Early Church Fathers
Sermon XXI. [LXXI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Matt. xii. 32,"Whosoever shall speak a word against the holy spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come." or, "on the blasphemy against the holy ghost."
1. There has been a great question raised touching the late lesson of the Gospel, to the solution of which I am unequal by any power of mine own; but "our sufficiency is of God,"1 to whatever degree we are capable of receiving His aid. First then consider the magnitude of the question; that when ye see the weight of it laid upon my shoulders, ye may pray in aid of my labours, and in the assistance which is vouchsafed to me, may find edification for your own souls. When "one possessed with a devil was brought to the Lord, blind and dumb, and He had healed him so that he could speak and see, and all the people were amazed and said, Is not this the Son of David? the Pharisees hearing it said, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?"2 In these words He wished it to be understood from their own confession, that, through their not believing in Him they had chosen to belong to the kingdom of the devil, which as being divided against itself could accordingly not stand. Let then the Pharisees make choice of which they will. If Satan cannot cast out Satan, they can find nothing tosay against the Lord; but if he can, then let them much more look to themselves, and depart out of his kingdom, which as being divided against itself cannot stand.
2. But now that they may not think that it is the prince of the devils in whom the Lord Jesus Christ casteth out devils, let them attend to what follows; "And if I," He saith, "by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore shall they be your judges."3 He spoke this undoubtedly of his disciples, the "children" of that people; who as being the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ were well conscious that they had learnt no evil arts from their Good Master, that through the prince of the devils they should cast out devils. "Therefore," He saith, "shall they be your judges." They, He saith, the base and contemptible things of this world, in whom none of this artificial malice, but the holy simplicity of My power4 is seen; they shall be My witnesses, they shall be your judges. Then He subjoins, "But if I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then the kingdom of God is come unto you."5 What is this? "If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils," He saith, and your children, to whom I have given no hurtful and deceitful doctrine but a simple faith, can in no other way cast them out; no doubt the kingdom of God is come unto you; whereby the kingdom of the devil is subverted, and ye also are subverted with it.
3. And after that He had said, "By whom do your children cast them out?" to show that in them it was His grace, not their own desert; He saith, "Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods, except He first bind the strong man, and then He will spoil his house?6 Your children, saith He, who either have already believed in Me, or who shall yet believe, and cast out devils, not through the prince of the devils, but through the simplicity of holiness, who assuredly either once were, or still are what ye are also, sinners and ungodly; and so in the house of the devil, and the vessels of the devil, how could they be rescued from him whom he held so firmly through the iniquity which reigned over them, unless he were bound by the chains of My justice, that I might take away from him his vessels which once were vessels of wrath, and make them vessels of mercy? This it is which the blessed Apostle also says when he rebukes the proud, and those who boast as it were of their own deserts, "For who maketh thee to differ?"7 That is, who maketh thee to differ from the mass of perdition derived from Adam and from the vessels of wrath. And that no man might say, "My own righteousness," he says, "What hast thou, that thou didst not receive?" And on this point he says of himself also, "We also once were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."8 So then he himself was a vessel in the house of that strong one, strong in evil, when he was a persecutor of the Church, a "blasphemer, injurious, living in malice and envy," as he confesses. But He who bound the strong one, took away from him this vessel of perdition, and made it a vessel of election.
4. Afterwards, that the unbelievers and ungodly, the enemies of the Christian name, might not suppose by reason of the divers heresies and schisms of those who under the Christian name gather together flocks of lost sheep, that the kingdom of Christ also is divided against itself, He next adds," He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth abroad."9 He does not say, he who is under the outward profession10 of My Name; or the form of My Sacrament; but "he who is not with Me is against Me." Nor doth He say, he who gathereth not under the outward profession of My Name; but "he who gathereth not with Me, scattereth abroad." Christ's kingdom then is not divided against itself; but men try to divide that which was bought with the price of the Blood of Christ. "For the Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity."11 For if he depart not from iniquity, he belongeth not to the kingdom of Christ, even though he name the Name of Christ. To give then some illustrations for example's sake, the spirit of covetousness, and the spirit of luxuriousness, because the one heaps together, and the other lavishes, are divided against themselves; yet they belong both to the kingdom of the devil. Among idolaters the spirit of Juno and the spirit of Hercules, are divided against themselves; and both belongto the kingdom of the devil. The heathen Christ's enemy, and the Jew Christ's enemy, are divided against themselves; and both belong to the kingdom of the devil. Arianus and Photinianus both are heretics, and both are divided against themselves. The Donatist and Maximianist12 both are heretics, and both divided against themselves. All men's vices and errors that are contrary to each other are divided against themselves, and all belong to the kingdom of the devil; therefore his kingdom shall not stand. But the righteous and the ungodly, the believer and the unbeliever, the Catholic and the heretic, are indeed divided against themselves, but they do not belong all to the kingdom of Christ. "The Lord knoweth them that are His." Let no one flatter himself upon a mere name. If he would that the Name of the Lord should profit him, let "him that calleth upon the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
5. But these words of the Gospel, though they had some obscurity, which I think by the Lord's assistance I have explained, were yet not so difficult, as that which follows would seem to be. "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."13 What then will become of those whom the Church desires to gain? When they have been reformed and come into the Church from whatsoever error, is the hope in the remission of all sins that is promised them a false hope? For who is not convicted of having spoken a word against the Holy Ghost, before he became a Christian or a Catholic? In the first place, are not they who are called Pagans, the worshippers of many and false gods, and the adorers of idols, forasmuch as they say that the Lord Christ wrought miracles by magical arts, are not they like these who said that He cast out devils through the prince of the devils? And again, when day by day they blaspheme our sanctification, what else blaspheme they but the Holy Ghost? What? Do not the Jews-they who spoke concerning our Lord what gave occasion to this very discourse-do they not even to the present day speak a word against the Holy Ghost, by denying that He is now in Christians, just as the others denied Him to be in Christ? For not even did they revile the Holy Ghost, by asserting either that He existed not, or that though He existed, yet that He was not God, but a creature; or that He had no power to cast out devils; they did not speak thus unworthily, or anything like it, of the Holy Ghost. For the Sadducees indeed denied the Holy Ghost; but the Pharisees maintained His existence against their heresy,14 but they denied that He was in the Lord Jesus Christ, who they thought cast out devils through the prince of the devils, whereas He did cast them out through the Holy Ghost. And hence, both Jews and whatsoever heretics there are who confess the Holy Ghost, but deny that He is in the Body of Christ, which is His One Only Church, none other than the One Catholic Church, are without doubt like the Pharisees who at that time although they confessed the existence of the Holy Ghost, yet denied that He was in Christ, whose works in casting out devils they attributed to the prince of devils. I say nothing of the fact that some heretics either boldly maintain that the Holy Ghost is not the Creator but a creature, as the Arians, and Eunomians, and Macedonians, or so entirely deny His existence, as to deny that God is Trinity, but assert thatHe is God the Father only, and that He is sometimes called the Son, and sometimes the Holy Ghost; as the Sabellians, whom some call Patripassians, because they hold that the Father suffered; and forasmuch as they deny that He has any Son, without doubt they deny His Holy Spirit also. The Photinians again who say that the Father only is God, and the Son a mere man, deny altogether that there is any third Person of the Holy Ghost.
