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Letter LXXVI.

(a.d. 402.)


1. Hear, O Donatists, what the Catholic Church says to you: “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? why will ye love vanity, and follow after lies?”19541954    Ps. iv. 2. Why have you severed yourselves, by the heinous impiety of schism, from the unity of the whole world? You give heed to the falsehoods concerning the surrendering of the divine books to persecutors, which men who are either deceiving you, or are themselves deceived, utter in order that you may die in a state of heretical separation: and you do not give heed to what these divine books themselves proclaim, in order that you may live in the peace of the Catholic Church. Wherefore do you lend an open ear to the words of men who tell you things which they have never been able to prove, and are deaf to the voice of God speaking thus: “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”?19551955    Ps. ii. 7, 8. “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to thy seed,’ which is Christ.”19561956    Gal. iii. 16. And the promise to which the apostle refers is this: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”19571957    Gen. xxii. 18. Therefore lift up the eyes of your souls, and see how in the whole world all nations are blessed in Abraham’s seed. Abraham, in his day, believed what was not yet seen; but you who see it refuse to believe what has been fulfilled.19581958    The original here is antithetical: “jam vos videtis, et adhuc invidetis.” The Lord’s death was the ransom of the world; He paid the price for the whole world; and you do not dwell in concord with the whole world, as would be for your advantage, but stand apart and strive contentiously to destroy the whole world, to your own loss. Hear now what is said in the Psalm concerning this ransom: “They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones; they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”19591959    Ps. xxii. 16, 17, 18. Wherefore will you be guilty of dividing the garments of the Lord, and not hold in common with the whole world that coat of charity, woven from above throughout, which even His executioners did not rend? In the same Psalm we read that the whole world holds this, for he says: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee; for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is the Governor among the nations.”19601960    Ps. xxii. 27, 28. Open the ears of your soul, and hear: “The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth, from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof; out of Zion, the perfection of beauty.”19611961    Ps. l. 1, 2. If you do not wish to understand this, hear the gospel from the Lord’s own lips, how He said: “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Him; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”19621962    Luke xxiv. 44, 47. The words in the Psalm, “the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof,” correspond to these in the Gospel, “among all nations;” and as He said in the Psalm, “from Zion, the perfection of beauty,” He has said in the Gospel, “beginning at Jerusalem.”

2. Your imagination that you are separating yourselves, before the time of the harvest, from the tares which are mixed with the wheat, proves that you are only tares. For if you were wheat, you would bear with the tares, and not separate yourselves from that which is growing in Christ’s field. Of the tares, indeed, it has been said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold;” but of the wheat it is said, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”19631963    Matt. xxiv. 12, 13. What grounds have you for believing that the tares have increased and filled the world, and that the wheat has decreased, and is found now in Africa alone? You claim to be Christians, and you disclaim the authority of Christ. He said, “Let both grow together till the harvest;” He said not, “Let the wheat decrease, and let the tares multiply.” He said, “The field is the world;” He said not, “The field is Africa.” He said, “The harvest is the end of the world;” He said not, “The harvest is the time of Donatus.” He said, “The reapers are the angels;” He said not, “The reapers are the captains of the Circumcelliones.”19641964    Matt. xiii. 30–39. But you, by charging the good wheat with being tares, have proved yourselves to be tares; and 344what is worse, you have prematurely separated yourselves from the wheat. For some of your predecessors, in whose impious schism you obstinately remain, delivered up to persecutors the sacred Mss. and the vessels of the Church (as may be seen in municipal records19651965    Proceedings before Munatius Felix, Letter LIII. sec. 4, p. 299.); others of them passed over the fault which these men confessed, and remained in communion with them; and both parties having come together to Carthage as an infatuated faction, condemned others without a hearing, on the charge of that fault which they had agreed, so far as they themselves were concerned, to forgive, and then set up a bishop against the ordained bishop, and erected an altar against the altar already recognised. Afterwards they sent to the Emperor Constantine a letter begging that bishops of churches beyond the sea should be appointed to arbitrate between the bishops of Africa. When the judges whom they sought were granted, and at Rome had given their decision, they refused to submit to it, and complained to the Emperor or against the bishops as having judged unrighteously. From the sentence of another bench of bishops sent to Arles to try the case, they appealed to the Emperor himself. When he had heard them, and they had been proved guilty of calumny, they still persisted in their wickedness. Awake to the interest of your salvation! love peace, and return to unity! Whensoever you desire it, we are ready to recite in detail the events to which we have referred.

3. He is the associate of wicked men who consents to the deeds of wicked men; not he who suffers the tares to grow in the Lord’s field unto the harvest, or the chaff to remain until the final winnowing time. If you hate those who do evil, shake yourselves free from the crime of schism. If you really feared to associate with the wicked, you would not for so many years have permitted Optatus19661966    Optatus, Donatist bishop of Thamugada, was cast into prison A.D. 397, and died there. He was a partisan of Gildo in his rebellion against Honorius, and shared the misfortunes, as he had participated in the crimes, of his chief. to remain among you when he was living in the most flagrant sin. And as you now give him the name of martyr, you must, if you are consistent, give him for whom he died the name of Christ. Finally, wherein has the Christian world offended you, from which you have insanely and wickedly cut yourselves off? and what claim upon your esteem have those followers of Maximianus, whom you have received back with honour after they had been condemned by you, and violently cast forth by warrant of the civil authorities from their churches? Wherein has the peace of Christ offended you, that you resist it by separating yourselves from those whom you calumniate? and wherein has the peace of Donatus earned your favour, that to promote it you receive back those whom you condemned? Felicianus of Musti is now one of you. We have read concerning him, that he was formerly condemned by your council, and afterwards accused by you at the bar of the proconsul, and in the town of Musti was attacked as is stated in the municipal records.

4. If the surrendering of the sacred books to destruction is a crime which, in the case of the king who burned the book of Jeremiah, God punished with death as a prisoner of war,19671967    Jer. xxxvi. 23, 30. how much greater is the guilt of schism! For those authors of schism to whom you have compared the followers of Maximianus, the earth opening, swallowed up alive.19681968    Num. xvi. 31–33. Why, then, do you object against us the charge of surrendering the sacred books which you do not prove, and at the same time both condemn and welcome back those among yourselves who are schismatics? If you are proved to be in the right by the fact that you have suffered persecution from the Emperor, a still stronger claim than yours must be that of the followers of Maximianus, whom you have yourselves persecuted by the help of judges sent to you by Catholic emperors. If you alone have baptism, what weight do you attach to the baptism administered by followers of Maximianus in the case of those whom Felicianus baptized while he was under your sentence of condemnation, who came along with him when he was afterwards restored by you? Let your bishops answer these questions to your laity at least, if they will not debate with us; and do you, as you value your salvation, consider what kind of doctrine that must be about which they refuse to enter into discussion with us. If the wolves have prudence enough to keep out of the way of the shepherds, why have the flock so lost their prudence, that they go into the dens of the wolves?


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