|PETILIAN, BISHOP OF CIRTA
Encyclical Letter To The Donatists
Translated By Rev. J. R. King, M.A.
Edited By Rev. Daniel R. Jennings
Synopsis: This letter was circulated as an apologetic argument for the Donatists’ belief that the true church was only
composed of those who were repentant.
"Petilianus, a bishop, to his well-beloved brethren, fellow-priests, and deacons, appointed ministers with us
throughout our diocese in the gospel, grace be to you and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus
"Those who have polluted their souls with a guilty laver, under the name of baptism, reproach us with baptizing twice,
--than whose obscenity, indeed, any kind of filth is more cleanly, seeing that through a perversion of cleanliness they
have come to be made fouler by their washing. For what we look to is the conscience of the giver, to cleanse that of
the recipient. For he who receives faith from the faithless, receives not faith but guilt."
"For everything consists of an origin and root; and if it have not something for a head, it is nothing: nor does anything
well receive second birth, unless it be born again of good seed."
"This being the case, brethren, what perversity must it be, that he who is guilty through his own sins should make
another free from guilt, when the Lord Jesus Christ says, 'Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree
bringeth forth evil fruit: do men gather grapes of thorns?' And again: 'A good man, out of the good treasure of the
heart, bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.'"
"And again, 'He who is baptized by one that is dead, his washing profiteth him nothing.' He did not mean that the
baptizer was a corpse, a lifeless body, the remains of a man ready for burial, but one lacking the Spirit of God, who is
compared to a dead body, as He declares to a disciple in another place, according to the witness of the gospel. For
His disciple says, 'Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me, and let the dead
bury their dead.' The father of the disciple was not baptized. He declared him as a pagan to belong to the company
of pagans; unless he said this of the unbelieving, the dead cannot bury the dead. He was dead, therefore, not as
smitten by some death, but as smitten even during life. For he who so lives as to be doomed to eternal death is
tortured by a death in life. To be baptized, therefore, by the dead, is to have received not life but death. We must
therefore consider and declare how far the traditor is to be accounted dead while yet alive. He is dead who has not
deserved to be born again with a true baptism; he is likewise dead who, having been born again with a true baptism,
has become involved with a traditor. Both are wanting in the life of baptism,--both he who never had it at all, and he
who had it and has lost it. For the Lord Jesus Christ says, 'There shall come to that man seven spirits more wicked
than the former one, and the last state of that man shall be worse than the first.'"
"We must consider, I say, and declare how far the treacherous traditor is to be accounted dead while yet in life. Judas
was an apostle when he betrayed Christ; and the same man was already dead, having spiritually lost the office of an
apostle, being destined afterwards to die by hanging himself, as it is written: 'I have sinned,' says he, 'in that I have
betrayed the innocent blood; and he departed, and went and hanged himself.' The traitor perished by the rope: he
left the rope for others like himself, of whom the Lord Christ cried aloud to the Father, 'Father, those that Thou
gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled.' For
David of old had passed this sentence on him who was to betray Christ to the unbelievers: 'Let another take his
office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.' See how mighty is the spirit of the prophets, that it was
able to see all future things as though they were present, so that a traitor who was to be born hereafter should be
condemned many centuries before. Finally, that the said sentence should be completed, the holy Matthias received
the bishopric of that lost apostle. Let no one be so dull, no one so faithless, as to dispute this: Matthias won for
himself a victory, not a wrong, in that he carried off the spoils of the traitor from the victory of the Lord Christ. Why
then, after this, do you claim to yourself a bishopric as the heir of a worse traitor? Judas betrayed Christ in the flesh
to the unbelievers; you in the spirit madly betrayed the holy gospel to the flames of sacrilege. Judas betrayed the
Lawgiver to the unbelievers; you, as it were, betraying all that he had left, gave up the law of God to be destroyed by
men. Whilst, had you loved the law, like the youthful Maccabees, you would have welcomed death for the sake of the
laws of God (if indeed that can be said to be death to men which makes them immortal because they died for the
Lord); for of those brethren we learn that one replied to the sacrilegious tyrant with these words of faith 'Thou like a
fury takest us out of this present life; but the King of the world (who reigns for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be
no end) shall raise us up who have died for His laws, unto everlasting life.' If you were to burn with fire the testament
of a dead man, would you not be punished as the falsifier of a will? What therefore is likely to become of you who
have burned the most holy law of our God and Judge? Judas repented of his deed even in death; you not only do not
repent, but stand forth as a persecutor and butcher of us who keep the law, whilst you are the most wicked of
traditors. Hemmed in, therefore, by these offenses, you cannot be a true bishop."
"Did the apostle persecute any one? or did Christ betray any one?"
"Yet some will be found to say, We are not the sons of a traditor. Any one is the son of that man whose deeds he
imitates. For those are most assuredly sons, and at the same time bear a strong resemblance to their parents, who
are born in the likeness of their parents, not only as being of their flesh and blood, but in respect of their characters
"The Lord Jesus said to the Jews concerning Himself, 'If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.'"
