Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XXIII.

The answer, that by the law of nature men were from the beginning liable to judgment and punishment.

Serenus: God at man’s creation implanted in him naturally complete knowledge of the law, and if this had been kept by man, as at the beginning, according to the Lord’s purposes, there would not have been any need for another law to be given, which He afterwards proclaimed in writing: for it were superfluous for an external remedy to be offered, where an internal one was still implanted and vigorous. But since this had been, as we have said, utterly corrupted by freedom and the opportunity of sinning, the severe restrictions of the law of Moses were added as the executor and vindicator of this (earlier law) and to use the expressions of Scripture, as its helper, that through fear of immediate punishment men might be kept from altogether losing the good of natural p. 385 knowledge, according to the word of the prophet who says “He gave the law to help them:” 1558 and it is also described by the Apostle as having been given as a schoolmaster 1559 to little children, as it instructs and guards them to prevent them from departing through sheer forgetfulness from the teaching in which they had been instructed by the light of nature: for that the complete knowledge of the law was implanted in man at his first creation, is clearly proved from this; viz., that we know that before the law, aye, and even before the flood, all holy men observed the commands of the law without having the letter to read. For how could Abel, without the command of the law, have known that he ought to offer to God a sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof, 1560 unless he had been taught by the law which was naturally implanted in him? How could Noah have distinguished what animals were clean and what were unclean, 1561 when the commandment of the law had not yet made a distinction, unless he had been taught by a natural knowledge? Whence did Enoch learn how to “walk with God,” 1562 having never acquired any light of the law from another? Where had Shem and Japheth read “Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father,” so that they went backwards and covered the shame of their father? 1563 How was Abraham taught to abstain from the spoils of the enemy which were offered to him, that he might not receive any recompense for his toil, or to pay to the priest Melchizedec the tithes which are ordered by the law of Moses? 1564 How was it too that the same Abraham and Lot also humbly offered to passers by and strangers offices of kindness and the washing of their feet, while yet the Evangelic command had not shone forth? 1565 Whence did Job obtain such earnestness of faith, such purity of chastity, such knowledge of humility, gentleness, pity and kindness, as we now see shown not even by those who know the gospels by heart? Which of the saints do we read of as not having observed some commandment of the law before the giving of the law? Which of them failed to keep this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord?” 1566 Which of them did not fulfil this: “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything which is in heaven or in the earth or under the earth?” Which of them did not observe this: “Honour thy father and thy mother,” or what follows in the Decalogue: “Thou shalt do no murder; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not bear false witness; Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” 1567 and many other things besides, in which they anticipated the commands not only of the law but even of the gospel?



Is. viii. 20 (LXX.).


Cf. Gal. iii. 24.


Gen. iv. 4.


Gen. vii. 2.


Gen. v. 22.


Gen. 9:23, Lev. 18:7.


Gen. 14:20, 22.


Gen. 18:0, Gen. 19:0, John 13:34.


Deut. vi. 4.


Exod. xx. 4-17.

Next: Chapter XXIV. Of the fact that they were justly punished, who sinned before the flood.