SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : THE FIFTH BOOK

On The Government Of God by Salvian


1. I know that there are men, utterly lacking in faith and void of the divine truth, who think they have an easy answer to my arguments. They say that if the guilt of unfaithful Christians is so great that they sin more in disregarding the commands of the Lord which they know, than do the heathen tribes in their ignorance, then ignorance has proved of more benefit to the pagans than knowledge, and knowledge of the truth is only an obstacle to the Christians.

My answer must be this: it is not the truth that stands in our way, but our own vices; not the law that does us injury, but our evil ways. In brief, give us good ways of living and the decrees of the law are in our favor; take away our vices and the law helps us. |For we know,| the apostle said, |that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man.| Therefore, begin to be just, and you shall be free from the law, because the law cannot act against the holy life, in which it consists. |For we know,| he said, |that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the unholy, for the ungodly and for sinners, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.| So the law is not so much fighting against you, my friend, as you against the law, nor does it by its good precepts take action against you, but you against it by your evil life. In fact, it is on your side, but you are against it. It gives you good counsel with holy words, while you fight against it with evil deeds, and yet not so much against it as against yourself. To oppose it is to oppose yourself, since in it lie your life and safety. When you desert the divine law, you abandon your own salvation. Thus our complaints of the Lord's law are like those of an impatient invalid against an excellent doctor. When his own fault has increased his illness, he accuses his physician of incompetence. As if, indeed, prescriptions could cure any illness if the patient did not obey them, or the regimen ordered by the physician work a cure if the patient did not follow it. What good can bitter draughts do the stomach if sweet ones are taken immediately after? What good can the silence of those about him do the delirious patient whose own ravings are killing him? Of what avail will the antidote be if the poison is poured over it?

Now in our case the law is the antidote, the poison our wickedness. The antidote of the law cannot cure us who are being killed by the poison of our own vice. But of these matters I have said enough before, and if occasion arises shall speak again later with God's help.

2. Meanwhile, since I mentioned above that there are two classes or sects of barbarians, namely, pagans and heretics, and I have already, I think, said enough of the pagans, let me now add what is necessary about the heretics. For my opponent may say: |Even if the divine law does not exact of the pagans that they keep commandments they do not know, it certainly does exact this of the heretics who know them; for they read the same books we do; they have the same prophets, the same apostles, the same evangelists, and therefore they are no less guilty than we are of neglect of the law. Really their neglect is much worse than ours, for although their Scriptures are the same, their actions are much worse.|

Let us consider both points. You say that they read the same books we do. How can their books be the same, being badly interpolated and falsified by unscrupulous men? They are not the same at all, for they cannot be said to keep their identity unchanged if they are corrupted in any part. Having lost their full completeness they are not unharmed, and being robbed of the power of the sacraments they do not keep their true value. We alone, therefore, have the Sacred Scriptures in full, unviolated and complete, who either drink them at their fount, or at least drawn from the purest source by the agency of an incorrupt translation; we alone read them well. I wish we might fulfil them as well as we read them! But I fear that we who fail to keep them do not read them correctly either. For there is less guilt in not reading the holy words than in reading and violating them. The other nations either do not possess the law of God or have it in a changed and weakened form, and, as I said, to have it in such a condition is the same thing as not to have it at all.

If there are any among the barbarians who seem in their books to possess the Sacred Scriptures less interpolated and torn to pieces than the rest, still the corruptions in their texts are due to the tradition of their first teachers, whose disciples hold rather to their tradition than to the Scripture itself. For they do not abide by the instructions of the true law, but by the interpolations of an evil and distorted interpretation.

