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Home > Fathers of the Church > Contra Faustum (Augustine) > Book VI

Contra Faustum, Book VI

Faustus avows his disbelief in the Old Testament and his disregard of its precepts, and accuses Catholics of inconsistency in neglecting its ordinances, while claiming to accept it as authoritative. Augustine explains the Catholic view of the relation of the Old Testament to the New.

1. Faustus said: You ask if I believe the Old Testament. Of course not, for I do not keep its precepts. Neither, I imagine, do you. I reject circumcision as disgusting; and if I mistake not, so do you. I reject the observance of Sabbaths as superfluous: I suppose you do the same. I reject sacrifice as idolatry, as doubtless you also do. Swine's flesh is not the only flesh I abstain from; nor is it the only flesh you eat. I think all flesh unclean: you think none unclean. Both alike, in these opinions, throw over the Old Testament. We both look upon the weeks of unleavened bread and the feast of tabernacles as unnecessary and useless. Not to patch linen garments with purple; to count it adultery to make a garment of linen and wool; to call it sacrilege to yoke together an ox and an ass when necessary; not to appoint as priest a bald man, or a man with red hair, or any similar peculiarity, as being unclean in the sight of God, are things which we both despise and laugh at, and rank as of neither first nor second importance; and yet they are all precepts and judgments of the Old Testament. You cannot blame me for rejecting the Old Testament; for whether it is right or wrong to do so, you do it as much as I. As for the difference between your faith and mine, it is this, that while you choose to act deceitfully, and meanly to praise in words what in your heart you hate, I, not having learned the art of deception, frankly declare that I hate both these abominable precepts and their authors.

2. Augustine replied: How and for what purpose the Old Testament is received by the heirs of the New Testament has been already explained. But as the remarks of Faustus were then about the promises of the Old Testament, and now he speaks of the precepts, I reply that he displays ignorance of the difference between moral and symbolic precepts. For example, "You shall not covet" is a moral precept; "You shall circumcise every male on the eighth day" is a symbolic precept. From not making this distinction, the Manichæans, and all who find fault with the writings of the Old Testament, not seeing that whatever observance God appointed for the former dispensation was a shadow of future things, because these observances are now discontinued, condemn them, though no doubt what is unsuitable now was perfectly suitable then as prefiguring the things now revealed. In this they contradict the apostle who says, "All these things happened to them for an example, and they were written for our learning, on whom the end of the world has come." 1 Corinthians 10:6 The apostle here explains why these writings are to be received, and why it is no longer necessary to continue the symbolic observances. For when he says, "They were written for our learning," he clearly shows that we should be very diligent in reading and in discovering the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures, and that we should have great veneration for them, since it was for us that they were written. Again, when he says, "They are our examples," and "these things happened to them for an example," he shows that, now that the things themselves are clearly revealed, the observance of the actions by which these things were prefigured is no longer binding. So he says elsewhere, "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the sabbath-days, which are a shadow of things to come." Colossians 2:16-17 Here also, when he says, "Let no one judge you" in these things, he shows that we are no longer bound to observe them. And when he says, "which are a shadow of things to come," he explains how these observances were binding at the time when the things fully disclosed to us were symbolized by these shadows of future things.

