On Baptism, Against The Donatists

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

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Philip Schaff

28. There are great proofs of this existing on the part of the blessed martyr Cyprian, in his
letters,—to come at last to him of whose authority they carnally flatter themselves they are possessed,
whilst by his love they are spiritually overthrown. For at that time, before the consent of the whole
Church had declared authoritatively, by the decree of a plenary Council,1198 what practice should
be followed in this matter, it seemed to him, in common with about eighty of his fellow bishops of
the African churches, that every man who had been baptized outside the communion of the Catholic
Church should, on joining the Church, be baptized anew. And I take it, that the reason why the
Lord did not reveal the error in this to a man of such eminence, was, that his pious humility and
charity in guarding the peace and health of the Church might be made manifest, and might be
noticed, so as to serve as an example of healing power, so to speak, not only to Christians of that
age, but also to those who should come after. For when a bishop of so important a Church, himself
a man of so great merit and virtue, endowed with such excellence of heart and power of eloquence,
entertained an opinion about baptism different from that which was to be confirmed by a more
diligent searching into the truth; though many of his colleagues held what was not yet made manifest
by authority, but was sanctioned by the past custom of the Church, and afterwards embraced by
the whole Catholic world; yet under these circumstances he did not sever himself, by refusal of
communion, from the others who thought differently, and indeed never ceased to urge on the others
that they should "forbear one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace."1199 For so, while the framework of the body remained whole, if any infirmity
occurred in certain of its members, it might rather regain its health from their general soundness,
than be deprived of the chance of any healing care by their death in severance from the body. And
if he had severed himself, how many were there to follow! what a name was he likely to make for
himself among men! how much more widely would the name of Cyprianist have spread than that
of Donatist! But he was not a son of perdition, one of those of whom it is said, "Thou castedst
them down while they were elevated;"1200 but he was the son of the peace of the Church, who in
the clear illumination of his mind failed to see one thing, only that through him another thing might
be more excellently seen. "And yet," says the apostle, "show I unto you a more excellent way:
though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding
brass, or a tinkling cymbal."1201 He had therefore imperfect insight into the hidden mystery of the
sacrament. But if he had known the mysteries of all sacraments, without having charity, it would
have been nothing. But as he, with imperfect insight into the mystery, was careful to preserve
charity with all courage and humility and faith, he deserved to come to the crown of martyrdom;
so that, if any cloud had crept over the clearness of his intellect from his infirmity as man, it might
be dispelled by the glorious brightness of his blood. For it was not in vain that our Lord Jesus

1198

See below, ii. 9.

1199

Eph. iv. 2, 3.

1200

Ps. lxxiii. 18; cp. Hieron.

1201

1 Cor. xii. 31, xiii. 1.

575