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

Contra Faustum, Book XVIII

The relation of Christ to prophecy, continued.

1. Faustus said: "I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it." If these are Christ's words, unless they have some other meaning, they are as much against you as against me. Your Christianity as well as mine is based on the belief that Christ came to destroy the law and the prophets. Your actions prove this, even though in words you deny it. It is on this ground that you disregard the precepts of the law and the prophets. It is on this ground that we both acknowledge Jesus as the founder of the New Testament, in which is implied the acknowledgment that the Old Testament is destroyed. How, then, can we believe that Christ said these words without first confessing that hitherto we have been wholly in error, and without showing our repentance by entering on a course of obedience to the law and the prophets, and of careful observance of their requirements, whatever they may be? This done, we may honestly believe that Jesus said that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. As it is, you accuse me of not believing what you do not believe yourself, and what therefore is false.

2. But grant that we have been in the wrong hitherto. What is to be done now? Shall we come under the law, since Christ has not destroyed, but fulfilled it? Shall we by circumcision add shame to shame, and believe that God is pleased with such sacraments? Shall we observe the rest of the Sabbath, and bind ourselves in the fetters of Saturn? Shall we glut the demon of the Jews, for he is not God, with the slaughter of bulls, rams, and goats, not to say of men; and adopt, only with greater cruelty, in obedience to the law and the prophets, the practices on account of which we abandoned idolatry? Shall we, in fine, call the flesh of some animals clean, and that of others unclean, among which, according to the law and the prophets, swine's flesh has a particular defilement? Of course you will allow that as Christians we must not do any of these things, for you remember that Christ says that a man when circumcised becomes twofold a child of hell. Matthew 23:15 It is plain also that Christ neither observed the Sabbath himself, nor commanded it to be observed. And regarding foods, he says expressly that man is not defiled by anything that goes into his mouth, but rather by the things which come out of it. Matthew 15:11 Regarding sacrifices, too, he often says that God desires mercy, and not sacrifice. Matthew 9:13 What becomes, then, of the statement that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it? If Christ said this, he must have meant something else, or, what is not to be thought of, he told a lie, or he never said it. No Christian will allow that Jesus spoke falsely; therefore he must either not have said this, or said it with another meaning.

3. For my part, as a Manichæan, this verse has little difficulty for me, for at the outset I am taught to believe that many things which pass in Scripture under the name of the Saviour are spurious, and that they must therefore be tested to find whether they are true, and sound, and genuine; for the enemy who comes by night has corrupted almost every passage by sowing tares among the wheat. So I am not alarmed by these words, notwithstanding the sacred name affixed to them; for I still claim the liberty to examine whether this comes from the hand of the good sower, who sows in the day-time, or of the evil one, who sows in the night. But what escape from this difficulty can there be for you, who receive everything without examination, condemning the use of reason, which is the prerogative of human nature, and thinking it impiety to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and as much afraid of separating between what is good and what is not as children are of ghosts? For suppose a Jew or any one acquainted with these words should ask you why you do not keep the precepts of the law and the prophets, since Christ says that he came not to destroy but to fulfill them: you will be obliged either to join in the superstitious follies of the Jews, or to declare this verse false, or to deny that you are a follower of Christ.

4. Augustine replied: Since you continue repeating what has been so often exposed and refuted, we must be content to repeat the refutation. The things in the law and the prophets which Christians do not observe, are only the types of what they do observe. These types were figures of things to come, and are necessarily removed when the things themselves are fully revealed by Christ, that in this very removal the law and the prophets may be fulfilled. So it is written in the prophets that God would give a new covenant, "not as I gave to their fathers." Jeremiah 31:32 Such was the hardness of heart of the people under the Old Testament, that many precepts were given to them, not so much because they were good, as because they suited the people. Still, in all these things the future was foretold and prefigured, although the people did not understand the meaning of their own observances. After the manifest appearance of the things thus signified, we are not required to observe the types; but we read them to see their meaning. So, again, it is foretold in the prophets, "I will take away their stony heart, and will give them a heart of flesh," Ezekiel 11:19 — that is, a sensible heart, instead of an insensible one. To this the apostle alludes in the words: "Not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart." 2 Corinthians 2:3 The fleshy tables of the heart are the same as the heart of flesh. Since, then, the removal of these observances is foretold, the law and the prophets could not have been fulfilled but by this removal. Now, however, the prediction is accomplished, and the fulfillment of the law and the prophets is found in what at first sight seems the very opposite.