3. Assuredly, if the Manichæans were justified by the resurrection of the Lord,— the day of whose resurrection, the third after His passion, was the eighth day, coming after the Sabbath, that is, after the seventh day—their carnal minds would be delivered from the darkness of earthly passions which rests on them; and rejoicing in the circumcision of the heart, they would not ridicule it as prefigured in the Old Testament by circumcision in the flesh, although they should not enforce this observance under the New Testament. But, as the apostle says, "To the pure all things are pure. But to the impure and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and conscience are defiled." Titus 1:15 So these people, who are so pure in their own eyes, that they regard, or pretend to regard, as impure these members of their bodies, are so defiled with unbelief and error, that, while they abhor the circumcision of the flesh—which the apostle calls a seal of the righteousness of faith—they believe that the divine members of their God are subjected to restraint and contamination in these very carnal members of theirs. For they say that flesh is unclean; and it follows that God, in the part which is detained by the flesh, is made unclean: for they declare that He must be cleansed, and that till this is done, as far as it can be done, He undergoes all the passions to which flesh is subject, not only in suffering pain and distress, but also in sensual gratification. For it is for His sake, they say, that they abstain from sexual intercourse, that He may not be bound more closely in the bondage of the flesh, nor suffer more defilement. The apostle says, "To the pure all things are pure." And if this is true of men, who may be led into evil by a perverse will, how much more must all things be pure to God, who remains for ever immutable and immaculate! In those books which you defile with your violent reproaches, it is said of the divine wisdom, that "no defiled thing falls into it, and it goes everywhere by reason of its pureness." Wisdom 7:24-25 It is mere prurient absurdity to find fault with the sign of human regeneration appointed by that God, to whom all things are pure, to be put on the organ of human generation, while you hold that your God, to whom nothing is pure, is in a part of his nature subjected to taint and corruption by the vicious actions in which impure men employ the members of their body. For if you think there is pollution in conjugal intercourse, what must there be in all the practices of the licentious? If you ask, then, as you often do, whether God could not find some other way of sealing the righteousness of faith, the answer is, Why not this way, since all things are pure to the pure, much more to God? And we have the authority of the apostle for saying that circumcision was the seal of the righteousness of the faith of Abraham. As for you, you must try not to blush when you are asked whether your God had nothing better to do than to entangle part of his nature with these members that you revile so much. These are delicate subjects to speak of, on account of the penal corruption attending the propagation of man. They are things which call into exercise the modesty of the chaste, the passions of the impure, and the justice of God.

4. The rest of the Sabbath we consider no longer binding as an observance, now that the hope of our eternal rest has been revealed. But it is a very useful thing to read of, and to reflect on. In prophetic times, when things now manifested were prefigured and predicted by actions as well as words, this sign of which we read was a presage of the reality which we possess. But I wish to know why you observe a sort of partial rest. The Jews, on their Sabbath, which they still keep in a carnal manner, neither gather any fruit in the field, nor dress and cook it at home. But you, in your rest, wait till one of your followers takes his knife or hook to the garden, to get food for you by murdering the vegetables, and brings back, strange to say, living corpses. For if cutting plants is not murder, why are you afraid to do it? And yet, if the plants are murdered, what becomes of the life which is to obtain release and restoration from your mastication and digestion? Well, you take the living vegetables, and certainly you ought, if it could be done to swallow them whole; so that after the one wound your follower has been guilty of inflicting in pulling them, of which you will no doubt consent to absolve him, they may reach without loss or injury your private laboratory, where your God may be healed of his wound. Instead of this, you not only tear them with your teeth, but, if it pleases your taste, mince them, inflicting a multitude of wounds in the most criminal manner. Plainly it would be a most advantageous thing if you would rest at home too, and not only once a week, like the Jews, but every day of the week. The cucumbers suffer while you are cooking them, without any benefit to the life that is in them: for a boiling pot cannot be compared to a saintly stomach. And yet you ridicule as superfluous the rest of the Sabbath. Would it not be better, not only to refrain from finding fault with the fathers for this observance, in whose case it was not superfluous, but, even now that it is superfluous, to observe this rest yourselves instead of your own, which has no symbolic use, and is condemned as grounded on falsehood? According to your own foolish opinions, you are guilty of a defective observance of your own rest, though the observance itself is foolish in the judgment of truth. You maintain that the fruit suffers when it is pulled from the tree, when it is cut and scraped, and cooked, and eaten. So you are wrong in eating anything that can not be swallowed raw and unhurt, so that the wound inflicted might not be from you, but from your follower in pulling them. You declare that you could not give release to so great a quantity of life, if you were to eat only things which could be swallowed without cooking or mastication. But if this release compensates for all the pains you inflict, why is it unlawful for you to pull the fruit? Fruit may be eaten raw, as some of your sect make a point of eating raw vegetables of all kinds. But before it can be eaten at all, it must be pulled or fall off, or be taken in some way from the ground or from the tree. You might well be pardoned for pulling it, since nothing can be done without that, but not for torturing the members of your God to the extent you do in dressing your food. One of your silly notions is that the tree weeps when the fruit is pulled. Doubtless the life in the tree knows all things, and perceives who it is that comes to it. If the elect were to come and pull the fruit, would not the tree rejoice to escape the misery of having its fruit plucked by others, and to gain felicity by enduring a little momentary pain? And yet, while you multiply the pains and troubles of the fruit after it is plucked, you will not pluck it. Explain that, if you can! Fasting itself is a mistake in your case. There should be no intermission in the task of purging away the dross of the excrements from the spiritual gold, and of releasing the divine members from confinement. The most merciful man among you is he who keeps himself always in good health, takes raw food, and eats a great deal. But you are cruel when you eat, in making your food undergo so much suffering; and you are cruel when you fast, in desisting from the work of liberating the divine members.

