Faustus repels the insinuation that the prophecy of Paul with reference to those that should forbid to marry, abstain from meats, etc., applies to the Manichæans more than to the Catholic ascetics, who are held in the highest esteem in the Church. Augustine justifies this application of the prophecy, and shows the difference between Manichæan and Christian asceticism.
1. Faustus said: You apply to us the words of Paul: "Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to lying spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their consciences seared as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, abstaining from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by believers." 1 Timothy 4:1-3 I refuse to admit that the apostle said this, unless you first acknowledge that Moses and the prophets taught doctrines of devils, and were the interpreters of a lying and malignant spirit; since they enjoin with great emphasis abstinence from swine's flesh and other meats, which they call unclean. This case must first be settled; and you must consider long and carefully how their teaching is to be viewed: whether they said these things from God, or from the devil. As regards these matters, either Moses and the prophets must be condemned along with us; or we must be acquitted along with them. You are unjust in condemning us, as you do now, as followers of the doctrine of devils, because we require the priestly class to abstain from animal food; for we limit the prohibition to the priesthood, while you hold that your prophets, and Moses himself, who forbade all classes of men to eat the flesh of swine, and hares, and conies, besides all varieties of cuttle-fish, and all fish wanting scales, said this not in a lying spirit, nor in the doctrine of devils, but from God, and in the Holy Spirit. Even supposing, then, that Paul said these words, you can convince me only by condemning Moses and the prophets; and so, though you will not do it for reason or truth, you will contradict Moses for the sake of your belly.
2. Besides, you have in your Book of Daniel the account of the three youths, which you will find it difficult to reconcile with the opinion that to abstain from meats is the doctrine of devils. For we are told that they abstained not only from what the law forbade, but even from what it allowed; Daniel 1:12 and you are wont to praise them, and count them as martyrs; though they too followed the doctrine of devils, if this is to be taken as the apostle's opinion. And Daniel himself declares that he fasted for three weeks, not eating flesh or drinking wine, while he prayed for his people. Daniel 10:2-3 How is it that he boasts of this doctrine of devils, and glories in the falsehood of a lying spirit?
3. Again, what are we to think of you, or of the better class of Christians among you, some of whom abstain from swine's flesh, some from the flesh of quadrupeds, and some from all animal food, while all the Church admires them for it, and regards them with profound veneration, as only not gods? You obstinately refuse to consider that if the words quoted from the apostle are true and genuine, these people too are misled by doctrines of devils. And there is another observance which no one will venture to explain away or to deny, for it is known to all, and is practised yearly with particular attention in the congregation of Catholics all over the world— I mean the fast of forty days, in the due observance of which a man must abstain from all the things which, according to this verse, were created by God that we might receive them, while at the same time he calls this abstinence a doctrine of devils. So, my dear friends, shall we say that you too, during this fast, while celebrating the mysteries of Christ's passion, live after the manner of devils, and are deluded by a seducing spirit, and speak lies in hypocrisy, and have your conscience seared with a hot iron? If this does not apply to you, neither does it apply to us. What is to be thought of this verse, or its author; or to whom does it apply, since it agrees neither with the traditions of the Old Testament, nor with the institutions of the New? As regards the New Testament, the proof is from your own practice; and though the Old requires abstinence only from certain things, still it requires abstinence. On the other hand, this opinion of yours makes all abstinence from animal food a doctrine of devils. If this is your belief, once more I say it, you must condemn Moses, and reject the prophets, and pass the same sentence on yourselves; for, as they always abstained from certain kinds of food, so you sometimes abstain from all food.
4. But if you think that in making a distinction in food, Moses and the prophets established a divine ordinance, and not a doctrine of devils; if Daniel in the Holy Spirit observed a fast of three weeks; if the youths Ananias, Azarias, and Mishael, under divine guidance, chose to live on cabbage or pulse; if, again, those among you who abstain, do it not at the instigation of devils; if your abstinence from wine and flesh for forty days is not superstitious, but by divine command—consider, I beseech you, if it is not perfect madness to suppose these words to be Paul's that abstinence from food and forbidding to marry are doctrines of devils. Paul cannot have said that to dedicate virgins to Christ is a doctrine of devils. But you read the words, and inconsiderately, as usual, apply them to us, without seeing that this stamps your virgins too as led away by the doctrine of devils, and that you are the functionaries of the devils in your constant endeavors to induce virgins to make this profession, so that in all your churches the virgins nearly outnumber the married women. Why do you still adhere to such practises? Why do you ensnare wretched young women, if it is the will of devils, and not of Christ, that they fulfill? But, first of all, I wish to know if making virgins is, in all cases, the doctrine of devils, or only the prohibition of marriage. If it is the prohibition, it does not apply to us, for we too hold it equally foolish to prevent one who wishes, as it is criminal and impious to force one who has some reluctance. But if you say that to encourage the proposal, and not to resist such a desire, is all the doctrine of devils, to say nothing of the consequence as regards you, the apostle himself will be thus brought into danger, if he must be considered as having introduced the doctrines of devils into Iconium, when Thecla, after having been betrothed, was by his discourse inflamed with the desire of perpetual virginity. And what shall we say of Jesus, the Master Himself, and the source of all sanctity, who is the unwedded spouse of the virgins who make this profession, and who, when specifying in the Gospel three kinds of eunuchs, natural, artificial, and voluntary, gives the palm to those who have "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 19:12 meaning the youths of both sexes who have extirpated from their hearts the desire of marriage, and who in the Church act as eunuchs of the King's palace? Is this also the doctrine of devils? Are those words, too, spoken in a seducing spirit? And if Paul and Christ are proved to be priests of devils, is not their spirit the same that speaks in God? I do not mention the other apostles of our Lord, Peter, Andrew, Thomas, and the example of celibacy, the blessed John, who in various ways commended to young men and maidens the excellence of this profession, leaving to us, and to you too, the form for making virgins. I do not mention them, because you do not admit them into the canon, and so you will not scruple impiously to impute to them doctrines of devils. But will you say the same of Christ, or of the Apostle Paul, who, we know, everywhere expressed the same preference for unmarried women to the married, and gave an example of it in the case of the saintly Thecla? But if the doctrine preached by Paul to Thecla, and which the other apostles also preached, was not the doctrine of devils, how can we believe that Paul left on record his opinion, that the very exhortation to sanctity is the injunction and the doctrine of devils? To make virgins simply by exhortation, without forbidding to marry, is not peculiar to you. That is our principle too; and he must be not only a fool, but a madman, who thinks that a private law can forbid what the public law allows. As regards marriage, therefore, we too encourage virgins to remain as they are when they are willing to do so; we do not make them virgins against their will. For we know the force of will and of natural appetite when opposed by public law; much more when the law is only private, and every one is at liberty to disobey it. If, then, it is no crime to make virgins in this manner, we are guiltless as well as you. If it is wrong to make virgins in any way, you are guilty as well as we. So that what you mean, or intend, by quoting this verse against us, it is impossible to say.
