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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.: Chapter 1

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 1 [I.] —The Occasion of Writing This Work; A Thing May Be Capable of Being Done, and Yet May Never Be Done.

After reading the short treatises which I lately drew up for you, my beloved son Marcellinus, about the baptism of infants, and the perfection of man’s righteousness,—how that no one in this life seems either to have attained or to be likely to attain to it, except only the Mediator, who bore humanity in the likeness of sinful flesh, without any sin whatever,—you wrote me in answer that you were embarrassed by the point which I advanced in the second book, 712 that it was possible for a man to be without sin, if he wanted not the will, and was assisted by the aid of God; and yet that except One in whom “all shall be made alive,” 713 no one has ever lived or will live by whom this perfection has been attained whilst living here. It appeared to you absurd to say that anything was possible of which no example ever occurred,—although I suppose you would not hesitate to admit that no camel ever passed through a needle’s eye, 714 and yet He said that even this was possible with God; you may read, too, that twelve thousand legions 715 of angels could possibly have fought for Christ and rescued Him from suffering, but in fact did not; you may read that it was possible for the nations to be exterminated at once out of the land which was given to the p. 84 children of Israel, 716 and yet that God willed it to be gradually effected. 717 And one may meet with a thousand other incidents, the past or the future possibility of which we might readily admit, and yet be unable to produce any proofs of their having ever really happened. Accordingly, it would not be right for us to deny the possibility of a man’s living without sin, on the ground that amongst men none can be found except Him who is in His nature not man only, but also God, in whom we could prove such perfection of character to have existed.



On the Merits of Sins, etc., ii. 6, 7, 20.


1 Cor. xv. 22.


Matt. 19:24, 26.


Matt. xxvi. 53, but observe the “thousand” inserted.


Deut. xxxi. 3.


Judg. ii. 3.

Next: Chapter 2

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