The barbarians, indeed, lacking the Roman training or any other sort of civilized education, knowing nothing whatever unless they have heard it from their teachers, follow blindly what they hear. Such men, completely ignorant of literature and wisdom, are sure to learn the mysteries of the divine law through instruction rather than reading, and to retain their masters' doctrines rather than the law itself. Thus the interpretation and doctrine of their teachers have usurped the authority of the law among them, since they know only what they are taught. So they are heretics, but unwittingly. Indeed it is only among us that they are heretics, and not among themselves, for they are so sure of their own orthodoxy that they libel us in turn by the accusation of heresy. As they are to us, so are we to them. We are convinced that they injure the holy incarnation in calling the Son inferior to the Father: they think that we do injury to the Father in believing the two equal. The truth is on our side, but they claim it for theirs. We truly honor God but they think their belief honors his divinity the more. They fall short in their Christian duty, but through what they think its fullest performance; their lack of reverence seems to them true piety. So they err, but with the best intentions, not through hatred, but through love of God, believing that they honor and love him. Although they have not the true faith, yet they think they possess the perfect love of God. How they shall be punished for the error of their false opinion on the day of judgment, none can know but the Judge. In the meantime, God bears with them patiently, I think, for he sees that though they have not the true faith, yet their error is due to the love of what appears to be the truth, especially since he knows that their wrongdoing is due to ignorance, while among us men neglect what they believe. So their sin is the fault of their teachers, while ours is our own; theirs is committed in ignorance, ours in full knowledge; they do what they think right, but we what we know to be perverse. Therefore with just judgment the patience of God bears with them but punishes us, because ignorance may be pardoned for a time, but contempt deserves no lenience. For it is written: |The servant who knows not his lord's will and does it not, shall be beaten with few stripes, but he who knows it and does it not, shall be beaten with many.|

3. Let us not wonder that we are beaten with many stripes, since we err not through ignorance but through rebellion. For knowing the good we do not perform it, and knowing the distinction between right and wrong we pursue the wrong. We read the law and trample underfoot what is lawful; we learn the decrees of the sacred ordinances only to increase the gravity of our sins after their prohibition; we say that we worship God, but give our service to the devil. After all this, we wish to receive good gifts from God, while we heap wrong upon wrong continually; we wish to have God do our will, though we are unwilling to do his. We treat with him as his superiors; we wish him to accede to our wishes constantly, though we constantly fight against his.

But he is just, however unjust we may be; for he punishes those he thinks deserve punishment, and bears with those he thinks deserve his patience. In each case his end is the same, that his chastisement of the orthodox may restrain their lust for sinning, and his forbearance at length bring the heretics to recognize the full truth of the faith, especially since he knows that those men are not apt to be unworthy of the catholic faith whom he sees superior to the orthodox in their way of living. All those of whom I speak are either Vandals or Goths, for I say nothing of the multitude of Roman heretics, and shall not compare them with either Romans or barbarians, since their lack of faith makes them worse than the Romans, and their disgraceful lives than the barbarians. That the men of whom I speak are Romans, far from helping us, makes our case even worse. It is easy to estimate what the whole Roman state deserves, when part of the Romans offend God by their way of life, part by their lack of faith and their way of living also. Add that the very heresies of the barbarians spring originally from the false teaching they received from the Romans, and the inception of heresy among them becomes another heavy charge against us.

4. But as for the way of life among the Goths and Vandals, in what single respect can we consider ourselves superior to them, or even worthy of comparison? Let me speak first of their affection and charity, which the Lord teaches us are the chief of virtues, and which he commends not only through the Sacred Scriptures but also in his own words, when he says: |By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.| Now almost all barbarians, at least those who belong to one tribe, under one king's rule, love one another, whereas almost all the Romans are at strife with one another. What citizen is there who does not envy his fellows? Who shows complete charity to his neighbors? All are indeed far from their neighbors in affection, however near in place; though living side by side, they are far apart in spirit. While this is a most grievous wrong, I wish it were true only of citizens and neighbors. But the situation is still more serious, for not even relations preserve the bonds of kinship. Who renders a brotherly service for his next of kin? Who pays to family affection the debt he knows is due to the name he bears? Who is as closely related by his affections as by blood? Who is not fired with a dark passion of ill will? Whose emotions are not the prey of envy? Who does not look on another's good fortune as his own punishment? Who does not reckon another's good as his own evil? Who finds his own good fortune so ample that he is willing that another should be fortunate also? Most men are now suffering a strange and incalculable evil, in that it is not enough for any man to be happy himself unless another is thereby made wretched. What a situation is this, how savage, how rooted in the same impiety we deplore, how alien to barbarians and familiar to Romans, that they proscribe one another by mutual exactions. My last words, perhaps, give a wrong impression, for it would be much more tolerable if each man endured what he himself had inflicted on others. The present situation is harder to bear, for the many are proscribed by the few, who use the public levies for their individual gain, and convert the bills of indebtedness to the public treasury to their private profit. Nor is it only the highest officials who do this, but the least too in almost equal measure; not only the judges, but their obedient underlings as well.