Over and over again He reproaches the false speakers and liars in such terms as these: 'Ye are the children of the
devil, for he also was a slanderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth.'"
"In the third place, also, He calls the madness of persecutors in like manner by this name, 'Ye generation of vipers,
how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes;
and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute
them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of
righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.' Are
they then really the sons of vipers according to the flesh, and not rather serpents in mind, and three-tongued malice,
and deadliness of touch, and burning with the spirit of poison? They have truly become vipers, who by their bites
have vomited forth death against the innocent people."
"David also spoke of you as persecutors in the following terms: 'Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues
have they deceived; the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are
swift to shed blood.
Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God
before their eyes. Have all the workers of wickedness no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread?'"
"The Lord Christ also warns us, saying, 'Beware of false prophets, which come unto you in sheep's clothing, but
inwardly they are ravening wolves; and ye shall not know them by their fruits.'"
"Thus, thus, thou wicked persecutor, under whatsoever cloak of righteousness thou hast concealed thyself, under
whatsoever name of peace thou wagest war with kisses, under whatsoever title of unity thou endeavorest to ensnare
the race of men--thou, who up to this time art cheating and deceiving, thou art the true son of the devil, showing thy
parentage by thy character."
"Nor is it, after all, so strange that you assume to yourself the name of bishop without authority. This is the true
custom of the devil, to choose in preference a mode of deceiving by which he usurps to himself a word of holy
meaning, as the apostle declares to us: 'And no marvel,' he says: 'for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of
Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.' Nor is it therefore
a marvel if you falsely call yourself a bishop. For even those fallen angels, lovers of the maidens of the world, who
were corrupted by the corruption of their flesh, though, from having stripped themselves of divine excellence, they
have ceased to be angels, yet retain the name of angels, and always esteem themselves as angels, though, being
released from the service of God, they have passed from the likeness of their character into the army of the devil, as
the great God declares, 'My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh.' To those guilty ones and
to you the Lord Christ will say, 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his
angels.' If there were no evil angels, the devil would have no angels; of whom the apostle says, that in the judgment
of the resurrection they shall be condemned by the saints: 'Know ye not,' says he, 'that we shall judge angels?' If they
were true angels, men would not have authority to judge the angels of God. So too those sixty apostles, who, when
the twelve were left alone with the Lord Christ, departed in apostasy from the faith, are so far yet considered among
wretched men to be apostles, that from them Manichaeus and the rest entangle many souls in many devilish sects
which they destroyed that they might take them in their snares. For indeed the fallen Manichaeus, if fallen he was, is
not to be reckoned among those sixty, if it be that we can find his name as an apostle among the twelve, or if he was
ordained by the voice of Christ when Matthias was elected into the place of the traitor Judas, or another thirteenth
like Paul, who calls himself the last of the apostles, expressly that any one who was later than himself might not be
held to be an apostle. For these are his words: 'For I am the last of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an
apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.' And do not flatter yourselves in this: he was a Jew that had done
this. You too, as Gentiles, may work destruction upon us. For you carry on war without license, against whom we may
not fight in turn. For you desire to live when you have murdered us; but our victory is either to escape or to be slain."
"The Lord Jesus Christ commands us, saying, 'When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another; and if they
persecute you in that, flee yet into a third; for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till
the Son of man be come.' If He gives us this warning in the case of Jews and pagans, you who call yourself a
Christian ought not to imitate the dreadful deeds of the Gentiles. Or do you serve God in such wise that we should be
murdered at your hands? You do err, you do err, if you are wretched enough to entertain such a belief as this. For
God does not have butchers for His priests."
"The Lord Christ cries again from heaven to Paul, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick
against the pricks.' He was then called Saul, that he might afterwards receive his true name in baptism. But for you it
is not hard so often to persecute Christ in the persons of His priests, though the Lord Himself cries out, 'Touch not
mine anointed.' Reckon up all the deaths of the saints, and so often have you murdered Christ, who lives in each of
them. Lastly, if you are not guilty of sacrilege, then a saint cannot be a murderer."
"Accordingly, as we have said, the Lord Christ cried, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick
against the pricks. And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Christ of Nazareth, whom thou
persecutest. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto
him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.' And so presently it goes on, 'But Saul
arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man,' See here how blindness, coming in
punishment of madness, obscures the light in the eyes of the persecutor, not to be again expelled except by baptism!
Let us see, therefore, what he did in the city. 'Ananias,' it is said, 'entered into the house to Saul, and putting his
hands on him, said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath
sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his
eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.' Seeing therefore that
Paul, being freed by baptism from the offense of persecution, received again his eyesight freed from guilt, why will
not you, a persecutor and traditor, blinded by false baptism be baptized by those whom you persecute?"
