[Translated by Mark Vermes]
These items are traditionally dated to 405 AD, but Mark Vermes has redated them to 402 AD. The Letter of Secundinus is almost the only Latin text by a Roman Manichaean to survive.
The translations are based on the text printed by Zycha in CSEL vol.XXV (Section VI Part 2) in 1892, based on the only manuscript, the damaged and lacunose Codex Carnutensis (C), of the 10th century. There is a reference to a codex Trecensis in the editio princeps of Johannes Amerbach, Basel, 1506, listed as #40 in the catalogue of that collection. The Maurists produced an edition in 1680 (reprinted with some emendations in Migne, PL 42). There is a French translation in the Bibliotheque Augustinienne series, R. Jolivet and M. Jourjon, Oeuvres de Saint Augustin 17, 1961.
From Augustine’s Retractiones:
A certain Secundinus, not one of those whom the Manichaeans call elect, but one of those they call auditors, whom I didn’t even know by appearance, wrote to me like a friend, in respectful terms criticising me for attacking that heresy in my writings, and urging of a defence of it and an attack on the Catholic faith. I replied to him, but because at the heading of that work I did not put who was writing to whom, it is kept not among my letters but among my books. There at the start is written also his letter. The title of this work of mine is ‘Against Secundinus the Manichee’. In my opinion I prefer it to everything I was able to write against that pestilence.
The letter of Secundinus the Manichaean to St Augustine.
Secundinus to Augustine, the lord who is deservedly to be honoured and praised and uniquely to be venerated.
I feel and express my gratitude to the ineffable and most holy majesty and to his first born, the king of all lights Jesus Christ, and I humbly bring the gratitude I feel to the Holy Spirit, because they have given and offered me the opportunity to greet freely your excellent holiness, lord who are deservedly to be praised and uniquely to be venerated. Nor is it surprising, for they are most capable and most powerful both at providing all good things and at warding off all evils; from which may they protect your goodness with their defences, and rescue it from that evil – not the one which is nothing or which is produced by the strife and passion of mortals, but the one which has been made ready to come. Woe to him who shall have offered himself as its opportunity! For you deserve to receive such gifts from them and that they should be made nurturers of your truth, you who are really a lantern which the right hand of truth has placed in the lampstand of your heart, to stop the inheritance of your treasure being despoiled by the arrival of the thief. They should order that your house should stand without collapsing, as you have built it not upon the sand of error, but on the rock of knowledge; and should deflect from us that evil spirit which strikes fear and treachery into men, so as to divert souls from the narrow path of the Saviour.  That spirit’s every assault is spread abroad by means of those princes against whom the Apostle states in his letter to the Ephesians that he has entered the battle. For he says that he “is battling not against flesh and blood, but against princes and powers, against the spiritual forces of evil that exist in the heavens.” And rightly so. For who would take up weapons against himself, and not against an armed enemy, against the one who is on the attack? For as the bodies of men are the weapons of sin, so the precepts of salvation are the weapons of righteousness. This is what Paul testifies, and this is what Manichaeus himself testifies.
Therefore it is not a fight involving weapons, but involving spirits that use those weapons. However they fight for the sake of souls. In their midst is placed a soul, to which from the beginning its own nature has given the victory. If this soul has acted in unity with the spirit of virtues, with that spirit it shall have eternal life and possess that kingdom to which our Lord invites us; if on the other hand it begins to be led astray by the spirit of vices and gives its consent, and then after its consent shows repentance, it will obtain a source of pardon for these disgraces. For it is seduced by being mixed with flesh, not by its own volition. But if having learnt to know itself it consents to evil and does not arm itself against the enemy, it has sinned by its own volition. If it is once again ashamed of its error then it will find the author of mercies ready. For it is not punished because it has sinned, but because it has not repented of its sin. But if it passes away in that same sin without pardon, then it will be shut out, then it will be like the foolish virgin, then it will be the heir of the left hand, then it will be driven by the Lord from the wedding banquet because of its black clothing, to where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and it shall go with the devil to the fire of his own origin. Your remarkable learning either recounts that the devil was made from an archangel  or states that he is nothing. Why in that case shall the just reign? Why shall Apostles and martyrs be crowned? Is it entirely because they have won nothing? How greatly is the victor’s power nullified, when his opponent is already stated to have no strength! Change your opinion I beg you, cast off the treachery of your Punic race and change your desertion, that you made from fear, back to the truth. Do not make excuses with these lies.
My slight and nondescript Roman intellect has read a number of writings by your reverend honour, in which you show as much anger with the truth as does Hortensius with philosophy. When I had read them a second and third time with my judgement suspended and a quick eye, I found everywhere a supreme orator and almost a god of complete eloquence, but nowhere did I discover a Christian. I found someone armed against everything, but affirming nothing, when you ought to have shown yourself more skilful in knowledge than in rhetoric. I cannot keep silent about it before your most patient holiness. For it seems to me – and this is definitely the case – that you have never been a Manichaean, and never been able to discover the unknown mysteries of his secret, and that under the name of Manichaeus you are attacking Hannibal or Mithridates. For I confess that the marbles of the Anician house do not shine with as much diligence or such hard effort as the eloquence with which your writings gleam. If you had determined that this eloquence should match the truth then certainly a magnificent ornament would have been erected for us. Do not, I beg you, go against your own nature, do not be the spear of error, with which the Saviour’s side is pierced. You can see that he is crucified both all over the world and in every soul, when his soul  never had the nature of being angered. You therefore, who derive from that soul, now cease, I beg you, your empty accusations and abandon your pointless controversies. All the time that you were kept with your father in the midst of darkness you never played the joker, but in open sunlight and moonlight you have been proven the accuser. Who therefore will be your advocate before the just tribunal of the judge, when you begin to be convicted by your own testimony from both your statements and your deeds? The Persian whom you have accused will not be there. Without him who will console your weeping? Who will save the Carthaginian? Or has there been a correction in the Gospel, so that the broad way does not lead to perdition? Or is it incorrect in Paul, so that each individual will not have to render account of their deeds? How much better it would have been if when you left Manichaeus you had joined the Academy or written an exposition of the wars of the Romans who conquered the world. What great and noble achievements you would have found there, and you, a chaste man of absolute modesty and poverty, would not have gone over to the Jewish tribes with their barbaric customs. Now you add their stories to your precepts and you include “the fornicating wife” and “you will make sons of the fornicating woman” and “by fornication the earth will be polluted away from the Lord”. Also “you shall not wash your hands after intercourse with your wife”, and “put your hands on my thigh” and “kill and eat” and “grow and multiply”. Did the lions in the pit please you because there were no cages? Or were you saddened by Sara’s sterility, when her husband had been the one to divert her from her honour by pretending she was his sister? Perhaps after the contest of Dares and Entellus you had wanted to await Jacob and his wrestling match?  Or had you set yourself to count the number of the Amorites or the pancarpus in Noah’s ark? I know that you have always hated these things, I know that you have always loved great things, that quit the earth, and seek the heavens, that mortify the body and give life to the soul. So who is it that has suddenly changed you?
Although to say these things to your holiness would be the height of absurdity. For you yourself are well aware how wicked he is and how evil, and how he campaigns even against the faithful and best men with so much guile, that he forced Peter to deny his Lord three times in the same night, and when he arose prevented Thomas from believing in him. These wounds were relieved by the medicine of pardon. But even bolder was this act: that when the Lord was sowing the best seed he mixed in darnel and snatched Iscariot away from such a shepherd. So that it should be brought to the final punishment of the cross, he incited the scribes and Pharisees to His destruction, so that they shouted for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified. Therefore we have escaped because we have followed a spiritual saviour. For such was the outpouring of that one’s audacious behaviour that, if our Lord had been of the flesh, then all our hope would have been severed. And yet he could not be satisfied even by the ignominy of the cross, but in his rage forced Jesus first to be crowned with thorns and then given vinegar to drink, to be pierced with the soldiers’ spear and then to suffer blasphemy from the lips of the robber on his left. Afterwards  his wickedness grew so far that he devised various problems for him and his Apostles who gathered there, under their name, which is all the worse, dividing among all the superstitious the dignity of the term Catholic. For I omit how far he armed each of the disciples against the magistrates, and how far he deceived Hymenaeus, or Alexander, and his deeds at Antioch, at Smyrna or at Iconium. I only now add the activities of the present multitude, from which virtue is as far removed as it is a closed book to the people. For it is not virtue to which the crowd has attained, and especially the crowd of women. But I hesitate to make their secrets public, lest crimes begun by others be reproduced. Yet it is the role of the wise to tolerate both, to laugh at both, and to strive only for that which engenders beatitude and which nurtures life.
And still I humbly entreat you again and again, I beg and beseech you time after time, first to deem me worthy of pardon, if any statement of mine has irritated your heart of gold. For I have written this from excess zeal, because I do not want you to be plucked from our flock; even I myself might have wandered from it and nearly perished, but that I quickly saved myself from a wicked form of communion. Secondly I beseech you to reconcile yourself to the communion which has done you no wrong; return to the communion which if you do return will not be angry with you for your guilt. For it does not  know forgiveness only seven times, rather it has the power both to bind and to release. Do not imagine you are touching, since you saw long ago; do not wish to learn, as you are able to teach. Cast aside status among men, if you wish to please Christ. Be a new Paul for our times: though he was a doctor of Jewish law, when he had won from the Lord the privilege of being an Apostle, everything he had thought pleasurable he despised as dung, in order to gain Christ. Bring aid to your bright soul, because you do not know at what hour the thief is coming. Do not adorn the dead, because you are the ornament of the living. Do not be a companion on the broad way, because it awaits the Amorite, but hurry to the narrow way, in order to win eternal life. Stop, I beg you, enclosing Christ within a womb, lest you yourself be enclosed once again in a womb. Stop making two natures into one, because the judgement of the Lord is approaching. Woe to those who will meet him and who are changing sweetness to bitterness!