For what cities are there, or even what municipalities and villages, in which there are not as many tyrants as curials? Still perhaps they preen themselves on their title, since it seems to be one of power and honor. Brigands usually rejoice and exult at being considered somewhat more ruthless than they really are. What place is there, as I said before, where the very lifeblood of widows and orphans is not drained by the leading men of their states, and with them that of all godly men? For these last are classed with widows and orphans, since they are either unwilling to protect themselves, out of devotion to their vows, or unable because of their simplicity and humility. Therefore not one of them is safe, indeed scarcely any are safe, except the very greatest, from the plunder and ruin of this universal brigandage, other than those who are a match for the brigands themselves. Matters have come to such an evil pass, to such a criminal condition, that only the wicked man may count himself secure.

5. But certainly, you object, even though there are so many who persecute good men, there must be some who come to the rescue of those in distress, and, as it is written, |deliver the poor and needy out of the hand of the wicked.| |There is none that doeth good, no, not one:| as the prophet showed by these words, good men are so rare that scarcely one seems to remain among us. Who offers help to those who are distressed and suffering, when even the priests of the Lord make no resistance to the violence of the unscrupulous? The majority of the clergy either say nothing, or, if they do speak, their words are no more effective than silence. |With many of them it is not lack of resolution, but what they consider a prudent discretion that commends this course. They are not willing to declare the truth openly, for this the sensitive ears of the wicked cannot bear. Not content with shunning the truth, our oppressors hate and curse it, they fail to evince any reverence or respect when they do hear the truth, and show utter scorn for it, in their stubborn and rebellious conceit. Therefore, even those who have occasion to speak remain silent and refrain from immediate attacks on those whom they know to be guilty. They dare not publish the whole truth openly for fear of increasing oppression by a too emphatic insistence.

Meanwhile the poor are being robbed, widows groan, orphans are trodden down, so that many, even persons of good birth, who have enjoyed a liberal education, seek refuge with the enemy to escape death under the trials of the general persecution. They seek among the barbarians the Roman mercy, since they cannot endure the barbarous mercilessness they find among the Romans.

Although these men differ in customs and language from those with whom they have taken refuge, and are unaccustomed too, if I may say so, to the nauseous odor of the bodies and clothing of the barbarians, yet they prefer the strange life they find there to the injustice rife among the Romans. So you find men passing over everywhere, now to the Goths, now to the Bagaudae, or whatever other barbarians have established their power anywhere, and they do not repent of their expatriation, for they would rather live as free men, though in seeming captivity, than as captives in seeming liberty. Hence the name of Roman citizen, once not only much valued but dearly bought, is now voluntarily repudiated and shunned, and is thought not merely valueless, but even almost abhorrent. What can be a greater proof of Roman injustice than that many worthy noblemen to whom their Roman status should have been the greatest source of fame and honor, have nevertheless been driven so far by the cruelty of Roman injustice that they no longer wish to be Romans?

The result is that even those who do not take refuge with the barbarians are yet compelled to be barbarians themselves; for this is the case with the greater part of the Spaniards, no small proportion of the Gauls, and, in fine, all those throughout the Roman world whose Roman citizenship has been brought to nothing by Roman extortion.

6. I must now speak of the Bagaudae, who, despoiled, afflicted, and murdered by wicked and bloodthirsty magistrates, after they had lost the rights of Roman, citizens, forfeited also the honor of the Roman name. We transform their misfortunes into crime, we brand them with a name that recalls their losses, with a name that we ourselves have contrived for their shame! We call those men rebels and utterly abandoned, whom we ourselves have forced into crime. For by what other causes were they made Bagaudae save by our unjust acts, the wicked decisions of the magistrates, the proscription and extortion of those who have turned the public exactions to the increase of their private fortunes and made the tax indictions their opportunity for plunder?

Like wild beasts, instead of governing those put under their power, the officials have devoured them, feeding not only on their belongings as ordinary brigands would do, but even on their torn flesh and their blood. Thus it has come to pass that men who were strangled and half killed by brutal exactions began to be really barbarians, since they were not permitted to be Romans. They were satisfied to become what they were not, since they were no longer allowed to be what they had been; and they were compelled to defend their lives as best they could, since they saw that they had already completely lost their liberty.