6. It is plain then that the Holy Ghost is blasphemed both by Pagans, and by Jews, and by heretics. Are they then to be left, and accounted without all hope, since the sentence is fixed," Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come"? and are they only to be deemed free from the guilt of this most grievous sin who are Catholics from infancy? For all those who have believed the word of God, that they might become Catholics, came surely into the grace and peace of Christ, either from among the Pagans, or Jews, or heretics: and if there be no pardon for them for the word which they have spoken against the Holy Ghost, in vain do we promise and preach to men, to turn to God, and receive peace and remission of sins, whether in Baptism or in the Church. For it is not said, "It shall not be forgiven him except in baptism;" but, "it shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."
7. Some think that they only sin against the Holy Ghost, who having been washed in the laver of regeneration in the Church, and having received the Holy Spirit, as though unthankful for so great a gift of the Saviour, have plunged themselves afterwards into any deadly sin; as adultery, or murder, or an absolute apostasy,15 either altogether from the Christian name, or from the Catholic Church. But how this sense of it may be proved, I know not; since the place of repentance is not denied in the Churchto any sins whatever; and the Apostle says that heretics themselves are to be reproved to this end, "If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."16 For what is the advantage of amendment without any hope of forgiveness? Finally, The Lord did not say, "the baptized17 Catholic who shall speak a word against the Holy Ghost;" but "he who," that is whosoever speaketh, be he who he may, "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." Whether then he be a heathen, or a Jew, or a Christian, or a heretic from among Jews or Christians, or whatsoever other title of error he have, it is not said, this man, or that man; but "whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost," that is who blasphemeth the Holy Ghost, "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." But moreover if every error contrary to truth, and inimical to Christian peace, as we have shown before, "speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost;" and yet the Church doth not cease to reform and gather out of every error those who shall receive remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost Himself, whom they have blasphemed; I think I have discovered an important secret for the clearing up this so great a question. Let us seek then from the Lord the light of explanation.
8. Lift up then, Brethren, lift up unto me your ears, and your hearts unto the Lord. I tell you, my Beloved; perhaps there is not in all holy Scripture found a more important or more difficult question. Wherefore (that I may make you a confession about myself), I have always in my discourses to the people avoided the difficulty and embarrassment of this question; not because I had no ideas of any sort on the subject, for in a matter of such great importance, I would not be negligent in "asking," and "seeking," and "knocking;" but because I did not think I could do justice18 to that understanding of it which was in some degree opened to me, by words suggested at the moment But as I listened to to-day's lesson, upon which it was my duty to discourse to you, as the Gospel was being read, there was such a beating at my heart, that I believed that it was God's will that you should hear something on the subject by my ministry.
9. First then, I pray you to consider and understand that the Lord did not say," No blasphemy of the Spirit shall be forgiven," or, "whosoever speaketh any word whatsoever against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him;" but "whosoever speaketh a word;"19 for had he said the former, there would have remained to us no subject of disputation at all. Since if no blasphemy, and no word which is spoken against the Holy Ghost, shall be forgiven unto men; the Church could not gain any one out of all the classes of ungodly sinners who gainsay the gift of Christ, and the sanctification of the Church, whether Jews, or heathens, or heretics of whatsoever sort, and some even of little20 knowledge in the Catholic Church itself. But God forbid that the Lord should say this: God forbid, I say, that the Truth should say that every blasphemy and every word which should be spoken against the Holy Ghost, hath no forgiveness neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
10. His will indeed was to exercise us by the difficulty of the question, not to deceive us by a false decision. Wherefore there is no necessity for any one to think, that every blasphemy or every word which is spoken against the Holy Ghost hath no remission; but necessary it plainly is, that there should be some certain blasphemy, and some word which if it be spoken against the Holy Ghost can never attain21 to pardon and forgiveness. For if we take it to mean "every word," who then can be saved? But if again we think there is no such "word," we contradict the Saviour. There is then without doubt some certain blasphemy and some word which if it be spoken against the Holy Ghost, shall not be forgiven. Now what this word is, it is the Lord's will we should enquire; and therefore He hath not expressed it. His will, I say, was that it should be enquired into, not denied. For the style of the Scriptures is often such, that when anything is so expressed as not to be limited either to a universal or particularsignification, it is not necessary that it should be understood universally, and not particularly. This proposition then would be expressed in its whole extent, that is, universally, if it were said, "All blasphemy22 of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" or, "Whosoever speaketh any word whatsoever against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." But it would be expressed partially, that is, particularly, if it were said, "Some certain blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven." But because this proposition is laid down neither in a universal, nor a particular form (for it is not said, "Every blasphemy;" or some certain blasphemy of the Spirit; but only indefinitely, "blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" neither is it said, "Whosoever speaketh any word whatever," or "whosoever speaketh some certain word," but indefinitely, "whosoever speaketh a word"), there is no necessity that we should understand "everyblasphemy and every word;" but necessary itplainly is that the Lord designedsome kind of blasphemy, and some word to be understood; though He would not express it, that, if we should receive any fight understanding of it by asking, and seeking, and knocking, we might not entertain a low esteem of it.
