Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Concerning Man's Perfection in Righteousness/Chapter 17
Chapter VII.—(16.) The Sixteenth Breviate.
XVI. After all these disputations, their author introduces himself in person as arguing with another, and represents himself as under examination, and as being addressed by his examiner: “Show me the man who is without sin.” He answers: “I show you one who is able to be without sin.” His examiner then says to him: “And who is he?” He answers: “You are the man.” “But if,” he adds, “you were to say, ‘I, at any rate, cannot be without sin,’ then you must answer me, ‘Whose fault is that?’ If you then were to say, ‘My own fault,’ you must be further asked, ‘And how is it your fault, if you cannot be without sin?’” He again represents himself as under examination, and thus accosted: “Are you yourself without sin, who say that a man can be without sin?” And he answers: “Whose fault is it that I am not without sin? But if,” continues he, “he had said in reply, ‘The fault is your own;’ then the answer would be, ‘How my fault, when I am unable to be without sin?’” Now our answer to all this running argument is, that no controversy ought to have been raised between them about such words as these; because he nowhere ventures to affirm that a man (either any one else, or himself) is without sin, but he merely said in reply that he can be,—a position which we do not ourselves deny. Only the question arises, when can he, and through whom can he? If at the present time, then by no faithful soul which is enclosed within the body of this death must this prayer be offered, or such words as these be spoken, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” since in holy baptism all past debts have been already forgiven. But whoever tries to persuade us that such a prayer is not proper for faithful members of Christ, does in fact acknowledge nothing else than that he is not himself a Christian. If, again, it is through himself that a man is able to live without sin, then did Christ die in vain. But “Christ is not dead in vain.” No man, therefore, can be without sin, even if he wish it, unless he be assisted by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And that this perfection may be attained, there is even now a training carried on in growing [Christians,] and there will be by all means a completion made, after the conflict with death is spent, and love, which is now cherished by the operation of faith and hope, shall be perfected in the fruition of sight and possession.
- Matt. vi. 12.