Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 62.--He Returns to the Question Which Marcellinus Had Proposed to Him.
But I beg of you to advert to the question which you proposed to me, and to what we have made out of it in the lengthy process of this discussion. You were perplexed how I could have said that it was possible for a man to be without sin, if his will were not wanting, by the help of God's aid, although no man in the present life had ever lived, was living, or would live, of such perfect righteousness. Now, in the books which I formerly addressed to you, I set forth this very question. I said: |If I were asked whether it be possible for a man to be without sin in this life, I should allow the possibility, by the grace of God, and his own free will; for I should have no doubt that the free will itself is of God's grace, -- that is, has its place among the gifts of God, -- not only as to its existence, but also in respect of its goodness; that is, that it applies itself to doing the commandments of God. And so, God's grace not only shows what ought to be done, but also helps to the possibility of doing what it shows.| You seemed to think it absurd, that a thing which was possible should be unexampled. Hence arose the subject treated of in this book; and thus did it devolve on me to show that a thing was possible although no example of it could be found. We accordingly adduced certain cases out of the gospel and of the law, at the beginning of this work, -- such as the passing of a camel through the eye of a needle; and the twelve thousand legions of angels, who could fight for Christ, if He pleased; and those nations which God said He could have exterminated at once from the face of His people, -- none of which possibilities were ever reduced to fact. To these instances may be added those which are referred to in the Book of Wisdom, suggesting how many are the strange torments and troubles which God was able to employ against ungodly men, by using the creature which was obedient to His beck, which, however, He did not employ. One might also allude to that mountain, which faith could remove into the sea, although, nevertheless, it was never done, so far as we have ever read or heard. Now you see how thoughtless and foolish would be the man who should say that any one of these things is impossible with God, and how opposed to the sense of Scripture would be his assertion. Many other cases of this kind may occur to anybody who reads or thinks, the possibility of which with God we cannot deny, although an example of them be lacking.