11. In order to seeing this more plainly, consider that which the same Lord also saith of the Jews, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin."23 For this again was not said with any such meaning, as if He intended it to be understood that the Jews would have been without any sin at all, if He had not come and spoken to them. For indeed He found them full of and laden with sins. Wherefore He saith, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden."24 Laden! with what, but with the burdens of sins and transgressions of the Law? "For the Law entered that sin might abound."25 Since then He saith Himself in another place, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance;"26 how would "they not have had sin if He had not come"? if it be not that this proposition being expressed neither universally, nor particularly, but indefinitely, does not constrain us to understand it of all sin? But certainly unless we understand that there was some sin which they would not have had if Christ had not come and spoken unto them, we must say that the proposition was false, which God forbid. He doth not say then, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had had no sin;" lest the Truth should lie. Nor again did He say definitely, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had some certain sin;" lest our devout earnestness27 should not be exercised. For in the full abundance of the Holy Scriptures we feed upon the plain parts, we are exercised by the obscure: by the one, hunger is driven away, and daintiness28 by the other. Seeing then that it is not said, "they had had no sin," we need not be disturbed, though we acknowledge that the Jews would have been sinners, even if the Lord had not come. But yet because it is said," If I had not come, they had not had sin;" it must needs be that they contracted, though not all, yet some sin which they had not before, from the coming of the Lord. And this verily is that sin, that they believed not in Him who was present with and spake to them, and that counting Him as an enemy because He spake the truth, they put Him besides to death. This sin so great and terrible it is clear they had not had if He had not come and spoken to them. As then when we hear the words, "They had not had sin;" we do not understand all, but some, sin; so when we hear in to-day's lesson, "Blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" we understand not all, but a certain kind of blasphemy; and when we hear, "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him;" we ought not to understand every, but some certain word.
12. For in that He saith also in this very text, "But blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" surely we must needs understand not blasphemy of every spirit, but the Holy Spirit. And though He had not expressed this anywhere else more plainly, who could be so silly as to understand it in any other way? According to the same rule of speech is this expression also understood, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit."29 For He doth not say in that place, and of the Holy Spirit; yet this is understood. Nor because He said of water and of the Spirit, is any one forced to understand it of every spirit. Wherefore when you hear, "But the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" as you must not understand it of every spirit, so not of every blasphemy against the Spirit.
13. I see that you are now wishing to hear, since it is not every blasphemy of the Spirit, what that blasphemy is which shall not be forgiven, and what that word is, since it is not every word which if it shall be spoken against the Holy Ghost, shall not be forgiven neither in this world, neither in the world to come. And for my part I should be willing to tell you at once,what you are so very intently waiting to hear; but bear for a while the delay which a more careful diligence requires, till by the Lord's assistance I shall unfold the whole meaning of the passage before us. Now the other two Evangelists, Mark and Luke, when they spake of the same thing, did not say "blasphemy" or "a word," that we might understand it not of every blasphemy, but of some sort of blasphemy; not every word, but some certain word. What then did they say? In Mark it is thus written, "Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies, where-withsoever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, hath never forgiveness, but shall be held guilty of an eternal offence."30 In Luke it is thus: "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven."31 Is there any departure from the truth of the same proposition because of some diversity in the expression? For indeed there is no other reason why the Evangelists do not relate the same things in the same way, but that we may learn thereby to prefer things to words, not words to things, and to seek for nothing else in the speaker, but for his intention, to convey which only the words are used. For what real difference is there whether it is said, "Blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven;" or "he that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him." Except perhaps that the same thing is declared more plainly in this last than in the other form; and so one Evangelist does not overthrow, but explains the other. Now "blasphemy of the Spirit" is an unevident32 expression; because it is not directly said what spirit; for every spirit is not the Holy Spirit. Thus it might be called "blasphemy of the spirit," when a man blasphemes with the spirit; as that may be called "prayer of the spirit," when one prays with the spirit. Whence the Apostle says, "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also."33 But when it is said, "he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost," these ambiguities are removed. So the expression, "hath never forgiveness, but shall be held guilty of an eternal offence; "what is it, but what according to Matthew is expressed, "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come"? The very same idea is expressed in different words and different forms of speech. And what is in Matthew, "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost," that we might not understand it of anything but blasphemy, others have more clearly expressed, "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost." Yet the same thing is said by all; nor did any one of them depart from the intention of the Speaker, for the sake of understanding which only are words spoken, and written, and read, and heard.
14. But one may say, See I have admitted and understood that where the word "blasphemy" is used, and neither all, nor some certain blasphemy expressed, it may be understood either of all, or of some certain blasphemy, but not necessarily of all; but again if it be not understood of some, that that which is said would be untrue: so again if it is not said every or some certain word, it is not necessary that every word should be understood, but unless some word be understood, in no way can what is said be true. But when we read, "He that shall blaspheme," how can I understand any certain blasphemy, when the word "blasphemy "is not used, or any certain word, when the word "word" is not used, but it seems to be said as it were generally, "He that shall blaspheme." To this objection34 I reply thus. If it were said in this passage also, "He that shall blaspheme with any kind of blasphemy whatever against the Holy Ghost," there would be no reason why we should think that some particular blasphemy was to be sought for, when we ought rather to understand all blasphemy; but because all blasphemy could not be meant, lest the hope of forgiveness in case of their amendment should be taken away from heathens, and Jews, and heretics, and all kinds of men, who by their divers errors and contradictions blaspheme against the Holy Ghost; it remains without a doubt, that in the passage where it is written, "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness," he must be meant, not who hath in any way whatever blasphemed; but he who hath blasphemed in such a particular way, that he can never be pardoned.
