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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 5

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 5.—As the Wicked Make an Ill Use of the Law, Which is Good, So the Good Make a Good Use of Death, Which is an Ill.

The apostle, wishing to show how hurtful a thing sin is, when grace does not aid us, has not hesitated to say that the strength of sin is that very law by which sin is prohibited.  “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” 583   Most certainly true; for prohibition increases the desire of illicit action, if righteousness is not so loved that the desire of sin is conquered by that love.  But unless divine grace aid us, we cannot love nor delight in true righteousness.  But lest the law should be thought to be an evil, since it is called the strength of sin, the apostle, when treating a similar question in another place, says, “The law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is holy made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” 584   Exceeding, he says, because the transgression is more heinous when through the increasing lust of sin the law itself also is despised.  Why have we thought it worth while to mention this?  For this reason, because, as the law is not an evil when it increases the lust of those who sin, so neither is death a good thing when it increases the glory of those who suffer it, since either the former is abandoned wickedly, and makes transgressors, or the latter is embraced, for the truth’s sake, and makes martyrs.  And thus the law is indeed good, because it is prohibition of sin, and death is evil because it is the wages of sin; but as wicked men make an evil use not only of evil, but also of good things, so the righteous make a good use not only of good, but also of evil things.  Whence it comes to pass that the wicked make an ill use of the law, though the law is good; and that the good die well, though death is an evil.


Footnotes

247:583

1 Cor. 15.56.

247:584

Rom. 7:12, 13.


Next: Chapter 6

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