Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 23 [XVII.]--Who They are that are Not Injured by Reading Injurious Books.
Forasmuch, then, as he has both commenced and terminated his books with such safeguards, and has placed on your shoulders the religious burden of their correction and emendation, I only trust that he may find in you all that he has asked you for, that you may |correct him righteously in mercy, and reprove him; whilst the oil of the sinner which anoints his head| is absent from your hands and eyes, -- even the indecent compliance of the flatterer, and the deceitful leniency of the sycophant. If, however, you decline to apply correction when you see anything to amend, you offend against love; but if he does not appear to you to require correction, because you think him to be right in his opinions, then you are wise against truth. He, therefore, is a better man (since he is only too ready to be corrected, if a true censurer be at hand) than yourself, if either knowing him to be in error you despise him with derision, or ignorant of his wandering course you at the same time closely follow his error. Everything, therefore, which you find in the books that he has addressed and forwarded to you, I beg you to consider with sobriety and vigilance; and you will perhaps make fuller discoveries than I have myself of statements which deserve to be censured. And as for such of their contents as are worthy of praise and approbation, -- whatever good you have learnt therein, and by his instruction, which perhaps you were really ignorant of before, tell us plainly what it is, that all may know that it was for this particular benefit that you expressed your obligations to him, and not for the manifold statements in his books which call for their disapproval, -- all, I mean, who, like yourself, heard him read his writings, or who afterwards read the same for themselves: lest in his ornate style they may drink poison, as out of a choice goblet, at your instance, though not after your own example, because they know not precisely what it is you have drunk yourself, and what you have left untasted, and because, from your high character, they suppose that whatever is drunk out of this fountain would be for their health. For what else are hearing, and reading, and copiously depositing things in the memory, than several processes of drinking? The Lord, however, foretold concerning His faithful followers, that even |if they should drink any deadly thing, it should not hurt them.| And thus it happens that they who read with judgment, and bestow their approbation on whatever is commendable according to the rule of faith, and disapprove of things which ought to be reprobated, even if they commit to their memory statements which are declared to be worthy of disapproval, they receive no harm from the poisonous and depraved nature of the sentences. To myself, through the Lord's mercy, it can never become a matter of the least regret, that, actuated by our previous love, I have given your reverend and religious self advice and warning on these points, in whatever way you may receive the admonition for which I have regarded you as possessing the first claim upon me. Abundant thanks, indeed, shall I give unto Him in whose mercy it is most salutary to put one's trust, if this letter of mine shall either find or else make your faith both free from the depraved and erroneous opinions which I have been able herein to point out from this man's books, and sound in catholic integrity.