15. For as in that it is said, "God tempteth no man,"35 it is not to be understood that God tempteth no man with any kind, but only not with some certain kind of temptation; lest that be false, which is written, "The Lord your God tempteth you;"36 and lest we deny that Christ is God, or say that the Gospel is false, when we read that He asked His disciple" tempting him; but He Himself knew what He would do."37 For there is a temptation which induces to sin, with which "God tempteth no man," and there is a temptation which only proves our faith, with which even God vouchsafes to tempt. So when we hear, "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost," we must not take it of every kind of blasphemy, as neither in the other place, of every kind of temptation.
16. So again when we hear, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;"38 we do not of course understand it of one who believes in such a way "as the devils believe and tremble;"39 nor of those who receive baptism in such sort as Simon Magus,40 who though he could be baptized, could not be saved. As then when He said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," He had not in his view all who believe and are baptized, but some only; those, to wit, who are settled in that faith, which, according to the Apostle's distinction, "worketh by love:"41 so when he said, "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness," he did not intend every kind, but a specific sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, by which whosoever shall be bound, he shall never by any remission be loosed.
17. That expression also of His, "He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him,"42 how must we understand? Can we include in these words those even of whom the Apostle says, "that they eat and drink judgment to themselves;"43 when they eat this flesh and drink this blood? What! did Judas the impious seller and betrayer of his Master44 (though, as Luke the Evangelist declares more plainly, he ate and drank with the rest of His disciples this first Sacrament of His body and blood, consecrated45 by the Lord's hands), did he "dwell in Christ and Christ in him "? Do so many, in fine, who either in hypocrisy eat that flesh and drink that blood, or who after they have eaten and drunk become apostate, do they "dwell in Christ or Christ in them"? Yet assuredly there is a certain manner of eating that Flesh and drinking that Blood, in which whosoever eateth and drinketh," he dwelleth in Christand Christ in him." As then he doth not "dwell in Christ and Christ in him," who "eateth the Flesh and drinketh the Blood of Christ" in any manner whatsoever, but only in some certain manner, to which He doubtless had regard when He spake these words. So in this expression also, "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness," he is not guilty of this unpardonable sin, who shall blaspheme in any way whatever, but in that particular way, which it is His will, who uttered this true and terrible sentence, that we should seek out and understand.
18. Now as to what that mode, or immoderateness46 rather, of blasphemy is, what that particular blasphemy, and what that word against the Holy Ghost, the order of my discourse requires me to say what I think, and not to put off any longer your expectation which has been so long but so necessarily deferred. Ye know, Dearly beloved, that in that invisible and incorruptible Trinity, which our faith and the Church Catholic maintains and preaches, God the Father is not the Father of the Holy Spirit, but of the Son; and that God the Son is not the Son of the Holy Spirit, but of the Father; but that God the Holy Spirit is the Spirit not of the Father only, or of the Son only, but of the Father and the Son. And that this Trinity, although the47 Property and particular48 Subsistence49 of each person is preserved, is yet, because of the undivided and inseparable Essence or Nature of Eternity,50 Truth, and Goodness, not three Gods but One God. And by this means, according to our capacity, and as far as it is granted us to see these things "through a glass darkly," especially being such as we now are, there is conveyed to51 us the idea of Origination52 in the Father, Nativity in the Son, and the Communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, and in the Three Equality. By That then which is the Bond of communion53 between the Father and the Son, it is Their pleasure that we should have communion both among ourselves and with Them, and to gather us together in one by that same Gift, which One They both have, that is, by the Holy Spirit, at once God and the Gift of God. For in This are we reconciled to the Divinity, and take delight in It. For what would the knowledge of whatever good we know profit us, unless we also loved it? But as it is by the truth that we learn, so is it by charity that we love, that so we may attain also to a fuller knowledge, and enjoy in blessedness what we know. "Love moreover is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."54 And because it is through sin that we are alienated from the possession of true good, "Love covereth a multitude of sins."55 So then the Father is Himself the True Origin56 to the Son, who is the Truth, and the Son is the Truth, originating57 from the True Father, and the Holy Spirit is Goodness, shed abroad58 from the Good Father and the Good Son; but in all Three the Divinity is equal, and the Unity Inseparable.
19. First then in order to our receiving eternal life which shall be given at the last, there comes to us a gift from God's goodness from the beginning of our faith, to wit, the remission of sins. For while they remain, there remains in some sort enmity against God, and alienation from Him, which comes from what is evil in us; since Scripture does not speak falsely, which says, "Your sins separate between you and God."59 He does not then bestow on us His good things, except He take away our evil things. And the former increase in proportion as the latter are diminished; nor will the one be perfected, till the other be brought to an end. But now that the Lord Jesus forgives sins by the Holy Ghost, just as by the Holy Ghost He casts out devils, may be understood by this, that after His Resurrection from the dead, when He had said to His disciples, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," He immediately subjoined, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they shall be retained."60 For that regeneration also, in which there is a remission of all past sins, is wrought by the Holy Ghost, as the Lord saith, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."61 But it is one thing to be born of the Spirit, another to be nourished by the Spirit; just as it is one thing to be born of the flesh, which happens when the mother is delivered of her child; another to be nourished by the flesh, which happens when she gives suck to her infant, who turns himself that he may drink with pleasure thither whence he was born, to have life; that he may receive the support of life from thence, whence he received the beginning of his birth. We must believe then that the first blessing of God's goodness in the Holy Ghost is the remission of sins. Whence the preaching of John the Baptist, who was sent as the forerunner of the Lord, also begins with it. For thus it is written, "In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."62 Hence too the beginning of our Lord's preaching, as we read, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."63 Now John, amongst the other things which he spake tothose who came to be baptized by him, said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire."64 The Lord also said, "John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence,"65 even at Pentecost. Now as to John's expression, "with fire," though tribulation also might be understood, which believers were to suffer for the name of Christ; yet may we reasonably think that the same Holy Spirit is signified also under the name of "fire."66 Wherefore when He came it is said, "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them."67 Hence also the Lord Himself said, "I am come to send fire on the earth."68 Hence also the Apostle saith, "Fervent in the spirit;"69 for from Him comes the fervour of love. "For it is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."70 And the contrary to this fervour is what the Lord said, "The love of many shall wax cold."71 Now perfect love is the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit. But the first "gift" is that which is concerned with the remission of sins; by which blessing "we are delivered from the power of darkness;"72 and the prince of this world,73 who worketh in the children of disobedience"74 by no other power than the fellowship and the bond of sin, is "cast out" by our faith. For by the Holy Spirit, by whom the people of God are gathered together into one, is the unclean spirit who is divided against himself cast out.
