Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 35 [XXX.]--Why the Circumcision of Infants Was Enjoined Under Pain of So Great a Punishment.
The Scripture does not inform us whether before Abraham's time righteous men or their children were marked by any bodily or visible sign. Abraham himself, indeed, received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith. And he received it with this accompanying injunction: All the male infants of his household were from that very time to be circumcised, while fresh from their mother's womb, on the eighth day from their birth; so that even they who were not yet able with the heart to believe unto righteousness, should nevertheless receive the seal of the righteousness of faith. And this command was imposed with so fearful a sanction, that God said: |That soul shall be cut off from his people, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day.| If inquiry be made into the justice of so terrible a penalty, will not the entire argument of these men about free will, and the laudable soundness and purity of nature, however cleverly maintained, fall to pieces, struck down and fractured to atoms? For, pray tell me, what evil has an infant committed of his own will, that, for the negligence of another in not circumcising him, he himself must be condemned, and with so severe a condemnation, that that soul must be cut off from his people? It was not of any temporal death that this fear was inflicted, since of righteous persons, when they died, it used rather to be said, |And he was gathered unto his people;| or, |He was gathered to his fathers:| for no attempt to separate a man from his people is long formidable to him, when his own people is itself the people of God.