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St. Augustine

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CHAPTER XXI - Problems of Casuistry

78. What sins are trivial and what are grave, however, is not for human but for divine
judgment to determine. For we see that, in respect of some sins, even the apostle, by pardoning
them, has conceded this point. Such a case is seen in what the venerable Paul says to married
folks: "Do not deprive one another, except by consent for a time to give yourselves to prayer,
and then return together lest Satan tempt you at the point of self - control."
173 One could
consider that it is not a sin for a married couple to have intercourse, not only for the sake of
procreating children - which is the good of marriage - but also for the sake of the carnal
pleasure involved. Thus, those whose self - control is weak could avoid fornication, or adultery,
and other kinds of impurity too shameful to name, into which their lust might drag them through
Satan's tempting. Therefore one could, as I said, consider this not a sin, had the apostle not
added, "But I say this as a concession, not as a rule." Who, then, denies that it is a sin when he
agrees that apostolic authority for doing it is given only by "concession"?
Another such case is seen where he says, "Dare any of you, having a case against another,
bring it to be judged before the unrighteous and not the saints?"
174 And a bit later: "If,
therefore, you have cases concerning worldly things," he says, "you appoint those who are
contemptible in the Church's eyes. I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not a wise man
among you, who could judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and
that in the presence of
175 And here it might be thought that it was not a sin to bring suit against a
brother, and that the only sin consisted in wishing it judged outside the Church, if the apostle had
not added immediately, "Now therefore the whole fault among you is that you have lawsuits with
one another."
176 Then, lest someone excuse himself on this point by saying that he had a just
cause and was suffering injustice which he wished removed by judicial sentence, the apostle
directly resists such thoughts and excuses by saying: "Why not rather suffer iniquity? Why not
rather be defrauded?"
177 Thus we are brought back to that saying of the Lord: "If anyone
would take your tunic and contend in court with you, let go your cloak also."
178 And in
another place: "If a man takes away your goods, seek them not back."
179 Thus, he forbids his
own to go to court with other men in secular suits. And it is because of this teaching that the
apostle says that this kind of action is "a fault." Still, when he allows such suits to be decided in
the Church, brothers judging brothers, yet sternly forbids such a thing outside the Church, it is
clear that some concession is being made here for the infirmities of the weak.
Because of these and similar sins - and of others even less than these, such as offenses in
words and thoughts - and because, as the apostle James confesses, "we all offend in many
180 it behooves us to pray to the Lord daily and often, and say, "Forgive us our debts,"
and not lie about what follows this petition, "As we also forgive our debtors."

79. There are, however, some sins that could be deemed quite trifling if the Scriptures did not
show that they are more serious than we think. For who would suppose that one saying to his
brother, "You fool," is "in danger of hell-fire," if the Truth had not said it? Still, for the hurt he
immediately supplied a medicine, adding the precept of brotherly reconciliation: "If, therefore,
you are offering a gift at the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against
181 etc. Or who would think how great a sin it is to observe days and months and
years and seasons - as those people do who will or will not begin projects on certain days or in
certain months or years, because they follow vain human doctrines and suppose that various
seasons are lucky or unlucky - if we did not infer the magnitude of this evil from the apostle's
fear, in saying to such men, "I fear for you, lest perhaps I have labored among you in vain"

80. To this one might add those sins, however grave and terrible, which, when they come to
be habitual, are then believed to be trivial or no sins at all. And so far does this go that such sins
are not only not kept secret, but are even proclaimed and published abroad - cases of which it is
written, "The sinner is praised in the desires of his soul; and he that works iniquity is
In the divine books such iniquity is called a "cry" (clamor). You have such a usage in the
prophet Isaiah's reference to the evil vineyard: "I looked that he should perform justice, yet he
did iniquity; not justice but a cry."
184 So also is that passage in Genesis: "The cry of Sodom
and Gomorrah is
185 for among these people such crimes were not only unpunished, but were openly
committed, as if sanctioned by law. So also in our times so many evils, even if not like those
[of old], have come to be public customs that we not only do not dare excommunicate a layman;
we do not dare degrade a clergyman for them. Thus, several years ago, when I was expounding
the Epistle to the Galatians, where the apostle says, "I fear for you, lest perchance I have labored
in vain among you," I was moved to exclaim: "Woe to the sins of men! We shrink from them
only when we are not accustomed to them. As for those sins to which we are accustomed -
although the blood of the Son of God was shed to wash them away - although they are so great
that the Kingdom of God is wholly closed to them, yet, living with them often we come to
tolerate them, and, tolerating them, we even practice some of them! But grant, O Lord, that we
do not practice any of them which we could prohibit!" I shall someday know whether
immoderate indignation moved me here to speak rashly.

173 1 Cor. 7:5 (mixed text).

174 1 Cor. 6:1.

175 1 Cor. 6:4-6.

176 1 Cor. 6:7a.

177 1 Cor. 6:7b.

178 Matt. 5:40.

179 Luke 6:30.

180 James 3:2 (Vulgate).

181 Matt. 5:22, 23.

182 Gal. 4:11 (Vulgate).

183 Ps. 10:3 (Vulgate).

184 Isa. 5:7 (LXX).

185 Gen. 18:20 (Vulgate with one change).

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