>   books  >   en  >   ecf  >   104  >   books  >   en  >   ecf  >   104

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 14

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 14.—31.  Petilianus said:  "In the third place, also, He calls the madness of persecutors in like manner by this name, ‘Ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?  Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:  that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.’ 2000   Are they then really the sons of vipers according to the flesh, and not rather serpents in mind, and three-tongued malice, and deadliness of touch, and burning with the spirit of poison?  They have truly become vipers, who by their bites have vomited forth death against the innocent people."

32.  Augustin answered:  If I were to say that this is said of men of character like unto yourselves, you would reply, "Prove it."  What then, have you proved it?  Or if you think that it is proved by the mere fact of its being uttered, there is no need to repeat the same words.  Pronounce the same judgment against yourselves as coming from us to you.  See you not that I too have proved it, if this amounts to proof?  And yet I would have you learn what is really meant by proof.  For indeed I do not even seek for evidence from without to enable me to prove you vipers.  For be well assured that this very fact marks in you the nature of vipers, that you have not in your mouth the foundation of truth, but the poison of slanderous abuse, as it is written, "The poison of asps is under their lips." 2001   And because this might be said indiscriminately by any one against any one, as though it were asked, Under whose lips? he immediately adds, "Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." 2002   When, therefore, you say such things as this against men dispersed throughout the whole world, of whom you know nothing whatsoever, and many of whom have never heard the name either of Cæcilianus or of Donatus, and when you do not hear them answering amid silence, Nothing of what you say has reference to us; we never saw it; we never did it; we are totally at a loss to understand what you are saying,—seeing that you desire nothing else than to say what you are entirely powerless to prove, how can you help allowing that your mouth is full of cursing and bitterness?  See, therefore, whether you can possibly show that you are not vipers, 2003 unless you show that all Christians throughout all nations of the world are traditors, and murderers, and anything but Christians.  Nay, in very truth, even though you should be able to know and set before us the lives and deeds of every individual man throughout the world, yet before you can do that, seeing that you act as you do without any consideration, your mouth is that of a viper, your mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.  Show to us now, if you can, what prophet, what wise man, what scribe we have slain, or crucified, or scourged in our synagogues.  Look how much labor you have expended without in any way being able to prove that Donatus and Marculus 2004 were prophets, or wise men, or scribes, because, in fact, they were nothing of the sort.  But even if you could prove as much as this, what progress would you have made towards proving that they had been killed by us, when even we ourselves did not so much as know them? and how much less the whole world, whom you calumniate with poisonous mouth? 2005   Or whence will you be able to prove that we have a spirit like that of those who murdered them, when you actually cannot show that p. 537 they were murdered by any one at all?  Look carefully to all these points, see whether you can prove any single one of them either about the whole world, or to the satisfaction of the whole world,—in your persevering calumnies against which you show that the charges are true in you, which you falsely propagate against the world.

33.  Further, even if we should desire to prove you to be slayers of the prophets, it would be too long a task to collect the evidence through all the several instances of the slaughter which your infuriated leaders of the Circumcelliones, and the actual crowd of men inflamed by wine and madness, not only have committed since the beginning of your schism, but even continue to commit at the present time.  To take the case nearest at hand.  Let the divine utterances be produced, which are commonly in the hands of both of us.  Let us consider those to be murderers of the prophets whom we find contradicting the words of the prophets.  What more learned definition could be given?  What could admit of speedier proof?  You would be acting less cruelly in piercing the bodies of the prophets with a sword, than in endeavoring to destroy the words of the prophets with your tongue. The prophet says, "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord." 2006   Behold and see how this is being done, how it is being fulfilled.  But you not only close your ears in disbelief against what is said, but you even thrust out your tongues in madness to speak against what is already being done.  Abraham heard the promise, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," 2007 and "he believed, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." 2008   You see the fact accomplished, and you cry out against it; and you will not that it should be counted unto you for unrighteousness, as it fairly would be counted, even if your refusal to believe was not on the accomplishment, but only on the utterance of the prophecy.  Nay, not only are you not willing that it should be counted unto you for unrighteousness, but even what you suffer as the punishment of this impiety you would fain have counted unto you for righteousness.  Or if your conduct is not a persecution of the prophets, because your instrument is not the sword but the tongue, what was the reason of its being said under divine inspiration, "The sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword"? 2009   But what time would suffice me to collect from all the prophets all the testimonies to the Church dispersed throughout the world, all of which you endeavor to destroy and render nought by contradicting them?  But you are caught; for "their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words to the end of the world." 2010   I will, however, advance this one saying from the mouth of the Lord, who is the Witness of witnesses.  "All things must be fulfilled," He says, "which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me."  And what these were let us hear from Himself:  "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:  and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." 2011   See what it is that is written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning the Lord.  See what the Lord Himself revealed about Himself and about the Church, making Himself manifest, uttering promises about the Church.  But for you, see that you resist such manifest proofs as these, and as you cannot destroy them, endeavor to pervert them, what would you do, if you were to come across the bodies of the prophets, when you rage so madly against the utterances of the prophets, as not even to hearken to the Lord when He is fulfilling, and making manifest, and expounding the prophets?  For do you not, to the utmost of`your power, strive to slay the Lord Himself, since even to Himself you will not yield?



Matt. xxiii. 33-35.


Ps. xiv. 5, LXX, cp. Hieron.


Ps. xiv. 6, LXX. cp. Hieron.


A suggested reading is, "nos esse viperas."


These both with others are celebrated in the martyrology of the Donatists, see IIII.  Idas Martii Sermo de Passione SS. Donati et Advocati, c. 340; Passio Marculi sacerdotis Donatistæ qui sub Macario interfectus a Donatistis pro Martyre habebatur  (Dec. 25, a. 348), and others.  See Du Pin Monumenta vetera ad Donatistarum Historiam pertinentia, in his edition of Optatus.


See below, c. 20, 46:  and Contra Crescon. III. 49, 54.


Ps. xxii. 27.


Gen. xxii. 18.


Rom. iv. 3.


Ps. lvii. 4.


Ps. xix. 4.


Luke xxiv. 44-47.

Next: Chapter 15

Bible | Daily Readings | Agbeya | Books | Lyrics | Gallery | Media | Links

Short URL (link):