On Baptism, Against The Donatists

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

NPNF (V1-04)

Philip Schaff

unity of the Church before the time of the final separation of the just and unjust, merely because
of the admixture of evil men in the Church, when he makes it manifest how holy he was, and
deserving of the illustrious martyrdom which he won, he says, "What swelling of arrogance it is,
what forgetfulness of humility and gentleness, that any one should dare or believe that he can do
what the Lord did not grant even to the apostles,—to think that he can distinguish the tares from
the wheat, or, as if it were granted to him to carry the fan and purge the floor, to endeavor to separate
the chaff from the grain! And whereas the apostle says, ‘But in a great house there are not only
vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth,’1408 that he should seem to choose those
of gold and of silver, and despise and cast away and condemn those of wood and of earth, when
really the vessels of wood are only to be burned in the day of the Lord by the burning of the divine
conflagration, and those of earth are to be broken by Him to whom the ‘rod of iron1409 has been
given.’"1410 By this argument, therefore, against those who, under the pretext of avoiding the society
of wicked men, had severed themselves from the unity of the Church, Cyprian shows that by the
great house of which the apostle spoke, in which there were not only vessels of gold and of silver,
but also of wood and of earth, he understood nothing else but the Church, in which there should
be good and bad, till at the last day it should be cleansed as a threshing-floor by the winnowing-fan.
And if this be so, in the Church herself, that is, in the great house itself, there were vessels to
dishonor, whose word did spread like a canker. For the apostle, speaking of them, taught as follows:
"And their word," he says, "will spread as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus; who
concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith
of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth
them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But
in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth."1411
If, therefore, they whose words did spread as doth a canker were as it were vessels to dishonor in
the great house, and by that "great house" Cyprian understands the unity of the Church itself, surely
it cannot be that their canker polluted the baptism of Christ. Accordingly, neither without, any
more than within, can any one who is of the devil’s party, either in himself or in any other person,
stain the sacrament which is of Christ. It is not, therefore, the case that "the word which spreads
as a canker to the ears of those who hear it gives remission of sins;"1412 but when baptism is given
in the words of the gospel, however great be the perverseness of understanding on the part either

Rome. To overthrow the effect upon A. of this letter, Cyprian wrote Epistle LV. In Ep LXX., A. is of the number of those
Numidian bishops whom Cyprian addresses.

2 Tim. ii. 20.


Ps. ii. 9.


Cypr. Ep. lv. 25.


2 Tim. ii. 17-20.


Cypr. Ep. lxxiii. 15.