Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On the Soul and its Origin/Book II/Chapter 18
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Chapter 18 [XIII.]—Victor’s Dilemma and Fall.
For he is hemmed in within terrible straits by those who make the natural inquiry: “Why has God visited on the soul so unjust a punishment as to have willed to relegate it into a body of sin, since by its consorting with the flesh that began to be sinful, which else could not have been sinful?” For, of course, they say: “The soul could not have been sinful, if God had not commingled it in the participation of sinful flesh.” Well, this opponent of mine was unable to discover the justice of God’s doing this, especially in consequence of the eternal damnation of infants who die without the remission of original sin by baptism; and his inability was equally great in finding out why the good and righteous God both bound the souls of infants, who He foresaw would derive no advantage from the sacrament of Christian grace, with the chain of original sin, by sending them into the body which they derive from Adam,—the souls themselves being free from all taint of propagation,—and by this means also made them amenable to eternal damnation. No less was he unwilling to admit that these very souls likewise derived their sinful origin from that one primeval soul. And so he preferred escaping by a miserable shipwreck of faith, rather than to furl his sails and steady his oars, in the voyage of his controversy, and by such prudent counsel check the fatal rashness of his course. Worthless in his youthful eye was our aged caution; just as if this most troublesome and perilous question of his was more in need of a torrent of eloquence than the counsel of prudence. And this was foreseen even by himself, but to no purpose; for, as if to set forth the points which were objected to him by his opponents, he says: “After them other reproachful censures are added to the querulous murmurings of those who rail against us; and, as if tossed about in a whirlwind, we are dashed repeatedly among huge rocks.” After saying this, he propounded for himself the very dangerous question, which we have already treated, wherein he has wrecked the catholic faith, unless by a real repentance he shall have repaired the faith which he had shattered. That whirlwind and those rocks I have myself avoided,unwilling to entrust my frail barque to their dangers; and when writing on this subject I have expressed myself in such a way as rather to explain the grounds of my hesitancy, than to exhibit the rashness of presumption. This little work of mine excited his derision, when he met with it at your house, and in utter recklessness he flung himself upon the reef: he showed more spirit than wisdom in his conduct. To what lengths, however, that over-confidence of his led him, I suppose that you can now yourself perceive. But I give heartier thanks to God, since you even before this descried it. For all the while he was refusing to check his headlong career, when the issue of his course was still in doubt, he alighted on his miserable enterprise, and maintained that God, in the case of infants who died without Christian regeneration, conferred upon them paradise at once, and ultimately the kingdom of heaven.
- See Augustin’s treatises, On Free Will, iii. 21; On the Merits of Sins, ii. (last chapter); Letter (166) to Jerome, and (190) to Optatus.