11. The Parable of the Drag-Net.
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea.” 5205 As in the case of images and statues, the likenesses are not likenesses in every respect of those things in relation to which they are made; but, for example, the image painted with wax on the plane surface of wood has the likeness of the surface along with the colour, but does not further preserve the hollows and prominences, but only their outward appearance; and in the moulding of statues an endeavour is made to preserve the likeness in respect of the hollows and the prominences, but not in respect of the colour; and, if the cast be formed of wax, it endeavours to preserve both, I mean both the colour and also the hollows and the prominences, but is not indeed an image of the things in the respect of depth; so conceive with me also that, in the case of the similitudes in the Gospel, when the kingdom of heaven is likened unto anything, the comparison does not extend to all the features of that to which the kingdom is compared, but only to those features which are required by the argument in hand. And here, accordingly, the kingdom of heaven is “like unto a net that was cast into the sea,” not (as supposed by some, 5206 who represent that by this word the different natures of those who have come into the net, to-wit, the evil and the righteous, are treated of), as if it is to be thought that, because of the phrase “which gathered of every kind,” there are many different natures of the righteous and likewise also of the evil; for to such an interpretation all the Scriptures are opposed, which emphasise the freedom of the will, and censure those who sin and approve those who do right; or otherwise blame could not rightly attach to those of the kinds that were such by nature, nor praise to those of a better kind. For the reason why fishes are good or bad lies not in the souls of the fishes, but is based on that which the Word said with knowledge, “Let the waters bring forth creeping things with living souls,” 5207 when, also, “God made great sea-monsters and every soul of creeping creatures which the waters brought forth according to their kinds.” 5208 There, accordingly, “The waters brought forth every soul of creeping animals according to their kinds,” the cause not being in it; but here we are responsible for our being good kinds and worthy of what are called “vessels,” or bad and worthy of being cast outside. For it is not the nature in us which is the cause of the evil, but it is the voluntary choice which worketh evil; and so our nature is not the cause of righteousness, as if it were incapable of admitting unrighteousness, but it is the principle which we have admitted that makes men righteous; for also you never see the kinds of things in the water changing from the bad kinds of fishes into the good, or from the better kind to the worse; but you can always behold the righteous or evil among men either coming from wickedness to virtue, or returning from progress towards virtue to the flood of wickedness. Wherefore also in Ezekiel, concerning the man who turns away from unrighteousness to the keeping of the divine commandments, it is thus written: “But if the wicked man turn away from all his wickednesses which he hath done,” etc., down to the words, “that he turn from his wicked way and live;” 5209 but concerning the man who returns from the advance towards virtue unto the flood of wickedness it is said, “But in the case of the righteous man turning away from his righteousness and committing iniquity,” etc., down to the words, “in his sins which he hath sinned in them shall he die.” 5210 Let those who, from the parable of the drag-net, introduce the doctrine of different natures, tell us in regard to the wicked man who afterwards turned aside from all the wickednesses which he committed and keeps all the commandments of God, and does that which is righteous and merciful, of what nature was he when he was wicked? Clearly not of a nature to be praised. If verily of a nature to be censured, of what kind of nature can he reasonably be described, when he turns away from all his sins which he did? For if he were of the bad class of natures, because of his former deeds, how did he change to that which was better? Or if because of his subsequent deeds you would say that he was of the good class, how being good by nature did he become wicked? And you will also meet with a like dilemma in regard to the righteous man turning away from his righteousness and committing unrighteousness in all p. 420 manner of sins. For before he turned away from righteousness, being occupied with righteous deeds he was not of a bad nature, for a bad nature could not be in righteousness, since a bad tree—that is wickedness—cannot produce good fruits,—the fruits that spring from virtue. Again, on the other hand, if he had been of a good and unchangeable nature he would not have turned away from the good after being called righteous, so as to commit unrighteousness in all his sins which he committed.
Matt. xiii. 47.419:5206
Valentinus and his followers.419:5207
Gen. i. 20.419:5208
Gen. i. 21.419:5209
Ezek. xviii. 20-23.419:5210
Ezek. xviii. 24.