How does our present situation differ from theirs? Those who have not before joined the Bagaudae are now being compelled to join them. The overwhelming injuries poor men suffer compel them to wish to become Bagaudae, but their weakness prevents them. So they are like captives oppressed by the yoke of an enemy, enduring their torture of necessity, not of their own choice; in their hearts they long for freedom, while they suffer the extremes of slavery.

7. Such is the case among almost all the lower classes, for the same circumstances force them to two very different alternatives. They are most strongly compelled to wish for freedom, but the compulsion they suffer deprives them of power to carry out their wish. Perhaps it may be asserted that the very men who have these desires would wish for nothing better than to be free of any occasion to feel them, for what they wish is the greatest misfortune. They would be much better off if they had no need for such ambitions. But what other wish can these poor wretches have? They must endure the frequent, even continuous, ruin of state requisitions, always menaced by severe and unremitting proscription; they desert their homes to avoid being tortured in them, and go into voluntary exile to escape heavy punishment. To such men the enemy are kinder than the tax collectors. This is proved by their actions, for they flee to the enemy to avoid the oppression of the levies. Such taxation in itself, however harsh and brutal, would still be less severe and painful if all shared equally in the common lot. But the situation is made more shameful and disastrous by the fact that all do not bear the burden together; the tributes due from the rich are extorted from the poor, and the weaker bear the burdens of the stronger. The only reason why they do not bear the whole burden is that the exactions are greater than their resources. They are suffering the most diverse and dissimilar misfortunes, envy and need. For envy is involved in the payment, and need in the means by which it is made. If you consider the amount they pay, you will think them wealthy; but if you consider what they have, you will find them in dire need. Who can square the accounts of such injustice? They make the payments due from the rich while they suffer the poverty of beggars.

My next point is still more serious. The rich themselves from time to time make additions to the amount of taxation demanded from the poor. You may ask how it is, when their assessment has already reached a maximum figure, and the payments due from them are very large, that the rich can possibly wish to increase the total. But I did not say that they increase their own payments, for they permit the increase simply because it does not cost them anything additional.

Let me explain. Frequently there come from the highest imperial officials new envoys, new bearers of dispatches, sent under recommendation to a few men of note, for the ruin of the many. In their honor new contributions and tax levies are decreed. The mighty determine what sums the poor shall pay; the favor of the rich decrees what the masses of the lowly shall lose; for they themselves are not at all involved in these exactions. Do you say that it is impossible not to give due honor and entertainment to the envoys sent by our superiors? Then be the first to contribute, you men of wealth, who are first to pass such decrees; be first to lavish your property who are first in largess of mere words. You who give, give of mine and thine alike; though absolute justice would require that any one who wishes sole claim on the resulting favor should also bear the expense alone. However, we poor men accede to the wish of the rich. What you few order let us all pay. What is so just and humane as this? Your decree burdens us with new debts; at least let this indebtedness be shared between us. What can be more unjust or unworthy than that you alone should be free from debt, who are making us all debtors?

The poor, indeed, in the extremes of their misery, pay all the exactions of which I have spoken, in utter ignorance of the object or reason of the payments. For who is allowed to discuss the payments, or inquire into the reasons for the amounts due? The sum is openly published only when the rich fall out with one another, and some of them feel slighted because they learn that assessments have been passed without their advice and management. Then you will hear some among them say: |What an unconscionable crime! Two or three decide the ruin of the many; a few powerful men determine what is to be paid for by many poor wretches!| For each individual rich man thinks it due to his honor to object to any decree passed in his absence, but he does not consider it due to justice to object to any wrong being enacted in his presence.

Finally, what they have criticized in others they themselves afterward establish in law, either in requital for the earlier contempt, or as proof of their power. As a result the most unhappy poor are like men far out at sea, buffeted by conflicting winds; they are overwhelmed by the billows that break over them now from one side, now from the other.

8. But surely, you say, those who are unjust in this respect are known to be moderate and just in another, and atone for their wickedness in the one matter by their generosity in the other. For in proportion as they burden the poor with the weight of new indictions they sustain them by proffering new alleviations; in proportion as the lesser men are weighed down by new tributes, they are relieved by new remedies.

