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Chapter V.—On Justice and Goodness.
1. Now, since this consideration has weight with some, that the leaders of that heresy (of which we have been speaking) think they have established a kind of division, according to which they have declared that justice is one thing and goodness another, and have applied this division even to divine things, maintaining that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed a good God, but not a just one, whereas the God of the law and the prophets is just, but not good; I think it necessary to return, with as much brevity as possible, an answer to these statements. These persons, then, consider goodness to be some such affection as would have benefits conferred on all, although the recipient of them be unworthy and undeserving of any kindness; but here, in my opinion, they have not rightly applied their definition, inasmuch as they think that no benefit is conferred on him who is visited with any suffering or calamity. Justice, on the other hand, they view as that quality which rewards every one according to his deserts. But here, again, they do not rightly interpret the meaning of their own definition. For they think that it is just to send evils upon the wicked and benefits upon the good; i.e., so that, according to their view, the just God does not appear to wish well to the bad, but to be animated by a kind of hatred against them. And they gather together instances of this, wherever they find a history in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, relating, e.g., the punishment of the deluge, or the fate of those who are described as perishing in it, or the, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by a shower of fire and brimstone, or the falling of all the people in the wilderness on account of their sins, so that none of those who had left Egypt were found to have entered the promised land, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. Whereas from the New Testament they gather together words of compassion and piety, through which the disciples are trained by the Saviour, and by which it seems to be declared that no one is good save God the Father only; and by this means they have ventured to style the Father of the Saviour Jesus Christ a good God, but to say that the God of the world is a different one, whom they are pleased to term just, but not also good.
2. Now I think they must, in the first place, be required to show, if they can, agreeably to their own definition, that the Creator is just in punishing according to their deserts, either those who perished at the time of the deluge, or the inhabitants of Sodom, or those who had quitted Egypt, seeing we sometimes behold committed crimes more wicked and detestable than those for which the above-mentioned persons were destroyed, while we do not yet see every sinner paying the penalty of his misdeeds. Will they say that He who at one time was just has been made good? Or will they rather be of opinion that He is even now just, but is patiently enduring human offences, while that then He was not even just, inasmuch as He exterminated innocent and sucking children along with cruel and ungodly giants? Now, such are their opinions, because they know not how to understand anything beyond the letter; otherwise they would show how it is literal justice for sins to be visited upon the heads of children to the third and fourth generation, and on children’s children after them. By us, however, such things are not understood literally; but, as Ezekiel taught21222122 Ezek. xviii. 3. when relating the parable, we inquire what is the inner meaning contained in the parable itself. Moreover, they ought to explain this also, how He is just, and rewards every one according to his merits, who punishes earthly-minded persons and the devil, seeing they have done nothing worthy of punishment.21232123 [Cum nihil dignum pœna commiserint. S.] For they could not do any good if, according to them, they were of a wicked and ruined nature. For as they style Him a judge, He appears to be a judge not so much of actions as of natures; and if a bad nature cannot do good, neither can a good nature do evil. Then, in the next place, if He whom they call good is good to all, He is undoubtedly good also to those who are destined to perish. And why does He not save them? If He does not desire to do so, He will be no longer good; if He does desire it, and cannot effect it, He will not be omnipotent. Why do they not rather hear the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, preparing fire for the devil and his angels? And how shall that proceeding, as penal as it is sad, appear to be, according to their view, the work of the good God? Even the Saviour Himself, the Son of the good God, protests in the Gospels, and declares that “if signs and wonders had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented21242124 Pœnitentiam egissent. long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” And when He had come near to those very cities, and had entered their territory, why, pray, does He avoid entering those cities, and exhibiting to them abundance of signs and wonders, if it were certain that they would have repented, after they had been performed, in sackcloth and ashes? But as He does not do this, He undoubtedly abandons to destruction those whom the language of the Gospel shows not to have been of a wicked or ruined nature, inasmuch as it declares they were capable of repentance. Again, in a certain parable of the Gospel, where the king enters in to see the guests reclining at the banquet, he beheld a certain individual not clothed with wedding raiment, and said to him, “Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?” and then ordered his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”21252125 Matt. xxii. 12, 13. Let them tell us who is that king who entered in to see the guests, and finding one amongst them with unclean garments, commanded him to be bound by his servants, and thrust out into outer darkness. Is he the same whom they call just? How then had he commanded good and bad alike to be invited, without directing their merits to be inquired into by his servants? By such procedure would be indicated, not the character of a just God who rewards according to men’s deserts, as they assert, but of one who displays undiscriminating goodness towards all. Now, if this must necessarily be understood of the good God, i.e., either of Christ or of the Father of Christ, what other objection can they bring against the justice of God’s judgment? Nay, what else is there so unjust charged by them against the God of the law as to order him who had been invited by His servants, whom He had sent to call good and bad alike, to be bound hand and foot, and to be thrown into outer darkness, because he had on unclean garments?
