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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 12

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 12 [VI.]—The Universal Consensus Respecting Original Sin.

And now, again, with a strange boldness in new controversy, certain persons are endeavouring to make us uncertain on a point which our forefathers used to bring forward as most certainly fixed, whenever they would solve such questions as seemed uncertain to some. When this controversy, indeed, first began, I am unable to say; but one thing I know, that even the holy Jerome, who is in our own day renowned for great industry and learning in ecclesiastical literature, for the solution of sundry questions treated in his writings, makes use of the same most certain assumption without exhibition of proofs. For instance, in his commentary on the prophet Jonah, when he comes to the passage where the infants were mentioned as chastened by the fast, he says: 673 “The greatest age comes first, and then all the rest is pervaded down to the least. 674 For there is no man without sin, whether the span of his age be but that of a single day, or he reckon many years to his life. For if the very stars are unclean in the sight of God, 675 how much more is a worm and corruption, such as are they who are held subject to the sin of the offending Adam?” If, indeed, we could readily interrogate this most learned man, how many authors who have treated of the divine Scriptures. in both languages, 676 and have written on Christian controversies, would he mention to us, who have never held any other opinion since the Church of Christ was founded,—who neither received any other from their forefathers, nor handed down any other to their posterity? My own reading, indeed, has been far more limited, but yet I do not recollect ever having heard of any other doctrine on this point from Christians, who accept the two Testaments, whether established in the Catholic Church, or in any heretical or schismatic body whatever. I do not remember, I say, that I have at any time found any other doctrine in such writers as have contributed anything to literature of this kind, whether they have followed the canonical Scriptures, or have supposed that they have followed them, or had wished to be so supposed. From what quarter this question has suddenly come upon us I know not. A short time ago, 677 in a passing conversation with certain persons while we were at Carthage, my ears were suddenly offended with such a proposition as this: “That infants are not baptized for the purpose of receiving remission of sin, but that they may be sanctified in Christ.” Although I was much disturbed by so novel an opinion, still, as there was no opportunity afforded me for gainsaying it, and as its propounders were not persons whose influence gave me anxiety, I readily let the subject slip into neglect and oblivion. And lo! it is now maintained with burning zeal against the Church; lo! it is committed to our permanent notice by writing; nay, the matter is brought to such a pitch of distracting influence, that we are even consulted on it by p. 74 our brethren; and we are actually obliged to oppose its progress both by disputation and by writing.



St. Jerome, on Jon. iii.


Jonah 3.3.


Job xxv. 4.


Or “who have treated of both languages of the divine Scriptures.”


Probably in the year 411, when a conference was held at Carthage with the Donatists. Augustin says that he then saw Pelagius; see his work, De Gestis Pelagii, c. 46.

Next: Chapter 13