But if you have doubts about the origin or are uncertain about the commencement of the battle, then an explanation can be given in a lengthy disquisition and a peaceful conference. However, I want to make it clear to your supremely wise goodness that there are certain things which cannot be explained in such a way that they can be understood; for divine reason surpasses the hearts of men. For example this question, as to how there are two natures or why he, who could not suffer anything, fought. Or again what he also says about the new age, that it is to be built from the broken fragments of this great earth. But who would admit that there can be a fragmentation among divine elements? Unless that is you were to  make an image of the speaker compared to the hearer: words are fragmented in the hearer’s case and put together in the speaker’s. However many words the lecturer has spoken, that the hearer holds to himself, yet they have not departed from the lecturer. Unless this is your view also about that age, then what is said is quite stupid and inane. Similarly also with the fight. Unless you first postulate that God in His entirety is justice, while it is the utmost crime to attack someone else’s domain, and further when the opposite nature invaded, God certainly could suffer nothing, because of His foreknowledge, then He would have appeared to have given consent to the crime had He not fought back. He opposed His great virtue to the invader, so that His own justice would not be polluted by any consent to sacrilege. For the just man has been formed by Him in such a way that he never sins himself nor ever gives his consent to the sinner. Moreover God in His kingdom had power over nature, being omnipotent and judge. If these things have been said with the result, not that God was created, but that I have not had the ability to comprehend, they still do not suffice for apostasy; but neither has the sun risen for the blind, nor has a voice been heard by the deaf nor a feast prepared for the dead. That places cannot be assigned to natures is a fact which the human condition calls inexplicable and indescribable. But the Saviour, for whom everything is easy, calls these two places right and left, inside and outside, “come and go”. Whereas you when you write a verse and take a poetic foot – for example orbis, vita, salus, lumen, lex, ordo, potestas – if it is a voiced syllable you pronounce it as silent, and a long one you pronounce short.  These natures do not agree in this way, but they certainly mean two things, separated from one another. But when such things are expounded by me to your admirable supreme intelligence, it is as if the Jordan were bringing water to the ocean, or a lantern light to the sun, or a people sanctity to their bishop. Therefore you should tolerate whatever this letter contains. For had I not known of your divine patience, which readily pardons each person, I would never have written in such a way, although you can see that I have touched my deepest feelings only cursorily and have taken the greatest care not to appear to you verbose. Accordingly these thoughts shall find acceptance by your holiness, as will the method of our salvation; otherwise you will be able to produce as a result thousands of volumes, lord who are deservedly to be praised and uniquely to be venerated. Farewell.
1. Your goodwill towards me, which is evident in your letter, is welcome. But however much your affection towards me ought to be returned by me, I am equally sad because you have tenaciously clung to false suspicions, partly against me and partly against the truth itself, which cannot be altered. But I can easily scorn your false perceptions concerning my state of mind, for you perceive something which, while I do not recognise it in myself, nevertheless can exist in mankind. Therefore although you are wrong in my case, you are, however, not so wrong that your opinion removes me from the number of men, because what you believe about me can occur in the human mind, even though it has not occurred in mine. So it is not necessary to try vigorously to remove this suspicion from you. For your hope does not depend on me, nor will you be unable to be good unless I have been. Perceive what you will about Augustine, provided my conscience shall not accuse me before the eyes of God. For, as the Apostle says, “it matters little to me to be judged by you or by a human day.” Yet I shall not pay you back in the same coin by daring to think anything of an evil type about your mind, that I am not able to observe. I do not say that you wished to harm me deceitfully; instead I think of you only what you indicate in your own words. Therefore although you have had bad suspicions about me, that I left the Manichaeans’ heresy by carnal fear of  some embarrassment, which could have affected me from your company, or from greed for the honour which I have acquired in the Catholic church, yet I do not in return think badly of you; I believe that this suspicion of yours is well-meaning, and I consider that you have written this not for the purpose of making accusations but from a desire to correct errors. But if you were to accord me the favour of believing me, since you censure the hidden recesses of my mind, which certainly I cannot produce before your eyes to show you, then you would easily of your own accord change your opinion and no longer wish to affirm rashly that of which you have no knowledge.
2. I admit that I abandoned the Manichaeans from fear, but fear of those words declared by the Apostle Paul: “The Spirit openly states that in the last times some will abandon the faith and attend to seductive spirits and the doctrines of demons, who lie in their hypocrisy, having their conscience branded, and will prohibit marriage, and abstain from foods that God created for consumption with the giving of thanks by the faithful and those who have learnt the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be discarded that is consumed with thanksgiving.” Although he described perhaps other heretics too in these words, he above all described the Manichaeans succinctly and clearly. So it was due to this fear, when in my boyish intellect all too late I grew wise,that I tore myself away from that company. I confess that I also was inflamed with love of honour to leave it, but of that honour about which the same Apostle says: “But glory and honour and peace be to everyone who works for the good”. But who will try to work for the good, if he thinks that evil exists not in the changeable will  but in an unchangeable nature? Accordingly the Lord himself said “to those who, although they were evil, thought they were saying good things: “Either consider the tree good and its fruit good or consider the tree evil and its fruit evil.” But to the evil people who had been changed into good the Apostle said: “for you were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord.” But if you refuse to believe me concerning my own mind, think as you please; only take care what you think about the truth itself. May temptation not seize you unless it is human. For it is a human error for you to believe that something has taken place in my mind which could have taken place, even if it has not. However, when you take your Persian sacrilegious fable which is not only totally false but also totally fallacious, woven and fabricated with most foul lies not about some man but about God supreme, and consider that to be the truth, then that cannot be ignored in the same way nor can such a death of the soul be neglected. For there is something which can be raised with you, for the following reason. It is the case that I can say nothing further about my own mind, except that you should believe me, and if you refuse I can find no action to take. It does not follow that when you hold a false opinion about the very light of souls, which rational minds can observe more calmly the purer they are, it is impossible to prove to you, if you listen patiently, how far your perception is totally removed from the truth. For just as I cannot perceive the perception of your eye, nor you mine, but we can only believe or alternatively not believe each other regarding this, whereas any image which lies visible before the eyes of each of us we are able to show each other in turn; in the same way, regarding the feelings  of our minds which are personal to ourselves, we may believe each other, if we wish, but if we do not then let us not believe. Whereas the account of truth is neither mine nor yours, but is placed before each of us to contemplate; let us put aside the shroud of obstinacy and with serene minds approach it together.
3. I shall not produce any proofs that demonstrate Manichaeus’ error other than what is in your letter. You write that you “feel and express gratitude to the ineffable and most holy majesty and to his first-born, the king of all lights, Jesus Christ”. Tell me: of which lights is Jesus Christ king? Those which he made or those which he generated? For we state that God the Father generated a son as His equal, but created through him, that is established and made the lesser creation, which certainly is not the same as He who made it or the one through whom He made it. Therefore since through him He made the ages, rightly is He called by the Apostle “King of the ages”, as if a superior over lesser beings and a powerful ruler, ruling things which need regulation. But when you call Jesus Christ “king of lights”, if he generated them, why are they not equal to their generator? But if you say they are equal, how can he be their king? Since it is necessary that a king rules, and it is not by any means possible that those things that are ruled are equal to him by whom they are ruled. But if he did not generate but made these lights, I ask where he made them from. If he propagated them from himself, why then are they inferior? Why have they degenerated? But if it was not from himself, tell me from where? Or perhaps he neither made nor generated the lights over which he rules? They have therefore their own origin and nature, but certainly a weaker one such that they either tolerate  or desire to be ruled by their more powerful neighbour. Surely you recognise, if this is the case, that aside from the race of darkness there exist now two natures, one needing the help of the other, but neither depending on the origin of the other. Assuredly you will reject this opinion, since it is completely opposed to Manichaeus, who attempts to convince us not of two natures, namely the king of lights and the lights that are ruled, but of two natures namely the kingdom of lights and the kingdom of darkness. Therefore you will take refuge in the statement that these lights were generated. Then when I ask why they are weaker, perhaps you will try to argue that they are equal. But when I retort: “What is the reason they are ruled?” you will deny they are ruled. Then I shall reply: “Why do they have a king?” At which point I cannot see what your ingenuity has left to offer, except to repent of having placed such an opening in your letter – one which you yourself cannot exit by! But even when you have repented and said that Manichaeus should not be thought defeated simply because you put something rather carelessly in your letter, still in countless places in Manichaeus’ books I shall read that he mentions a kingdom of light, which he maintained was opposed by its nature to the kingdom of darkness. And not ‘kingdom’ but ‘kingdoms’, since in his actual dreadful Epistula Fundamenti, when speaking of God the Father he said: “no one is in need in His kingdoms, nor is anyone the lowest in rank.” But where there are kingdoms, who is so blind that he cannot understand that the kings can in no way whatsoever be equal to those over whom they rule? So what is as close, if you are willing to take notice, and as suited to the honest nature of your heart, as not to repent that you put that statement in your letter? For most truly Jesus Christ is king of lights that are in no way equal to him,  but subject to him, and he is ruler of them in their blessed state. However, you should rather repent that Manichaeus existed, as the truthful heading of your letter with one battering blow overturns all his deceitful machinations. For Christ is king of lights and did not generate from himself lower beings over which to be king, nor did he take to himself neighbouring beings to rule over, which he had neither generated himself nor made, so as to prevent there being two types of good, neither of which derives from the other, and neither in need of the other, which is foreign to the path of truth. Therefore it only remains that those lights over which he rules, which certainly are good, he did not generate, in that they are inferior; nor did he wrongfully claim them for himself, in that they belong to him, but he as God made them and established them.