5. With all this, you venture to denounce the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and to call them idolatry, and to attribute to us the same impious notion. To answer for ourselves in the first place, while we consider it no longer a duty to offer sacrifices, we recognize sacrifices as part of the mysteries of Revelation, by which the things prophesied were foreshadowed. For they were our examples, and in many and various ways they all pointed to the one sacrifice which we now commemorate. Now that this sacrifice has been revealed, and has been offered in due time, sacrifice is no longer binding as an act of worship, while it retains its symbolic authority. For these things "were written for our learning, upon whom the end of the world has come." 1 Corinthians 10:11 What you object to in sacrifice is the slaughter of animals, though the whole animal creation is intended conditionally in some way for the use of man. You are merciful to beasts, believing them to contain the souls of human beings, while you refuse a piece of bread to a hungry beggar. The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, was cruel to the swine when He granted the request of the devils to be allowed to enter into them. Matthew 8:32 The same Lord Jesus, before the sacrifice of His passion, said to a leper whom He had cured, "Go, show yourself to the priest, and give the offering, as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." Luke 5:14 When God, by the prophets, repeatedly declares that He needs no offering, as indeed reason teaches us that offerings cannot be needed by Him who stands in need of nothing, the human mind is led to inquire what God wished to teach us by these sacrifices. For, assuredly, He would not have required offerings of which He had no need, except to teach us something that it would profit us to know, and which was suitably set forth by means of these symbols. How much better and more honorable it would be for you to be still bound by these sacrifices, which have an instructive meaning, though they are not now necessary, than to require your followers to offer to you as food what you believe to be living victims. The Apostle Paul says most appropriately of some who preached the gospel to gratify their appetite, that their "god was their belly." Philippians 3:19 But the arrogance of your impiety goes much beyond this; for, instead of making your belly your god, you do what is far worse in making your belly the purifier of God. Surely it is great madness to make a pretence of piety in not slaughtering animals, while you hold that the souls of animals inhabit all the food you eat, and yet make what you call living creatures suffer such torture from your hands and teeth.

