Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 26 [XVI.]--The Fifth Passage of Scripture Quoted by Victor.
|Learn,| says he, |for, behold the apostle teaches you.| Yes, indeed, I will learn, if the apostle teaches; since it is God alone who teaches by the apostle. But, pray, what is it which the apostle teaches? |Behold,| he adds, |how, when speaking to the men of Athens, he strongly set forth this truth, saying: Seeing He giveth to all life and spirit.'| Well, who thinks of denying this? |But understand,| he says, |what it is the apostle states: He giveth; not, He hath given. He refers us to continuous and indefinite time, and does not proclaim past and completed time. Now that which he gives without cessation, He is always giving; just as He who gives is Himself ever existent.| I have quoted his words precisely as I found them in the second of the books which you sent me. First, I beg you to notice to what lengths he has gone, while endeavouring to affirm what he knows nothing about. For he has dared to say, that God, without any cessation, and not merely in the present time, but for ever and ever, gives souls to persons when they are born. |He is always giving,| says he, |just as He who gives is Himself ever existent.| Far be it from me to say that I do not understand what the apostle said, for it is plain enough. But what this man says, he even ought himself to know, is contrary to the Christian faith; and he should be on his guard against going any further in such assertions. For, of course, when the dead shall rise again, there will be no more persons to be born; therefore God will bestow no longer any souls at any birth; but those which He is now giving to men along with their bodies He will judge. So that He is not always giving, although He is ever existent, who at present is giving. Nor, indeed, is that at all derivable from the apostle's expression, who giveth (not hath given), which this writer wishes to deduce, namely, that God does not give men souls by propagation. For souls are still given by Him, even if it be by propagation; even as bodily endowments, such as limbs, and sensations, and shape, and, in fact, the whole substance, are given by God Himself to human beings, although it be by propagation that He gives them. Nor again, because the Lord says, |If God so clothes the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven| (not using the preterite time, hath clothed, as when He first formed the material; but employing the present form, clothes, which, indeed, He still is doing), shall we on that account say, that the lilies are not produced from the original source of their own kind. What, therefore, if the soul and spirit of a human being in like manner is given by God Himself, whenever it is given; and given, too, by propagation from its own kind? Now this is a position which I neither maintain nor refute. Nevertheless, if it must be defended or confuted, I certainly recommend its being done by clear, and not doubtful proofs. Nor do I deserve to be compared with senseless cattle because I avow myself to be as yet incapable of determining the question, but rather with cautious persons, because I do not recklessly teach what I know nothing about. But I am not disposed on my own part to return railing for railing and compare this man with brutes; but I warn him as a son to acknowledge that he is really ignorant of that which he knows nothing about; nor to attempt to teach that which he has not yet learnt, lest he should deserve to be compared with those persons whom the apostle mentions as |desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.|