4. If you want to enquire from what He made them, and you begin to imagine the assistance of material that He Himself did not make, so that in that respect He would not appear omnipotent at making what He wanted, unless some substance that He had not made were to help Him, then once more you will be facing indissoluble clouds of error. But in a sensible stroke of intelligence some prophetic words are attributed most aptly to his sublime and ineffable majesty: “He spoke, and they were made; He ordered and they were created”, and then you will see how it is said in the catholic faith that God from nothing made all things very good. For if He made them from something, evidently it was either from Himself or not from Himself; but if it was from Himself, then He did not make them but generated them. Why then did He generate lesser beings? For unless they were lesser He could not have been their king. If He made them not from Himself, it was certainly not from anything that He Himself did not make; otherwise He did make them from something else, and there already existed a good that He Himself had not made, from which He  could form His kingdom. But if this is the case, He begins not to be the creator of good works, because there was a good which He Himself had not created. For He would not have made lights over which to rule from something else that was evil. Therefore it only remains that even if He did make them from some substance, He used a substance that He Himself had already made.
5. So it is that we state that God made out of nothing the first origins of things that were to be created. Except perhaps you have claimed that Jesus Christ was the first-born of the ineffable and most holy majesty, not through his assumption of humanity, by which he deigned to have brothers who were called such by adoption, as the Apostle says and as the catholic faith believes, among whom he was to be the first-born. Rather you wish him to be understood as first-born through the very excellence of his divinity, so that those lights among which he reigns are his brothers, not made by the Father through him, but generated by the Father after him, so that they are later-born while he is first-born; all, however, born from the Father’s own same substance. But if this is what you believe, first of all you contradict the Gospel, Where he is also called only-born: “And we have seen” he says “his glory as of the only-born son of the Father”. Because this could in no way be said truly, if his eternal virtue and divinity, which makes him consubstantial with the Father and before every creature, had brothers from the same substance. So since the divine scriptures testify that he is both only-born and first-born (only-born because lacking brothers, first-born because having brothers), you will not find a way to understand both statements about him according to the very nature of his divinity. However, the catholic faith, which makes a distinction between creator and thing created, finds no difficulty in understanding between these two terms: it accepts him as only-born  according to what is written: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, and first-born of the entire creation according to what the Apostle says: “to be himself the first-born of many brothers”; brothers whom the Father has generated for him for a fraternal relationship not by equality of substance, but by the adoption of grace. So read the scriptures, and you will never find it said of Christ that he is the son of God by adoption. Whereas it is very often to be found of ourselves: “You have received the spirit of adoption as sons”, “awaiting adoption, the redemption of our bodies”, “in order that we receive adoption as sons”, “He predestined us for adoption as sons”, “a holy nation, a people for adoption”, “He called you through our gospel for the adoption of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”, and any other such verses that may occur when one is remembering or reading. For it is one thing to be the unique son of God through the excellence of the Father, and quite another to receive through merciful grace the power to become sons of God by believing in Him. “He gave to them” he says “the power to become sons of God”. Therefore they were not sons by nature, as they received the power to become sons by believing in the very one, whom as His only son “He did not spare, but handed him over for the sake of us all”, so as to make him only-born in relation to Himself, but first-born in regard to us. Therefore by the fact that he was only-born, he was born not from flesh, nor from blood, nor by the will of man nor by the will of the flesh, but from God; while by the fact that he was made first-born among the brothers in the church “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. We too, insofar as by nature we were sons of anger, that is to say sons of punishment bound by the chain of mortality, despite being created and shaped by Him, who without  doubt arranges and forms us from the top to the very bottom by measurement, counting and weighing, nevertheless were born from flesh and blood and by the will of the flesh. But insofar as we have received the power to become sons of God, we too are born neither from flesh nor from blood, nor by the will of man nor by the will of the flesh, but from God, not indeed by nature making us equal but by grace adopting us.
6. Next if I should concede that Christ Jesus were not the unique son of the Father according to the divinity of being of the same substance, but that he had brothers who were born after him, among whom he could be the first-born, then how can he be their king? I ask you; or would you dare to claim that he was born stronger because he was born first? Certainly that would be a shameful view. But that is not your view. What then do you think? Calm your mind and make yourself amenable to considering the truth without perversity. For I shall ask you this further question. In what sense do you understand Jesus Christ was first-born in that divine, excellent and eternal substance? Was he born first in time, so that we should understand that there were those born at a later time in that kingdom, among whom he is first-born? We could not say by how many hours or days or months or years he would be older, though he was born first, but we are to consider that these births were separated by a certain interval or space of time. Or instead is it not in time but by the very excellence of his assuredly supreme majesty, through which he has deserved to be king over the lights his brothers, that we should regard him as first-born, as if he had been born in some princely family? If you reply that he is earlier than his brothers in time and older, and so maintain that kingship over his brothers was allotted to him for the reason that  he preceded them in being born and that he existed at a time when they did not yet exist, then what are you saying, brother? Will you throw your heart over this precipice of impiety, and think that the mutability of time could affect that divine and supreme nature, and believe that in that nature can exist anything that did not exist before? Or because the lights had to advance from there against the race of darkness, do you call those very advances generations, and think they were made subject to time, so that the battle would also be subject to time? So one light was not sufficient to complete with its divine power all that business of war. Or if there was need of many, should we really have such an opinion in the case of spirits, and think that the entrance was narrow and they could not exit together, so that from the fact that one of the brothers emerged first, he deserved to be called first-born and to become king over the rest? I do not want to pursue all the minute details, to avoid becoming irksome to your intellect which is capable of grasping the whole argument from a few examples. So improve the sharpness of your mind, dispel the clouds of strife, and assuredly you will see that neither in terms of place nor in terms of time, can movements, advances, origins, declines or any transformations take place except in a creature subject to change. And unless this creature existed by the will of the maker and creator God, the Apostle would not have said: “they have worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed for an ages.”
7. In the above statement in particular are two necessary truths that I would ask you to examine with me. First, that if the creature were foreign from God, then its creator would not be called God by the Apostle. Second, that if the creator and the creature were of one and the same substance then people would not be criticised for having served the creature rather  than the creator, since whichever they had served they would not have separated from the same nature and substance. For just as no one can serve the son, without also serving the Father, because each is of the one substance, so no one could serve the creature without serving the creator, if each were of the same substance. It follows if you are discerning and wise that you would maintain there is a very great difference between creator and creature. And you should understand that a creature is not the offspring of the creator; for if he were, he would not be inferior, but equal and of the same substance, and for this reason anyone could worship and serve him and at the same time be offering worship and service to his creator and Father. However, as those who have worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator are criticised by the Apostle and counted as detestable, it is sufficiently proven that the substances of creature and creator are distinct. For just as the son cannot be seen, which is to say understood, without the Father too being understood in him – for he himself said: “He who has seen me has also seen the Father” – in the same way the son cannot be worshipped without also the Father being worshipped in him. Therefore if the son were a creature, he could not be worshipped without his creator and they would not be condemned who have worshipped the creature rather than the creator. So you can now see, I think, that it is not consistent for you to speak of Jesus Christ as “the first-born of the most sacred and ineffable majesty and king of all lights” , unless you stop being a Manichaean, and so distinguish between creature and creator, so that Jesus Christ is both only-born according to the fact that he is the Word of God, God from God, equally unchangeable and equally eternal, and does not consider it an outrage to be equal to God, and is also the first-born of all creation according to the fact that through him were created all things in heaven and  on earth, visible and invisible. For you recognise, I am sure, the words of the Apostle to the Colossians.