20. Against this gratuitous gift, against this grace of God, does the impenitent heart speak. This impenitence then is "the blasphemy of the Spirit, which shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." For against the Holy Spirit, by whom they whose sins are all forgiven are baptized, and whom the Church hath received, that "whosesoever sins she remits, they may be remitted," does he speak, whether in the thought only, or also in the tongue, a very heinous and exceedingly ungodly word, who "when the patience of God leadeth him to repentance, after his hardness and impenitent heart treasureth up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds."75 This impenitence then, for so by some one general name may we call both this blasphemy and the word against the Holy Ghost which hath noforgiveness for ever; this impenitence, I say, against which both the herald and the Judge cried out, saying, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;"76 against which the Lord first opened the mouth of the Gospel preaching, and against which He foretold that the same Gospel was to be preached in all the world, when He said to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead, "it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem:"77 this impenitence, in one word, hath no forgiveness "neither in this world, nor in the world to come;" for that repentance only obtaineth forgiveness in this world, that it may have its effect in the world to come.
21. But this impenitence or impenitent heart may not be pronounced78 upon, as long as a man lives in the flesh. For we are not to despair of any so long as "the patience of God leadeth the ungodly to repentance," and doth not hurry him out of this life; "God, who willeth not the death of a sinner, but that he should return from his ways and live."79 He is a heathen today; but how knowest thou whether he may not be a Christian to-morrow? He is a heretic to-day; but what if to-morrow he follow the Catholic truth? He is a schismatic to-day; but what if to-morrow he embrace Catholic peace? What if they, whom thou observest now in any kind of error that can be, and whom thou condemnest as in most desperate case, what if before they end this life, they repent and find the true life in that which is to come? Wherefore, Brethren, let also what the Apostle says urge you to this. "Judge nothing before the time."80 For this blasphemy of the Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness (which I have understood to be not every kind of blasphemy, but a particular sort, and that as I have said or discovered, or even as I think clearly shown to be the case, the persevering hardness of an impenitent heart), cannot be taken hold of in any one, I repeat it, as long as he is still in this life.
22. And let it not seem absurd, that whereas a man who perseveres in hardened impenitence even to the end of this life, speaks long and much against this grace of the Holy Spirit; yet the Gospel has called this so long contradiction of an impenitent heart, as though it were something of short duration, "a word," saying, "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." For though this blasphemy be long continued, and made up of, and drawn out at length in very many words, yet it is the manner of Scripture to call even many words "a word." For no prophet ever spoke one word only; yet we read, "the word which came to such and such a prophet." And the Apostle says, "Let the elders be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine."81 He does not say, "in words," but, "in the word?" And St. James, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."82 He again does not say, "of the words," but, "of the word;" although so many words out of the Holy Scriptures are read, and spoken, and heard in the Church at her celebrations and solemnities. As therefore, how long a time soever any of us have laboured in preaching the Gospel, he is not called a preacher of the words, but of the word; and how long time soever any of you may have attentively and diligently listened to our preaching, he is called a most earnest "hearer" not of the words, but "of the word;" so after the style of the Scripture and the custom of the Church, whoso throughout His whole life in the flesh, to whatever length it may be extended, shall have spoken no matter how many words, whether by mouth, or the thought only with an impenitent heart, against that remission of sins which is granted in the Church, he speaks "a word" against the Holy Ghost.
23. Therefore not only every word spoken against the Son of Man, but, in fact, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; because where there is not this sin of an impenitent heart against the Holy Ghost, by whom sins are remitted in the Church, all other sins are forgiven. But how shall that sin be forgiven, which hinders the forgiveness of other sins also? All sins then are forgiven to them in whom is not this sin, which shall never be forgiven; but to him in whom it is, since this sin is never forgiven, neither are other sins forgiven; because the remission of all is hindered by the bond of this one. It is not then that "whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man shall be forgiven," but "whoso speaketh against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven," for that in the Trinity the Holy Ghost is greater than the Son, which no heretic even has ever maintained; but since whosoever he be that resisteth the truth and blasphemeth the Truth, which is Christ, even after such a manifestation of Himself among men, as that the Word who is the Son of Man and very Christ, "became flesh and dwelt among us;" if he have not also spoken that word of the impenitent heart against the Holy Ghost, of whom it is said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit; "83 and again, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit they are remitted unto them;"84 that is, if he shall repent, he shall thereby receive the gift of the remission of all his sins, and of this also, that he "hath spoken a word against the Son of Man," because to the sin of ignorance, or obstinacy, or blasphemy of whatever kind, he hath not added the sin of impenitence against the gift of God, and the grace of regeneration or reconciliation, which is conferred in the Church by the Holy Spirit.
