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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter 1

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 129

Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental. 263

[Contra Epistolam Manichæi Quam Vocant Fundamentum.] a.d. 397.

Chapter 1.—To Heal Heretics is Better Than to Destroy Them.

1.  My prayer to the one true, almighty God, of whom, and through whom, and in whom are all things, has been, and is now, that in opposing and refuting the heresy of you Manichæans, as you may after all be heretics more from thoughtlessness than from malice, He would give me a mind calm and composed, and aiming at your recovery rather than at your discomfiture.  For while the Lord, by His servants, overthrows the kingdoms of error, His will concerning erring men, as far as they are men, is that they should be amended rather than destroyed.  And in every case where, previous to the final judgment, God inflicts punishment, whether through the wicked or the righteous, whether through the unintelligent or through the intelligent, whether in secret or openly, we must believe that the designed effect is the healing of men, and not their ruin; while there is a preparation for the final doom in the case of those who reject the means of recovery.  Thus, as the universe contains some things which serve for bodily punishment, as fire, poison, disease, and the rest, and other things, in which the mind is punished, not by bodily distress, but by the entanglements of its own passions, such as loss, exile, bereavement, reproach, and the like; while other things, again, without tormenting are fitted to comfort and soothe the languishing, as, for example, consolations, exhortations, discussions, and such things; in all these the supreme justice of God makes use sometimes even of wicked men, acting in ignorance, and sometimes of good men, acting intelligently.  It is ours, accordingly, to desire in preference the better part, that we might attain our end in your correction, not by contention, and strife, and persecutions, but by kindly consolation, by friendly exhortation, by quiet discussion; as it is written, "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle toward all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves." 264   It is ours, I say, to desire to obtain this part in the work; it belongs to God to give what is good to those who desire it and ask for it.



Written about the year 397.  In his Retractations (ii. 2) Augustin says:  "The book against the Epistle of Manichæus, called Fundamental, refutes only its commencement; but on the other parts of the epistle I have made notes, as required, refuting the whole, and sufficient to recall the argument, had I ever had leisure to write against the whole."  [The Fundamental Epistle seems to have been a sort of hand-book for Manichæan catechumens or Auditors.  In making this document the basis of his attack, Augustin felt that he had selected the best-known and most generally accepted standard of the Manichæan faith.  The tone of the work is conciliatory, yet some very sharp thrusts are made at Manichæan error.  The claims of Mani to be the Paraclete are set aside, and the absurd cosmological fancies of Mani are ruthlessly exposed.  Dualism is combated with substantially the same weapons as in the treatise Concerning Two Souls.  We could wish that the author had found time to finish the treatise, and had thus preserved for us more of the Fundamental Epistle itself.  This work was written after the author had become Bishop of Hippo.—A.H.N.]


2 Tim. 2:24, 25.

Next: Chapter 2

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