6. If you will not eat flesh why should you not slay animals in sacrifice to your God, in order that their souls, which you hold to be not only human, but so divine as to be members of God Himself, may be released from the confinement of flesh, and be saved from returning by the efficacy of your prayers? Perhaps, however, your stomach gives more effectual aid than your intellect, and that part of divinity which has had the advantage of passing through your bowels is more likely to be saved than that which has only the benefit of your prayers. Your objection to eating flesh will be that you cannot eat animals alive, and so the operation of your stomach will not avail for the liberation of their souls. Happy vegetables, that, torn up with the hand, cut with knives, tortured in fire, ground by teeth, yet reach alive the altars of your intestines! Unhappy sheep and oxen, that are not so tenacious of life, and therefore are refused entrance into your bodies! Such is the absurdity of your notions. And you persist in making out an opposition in us to the Old Testament, because we consider no flesh unclean: according to the opinion of the apostle, "To the pure all things are pure;" Titus 1:15 and according to the saying of our Lord Himself, "Not that which goes into your mouth defiles you, but that which comes out." Matthew 16:11 This was not said to the crowd only, as your Adimantus, whom Faustus, in his attack on the Old Testament, praises as second only to Manichæus, wishes us to understand; but when retired from the crowd, the Lord repeated this still more plainly and pointedly to His disciples. Adimantus quotes this saying of our Lord in opposition to the Old Testament, where the people are prohibited from eating some animals which are pronounced unclean; and doubtless he was afraid that he should be asked why, since he quotes a passage from the Gospel about man not being defiled by what enters into his mouth and passes into his belly, and out into the draft, he yet considers not some only, but all flesh unclean, and abstains from eating it. It is in order to escape from this strait, when the plain truth is too much for his error, that he makes the Lord say this to the crowd; as if the Lord were in the habit of speaking the truth only in small companies, while He blurted out falsehoods in public. To speak of the Lord in this way is blasphemy. And all who read the passage can see that the Lord said the same thing more plainly to His disciples in private. Since Faustus praises Adimantus so much at the beginning of this book of his, placing him next to Manichæus, let him say in a word whether it is true or false that a man is not defiled by what enters into his mouth. If it is false, why does this great teacher Adimantus quote it against the Old Testament? If it is true, why, in spite of this, do you believe that eating any flesh will defile you? It is true, if you choose this explanation, that the apostle does not say that all things are pure to heretics, but, "to the pure all things are pure." The apostle also goes on to explain why all things are not pure to heretics: "To the impure and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and conscience are defiled." Titus 1:15 So to the Manichæans there is absolutely nothing pure; for they hold that the very substance or nature of God not only may be, but has actually been defiled, and so defiled that it can never be wholly restored and purified. What do they mean when they call animals unclean, and refrain from eating them, when it is impossible for them to think anything, whether food or whatever it may be, clean? According to them, vegetables too, fruits, all kinds of crops, the earth and sky, are defiled by mixture with the race of darkness. Why do they not act up to their opinions about other things as well as about animals? Why do they not abstain altogether, and starve themselves to death, instead of persisting in their blasphemies? If they will not repent and reform, this is evidently the best thing that they could do.

7. The saying of the apostle, that "to the pure all things are pure," and that "every creature of God is good," is not opposed to the prohibitions of the Old Testament; and the explanation, if they can understand it, is this. The apostle speaks of the natures of the things, while the Old Testament calls some animals unclean, not in their nature, but symbolically, on account of the prefigurative character of that dispensation. For instance, a pig and a lamb are both clean in their nature, for every creature of God is good; but symbolically, a lamb is clean, and a pig unclean. So the words wise and fool are both clean in their nature, as words composed of letters but fool may be called symbolically unclean, because it means an unclean thing. Perhaps a pig is the same among symbols as a fool is among real things. The animal, and the four letters which compose the word, may mean the same thing. No doubt the animal is pronounced unclean by the law, because it does not chew the cud; which is not a fault but its nature. But the men of whom this animal is a symbol are unclean, not by nature, but from their own fault; because, though they gladly hear the words of wisdom, they never reflect on them afterwards. For to recall, in quiet repose, some useful instruction from the stomach of memory to the mouth of reflection, is a kind of spiritual rumination. The animals above mentioned are a symbol of those people who do not do this. And the prohibition of the flesh of these animals is a warning against this fault. Another passage of Scripture speaks of the precious treasure of wisdom, and describes ruminating as clean, and not ruminating as unclean: "A precious treasure rests in the mouth of a wise man; but a foolish man swallows it up." Proverbs 21:20 Symbols of this kind, either in words or in things, give useful and pleasant exercise to intelligent minds in the way of inquiry and comparison. But formerly people were required not only to hear, but to practise many such things. For at that time it was necessary that, by deeds as well as by words, those things should be foreshadowed which were in after times to be revealed. After the revelation by Christ and in Christ, the community of believers is not burdened with the practice of the observances, but is admonished to give heed to the prophecy. This is our reason for accounting no animals unclean, in accordance with the saying of the Lord and of the apostle, while we are not opposed to the Old Testament, where some animals are pronounced unclean. Now let us hear why you consider all animal food unclean.