24. Wherefore, neither must we imagine, as some do, that the word which is spoken against the Son of Man is forgiven, but that which is spoken against the Holy Ghost is not forgiven, because Christ became the Son of Man by reason of His assuming flesh, in which respect the Holy Ghost of course is greater, who in His Own Substance is equal to the Father and the Only-begotten Son according to His Divinity, according to which also the Only-begotten Son Himself is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. For if this were the reason, surely nothing would have been said of any other kind of blasphemy, that that only might appear capable of forgiveness, which is spoken against the Son of Man, regarded only as man. But forasmuch as it is first said, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men;"85 which in another Evangelist is also thus expressed, "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewithsoever they shall blaspheme;"86 without doubt, that blasphemy also which is spoken against the Father is included in that general expression; and yet that alone is laid down as unpardonable, which is spoken against the Holy Ghost. What! did the Father also take the form of a servant, that in this respect the Holy Ghost should be greater than He? No surely: but after the universal mention of all sins and of all blasphemy, He wished to express more prominently the blasphemy which is spoken against the Son of Man for this reason, because although men should be even bound in that sin which He mentioned when He said," If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin:"87 which sin also in the Gospel according to John He shows to be a very grievous one, when He says of the Holy Spirit Himself, when He promised that He would send Him, "He shall reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believed not on Me:"88 yet if that hardness of the impenitent heart have not spoken a word against the Holy Ghost, even this which is spoken against the Son of Man shall be forgiven.
25. Here perhaps some one may ask, "whether the Holy Ghost only forgiveth sins, and not the Father and the Son also?" I answer, Both the Father and the Son forgive them. For the Son Himself saith of the Father, "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."89 And we say to Him in the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, which art in heaven."90 And amongst the other petitions we ask this, saying, "Forgive us our debts."91 And again of Himself He saith, "That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins."92 If then," you will say, "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forgive sins, why is that impenitence which shall never be forgiven, said to relate only to the blasphemy of the Spirit, as though he who should be bound in this sin of impenitence should seem to resist the gift of the Holy Spirit, because by that gift is wrought the remission of sins?" Now on this point, I will also ask, Whether Christ only cast out devils, or the Father and the Holy Spirit also? For if Christ only, what means His saying, "The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works."93 For so it is said, "He doeth the works," as if the Son doeth them not, but the Father who dwelleth in the Son. Why then in another place doth He say, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."94 And a little after, "For what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."95 But when in another place He says, "If I had not done amongst them the works which none other man did,"96 He speaks as if He did them alone. Now if these things are so expressed, as that nevertheless the works of the Father and the Son are inseparable, what must we believe of the Holy Spirit, but that He also worketh equally with them? For in that very place, from which this question arose which we are discussing, when the Son was casting out devils, He yet said, "If I in the Holy Spirit cast out devils, then the kingdom of God is come unto you."97
26. And here perhaps one may say, "That the Holy Spirit is rather given by the Father and the Son, than that He worketh anything by His own will, and that this is the scope of the words, "In the Holy Spirit I cast out devils," because not the Spirit Himself, but Christ in the Spirit, did it; so that the expression, "I cast out in the Holy Spirit," might be understood as if it were said, "I cast out by the Holy Spirit." For this is the usual style of the Scriptures, "They killed in the sword," that is, by the sword. They "burnt in the fire,"98 that is, by the fire. "And Joshua took knives of flints, in which to circumcise," that is, by which to circumcise, "the children of Israel."99 But let those who on this account take from the Holy Spirit His proper power, look to that which we read to have been spoken by the Lord, "The Spirit bloweth where It listeth."100 And as to what the Apostle says, "But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will;"101 it might be feared, lest one imagine that the Father and the Son do not work them: whereas amongst these works he has expressly mentioned both the "gifts of healings," and the "workings of miracles," in which surely is included also the driving out of devils, But when he adds the words, "Dividing to every man severally as He will;" does he not clearly show also the Power of the Holy Spirit, yet as plainly inseparable from the Father and the Son? If then these things are so expressed, as that notwithstanding the operation of the Trinity is understood to be inseparable: so that when the operation of the Father is spoken of, it is understood that He does not exercise it without the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and when the operation of the Son is spoken of, it is not without the Father and the Holy Spirit; and when the operation of the Holy Spirit is spoken of, it is not without the Father and the Son; it is sufficiently clear to those who have a sound faith, or who even understand as they best can, both that the words," He doeth the works,"102 are spoken of the Father, in that from Him is also103 the first principle of the works, from whom is the existence of the Persons who co-operate in working: for that both the Son is born of Him, and the Holy Spirit proceedeth from Him, as the First Beginning, of whom the Son is born, and with whom He hath one Spirit in common; and again that when the Lord said, "If I had not done among them the works which none other did,"104 He did not speak in reference to the Father and the Spirit, as that They did not co-operate with Him in those works; but to men by whom we read of many miracles having been done, but by none such miracles as the Son did. And what the Apostlesays of the Holy Spirit, "But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will," is not said, because the Father and the Son do not co-operate with Him; but because in these works there are not many spirits, but One Spirit, and in His divers operations He is not diverse from Himself.
27.105 And yet it is not without cause, but with reason and with truth said, that the Father, and not the Son and the Holy Spirit, said, "Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."106 Nevertheless, we do not deny that the Son and the Holy Spirit co-operated in working this miracle of the voice sounding from heaven, though we know that it belongs to the Person of the Father only. For though the Son bearing flesh, was there conversing with men on earth, He was not the less on that account in the Bosom of the Father also as the Only-Be-gotten Word, when that Voice came out of the cloud; nor could it be either wisely and through the Spirit107 believed, that God the Father separated the operation of these audible and passing words from the co-operation of His Wisdom and His Spirit. In the same way when we say most rightly, that not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son walked upon the sea, who only had that flesh and those feet which rested on the waves;108 yet who would deny that the Father and the Holy Spirit co-operated in the work of so great a miracle? For so again we say most truly that the Son only took this our flesh, not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, and yet he hath no true wisdom who denies that the Father, or the Holy Spirit co-operated in the work of His Incarnation which belongeth only to the Son. So also we say that neither the Father, nor the Son, but the Holy Spirit only appeared both in the "form of a dove,"109 and in "tongues as it were of fire;"110 and gave to those to whom He came the power to tell in many and various tongues "the wonderful works of God;" and yet from this miracle which regards the Holy Spirit only, we cannot separate the co-operation of the Father and the Only-Begotten Word. So also the Whole Trinity work the works of each several Person in the Trinity, the Two co-operating in the work of the Other, through a perfect harmony of operation in the Three, and not through any deficiency of the power to work effectually in One. And since this is so, hence it is that the Lord Jesus cast out devils in the Holy Spirit. Not that He was not able to accomplish this alone, or that He assumed that aid as being insufficient for this work; but it was meet that the spirit who is divided against himself should be driven out by that Spirit, which the Father and the Son who are not divided in themselves have in common.
