On Baptism, Against The Donatists

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

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Philip Schaff

matter which either embraced the whole Church, or at least represented our brethren beyond the
sea.1245 But such a Council had not yet been held, because the whole world was bound together by
the powerful bond of custom; and this was deemed sufficient to oppose to those who wished to
introduce what was new, because they could not comprehend the truth. Afterwards, however, while
the question became matter for discussion and investigation amongst many on either side, the new
practice was not only invented, but even submitted to the authority and power of a plenary
Council,—after the martyrdom of Cyprian, it is true, but before we were born.1246 But that this was
indeed the custom of the Church, which afterwards was confirmed by a plenary Council, in which
the truth was brought to light, and many difficulties cleared away, is plain enough from the words
of the blessed Cyprian himself in that same letter to Jubaianus, which was quoted as being read in
the Council.1247 For he says, "But some one asks, What then will be done in the case of those who,
coming out of heresy to the Church, have already been admitted without baptism?" where certainly
he shows plainly enough what was usually done, though he would have wished it otherwise; and
in the very fact of his quoting the Council of Agrippinus, he clearly proves that the custom of the
Church was different. Nor indeed was it requisite that he should seek to establish the practice by
this Council, if it was already sanctioned by custom; and in the Council itself some of the speakers
expressly declare, in giving their opinion, that they went against the custom of the Church in deciding
what they thought was right. Wherefore let the Donatists consider this one point, which surely
none can fail to see, that if the authority of Cyprian is to be followed, it is to be followed rather in
maintaining unity than in altering the custom of the Church; but if respect is paid to his Council,
it must at any rate yield place to the later Council of the universal Church, of which he rejoiced to
be a member, often warning his associates that they should all follow his example in upholding the
coherence of the whole body. For both later Councils are preferred among later generations to
those of earlier date; and the whole is always, with good reason, looked upon as superior to the
parts.

1245

Transmarinum vel universale Concilium.

1246

The plenary Council, on whose authority Augustin relies in many places in this work, was either that of Arles, in 314
A.D., or of Nicæa, in 325 A.D., both of them being before his birth, in 354 A.D. He quotes the decision of the same council,
contra Parmenianum, ii. 13, 30; de Hæresibus 69: Ep. xliii. 7, 19. Contra Parmenianum, iii. 4, 21: "They condemned," he
says, "some few in Africa, by whom they were in turn vanquished by the judgment of the whole world;" and he adds, that "the
Catholics trusted ecclesiastical judges like these in preference to the defeated parties in the suit." Ib. 6, 30: He says that the
Donatists, "having made a schism in the unity of the Church, were refuted, not by the authority of 310 African bishops, but by
that of the whole world." And in the sixth chapter of the first book of the same treatise, he says that the Donatists, after the
decision at Arles, came again to Constantine, and there were defeated "by a final decision," i.e. at Milan, as is seen from Ep.
xliii. 7, 20, in the year 316 A.D. Substance of note in Benedictine ed. reproduced in Migne.

1247

See above, ch. ii. 3.

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