active, even when it does not exhibit either an assent of the heart, where its seat of empire is, or those members whereby, as its weapons, it fulfils what it is bent on. But what in this action does it effect, unless it be its evil and shameful desires? For if these were good and lawful, the apostle would not forbid obedience to them, saying, Romans 6:12 He does not say, that you should have the lusts thereof, but holiness and chastity, for the purpose of withholding obedience to these lusts. Nevertheless, our wish ought to be nothing less than the nonexistence of these very desires, even if the accomplishment of such a wish be not possible in the body of this death. This is the reason why the same apostle, in another passage, addressing us as if in his own person, gives us this instruction:
For what I would, says he,
that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. Romans 7:15 In a word,
I covet. For he was unwilling to do this, that he might be perfect on every side.
If, then, I do that which I would not, he goes on to say,
I consent unto the law that it is good. Romans 7:16 Because the law, too, wills not that which I also would not. For it wills not that I should have concupiscence, for it says,
You shall not covet; and I am no less unwilling to cherish so evil a desire. In this, therefore, there is complete accord between the will of the law and my own will. But because he was unwilling to covet, and yet did covet, and for all that did not by any means obey this concupiscence so as to yield assent to it, he immediately adds these words:
Now, then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:17
It is No More I that Do It?
A man, however, is much deceived if, while consenting to the lust of his flesh, and then both resolving in his mind to do its desires and setting about it, he supposes that he has still a right to say,
It is not I that do it, even if he hates and loathes himself for assenting to evil desires. The two things are simultaneous in his case: he hates the thing himself because he knows that it is evil; and yet he does it, because he is bent on doing it. Now if, in addition to all this, he proceeds to do what the Scripture forbids him, when it says,
Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, Romans 6:13 and completes with a bodily act what he was bent on doing in his mind; and says,
It is not I that do the thing, but sin that dwells in me, Romans 7:17 because he feels displeased with himself for resolving on and accomplishing the deed, — he so greatly errs as not to know his own self. For, whereas he is altogether himself, his mind determining and his body executing his own purpose, he yet supposes that he is himself no longer! [XXIX.] That man, therefore, alone speaks the truth when he says,
It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me, who only feels the concupiscence, and neither resolves on doing it with the consent of his heart, nor accomplishes it with the ministry of his body.
The apostle then adds these words:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perfect that which is good I find not. Romans 7:18 Now this is said, because a good thing is not then perfected, when there is an absence of evil desires, as evil is perfected when evil desires are obeyed. But when they are present, but are not obeyed, neither evil is performed, since obedience is not yielded to them; nor good, because of their inoperative presence. There is rather an intermediate condition of things: good is effected in some degree, because the evil concupiscence has gained no assent to itself; and in some degree there is a remnant of evil, because the concupiscence is present. This accounts for the apostle's precise words. He does not say, To do good is not present to him, but
how to perfect it. For the truth is, one does a good deal of good when he does what the Scripture enjoins,
Go not after your lusts; Sirach 18:30 yet he falls short of perfection, in that he fails to keep the great commandment,
You shall not covet. Exodus 20:7 The law said,
You shall not covet, in order that, when we find ourselves lying in this diseased state, we might seek the medicine of Grace, and by that commandment know both in what direction our endeavours should aim as we advance in our present mortal condition, and to what a height it is possible to reach in the future immortality. For unless perfection could somewhere be attained, this commandment would never have been given to us.
The apostle then repeats his former statement, the more fully to recommend its purport:
For the good, says he,
that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. Then follows this:
I find then the law, when I would act, to be good to me; for evil is present with me. In other words, I find that the law is a good to me, when I wish to do what the law would have me do; inasmuch as it is not with the law itself (which says,
You shall not covet) that evil is present; no, it is with myself that the evil is present, which I would not do, because I have the concupiscence even in my willingness.
For, he adds,
I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Romans 7:22-23 This delight with the law of God after the inward man, comes to us from the mighty grace of God; for thereby is our inward man renewed day by day, 2 Corinthians 4:16 because it is thereby that progress is made by us with perseverance. In it there is not the fear that has torment, but the love that cheers and gratifies. We are truly free there, where we have no unwilling joy.
