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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise Against Two Letters of the...: Chapter 13

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 13.—Why One of the Covenants is Called Old, the Other New.

But some one will say, “In what way is that called the old which was given by Moses four hundred and thirty years after; and that called the new which was given so many years before to Abraham?” Let him who on this subject is disturbed, not litigiously but earnestly, first understand that when from its earlier time one is called “old,” and from its posterior time the other “new,” it is the revelation of them that is considered in their names, not their institution. Because the old testament was revealed through Moses, by whom the holy and just and good law was given, whereby should be brought about not the doing away but the knowledge of sin,—by which the proud might be convicted who were desirous of establishing their own righteousness, as if they had no need of divine help, and being made guilty of the letter, might flee to the Spirit of grace, not to be justified by their own righteousness, but by that of God—that p. 408 is, by the righteousness which was given to them of God. For as the same apostle says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and by the prophets.” 2728 Because the law, by the very fact that in it no man is justified, affords a witness to the righteousness of God. For that in the law no man is justified before God is manifest, because “the just by faith lives.” 2729 Thus, therefore, although the law does not justify the wicked when he is convicted of transgression, it sends to the God who justifieth, and thus affords a testimony to the righteousness of God. Moreover, the prophets offer testimony to God’s righteousness by fore-announcing Christ, “who is made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” 2730 But that law was kept hidden from the beginning, when nature itself convicted wicked men, who did to others what they would not have done to themselves. But the revelation of the new testament in Christ was made when He was manifested in the flesh, wherein appeared the righteousness of God—that is, the righteousness which is to men from God. For hence he says, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” 2731 This is the reason why the former is called the old testament, because it was revealed in the earlier time; and the latter the new, because it was revealed in the later time. In a word, it is because the old testament pertains to the old man, from which it is necessary that a man should make a beginning; but the new to the new man, by which a man ought to pass from his old state. Thus, in the former are earthly promises, in the latter heavenly promises; because this pertained to God’s mercy, that no one should think that even earthly felicity of any kind whatever could be conferred on anybody, save from the Lord, who is the Creator of all things. But if God is worshipped for the sake of that earthly happiness, the worship is that of a slave, belonging to the children of the bondmaid; but if for the sake of God Himself, so that in the life eternal God may be all things in all, it is a free service belonging to the children of the freewoman, who is our mother eternal in the heavens—who first seemed, as it were, barren, when she had not any children manifest; but now we see what was prophesied concerning her: “Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for there are many children of the desolate more than of her who has an husband,” 2732 —that is, more than of that Jerusalem, who in a certain manner is married in the bond of the law, and is in bondage with her children. In the time, then, of the old testament, we say that the Holy Spirit, in those who even then were the children of promise according to Isaac, was not only an assistant, which these men think is sufficient for their opinion, but also a bestower of virtue; and this they deny, attributing it rather to their free will, in contradiction to those fathers who knew how to cry unto God with truthful piety, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” 2733



Rom. 3:20, 21.


Gal. iii. 11.


1 Cor. 1:30, 31.


Rom. iii. 21.


Isa. liv. 1.


Ps. xviii. 1.

Next: Chapter 14