But this is not the case, for the injustice is alike in both the exactions and the remedies. As the poor are the first to receive the burden, they are the last to obtain relief. For whenever, as happened lately, the ruling powers have thought best to take measures to help the bankrupt cities to lessen their taxes in some measure, at once we see the rich alone dividing with one another the remedy granted to all alike. Who then remembers the poor? Who summons the needy and humble to share in the common benefit? Who allows the man who is always first in bearing the burden to have even the last place in receiving relief? What more can I say? Only that the poor are not reckoned as taxpayers at all, except when the weight of taxation is being imposed on them; they are outside the number when remedies are being distributed.

Under such circumstances can we think ourselves undeserving of God's severe punishment when we ourselves continually so punish the poor? Can we believe that God ought not to exercise his judgment against us all, when we are constantly unjust? For where, or among what people, do these evils exist save only among the Romans? Who commit such grave acts of injustice as ours? Take the Franks, they are ignorant of this wrong; the Huns are immune to it; there is nothing of the sort among the Vandals, nothing among the Goths. For in the Gothic country the barbarians are so far from tolerating this sort of oppression that not even Romans who live among them have to bear it. Hence all the Romans in that region have but one desire, that they may never have to return to the Roman jurisdiction. It is the unanimous prayer of the Roman people in that district that they may be permitted to continue to lead their present life among the barbarians.

Yet we are surprised that the Goths are not conquered by our resistance, when the Romans would rather live among them than at home. Not only have our kinsmen no desire at all to escape from them to us, but they even leave us to take refuge with them. I could find occasion to wonder why all the poor and needy taxpayers do not follow their example, except for the one factor that hinders them, namely, that they cannot transfer their poor possessions and homes and their households. For, since many of them leave their tiny fields and shops to escape the enforced payment of taxes, how could they help wishing to take off with them, if it were at all possible, the property they are compelled to abandon? They are not capable of doing what they would probably prefer, hence they do the one thing they can. They put themselves under the care and protection of the powerful, make themselves the surrendered captives of the rich and so pass under their jurisdiction. Still I should not consider this a serious or unfitting procedure; on the contrary, I should laud the public spirit of the powerful to whom the poor entrust themselves, if they did not sell their patronage, if the defence they claim to give the poor were due to their humanity and not to their greed. It is a serious and grievous situation, that the rich make a show of protecting the poor only in order to rob them, that they defend the wretched only on condition of making them more wretched still by this defence. For all those who seem to be enjoying protection assign to their patrons the bulk of their property before they receive any help, and thus the sons' inheritance is destroyed that the fathers may be secure. Protection for the parents is assured by the beggary of the children. See then the aid and patronage afforded by the great: they do nothing for the benefit of those who come under their care, but only for their own. Some aid is granted the parents for the time being, but only on condition that in the future the children shall lose everything. It is a mere process of sale, and certain of the great are sure to demand a very dear price for everything they offer. I said it was a process of sale -- I wish they would sell in the ordinary sense of the term, for in that case perhaps they would leave something to the purchaser! But this is a new sort of buying and selling; the seller gives nothing and receives everything, while the buyer receives nothing and loses all that he had. Now practically every sales agreement has this characteristic, that the element of desire is on the side of the buyer, and that of need on that of the seller, inasmuch as the buyer wishes to increase his substance and the seller to diminish his. This, however, is an unheard-of sort of trading, in which the property of the sellers increases while nothing remains to the buyers but sheer beggary.

What an intolerable and monstrous thing it is, one that human hearts can hardly endure, that one can hardly bear to hear spoken of, that many of the wretched poor, despoiled of their tiny holdings, after they have completely lost their property, must still pay taxes for what they have lost! Though possession has been forfeited, the assessment is not cancelled: they are without property but are overwhelmed with taxes. Who can fairly estimate this evil? The poor wretches pay taxes for the invaders who have swooped down on their estates. After the father's death, the sons have no claim on the little farms that should rightly be theirs, but are forced to pay ruinous taxes for them. As a result, what else is accomplished by this great wrongdoing except that men stripped naked by private robbery, die under the public exactions, and taxation ends the lives of those whose property has been carried off by plunderers?

Therefore some of those of whom I speak, who are either shrewder than the rest or have been sharpened by necessity, have lost their homes and farms by such encroachments, or have fled before the taxgatherers, because they cannot hold their property, and seek out the farms of the rich and great, to become their coloni.

