Theological Virtues Per St Augustine, Doctor of the Church, Bishop of Hippo (354-430AD)
Faith cont. Chapters (78-83)
Chapter 78. What Sins are Trivial and What Heinous is a Matter for God’s Judgment.
Now, what sins are trivial and what heinous is not a matter to be decided by man’s judgment, but by the judgment of God. For it is plain that the apostles themselves have given an indulgence in the case of certain sins: take, for example, what the Apostle Paul says to those who are married: Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer: and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.(1Cor7:1-7).
Now it is possible that it might not have been considered a sin to have intercourse with a spouse, not with a view to the procreation of children, which is the great blessing of marriage, but for the sake of carnal pleasure, and to save the incontinent from being led by their weakness into the deadly sin of fornication, or adultery, or another form of uncleanness which it is shameful even to name, and into which it is possible that they might be drawn by lust under the temptation of Satan. (1Cor7:6)
It is possible, I say, that this might not have been considered a sins, had the apostle not added: But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. Who, then, can deny that it is a sin, when confessedly it is only by apostolic authority that permission is granted to those who do it? Another case of the same kind is where he says: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” (1Cor6:1-7) And shortly afterwards: “If then you have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.” (1Cor6:1-7) Now it might have been supposed in this case that it is not a sin to have a quarrel with another, that the only sin is in wishing to have it adjudicated upon outside the Church, had not the apostle immediately added: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another. And lest any one should excuse himself by saying that he had a just cause, and was suffering wrong, and that he only wished the sentence of the judges to remove his wrong,” the apostle immediately anticipates such thoughts and excuses, and says: “Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”(1Cor6:4) Thus bringing us back to our Lord’s saying, ” If any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also;“(Mt5:40) and again,“Of him that takes away your goods, ask them not again.”(Lk6:30).
Therefore our Lord has forbidden His followers to go to law with other men about worldly affairs.
And carrying out this principle, the apostle here declares that to do so is altogether a fault. But when, notwithstanding, he grants his permission to have such cases between brethren decided in the Church, other brethren adjudicating, and only sternly forbids them to be carried outside the Church, it is manifest that here again an indulgence is extended to the infirmities of the weak. It is in view, then, of these sins, and others of the same sort, and of others again more trifling still, which consist of offenses in words and thought [as the Apostle James confesses, “In many things we offend all (Jas3:2) ], that we need to pray every day and often to the Lord, saying, Forgive us our debts, and to add in truth and sincerity, as we forgive our debtors.(Mt6:12)
Chapter 79. Sins Which Appear Very Trifling, are Sometimes in Reality Very Serious.
Again, there are some sins which would be considered very trifling, if the Scriptures did not show that they are really very serious. For who would suppose that the man who says to his brother, You fool, is in danger of hell-fire did not He who is the Truth say so? To the wound, however, He immediately applies the cure, giving a rule for reconciliation with one’s offended brother: Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way: “first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.“(Mt5:24) Again, who would suppose that it was so great a sin to observe days, and months, and times, and years, as those do who are anxious or unwilling to begin anything on certain days, or in certain months or years, because the vain doctrines of men lead them to think such times lucky or unlucky, had we not the means of estimating the greatness of the evil from the fear expressed by the apostle, who says to such men, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain?” (Gal4:11)
Chapter 80. Sins, However Great and Detestable, Seem Trivial When We are Accustomed to Them.
Add to this, that sins, however great and detestable they may be, are looked upon as trivial, or as not sins at all, when men get accustomed to them; and so far does this go, that such sins are not only not concealed, but are boasted of, and published far and wide; and thus, as it is written, The wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and blesses the covetous, whom the Lord abhors. Iniquity of this kind is in Scripture called a cry. You have an instance in the prophet Isaiah, in the case of the evil vineyard: He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Is5:7) Whence also the expression in Genesis: (Gn18:20-21)
Temporibus / Nostra Aetate / In our Age
“The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great,
(Gn18:20-21) because in these cities crimes were not only not punished, but were openly committed, as if under the protection of the law. And so in our own times: many forms of sin, though not just the same as those of Sodom and Gomorrah, are now so openly and habitually practiced, that not only dare we not excommunicate a layman, we dare not even degrade a clergyman for the commission of them. So that when, a few years ago, I was expounding the Epistle to the Galatians, in commenting on that very place where the apostle says, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed labor upon you in vain, I was compelled to exclaim, Woe to the sins of men!” (Gal4:11)
[City asks, Still nothing new under the sun? (Eccl1:9)]
For it is only when we are not accustomed to them that we shrink from them: when once we are accustomed to them, though the blood of the Son of God was poured out to wash them away, though they are so great that the kingdom of God is wholly shut against them, constant familiarity leads to the toleration of them all, and habitual toleration leads to the practice of many of them. And grant, O Lord, that we may not come to practice all that we have not the power to hinder. But I shall see whether the extravagance of grief did not betray me into rashness of speech.
Chapter 81. There are Two Causes of Sin, Ignorance and Weakness; And We Need Divine Help to Overcome Both.
I shall now say this, which I have often said before in other places of my works. There are two causes that lead to sin: either we do not yet know our duty, or we do not perform the duty that we know. The former is the sin of ignorance, the latter of weakness. Now against these it is our duty to struggle; but we shall certainly be beaten in the fight, unless we are helped by God, not only to see our duty, but also, when we clearly see it, to make the love of righteousness stronger in us than the love love of earthly things, the eager longing after which, or the fear of losing which, leads us with our eyes open into known sin. In the latter case we are not only sinners, for we are so even when we err through ignorance, but we are also transgressors of the law; for we leave undone what we know we ought to do, and we do what we know ought not to do. Wherefore not only ought we to pray for pardon when we have sinned, saying,Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; (Mt6:12) but we ought to pray for guidance, that we may be kept from sinning, saying, and lead us not into temptation. And we are to pray to Him of whom the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation: my light, for He removes my ignorance; my salvation, for He takes away my infirmity.” [Ps27:1; Mic7:9; Is49:6]
Chapter 82. The Mercy of God is Necessary to True Repentance.
Now even penance itself, when by the law of the Church there is sufficient reason for its being gone through, is frequently evaded through infirmity; for shame is the fear of losing pleasure when the good opinion of men gives more pleasure than the righteousness which leads a man to humble himself in penitence. Wherefore the mercy of God is necessary not only when a man repents, but even to lead him to repent. How else explain what the apostle says of certain persons: if God perhaps will give them repentance? And before Peter wept bitterly, we are told by the evangelist, The Lord turned, and looked upon him.
Chapter 83. The Man Who Despises the Mercy of God is Guilty of the Sin Against the Holy Ghost.
Now the man who, not believing that sins are remitted in the Church, despises this great gift of God’s mercy, and persists to the last day of his life in his obstinacy of heart, is guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost in whom Christ forgives sins. But this difficult question, I have discussed as clearly as I could in a book devoted exclusively to this one point.