3. And now, what we have drawn from the authority of Scripture ought to be sufficient to refute the arguments of the heretics. It will not, however, appear improper if we discuss the matter with them shortly, on the grounds of reason itself. We ask them, then, if they know what is regarded among men as the ground of virtue and wickedness, and if it appears to follow that we can speak of virtues in God, or, as they think, in these two Gods. Let them give an answer also to the question, whether they consider goodness to be a virtue; and as they will undoubtedly admit it to be so, what will they say of injustice? They will never certainly, in my opinion, be so foolish as to deny that justice is a virtue. Accordingly, if virtue is a blessing, and justice is a virtue, then without doubt justice is goodness. But if they say that justice is not a blessing, it must either be an evil or an indifferent thing. Now I think it folly to return any answer to those who say that justice is an evil, for I shall have the appearance of replying either to senseless words, or to men out of their minds. How can that appear an evil which is able to reward the good with blessings, as they themselves also admit? But if they say that it is a thing of indifference, it follows that since justice is so, sobriety also, and prudence, and all the other virtues, are things of indifference. And what answer shall we make to Paul, when he says, “If there be any virtue, and, if there be any praise, think on these things, which ye have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me?”21262126 Phil. iv. 8, 9. Let them learn, therefore, by searching the holy Scriptures, what are the individual virtues, and not deceive themselves by saying that that God who rewards every one according to his merits, does, through hatred of evil, recompense the wicked with evil, and not because those who have sinned need to be treated with severer remedies, and because He applies to them those measures which, with the prospect of improvement, seem nevertheless, for the present, to produce a feeling of pain. They do not read what is written respecting the hope of those who were destroyed in the deluge; of which hope Peter himself thus speaks in his first Epistle: “That Christ, indeed, was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, by which He went and preached to the spirits who were kept in prison, who once were unbelievers, when they awaited the long-suffering of God in the days of Noah, when the ark was preparing, in which a few, i.e., eight souls, were saved by water. Whereunto also baptism by a like figure now saves you.”21272127 1 Pet. iii. 18–21. And with regard to Sodom and Gomorrah, let them tell us whether they believe the prophetic words to be those of the Creator God—of Him, viz., who is related to have rained upon them a shower of fire and brimstone. What does Ezekiel the prophet say of them? “Sodom,” he says, “shall be restored to her former condition.”21282128 Ezek. xvi. 55, cf. 53. But why, in afflicting those who are deserving of punishment, does He not afflict them for their good?—who also says to Chaldea, “Thou hast coals of fire, sit upon them; they will be a help to thee.”21292129 Isa. xlvii. 14, 15. The Septuagint here differs from the Hebrew: ἔχεις ἄνθρακας πυρός, κάθισαι ἐπ᾽ αὐτούς, οὗτοι ἔσονταί σοι βοήθεια. And of those also who fell in the desert, let them hear what is related in the seventy-eighth Psalm, which bears the superscription of Asaph; for he says, “When He slew them, then they sought Him.”21302130 Ps. lxxviii. 34. He does not say that some sought Him after others had been slain, but he says that the destruction of those who were killed was of such a nature that, when put to death, they sought God. By all which it is established, that the God of the law and the Gospels is one and the same, a just and good God, and that He confers benefits justly, and punishes with kindness; since neither goodness without justice, nor justice without goodness, can display the (real) dignity of the divine nature.