Those who are driven by the terror of the enemy flee to the forts, and those who have lost their immunity as free men take refuge in some asylum out of sheer desperation. So also these men, who are no longer able to guard the home and condition of their birth, subject themselves to the lowly yoke of serfdom. They have been reduced to such a necessitous state that they are cut off not only from their former possessions, but also from their rank. They are exiled not alone from their property but from their very selves; losing all that was theirs along with their freedom, they lack any title to their holdings and forfeit the very rights of liberty.

9. Even this might through sheer necessity seem somehow tolerable, if there were not further misfortune to follow. Their lot is made more bitter by a worse injustice still. For they are received as strangers; they become natives only on the terms of their present condition. Recalling the example of that evil sorceress of old who is said to have changed men into beasts, we might say that all who are received on the farms of the rich are transformed as if by Circe's potions. For the owners begin to count those whom they have received as outsiders and aliens, as their own property; they turn into slaves men known to be free-born. Do we wonder that the barbarians are able to capture us, when we take our brothers captive? It is not at all strange that our states are being devastated and destroyed. We have long been providing by the oppression of the multitude for our own eventual capture, falling into captivity by our enslavement of others. Much later than we deserve, do we now at length suffer the treatment that we have meted out to others, and in the words of the Holy Scripture, eat the labor of our own hands. Under the judgment of a just God we are paying what we owe. We showed no mercy to exiles; behold, we ourselves are in exile: we deceived wanderers; behold, we ourselves, now wanderers, are deceived in turn: we took advantage of circumstances to ruin free-born men; behold, we ourselves are beginning to live on alien soil, and fear the same ruin.

How great is the deceptive blindness of sinful minds! We are suffering from the condemnation of God's judgment and still do not acknowledge that we are being judged. Some of the saints wonder that the others who have thus far not endured any such fate are not reformed by our example! Not even those of us who are already smitten by God are being corrected by the torments justly due to our wickedness. What intolerable pride is ours! However many are enduring the punishment that their sins require, no one deigns to acknowledge the cause of his trouble. The reasons for our pride are perfectly obvious: even though we are at last suffering a little, we do not yet suffer as we deserve. So great is the mercy of God that he does not wish us to endure the full penalties for our misdeeds, but only a part of what is due; he chastens the wicked, but not to the full measure of their sin. He wishes us to acknowledge our misdoings rather than to endure their penalties, to the end that by his loving and salutary correction he may show us what we deserve to suffer, but not inflict on us the stripes we deserve. In this he follows the words of the blessed apostle, who said: |Dost thou not know that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath.|

In truth our actions suit the words of the apostle, for God calls us to repentance, but we treasure up wrath; he invites us to receive pardon, but we daily heap up our offences. We bring force to bear on him by our iniquities; we ourselves arm the divine wrath against us. We compel God against his will to take vengeance on our monstrous crimes; we give him scarcely any opportunity to spare us. For although no token of injustice can ever light on him or appear in him, our actions are such that if he did not take vengeance on our sins he would seem to be unjust.

10. Surely, you say, a man who has once been a sinner may have ceased to do wrong. Is there any end to wrongdoing? Do not men give up life sooner than iniquity? What man does not die in his evil pursuits, to be buried with his sins and crimes? Truly, one might apply to such men the words of the prophet: |Their graves are their homes forever, and they are compared to foolish cattle, and are become like them.| If only they were like cattle! It would at least have been something gained, to have gone astray through mere brute folly. To have sinned, not through ignorance, but in despite of God, is worse and deserves a heavier penalty. Do you claim that this is the case with the laity only, and not with even a few among the clergy? With worldly men only, and not with many of the religious also, or rather men given over to worldly vices under the empty show of religion? These, to be sure, after the shameful guilt of their past misdeeds, have gained themselves the honorary name of sanctity. They have altered in their profession but not in their actual way of life, and, thinking that the service of God depends on costume more than on action, have changed their garments but not their hearts. Why should men think their guilt less hateful, who, though they are said to have performed a sort of penance, do not put off their old habits when they lay aside their former style of dress? Their actions as a whole are such that there is less reason to suppose that they have already done penance for their misdeeds than that they afterwards repented of their penitence. There is less ground to think that they have repented their evil life than that they have since regretted their promise of a good one.

Many men know that I am speaking the truth, and can even bear witness to my words in their own conscience. Chief among these are the religious who have gained some reputation by a general repentance and now seek after new honors, and buy powers they formerly lacked. They are so anxious to be not merely men of the world, but more than worldly, that what they were before their repentance does not now suffice them unless they may become greater than they were in the past. Do they not repent of their conversion?

