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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 5

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 5.—19.  But as to the argument of those men who are unwilling that their impious deeds should be checked by the enactment of righteous laws, when they say that the apostles never sought such measures from the kings of the earth, they do not consider the different character of that age, and that everything comes in its own season.  For what emperor had as yet believed in Christ, so as to serve Him in the cause of piety by enacting laws against impiety, when as yet the declaration of the prophet was only in the course of its fulfillment, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and their rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed;" and there was as yet no sign of that which is spoken a little later in the same psalm:  "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." 2498   How then are kings to serve the Lord with fear, except by preventing and chastising with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord?  For a man serves God in one way in that he is man, in another way in that he is also king.  In that he is man, he serves Him by living faithfully; but in that he is also king, he serves Him by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse.  Even as Hezekiah served Him, by destroying the groves and the temples of the idols, and the high places which had been built in violation of the commandments of God; 2499 or even as Josiah served Him, by doing the same things in his turn; 2500 or as the king of the Ninevites served Him, by compelling all the men of his city to make satisfaction to the Lord; 2501 or as Darius served Him, by giving the idol into the power of Daniel to be broken, and by casting his enemies into the den of lions; 2502 or as Nebuchadnezzar served Him, of whom I have spoken before, by issuing a terrible law to prevent any of his subjects from blaspheming God. 2503   In this way, therefore, kings can serve the Lord, even in so far as they are kings, when they do in His service what they could not do were they not kings.

20.  Seeing, then, that the kings of the earth were not yet serving the Lord in the time of the apostles, but were still imagining vain things against the Lord and against His Anointed, that all might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, it must be granted that at that time acts of impiety could not possibly be prevented by the laws, but were rather performed under their sanction.  For the order of events was then so rolling on, that even the Jews were killing those who preached Christ, thinking that they did God service in so doing, just as Christ had foretold, 2504 and the heathen were raging against the Christians, and the patience of the martyrs was overcoming them all.  But so soon as the fulfillment began of what is written in a later psalm, "All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him," 2505 what sober-minded man could say to the kings, "Let not any thought trouble you within your kingdom as to who restrains or attacks the Church of your Lord; deem it not a matter in which you should be concerned, which of your subjects may choose to be religious or sacrilegious," seeing that you cannot say to them, "Deem it no concern of yours which of your subjects may choose p. 641 to be chaste, or which unchaste?"  For why, when free-will is given by God to man, should adulteries be punished by the laws, and sacrilege allowed?  Is it a lighter matter that a soul should not keep faith with God, than that a woman should be faithless to her husband?  Or if those faults which are committed not in contempt but in ignorance of religious truth are to be visited with lighter punishment, are they therefore to be neglected altogether?



Ps. 2:1, 2, 10, 11.


2 Kings xviii. 4.


2 Kings 23:4, 5.


Jonah iii. 6-9.


Bel. 1:22, 42.


Dan. iii. 29.


John xvi. 2.


Ps. lxxii. 11.

Next: Chapter 6

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