We shall add the following remarks, to which we are driven by their subtleties. If justice is a different thing from goodness, then, since evil is the opposite of good, and injustice of justice, injustice will doubtless be something else than an evil; and as, in your opinion, the just man is not good, so neither will the unjust man be wicked; and again, as the good man is not just, so the wicked man also will not be unjust. But who does not see the absurdity, that to a good God one should be opposed that is evil; while to a just God, whom they allege to be inferior to the good, no one should be opposed! For there is none who can be called unjust, as there is a Satan who is called wicked. What, then, are we to do? Let us give up the position which we defend, for they will not be able to maintain that a bad man is not also unjust, and an unjust man wicked. And if these qualities be indissolubly inherent in these opposites, viz., injustice in wickedness, or wickedness in injustice, then unquestionably the good man will be inseparable from the just man, and the just from the good; so that, as we speak of one and the same wickedness in malice and injustice, we may also hold the virtue of goodness and justice to be one and the same.
4. They again recall us, however, to the words of Scripture, by bringing forward that celebrated question of theirs, affirming that it is written, “A bad tree cannot produce good fruits; for a tree is known by its fruit.”21312131 Matt. vii. 18, cf. xii. 33. What, then, is their position? What sort of tree the law is, is shown by its fruits, i.e., by the language of its precepts. For if the law be found to be good, then undoubtedly He who gave it is believed to be a good God. But if it be just rather than good, then God also will be considered a just legislator. The Apostle Paul makes use of no circumlocution, when he says, “The law is good; and the commandment is holy, and just, and good.”21322132 Rom. vii. 12. From which it is clear that Paul had not learned the language of those who separate justice from goodness, but had been instructed by that God, and illuminated by His Spirit, who is at the same time both holy, and good, and just; and speaking by whose Spirit he declared that the commandment of the law was holy, and just, and good. And that he might show more clearly that goodness was in the commandment to a greater degree than justice and holiness, repeating his words, he used, instead of these three epithets, that of goodness alone, saying, “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid.”21332133 Rom. vii. 13. As he knew that goodness was the genus of the virtues, and that justice and holiness were species belonging to the genus, and having in the former verses named genus and species together, he fell back, when repeating his words, on the genus alone. But in those which follow he says, “Sin wrought death in me by that which is good,”21342134 Rom. vii. 13. where he sums up generically what he had beforehand explained specifically. And in this way also is to be understood the declaration, “A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”21352135 Matt. xii. 35. For here also he assumed that there was a genus in good or evil, pointing out unquestionably that in a good man there were both justice, and temperance, and prudence, and piety, and everything that can be either called or understood to be good. In like manner also he said that a man was wicked who should without any doubt be unjust, and impure, and unholy, and everything which singly makes a bad man. For as no one considers a man to be wicked without these marks of wickedness (nor indeed can he be so), so also it is certain that without these virtues no one will be deemed to be good. There still remains to them, however, that saying of the Lord in the Gospel, which they think is given them in a special manner as a shield, viz., “There is none good but one, God the Father.”21362136 Matt. xix. 17. This word they declare is peculiar to the Father of Christ, who, however, is different from the God who is Creator of all things, to which Creator he gave no appellation of goodness. Let us see now if, in the Old Testament, the God of the prophets and the Creator and Legislator of the word is not called good. What are the expressions which occur in the Psalms? “How good is God to Israel, to the upright in heart!”21372137 Ps. lxxiii. 1. and, “Let Israel now say that He is good, that His mercy endureth for ever;”21382138 Ps. cxviii. 2. the language in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, “The Lord is good to them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.”21392139 Lam. iii. 25. As therefore God is frequently called good in the Old Testament, so also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is styled just in the Gospels. Finally, in the Gospel according to John, our Lord Himself, when praying to the Father, says, “O just Father, the world hath not known Thee.”21402140 John xvii. 25: Juste Pater. And lest perhaps they should say that it was owing to His having assumed human flesh that He called the Creator of the world “Father,” and styled Him “Just,” they are excluded from such a refuge by the words that immediately follow, “The world hath not known Thee.” But, according to them, the world is ignorant of the good God alone. For the world unquestionably recognises its Creator, the Lord Himself saying that the world loveth what is its own. Clearly, then, He whom they consider to be the good God, is called just in the Gospels. Any one may at leisure gather together a greater number of proofs, consisting of those passages, where in the New Testament the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is called just, and in the Old also, where the Creator of heaven and earth is called good; so that the heretics, being convicted by numerous testimonies, may perhaps some time be put to the blush.
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