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A Treatise on the spirit and the letter,

by aurelius augustin, bishop of hippo;

In One Book,

Addressed to Marcellinus, a.d. 412.


Marcellinus, in a letter to Augustin, had expressed some surprise at having read, in the preceding work, of the possibility being allowed of a man continuing if he willed it, by God’s help, without sin in the present life, although not a single human example anywhere of such perfect righteousness has ever existed. Augustin takes the opportunity of discussing, in opposition to the Pelagians, the subject of the aid of God’s grace; and he shows that the divine help to the working of righteousness by us does not lie in the fact of God’s having given us a law which is full of good and holy precepts; but in the fact that our will itself, without which we can do nothing good, is assisted and elevated by the Spirit of grace being imparted to us, without the aid of which the teaching of the law is “the letter that killeth,” because instead of justifying the ungodly, it rather holds them guilty of transgression. He begins to treat of the question proposed to him at the commencement of this work, and returns to it towards its conclusion; he shows that, as all allow, many things are possible with God’s help, of which there occurs indeed no example; and then concludes that, although a perfect righteousness is unexampled among men, it is for all that not impossible.

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