Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 401 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO HIS WELL-BELOVED BROTHER THEODORUS, BISHOP AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. I have resolved to commit to writing in this letter what I said when you and I were conversing together as to the terms on which we would welcome clergy of the party of Donatus desiring to become Catholics, in order that, if any one asked you what are our sentiments and practice in regard to this, you might exhibit these by producing what I have written with my own hand. Be assured, therefore, that we detest nothing in the Donatist clergy but that which renders them schismatics and heretics, namely, their dissent from the unity and truth of the Catholic Church, in their not remaining in peace with the people of God, which is spread abroad throughout the world, and in their refusing to recognise the baptism of Christ in those who have received it. This their grievous error, therefore, we reject; but the good name of God which they bear, and His sacrament which they have received, we acknowledge in them, and embrace it with reverence and love. But for this very reason we grieve over their wandering, and long to gain them for God by the love of Christ, that they may have within the peace of the Church that holy sacrament for their salvation, which they meanwhile have beyond the pale of the Church for their destruction. If, therefore, there be taken away from between us the evil things which proceed from men, and if the good which comes from God and belongs to both parties in common be duly honoured, there will ensue such brotherly concord, such amiable peace, that the love of Christ shall gain the victory in men's hearts over the temptation of the devil.
2. When, therefore, any come to us from the party of Donatus, we do not welcome the evil which belongs to them, viz. their error and schism: these, the only obstacles to our concord, are removed from between us, and we embrace our brethren, standing with them, as the apostle says, in "the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace," and acknowledging in them the good things which are divine, as their holy baptism, the blessing conferred by ordination, their profession of self-denial, their vow of celibacy, their faith in the Trinity, and such like; all which things were indeed theirs before, but "profited them nothing, because they had not charity." For what truth is there in the profession of Christian charity by him who does not embrace Christian unity? When, therefore, they come to the Catholic Church, they gain thereby not what they already possessed, but something which they had not before,—namely, that those things which they possessed begin then to be profitable to them. For in the Catholic Church they obtain the root of charity in the bond of peace and in the fellowship of unity: so that all the sacraments of truth which they hold serve not to condemn, but to deliver them. The branches ought not to boast that their wood is the wood of the vine, not of the thorn; for if they do not live by union to the root, they shall, notwithstanding their outward appearance, be cast into the fire. But of some branches which were broken off the apostle says that "God is able to graft them in again." Wherefore, beloved brother, if you see any one of the Donatist party in doubt as to the place into which they shall be welcomed by us, show them this writing in my own hand, which is familiar to you, and let them have it to read if they desire it; for "I call God for a record upon my soul," that I will welcome them on such terms as that they shall retain not only the baptism of Christ which they have received, but also the honour due to their vow of holiness and to their self-denying virtue.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF I/I, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.