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Extract from Augustin’s “Retractations,”

Book II. Chap. 37,

On the Following Treatise,

“De spiritu et littera.”


The person709709     The Tribune Marcellinus with whose name are connected many other treatises of Augustin. In this work the author informs us that the occasion of its composition was furnished by this person, who mooted an inquiry touching a statement in the preceding books Concerning the Merits and the Remission of Sins. Those books, as we have already indicated, were published A.D., 412. Now in the Retractations there is placed after these very books the present work Concerning the Spirit and the Letter,—not indeed, immediately next, but in the fourth place after,—so that it was written, no doubt, about the end of the same year, A.D. 412, some time previous to the death of Marcellinus, who was killed in the month or September of the following year, 413. This present work is also mentioned in the book On Faith and Works, c. 14; and in that On Christian Doctrine, iii. 33. Compare the notes on p. 15 and p. 130. to whom I had addressed the three books entitled De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, in which I carefully discussed also the baptism of infants, informed me, when acknowledging my communication, that he was much distrurbed because I declared it to be possible that a man might be without sin, if he wanted not the will, by the help of God, although no man either had lived, was living, or would live in this life so perfect in righteousness. He asked how I could say that it was possible of which no example could be adduced. Owing to this inquiry on the part of this person, I wrote the treatise entitled De Spiritu et Littera, in which I considered at large the apostle’s statement, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”710710     2 Cor. iii. 6. In this work, so far as God enabled me, I earnestly disputed with those who oppose that grace of God which justifies the servances of the Jews, who abstain from sundry meats and drinks in accordance with their ancient law, I mentioned the “ceremonies of certain meats” [quarumdam escarum cerimoniæ]711711     See chap. 36 [xxi.]. —a phrase which, though not used in Holy Scriptures, seemed to me very convenient, because I remembered that cerimoniæ is tantamount to carimoniæ, as if from carere, to be without, and expresses the abstinence of the worshippers from certain things. If however, there is any other derivation of the word, which is inconsistent with the true religion, I meant no refernce whatever to it; I confined my use to the sense above indicated. This work of mine begins thus: “After reading the short treatise which I lately drew up for you, my beloved son Marcellinus,” etc.

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