117. And now regarding love, which the apostle says is greater than the other two -- that is, faith and hope -- for the more richly it dwells in a man, the better the man in whom it dwells. For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves. Now, beyond all doubt, he who loves aright believes and hopes rightly. Likewise, he who does not love believes in vain, even if what he believes is true; he hopes in vain, even if what he hopes for is generally agreed to pertain to true happiness, unless he believes and hopes for this: that he may through prayer obtain the gift of love. For, although it is true that he cannot hope without love, it may be that there is something without which, if he does not love it, he cannot realize the object of his hopes. An example of this would be if a man hopes for life eternal -- and who is there who does not love that? -- and yet does not love righteousness, without which no one comes to it.
Now this is the true faith of Christ which the apostle commends: faith that works through love. And what it yet lacks in love it asks that it may receive, it seeks that it may find, and knocks that it may be opened unto it. For faith achieves what the law commands [fides namque impetrat quod lex imperat]. And, without the gift of God -- that is, without the Holy Spirit, through whom love is shed abroad in our hearts -- the law may bid but it cannot aid [jubere lex poterit, non juvare]. Moreover, it can make of man a transgressor, who cannot then excuse himself by pleading ignorance. For appetite reigns where the love of God does not.
118. When, in the deepest shadows of ignorance, he lives according to the flesh with no restraint of reason -- this is the primal state of man. Afterward, when |through the law the knowledge of sin| has come to man, and the Holy Spirit has not yet come to his aid -- so that even if he wishes to live according to the law, he is vanquished -- man sins knowingly and is brought under the spell and made the slave of sin, |for by whatever a man is vanquished, of this master he is the slave| . The effect of the knowledge of the law is that sin works in man the whole round of concupiscence, which adds to the guilt of the first transgression. And thus it is that what was written is fulfilled: |The law entered in, that the offense might abound.| This is the second state of man.
But if God regards a man with solicitude so that he then believes in God's help in fulfilling His commands, and if a man begins to be led by the Spirit of God, then the mightier power of love struggles against the power of the flesh. And although there is still in man a power that fights against him -- his infirmity being not yet fully healed -- yet he [the righteous man] lives by faith and lives righteously in so far as he does not yield to evil desires, conquering them by his love of righteousness. This is the third stage of the man of good hope.
A final peace is in store for him who continues to go forward in this course toward perfection through steadfast piety. This will be perfected beyond this life in the repose of the spirit, and, at the last, in the resurrection of the body.
Of these four different stages of man, the first is before the law, the second is under the law, the third is under grace, and the fourth is in full and perfect peace. Thus, also, the history of God's people has been ordered by successive temporal epochs, as it pleased God, who |ordered all things in measure and number and weight.| The first period was before the law; the second under the law, which was given through Moses; the next, under grace which was revealed through the first Advent of the Mediator.| This grace was not previously absent from those to whom it was to be imparted, although, in conformity to the temporal dispensations, it was veiled and hidden. For none of the righteous men of antiquity could find salvation apart from the faith of Christ. And, unless Christ had also been known to them, he could not have been prophesied to us -- sometimes openly and sometimes obscurely -- through their ministry.
119. Now, in whichever of these four |ages| -- if one can call them that -- the grace of regeneration finds a man, then and there all his past sins are forgiven him and the guilt he contracted in being born is removed by his being reborn. And so true is it that |the Spirit breatheth where he willeth| that some men have never known the second |age| of slavery under the law, but begin to have divine aid directly under the new commandment.
120. Yet, before a man can receive the commandment, he must, of course, live according to the flesh. But, once he has been imbued with the sacrament of rebirth, no harm will come to him even if he then immediately depart this life -- |Wherefore on this account Christ died and rose again, that he might be the Lord of both the living and the dead.| Nor will the kingdom of death have dominion over him for whom He, who was |free among the dead,| died.