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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Sec. V.—On Accusations, and the Treatment of Accusers.

Concerning Accusers and False Accusers, and How a Judge is Not Rashly Either to Believe Them or Disbelieve Them, But After an Accurate Examination.

XXXVII. But it is the duty of the bishop to judge rightly, as it is written, “Judge righteous judgment;”27602760     John vii. 24.   and elsewhere, “Why do ye not even of yourselves judge what is right?”27612761     Luke xii. 57.   Be ye therefore as skilful dealers in money: for as these reject bad money, but take to themselves what is current, in the same manner it is the bishops’s duty to retain the unblameable, but either to heal, or, if they be past cure, to cast off those that are blameworthy, so as not to be hasty in cutting off, nor to believe all accusations; for it sometimes happens that some, either through passion or envy, do insist on a false accusation against a brother, as did the two elders in the case of Susanna in Babylon,27622762     Hist. Susanna.   and the Egyptian woman in the case of Joseph.27632763     Gen. xxxix.   Do thou therefore, as a man of God, not rashly receive such accusations, lest thou take away the innocent and slay the righteous; for he that will receive such accusations is the author of anger rather than of peace. But where there is anger, there the Lord is not; for that anger, which is the friend of Satan—I mean that which is excited unjustly by the means of false brethren—never suffers unanimity to be in the Church. Wherefore, when you know such persons to be foolish, quarrelsome, passionate, and such as delight in mischief, do not give credit to them; but observe such as they are, when you hear anything from them against their brother: for murder is nothing in their eyes, and they cast a man down in such a way as one would not suspect. Do thou therefore consider diligently the accuser,27642764     The mss. read, “the accused.”   wisely observing his mode of life, what, and of what sort it is; and in case thou findest him a man of veracity, do according to the doctrine of our Lord,27652765     Matt. xviii. 15.   and taking him who is accused, rebuke him, that he may repent, when nobody is by. But if he be not persuaded, take with thee out or two more, and so show him his fault, and admonish him with mildness and instruction; for “wisdom will rest upon an heart that is good, but is not understood in the heart of the foolish.”27662766     Prov. xiv. 32.    

That Sinners are Privately to Be Reproved, and the Penitent to Be Received, According to the Constitution of Our Lord.

XXXVIII. If, therefore, he be persuaded by the mouth of you three, it is well. But if any one hardens himself, “tell it to the Church: but if he neglects to hear the Church, let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican;”27672767     Matt. xviii. 17.   and receive him no longer into the Church as a Christian, but reject him as an heathen. But if he be willing to repent, receive him. For the Church does not receive an heathen or a publican to communion, before they every one repent of their former impieties; for our Lord Jesus, the Christ of God, has appointed place for the acceptance of men upon their repentance.  

Examples of Repentance.

XXXIX. For I Matthew, one of those twelve which speak to you in this doctrine, am an apostle, having myself been formerly a publican, but now have obtained mercy through believing, and have repented of my former practices, and have been vouchsafed the honour to be an apostle and preacher of the word. And Zacchæus, whom the Lord received upon his repentance and prayers to Him, was also himself in the same manner a publican at first. And, besides, even the soldiers and multitude of publicans, who came to hear the word of the Lord about repentance, heard this from the prophet John, after he had baptized them: “Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.”27682768     Luke iii. 13.   In like manner, life is not refused to the heathen, if they repent and cast away their unbelief. Esteem, therefore, every one that is convicted of any wicked action, and has not repented, as a publican or an heathen. But if he afterward repents, and turns from his error, then, as we receive the heathen, when they wish to repent, into the Church indeed to hear the word, but do not receive them to communion until they have received the seal of baptism, and are made complete Christians; so do we also permit such as these to enter only to hear, until they show the fruit of repentance, that by hearing the word they may not utterly and irrecoverably perish. But let them not be admitted to communion in prayer; and let them depart after the reading of the law, and the prophets, and the Gospel, that by such departure they may be made better in their course of life, by endeavouring to meet every day about the public assemblies, and to be frequent in prayer, that they also may be at length admitted, and that those who behold them may be affected, and be more secured by fearing to fall into the same condition.  

