Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 1
Chapter 1.—1. Ye know that we have often wished to bring forward into open notoriety, and to confute, not so much from our own arguments as from theirs, the sacrilegious error of the Donatist heretics; whence it came to pass that we wrote letters even to some of their leaders,—not indeed for purposes of communion with them, for of that they had already in times past rendered themselves unworthy by dissenting from the Church; nor yet in terms of reproach, but of a conciliatory character, with the view that, having discussed the question with us which caused them to break off from the holy communion of the whole world, they might, on consideration of the truth, be willing to be corrected, and p. 520 might not defend the headstrong perversity of their predecessors with a yet more foolish obstinacy, but might be reunited to the Catholic stock, so as to bring forth the fruits of charity. But as it is written, "With those who have hated peace I am more peaceful," 1920 so they rejected my letters, just as they hate the very name of peace, in whose interests they were written. Now, however, as I was in the church of Constantina, Absentius 1921 being present, with my colleague Fortunatus, his bishop, the brethren brought before my notice a letter, which they said that a bishop of the said schism had addressed to his presbyters, as was set forth in the superscription of the letter itself. When I had read it, I was so amazed to find that in his very first words he cut away the very roots of the whole claims of his party to communion, that I was unwilling to believe that it could be the letter of a man who, if fame speaks truly, is especially conspicuous among them for learning and eloquence. But some of those who were present when I read it, being acquainted with the polish and embellishment of his composition, gradually persuaded me that it was undoubtedly his address. I thought, however, that whoever the author might be, it required refutation, lest the writer should seem to himself, in the company of the inexperienced, to have written something of weight against the Catholic Church.
2. The first point, then, that he lays down in his letter is the statement, "that we find fault with them for the repetition of baptism, while we ourselves pollute our souls with a laver stained with guilt." But to what profit is it that I should reproduce all his insulting terms? For, since it is one thing to strengthen proofs, another thing to meddle with abusive words by way of refutation, let us rather turn our attention to the mode in which he has sought to prove that we do not possess baptism, and that therefore they do not require the repetition of what was already present, but confer what hitherto was wanting. For he says: "What we look for is the conscience of the giver to cleanse that of the recipient." But supposing the conscience of the giver is concealed from view, and perhaps defiled with sin, how will it be able to cleanse the conscience of the recipient, if, as he says, "what we look for is the conscience of the giver to cleanse that of the recipient?" For if he should say that it makes no matter to the recipient what amount of evil may lie concealed from view in the conscience of the giver, perhaps that ignorance may have such a degree of efficacy as this, that a man cannot be defiled by the guilt of the conscience of him from whom he receives baptism, so long as he is unaware of it. Let it then be granted that the guilty conscience of his neighbor cannot defile a man so long as he is unaware of it, but is it therefore clear that it can further cleanse him from his own guilt?
Ps. cxx. 7; cf. Hieron.520:1921
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