Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Against Two Letters of the Pelagians/Book III/Chapter 18
Chapter 18.—Perfection of Righteousness and Full Security Was Not Even in Paul in This Life.
But how impudent I do not say, but how insane, is the pride which, not yet being equal to the angels of God, thinks itself already able to have a righteousness equal to the angels of God; and does not consider so great and holy a man, who assuredly hungered and thirsted after that very perfection of righteousness, when he was unwilling to be lifted up by the greatness of his revelations; and yet that he might not be lifted up, he was not left to his own choice and will, but received “the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him; on which account he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him, and the Lord said unto him, My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” What strength, save that to which it belongs not to be lifted up? And who doubts that this belongs to righteousness? The angels of God, then, are endowed with this perfection of righteousness, since they always behold the face of the Father, and thus of the entire Trinity, because they see through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. But nothing is more sublime than that revelation, nor yet does any of the angels in that contemplation of rejoicing ones find a messenger of Satan needful that he may be buffeted by him, lest so great a magnitude of revelation should lift him up. The apostle Paul certainly had not yet that perfection of virtue, nor yet was he equal to the angels of God; but there was in him the weakness of lifting himself up, which also had to be checked by the angel of Satan, lest he should be lifted up by the magnitude of his revelations. Although, then, the first lifting up cast down Satan, yet that greatest Physician, who well knew how to make use of even evil things, applied from the angel of Satan, against the mischief of elation, a wholesome, although a painful, medicament, just as an antidote used to be made even of serpents against the poisons of serpents. What, then, is the meaning of “My grace is sufficient for thee,” except that you may not by giving way succumb to the buffet of the messenger of Satan? And what is “Strength is made perfect in weakness,” except that in that place of weakness hitherto, there may be the perfection of virtue, so that in the very presence of infirmity, lifting-up may be repressed? Which infirmity assuredly shall be healed by future immortality. For how is that soundness to be called perfect where medicine is still needful, even from the buffet of an angel of Satan?
- 2 Cor. xii. 7.
- [The reference is to the sin of pride, by which Satan himself fell from the estate of holiness in which he was created.—W.]