Then, indeed, this statement,
I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, refers to that very concupiscence which we are now speaking of — the law of sin in our sinful flesh. But when he said,
And bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, that is, to its own self,
which is in my members, he either meant
bringing me into captivity, in the sense of endeavouring to make me captive, that is, urging me to approve and accomplish evil desire; or rather (and this opens no controversy), in the sense of leading me captive according to the flesh, and, if this is not possessed by the carnal concupiscence which he calls the law of sin, no unlawful desire — such as our mind ought not to obey— would,of course, be there to excite and disturb. The fact, however, that the apostle does not say, Bringing my flesh into captivity, but
Bringing me into captivity, leads us to look out for some other meaning for the phrase, and to understand the term
bringing me into captivity as if he had said, endeavouring to make me captive. But why, after all, might he not say,
Bringing me into captivity, and at the same time mean us to understand his flesh? Was it not spoken by one concerning Jesus, when His flesh was not found in the sepulchre:
They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him? John 20:2 Was Mary's then an improper question, because she said,
My Lord, and not
My Lord's body or
But we have in the apostle's own language, a little before, a sufficiently clear proof that he might have meant his flesh when he said,
Bringing me into captivity. For after declaring,
I know that in me dwells no good thing, he at once added an explanatory sentence to this effect,
That is, in my flesh. Romans 7:18 It is then the flesh, in which there dwells nothing good, that is brought into captivity to the law of sin. Now he designates that as the flesh wherein lies a certain morbid carnal affection, not the mere conformation of our bodily fabric whose members are not to be used as weapons for sin— that is, for that very concupiscence which holds this flesh of ours captive. So far, indeed, as concerns this actual bodily substance and nature of ours, it is already God's temple in all faithful men, whether living in marriage or in continence. If, however, absolutely nothing of our flesh were in captivity, not even to the devil, because there has accrued to it the remission of sin, that sin be not imputed to it (and this is properly designated the law of sin); yet if under this law of sin, that is, under its own concupiscence, our flesh were not to some degree held captive, how could that be true which the apostle states, when he speaks of our
waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body? Romans 8:23 In so far, then, as there is now this waiting for the redemption of our body, there is also in some degree still existing something in us which is a captive to the law of sin. Accordingly he exclaims,
O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:24 What are we to understand by such language, but that our body, which is undergoing corruption, weighs heavily on our soul? When, therefore, this very body of ours shall be restored to us in an incorrupt state, there shall be a full liberation from the body of this death; but there will be no such deliverance for them who shall rise again to condemnation. To the body of this death then is understood to be owing the circumstance that there is in our members another law which wars against the law of the mind, so long as the flesh lusts against the spirit — without, however, subjugating the mind, inasmuch as on its side, too, the spirit has a concupiscence contrary to the flesh. Galatians 5:17 Thus, although the actual law of sin partly holds the flesh in captivity (whence comes its resistance to the law of the mind), still it has not an absolute empire in our body, notwithstanding its mortal state, since it refuses obedience to its desires. Romans 6:12 For in the case of hostile armies between whom there is an earnest conflict, even the side which is inferior in the fight usually holds a something which it has captured; and although in some such way there is somewhat in our flesh which is kept under the law of sin, yet it has before it the hope of redemption: and then there will remain not a particle of this corrupt concupiscence; but our flesh, healed of that diseased plague, and wholly clad in immortality, shall live for evermore in eternal blessedness.
But the apostle pursues the subject, and says, Romans 7:25 which must be thus understood:
With my mind I serve the law of God, by refusing my consent to the law of sin;
with my flesh, however, I serve
the law of sin, by having the desires of sin, from which I am not yet entirely freed, although I yield them no assent. Then let us observe carefully what he has said after all the above:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 Even now, says he, when the law in my members keeps up its warfare against the law of my mind, and retains in captivity somewhat in the body of this death, there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. And listen why:
For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, says he,
has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2 How made me free, except by abolishing its sentence of guilt by the remission of all my sins; so that, though it still remains, only daily lessening more and more, it is nevertheless not imputed to me as sin?
Wild Olive Tree.
Until, then, this remission of sins takes place in the offspring, they have within them the law of sin in such manner, that it is really imputed to them as sin; in other words, with that law there is attaching to them its sentence of guilt, which holds them debtors to eternal condemnation. For what a parent transmits to his carnal offspring is the condition of his own carnal birth, not that of his spiritual new birth. For, that he was born in the flesh, although no hindrance after the remission of his guilt to his fruit, still remains hidden, as it were, in the seed of the olive, even though, because of the remission of his sins, it in no respect injures the oil — that is, in plain language, his life which he lives,
righteous by faith, Romans 1:17 after Christ, whose very name comes from the oil, that is, from the anointing. That, however, which in the case of a regenerate parent, as in the seed of the pure olive, is covered without any guilt, which has been remitted, is still no doubt retained in the case of his offspring, which is yet unregenerate, as in the wild olive, with all its guilt, until here also it be remitted by the self-same grace. When Adam sinned, he was changed from that pure olive, which had no such corrupt seed whence should spring the bitter issue of the wild olive, into a wild olive tree; and, inasmuch as his sin was so great, that by it his nature became commensurately changed for the worse, he converted the entire race of man into a wild olive stock. The effect of this change we see illustrated, as has been said above, in the instance of these very trees. Whenever God's grace converts a sapling into a good olive, so that the fault of the first birth (that original sin which had been derived and contracted from the concupiscence of the flesh) is remitted, covered, and not imputed, there is still inherent in it that nature from which is born a wild olive, unless it, too, by the same grace, is by the second birth changed into a good olive.
