On Baptism, Against The Donatists

The Seven Books of Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists

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Philip Schaff

want of power, these are born like Isaac from the womb of Sarah, or Jacob from the womb of
Rebecca, in the new life and the new covenant.

Chapter 17.—26. Therefore, whether they seem to abide within, or are openly outside,
whatsoever is flesh is flesh, and what is chaff is chaff, whether they persevere in remaining in their
barrenness on the threshing-floor, or, when temptation befalls them, are carried out as it were by
the blast of some wind. And even that man is always severed from the unity of the Church which
is without spot or wrinkle, 1195 who associates with the congregation of the saints in carnal obstinacy.
Yet we ought to despair of no man, whether he be one who shows himself to be of this nature within
the pale of the Church, or whether he more openly opposes it from without. But the spiritual, or
those who are steadily advancing with pious exertion towards this end, do not stray without the
pale; since even when, by some perversity or necessity among men, they seem to be driven forth,
they are more approved than if they had remained within, since they are in no degree roused to
contend against the Church, but remain rooted in the strongest foundation of Christian charity on
the solid rock of unity. For hereunto belongs what is said in the sacrifice of Abraham: "But the
birds divided he not."1196

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Chapter 18.—27. On the question of baptism, then, I think that I have argued at sufficient
length; and since this is a most manifest schism which is called by the name of the Donatists, it
only remains that on the subject of baptism we should believe with pious faith what the universal
Church maintains, apart from the sacrilege of schism. And yet, if within the Church different men
still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one
clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right
for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written
"For charity shall cover the multitude of sins."1197 For, seeing that its absence causes the presence
of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon
for the absence of some missing things.

1195

In the Retractations, ii. 18, Augustin notes on this passage, that wherever he uses this quotation from the Epistle to the
Ephesians, he means it to be understood of the progress of the Church towards this condition, and not of her success in its
attainment; for at present the infirmities and ignorance of her members give ground enough for the whole Church joining daily
in the petition, "Forgive us our debts."

1196

Gen. xv. 10.

1197

1 Pet. iv. 8.

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