Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter 84.—183.  Petilianus said:  "But if authority had been given by some law for persons to be compelled to what is good, you yourselves, unhappy men, ought to have been compelled by us to embrace the purest faith.  But far be it, far be it from our conscience to compel any one to embrace our faith."

184.  Augustin answered:  No one is indeed to be compelled to embrace the faith against his will; but by the severity, or one might rather say, by the mercy of God, it is common for treachery to be chastised with the scourge of tribulation.  Is it the case, because the best morals are chosen by freedom of will, that therefore the worst morals are not punished by integrity of law?  But yet discipline to punish an evil manner of living is out of the question, except where principles of good living which had been learned have come to be despised.  If any laws, therefore, have been enacted against you, you are not thereby forced to do well, but are only prevented from doing ill. 2193   For no one can do well unless he has deliberately chosen, and unless he has loved what is in free will; but the fear of punishment, even if it does not share in the pleasures of a good conscience, at any rate keeps the evil desire from escaping beyond the bounds of thought.  Who are they, however, that have enacted adverse laws by which your audacity could be repressed?  Are they not those of whom the apostle says that "they bear not the sword in vain; for they are the ministers of God, revengers to execute wrath upon them that do evil?" 2194   The whole question therefore is, whether you are not doing ill, who are charged by the whole world with the sacrilege of so great a schism.  And yet, neglecting the discussion of this question, you talk on irrelevant matters; and while you live as robbers, you boast that you die as martyrs. 2195   And, through fear either of the laws themselves, or of the odium which you might incur, or else because you are unequal to the task of resisting, I do not say so many men, but so many Catholic nations, you even glory in your gentleness, that you do not compel any to join your party.  According to your way of talking, the hawk, when he has been prevented by flight from carrying off the fowls, might call himself a dove.  For when have you ever had the power without using it?  And hence you show how you p. 573 would do more if you only could.  When Julian, envying the peace of Christ, restored to you the churches which belonged to unity, who could tell of all the massacres which were committed by you, when the very devils rejoiced with you at the opening of their temples?  In the war with Firmus and his party, let Mauritania Cæsariensis itself be asked to tell us what the Moor Rogatus 2196 suffered at your hands.  In the time of Gildo, because one of your colleagues 2197 was his intimate friend, let the followers of Maximianus be our witnesses to their sufferings.  For if one might appeal to Felicianus himself, who is now with you, on his oath, whether Optatus did not compel him against his will to return to your communion, he would not dare to open his lips, especially if the people of Musti could behold his face, who were witnesses to everything that was done.  But let them, as I have said, be witnesses to what they have suffered at the hands of those with whom they acted in such wise towards Rogatus.  The Catholic Church herself, though strengthened by the assistance of Catholic princes ruling by land and sea, was savagely attacked by hostile troops in arms under Optatus.  It was this that first made it necessary to urge before the vicar Seranus that the law should be put in force against you which imposes a fine of ten pounds of gold, which none of you have ever paid to this very day, and yet you charge us with cruelty.  But where could you find a milder course of proceeding, than that crimes of such magnitude on your part should be punished by the imposition of a pecuniary fine?  Or who could enumerate all the deeds which you commit in the places which you hold, of your own sovereign will and pleasure, each one as he can, without any friendship on the part of judges or any others in authority?  Who is there of our party, among the inhabitants of our towns, who has not either learned something of this sort from those who came before him, or experienced it for himself?  Is it not the case that at Hippo, where I am, there are not wanting some who remember that your leader Faustinus gave orders, in the time of his supreme power, in consequence of the scanty numbers of the Catholics in the place, that no one should bake their bread for them, insomuch that a baker, who was the tenant of one of our deacons, threw away the bread of his landlord unbaked, and though he was not sentenced to exile under any law, he cut him off from all share in the necessaries of life not only in a Roman state, 2198 but even in his own country, and not only in his own country, but in his own house?  Why, even lately, as I myself recall with mourning to this day, did not Crispinus of Calama, one of your party, having bought a property, and that only copy-hold, 2199 boldly and unhesitatingly immerse in the waters of a second baptism no less than eighty souls, murmuring with miserable groans under the sole influence of terror; and this in a farm belonging to the Catholic emperors, by whose laws you were forbidden even to be in any Roman city? 2200   But what else was it, save such deeds as these of yours, that made it necessary for the very laws to be passed of which you complain?  The laws, indeed, are very far from being proportionate to your offenses; but, such as they are, you may thank yourselves for their existence.  Indeed, should we not certainly be driven on all sides from the country by the furious attacks of your Circumcelliones, who fight under your command in furious troops, unless we held you as hostages in the towns, who might well be unwilling to endure under any circumstances the mere gaze of the people, and the censure of all honorable men. from very shame, if not from fear?  Do not therefore say, "Far be it, far be it from our conscience, to force any one to embrace our faith."  For you do it when you can; and when you do not do it, it is because you are unable, either from fear of the laws or the odium which would accompany it, or because of the numbers of those who would resist.



See below, 95, 217, and c. Gaudentium, I. 25, 28 sqq.


Rom. xiii. 4.


Augustin speaks of the Moor Rogatus, bishop of Cartenna in ecclesiastical province of Mauritania Cæsariensis in his ninety-third epistle, to Vincentius, c. iii. 11.  We learn from the eighty-seventh epistle, to Emeritus, sec. 10, that the followers of Rogatus called the other Donatists Firmiani, because they had been subjected to much cruelty at their hands under the authority of Firmus.


Cp. note 3, p. 556.


Optatus of Thaumugade (Thamogade), the friend of Gildo.


Augustin mentions again in his thirty-fifth epistle, to Eusebius, sec. 3, that Hippo had received the Roman citizenship.  His argument is that, even if not a native of the place, the deacon should have been safe from molestation wherever Roman laws prevailed.


Emphyteuticam.  The land, therefore, was held under the emperors, and less absolutely in the power of the owner than if it had been freehold.


Augustin remonstrates with Crispinus on the point, Epist. lxvi.

Next: Chapter 85