8. Therefore when I ask you from what the whole of creation was made, which, however good in its own way, is nevertheless inferior to the creator and whereas He remains unchangeable is itself subject to change, you will not find an answer except to admit that it was made from nothing. Thus that creation can decline towards nothing, when it sins, and any portion of it that can sin can decline, not to become nothing, but to be less thriving and less secure. For to be less thriving and less strong, if you take it to its logical conclusion, leaves eventually nothing. So creation of its own volition loves emptiness, when it abandons the solidity of truth and follows things subject to opinion, that is to say subject to change. But when it pays the penalty it deserves for that, it is subjected to emptiness not of its own volition, just as it was subjected in the man who sins. For hence the Apostle says: “The whole of creation was subjected to emptiness not of its own volition”, because it is wholly present in man. Indeed there is present in man both an invisible part in terms of the soul and a visible part in terms of the body. Now the whole of creation is partly visible and partly invisible, but it is not all present in a beast, which does not have a rational mind. Evidently he says creation is subjected to hope because of the mercy of the one who frees it through the remission of sins and the adoption by grace. However, if you are unwilling to admit that creation was made from nothing by the Father through the Son and in the goodness of the Holy Spirit, a Trinity which remains for ever consubstantial, eternal and unchanging, and that creation is certainly good, but unequal to the creator and subject to change, then you will certainly be forced to utter sacrilege, that God generated something from Himself, which [91 7] is not equal to the one who generated it and which can be subjected to emptiness; or if you say that it is equal, each of them will be subject to change. What could be a greater impiety than to believe and say such things and to prefer by one’s perverse opinion to change God for the worse rather than by correcting one’s understanding to change oneself for the better? But if you are afraid to say that God is changeable, because it really is so great and obvious an impiety, and if you would even say that creation is unchangeable, in order to make it equal to the creator and of one and the same substance, then once again your own letter will make you a reply. Where does that soul come from, that you place in the middle of the spirits? You say that from the beginning its own nature has given it the victory, and you assert that this term and condition applies to it that: “If it has acted in unity with the spirit of virtues, with that spirit it shall have eternal life and possess that kingdom to which our Lord invites us; if on the other hand it begins to be led astray by the spirit of vices, and then after its consent shows repentance, it will obtain a source of pardon for these disgraces.” Without doubt when you recognise these words from your own letter you will also recognise that you have determined that the nature of the soul is changeable. For to give consent to the spirit of vices at one time and then again to show repentance represents what else than to be changed now for the better, now for the worse? The most obvious truth has compelled you to admit this. For your very own soul, if you wanted to pretend ignorance, would urge you to notice its own changeability, and by its frequent changes since the time you were born, through various desires, doctrines, things it has forgotten or things it has consented to, would be its own witness and need no further evidence from elsewhere.
9. Unless perhaps you think that you are helped by the following, in order to say that the soul is unchangeable, because you have added this: “For it did not sin by its own volition, but by the influence of another; for it is seduced by being mixed with flesh, not by its own volition.” By this statement perhaps you wish it to be understood that presumably a soul is  unchangeable in its own nature, but in combination with another nature is changeable; as if the question were being asked why it is so, and not because it is so. Now by this reasoning even the bodies of Hector and Ajax, or rather those of all men and living things, would be called invulnerable, provided there was no blow or accident, by which a wound could be inflicted on them. But remarkably only Achilles’ body has been described as invulnerable, whether by poetic fiction or by some more obscure force of circumstance, because even when weapons struck him he was not penetrated; but in the part where he could be penetrated he certainly was not invulnerable. Thus if the soul were unchangeable, it would not be changed by combination with anything, just as a body that is invulnerable is not wounded by the contact or attack of anything. Therefore, because we say that the Word of God cannot be defiled, even after assuming mortal and vulnerable flesh, so as to teach us to despise death and any other bodily hardships, we are not afraid to believe that he was born of a virgin. Whereas you, because you believe in your impious perversity that the son of God can be defiled, are terrified to assign him to the flesh. However, while you maintain that his substance has the nature of a soul, you assert that he is mingled with the flesh in such a way that you cannot be in doubt about considering that he has been changed for the worse. So you must choose which you prefer: whether to say and believe that God is changeable, and so believe that from the substance of a changeable Father the offspring was likewise born changeable (and assuredly you realise what an enormous impiety that would be); or alternatively to say that God is unchangeable, but yet generated from His substance a changeable offspring (and equally you can see what an impious and ridiculous statement that would be); or finally to admit that God is unchangeable in such a way that what He has generated from His own substance can.equally not be changed and likewise is supreme and  the most excellent good, and itself supremely possesses existence in the same manner in inviolable permanence. Meanwhile the other lesser goods, which we call the creation, He did not make from Himself, for then they would be equal, yet because they are good He did make them, and because they are not equal, He made them from nothing. If you believe this, you will not be impious and will forget the Persians and be ours.
10. Of course the Apostle says: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers” which by deviating through impious volition towards love of their own pride and status resent any return for pious souls. But there is a difference between your opinion and our faith, as follows. You think that those same princes arose out of their own type of nature, one which God neither generated nor made, but had adjacent in eternal propinquity, and that they waged war against God, and before the mingling of good and evil they brought against Him the great evil of necessity for the first time. This was that He was compelled to mix with them His own substance which had to be ruined, confounded, changed to be full of error and sunk deep in forgetfulness of Himself, with the result that He stood in need of a liberator, corrector, amender, and teacher. You can see how stupid and ridiculous this story is, and what criminal impiety it involves. Whereas we are convinced through our Christian faith that there is no opposite to God, who is supreme, except that which does not exist at all. Anything that exists at all derives from Him Who is supreme that it does exist in any way, and that it is good of its kind, while some things are more so, others less. So all goods, that have been made by God the creator, are ranked in fixed and allotted classes, some by spatial differences and their locations, as with all physical beings, some by their natural merits, as for example the soul is placed ahead of the  body, and others by the merits of rewards or penalties, as a soul is either raised to rest or sent down to torment. And consequently those princes, against whom the Apostle says that we face the struggle, are the first to suffer the penalty for their sins, so that they may do harm. For there is no one envious enough to harm another that is not first a torment to himself. Furthermore the stronger harm the weaker, for no one dominates another except by being more powerful. However, the wicked princes are themselves weaker than if they had remained in their former state of justice. Now there is a distinction as to in what sense each example is stronger than another; whether in terms of the body, like horses compared with men, or in terms of the nature of the soul, like the rational compared with the irrational, or in terms of the disposition of the mind, like the just compared with the unjust, or in terms of the ranking of power, like the general compared with a soldier or a provincial. Now power is believed to be granted entirely from the supreme power of God; often even to the worse over their betters, that is to say to the wicked over those who either already possess justice or are striving to attain to its possession. For it is given for this purpose, so that those who are proven by their patience may become manifest, either to provide hope for themselves or an example for others. “They know” as the Apostle says “that hardship produces patience, patience produces endurance, and endurance produces hope.” This is the type of contest when a man of faith struggles against princes and powers of transgressing angels and against the spiritual forces of evil, when they receive the power of temptation, and he the lessons of endurance. So it happens that in the weaker case they win but in the more powerful they are beaten: they generally overcome the weaker body but are beaten by the stronger mind. One fights back against their force with patience, and against their treachery with prudence, so that they can neither bend us by compulsion to destructive consent  nor trick us by deception. However, since it is God’s virtue and wisdom by which all things were made, for that reason among these things that were made, when higher beings descend to lower ones, to the place of every sin and everything that is described as evil, then force imitates virtue and deception imitates wisdom. Whereas when those beings that had descended hasten back and return, then magnanimity imitates virtue and learning imitates wisdom. Sinners imitate even God the Father Himself in their impious pride, while the just do so in their pious generosity. Finally the greed of the wicked, and the charity of the righteous, imitates the Holy Spirit; however, both types have fallen short of the imitation of God, by whom and through whom and in whom their very natures were made, but the one group by a sinful imitation, the other by a praiseworthy imitation. And it is not surprising, if ever those who are advancing and those who are regressing clash, that the imitation of those regressing should be overcome by the imitation of those advancing, for the former are being hurled downwards by vainglory, while the latter are rising through humility.
But if the question arises why those who are stronger in mind are weaker in body, it is not surprising that those who have been freed by remission of sins should be troubled by the mortality of the body, as they shall be crowned by its immortality. For the punishment is not easily avoided, unless the one who is freed from it has won through by his merits. Hence the Apostle says: “But if Christ is in you, certainly the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwells in you, then the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit dwelling within you.” Therefore the soul bears mortal flesh because of the punishment for sin, and if it has changed for the better, it shall have lived not according to the mortal flesh;  and it changes that very flesh for the better and shall deserve to have an immortal body; but this shall be at the end, by which the last enemy death shall be destroyed, when this corruptible thing shall have put on incorruption, not in that mythical ‘lump’ of yours, but in that transformation about which he says: “We shall all rise, but we shall all be changed.” For when he had expressed the statement: “And the dead shall rise uncorrupted and we shall be changed”, he then added to the interpretation by showing what sort of change he meant, by saying: “For this corruptible thing must put on incorruption and this mortal thing must put on immortality.” He was dealing with a question about the body of those who rise, which he had posed as follows: “But someone will say: how shall the dead rise? With what body shall they come?” So read the whole of that passage with pious care and attentively, not disturbed by obstinate dissent, and with God aiding your intellect and no need of an interpreter you will find nothing other than what I am saying. And then recall your mind to that subject which we had begun to deal with; and now see, if you can, that I am not saying this, that the righteous are fighting against nothing, but against those substances which have failed by not standing in the truth.
11. Now failure is not to be nothing already, but to tend towards nothing. For when those things which are more descend towards those things which are less, it is not those to which they are descending but those which descend that are failing and are beginning to be less than they were, not indeed so that they become the things to which they have descended, but that they become less with regard to their own type. For when the soul descends to the body it does not become a body, but yet by its failing desire it somehow grows body-like; so too a certain angelic sublimity, when it became too pleased with its own power in itself, inclined its attention to that which is less, and began to be less than it was and with regard to  its own rank tended towards nothing. For however much anything is less, it is to the same extent closer to nothing. When those failures occur voluntarily, rightly they are criticised and are called sins. But when those voluntary failings are followed by inconveniences, annoyances, pains and adversities, all of which we endure against our will, then quite rightly those sins are either punished with penalties or dissipated by practical actions. If you were willing to consider this with a calm mind, then assuredly you would stop accusing natures and calling the very substances to account. If you would like a longer or more detailed treatment. of this subject, then read my three books entitled “On Free Choice”; you could find them at Nola in Campania with Paulinus the noble servant of God.