28. And thus sins, because they are not forgiven out of the Church, must be forgiven by that Spirit, by whom the Church is gathered together into one. In fact, if any one out of the Church repent him of his sins, and for this so great sin whereby he is an alien from the Church of God, has an heart impenitent, what doth that other repentance profit him? seeing by this alone he speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost, whereby he is alienated from the Church, which hath received this gift, that in her remission of sins should be given in the Holy Ghost? Which remission though it be the work of the Whole Trinity, is yet understood specially to belong to the Holy Spirit. For He is the Spirit of the adoption of sons, "in whom we cry Abba, Father;"111 that we may be able to say to Him, "Forgive us our debts."112 And, "Hereby we know" as the Apostle John says, "that Christ dwelleth in us, by His Spirit which He hath given us."113 "The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God."114 For to Him appertains the fellowship, by which we are made the one body of the One only Son of God. Whence it is written, "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit."115 With a view to this fellowship they to whom He first came spake with the tongues of all nations. Because as by tongues the fellowship of mankind is more closely united; so it behoved that this fellowship of the sons of God and members of Christ which was to be among all nations should be signified by the tongues of all nations; that as at that time he was known to have received the Holy Ghost, who spake with the tongues of all nations; so now he should acknowledge that he has received the Holy Ghost, who is held by the bond of the peace of the Church, which is spread throughout all nations. Whence the Apostle says, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."116
29. Now that He is the Spirit of the Father, the Son Himself saith, "He proceedeth from the Father."117 And in another place, "For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you."118 And that He is the Spirit of the Son also the Apostle saith, "God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father;119 that is, making you cry. For it is we that cry; but in Him, that is, by His shedding abroad love in our hearts, without which whoso crieth, crieth in vain. Whence he says again, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."120 To which Person then in the Trinity could the communion of this fellowship peculiarly appertain, but to that Spirit which is common to the Father and the Son?
30. That they who have separated from the Church have not this Spirit, the Apostle Jude has declared most plainly, saying, "Who separate themselves, natural, having not the Spirit."121 Whence the Apostle Paul reproving those even in the Church itself, who by the names of men, though having a place in her unity, were raising a kind of schism, says amongst other things, "But the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."122 This shows his meaning, "doth not perceive" that is doth not receive the word of knowledge. These as having a place in the Church, he speaks of as babes, not yet spiritual, but still carnal, and such as are to be fed with milk, not with meat. "Even" he says, "as unto babes in Christ, have I given you milk and not meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able."123 When we say, "not yet," we must not despair, if that which is "not yet" tends to be. For he says, "ye are yet carnal." And showing how it is that they are carnal, he says, "For whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" And again more plainly, "For while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?"124 These then, that is, Paul and Apollos, agreed together in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace; and yet because the Corinthians began to divide them among themselves, and "to be puffed up for one against another," they are said to be men-carnal and natural men, not able to receive the things of the Spirit of God; and yet because they are not separated from the Church, they are called "babes in Christ;" for indeed he desired that they should be either Angels, or even Gods, whom he reproved because they were men, that is, in those contentions, "They savoured not the things which be of God, but the things which be of men."125 But of those who are separated from the Church it is not merely said, "perceiving not the things of the Spirit of God," lest it should be referred to the perception of knowledge; but it is said, "Having not the Spirit." For it does not follow, that he who hath it, should also by knowledge perceive what he hath.
31. The "babes" then "in Christ" who have yet place in the Church, who are still natural and carnal, and cannot "perceive," that is, understand and know what they have, have this Spirit. For how could they be babes in Christ except they were born anew of the Holy Spirit? Nor ought it to seem any wonder that one may have something, and yet not know what he hath. For to say nothing of the Divinity of the Almighty, and the Unity of the Unchangeable Trinity, who can easily perceive by knowledge what the soul is; and yet who is there that hath not a soul? Finally, that we may know most certainly that "babes in Christ," who do not "perceive the things of the Spirit of God," have notwithstanding the Spirit of God; let us look how the Apostle Paul, when a little while after he is rebuking them, saith, "Know ye not that ye are the temples of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"126 This surely he would in no wise say to those who are separated from the Church, who are described as "having not the Spirit."
32. But neither can he be said to be in the Church, and to belong to that fellowship Of the Spirit, who is mixed up with Christ's sheep by a bodily intercourse only in deceitfulness of heart. For the "Holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit."127 Wherefore whosoever are baptized in the congregations or separations rather128 of schismatics or heretics, although they have not been born again of the Spirit, like as it were to Ishmael, who was Abraham's son after the flesh; not like Isaac, who was his son after the Spirit,129 because by promise; yet when they come to the Catholic Church, and are joined to the fellowship of the Spirit which without the Church they beyond doubt had not, the washing of the flesh is not repeated in their case. For "this form of godliness" was not wanting to them even when they were without; but there is added to them "the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," which cannot be given but within. Before they were Catholics indeed, they were as they of whom the Apostle says, "Having a formof godliness, but denying the power thereof."130 For the visible form of the branch may exist even when separated from the vine; but the invisible life of the root cannot be had, but in the vine. Wherefore the bodily sacraments, which even they who are separated from the Unity of Christ's Body bear and celebrate, may give "the form of godliness;" but the invisible and spiritual power of godliness cannot in any wise be in them, just as sensation does not accompany a man's limb, when it is amputated from the body.