So also do those men repent of their conversion and their brief thought of God, who, abstaining from intercourse with their wives, do not refrain from invasion of other men's property; who, professing physical continence, run riot in incontinence of spirit. A strange sort of conversion, truly! They do not do what is permissible, but commit forbidden sins. They refrain from lawful wedded life but not from rapine.

What vain delusion is this? Sins were forbidden us by God, not marriage. Your deeds do not suit your convictions; you who call yourselves adherents of virtue should not consort with crime. What you are doing is utterly absurd; this is not conversion to God but aversion from him. If, as is rumored, you have left off long since the functions even of lawful wedlock, now at last give up your sin. It is indeed just that you should refrain from crime of all sorts, but if you think this impossibly difficult, at least give up your greatest and most monstrous sins. Grant, whoever you are, that the neighbors whose land adjoins yours cannot remain prosperous; grant that the poor cannot support life near you; grant that you persecute the indigent and plunder the wretched; grant that you cause affliction to all men, provided that they are outside your own circle: still, I beg, at least spare your own family. And if you think it too hard and burdensome to spare all who are yours, then spare those who have preferred you not only to their other relatives and kinsmen, but even to those most closely bound to them and their dearly loved children. Yet why should I speak of their loved ones and their children, when they have preferred you almost to their very life and hope? There is nothing praiseworthy in this, as everyone who has committed the error now recognizes. But what has that to do with you, whom even their mistakes have advantaged? Your debt to such men is the greater because they have erred from too great trust in you. They were indeed blinded by devotion, and consequently are branded and censured by all; but even so you are under greater obligations to them because they have incurred the blame of all for love of you.

11. What is there to compare with this among the barbarous Goths? Who among them injures those who love him, attacks his friends, and cuts the throats of his dear ones with his own dagger? You attack those who love you, you cut off the hands of those who offer gifts, you kill your closest friends, and do you not fear and tremble? What would you do if you had not felt the present judgment of God in the scourging you have just received? You increase the count and constantly add new crimes to your former misdeeds. Think what punishment awaits your worse deeds, when even lesser faults are regularly punished by demons. Be content now, I pray, with robbing your friends and companions. Let it be enough that the poor have been harried and beggars despoiled by you, that hardly any one can keep from trembling in your presence, no one can feel secure. Torrents rushing down from Alpine crags, or flames driven by the wind, are more easily borne. No such death as this -- to use a well known figure -- do sailors die, devoured by the engulfing whirlpool or by Scylla's proverbial dogs. You evict your neighbors from their little farms, those nearest you from their houses and property. Would you |be placed alone in the midst of the earth,| as it is written? This is the one end you cannot gain. Seize all that you can, occupy by force all that you can, still you shall always find a neighbor. Consider, please, other men, whom even you, willingly or not, regard with honor; consider others, whom even you, willingly or not, admire. They are above others in honor, but on a level with them in their own estimation; they are greater in their power and less in their humility. You yourself, to whom I am now speaking, surely know whom I mean, and you of whom I now complain ought to recognize whom I honor by this praise. I only wish that there were many who deserve such praise; the nobility of a great number might work healing for all.

But suppose that you do not wish to win praise; tell me, why do you wish to be worthy of condemnation? Why is nothing dearer to you than injustice, nothing more delightful than avarice, nothing more cherished than the seizure of other men's goods? Why do you judge nothing more precious than wickedness, nothing more excellent than rapine? Learn the true good from a pagan, who says: |One should be fenced about by charity and goodwill, not by arms.|

So your delusions lead you astray; the wickedness of your blind and evil heart deceives you. If you wish to be upright, to be powerful, to be great, you ought to surpass other men not in ill will but in honor. I once read somewhere: |No one is wicked but a fool; for if he were wise, he would prefer to be good.| Do you, therefore, if you can at last return to sanity, put off your wickedness, if you wish wisdom. For if you hope to be at all wise or sane, you must discard all that you have been and change completely. Deny yourself that you may not be denied by Christ; cast yourself off that you may be received by him; lose yourself, that you may not perish. For the Savior says: |Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.| Wherefore love this profitable loss, that you may gain true safety. For God will never set you free, unless you have first condemned yourself.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy