On the Catholic Faith
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On the Catholic Faith
Translated by H. F. Stewart and E. K. Rand
The Christian Faith is proclaimed by the authority of the New Testament and of the Old; but although the Old scripture contains within its pages the name of Christ and constantly gives token that He will come who we believe has already come by the birth of the Virgin, yet the diffusion of that faith throughout the world dates from the actual miraculous coming of our Saviour.
Now this our religion which is called Christian and Catholic is founded chiefly on the following assertions. From all eternity, that is, before the world was established, and so before all that is meant by time began, there has existed one divine substance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in such wise that we confess the Father God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God, and yet not three Gods but one God. Thus the Father hath the Son, begotten of His substance and coeternal with Himself after a manner that He alone knoweth, Him we confess to be Son in the sense that He is not the same as the Father. Nor has the Father ever been Son, for the human mind must not imagine a divine lineage stretching back into infinity; nor can the Son, being of the same nature in virtue of which He is coeternal with the Father, ever become Father, for the divine lineage must not stretch forward into infinity. But the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son, and therefore, albeit of the same divine nature, neither begotten, nor begetting, but proceeding as well from the Father as the Son. Yet what the manner of that Procession is we are no more able to state clearly than is the human mind able to understand the generation of the Son from the substance of the Father. But these articles are laid down for our belief by Old and New Testament. Concerning which fortress and citadel of our religion many men have spoken otherwise and have even impugned it, being moved by human, nay rather by carnal feeling. Arius, for instance, who, while calling the Son God, declares Him to be vastly inferior to the Father and of another substance. The Sabellians also have dared to affirm that there are not three separate Persons but only One, saying that the Father is the same as the Son and the Son the same as the Father and the Holy Spirit the same as the Father and the Son; and so declaring that there is but one divine Person expressed by different names.
The Manichśans, too, who allow two coeternal and contrary principles, do not believe in the Only begotten Son of God. For they consider it a thought unworthy of God that He should have a Son, since they entertain the very carnal reflection that inasmuch as human generation arises from the mingling of two bodies, it is unworthy to hold a notion of this sort in respect of the divine nature; whereas such a view finds no sanction in the Old Testament and absolutely none in the New. Yea, their error which refuses this notion also refuses the Virgin birth of the Son, because they would not have the Godís nature defiled by the manís body. But enough of this for the present; the points will be presented in the proper place as the proper arrangement demands.
The divine nature then, abiding from all eternity and unto all eternity without any change, by the exercise of a will known only to Himself, determined of Himself to form the world, and brought it into being when it was absolutely naught, nor did He produce it from His own substance, lest it should be thought divine by nature, nor did He form it after any model, lest it should be thought that anything had already come into being which helped His will by the existence of an independent nature, and that there should exist something that had not been made by Him and yet existed; but by His Word He brought forth the heavens, and created the earth that so He might make natures worthy of a place in heaven, and also fit earthly things to earth. But although in heaven all things are beautiful and arranged in due order, yet one part of the heavenly creation which is universally termed angelic, seeking more than nature and the Author of Nature had granted them, was cast forth from its heavenly habitation; and because the Creator did not wish the roll of the angels, that is of the heavenly city whose citizens the angels are, to be diminished, He formed man out of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life; He endowed him with reason, He adorned him with freedom of choice and established him in the joys of Paradise, making covenant aforehand that if he would remain without sin He would add him and his offspring to the angelic hosts; so that as the higher nature had fallen low through the curse of pride, the lower substance might ascend on high through the blessing of humility. But the father of envy, loath that man should climb to the place where he himself deserved not to remain, put temptation before him and the consort whom the Creator had brought forth out of his side for the continuance of the race, and laid them open to punishment for disobedience, promising man also the gift of Godhead, the arrogant attempt to seize which had caused his own fall. All this was revealed by God to His servant Moses, whom He vouchsafed to teach the creation and origin of man, as the books written by him declare. For the divine authority is always conveyed in one of the following waysóthe historical, which simply announces facts; the allegorical, whence historical matter is excluded; or else the two combined, history and allegory conspiring to establish it. All this is abundantly evident to pious hearers and steadfast believers.
