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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XIV.—How a Thing May Be Involuntary.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIV.—How a Thing May Be Involuntary.

What is involuntary is not matter for judgment. But this is twofold,—what is done in ignorance, and what is done through necessity. For how will you judge concerning those who are said to sin in involuntary modes? For either one knew not himself, as Cleomenes and Athamas, who were mad; or the thing which he does, as Æschylus, who divulged the mysteries on the stage, who, being tried in the Areopagus, was absolved on his showing that he had not been initiated. Or one knows not what is done, as he who has let off his antagonist, and slain his domestic instead of his enemy; or that by which it is done, as he who, in exercising with spears having buttons on them, has killed some one in consequence of the spear throwing off the button; or knows not the manner how, as he who has killed his antagonist in the stadium, for it was not for his death but for victory that he contended; or knows not the reason why it is done, as the physician gave a salutary antidote and killed, for it was not for this purpose that he gave it, but to save. The law at that time punished him who had killed involuntarily, as e.g., him who was subject involuntarily to gonorrhœa, but not equally with him who did so voluntarily. Although he also shall be punished as for a voluntary action, if one transfer the affection to the truth. For, in reality, he that cannot contain the generative word is to be punished; for this is an irrational passion of the soul approaching garrulity. “The faithful man chooses to conceal things in his spirit.” 2289 Things, then, that depend on choice are subjects for judgment. “For the Lord searcheth the hearts and reins.” 2290 “And he that looketh so as to lust” 2291 is judged. Wherefore it is said, “Thou shalt not lust.” 2292 And “this people honoureth Me with their lips,” it is said, “but their heart is far from Me.” 2293 For God has respect to the very thought, since Lot’s wife, who had merely voluntarily turned towards worldly wickedness, He left a senseless mass, rendering her a pillar of salt, and fixed her so that she advanced no further, not as a stupid and useless image, but to season and salt him who has the power of spiritual perception.



Prov. xi. 13.


Ps. vii. 9.


Matt. v. 28.


Ex. xx. 17.


Isa. xxix. 13; Matt. xv. 8; Mark vii. 6.

Next: Chapter XV.—On the Different Kinds of Voluntary Actions, and the Sins Thence Proceeding.

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