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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 25

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 25.—Whether Those Who Received Heretical Baptism, and Have Afterwards Fallen Away to Wickedness of Life; Or Those Who Have Received Catholic Baptism, But Have Afterwards Passed Over to Heresy and Schism; Or Those Who Have Remained in the Catholic Church in Which They Were Baptized, But Have Continued to Live Immorally,—May Hope Through the Virtue of the Sacraments for the Remission of Eternal Punishment.

But let us now reply to those who promise deliverance from eternal fire, not to the devil and his angels (as neither do they of whom we have been speaking), nor even to all men whatever, but only to those who have been washed by the baptism of Christ, and have become partakers of His body and blood, no matter how they have lived, no matter what heresy or impiety they have fallen into.  But they are contradicted by the apostle, where he says, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variances, emulations, wrath, strife, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and the like:  of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, for they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” 1565   Certainly this sentence of the apostle is false, if such persons shall be delivered after any lapse of time, and shall then inherit the kingdom of God.  But as it is not false, they shall certainly never inherit the kingdom of God.  And if they shall never enter that kingdom, then they shall always be retained in eternal punishment; for there is no middle place where he may live unpunished who has not been admitted into that kingdom.

And therefore we may reasonably inquire how we are to understand these words of the Lord Jesus:  “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” 1566   And those, indeed, whom we are now answering, are refuted in their interpretation of this passage by those whom we are shortly to answer, and who do not promise this deliverance to all who have received the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s body, but only to the catholics, however wickedly they live; for these, say they, have eaten the Lord’s body not only sacramentally, but really, being constituted members of His body, of which the apostle says, “We being many are one bread, one body.” 1567   He then who is in the unity of Christ’s body (that is to say, in the Christian membership), of which body the faithful have been wont to receive the sacrament at the altar, that man is truly said to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.  And consequently heretics and schismatics being separate from the unity of this body, are able to receive the same sacrament, but with no profit to themselves,—nay, rather to their own hurt, so that they are rather more severely judged than liberated after some time.  For they are not in that bond of peace which is symbolized by that sacrament.

But again, even those who sufficiently understand that he who is not in the body of Christ cannot be said to eat the body of Christ, are in error when they promise liberation from the fire of eternal punishment to persons who fall away from the unity of that body into heresy, or even into heathenish superstition.  For, in the first place, they ought to consider how intolerable it is, and how discordant with sound doctrine, to suppose that many, indeed, or almost all, who have forsaken the Church catholic, and have originated impious heresies and become heresiarchs, should enjoy a destiny superior to those who never were catholics, but have fallen into the snares of these others; that is to say, if the fact of their catholic baptism and original reception of the sacrament of the body of Christ in the true body of Christ is sufficient to deliver these heresiarchs from eternal punishment.  For certainly he who deserts the faith, and from a deserter becomes an assailant, is worse than he who has not p. 473 deserted the faith he never held.  And, in the second place, they are contradicted by the apostle, who, after enumerating the works of the flesh, says with reference to heresies, “They who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And therefore neither ought such persons as lead an abandoned and damnable life to be confident of salvation, though they persevere to the end in the communion of the Church catholic, and comfort themselves with the words, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.”  By the iniquity of their life they abandon that very righteousness of life which Christ is to them, whether it be by fornication, or by perpetrating in their body the other uncleannesses which the apostle would not so much as mention, or by a dissolute luxury, or by doing any one of those things of which he says, “They who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Consequently, they who do such things shall not exist anywhere but in eternal punishment, since they cannot be in the kingdom of God.  For, while they continue in such things to the very end of life, they cannot be said to abide in Christ to the end; for to abide in Him is to abide in the faith of Christ.  And this faith, according to the apostle’s definition of it, “worketh by love.” 1568   And “love,” as he elsewhere says, “worketh no evil.” 1569   Neither can these persons be said to eat the body of Christ, for they cannot even be reckoned among His members.  For, not to mention other reasons, they cannot be at once the members of Christ and the members of a harlot.  In fine, He Himself, when He says, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him,” 1570 shows what it is in reality, and not sacramentally, to eat His body and drink His blood; for this is to dwell in Christ, that He also may dwell in us.  So that it is as if He said, He that dwelleth not in me, and in whom I do not dwell, let him not say or think that he eateth my body or drinketh my blood.  Accordingly, they who are not Christ’s members do not dwell in Him.  And they who make themselves members of a harlot, are not members of Christ unless they have penitently abandoned that evil, and have returned to this good to be reconciled to it.


Footnotes

472:1565

Gal. 5.19-21.

472:1566

John 6:50, 51.

472:1567

1 Cor. 10.17.

473:1568

Gal. 5.6.

473:1569

Rom. 13.10.

473:1570

John 6.56.


Next: Chapter 26

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