That We are Not to Be Implacable to Him Who Has Once or Twice Offended.

XL. But yet do not thou, O bishop, presently abhor any person who has fallen into one or two offences, nor shalt thou exclude him from the word of the Lord, nor reject him from common intercourse, since neither did the Lord refuse to eat with publicans and sinners; and when He was accused by the Pharisees on this account, He said: “They that are well have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.”27692769     Matt. ix. 12.   Do you, therefore, live and dwell with those who are separated from you for their sins; and take care of them, comforting them, and confirming them, and saying to them: “Be strengthened, ye weak hands and feeble knees.”27702770     Isa. xxxv. 3.   For we ought to comfort those that mourn, and afford encouragement to the fainthearted, lest by immoderate sorrow they degenerate into distraction, since “he that is fainthearted is exceedingly distracted.”27712771     Prov. xiv. 29, LXX.    

After What Manner We Ought to Receive a Penitent; How We Ought to Deal with Offenders, and When They are to Be Cut Off from the Church.

XLI. But if any one returns, and shows forth the fruit of repentance, then do ye receive him to prayer, as the lost son, the prodigal, who had consumed his father’s substance with harlots, who fed swine, and desired to be fed with husks, and could not obtain it. This son, when he repented, and returned to his father, and said, “I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;”27722772     Luke xv. 21.   the father, full of affection to his child, received him with music, and restored him his old robe, and ring, and shoes, and slew the fatted calf, and made merry with his friends. Do thou therefore, O bishop, act in the same manner. And as thou receivest an heathen after thou hast instructed and baptized him, so do thou let all join in prayers for this man, and restore him by imposition of hands to his ancient place among the flock, as one purified by repentance; and that imposition of hands shall be to him instead of baptism: for by the laying on of our hands the Holy Ghost was given to believers. And in case some one of those brethren who had stood immoveable accuse thee, because thou art reconciled to him, say to him: “Thou art always with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” For that God does not only receive the penitent, but restores them to their former dignity, holy David is a sufficient witness, who, after his sin in the matter of Uriah, prayed to God, and said: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”27732773     Ps. li.   And again: “Turn Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine offences. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in my inward parts. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” Do thou therefore, as a compassionate physician, heal all that have sinned, making use of saving methods of cure; not only cutting and searing, or using corrosives, but binding up, and putting in tents, and using gentle healing medicines, and sprinkling comfortable words. If it be an hollow wound, or great gash, nourish it with a suitable plaister, that it may be filled up, and become even with the rest of the whole flesh. If it be foul, cleanse it with corrosive powder, that is, with the words of reproof. If it have proud flesh, eat it down with a sharp plaister—the threats of judgment. If it spreads further, sear it, and cut off the putrid flesh, mortifying him with fastings. But if, after all that thou hast done, thou perceivest that from the feet to the head there is no room for a fomentation, or oil, or bandage, but that the malady spreads and prevents all cure, as a gangrene which corrupts the entire member; then, with a great deal of consideration, and the advice of other skilful physicians, cut off the putrefied member, that the whole body of the Church be not corrupted. Be not therefore ready and hasty to cut off, nor do thou easily have recourse to the saw, with its many teeth; but first use a lancet to lay open the wound, that the inward cause whence the pain is derived being drawn out, may keep the body free from pain. But if thou seest any one past repentance, and he is become insensible, then cut off the incurable from the Church with sorrow and lamentation. For: “Take out from among yourselves that wicked person.”27742774     Deut. xvii. 7.   And: “Ye shall make the children of Israel to fear.”27752775     Lev. xv. 31.   And again: “Thou shalt not accept the persons of the rich in judgment.”27762776     Deut. i. 17; Lev. xix. 15.   And: “Thou shalt not pity a poor man in his cause: for the judgment is the Lord’s.”27772777     Ex. xxiii. 3.    

That a Judge Must Not Be a Respecter of Persons.