12. Now, however, I should remember that I am replying to your letter with my letter, albeit a much longer one. Certainly I have not remained silent on other subjects, so that I will never be obliged to repeat the same points. But I had promised to persuade you from your own writing how false your beliefs are and how true is the doctrine of the Catholic faith. For without doubt the entire division between us is that you say that evil is a certain substance, whereas we say that evil is not a substance, but an inclination away from that which is greater towards that which is less. So listen to the very point. For you put in your letter a statement about the soul, that it is seduced to sin by being mixed with flesh, not by its own volition. Then at once, I believe, when you saw that if this is the case then the omnipotent God should come to rescue absolutely every soul and that not a single one ought to be damned, since it did not sin by its own volition, (and if this was agreed then the verdict would be overturned that Manichaeus causes to resound so terrifyingly about the punishments of souls, even those that come from the region of light), then with very great care you added the statement:  “But if having learnt to know itself it consents to evil and does not arm itself against the enemy, it has sinned by its own volition.” It is certainly good that you admit that it sometimes can happen that a soul sins by its own volition; but by consenting to which evil, I ask you, does it sin by its own volition? Surely that evil which you say is a substance.
13. But now I can see three things, and you too I think can see them with me. For the soul that consents to evil and that very evil to which it consents are two, while the third is that consent itself. For you do not say that this too is the soul, but of the soul. So of these three things, notice, the soul is a substance; also that evil, by consenting to which the soul sins of its own volition, in your opinion is a substance. So I ask what is that consent itself, whether you would say it is itself a substance, or in a substance. For if you say that it is a substance, you will be positing no longer two substances but three. Or is it two, for the reason that the consent of the soul, by which it consents to evil, is of the identical substance as the soul itself? Therefore I now ask whether that consent is evil or good. If it is good, then certainly the soul does not sin when it consents to evil. But not only does the truth proclaim, but you too write that in such a case the soul does sin of its own volition. Therefore that consent is evil, and for this reason so also is the substance of the soul, if the consent is the substance of the soul and they are both one substance. Do you see where you have been reduced to, to maintaining that the soul and that evil are no longer one of them a good substance and the other evil, but two evil substances? Here perhaps you will try to assign the culpable consent not to the soul, which consents to evil, but to the very evil to which it consents. Thus by this means there could be two substances, one good and the other evil, when the soul is said to be from the region of the good, whereas its consent by which it consents to evil, and the very evil to which it consents, are at the same time formed from the other region, and each of them is allotted to the evil substance by the soul. Who has ever shown a greater fit  of madness? For the soul does not consent, if the consent does not pertain to it; but it does consent, therefore the consent does pertain to it. Moreover, if the consent does pertain to it, and that consent is evil, then this evil pertains to it. For if this evil pertains to that evil to which the soul consents, then the soul inevitably did not have this evil before it consented to it. So what sort of good is the soul, at whose arrival that evil is either doubled or, to put it more mildly, increased?
14. Next if that consent, which it is accepted is evil, is a substance, then we find that it is in the soul’s power that a particular evil substance should either exist or not exist, since that consent is in the soul’s power. For if it is not, it therefore does not consent of its own volition. But you in terms of this consent said that the soul does sin of its own volition. So the soul has it in its power, as I said, that a certain evil substance should either exist or not exist. But what is a substance other than a nature? So there will be a type of nature, which is natural neither to the soul, since if the soul should refuse it will not exist, nor to that evil to which the soul consents of its own volition. For you cannot say that evil is natural to the race of shadows when it is established there by a foreign volition, namely by the volition of the soul. So to what nature shall that nature be assigned, in other words that consent, if it is a nature, which belongs naturally neither to the soul nor to the race of shadows; unless you would disagree with Manichaeus and say that there are not two but three natures? Because even if there once were two, now, however, since that consent came into being, they certainly have become three. Evidently this third one, which has been born from the soul that consents and from the evil to which it consents, you are obliged to say is a sort of daughter of each; but since it has been born from two natures, one of which is good and the other evil, I ask you why it is not something neuter that was born. For just as that which is born from a horse and an ass is neither a horse  nor an ass, so that which is born from a good nature and an evil nature, if it is also itself a nature, ought to be neither good nor evil. But you state that the consent is evil; for you say that the soul sins of its own volition at the moment when it consents to evil. Or perhaps you think that the good nature and the evil nature are like the two genders masculine and feminine so that, just as from a male and a female it is not something neuter that is generated, but either a male or a female, just so from good and evil it is not some third type, which would be neither good nor evil, but another evil that you would maintain is born. But if this is so, where is that victorious nature of the soul? Has it been so overcome that it is not rather another good that would be born? Further do you not see that you are now speaking of different genders, not natures? For if there were a distinction of natures between good and evil, nothing would arise from both of them except a third type, which could be neither good nor bad; otherwise at least their union would be sterile and no third substance would be produced from it. For if when those animals that I mentioned above are mated, nothing is produced except a he-mule or a she-mule, which is neither one nor the other, then how much more should that be the case with such a huge and extreme distinction between good and evil? Or if any new nature could exist from their union, it would not be evil, even if it could not be good. It follows therefore that we are unable to avoid such implausible absurdities, unless we state that this consent, which it is agreed is evil and culpable, is not a substance, but say that it exists in a certain substance.
15. Next we should most diligently enquire in what substance it exists. Although who would not see clearly that just as persuasion does not occur except in a persuading nature, so consent does not exist except in a consenting nature? So when the soul consents to evil it itself is a substance,  but its consent is not a substance. Now you see, I expect, in what substance it exists; namely you surely see that this consent exists in the soul, and you have no doubt that this consent is a sin and thereby is an evil. From this you now understand that it can happen that in a good substance, such as the soul, there can be an evil that is not a substance, such as that consent, and from that evil even a soul is called evil. For a sinning soul certainly is evil; but it sins when it consents to evil. Accordingly one and the same thing, namely the soul, inasmuch as it is a substance, is good; but inasmuch as it contains some evil that is not a substance, namely that consent, then to that extent it is evil. For it contains this consent not as a result of improvement, but of failure. Indeed it fails when it consents to evil, and it begins to be lesser already and consequently to be less healthy than it was when consenting to nothing, it remained firmly in virtue. It is certainly so much the worse for turning away from that which is supreme towards that which is lesser, so that it itself too becomes lesser; but the lesser it becomes certainly the closer it approaches to nothing. For that which becomes lesser is tending towards not existing at all. Although it may not reach the extent of utterly perishing and becoming nothing, yet it is plain that any failure at all is the beginning of perishing. So open now the eyes of your heart and observe, if you can, that any good is some kind of substance, and so evil is the failing of substance, because it is good to be a substance. However, not every failing is culpable, but only a voluntary inclination, whereby a rational soul descends towards those things which were created below it, abandoning its own creator; for it is this which is called sin. But other failings, which are not voluntary, are either criminal, so that they are punished as sins by justice the supreme moderator and regulator, or occur in the measurements of the lowest things, so that  prior things give way to those that follow, and so every temporal beauty is completed in its turn and of its own kind. For comparison, a speech is completed by as it were dying and rising syllables, which are stretched to fill fixed intervals of time and having filled their spaces die away when the sequence of those that follow has been marked out, until the whole speech is brought to its conclusion; and it depends not on the sounds themselves as they pass away but on the control of the speaker how far a syllable is extended or shortened, or in what form all of the letters keep the significance of their own places; since the art itself that creates a speech does not resound through noises or become convoluted or varied by timings. In the same way temporal beauty is interwoven with rising and falling, with the passing and succession of temporal things in fixed and defined courses, until it returns to its predestined conclusion. This beauty is not evil just because we can understand and admire something better in spiritual creatures, but it has its own glory of its own kind and can inculcate in those who live well the supreme wisdom of God, which is hidden on high beyond all limits of time, and is its own creator and controller.
16. Come now and pay attention as to whether that evil, as you called it, by consenting to which the soul sins voluntarily, is a substance or whether in this case too you cannot allege a substance. For I ask what entices the consent into the soul, or whether the soul rushes on regardless and is said to consent purely because it is moved to indulgence by taking some pleasure in consent. But if this is so it does not follow that something should be called evil purely because it is loved in a wrong way. For if I show that something is loved badly, where the blame is to be attached not to the beloved object but to the lover, then assuredly you will admit that a particular type of object is not necessarily corrupt just because the consent  of the desirer falls corruptly upon it. How much this point will help me will become apparent later. But to show what I promised, what should I rather choose, when a superfluity of examples surrounds me? What should I rather choose, I say, than that which we praise as a heavenly creation but all of you worship as a portion of the creator himself? Of all visible things what is brighter than the sun? However, if anyone desires its light too immoderately, he creates with his eyes quarrelsome wars if, having obtained an opportunity to satisfy his desire, he demolishes his neighbours’ houses that face his own windows, in order that the sun may penetrate his inner chambers through a more open sky. Surely it is not then the fault of the sun, that he loved its light so much that he dared to put it before the light of justice and, wishing to receive more fully the light of his carnal eyes into his physical being, dared to close the door of his heart and his sharpness of mind against the light of equity? So you see that a good thing can be loved with a love that is not good. Accordingly when you call something evil, consenting to which the soul sins, I call it good of its type, but the sort of good to which the soul insofar as it is better ought not to consent. For as it is itself superior to the body and has God as its superior, although the nature of the body is good in its own category, yet the soul sins and by sinning becomes evil, if it attaches the consent of its love, which it owes to the superior God, to the inferior body.