8. One of your false doctrines is, that flesh is unclean on account of mixture with the race of darkness. But this would make not only flesh unclean, but your God himself, in that part which he sent to become subject to absorption and contamination, in order that the enemy might be conquered and taken captive. Besides, on account of this mixture, all that you eat must be unclean. But you say flesh is especially unclean. It requires patience to listen to all their absurd reasons for this peculiar impurity of flesh. I will mention only what will suffice to show the inveterate folly of these critics of the Old Testament, who, while they denounce flesh, savor only fleshly things, and have no sort of spiritual perception. And a lengthy discussion of this question may perhaps enable us to dispense with saying much on some other points. The following, then, is an account of their vain delusions in this matter:— In that battle, when the First Man ensnared the race of darkness by deceitful elements, princes of both sexes belonging to this race were taken. By means of these princes the world was constructed; and among those used in the formation of the heavenly bodies, were some pregnant females. When the sky began to rotate, the rapid circular motion made these females give birth to abortions, which, being of both sexes, fell on the earth, and lived, and grew, and came together, and produced offspring. Hence sprang all animal life in earth, air, and sea. Now if the origin of flesh is from heaven, that is no reason for thinking it especially unclean. Indeed, in this construction of the world, they hold that these principles of darkness were arranged higher or lower, according to the greater or less amount of good mixed with them in the construction of the various parts of the world. So flesh ought to be cleaner than vegetables which come out of the earth, for it comes from heaven. And how irrational to suppose that the abortions, before becoming animate, were so lively, though in an abortive state, that after falling from the sky, they could live and multiply; whereas, after becoming animate, they die if brought forth prematurely, and a fall from a very moderate height is enough to kill them! The kingdom of life in contest with the kingdom of death ought to have improved them, by giving them life instead of making them more perishable than before. If the perishableness is a consequence of a change of nature, it is wrong to say that there is a bad nature. The change is the only cause of the perishableness. Both natures are good, though one is better than the other. Whence then comes the peculiar impurity of flesh as it exists in this world, sprung, as they say, from heaven? They tell us, indeed, of the first bodies of these principles of darkness being generated like worms from trees of darkness; and the trees, they say, are produced from the five elements. But supposing that the bodies of animals come in the first place from trees, and afterwards from heaven, why should they be more unclean than the fruit of trees? Perhaps it will be said that what remains after death is unclean, because the life is no longer there. For the same reason fruits and vegetables must be unclean, for they die when they are pulled or cut. As we saw before, the elect get others to bring their food to them, that they may not be guilty of murder. Perhaps, since they say that every living being has two souls, one of the race of light, and the other of the race of darkness, the good soul leaves at death, and the bad soul remains. But, in that case, the animal would be as much alive as it was in the kingdom of darkness, when it had only the soul of its own race, with which it had rebelled against the kingdom of God. So, since both souls leave at death, why call the flesh unclean, as if only the good soul had left? Any life that remains must be of both kinds; for some remains of the members of God are found, we are told, even in filth. There is therefore no reason for making flesh more unclean than fruits. The truth is, they pretend to great chastity in holding flesh unclean because it is generated. But if the divine body is more grossly shut in by flesh, there is all the more reason that they should liberate it by eating. And there are innumerable kinds of worms not produced from sexual intercourse; some in the neighborhood of Venice come from trees, which they should eat, since there is not the same reason for their being unclean. Besides, there are the frogs produced by the earth after a shower of rain. Let them liberate the members of their God from these. Let them rebuke the mistake of mankind in preferring fowls and pigeons produced from males and females to the pure frogs, daughters of heaven and earth. By this theory, the first principles of darkness produced from trees must be purer than Manichæus, who was produced by generation; and his followers, for the same reason, must be less pure than the lice which spring from the perspiration of their bodies. But if everything that comes from flesh is unclean, because the origin of flesh itself is unclean, fruits and vegetables must also be unclean, because they are manured with dung. After this, what becomes of the notion that fruits are cleaner than flesh? Dung is the most unclean product of flesh, and also the most fertilizing manure. Their doctrine is, that the life escapes in the mastication and digestion of the food, so that only a particle remains in the excrement. How is it, then, that this particle of life has such an effect on the growth and the quality of your favorite food? Flesh is nourished by the productions of the earth, not by its excrements; while the earth is nourished by the excrements of flesh, not by its productions. Let them say which is the cleaner. Or let them turn from being unbelieving and impure to whom nothing is clean, and join with us in embracing the doctrine of the apostle, that to the pure all things are pure; that the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; that every creature of God is good. All things in nature are good in their own order; and no one sins in using them, unless, by disobedience to God, he transgresses his own order, and disturbs their order by using them amiss.