"It may be urged that Christ said to His apostles, as you are constantly quoting against us, 'He that is washed
needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.' Now if you discuss those words in all their fullness, you
are bound by what immediately follows. For this is what He said, in His very words: 'He that is washed needeth not
save to wash his feet, but is clean every whir: and ye are clean, but not all. But this he said on account of Judas, who
should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean.' Whosoever, therefore, has incurred the guilt of treason,
has forfeited, like you, his baptism. Again, after that the betrayer of Christ had himself been condemned, He thus
more fully confirmed His words to the eleven apostles: 'Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto
you. Abide in me, and I in you.' And again He said to these same eleven, 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give
unto you.' Seeing, then, that these things were said to the eleven apostles, when the traitor, as we have seen, had
been condemned, you likewise, being traditors, are similarly without both peace and baptism."
"But if you say that we give baptism twice over, truly it is rather you who do this, who slay men who have been
baptized; and this we do not say because you baptize them, but because you cause each one of them, by the act of
slaying him, to be baptized in his own blood. For the baptism of water or of the Spirit is as it were doubled when the
blood of the martyr is wrung from him. And so our Saviour also Himself, after being baptized in the first instance by
John, declared that He must be baptized again, not this time with water nor with the Spirit, but with the baptism of
blood, the cross of suffering, as it is written, 'Two disciples, the sons of Zebedee, came unto Him, saying, Lord, when
thou comest into thy kingdom grant that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand. But Jesus
said unto them, Ye ask a difficult thing: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I
am baptized with? They said unto Him, We are able. And He said unto them, Ye can indeed drink of the cup that I
drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized,' and so forth. If these are two baptisms,
you commend us by your malice, we must needs confess. For when you kill our bodies, then we do celebrate a
second baptism; but it is that we are baptized with our baptism and with blood, like Christ. Blush, blush, ye
persecutors. Ye make martyrs like unto Christ, who are sprinkled with the baptism of blood after the water of the
"But you will answer that you abide by the same declaration, 'He that is once washed needeth not save to wash his
feet.' Now the 'once' is once that has authority, once that is confirmed by the truth."
"For when you in your guilt perform what is false, I do not celebrate baptism twice, which you have never celebrated
"For if you mix what is false with what is true, falsehood often imitates the truth by treading in its steps. Just in the
same way a picture imitates the true man of nature, depicting with its colors the false resemblance of truth. And in the
same way, too, the brilliancy of a mirror catches the countenance, so as to represent the eyes of him who gazes on it.
In this way it presents to each comer his own countenance, so that the very features of the comer meet themselves in
turn; and of such virtue is the falsehood of a clear mirror, that the very eyes which see themselves recognize
themselves as though in some one else. And even when a shadow stands before it, it doubles the reflection, dividing
its unity in great part through a falsehood. Must we then hold that anything is true, because a lying representation is
given of it? But it is one thing to paint a man, another to give birth to one. For does any one represent fictitious
children to a man who wishes for an heir? or would any one look for true heirs in the falsehood of a picture? Truly it is
a proof of madness to fall in love with a picture, letting go one's hold of what is true."
"It will be urged against us, that the Apostle Paul said, 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism.' We profess that there is
only one; for it is certain that those who declare that there are two are mad."
"But yet, if I may be allowed the comparison, it is certain that the sun appears double to the insane, although it only
be that a dark blue cloud often meets it, and its discolored surface, being struck by the brightness, while the rays of
the sun are reflected from it, seems to send forth as it were rays of its own. So in the same way in the faith of
baptism, it is one thing to seek for reflections, another to recognize the truth."
"But to pass rapidly through these minor points: can he be said to lay down the law who is not a magistrate of the
court? or is what he lays down to be considered law, when in the character of a private person he disturbs public
rights? Is it not rather the case that he not only involves himself in guilt, but is held to be a forger, and that which he
composes a forgery?"
"Or if any one chance to recollect the chants of a priest, is he therefore to be deemed a priest, because with
sacrilegious mouth he publishes the strain of a priest?"
"For there is no power but of God,'" none in any man of power; as the Lord Jesus Christ answered Pontius Pilate,
'Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.' And again, in the words of
John, 'A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.' Tell us, therefore, traditor, when you received
the power of imitating the mysteries."
"For although there is only one baptism, yet it is consecrated in three several grades. John gave water without the
name Of the Trinity, as he declared himself, saying, 'I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that
cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost,
and with fire.' Christ gave the Holy Spirit, as it is written, 'He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the
Holy Ghost,' And the Comforter Himself came on the apostles as a fire burning with rustling flames. O true divinity,
which seemed to blaze, not to burn! as it is written, 'And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing
mighty wind, and it filled all the house where the apostles were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven
tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak
with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.' But you, O persecutor, have not even the water of
repentance, seeing that you hold the power not of the murdered John, but of the murderer Herod. You therefore, O
traditor, have not the Holy Spirit of Christ; for Christ did not betray others to death, but was Himself betrayed. For
you, therefore, the fire in the spirit in Hades is full of life,--that fire which, surging with hungry tongues of flame, will be
able to burn your limbs to all eternity without consuming them, as it is Written of the punishment of the guilty in hell,
'Neither shall their fire be quenched.'"