5. We are not afraid to meet your scoff at the Sabbath, when you call it the fetters of Saturn. It is a silly and unmeaning expression, which occurred to you only because you are in the habit of worshipping the sun on what you call Sunday. What you call Sunday we call the Lord's day, and on it we do not worship the sun, but the Lord's resurrection. And in the same way, the fathers observed the rest of the Sabbath, not because they worshipped Saturn, but because it was incumbent at that time, for it was a shadow of things to come, as the apostle testifies. Colossians 2:17 The Gentiles, of whom the apostle says that they "worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator," Romans 1:25 gave the names of their gods to the days of the week. And so far you do the same, except that you worship only the two brightest luminaries, and not the rest of the stars, as the Gentiles did. Besides, the Gentiles gave the names of their gods to the months. In honor of Romulus, whom they believed to be the son of Mars, they dedicated the first month to Mars, and called it March. The next month, April, is named not from any god, but from the word for opening, because the buds generally open in this month. The third month is called May, in honor of Maia the mother of Mercury. The fourth is called June, from Juno. The rest to December used to be named according to their number. The fifth and sixth, however, got the names of July and August from men to whom divine honors were decreed; while the others, from September to December, continued to be named from their number. January, again, is named from Janus, and February from the rites of the Luperci called Februæ. Must we say that you worship the god Mars in the month of March? But that is the month in which you hold the feast you call Bema with great pomp. But if you think it allowable to observe the month of March without thinking of Mars, why do you try to bring in the name of Saturn in connection with the rest of the seventh day enjoined in Scripture, merely because the Gentiles call the day Saturday? The Scripture name for the day is Sabbath, which means rest. Your scoff is as unreasonable as it is profane.

6. As regards animal sacrifices, every Christian knows that they were enjoined as suitable to a perverse people, and not because God had any pleasure in them. Still, even in these sacrifices there were types of what we enjoy; for we cannot obtain purification or the propitiation of God without blood. The fulfillment of these types is in Christ, by whose blood we are purified and redeemed. In these figures of the divine oracles, the bull represents Christ, because with the horns of His cross He scatters the wicked; the lamb, from His matchless innocence; the goat, from His being made in the likeness of sinful flesh, that by sin He might condemn sin. Romans 8:3 Whatever kind of sacrifice you choose to specify, I will show you a prophecy of Christ in it. Thus we have shown regarding circumcision, and the Sabbath, and the distinction of food, and the sacrifice of animals, that all these things were our examples, and our prophecies, which Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill, by fulfilling what was thus foretold. Your opponent is the apostle, whose opinion I give in his own words: "All these things were our examples." 1 Corinthians 10:6

7. If you have learned from Manichæus the willful impiety of admitting only those parts of the Gospel which do not contradict your errors, while you reject the rest, we have learned from the apostle the pious caution of looking on every one as accursed that preaches to us another gospel than that which we have received. Hence Catholic Christians look upon you as among the tares; for, in the Lord's exposition of the meaning of the tares, they are not falsehood mixed with truth in the Scriptures, but children of the wicked one— that is, people who imitate the deceitfulness of the devil. It is not true that Catholic Christians believe everything; for they do not believe Manichæus or any of the heretics. Nor do they condemn the use of human reason; but what you call reasoning they prove to be fallacious. Nor do they think it profane to distinguish truth from falsehood; for they distinguish between the truth of the Catholic faith and the falsehood of your doctrines. Nor do they fear to separate good from evil; but they contend that evil, instead of being natural, is unnatural. They know nothing of your race of darkness, which, you say, is produced from a principle of its own, and fights against the kingdom of God, and of which your god seems really to be more frightened than children are of ghosts; for, according to you, he covered himself with a veil, that he might not see his own members taken and plundered by the assault of the enemy. To conclude, Catholic Christians are in no difficulty regarding the words of Christ, though in one sense they may be said not to observe the law and the prophets; for by the grace of Christ they keep the law by their love to God and man; and on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:40 Besides, they see in Christ and the Church the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament, whether in the form of actions, or of symbolic rites, or of figurative language. So we neither join in superstitious follies, nor declare this verse false; nor deny that we are followers of Christ; for on those principles which I have set forth to the best of my power, the law and the prophets which Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill, are no other than those recognized by the Church.

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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/140618.htm>.

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