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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 78

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 78.—What Sins are Trivial and What Heinous is a Matter for God’s Judgment.

Now, what sins are trivial and what heinous is not a matter to be decided by man’s judgment, but by the judgment of God. For it is plain that the apostles themselves have given an indulgence in the case of certain sins: take, for example, what the Apostle Paul says to those who are married: “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer: and come together again, that p. 263 Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” 1250 Now it is possible that it might not have been considered a sin to have intercourse with a spouse, not with a view to the procreation of children, which is the great blessing of marriage, but for the sake of carnal pleasure, and to save the incontinent from being led by their weakness into the deadly sin of fornication, or adultery, or another form of uncleanness which it is shameful even to name, and into which it is possible that they might be drawn by lust under the temptation of Satan. It is possible, I say, that this might not have been considered a sin, had the apostle not added: “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” 1251 Who, then, can deny that it is a sin, when confessedly it is only by apostolic authority that permission is granted to those who do it? Another case of the same kind is where he says: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” 1252 And shortly afterwards: “If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.” 1253 Now it might have been supposed in this case that it is not a sin to have a quarrel with another, that the only sin is in wishing to have it adjudicated upon outside the Church, had not the apostle immediately added: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another.” 1254 And lest any one should excuse himself by saying that he had a just cause, and was suffering wrong, and that he only wished the sentence of the judges to remove his wrong, the apostle immediately anticipates such thoughts and excuses, and says: “Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” Thus bringing us back to our Lord’s saying, “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;” 1255 and again, “Of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.” 1256 Therefore our Lord has forbidden His followers to go to law with other men about worldly affairs. And carrying out this principle, the apostle here declares that to do so is “altogether a fault.” But when, notwithstanding, he grants his permission to have such cases between brethren decided in the Church, other brethren adjudicating, and only sternly forbids them to be carried outside the Church, it is manifest that here again an indulgence is extended to the infirmities of the weak. It is in view, then, of these sins, and others of the same sort, and of others again more trifling still, which consist of offenses in words and thought (as the Apostle James confesses, “In many things we offend all” 1257 ), that we need to pray every day and often to the Lord, saying, “Forgive us our debts,” and to add in truth and sincerity, “as we forgive our debtors.”



1 Cor. 7.51 Cor. vii. 5


1 Cor. 7.61 Cor. vii. 6. [“Concession,” R.V.]


1 Cor. 6.11 Cor. vi. 1


1 Cor. 6.4-61 Cor. vi. 4-6


1 Cor. 6.71 Cor. vi. 7


Matt. 5.40


Luke 6.30Luke vi. 30


Jas. 3.2Jas. iii. 2. [See R.V.]

Next: Chapter 79