Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 41
Chapter 41.—49. Lastly, he has ended his epistle with an exhortation and warning to his own party, that they should not be deceived by us, and with a lamentation over those of our party, that we had made them worse than they had been before. Having therefore carefully considered and discussed these points, as appears with sufficient clearness from the words of the epistle which he wrote, Petilianus has made no answer at all to the position which I advanced to begin with in my epistle, when I asked, Supposing it to be true, as he asserts, that the conscience of one that gives—or rather, to add what he considers so great a support to his argument—that the conscience of one that gives in holiness is what we look for to cleanse the conscience of the recipient, by what means he who receives baptism is to be cleansed, when, if the conscience of the giver is polluted, it is without the knowledge of the proposed recipient? Whence it is not surprising that a man resisting in the cause of falsehood, pressed hard in the straits of the truth that contradicts it, should have chosen rather to gasp forth mad abuse, than to walk in the path of that truth which cannot be overcome.
50. And now I would beg of you to pay especial attention to the next few words, that I may show you clearly what he has been afraid of in not answering this, and that I may bring into the light what he has endeavored to shroud in obscurity. It certainly was in his power, when we asked by what means he is to be cleansed, who receives baptism when the conscience of the giver is polluted without the knowledge of the proposed recipient, to answer with the greatest ease, From our Lord God; and at any rate to say with the utmost confidence, God wholly cleanses the conscience of the recipient, when he is unp. 617 acquainted with the stain upon the conscience of him that gives but not in holiness. But when a man had already been compelled by the tenets of your sect to rest the cleansing of the recipient on the conscience of the giver, in that he had said, "For the conscience of him that gives," or "of him that gives in holiness, is looked for to cleanse the conscience of the recipient," he was naturally afraid lest any one should seem to be better baptized by a wicked man who concealed his wickedness, than by one that was genuinely and manifestly good; for in the former case his cleansing would depend not on the conscience of one that gave in holiness, but on the most excellent holiness of God Himself. With this apprehension, therefore, that he might not be involved in so great an absurdity, or rather madness, as not to know where he could make his escape, he was unwilling to say by what means the conscience of the recipient should be cleansed, when he does not know of the stain upon the conscience of him that gives but not in holiness; and he thought it better, by making a general confusion with his quarrelsome uproar, to conceal what was asked of him, than to give a reply to his question, which should at once discomfit him; never, however, thinking that our letter could be read by men of such good understanding, or that his would be read by those who had read ours as well, to which he has professed to make an answer.
Next: Chapter 42
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