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Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love
by Saint Augustine


CHAPTER XVII

FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN THE CHURCH

64. The angels are in concord with us even now, when our sins are forgiven.

Therefore, in the order of the Creed, after the reference to "holy Church" is placed

the reference to "forgiveness of sins." For it is by this that the part of the Church on

earth stands; it is by this that "what was lost and is found again"132 is not lost

again. Of course, the gift of baptism is an exception. It is an antidote given us

against original sin, so that what is contracted by birth is removed by the new birth-

-though it also takes away actual sins as well, whether of heart, word, or deed. But

except for this great remission--the beginning point of a man's renewal, in which all

guilt, inherited and acquired, is washed away--the rest of life, from the age of

accountability (and no matter how vigorously we progress in righteousness), is not

without the need for the forgiveness of sins. This is the case because the sons of

127Cf. Eph. 1:10.

128Col. 1:19, 20.

129Cf. I Cor. 13:9, 12

130Cf. Luke 20:36.

131I Cor. 13:12.

132Cf. Luke 15:24.


God, as long as they live this mortal life, are in a conflict with death. And although

it is truly said of them, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of

God,"133 yet even as they are being led by the Spirit of God and, as sons of God,

advance toward God, they are also being led by their own spirits so that, weighed

down by the corruptible body and influenced by certain human feelings, they thus

fall away from themselves and commit sin. But it matters how much. Although

every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime. Thus we can say of the life of holy men

even while they live in this mortality, that they are found without crime. "But if we

say that we have no sin," as the great apostle says, "we deceive even ourselves, and

the truth is not in us."134

65. Nevertheless, no matter how great our crimes, their forgiveness should

never be despaired of in holy Church for those who truly repent, each according to

the measure of his sin. And, in the act of repentance,135 where a crime has been

committed of such gravity as also to cut off the sinner from the body of Christ, we

should not consider the measure of time as much as the measure of sorrow. For, "a

contrite and humbled heart God will not despise."136

Still, since the sorrow of one heart is mostly hid from another, and does not

come to notice through words and other such signs--even when it is plain to Him of

whom it is said, "My groaning is not hid from thee"137--times of repentance have

been rightly established by those set over the churches, that satisfaction may also

be made in the Church, in which the sins are forgiven. For, of course, outside her

they are not forgiven. For she alone has received the pledge of the Holy Spirit,138

without whom there is no forgiveness of sins. Those forgiven thus obtain life

everlasting.

66. Now the remission of sins has chiefly to do with the future judgment. In

this life the Scripture saying holds true: "A heavy yoke is on the sons of Adam, from

the day they come forth from their mother's womb till the day of their burial in the

mother of us all."139 Thus we see even infants, after the washing of regeneration,

tortured by divers evil afflictions. This helps us to understand that the whole import

of the sacraments of salvation has to do more with the hope of future goods than

with the retaining or attaining of present goods.

Indeed, many sins seem to be ignored and go unpunished; but their

punishment is reserved for the future. It is not in vain that the day when the Judge

of the living and the dead shall come is rightly called the Day of Judgment. Just so,

on the other hand, some sins are punished here, and, if they are forgiven, will

certainly bring no harm upon us in the future age. Hence, referring to certain

temporal punishments, which are visited upon sinners in this life, the apostle,

speaking to those whose sins are blotted out and not reserved to the end, says: "For

if we judge ourselves truly we should not be judged by the Lord. But when we are

judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we may not be condemned along with this

world."140

133Rom. 8:14.

134I John 1:8.

135In actione poenitentiae; cf. Luther's similar conception of poenitentiam agite in the 95 Theses and

in De poenitentia.

136Ps. 51:17.

137Ps. 38:9.

138II Cor. 1:22.

139Ecclus. 40:1 (Vulgate).

140I Cor. 11:31, 32.









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