17. Perhaps you say that you do not call it a culpable consent when the thing that is loved does nothing to cause consent to be given to it, but that the soul consents only when the thing to which it consents exercises some persuasion or compulsion; and that thing is evil precisely because it persuades or urges that some evil be committed. If so then this is a second question and one that can be dealt with right now in its own turn.  But at this point let us first remember about sin which, I think, we have discussed adequately; and it has become clear that it is possible that something which is good of its kind can be loved badly, and that the one who loves should be blamed while the thing itself is not to be criticised. What follows? If a soul is sinful in such a love and corrupt, and urges that same sin on another, surely that soul too which consents to the persuader is depraved by the same vice as the soul which it imitates is depraved by? So firstly it is a sin to prefer in one’s affections no matter how good a creation to the creator, secondly to tempt another also to do the same, whether by persuasion or by compulsion. For no one wants to entice another to a depravity if he has not himself first been depraved. But those who sin want to entice others to the sin either from stupid benevolence or from malicious envy. For example who advises his sons, unless in a perverse kind of love, to consider no profit dishonourable but to seek a large fortune from any source? Naturally he does not hate them and yet he gives them damaging advice. Certainly he himself has already been corrupted by love of such things; although gold and silver are not an evil, in exactly the same way as the sun that we discussed earlier, nevertheless an excessive lover of a good thing is at fault. Whereas in the case of envy, when someone wants another to sin, he loves honour with an inordinate arrogance and wishes to excel in it and to surpass others; since he sees that honour is attached more fully and more truly to virtues, to avoid being outdone in honour he wishes that others should be cast down from the citadel of equity into the pit of iniquity. This is how the devil attempts to persuade or compel people to sins. But surely honour itself is not at fault, just because by loving honour perversely and impiously the devil has become impious? Or is that devil’s own angelic substance, which God created, evil simply because it is a substance?  Rather it was when he abandoned love for God and turned too far to love for himself that he wished to appear equal to God, and was thrown down through the swelling of his pride. So it is not to the extent that he is a substance but, since he was made a substance, to the extent that he loved himself more than Him by whom he was made, that he isevil; and evil for the reason that he is less than he would have been if he had loved that which is supreme. Hence it is decline that is evil. So every decline tends, from that which is, towards not being, just as every progress tends, from that which is less, towards being greater. And the supreme honour, such as is demonstrated by the piety of religious men, is indubitably owed to God. So he who loves honour imitates God. But humble souls want themselves to be honoured in God, proud men ahead of God. But the humble before God are made more exalted than the unjust, and those who exalt themselves against God are made more humble than the just, obviously through that dispensation of rewards and penalties, because the one group have loved God more than themselves, and the other group have loved themselves instead of God.
18. Now, I expect, it is easy for you to understand from the words of your own letter, where you said that “the soul, when it consents to evil, sins of its own volition”, that no evil is an evil nature or love of an evil nature, but that, since all natures are good of their own kind, evil is a sin, which occurs by the volition of the soul, when it loves the creation instead of the creator Himself, either by its own inclination, when it is evil, or by the persuasion of another, when it consents to evil. Nevertheless in this way too it becomes evil, with consequent punishments, so that everything is dispensed according to merit by the creator who is supremely good towards the creation that is good but not supremely good, because He did not generate it from himself, but made it from nothing. But you have decided that there are two natures, one of which you want to be good and the other evil, or rather one the nature of good and the other the nature of evil; for an evil nature results from a good one by sinning. However, you state that the nature which you say is good, acts evilly by consenting to evil,  which is to say sins of its own volition. Whereas I maintain that they are both good, but one of them acts evilly by persuading, the other acts evilly by consenting. But just as the consent of one of them is not a nature, so neither is the persuasion of the other; and just as one of them if it does not consent will remain good and preserve the integrity of its nature, so too the other one if it does not use persuasion will be more blameless, and if it also does not commit the sin that it is not urging with persuasion on the other, they will be equally intact and deserving of praise within their own kind. For although the one sins twice, if it both commits the sin and persuades others to, and the other sins only once, if it merely consents to the evil action, yet they become evil by their sins, and they are not evil by nature. Alternatively if the one nature is evil because of its persuasion, so too is the other one because of its consent. But if it seems to you to be worse to persuade than to consent, let one nature be evil and the other worse. However there would not be such an acceptance by people or such an unfair partiality in judgement, that when both natures sin, though one more seriously and the other less, one should be called the nature of evil and the other the nature of good, instead of rather either both being called good, but one better because it sins less, or both evil, but one worse because it sins more.
19. And yet what is the origin of evil, which is called sin, if there is no nature of evil? Tell me what is the origin of that evil consent in the nature which you acknowledge and proclaim is good? For whatever it suffers so that it consents to evil, it certainly would not suffer, unless it were able to suffer. So I ask from where it gets that ability to suffer; for it would be better if it did not have it. It is not therefore the nature of the supreme good, by which something could be better. Secondly if it has it in its power either to consent or not to consent, it is therefore not overcome when it consents. So I ask from where it gets that evil consent if no opposite nature is compelling it. But if it is compelled to consent, in such a way that it is not in its power to do otherwise, it does not therefore, as you were saying, sin.of its own volition, since it does not consent of its own volition.  But I still ask from where comes its ability to be deceived, if it is deceived. For before being deceived, unless the ability to suffer this were inherent, it certainly never would suffer. Although there is no way that it consents except by its own volition; whereas if it is compelled, it should be described as yielding rather than consenting. But whatever word you call it, I ask you, a sharp and skilled gentleman and with your Roman intelligence that you boast of, from where does that nature of good get the ability to suffer what it does suffer, in order to consent to evil? For just as in a piece of wood, before being broken, there is fragility, without which the wood certainly could not be broken, and it is not that the wood is not fragile just because no breaker appears; in the same way I ask the origin in that nature of a kind of fragility or flexibility, before it is either broken by force or deflected by persuasion to evil consent. Or if there was already a fragility due to the proximity of evil, like bodies are often corrupted from the vapours of a neighbouring marsh, it was then already corruptible, if the infectious contagion of that proximity could corrupt it. I therefore ask what is the origin of that corruptibility. I beg you, pay attention to what I am saying, and yield to the evident truth. For I am not asking where corruption comes from, for you will reply: “from the corrupter”, and you will maintain that this corrupter is some kind of prince of the race of darkness, so that you can hardly unwrap him and keep him free from the entanglement of invented coverings. Instead what I am asking is where corruptibility comes from, even before the corrupter arrives; without it either there would be no corrupter or the arrival of any corrupter at all would do no harm. So when you have found the origin of that corruptibility in a good nature, before it is corrupted by an opposite nature – or if you do not want to say that it is corrupted, the origin at any rate of that changeability, before it would be changed by a hostile adversity – for it is not the case that  a nature is not changed for the worse which becomes stupid instead of wise and which forgets itself; for you yourself added these words when you said: “if having learnt to know itself it consents to evil”; therefore it is changed for the worse when it forgets itself, in such a way that it recognises itself again when it has been restored to its senses; and it would in no way have been able to be changed unless, before being changed, it was changeable – when therefore you have found the origin of that changeability in the substance of the supreme good, before there was any mingling of good and evil, then for sure you will cease asking me where evil comes from. Although in the nature of the supreme good, if you consider it correctly, you could find absolutely no temporal changeability resulting either from itself or from the approach of anything else, as is the case with that nature which Manichaeus invents and thinks is supremely good or at any rate tries to persuade those who believe him accordingly. Seek and reply, if you are able, where that changeability comes from, which was not discovered but was betrayed when the enemy approached. For it could not have been changed by the enemy, if it could not be changed at all; but when it could be changed it demonstrated that it had not made itself unchangeable. So when this changeability is believed to be present in the substance of the supreme good, which is to say in the substance of God, if you are not argumentative you can see what great foolish blasphemy this is. When however some such thing is said about a creature which God neither generated nor produced from His own substance but made from nothing, the discussion concerns not the supreme good, but the kind of good which could not be fabricated except by the supreme good who is God. God indeed is supremely good and unchangeably good and made all things which are not supremely nor unchangeably good, but yet are good, from the angels in the heavens right down to the lowest beasts and grasses of the earth, all appointed to suitable places according to their own natural status. But among these the rational creature, when it clings in the obedience of love to its creator, that is to say its maker and fabricator God,  preserves its own nature in God’s eternity, truth and love; but when it deserts Him in stubborn disobedience, by its own free will it embroils itself in sins, and then by His just judgement in its misery it is subjected to punishment. This is the whole of evil, partly that it acts unjustly, partly that it suffers justly. You should not ask me this question, where it comes from, when you have already replied to yourself when you said: “when the soul has learnt to know itself, if it has consented to evil, it sins by its own volition.” This is where evil comes from, namely from one’s own volition. But that volition is not a nature but a fault, and therefore also contrary to nature, which it certainly harms by depriving it of that good with which it could have been blessed, if it had refused to sin. You think that this volition to sin cannot be generated in the soul except by another evil, which you believe is a nature that God did not make, and you maintain that that soul is a nature of God; and therefore by some such kind of nature of evil, if by its persuasion it creates this volition to sin in the soul, God is defeated and hurled down into sin.