But to return to the order of our discourse; the first man, before sin came, dwelt with his consort in the Garden. But when he hearkened to the voice of his wife and failed to keep the commandment of his Creator, he was banished, bidden to till the ground, and being shut out from the sheltering garden he carried abroad into unknown regions the children of his loins; by begetting whom he transmitted to those that came after, the punishment which he, the first man, had incurred by the sin of disobedience. Hence it came to pass that corruption both of body and soul ensued, and death; and this he was to taste first in his own son Abel, in order that he might learn through his child the greatness of the punishment that was laid upon him. For if he had died first he would in some sense not have known, and if one may so say not have felt, his punishment; but he tasted it in another in order that he might perceive the due reward of his contempt, and, doomed to death himself, might be the more sensibly touched by the apprehension of it. But this curse that came of transgression which the first man had by natural propagation transmitted to posterity, was denied by one Pelagius who so set up the heresy which goes by his name and which the Catholic faith, as is known, at once banished from its bosom. So the human race that sprang from the first man and mightily increased and multiplied, broke into strife, stirred up wars, and became the heir of earthly misery, because it had lost the joys of Paradise in its first parent. Yet were there not a few of mankind whom the Giver of Grace set apart for Himself and who were obedient to His will; and though by desert of nature they were condemned, yet God by making them partakers in the hidden mystery, long afterwards to be revealed, vouchsafed to recover fallen nature. So the earth was filled by the human race and man who by his own wanton wilfulness had despised his Creator began to walk in his own ways. Hence God willing rather to recover mankind through one just man than that it should remain for ever contumacious, suffered all the guilty multitude to perish by the wide waters of a flood, save only Noah, the just one, with his children and all that he had brought with him into the ark. The reason why He wished to save the just by an ark of wood is known to all hearts learned in the Holy Scriptures. Thus what we may call the first age of the world was ended by the avenging flood.
Thus the human race was restored, and yet it hastened to make its own the vice of nature with which the first author of transgression had infected it. And the wickedness increased which had once been punished by the waters of the flood, and man who had been suffered to live for a long series of years was reduced to the brief span of ordinary human life. Yet would not God again visit the race by a flood, but rather, letting it continue, He chose from it men of whose line a generation should arise out of which He might in the last days grant us His own Son to come to us, clothed in human form. Of these men Abraham is the first, and although he was stricken in years and his wife past bearing, they had in their old age the reward of a son in fulfilment of promise unconditional. This son was named Isaac and he begat Jacob, who in his turn begat the twelve Patriarchs, God not reckoning in their number those whom nature in its ordinary course produced. This Jacob, then, together with his sons and his household determined to dwell in Egypt for the purpose of trafficking; and the multitude of them increasing there in the course of many years began to be a cause of suspicion to the Egyptian rulers, and Pharaoh ordered them to be oppressed by exceeding heavy tasks and afflicted them with grievous burdens. At length God, minded to set at naught the tyranny of the king of Egypt, divided the Red Seaóa marvel such as nature had never known beforeóand brought forth His host by the hands of Moses and Aaron. Thereafter on account of their departure Egypt was vexed with sore plagues, because they would not let the people go. So, after crossing the Red Sea, as I have told, they passed through the desert of the wilderness and came to the mount which is called Sinai, where God the Creator of all, wishing to prepare the nations for the knowledge of the sacrament to come, laid down by a law given through Moses how both the rites of sacrifices and the national customs should be ordered. And after fighting down many tribes in many years amidst their journeyings they came at last to the river called Jordan, with Joshua the son of Nun now as their captain, and, for their crossing, the streams of Jordan were dried up as the waters of the Red Sea had been; so they finished their course to that city which is now called Jerusalem. And while the people of God abode there we read that there were set up first judges and prophets and then kings, of whom we read that after Saul, David of the tribe of Judah ascended the throne. So from him the royal race descended from father to son and lasted till the days of Herod who, we read, was the first taken out of the peoples called Gentile to bear sway. In whose days rose up the blessed Virgin Mary, sprung from the stock of David, she who bore the Maker of the human race. But it was just because the whole world lay dead, stained with its many sins, that God chose out one race in which His commands might shine clear; sending it prophets and other holy men, to the end that by their warnings that people at least might be cured of their swollen pride. But they slew these holy men and chose rather to abide in their wanton wickedness.
