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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 18

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 18.—27.  On the question of bapp. 423 tism, then, I think that I have argued at sufficient length; and since this is a most manifest schism which is called by the name of the Donatists, it only remains that on the subject of baptism we should believe with pious faith what the universal Church maintains, apart from the sacrilege of schism.  And yet, if within the Church different men still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written "For charity shall cover the multitude of sins." 1197   For, seeing that its absence causes the presence of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon for the absence of some missing things.

28.  There are great proofs of this existing on the part of the blessed martyr Cyprian, in his letters,—to come at last to him of whose authority they carnally flatter themselves they are possessed, whilst by his love they are spiritually overthrown.  For at that time, before the consent of the whole Church had declared authoritatively, by the decree of a plenary Council, 1198 what practice should be followed in this matter, it seemed to him, in common with about eighty of his fellow bishops of the African churches, that every man who had been baptized outside the communion of the Catholic Church should, on joining the Church, be baptized anew.  And I take it, that the reason why the Lord did not reveal the error in this to a man of such eminence, was, that his pious humility and charity in guarding the peace and health of the Church might be made manifest, and might be noticed, so as to serve as an example of healing power, so to speak, not only to Christians of that age, but also to those who should come after.  For when a bishop of so important a Church, himself a man of so great merit and virtue, endowed with such excellence of heart and power of eloquence, entertained an opinion about baptism different from that which was to be confirmed by a more diligent searching into the truth; though many of his colleagues held what was not yet made manifest by authority, but was sanctioned by the past custom of the Church, and afterwards embraced by the whole Catholic world; yet under these circumstances he did not sever himself, by refusal of communion, from the others who thought differently, and indeed never ceased to urge on the others that they should "forbear one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." 1199   For so, while the framework of the body remained whole, if any infirmity occurred in certain of its members, it might rather regain its health from their general soundness, than be deprived of the chance of any healing care by their death in severance from the body.  And if he had severed himself, how many were there to follow! what a name was he likely to make for himself among men! how much more widely would the name of Cyprianist have spread than that of Donatist!  But he was not a son of perdition, one of those of whom it is said, "Thou castedst them down while they were elevated;" 1200 but he was the son of the peace of the Church, who in the clear illumination of his mind failed to see one thing, only that through him another thing might be more excellently seen.  "And yet," says the apostle, "show I unto you a more excellent way:  though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." 1201   He had therefore imperfect insight into the hidden mystery of the sacrament.  But if he had known the mysteries of all sacraments, without having charity, it would have been nothing.  But as he, with imperfect insight into the mystery, was careful to preserve charity with all courage and humility and faith, he deserved to come to the crown of martyrdom; so that, if any cloud had crept over the clearness of his intellect from his infirmity as man, it might be dispelled by the glorious brightness of his blood.  For it was not in vain that our Lord Jesus Christ, when He declared Himself to be the vine, and His disciples, as it were, the branches in the vine, gave command that those which bare no fruit should be cut off, and removed from the vine as useless branches. 1202   But what is really fruit, save that new offspring, of which He further says, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another?" 1203   This is that very charity, without which the rest profiteth nothing.  The apostle also says:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;" 1204 which all begin with charity, and with the rest of the combination forms one unity in a kind of wondrous cluster. 1205   Nor is it again in vain that our Lord added, "And every branch that beareth fruit, my Father purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit," 1206 but because those who are p. 424 strong in the fruit of charity may yet have something which requires purging, which the Husbandman will not leave untended.  Whilst then, that holy man entertained on the subject of baptism an opinion at variance with the true view, which was afterwards thoroughly examined and confirmed after most diligent consideration, his error was compensated by his remaining in catholic unity, and by the abundance of his charity; and finally it was cleared away by the pruning-hook of martyrdom.


Footnotes

423:1197

1 Pet. iv. 8.

423:1198

See below, ii. 9.

423:1199

Eph. 4:2, 3.

423:1200

Ps. lxxiii. 18; cp. Hieron.

423:1201

1 Cor. 12:31, 1 Cor. 13:1.

423:1202

John 15:1, 2.

423:1203

John xiii. 34.

423:1204

Gal. 5:22, 23.

423:1205

Botrum.

423:1206

John xv. 2.


Next: Chapter 19

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