"But that I may thoroughly investigate the baptism in the name of the Trinity, the Lord Christ said to His apostles: 'Go
ye, and baptize the nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to
observe all things whatsoever I command you.' Whom do you teach, traditor? Him whom you condemn? Whom do
you teach, traditor? Him whom you slay? Once more, whom do you teach? Him whom you have made a murderer?
How then do you baptize in the name of the Trinity? You cannot call God your Father. For when the Lord Christ said,
'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,' you who have not peace of soul cannot
have God for your Father. Or how, again, can you baptize in the name of the Son, who betray that Son Himself, who
do not imitate the Son of God in any of His sufferings or crosses? Or how, again, can you baptize in the name of the
Holy Ghost, when the Holy Ghost came only on those apostles who were not guilty of treason? Seeing, therefore, that
God is not your Father, neither are you truly born again with the water of baptism. No one of you is born perfectly.
You in your impiety have neither father nor mother. Seeing, then, that you are of such a kind, ought I not to baptize
you, even though you wash yourselves a thousand times, after the similitude of the Jews, who as it were baptize the
"For if the apostles were allowed to baptize those whom John had washed with the baptism of repentance, shall it not
likewise be allowed to me to baptize men guilty of sacrilege like yourselves?"
"Nor indeed will it be possible that the Holy Spirit should be implanted in the heart of any one by the laying on of the
hands of the priest, unless the water of a pure conscience has gone before to give him birth."
"Which Holy Spirit certainly cannot come on you, who have not been washed even with the baptism of repentance;
but the water of the traditor, which most truly needs to be repented of, does but work pollution."
"But that the truth of this may be made manifest from the apostles, we are taught by their actions, as it is written: 'It
came to pass that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul, having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus;
and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said
unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then
were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of
repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ
Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands
upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about
twelve.' If, therefore, they were baptized that they might receive the Holy Ghost, why do not you, if you wish to receive
the Holy Ghost, take measures to obtain a true renewing, after your falsehoods? And if we do ill in urging this, why do
you seek after us? or at any rate, if it is an offense, condemn Paul in the first instance; the Paul who certainly washed
off what had already existed, whereas we in you give baptism which as yet does not exist. For you do not, as we have
often said before, wash with a true baptism; but you bring on men an ill repute by your empty name of a false
"If you declare that yon hold the Catholic Church, the word 'catholic' is merely the Greek equivalent for entire or
whole. But it is clear that you are not in the whole, because you have gone aside into the part."
"But there is no fellowship of darkness with light, nor any fellowship of bitterness with the sweet of honey; there is no
fellowship of life with death, of innocence with guilt, of water with blood; the lees have no fellowship with o? though
they are related to it as being its dregs, but everything that is reprobate will flow away. It is the very sink of iniquity;
according to the saying of John, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they
would no doubt have continued with us.' There is no gold among their pollution: all that is precious has been purged
away. For it is written, 'As gold is tried in the furnace, so also are the just tried by the harassing of tribulation.'
Cruelty is not a part of gentleness, nor religion a part of sacrilege; nor can the party of Macarius in any way be part
of us, because he pollutes the likeness of our rite. For the enemy's line, which fills up an enemy's name, is no part of
the force to which it is opposed; but if it is truly to be called a part, it will find a suitable motto in the judgment of
Solomon, 'Let their part be cut off from the earth.'"
"Paul the apostle also bids us, 'Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness
with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or
what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"
"And, again, he taught us that schisms should not arise, in the following terms: 'Now this I say, that every one of you
saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and i of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or
were ye baptized in the name of Paul?'"
"If Paul uttered these words to the unlearned and to the righteous, I say this to you who are unrighteous, Is Christ
divided, that you should separate yourselves from the Church?"
"Can it be that the traitor Judas hung himself for you, or did he imbue you with his character, that, following his
deeds, you should seize on the treasures of the Church, and sell for money to the powers of this world us who are
the heirs of Christ?"
"For we, as it is written, when we are baptized, put on Christ who was betrayed; you, when you are infected, put on
Judas the betrayer."
"But if these are the parties, the name of member of a party is no prejudice against us. For there are two ways, the
one narrow, in which we walk; the other is for the impious, wherein they shall perish. And yet, though the designations
be alike, there is a great difference in the reality, that the way of righteousness should not be defiled by fellowship in
a name. "
"In the first Psalm David separates the blessed from the impious, not indeed making them into parties, but excluding
all the impious from holiness. 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the
way of sinners.' Let him who had strayed from the path of righteousness, so that he should perish, return to it again.
'Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.' When he gives this warning, O ye miserable men, why do you sit in that seat?