And now at the last days of time, in place of prophets and other men well-pleasing to Him, God willed that His only-begotten Son should be born of a Virgin that so the salvation of mankind which had been lost through the disobedience of the first man might be recovered by the God-man, and that inasmuch as it was a woman who had first persuaded man to that which wrought death there should be this second woman who should bring forth from a human womb Him who gives Life. Nor let it be deemed a thing unworthy that the Son of God was born of a Virgin, for it was out of the course of nature that He was conceived and brought to birth. Virgin then she conceived, by the Holy Spirit, the Son of God made flesh, Virgin she bore Him, Virgin she continued after His birth; and He became the Son of Man and likewise the Son of God that in Him the glory of the divine nature might shine forth and at the same time the human weakness be declared which He took upon Him. Yet against this article of Faith so wholesome and altogether true there rose up many who babbled other doctrine, and especially Nestorius and Eutyches, inventors of heresy, of whom the one thought fit to say that He was man alone, the other that He was God alone and that the human body put on by Christ had not come by participation in human substance. But enough on this point.
So Christ grew after the flesh, and was baptized in order that He who was to give the form of baptism to others should first Himself receive what He taught. But after His baptism He chose twelve disciples, one of whom betrayed Him. And because the people of the Jews would not bear sound doctrine they laid hands upon Him and slew and crucified Him. Christ, then, was slain; He lay three days and three nights in the tomb; He rose again from the dead as He had predetermined with His Father before the foundation of the world; He ascended into heaven whence we know that He was never absent, because He is Son of God, in order that as Son of God He might raise together with Him to the heavenly habitation man whose flesh He had assumed, whom the devil had hindered from ascending to the places on high. Therefore He bestowed on His disciples the form of baptizing, the saving truth of the teaching, and the mighty power of miracles, and bade them go throughout the whole world to give it life, in order that the message of salvation might be preached no longer in one nation only but among all the dwellers upon earth. And because the human race was wounded by the weapon of eternal punishment by reason of the nature which they had inherited from the first transgressor and could not win a full meed of salvation because they had lost it in its first parent, God instituted certain health-giving sacraments to teach the difference between what grace bestowed and human nature deserved, nature simply subjecting to punishment, but grace, which is won by no merit, since it would not be grace if it were due to merit, conferring all that belongs to salvation.
Therefore is that heavenly instruction spread throughout the world, the peoples are knit together, churches are founded, and, filling the broad earth, one body formed, whose head, even Christ, ascended into heaven in order that the members might of necessity follow where the Head was gone. Thus this teaching both inspires this present life unto good works, and promises that in the end of the age our bodies shall rise incorruptible to the kingdom of heaven, to the end that he who has lived well on earth by Godís gift should be altogether blessed in that resurrection, but he who has lived amiss should, with the gift of resurrection, enter upon misery. And this is a first principle of our religion, to believe not only that menís souls do not perish, but that their very bodies, which the coming of death had destroyed, recover their first state by the bliss that is to be. This Catholic church, then, spread throughout the world, is known by three particular marks: whatever is believed and taught in it has the authority of the Scriptures, or of universal tradition, or at least of its own and proper usage. And this authority is binding on the whole Church as is also the universal tradition of the Fathers, while each separate church exists and is governed by its private constitution and its proper rites according to difference of locality and the good judgment of each. All, therefore, that the faithful now expect is that the end of the world will come, that all corruptible things shall pass away, that men shall rise for future judgement, that each shall receive reward according to his deserts and abide in the lot assigned to him for ever and for aye; and the sole reward of bliss will be the contemplation of the Almighty, so far, that is, as the creature may look on the Creator, to the end that the number of the angels may be made up from these and the heavenly city filled where the Virginís Son is King and where will be everlasting joy, delight, food, labour, and unending praise of the Creator.
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