Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Against Two Letters of the Pelagians/Book III/Chapter 14
Chapter 14 [V.]—Calumny Concerning the Righteousness of the Prophets and Apostles.
They say, moreover, “that all the apostles or prophets are not defined as entirely holy by us, but that we say that they were less wicked in comparison with those that were worse; and that this is the righteousness to which God affords His testimony, so that, as the prophet says that Sodom was justified in comparison with the Jews, so also we say that the saints exercised some goodness in comparison with criminal men.” Be it far from us to say such things; but either they are not able to understand, or they are unwilling to observe, or, for the sake of misrepresentation, they pretend that they do not know what we say. Let them hear, therefore, either themselves, or rather those whom, as inexperienced and unlearned persons, they are striving to deceive. Our faith—that is, the catholic faith—distinguishes the righteous from the unrighteous not by the law of works, but by that of faith, because the just by faith lives. By which distinction it results that the man who leads his life without murder, without theft, without false-witness, without coveting other men’s goods, giving due honour to his parents, chaste even to continence from all carnal intercourse whatever, even conjugal, most liberal in alms-giving, most patient of injuries; who not only does not deprive another of his goods, but does not even ask again for what has been taken away from himself; or who has even sold all his own property and appropriated it to the poor, and possesses nothing which belongs to him as his own;—with such a character as this, laudable as it seems to be, if he has not a true and catholic faith in God, must yet depart from this life to condemnation. But another, who has good works from a right faith which worketh by love, maintains his continency in the honesty of wedlock, although he does not, like the other, well refrain altogether, but pays and repays the debt of carnal connection, and has intercourse not only for the sake of offspring, but also for the sake of pleasure, although only with his wife, which the apostle allows to those that are married as pardonable;—does not receive injuries with so much patience, but is raised into anger with the desire of vengeance, although, in order that he may say, “As we also forgive our debtors,” forgives when he is asked;—possesses personal property, giving thence indeed some alms, but not as the former so liberally;—does not take away what belongs to another, but, although by ecclesiastical, not by civil judgment, yet contends for his own: certainly this man, who seems so inferior in morals to the former, on account of the right faith which he has in God, by which he lives, and according to which in all his wrong-doings he accuses himself, and in all his good works praises God, giving to himself the shame, to God the glory, and receiving from Him both forgiveness of sins and love of right deeds,—shall be delivered for this life, and depart to be received into the company of those who shall reign with Christ. Wherefore, if not on account of faith? Which, although without works it saves no man (for it is not a reprobate faith, since it worketh by love), yet by it even sins are loosed, because the just by faith liveth; but without it, even those things which seem good works are turned into sins: “For everything which is not of faith is sin.” And it is brought about, on account of this great difference, that although with no possibility of doubt a persevering integrity of virginity is preferable to conjugal chastity, yet a woman even twice married, if she be a catholic, is preferred to a professed virgin that is a heretic; nor is she in such wise preferred because this one is better in God’s kingdom, but because the other is not there at all. Now the former, indeed, whom we have described as being of better morals, if a true faith be his, surpasses the second one, although both will be in heaven; yet if the faith be wanting to him, he is so surpassed by him that he himself is not there at all.
- Rom. xiv. 23.