'But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree
planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever
he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.' He blindeth their
eyes, so that they should not see. 'Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the
congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall
"But the same Psalmist has sung the praises of our baptism. 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh
me to lie down in the green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in
the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,--
though the persecutor, he means, should slay me,--'I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff
comfort me.' It was by this that it conquered Goliath, being armed with the anointing oil. 'Thou hast prepared a table
before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness
and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'"
"Yet that you should not call yourselves holy, in the first place, I declare that no one has holiness who has not led a
life of innocence."
"For, granting that you faithless ones are acquainted with the law, without any prejudice to the law itself, I may say so
much as this, the devil knows it too. For in the case of righteous Job he answered the Lord God concerning the law
as though he were himself righteous, as it is written, "And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant
Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a man without malice, a true worshipper of God abstaining from every
evil; and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause?" And
Satan answered the Lord, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. Behold he speaks in legal
phrase, even when he is striving against the law. And a second time he endeavored thus to tempt the Lord Christ
with his discourse, as it is written, 'The devil taketh Jesus into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the
temple, and saith unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels
charge Concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a
stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God." You know the law, I say, as did
the devil, who is conquered in his endeavors, and blushes in his deeds."
"But that we may destroy your arguments one by one, if you call yourselves by the name of priests, it was said by the
Lord God, through the mouth of His prophet, 'The vengeance of the Lord is upon the false priests.'"
"If you wretched men claim for yourselves a seat, as we said before, you assuredly have that one of which the
prophet and psalmist David speaks as being the seat of the scornful For to you it is rightly left, seeing that the holy
cannot sit therein.'
"If you suppose that you can offer sacrifice, God Himself thus speaks of you as most abandoned sinners: 'The wicked
man,' He says, 'that sacrificeth a calf is as if he cut off a dog's neck; and he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered
Recognize herein your sacrifice, who have already poured out human blood. And again He says, 'Their sacrifices
shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted.'"
"If you make prayer to God, or utter supplication, it profits you absolutely nothing whatsoever. For your blood-stained
conscience makes your feeble prayers of no effect; because the Lord God regards purity of conscience more than
the words of supplication, according to the saying of the Lord Christ, 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.' The will of God
unquestionably is good, for therefore we pray as follows in the holy prayer, 'Thy will be done in earth, as it is in
heaven,' that, as His will is good, so it may confer on us whatever may be good. You therefore do not do the will of
God, because you do what is evil every day."
"But if it should so happen, though whether it be so I cannot say, that you cast out devils, neither will this in you do
any good; because the devils themselves yield neither to your faith nor to your merits, but are driven out in the name
of the Lord Jesus Christ."
"Even though you do very virtuous actions, and perform miraculous works, yet on account of your wickedness the
Lord does not know you; even so, according to the words of the Lord Himself, 'Many will say to me in that day, Lord,
Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many
wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'"
"But even if, as you yourselves suppose, you are following tile law of the Lord in purity, let us nevertheless consider
the question of the most holy law itself in a legal form. The Apostle Paul says, 'The law is good, if a man use it
lawfully.' What then does the law say? 'Thou shalt not kill.' What Cain the murderer did once, you have often done in
slaying your brethren."
"It is written, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' Each one of you, even though he be chaste in his body, yet in spirit is
an adulterer, because he pollutes his holiness."
"It is written, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.' When you falsely declare to the kings of this
world that we hold your opinions, do you not make up a falsehood?"
"It is written, 'Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor's.' You plunder what is ours, that you may have it for
"Under what law, then, do you make out that you are Christians, seeing that you do what is contrary to the law?"
"But the Lord Christ says, 'Whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven.' But He condemns you wretched men as follows: 'Whosoever shall break one of these commandments, he
shalt be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.'"
"And again it is written, 'Every sin which a man shall sin is without the body; but he that sinneth in the Holy Spirit, it
shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.'"
"But wherein do you fulfill the commandments of God? The Lord Christ said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven.' But you by your malice in persecution breathe forth the riches of madness."
"'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.' You therefore, not being meek, have lost both heaven and
"'Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.' You, our butchers, are the cause of mourning in others:
you do not mourn yourselves."
"'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.' To you it seems to be
righteousness that you thirst after our blood."
"'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.' But how shall I call you merciful when you inflict punishment on
the righteous? Shall not rather call you a most unrighteous communion, so long as you pollute souls?"
"'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.' When will you see God, who are possessed with blindness in
the impure malice of your hearts?"
"'Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.' You make a pretence of peace by your
wickedness, and seek unity by war."
"Though the Apostle Paul says, 'I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, brethren, that ye walk worthy of
the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in
love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.'"
"To you the prophet says, 'Peace, peace; and where is there peace?'"
"'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' You are not
blessed; but you make martyrs to be blessed, with whose souls the heavens are filled, and the earth has flourished
with their memory. You therefore do not honor them yourselves, but you provide us with objects of honor."
