The Confessions And Letters Of St by St. Augustine
Chapter IX.--That the Judgment of God and Men as to Human Acts of Violence, is Different.
17. But amidst these offences of infamy and violence, and so many iniquities, are the sins of men who are, on the whole, making progress; which, by those who judge rightly, and after the rule of perfection, are censured, yet commended withal, upon the hope of bearing fruit, like as in the green blade of the growing corn. And there are some which resemble offences of infamy or violence, and yet are not sins, because they neither offend Thee, our Lord God, nor social custom: when, for example, things suitable for the times are provided for the use of life, and we are uncertain whether it be out of a lust of having; or when acts are punished by constituted authority for the sake of correction, and we are uncertain whether it be out of a lust of hurting. Many a deed, then, which in the sight of men is disapproved, is approved by Thy testimony; and many a one who is praised by men is, Thou being witness, condemned; because frequently the view of the deed, and the mind of the doer, and the hidden exigency of the period, severally vary. But when Thou unexpectedly commandest an unusual and unthought-of thing -- yea, even if Thou hast formerly forbidden it, and still for the time keepest secret the reason of Thy command, and it even be contrary to the ordinance of some society of men, who doubts but it is to be done, inasmuch as that society is righteous which serves Thee? But blessed are they who know Thy commands! For all things were done by them who served Thee either to exhibit something necessary at the time, or to foreshow things to come.