Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter IV.

How man’s goodness and righteousness are not good if compared with the goodness and righteousness of God.

But if we want also to establish the force of this opinion by still clearer proofs, is it not the case that while we read of many things as called good in the gospel, as a good tree, and good treasure, and a good man, and a good servant, for He says: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit;” and: “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things;” and: “Well done, good and faithful servant;” 2240 and certainly there can be no doubt that none of these are good in themselves, yet if we take into consideration the goodness of God, none of them will be called good, as the Lord says: “None is good save God alone”? 2241 In whose sight even the apostles themselves, who in the excellence of their calling in many ways went beyond the goodness of mankind, are said to be evil, as the Lord thus speaks to them: “If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him.” 2242 Finally as our goodness turns to badness in the eyes of the Highest so also our righteousness when set against the Divine righteousness is considered like a menstruous cloth, as Isaiah the prophet says: “All your righteousness is like a menstruous cloth.” 2243 And to produce something still plainer, even the vital precepts of the law itself, which are said to have been “given by angels by the hand of a mediator,” and of which the same Apostle says: “So the law indeed is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good,” 2244 when they are compared with the perfection of the gospel are pronounced anything but good by the Divine oracle: for He says: “And I gave them precepts that were not good, and ordinances whereby they should not live in them.” 2245 The Apostle also affirms that the glory of the law is so dimmed by the light of the New Testament that he declares that in comparison with the splendour of the gospel it is not to be considered glorious, saying: “For even that which was glorious was not glorified by reason of the glory that excelleth.” 2246 And Scripture keeps up this comparison on the other side also, i.e., in weighing the merits of sinners, so that in comparison with the wicked it justifies those who have sinned less, saying: “Sodom is justified above thee;” and again: “For what hath thy sister Sodom sinned?” and: “The rebellious Israel hath justified her soul in comparison of the treacherous Judah.” 2247 So then the merits of all the virtues, which I enumerated above, though in themselves they are good and precious, yet become dim in comparison of the brightness of contemplation. For they greatly hinder and retard the saints who are taken up with earthly aims even at good works, from the contemplation of that sublime good.



S. Matt. 7:18, Matt. 12:35, Matt. 25:21.


S. Luke xviii. 19.


S. Matt. vii. 11.


Isa. lxiv. 6.


Gal. 3:19, Rom. 7:12.


Ezek. xx. 25.


2 Cor. iii. 10.


Ezek. 16:52, 49, Jer. 3:11.

Next: Chapter V. How no one can be continually intent upon that highest good.