20. Now see what great impiety is involved, and what wicked and horrific blasphemies, for you not to want to extricate yourself from placing in a nature (which God did not make) life, sense, speech, measure, species and rank, and other countless goods; and from placing in the very nature of God before any mixture with evil that very changeability, by which He could be caught and for which He was compelled to fear “seeing that a great devastation and destruction was menacing His sacred Aeons, unless He opposed to it an outstanding, brilliant and virtuously powerful deity.” And what does all this lead to, except that that nature and substance of God should hold the enemy subject and bound so tightly that when it sins it endures the enemy even when attached, and when cleansed does not escape fully the  defeated enemy and when condemned keeps it enclosed within? Certainly you have found in your God an excellent excuse for the necessity of war, in response to the question that is put to you for your reply: What was the race of darkness going to do to God, if He had refused to fight with it? If you say that it would have done some harm, you will be admitting that God is corruptible and vulnerable; but if you say that it could not harm Him, the question will be asked of you: Why then did He fight? Why did He hand to the enemy His own substance to be corrupted, violated and compelled to all sins? From such a dilemma you have never been able to escape.
You seem to have found yourselves a great and secure reply to make by saying: it is a great crime to attack another’s possessions, and God would have given His approval to this crime, if He had refused to fight that race which had dared to do so. That reply would have a certain ring of justice, if at least in that war the nature of your God had kept itself intact and unpolluted, and when it mixed with enemy members had committed no crime either under compulsion or after seduction. However, you say that when held captive it consented to enormous outrages and scandals, and you maintain finally that it cannot wholly be cleansed from that immense impiety by which it even showed itself the enemy of the sacred light, of which it is a portion, and as a result you believe that the eternal punishments of that horrendous ‘lump’ are allotted to it deservedly. Who then could not see how much better it would have been to leave that hostile enemy acting pointlessly in his criminality than to hand over to him part of God, whose strength he could drink, and whose glory he could corrupt and attach to his own criminality? Who would be blinded by such obstinacy as not to realise, not to perceive how much smaller the crime is for the race of darkness to try in vain to invade a foreign nature than for God to hand over His own nature to be invaded  and to be compelled to crime and to be condemned to punishment even in any part? Is this really what it means to have refused to give consent to crime, and to have committed such a huge crime without any necessity? Or was there necessity, as Manichaeus himself was not ashamed to say, but you are? Since he says that: “God saw a great devastation and destruction was menacing his sacred Aeons, unless he opposed to it an outstanding and virtuously powerful deity.” Whereas you obviously all think more precisely than to say that God fought from the necessity to prevent the race of darkness from harming Him, thus saying that God is vulnerable and corruptible, and that something could have harmed Him if He had refused to fight. So drive out and banish that battle from your hearts and from your faith, and finally at long last anathematise and condemn that entire story woven with the horror of impious and foulest blasphemies. For why is it, I beg you, that as was said earlier you do not fear to call that nature vulnerable and God corruptible, so that the nature of your God, even if it could not exercise fortitude to avoid being caught, could not when captive at least preserve justice, as Daniel could whose lions you have presumed to mock? Because of his piety no terror compelled him to consent to the crime of those who had taken him captive, and even in a condition of bodily servitude he did not lose the equity and freedom of his enduring and wise mind. Whereas the nature of God was taken captive, was made criminal, cannot wholly be cleansed and is compelled at the end to be condemned. If it knew from eternity that this evil would be its fate then no divinity should accordingly have been ascribed to it.
 Now, you said that the details cannot be told of the lands or regions which by close proximity border on the kingdom of light and the race of darkness – described by Manichaeus in ways which make right-thinking men laugh – and you said that these are called by Christ right and left. But we know that Christ uses the terms right and left not because he wants physical places to be understood, but the blessedness or misery of each person according to their merits. But your carnal contemplation is so closely dependent on physical places that you say that the sun which is visible up there and therefore corporeal, and which cannot be contained except in physical space, is both God and a part of God. However, it is foolish to dispute these questions with you. For how will you be able to understand that anything is incorporeal, if you do not yet believe that God is incorruptible?
21. But doubtless as a good friend you reproach me benignly for having abandoned the Manichaeans and betaken myself to the books of the Jews. They are the very books that snuff out your error and fallacy; since in them Christ was prophesied, and the Christ made so by the truth of God, not the one invented by the fatuity of Manichaeus. But as a most sophisticated fellow you censure the Old Testament, because it was written in the prophet: “And make sons of fornication, since the earth will fornicate away from the Lord”; although you hear in the Gospel: “Prostitutes and publicans will go before you into the kingdom of heaven”. I know where your indignation comes from. For you are not so much displeased by the adulteress in her fornication as by her changing into matrimony and converting to conjugal fidelity, when you believe that your God by the procreation of sons is bound by tighter chains of the flesh. You think that prostitutes spare God because they give their efforts  to avoid conception, so as to indulge their lust free from the burden of child-bearing. Certainly conception by a woman is in your opinion a prison and a chain for God. Hence this too displeases you: “The two will be of one flesh”, when the Apostle commends this great mystery in Christ and the holy church. Hence your displeasure at: “Grow and multiply”, lest the prison-cells of your God are multiplied. Whereas I confess that I have learnt in the catholic church that just as the soul, so too the body, of which one is superior and the other subordinate, and so too the good of the soul and the goods of the body do not exist other than from the supreme good, from whom derive all goods, whether big or small, whether celestial or terrestrial, whether spiritual or physical, whether temporal or eternal; nor should the one sort be criticised just because the others are to be preferred.
22. As to the verse that you place among those deserving criticism, “Kill and eat”, even in the Acts of the Apostles it is used in a spiritual sense. However, even in a physical sense it is not food that is to be censured, but indulgence; taken also in a carnivorous sense this verse should have pleased you especially, so that you would kill flesh, and thus with his prison cells broken your God could escape from his miserable captivity, and if any remains of him had been left there, by eating them you could cleanse them in the workshop of your stomach. You taunt me for being saddened at Sarah’s sterility. It was not exactly this that saddened me, because it too was itself prophetic. But it corresponds with your fictitious sacrileges to be saddened not at Sarah’s sterility but at her fertility, because every woman’s fertility is a harsh calamity for God. Hence is is not surprising that there is fulfilled especially in you that which was predicted about such people: “They prohibit marriage”. For you abhor not so much  intercourse as marriage, since in marriage intercourse for the purpose of procreation is not a fault, but a duty. Exempt from this is the abstinence of holy men and women, not because they have avoided it as an evil, but because they have chosen better. However, that marital duty of fathers and mothers, such as Abraham and Sarah, should be measured not in relation to human society, but in relation to divine dispensation. For because it was necessary that Christ came in the flesh, Sarah’s marriage was made to serve the propagation of his flesh, as was Mary’s virginity.
23. Hence that verse which you recalled by mocking it in your commendable ignorance: “Place your hand beneath my thigh”, which Abraham said to his servant, requiring the pledge of an oath; he said: “Place your hand beneath my thigh and swear by the God of heaven.” That servant did swear in obedience, but Abraham in giving the order was prophesying, namely that the God of heaven would enter into that flesh which had been procreated out of that thigh. You scorn, detest and abhor this, you chaste and pure men, who dread attributing even a virgin’s womb to the son of God, though no contact with any flesh could have changed him. Yet you involve the nature of your God, changed and corrupted, in the wombs of all females, and not only of mankind but animals too. And therefore when you fear this single thigh of a patriarch, what thighs can you find, not to mention belonging to the prophets but to any number of prostitutes, where you should not swear by your God who is so disgracefully shackled there? Unless perhaps what causes the shame is not to touch chastely the limb of a human body, but to swear by God being so disgracefully bound, and held prisoner there in such ugliness. You then use the name of ‘pancarpus’, which is usually eaten during the public exhibitions,  to criticise, on account of the beasts of all species that were in it, the ark of Noah, which prefigured by every species of animals the church that would come from all nations. Here I commend you for either inadvertently or ignorantly having used the appropriate word; for pa/gkarpoj; means all the fruit, which is truly in the church in a spiritual sense. And you fail to notice how Noah entered unharmed with his family among those wild animals and left the same place unharmed, and how much luckier he was than your God who was tom to shreds and devoured by the wild madness of the race of darkness. So he became not a ‘pancarpus’ but evidently a ‘pancarptus’, and was torn to pieces in complete savagery. You mock Jacob’s wrestling with an angel, where the future wrestling of the people of Israel with the flesh of Christ is prophetically represented. But however you interpret it, how much better it would have been for your God to wrestle with a man, than to have been defeated, taken prisoner and torn apart by the race of demons. Falsely do you accuse Abraham of selling his wife’s modesty; when he did not lie that she was his sister but with human caution kept quiet about her being his wife; entrusting to his God the preservation of her modesty. If he had not done all he could do, he would not have been judged as trusting in God but as testing God. Nor yet do you consider the case of your God, when it was not his wife but his own limbs, which he did not sell but gave for nothing to the enemy to be polluted, corrupted and disgraced. No doubt you would hope that, if possible, the glorious nature of your God would return from his enemies to him as unsullied as Sarah was when she was restored to her husband.
