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. Being able to read, Petilianus, I have read your letter, in which you have shown with sufficient clearness that, in supporting the party of Donatus against the Catholic Church, you have neither been able to say anything to the purpose, nor been allowed to hold your tongue. What violent emotions did you endure, what a storm of feelings surged within your heart, on reading the answer which I made, with all possible brevity and clearness, to that portion of your letter which alone at that time had come into my hands! For you saw that the truth which we maintain and defend was confirmed with such strength of argument, and illustrated with such abundant light, that you could not find anything which could be said against it, whereby the charges which we make might be refuted. You observed, also, that the attention of many who had read it was fixed on you, since they desired to know what you would say, what you would do, how you would escape from the difficulty, how you would make your way out of the strait in which the word of God had encompassed you. Hereupon you, when you ought to have shown contempt for the opinion of the foolish ones, and to have gone on to adopt sound and truthful sentiments, preferred rather to do what Scripture has foretold of men like you: "Thou hast loved evil more than good, and lying rather than to speak righteousness." 2320 Just as if I in turn were willing to recompense unto you railing for railing; in which case, what should we be but two evil speakers, so that those who read our words would either preserve their self-respect by throwing us aside with abhorrence, or eagerly devour what we wrote to gratify their malice? For my own part, since I answer every one, whether in writing or by word of mouth, even when I have been attacked with insulting accusations, in such language as the Lord puts in my mouth, restraining and crushing the stings of empty indignation in the interests of my hearer or reader, I do not strive to prove myself superior to my adversary by abusing him, but rather to be a source of health in him by convicting him of his error.
2. For if those who take into consideration what you have written have any feelings whatsoever, how did it serve you in the cause which is at issue between us respecting the Catholic communion and the party of Donatus, that, leaving a matter which was in a certain sense of public interest, you should have been led by private animosity to attack the life of an individual with malicious revilings, just as though that individual were the question in debate? Did you think so badly, I do not say of Christians, but of the whole human race, as not to suppose that your writings might come into the hands of some prudent men, who would lay aside all thoughts of individuals like us, and inquire rather into the question which was at issue between us, and pay heed, not to who and what we were, but to what we might be able to advance in defense of the truth or against error? You should have paid respect to these mens judgment, you should have guarded yourself against their censure, lest they should think that you could find nothing to say, unless you set before yourself some one whom you might abuse by any means within your power. But one may see by the thoughtlessness and foolishness of some men, who listen eagerly to p. 597 the quarrels of any learned disputants, that while they take notice of the eloquence wherewith you lavish your abuse, they do not perceive with what truth you are refuted. At the same time, I think your object partly was that I might be driven, by the necessity of defending myself, to desert the very cause which I had undertaken; and that so, while mens attention was turned to the words of opponents who were engaged not in disputation, but in quarrelling, the truth might be obscured, which you are so afraid should come to light and be well known among men. What therefore was I to do in opposing such a design as this, except to keep strictly to my subject, neglecting rather my own defense, praying withal that no personal calumny may lead me to withdraw from it? I will exalt the house of my God, whose honor I have loved, with the tribute of a faithful servants voice, but myself I will humiliate and hold of no account. "I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of heretics." 2321 I will therefore turn my discourse from you, Petilianus, for a time, and direct it rather to those whom you have endeavored to turn away from me by your revilings, as though my endeavor rather were that men should be converted unto me, and not rather with me unto God.
Ps. lii. 3.597:2321
Ps. lxxxiv. 10.
Next: Chapter 2
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