Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Concerning Man's Perfection in Righteousness/Chapter 32
Chapter XIII.—(31.) The Third Passage. It is One Thing to Depart, and Another Thing to Have Departed, from All Sin. “There is None that Doeth Good,”—Of Whom This is to Be Understood.
He has likewise propounded another question, as we shall proceed to show, but has failed to solve it; nay, he has rather rendered it more difficult, by first stating the testimony that had been quoted against him: “There is none that doeth good, no, not one;” and then resorting to seemingly contrary passages to show that there are persons who do good. This he succeeded, no doubt, in doing. It is, however, one thing for a man not to do good, and another thing not to be without sin, although he at the same time may do many good things. The passages, therefore, which he adduces are not really contrary to the statement that no person is without sin in this life. He does not, for his own part, explain in what sense it is declared that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” These are his words: “Holy David indeed says, ‘Hope thou in the Lord and be doing good.’” But this is a precept, and not an accomplished fact; and such a precept as is never kept by those of whom it is said, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” He adds: “Holy Tobit also said, ‘Fear not, my son, that we have to endure poverty; we shall have many blessings if we fear God, and depart from all sin, and do that which is good.’” Most true indeed it is, that man shall have many blessings when he shall have departed from all sin. Then no evil shall betide him; nor shall he have need of the prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” Although even now every man who progresses, advancing ever with an upright purpose, departs from all sin, and becomes further removed from it as he approaches nearer to the fulness and perfection of the righteous state; because even concupiscence itself, which is sin dwelling in our flesh, never ceases to diminish in those who are making progress, although it still remains in their mortal members. It is one thing, therefore, to depart from all sin,—a process which is even now in operation,—and another thing to have departed from all sin, which shall happen in the state of future perfection. But still, even he who has departed already from evil, and is continuing to do so, must be allowed to be a doer of good. How then is it said, in the passage which he has quoted and left unsolved, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one,” unless that the Psalmist there censures some one nation, amongst whom there was not a man that did good, wishing to remain “children of men,” and not sons of God, by whose grace man becomes good, in order to do good? For we must suppose the Psalmist here to mean that “good” which he describes in the context, saying, “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.” Such good then as this, seeking after God, there was not a man found who pursued it, no, not one; but this was in that class of men which is predestinated to destruction. It was upon such that God looked down in His foreknowledge, and passed sentence.
- Ps. xiv. 3.
- Ps. xxxvii. 3.
- Tobit iv. 21.
- Matt. vi. 13.
- Ps. xiv. 2.
- On this passage Fulgentius remarks (Ad Monimum, i. 5): “In no other sense do I suppose that passage of St. Augustin should be taken, in which he affirms that there are certain persons predestinated to destruction than in regard to their punishment, not their sin: not to the evil which they unrighteously commit, but to the punishment which they shall righteously suffer; not to the sin on account of which they either do not receive, or else lose, the benefit of the first resurrection, but to the retribution which their own personal iniquity evilly incurs, and the divine justice righteously inflicts.”