24. You praise my former character and studies, and ask who has suddenly changed me. Then in a roundabout way you mention  the ancient enemy of all the faithful and the saints and of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the enemy that you certainly intend to be understood as the devil. What should I tell you about my change, when unless I believed that by that means it was a change for the better, I would certainly not have transferred myself from your accursed and condemned heresy into the faith of the catholic church? Whether I did so rightly, in other words whether I changed from evil to good, is a question you yourself answer for me in that very word which you have put of my ‘change’. For if my soul were, as you all say, the nature of God, it could in no way whatsoever be changed whether for the better, as I trust, or for the worse, as you argue, and neither by itself nor by the influence of anyone else. Hence since I abandoned that heresy and chose that faith where above all God’s nature is piously believed to be unchangeable, so that it can sensibly be understood, my change does not cause displeasure, unless anybody is displeased by the unchangeable God. Whereas the devil is the foe of the saints, not because he rises as an enemy against them from the opposing principle of a second nature, but because he envies them the heavenly glory from which he himself was ejected. For having been changed himself he strives to change others. Because, as is described by you at great length in that Persian tale, if he changes others without having been changed, then assuredly he is greater and the victor; but if, as you claim, he is not an enemy of the sacred light that is God, but a friend, and is better than those whom he deceives, then who is it that makes them enemies of the sacred light, of which he himself is a friend? Certainly Manichaeus says that souls are to be condemned to eternal punishment in that horrendous ‘lump’ for the reason that “they allowed themselves to wander from their former bright nature and then became enemies of the light”, since he maintains that the very mind of the race of darkness, burning with desire to keep the light with itself, creates the bodies of animals.  So be sure to save yourself from these most vain and sacrilegious fictions, by being changed for the better by the help of the one who is changed neither for better nor for worse.
25. “We have escaped” you say, “because we have followed a spiritual saviour. For such was the outpouring of that one’s audacious behaviour that, if our Lord had been of the flesh, then all our hope would have been severed.” If you are saying this for the reason that you people do not believe that Christ had flesh, then you ought not to put your hope in Manichaeus, as you accept that he was procreated in the flesh from a male and a female like other human beings. Why then do you place such hope in him? For in this very letter of yours, when you were trying to frighten me, you said: “Who therefore will be your advocate before the just tribunal of the judge, when you begin to be convicted by your own testimony from both your statements and your deeds? The Persian whom you have accused will not be there. Without him who will console your weeping? Who will save the Carthaginian?” Therefore you said that apart from Manichaeus there could be no consoler or saviour. So how, when you were dealing with the passion of Christ, did you say that you have escaped, because you have followed a spiritual saviour, (lest presumably the enemy could kill him if he were created in the flesh)? Therefore if the enemy killed your Manichaeus, in whom he found flesh, so that he could now be your saviour, then how can you say: “Without him who will console your weeping? Who will save the Carthaginian?” You can see what is involved in the heresy and doctrines of the demons, who lie in their hypocrisy. You wish Manichaeus to be truthful about Christ the deceiver, so that if Christ was totally deceitful and mendacious in manifesting his flesh, his death, resurrection, and finally the places of his wounds and the nails, that he showed to the doubting disciples,  then Manichaeus spoke the truth about Christ; but if Christ did manifest true flesh, and therefore a true death, a true resurrection and true scars, then Manichaeus lied about Christ. And consequently there is this difference between you and me on this matter, that you have chosen to believe that Manichaeus is truthful, in believing Christ is deceitful, whereas I believe that Manichaeus lied about Christ, as he did about other things, rather than that Christ lied about anything – and especially about that one subject where he most based the hope of the believers, which is about his passion and resurrection! For he who says that when Christ appeared, after what was thought to be his death, to the disciples who were doubtful and thought they were seeing a ghost, and when he said: “Touch my hands and feet and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have”, and when he said to one of them who did not believe at all: “Put your fingers into my side and do not be unbelieving, but faithful”; – that then Christ was making all this manifest not in a truthful but in a lying fashion; anyone, I repeat, who says this is not a proclaimer of Christ, but his accuser. But, you say, Manichaeus does proclaim Christ and says that he is Christ’s apostle. For this reason he is all the more to be loathed and shunned. For if he were saying such things as an accusation, he would at least be vaunting himself as a lover of truth by trying to prove someone else’s falsity; but as it is inadvertently and carelessly he betrays himself, and demonstrates well enough to those who observe attentively what he is doing and what he loves, by praising and proclaiming a liar. Therefore flee, my friend, such a pestilence, lest by deceiving you, something which cannot happen, Manichaeus might wish to make you a faithful follower of the kind that he wants Christ to appear to have made of that disciple, the one to whom he said: “Put your fingers into my side and do not  be unbelieving, but faithful”. For in the wisdom of sweetest truth, what else did Christ say to the disciple except: “Touch what I am bearing, touch what I did bear; touch true flesh, touch the marks of real wounds, touch the real holes of the nails and by believing they are real do not be unbelieving but faithful.”? But in the folly of Manichaeus’ sacrilegious vanity, what else did Christ say to the disciple except: “Touch what I am pretending, touch what I am using to deceive”, or “Touch false flesh, touch the deceptive sites of false wounds, and do not be unbelieving at my lying limbs, so that by believing in lies you can be faithful”? Such are the faithful followers that Manichaeus has for his entire doctrine of mendacious demons.
26. Flee such things, I beg you; let not the appearance of being few deceive you, in that the Lord himself said that the narrow way belongs to the few. You wish to be among the few, but those few who are the very worst. For it is true that there are few who are innocent in every way, but among the actual guilty there are fewer murderers than thieves, and fewer committers of incest than adultery. Then again even the very stories or histories of the ancients have fewer Medeas or Phaedras than women who committed other misdeeds and scandals, and fewer Ochuses and Busirises than men who committed other impieties and crimes. Take care therefore that your excess horror of impiety does not happen to fabricate the merit of being few. Indeed such things are read, are said and are believed there that it is more remarkable that any people let alone a few should rush into that error or remain in it. Whereas the, paucity of the saints, whose way is narrow, is placed in comparison with the multitude of the sinners; and this paucity is concealed in the much greater number of the chaff; but it must for now be gathered and threshed on the very threshing floor of the catholic church,  and at the end winnowed and cleansed. You should bring yourself to join the church, if you faithfully long to become faithful, lest by putting faith in what is false, as it is written, you feed the winds, which is to say become the food of unclean spirits. For if the apostle Paul, whom you mention, did not reject the wise scriptures of the Old Testament and all of that prophetic dispensation of words and deeds, but instead the carnal superiority of the Jewish stock and their zeal to persecute Christians, with which he used to be inspired as if it were laudable, in aid of the synagogues of his ancestral race that go astray and do not recognise Christ, and also rejected the justice which depends on the law, in which the Jews proudly boast, so failing to recognise the grace of God; if all of this he rejected as loss and as dung, in order to gain Christ, then how much more should you throwaway those writings completely full with wicked blasphemies, where the nature of truth, the nature of the supreme good, the nature of God is described as so often changeable, so often defeated and so often corrupted and in part polluted inexplicably and at the end due to be condemned by the truth itself – all of this you should throw away not as dung but as poison, and then put an end to your argumentation and cross over to the catholic church and to the faith which, prophesied so long ago, has now been made manifest in its own time.
I am saying this to you because your mind is neither the nature of evil, which certainly does not exist, nor the nature of God, for otherwise I would be speaking in vain to something unchangeable. But since it has been changed by abandoning God, and that very change in it is evil, let it be changed back towards the unchangeable good with the aid of that selfsame unchangeable good, and such a change in it will be its liberation from evil. If you scorn this advice and still believe that there are two natures, one the changeable nature of good, which when combined with evil was able to consent to injustice, and the other the unchangeable  nature of evil, which was unable when mixed with good to consent to justice, then you are prattling that last shameful tale which sows accursed and base blasphemies in the ears of prurient fornicators, with. the result that you are in the flock of those about whom it was predicted that: “There will come a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will pile up teachers for their own lusts, as they have prurient ears, and will turn their hearing away from the truth, and be turned towards stories.” However, if you wisely accept this advice by turning to the unchangeable God, by your laudable change you shall be among those about whom the apostle says: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” This could be said neither of the nature of God, because it was never evil and worthy of that name of darkness, nor of the nature of evil, which, if it existed could never be changed nor become light; but this has rightly and truly been said of that nature which is not unchangeable but, having abandoned the unchangeable light by which it was made, is kept within darkness in itself; then having turned back to it it becomes light not in itself, but in the Lord. For it takes its light not from itself, since it is not the true light, but once illuminated it takes its light from him of whom it was said: “He was the true light, which illuminates every man that comes into this world”. Believe this, understand this, and hold fast to this, if you wish to be good by participation in the unchangeable good, which you cannot be through yourself; and you could not lose this state, if you were so without the possibility of change, nor yet recover it, if you were not so without the possibility of change. ******************
- The first item on this page is Mark Vermes, Letter of the Manichaean Secundinus to Augustine, in: Samuel N. Lieu and Iain Gardner, Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN0521-56090 X, pp. 136-142, and appears by permission. The second item appears by permission of the translator. The actual text of both is taken from Mark J. Vermes, Epistula Secundini and contra Secundinum: A translation with commentary of the Epistula Secundini and the contra Secundinum of St Augustine of Hippo, M.A. Thesis, University of Warwick, 1997.↩
- Translated from CSEL 36, 1902.↩
- Book 2, chapter 26.↩