Blessed, therefore, is the olive tree
whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is it
to which the Lord has not imputed sin. But this, which has received the remission, the covering, and the acquittal, even up to the complete change into an eternal immortality, still retains a secret force which furnishes seed for a wild and bitter olive tree, unless the same tillage of God prunes it also, by remission, covering, and acquittal. There will, however, be left no corruption at all in even carnal seed, when the same regeneration, which is now effected through the sacred laver, purges and heals all man's evil to the very end. By its means the very same flesh, through which the carnal mind was formed, shall become spiritual, — no longer having that carnal lust which resists the law of the mind, no longer emitting carnal seed. For in this sense must be understood that which the apostle whom we have so often quoted says elsewhere:
Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Ephesians 5:25 It must, I say, be understood as implying, that by this laver of regeneration and word of sanctification all the evils of regenerate men of whatever kind are cleansed and healed — not the sins only which are all now remitted in baptism, but those also which after baptism are committed by human ignorance and frailty; not, indeed, that baptism is to be repeated as often as sin is repeated, but that by its one only ministration it comes to pass that pardon is secured to the faithful of all their sins both before and after their regeneration. For of what use would repentance be, either before baptism, if baptism did not follow; or after it, if it did not precede? Nay, in the Lord's Prayer itself, which is our daily cleansing, of what avail or advantage would it be for that petition to be uttered,
Forgive us our debts, Matthew 6:12 unless it be by such as have been baptized? And in like manner, how great soever be the liberality and kindness of a man's alms, what, I ask, would they profit him towards the remission of his sins if he had not been baptized? In short, on whom but on the baptized shall be bestowed the very felicities of the kingdom of heaven; where the Church shall have no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; where there shall be nothing blameworthy, nothing unreal; where there shall be not only no guilt for sin, but no concupiscence to excite it?
And thus not only all the sins, but all the ills of men of whatever kind, are in course of removal by the holiness of that Christian laver whereby Christ cleanses His Church, that He may present it to Himself, not in this world, but in that which is to come, as not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Now there are some who maintain that such is the Church even now, and yet they are in it. Well then, since they confess that they have some sins themselves, if they say the truth in this (and, of course, they do, as they are not free from sins), then the Church has
a spot in them; while if they tell an untruth in their confession (as speaking from a double heart), then the Church has in them
a wrinkle. If, however, they assert that it is themselves, and not the Church, which has all this, they then as good as acknowledge that they are not its members, nor belong to its body, so that they are even condemned by their own confession.
In respect, however, to this concupiscence of the flesh, we have striven in this lengthy discussion to distinguish it accurately from the goods of marriage. This we have done on account of our modern heretics, who cavil whenever concupiscence is censured, as if it involved a censure of marriage. Their object is to praise concupiscence as a natural good, that so they may defend their own baneful dogma, which asserts that those who are born by its means do not contract original sin. Now the blessed Ambrose, bishop of Milan, by whose priestly office I received the washing of regeneration, briefly spoke on this matter, when, expounding the prophet Isaiah, he gathered from him the nativity of Christ in the flesh:
Thus, says the bishop,
He was both tempted in all points as a man, Hebrews 4:15 and in the likeness of man He bare all things; but inasmuch as He was born of the Spirit, He kept Himself from sin. For every man is a liar; and there is none without sin but God alone. It has, therefore, been ever firmly maintained, that it is clear that no man from husband and wife, that is to say, by means of that conjunction of their persons, is free from sin. He who is free from sin is also free from conception of this kind. Well now, what is it which St. Ambrose has here condemned in the true doctrine of this deliverance?— is it the goodness of marriage, or not rather the worthless opinion of these heretics, although they had not then come upon the stage? I have thought it worth while to adduce this testimony, because Pelagius mentions Ambrose with such commendation as to say:
The blessed Bishop Ambrose, in whose writings more than anywhere else the Roman faith is clearly stated, has flourished like a beautiful flower among the Latin writers. His fidelity and extremely pure perception of the sense of Scripture no opponent even has ever ventured to impugn. I hope he may regret having entertained opinions opposed to Ambrose, but not that he has bestowed this praise on that holy man.
Here, then, you have my book, which, owing to its tedious length and difficult subject, it has been as troublesome for me to compose as for you to read, in those little snatches of time in which you have been able (or at least, as I suppose, have been able) to find yourself at leisure. Although it has been indeed drawn up with considerable labour amidst my ecclesiastical duties, as God has vouchsafed to give me His help, I should hardly have intruded it on your notice, with all your public cares, if I had not been informed by a godly man, who has an intimate knowledge of you, that you take such pleasure in reading as to lie awake by the hour, night after night, spending the precious time in your favourite pursuit.
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/15071.htm>.
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