5. Augustine replied: Listen, and you shall hear what we mean and intend by quoting this verse against you, since you say that you do not know. It is not that you abstain from animal food; for, as you observe, our ancient fathers abstained from some kinds of food, not, however, as condemning them, but with a typical meaning, which you do not understand, and of which I have said already in this work all that appeared necessary. Besides, Christians, not heretics, but Catholics, in order to subdue the body, that the soul may be more humbled in prayer, abstain not only from animal food, but also from some vegetable productions, without, however, believing them to be unclean. A few do this always; and at certain seasons or days, as in Lent, almost all, more or less, according to the choice or ability of individuals. You, on the other hand, deny that the creature is good, and call it unclean, saying that animals are made by the devil of the worst impurities in the substance of evil and so you reject them with horror, as being the most cruel and loathsome places of confinement of your god. You, as a concession, allow your followers, as distinct from the priests, to eat animal food; as the apostle allows, in certain cases, not marriage in the general sense, but the indulgence of passion in marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:5-6 It is only sin which is thus made allowance for. This is the feeling you have toward all animal food; you have learned it from your heresy, and you teach it to your followers. You make allowance for your followers, because, as I said before, they supply you with necessaries; but you grant them indulgence without saying that it is not sinful. For yourselves, you shun contact with this evil and impurity; and hence our reason for quoting this verse against you is found in the words of the apostle which follow those with which you end the quotation. Perhaps it was for this reason that you left out the words, and then say that you do not know what we mean or intend by the quotation; for it suited you better to omit the account of our intention than to express it. For, after speaking of abstaining from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by believers, the apostle goes on, "And by them who know the truth; for every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." 1 Timothy 4:3-5 This you deny; for your idea, and motive, and belief in abstaining from such food is, that they are not typically, but naturally, evil and impure. In this assuredly you blaspheme the Creator; and in this is the doctrine of devils. You need not be surprised that, so long before the event, this prediction regarding you was made by the Holy Spirit.
6. So, again, if your exhortations to virginity resembled the teaching of the apostle, "He who gives in marriage does well, and he who gives not in marriage does better;" 1 Corinthians 7:38 if you taught that marriage is good, and virginity better, as the Church teaches which is truly Christ's Church, you would not have been described in the Spirit's prediction as forbidding to marry. What a man forbids he makes evil; but a good thing may be placed second to a better thing without being forbidden. Moreover, the only honorable kind of marriage, or marriage entered into for its proper and legitimate purpose, is precisely that you hate most. So, though you may not forbid sexual intercourse, you forbid marriage; for the peculiarity of marriage is, that it is not merely for the gratification of passion, but, as is written in the contract, for the procreation of children. And, though you allow many of your followers to retain their connection with you in spite of their refusal, or their inability, to obey you, you cannot deny that you make the prohibition. The prohibition is part of your false doctrine, while the toleration is only for the interests of the society. And here we see the reason, which I have delayed till now to mention, for your making not the birth but only the death of Christ feigned and illusory. Death being the separation of the soul, that is, of the nature of your god, from the body which belongs to his enemies, for it is the work of the devil, you uphold and approve of it; and thus, according to your creed, it was meet that Christ, though He did not die, should commend death by appearing to die. In birth, again, you believe your god to be bound instead of released; and so you will not allow that Christ was born even in this illusory fashion. You would have thought better of Mary had she ceased to be a virgin without being a mother, than as being a mother without ceasing to be a virgin. You see, then, that there is a great difference between exhorting to virginity as the better of two good things, and forbidding to marry by denouncing the true purpose of marriage; between abstaining from food as a symbolic observance, or for the mortification of the body, and abstaining from food which God has created for the reason that God did not create it. In one case, we have the doctrine of the prophets and apostles; in the other, the doctrine of lying devils.
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/140630.htm>.
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