Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume IV/Manichaean Controversy/On the Morals of the Manichaeans/Chapter 10

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Chapter 10.—Three Moral Symbols Devised by the Manichæans for No Good.

19.  Now that I have shown, as I think, how much darkness and error is in your opinions about good and evil things in general, let us examine now those three symbols which you extol so highly, and boast of as excellent observances.  What then are those three symbols?  That of the mouth, that of the hands, and that of the breast.  What does this mean?  That man, we are told, should be pure and innocent in mouth, in hands, and in breast.  But what if he sins with eyes, ears, or nose?  What if he hurts some one with his heels, or perhaps kills him?  How can he be reckoned criminal when he has not sinned with mouth, hands, or breast?  But, it is replied, by the mouth we are to understand all the organs of sense in the head; by the hands, all bodily actions; by the breast, all lustful tendencies.  To what, then, do you assign blasphemies?  To the mouth or to the hand?  For blasphemy is an action of the tongue.  And if all actions are to be classed under one head, why should you join together the actions of the hands and the feet, and not those of the tongue.  Do you wish to separate the action of the tongue, as being for the purpose of expressing something, from actions which are not for this purpose, so that the symbol of the hands should mean abstinence from all evil actions which are not for the purpose of expressing something?  But then, what if some one sins by expressing something with his hands, as is done in writing or in some significant gesture?  This cannot be assigned to the tongue and the mouth, for it is done by the hands.  When you have three symbols of the mouth, the hands, and the breast, it is quite inadmissible to charge against the mouth sins found in the hands.  And if you assign action in general to the hands, there is no reason for including under this the action of the feet and not that of the tongue.  Do you see how the desire of novelty, with its attendant error, lands you in great difficulties?  For you find it impossible to include purification of all sins in these three symbols, which you set forth as a kind of new classification.