XLII. But if the slanderous accusation be false, and you that are the pastors, with the deacons, admit of that falsehood for truth, either by acceptance of persons or receiving of bribes, as willing to do that which will he pleasing to the devil, and so you thrust out from the Church him that is accused, but is clear of the crime, you shall give an account in the day of the Lord. For it is written: “The innocent and the righteous thou shalt not slay.”27782778     Ex. xxiii. 7, 8.   “Thou shalt not take gifts to smite the soul: for gifts blind the eyes of the wise, and destroy the words of the righteous.”27792779     Deut. xxvii. 25, xvi. 19.   And again: “They that justify the wicked for gifts, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him.”27802780     Isa. v. 23.   Be careful, therefore, not to condemn any persons unjustly, and so to assist the wicked. For “woe to him that calls evil good, and good evil; bitter sweet, and sweet bitter; that puts light for darkness, and darkness for light.”27812781     Isa. v. 20.   Take care, therefore, lest by any means ye become acceptors of persons, and thereby fall under this voice of the Lord.27822782     This sentence follows the passage from Isa. v. 23 in most mss. One V. ms. has the order adopted In the text.   For if you condemn others unjustly, you pass sentence against yourselves. For the Lord says: “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and as you condemn, you shall be condemned.”27832783     Matt. vii. 2; Luke vi. 37.   If, therefore, ye judge without respect of persons, ye will discover that accuser who bears false witness against his neighbour, and will prove him to be a sycophant, a spiteful person, and a murderer, causing perplexity by accusing the man as if he were wicked, inconstant in his words, contradicting himself in what he affirms, and entangled with the words of his own mouth; for his own lips are a dangerous snare to him: whom, when thou hast convicted him of speaking falsely, thou shalt judge severely, and shalt deliver him to the fiery sword, and thou shalt do to him as he wickedly proposed to do to his brother; for as much as in him lay he slew his brother, by forestalling the ears of the judge.27842784     Deut. xix. 19.   Now it is written, that “he that sheddeth man’s blood, for that his own blood shall be shed.”27852785     Gen. ix. 6.   And: “Thou shalt take away that innocent blood, which was shed without cause, from thee.”27862786     Deut. xix. 13.    

After What Manner False Accusers are to Be Punished.

XLIII. Thou shalt therefore cast him out of the congregation as a murderer of his brother. Some time afterwards, if he says that he repents, mortify him with fastings, and afterwards ye shall lay your hands upon him and receive him, but still securing him, that he does not disturb anybody a second time. But if, when he is admitted again, he be alike troublesome, and will not cease to disturb and to quarrel with his brother, spying faults out of a contentious spirit, cast him out as a pernicious person, that he may not lay waste the Church of God. For such a one is the raiser of disturbances in cities; for he, though he be within, does not become the Church, but is a superfluous and vain member, casting a blot, as far as in him lies, on the body of Christ. For if such men as are born with superfluous members of their body, which hang to them as fingers, or excrescences of flesh, cut them away from themselves on account of their indecency, whereby the unseemliness vanishes, and the man recovers his natural good shape by the means of the surgeon; how much more ought you, the pastors of the Church (for the Church is a perfect body, and sound members; of such as believe in God, in the fear of the Lord, and in love), to do the like when there is found in it a superfluous member with wicked designs, and rendering the rest of the body unseemly, and disturbing it with sedition, and war, and evil-speaking; causing fears, disturbances, blots, evil-speaking, accusations, disorders, and doing the like works of the devil, as if he were ordained by the devil to cast a reproach on the Church by calumnies, and mighty disorders, and strife, and division! Such a one, therefore, when he is a second time cast out of the Church, is justly cut off entirely from the congregation of the Lord. And now the Church of the Lord will be more beautiful than it was before, when it had a superfluous, and to itself a disagreeable member. Wherefore henceforward it will be free from blame and reproach, and become clear of such wicked, deceitful, abusive, unmerciful, traitorous persons; of such as are “haters of those that are good, lovers of pleasure,”27872787     2 Tim. iii. 3, 4.   affecters of vainglory, deceivers, and pretenders to wisdom; of such as make it their business to scatter, or rather utterly to disperse, the lambs of the Lord.  


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