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Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love
by Saint Augustine


CHAPTER XXI

PROBLEMS OF CASUISTRY

78. What sins are trivial and what are grave, however, is not for human but

for divine judgment to determine. For we see that, in respect of some sins, even the

apostle, by pardoning them, has conceded this point. Such a case is seen in what the

venerable Paul says to married folks: "Do not deprive one another, except by

consent for a time to give yourselves to prayer, and then return together lest Satan

tempt you at the point of self-control."173 One could consider that it is not a sin for a

married couple to have intercourse, not only for the sake of procreating children--

which is the good of marriage--but also for the sake of the carnal pleasure involved.

Thus, those whose self-control is weak could avoid fornication, or adultery, and

other kinds of impurity too shameful to name, into which their lust might drag them

through Satan's tempting. Therefore one could, as I said, consider this not a sin, had

the apostle not added, "But I say this as a concession, not as a rule." Who, then,

denies that it is a sin when he agrees that apostolic authority for doing it is given

only by "concession"?

Another such case is seen where he says, "Dare any of you, having a case

against another, bring it to be judged before the unrighteous and not the saints?"174

And a bit later: "If, therefore, you have cases concerning worldly things," he says,

"you appoint those who are contemptible in the Church's eyes. I say this to shame

you. Can it be that there is not a wise man among you, who could judge between his

brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that in the presence of

unbelievers."175 And here it might be thought that it was not a sin to bring suit

against a brother, and that the only sin consisted in wishing it judged outside the

Church, if the apostle had not added immediately, "Now therefore the whole fault

among you is that you have lawsuits with one another."176 Then, lest someone

excuse himself on this point by saying that he had a just cause and was suffering

injustice which he wished removed by judicial sentence, the apostle directly resists

such thoughts and excuses by saying: "Why not rather suffer iniquity? Why not

rather be defrauded?"177 Thus we are brought back to that saying of the Lord: "If

anyone would take your tunic and contend in court with you, let go your cloak

also."178 And in another place: "If a man takes away your goods, seek them not

back."179 Thus, he forbids his own to go to court with other men in secular suits.

And it is because of this teaching that the apostle says that this kind of action is "a

fault." Still, when he allows such suits to be decided in the Church, brothers judging

brothers, yet sternly forbids such a thing outside the Church, it is clear that some

concession is being made here for the infirmities of the weak.

Because of these and similar sins--and of others even less than these, such as

offenses in words and thoughts--and because, as the apostle James confesses, "we

all offend in many things,"180 it behooves us to pray to the Lord daily and often, and

say, "Forgive us our debts," and not lie about what follows this petition, "As we also

forgive our debtors."

172Ps. 58:11 (Vulgate); cf. Ps. 59:10 (R.S.V.).

173I Cor. 7:5 (mixed text).

174I Cor. 6:1.

175I Cor. 6:4-6.

176I Cor. 6:7a.

177I Cor. 6:7b.

178Matt. 5:40.

179Luke 6:30.

180James 3:2 (Vulgate).


79. There are, however, some sins that could be deemed quite trifling if the

Scriptures did not show that they are more serious than we think. For who would

suppose that one saying to his brother, "You fool," is "in danger of hell-fire," if the

Truth had not said it? Still, for the hurt he immediately supplied a medicine, adding

the precept of brotherly reconciliation: "If, therefore, you are offering a gift at the

altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you,"181 etc.

Or who would think how great a sin it is to observe days and months and

years and seasons--as those people do who will or will not begin projects on certain

days or in certain months or years, because they follow vain human doctrines and

suppose that various seasons are lucky or unlucky--if we did not infer the

magnitude of this evil from the apostle's fear, in saying to such men, "I fear for you,

lest perhaps I have labored among you in vain"182?

80. To this one might add those sins, however grave and terrible, which,

when they come to be habitual, are then believed to be trivial or no sins at all. And

so far does this go that such sins are not only not kept secret, but are even

proclaimed and published abroad--cases of which it is written, "The sinner is

praised in the desires of his soul; and he that works iniquity is blessed."183

In the divine books such iniquity is called a "cry" (clamor). You have such a

usage in the prophet Isaiah's reference to the evil vineyard: "I looked that he should

perform justice, yet he did iniquity; not justice but a cry."184 So also is that passage

in Genesis: "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is multiplied,"185 for among these

people such crimes were not only unpunished, but were openly committed, as if

sanctioned by law.

So also in our times so many evils, even if not like those [of old], have come to

be public customs that we not only do not dare excommunicate a layman; we do not

dare degrade a clergyman for them. Thus, several years ago, when I was

expounding the Epistle to the Galatians, where the apostle says, "I fear for you, lest

perchance I have labored in vain among you," I was moved to exclaim: "Woe to the

sins of men! We shrink from them only when we are not accustomed to them. As for

those sins to which we are accustomed--although the blood of the Son of God was

shed to wash them away--although they are so great that the Kingdom of God is

wholly closed to them, yet, living with them often we come to tolerate them, and,

tolerating them, we even practice some of them! But grant, O Lord, that we do not

practice any of them which we could prohibit!" I shall someday know whether

immoderate indignation moved me here to speak rashly.









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