"Since then you are not blessed by falsifying the commands of God, the Lord Christ condemns you by His divine
decrees: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for
ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the
child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise,
and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have
done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto
you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful
outwardly, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear
righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.'"
"But these things do not alarm us Christians; for of the evil deeds which you are destined to commit we have before a
warning given us by the Lord Christ. 'Behold,' He says, 'I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.' You fill up
the measure of the madness of wolves, who either lay or are preparing to lay snares against the Churches in
precisely the same way in which wolves, with their mouths wide open against the fold, even with destructive
eagerness, breathe forth panting anger from their jaws, suffused with blood."
"O wretched traditors! Thus indeed it was fitting that Scripture should be fulfilled. But in you I grieve for this, that you
have shown yourselves worthy to fulfill the part of wickedness."
"But to us the Lord Christ, in opposition to your deadly commands, commanded simple patience and harmlessness.
For what says He? 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also
love one another.' And again, 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.'"
"Paul also, the apostle, whilst he was suffering fearful persecutions at the hands of all nations, endured even more
grievous troubles at the hands of false brethren, as he bears witness of himself, being oftentimes afflicted: 'In perils
by the heathen, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils among false brethren.' And again he says, 'Be ye
followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.' When, therefore, false brethren like yourselves assault us, we imitate
the patience of our master Paul under our dangers."
"For what kind of faith is that which is in you which is devoid of charity? when Paul himself says, 'Though I speak with
the tongues of men, and have the knowledge of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a
tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though
I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my
goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.'"
"And again, 'Charity suffereth long, and is kind charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth
not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own.' But you seek what belongs to other men. 'Is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, endureth all things. Charity never
faileth.' This is to say, in short, Charity does not persecute, does not inflame emperors to take away the lives of other
men; does not plunder other men's goods; does not go on to murder men whom it has spoiled."
"Lastly, what is the justification of persecution? I ask you, you wretched men, if it so be that you think that your sin
rests on any authority of law."
"But I answer you, on the other hand, that Jesus Christ never persecuted any one. And when the apostle found fault
with certain parties, and suggested that He should have recourse to persecution (He Himself having come to create
faith by inviting men to Him, rather than by compelling them), those apostles say, 'Many lay on hands in Thy name,
and are not with us:' but Jesus said, 'Let them alone; if they are not against you, they are on your side.'"
"But the holy apostle said this: 'In any way, whatsoever it may be,' he says, 'let Christ be preached.'"
"If then there are not some to whom all this power of faith is found to be in Opposition, on what principle do you
persecute, so as to compel men to defile themselves:?"
"But if authority had been given by some law for persons to be compelled to what is good, you yourselves, unhappy
men, ought to have been compelled by us to embrace the purest faith. But far be it, far be it from our conscience to
compel any one to embrace our faith."
"For the Lord Christ says, 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.' But why do we
not permit each several person to follow his free will, since the Lord God Himself has given free will to men, showing
to them, however, the way of righteousness, lest any one by chance should perish from ignorance of it? For He said,
'I have placed before thee good and evil. I have set fire and water before thee; choose which thou wilt.' From which
choice, you wretched men, you have chosen for yourselves not water, but rather fire. 'But yet,' He says, 'choose the
good, that thou mayest live.' You who will not choose the good, have, by your own sentence, declared that you do
not wish to live."
"Is it then the case that God has ordered the massacre even of schismatics? and if He were to issue such an order at
all, you ought to be slain by some barbarians and Scythians, not by Christians."
"For neither has the Lord God at any time rejoiced in human blood, seeing that He was even willing that Cain, the
murderer of his brother, should continue to exist in his murderer's life."
"We advise you, therefore, if so be that you will hear it willingly, and even though you do not willingly receive it, yet we
warn you that the Lord Christ instituted for Christians, not any form of slaying, but one of dying only. For if He loved
men who thus delight in battle, He would not have consented to be slain for us."
"Here you have the fullest possible proof that a Christian may take no part in the destruction of another. But the first
establishing of this principle was in the case of Peter, as it is written, "Simon Peter having a sword, drew it, and smote
the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath. For
all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.'"
"Therefore I say, He ordained that we should undergo death for the faith, which each man should do for the
communion of the Church. For Christianity makes progress by the deaths of its followers. For if death were feared by
the faithful, no man would be found to live with perfect faith. For the Lord Christ says, 'Except a corn of wheat fall into
the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.'"
"But you scatter thorns and tares, not seeds of corn. so that you ought to be burned together with them at the last
judgment. We do not utter curses; but every thorny conscience is bound under this penalty by the sentence which
God has pronounced."
"Where is the saying of the Lord Christ, 'Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'?
Where is the patience which He displayed when they spat upon, His face, who Himself with His most holy spittle
opened the eyes of the blind? Where is the saying of the Apostle Paul, 'If a man smite you in the face?' Where is that
other saying of the same apostle, 'In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft'? He makes
mention of the sufferings which he underwent, not of the deeds which he performed. It had been enough for the
Christian faith that these things should be done by the Jews: why do you, wretched men, do these others in addition?"
