Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On Nature and Grace/Chapter 25
Chapter 25 [XXIII.]—God Forsakes Only Those Who Deserve to Be Forsaken. We are Sufficient of Ourselves to Commit Sin; But Not to Return to the Way of Righteousness. Death is the Punishment, Not the Cause of Sin.
Perhaps he may answer that God does not compel men to do these things, but only forsakes those who deserve to be forsaken. If he does say this, he says what is most true. For, as I have already remarked, those who are forsaken by the light of righteousness, and are therefore groping in darkness, produce nothing else than those works of darkness which I have enumerated, until such time as it is said to them, and they obey the command: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” The truth designates them as dead; whence the passage: “Let the dead bury their dead.” The truth, then, designates as dead those whom this man declares to have been unable to be damaged or corrupted by sin, on the ground, forsooth, that he has discovered sin to be no substance! Nobody tells him that “man was so formed as to be able to pass from righteousness to sin, and yet not able to return from sin to righteousness.” But that free will, whereby man corrupted his own self, was sufficient for his passing into sin; but to return to righteousness, he has need of a Physician, since he is out of health; he has need of a Vivifier, because he is dead. Now about such grace as this he says not a word, as if he were able to cure himself by his own will, since this alone was able to ruin him. We do not tell him that the death of the body is of efficacy for sinning, because it is only its punishment; for no one sins by undergoing the death of his body; but the death of the soul is conducive to sin, forsaken as it is by its life, that is, its God; and it must needs produce dead works, until it revives by the grace of Christ. God forbid that we should assert that hunger and thirst and other bodily sufferings necessarily produce sin. When exercised by such vexations, the life of the righteous only shines out with greater lustre, and procures a greater glory by overcoming them through patience; but then it is assisted by the grace, it is assisted by the Spirit, it is assisted by the mercy of God; not exalting itself in an arrogant will, but earning fortitude by a humble confession. For it had learnt to say unto God: “Thou art my hope; Thou art my trust.” Now, how it happens that concerning this grace, and help and mercy, without which we cannot live, this man has nothing to say, I am at a loss to know; but he goes further, and in the most open manner gainsays the grace of Christ whereby we are justified, by insisting on the sufficiency of nature to work righteousness, provided only the will be present. The reason, however, why, after sin has been released to the guilty one by grace, for the exercise of faith, there should still remain the death of the body, although it proceeds from sin, I have already explained, according to my ability, in those books which I wrote to Marcellinus of blessed memory.
- Eph. v. 14.
- Ps. lxxi. 5.
- The tribune Marcellinus had been put to death in the September of 413, “having, though innocent, fallen a victim to the cruel hatred of the tyrant Heraclius,” as Jerome writes in his book iii. against the Pelagians. Honorius mentions him as a “man of conspicuous renown,” in a law enacted August 30, in the year 414, contained in the Cod Theod. xvi. 5 (de hæreticis), line 55. Compare the notes above, pp. 15 and 80.