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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter 12

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 104

Chapter 12.—From the Definitions Given of Sin and Will, He Overthrows the Entire Heresy of the Manichæans.  Likewise from the Just Condemnation of Evil Souls It Follows that They are Evil Not by Nature But by Will.  That Souls are Good By Nature, to Which the Pardon of Sins is Granted.

16.  Come now, let us see in what respect these things would have aided us.  Much every way, so that I should have desired nothing more; for they end the whole cause; for whoever consulting in the inner mind, where they are more pronounced and assured, the secrets of his own conscience, and the divine laws absolutely imposed upon nature, grants that these two definitions of will and sin are true, condemns without any hesitation by the fewest and the briefest, but plainly the most invincible reasons, the whole heresy of the Manichæans.  Which can be thus considered.  They say that there are two kinds of souls, the one good, which is in such a way from God, that it is said not to have been made by Him out of any material or out of nothing, but to have proceeded as a certain part from the very substance itself of God; the other evil, which they believe and strive to get others to believe pertains to God in no way whatever; and so they maintain that the one is the perfection of good, but the other the perfection of evil, and that these two classes were at one time distinct but are now commingled.  The character and the cause of this commingling I had not yet heard; but nevertheless I could have inquired whether that evil kind of souls, before it was mingled with the good, had any will.  For if not, it was without sin and innocent, and so by no means evil. 213   But if evil in such a way, that though without will, as fire, yet if it should touch the good it would violate and corrupt it; how impious it is to believe that the nature of evil is powerful enough to change any part of God, and that the Highest Good is corruptible and violable!  But if the will was present, assuredly there was present, no one compelling, a movement of the mind either towards not losing something or obtaining something.  But this something was either good, or was thought to be good, for not otherwise could it be earnestly desired.  But in supreme evil, before the commingling which they maintain, there never was any good.  Whence then could there be in it either the knowledge or the thought of good?  Did they wish for nothing that was in themselves, and earnestly desire that true good which was without?  That will must truly be declared worthy of distinguished and great praise by which is earnestly desired the supreme and true good.  Whence then in supreme evil was this movement of mind most worthy of so great praise?  Did they seek it for the sake of injuring it?  In the first place, the argument comes to the same thing.  For he who wishes to injure, wishes to deprive another of some good for the sake of some good of his own.  There was therefore in them either a knowledge of good or an opinion of good, which ought by no means to belong to supreme evil.  In the second place, whence had they known, that good placed outside of themselves, which they designed to injure, existed at all.  If they had intellectually perceived it, what is more excellent than such a mind?  Is there anything else for which the whole energy of good men is put forth except the knowledge of that supreme and sincere good?  What therefore is now scarcely conceded to a few good and just men, was mere evil, no good assisting, then able to accomplish?  But if those souls bore bodies and saw the supreme good with their eyes, what tongues, what hearts, what intellects suffice for lauding and proclaiming those eyes, with which the minds of just men can scarcely be compared?  How great good things we find in supreme evil!  For if to see God is evil, God is not a good; but God is a good; therefore to see God is good; and I know not what can be compared to this good.  Since to see anything is good, whence can it be made out that to be able to see is evil?  Therefore whatever in those eyes or in those minds brought it about, that the divine essence could be seen by them, brought about a great thing and a good thing most worthy of ineffable praise.  But if it was not brought about, but it was such in itself and eternal, it is difficult to find anything better than this evil.

17.  Lastly, that these souls may have nothing of these praiseworthy things which by the reasonings of the Manichæans they are compelled to have, I should have asked, whether God condemns any or no souls.  If none, there is no judgment of rewards and punishments, no providence, and the world is administered by chance rather than by reason, or rather is not administered at all.  For the name administration must not be given to chances.  But if it is impious for all those that are bound by any religion to believe p. 105 this, it remains either that there is condemnation of some souls, or that there are no sins.  But if there are no sins, neither is there any evil.  Which if the Manichæans should say, they would slay their heresy with a single blow.  Therefore they and I agree that some souls are condemned by divine law and judgment.  But if these souls are good, what is that justice?  If evil, are they so by nature, or by will?  But by nature souls can in no way be evil.  Whence do we teach this.  From the above definitions of will and sin.  For to speak of souls, and that they are evil, and that they do not sin, is full of madness; but to say that they sin without will, is great craziness, and to hold any one guilty of sin for not doing what he could not do, belongs to the height of iniquity and insanity.  Wherefore whatever these souls do, if they do it by nature not by will, that is, if they are wanting in a movement of mind free both for doing and not doing, if finally no power of abstaining from their work is conceded to them; we cannot hold that the sin is theirs. 214   But all confess both that evil souls are justly, and souls that have not sinned are unjustly condemned; therefore they confess that those souls are evil that sin.  But these, as reason teaches, do not sin.  Therefore the extraneous class of evil souls of the Manichæans, whatever it may be, is a non-entity.

18.  Let us now look at that good class of souls, which again they exalt to such a degree as to say that it is the very substance of God.  But how much better it is that each one should recognize his own rank and merit, nor be so puffed up with sacrilegious pride as to believe that as often as he experiences a change in himself it is the substance of that supreme good, which devout reason holds and teaches to be unchangeable!  For behold! since it is manifest that souls do not sin in not being such as they cannot be; it follows that these supposititious souls, whatever they may be, do not sin at all, and moreover that they are absolutely non-existent; it remains that since there are sins, they find none to whom to attribute them except the good class of souls and the substance of God.  But especially are they pressed by Christian authority; for never have they denied that forgiveness of sins is granted when any one has been converted to God; never have they said (as they have said of many other passages) that some corrupter has interpolated this into the divine Scriptures.  To whom then are sins attributed?  If to those evil souls of the alien class, these also can become good, can possess the kingdom of God with Christ.  Which denying, they [the Manichæans] have no other class except those souls which they maintain are of the substance of God.  It remains that they acknowledge that not only these latter also, but these alone sin.  But I make no contention about their being alone in sinning; yet they sin.  But are they compelled to sin by being commingled with evil?  If so compelled that there was no power of resisting, they do not sin.  If it is in their power to resist, and they voluntarily consent, we are compelled to find out through their [the Manichæan] teaching, why so great good things in supreme evil, why this evil in supreme good, unless it be that neither is that which they bring into suspicion evil, nor is that which they pervert by superstition supreme good?



In his Retractations, Augustin replies to the Pelagian denial of the sinfulness of infants, in support of which they had quoted the above sentence.  "They [infants] are held guilty not by propriety of will but by origin.  For what is every earthly man in origin but Adam?"  The will of the whole human race was in Adam, and when Adam sinned the whole race voluntarily sinned, seems to be his meaning.—A.H.N.


In his Retractations, Augustin explains that by nature is to be understood the state in which we were created without vice.  He transfers the entire argument from the actual condition of man to the primitive Adamic condition.  It is evident, however, that this was not his meaning when he combated the Manichæans.  The question of infant sinfulness arises here also, and is discussed in the usual Anti-Pelagian way.—A.H.N.

Next: Chapter 13

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