"But what have you to do with the kings of this world, in whom Christianity has never found anything save envy
towards her? And to teach you shortly the truth of what I say, A king persecuted the brethren of the Maccabees. A
king also condemned the three children to the sanctifying flames, being ignorant what lie did, seeing that he himself
was fighting against God.' A king sought the life of the infant Saviour. A king exposed Daniel, as he thought, to be
eaten by wild beasts. And the Lord Christ Himself was slain by a king's most wicked judge. Hence it is that the apostle
cries out, 'We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this
world, that come to nought: hut we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, which was hidden, which God ordained
before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not
have crucified the Lord of glory.' But grant that this was said of the heathen kings of old. Yet you, rulers of this
present age, because you desire to be Christians, do not allow men to be Christians, seeing that, when they are
believing in all honesty of heart, you draw them by the defilement and mist of your falsehood wholly over to your
wickedness, that with their arms, which were provided against the enemies of the state, they should assail the
Christians, and should think that, at your instigation, they are doing the work of Christ if they kill us whom you hate,
according to the saying of the Lord Christ: 'The time cometh,' He says, 'that whosoever killeth you will think that he
doeth God service.' It makes no matter therefore to you, false teachers, whether the kings of this world desire to be
heathens, which God forbid, or Christians, so long as you cease not in your efforts to arm them against the family of
Christ. But do you not know, or rather, have you not read, that the guilt of one who instigates a murder is greater
than the guilt of him who carries it out? Jezebel had excited the king her husband to the murder of a poor and
righteous man, yet husband and wife alike perished by an equal punishment. Nor indeed is your mode of urging on
kings different from that by which the subtle persuasion of women has often urged kings on to guilt. For the wife of
Herod earned and obtained the boon by means of her daughter, that the head of John should be brought to table in
a charger. Similarly the Jews forced on Pontius Pilate that he should crucify the Lord Jesus, whose blood Pilate
prayed might remain in vengeance upon them and on their children. So therefore you also overwhelm yourselves
with our blood by your sin. For it does not follow that because it is the hand of the judge that strikes the blow, your
calumnies therefore are not rather guilty of the deed. For the prophet David says, speaking in the person of Christ,
'Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the
rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder,
and east away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure. Yet have I set my King upon my
holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten
Thee. Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts, of the earth for
Thy possession. Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash I them in pieces like a potter's vessel.' And
he warned the kings themselves in the following precepts, that they should not, like ignorant men devoid of
understanding, seek to persecute the Christians, lest they should themselves be destroyed,--which precepts I would
that we could teach them, seeing that they are ignorant of them; or, at least, that you would show them to them, as
doubtless you would do if you desired that they should live; or, at any rate; if neither of the other courses be allowed,
that your malice would have permitted them to read them for themselves. The first Psalm of David would certainly
have persuaded them that they should live and reign as Christians; but meanwhile you deceive them, so long as they
entrust themselves to you. For you represent to them things that are evil, and you hide from them what is good. Let
them then at length read this, which they should have read already long ago. For what does he say, 'Be wise now
therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Lay
hold of instruction lest the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the right way. Since how quickly has His wrath kindled
over you? Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.' You urge on emperors, I say, with your persuasions, even
as Pilate, whom, as we showed above, the Jews urged on, though he himself cried aloud, as he washed his hands
before them all, 'I am innocent of the blood of this just person,' --as though a person could be clear from the guilt of a
sin who had himself committed it. But, to say nothing of ancient examples, observe, from instances taken from your
own party, how very many of your emperors and judges have perished in persecuting us. To pass over Nero, who
was the first to persecute the Christians, Domitian perished almost in the same way as Nero, as also did Trajan,
Geta, Decius, Valerian, Diocletian; Maximian also perished, at whose command that men should burn incense to their
gods, burning the sacred volumes, Marcellinus indeed first, but after him also Mensurius of Carthage, and
Caecilianus, escaped death from the sacrilegious flames, surviving like some ashes or cinders from the burning. For
the consciousness of the guilt of burning incense involved you all, as many as agreed with Mensurius. Macarius
perished, Ursacius perished, and all your counts perished in like manner by the vengeance of God.
For Ursacius was slain in a battle with the barbarians, after which birds of prey with their savage talons, and the
greedy teeth of dogs with their biting, tore him limb from limb. Was not he too a murderer at your suggestion, who,
like king Ahab, whom we showed to have been persuaded by a woman, slew a poor and righteous man? So you too
do not cease to murder us, who are just and poor (poor, that is, in worldly wealth; for in the grace of God no one of
us is poor). For even if you do not murder a man with your hands, you do not cease to do so with your butcherous
tongues. For it is written, 'Death and life are in the power of the tongue.' All, therefore, who have been murdered, you
the instigator of the deed, have slain. Nor indeed does the hand of the butcher glow save at the instigation of your
tongue; and that terrible heat of the breast is inflamed by your words to take the blood of others,--blood that shall
take a just vengeance upon him who shed it."
