Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy.: Chapter 59
Chapter 59.—But according to all these four hypotheses, the truth is on the side of the communion of the Catholic Church. For if both are true, then you certainly should not have deserted the communion of the whole world on account of men such as you too had among yourselves. But if both are false, you should have guarded against the guilt of most accursed division, which had not even any pretext to allege of any delivery of the sacred books. If ours are true and yours are false, you have long been without anything to say for yourselves. If yours are true and ours are false, we have been liable to be deceived, in common with the whole world, not about the truth of the faith, but about the unrighteousness of men. For the seed of Abraham, dispersed throughout the world, was bound to pay attention, not to what you said you knew, but to what you proved to the judges. Whence have we any knowledge of what was done by those men who were accused by your ancestors, even if the allegations made against them were true, so long as they were held to be not true but false, either by the judges who took cognizance of the case, or at least by the general body of the Church dispersed throughout the world, which was only bound to pay heed to the sentence of the judges? God does not necessarily pardon any human guilt that others in the weakness of human judgment fail to discover; yet I maintain that no one is rightly deemed guilty for having believed a man to be innocent who was not convicted. How then do you prove the world to be guilty, merely because it did not know what possibly was really guilt in the Africans,—its ignorance arising either from the fact that no one reported the sin to it, or from its having given credence, in respect of the information which was given, rather to the judges who took cognizance of the case, than to the murmurers who were defeated? So far then, Petilianus deserves all praise, in that, when he saw that on this point I was absolutely impregnable, he passed it by in silence. Yet he does not deserve praise for his attempts to obscure in a mist of words other points which were equally impregnable, which yet he thought could be obscured; or for having put me in the place of his cause, when the cause left him nothing to say; while even about myself he could say nothing except what was either altogether false, or undeserving of any blame, or without any bearing whatsoever upon me. But, in the meantime, are you, whom I have made judges between Petilianus and myself, possessed of discrimination enough to decide in any degree between what is true and what is false, between what is mere empty swelling and what is solid, between what is troubled and what is calm, between inflammation and soundness, between divine predictions and human assumptions, between bringing an accusation and establishing it, between proofs and fictions, between pleading a cause and leading one away from it? If you have such power of discrimination, well and good; but if you have it not, we shall not repent of having bestowed our pains on you, for even though your heart be not converted unto peace, yet our peace shall return unto ourselves.
Next: The Correction of the Donatists.
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