9. The elders who pleased God kept their own order by their obedience, in observing, according to God's arrangement, what was appointed as suitable to certain times. So, although all animals intended for food are by nature clean, they abstained from some which had then a symbolic uncleanness, in preparation for the future revelation of the things signified. And so with regard to unleavened bread and all such things, in which the apostle says there was a shadow of future things, neglect of their observance under the old dispensation, when this observance was enjoined, and was employed to prefigure what was afterwards to be revealed, would have been as criminal, as it would now be foolish in us, after the light of the New Testament has arisen, to think that these predictive observances could be of any use to us. On the other hand, since the Old Testament teaches us that the things now revealed were so long ago prefigured, that we may be firm and faithful in our adherence to them, it would be blasphemy and impiety to discard these books, simply because the Lord requires of us now not a literal, but a spiritual and intelligent regard to their contents. They were written, as the apostle says, for our admonition, on whom the end of the world has come. 1 Corinthians 10:11 "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning." Romans 15:4 Not to eat unleavened bread in the appointed seven days was a sin in the time of the Old Testament; in the time of the New Testament it is not a sin. But having the hope of a future world through Christ, who makes us altogether new by clothing our souls with righteousness and our bodies with immortality, to believe that the bondage and infirmity of our original corruption will prevail over us or over our actions, must continue to be a sin, till the seven days of the course of time are accomplished. In the time of the Old Testament, this, under the disguise of a type, was perceived by some saints. In the time of the New Testament it is fully declared and publicly preached.

What was then a precept of Scripture is now a testimony. Formerly, not to keep the feast of tabernacles was a sin, which is not the case now. But not to form part of the building of God's tabernacle, which is the Church, is always a sin. Formerly this was acted in a figure; now the record serves as testimony. The ancient tabernacle, indeed, would not have been called the tabernacle of the testimony, unless as an appropriate symbol it had borne testimony to some truth which was to be revealed in its own time. To patch linen garments with purple, or to wear a garment of woollen and linen together, is not a sin now. But to live intemperately, and to wish to combine opposite modes of life—as when a woman devoted to religion wears the ornaments of married women, or when one who has not abstained from marriage dresses like a virgin—is always sin. So it is sin whenever inconsistent things are combined in any man's life. This, which is now a moral truth, was then symbolized in dress. What was then a type is now revealed truth. So the same Scripture which then required symbolic actions, now testifies to the things signified. The prefigurative observance is now a record for the confirmation of our faith. Formerly it was unlawful to plough with an ox and an ass together; now it is lawful. The apostle explains this when he quotes the text about not muzzling the ox that is treading out the grain. He says, "Does God care for oxen?" What, then, have we to do with an obsolete prohibition? The apostle teaches us in the following words, "For our sakes it is written." 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 It must be impiety in us not to read what was written for our sakes; for it is more for our sakes, to whom the revelation belongs, than for theirs who had only the figure. There is no harm in joining an ox with an ass where it is required. But to put a wise man and a fool together, not that one should teach and the other obey, but that both with equal authority should declare the word of God, cannot be done without causing offense. So the same Scripture which was once a command enjoining the shadow in which future things were veiled, is now an authoritative witness to the unveiled truth.

In what he says of the uncleanness of a man that is bald or has red hair, Faustus is inaccurate, or the manuscript he has used is incorrect. Leviticus 21:18 Would that Faustus were not ashamed to bear on his forehead the cross of Christ, the want of which is baldness, instead of maintaining that Christ, who says, "I am the truth," showed unreal marks, after His resurrection, of unreal wounds! Faustus says he has not learned the art of deceiving, and speaks what he thinks. He cannot therefore be a disciple of his Christ, whom he madly declares to have shown false marks of wounds to his disciples when they doubted. Are we to believe Faustus, not only in his other absurdities, but also when he tells us that he does not deceive us in calling Christ a deceiver? Is he better than Christ? Is he not a deceiver, while Christ is? Or does he prove himself to be a disciple not of the truthful Christ, but of the deceiver Manichæus, by this very falsehood, when he boasts that he has not learned the art of deceiving?

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Source. Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/140606.htm>.

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