"Where is the law of God? where is your Christianity, if you not only commit murders and put men to death, but also
order such things to be done?"
"If you wish that we should be your friends, why do you drag us to you against our will? But if you wish that we should
be your foes, why do you kill your foes?"
"But what reason is there, or what inconsistency of emptiness, in desiring communion with us so eagerly, when all the
time you call us by the false title of heretics?"
"Choose, in short, which of the two alternatives you prefer. If innocence is on your side, why do you persecute us with
the sword? Or if you call us guilty, why do you, who are yourselves innocent, seek for our company?"
"Lastly, as we have often said before, how great is your presumption, that you should speak as you presume to do of
kings, when David says, 'It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man: it is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes?'"
"On you, yes you, you wretched men, I call, who, being dismayed with the fear of persecution, whilst you seek to save
your riches, not your souls, love not so much the faithless faith of the traitors, as the wickedness of the very men
whose protection you have won unto yourselves,--just in the same way as sailors, shipwrecked in the waves, plunge
into the waves by which they must be overwhelmed, and in the great danger of their lives seek unmistakeably the
very object of their dread; just as the madness of a tyrant, that he may be free from apprehension of any person
whatsoever, desires to be feared, though this is fraught with peril to himself: so, so you fly for refuge to the citadel of
wickedness, being willing to look on the loss or punishment of the innocent if you may escape fear for yourselves. If
you consider that you escape danger when you plunge into ruin, truly also it is a faith that merits condemnation to
observe the faith of a robber. Lastly, it is trafficking in a madman's gains to lose your own souls in order not to lose
your wealth. For the Lord Christ says, 'If a man shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul, what shall a man
give in exchange for his soul?'"
"But we who are poor in spirit are not apprehensive for our wealth, but rather feel a dread of wealth. We, 'as having
nothing, and yet possessing all things,' look on our soul as our wealth, and by our punishments and blood purchase
to ourselves the everlasting riches of heaven. So again the same Lord says, 'Whosoever shall lose his substance,
shall find it again an hundred fold.'"
"Inasmuch as we live in the fear of God, we have no fear of the punishments and executions which you wreak with the
sword; but the only thing which we avoid is that by your most wicked communion you destroy men's souls, according
to the saying of the Lord Himself: 'Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear
Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.'"
"You, therefore, who prefer rather to be washed with the most false of baptisms than to be regenerate, not only do
not lay aside your sins, but also load your souls with the offenses of criminals. For as the water of the guilty has been
abandoned by the Holy Spirit, so it is clearly filled full of the offenses of the traditors. To any wretched man, then, who
is baptized by one of this sort, we would say, If you have wished to be free from falsehood, you are really drenched
with falsity. If you desired to shut out the sins of the flesh, you will, as the conscience of the guilty comes upon you,
be partakers likewise of their guilt. If you wished to extinguish the flames of avarice, you are drenched with deceit,
you are drenched with wickedness, you are drenched also with madness. Lastly, if you believe that faith is identical in
the giver and the receiver, you are drenched with the blood of a brother by him who slays a man. And so it comes to
pass that you, who had come to baptism free from sin, return from baptism guilty of the sin of murder."
"Imitate indeed the prophets, who feared to have their holy souls deceived with false baptism. For Jeremiah says of
old that among impious men water is as one that lies. 'Water,' he says, 'that lies has not faith.'"
"David also said, 'The oil of the sinner shall not anoint my head.' Who is it, therefore, that he calls a sinner? Is it I who
suffer your violence, or you who persecute the innocent?"
"But he thus praises the ointment of concord among brethren: 'Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren
to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's
beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the
mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.' Thus, he says, is unity
anointed, even as the priests are anointed."
"Woe unto you, therefore, who, by doing violence to what is holy, cut away the bond of unity; whereas the prophet
says, 'If the people shall sin, the priest shall pray for them: but if the priest shall sin, who will pray for him?'"
"And that none who is a layman may claim to be free from sin, they are all bound by this prohibition: 'Be not partakers
of other men's sins.'"
"By this sentence, again, the apostle places in the same category those who have fellowship in the consciousness of
evil. 'Worthy of death,' he says, 'are both those who do such things, and those who consent with those that do them.'"
"Come therefore to the Church, all ye people, and flee the company of traditors, if you would not also perish with
them. For that you may the more readily know that, while they are themselves guilty, they yet entertain an excellent
opinion of our faith, let me inform you that I baptize their polluted ones; they, though may God never grant them such
an opportunity, receive those who are made mine by baptism,--which certainly they would not do if they recognized
any defects in our baptism. See therefore how holy that is which we give, when even our sacrilegious enemy fears to
(Preserved in Augustine of Hippo’s Three Books In Answer To The Letters Of Petilian The Donatist, Bk. 2)