Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 15 [XI.]--We Must Not Be Wise Above What is Written.
But then, again, you are mistaken in this matter; for the passages of Scripture which you chose to produce for the solution of this question of yours, do not prove the point. For it is another thing which they prove, without which we cannot really lead a pious life, namely, that we have in God the giver, creator, and fashioner of our souls. But how He does this for them, whether by inbreathing them as new, or by deriving them from the parents, they do not tell us -- except in the instance of that one soul which He gave to the first man. Read attentively what I have written to that servant of God, our brother Renatus; for inasmuch as I have pointed it all out to him there, it is not necessary for me to repeat my proofs here. But you would like me to follow your example in definiteness of theory, and so thrust myself into such difficulties as you have surrounded yourself with. Involved in these, you have spoken many stout words against the catholic faith; if, however, you would faithfully and humbly bethink yourself and consider, you would assuredly see how greatly it would have profited you, if you had only known how to be natural and consistent in your ignorance; and how this advantage is still open to you, if you were even now able to maintain such propriety. Now, since understanding so pleases you in man's nature (for, truly enough, if our nature were without it, we should not be different from brute beasts, so far as our souls are concerned), understand, I beg of you, what it is that you do not understand, lest you should understand nothing: and do not despise any man who, in order that he may truly understand, understands that he does not understand that which he does not understand. With regard, however, to the passage in the inspired psalm, |Man, being in honour, understandeth not; he is compared to the senseless cattle, and is like unto them;| read and understand these words, that you may rather with a humble spirit guard against the opprobrium yourself, than arrogantly throw it out against another person. The passage applies to those who regard only that as a life worth living which they live in the flesh -- having no hope after death -- just like |cattle;| it has no reference to those who never deny their knowledge of what they actually know, and always acknowledge their ignorance of what they really do not know; who, in point of fact, are aware of their weakness, rather than confident of their strength.