33. And since this is so, remission of sins, seeing it is not given but by the Holy Spirit, can only be given in that Church which hath the Holy Spirit. For this is the effect of the remission of sins, that the prince of sin, the spirit who is divided against himself, should no more reign in us, and that being delivered from the power of the unclean spirit, we should thenceforward be made the temple of the Holy Spirit, and receive Him, by whom we are cleansed through receiving pardon, to dwell in us, to work, increase, and perfect righteousness. For at His first coming, when they who had received Him spake with the tongues of all nations, and the Apostle Peter addressed those who were present in amazement, they were pricked in heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" show us. "And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."131 In the Church truly in which was the Holy Ghost, were both brought to pass, that is, both the remission of sins, and the receiving of this gift. And therefore was it "In the Name of Jesus Christ;" because when He promised the same Holy Ghost; He said, "Whom the Father will send in My Name."132 For the Spirit dwelleth in no man without the Father and the Son; as neither doth the Son without the Father and the Holy Spirit, nor the Father without them. Their indwelling is inseparable, as their operation is inseparable; but sometimes they manifest themselves separately by symbols133 borrowed from the creatures, not in their own substance; just as they are pronounced separately by the voice in syllables which occupy separately their own spaces, and yet they are not separated from each other by any intervals, or moments of time. For they never can be pronounced together, whereas they can never exist, except together. But as I have already said, and not once only, the remission of sins, whereby the kingdom of the spirit which is divided against himself is overthrown and driven out, and the fellowship of the unity of the Church of God, out of which this remission of sins is not, are regarded as the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit, with the cooperation doubtless of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit is Himself in some sort the fellowship of the Father and the Son. For the Father is not possessed134 as Father by the Son and the Holy Spirit in common; because He is not the Father of Both. And the Son is not possessed as Son by the Father and the Holy Spirit in common; because He is not the Son of Both. But the Holy Spirit is possessed as the Spirit by the Father and the Son in common, because He is the One Spirit of Both.
34. Whosoever therefore shall be guilty of impenitence against the Spirit, in whom the unity and fellowship of the communion of the Church is gathered together, shall never have forgiveness; because he has stopped the source of forgiveness against himself, and deservedly shall he be condemned with the spirit, which is divided against himself, who is himself also divided against the Holy Spirit which is not divided against Himself. And of this the very testimonies of the Gospel warn us, would we with good attention search them. For according to Luke the Lord does not say, "That he who blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven:" in that place where He is answering those who said that He cast out devils by the prince of the devils. Whence it would seem that this was not said once only by the Lord; but we must not carelessly pass over the consideration of the occasion on which this last also was spoken. For He was speaking of those who should have confessed or denied Him before men, when He said, "Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the Angels of God. But he that denieth Me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God."135 And lest from this the salvation of the Apostle Peter should be despaired of, he immediately subjoined, "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven;136 blasphemeth," that is, with that blasphemy of an impenitent heart, by which resistance is made to remission of sins which is granted in the Church by the Holy Ghost. And this blasphemy Peter had not, who presently repented, when "he wept bitterly,"137 and who after he had overcome the spirit who is divided against himself, and who had desired to "have him to harass him,"138 and against whom the "Lord prayed for him that his faith might not fail," even received the Very Holy Spirit whom he resisted not, that not only his sin might be forgiven him, butthat through him remission of sins might be preached and dispensed.
35. And in the narrative of the two other Evangelists, the occasion of speaking out this sentence of the blasphemy of the Spirit arose from the mention of the unclean spirit, who is divided against himself. For it had been said of the Lord, that "He cast out devils by the prince of the devils." In that place the Lord says, that "by the Holy Spirit He casteth out devils," that so the spirit who is not divided against Himself may overcome and cast out him who is divided against himself; but that that man would abide in his perdition, who refuses through impenitence to pass over into His peace, who is not divided against Himself. For thus runs the narrative of Mark; "Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but shall be held guilty of an eternal offence."139 When he had delivered these words of the Lord, he then subjoined his own, saying, "Because they said He hath an unclean spirit;"140 that He might show that the cause of His saying this arose hence, because they had said that "He cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." Not that this was a blasphemy which shall not be forgiven, forasmuch as even this shall be forgiven, if a right repentance follow it; but because, as I have said, there arose hence a cause for that sentence to be delivered by the Lord, since mention had been made of the unclean spirit whom the Lord shows to be divided against himself, because of the Holy Spirit who is not only not divided against Himself, but who also makes those whom He gathers together undivided, by forgiving those sins which are divided against themselves, and by inhabiting those who are cleansed, that it may be with them, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul."141 And this gift of forgiveness none resists, but he who has the hardness of an impenitent heart. For in another place also the Jews said of the Lord that He had a devil,142 yet He spake nothing there of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit; because they did not so bring forward the mention of the unclean spirit as that he could be shown out of their own mouths to be divided against himself, as Beelzebub, by whom they said that devils could be cast out.
36. But in this passage according to Matthew, the Lord far more plainly explained what he intended to be understood here; namely, that he it is who speaks a word against the Holy Ghost, who with an impenitent heart resists the Unity of the Church, where in the Holy Spirit is given the remission of sins. For this spirit they have not, as has been said already, who even though they bear and handle143 the sacraments of Christ, are separated from His congregation. For when He spoke of the division of Satan against Satan, and how that He Himself cast out devils by the Holy Spirit, that Spirit, namely, which is not, as the other, divided against Himself; lest any one should think because of those who gather together their irregular assemblies144 under the Name of Christ, but without His fold, that the kingdom of Christ also was divided against itself, He immediately added, "He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad,"145 that He might show that they did not belong to Him who by gathering "without" wished not to "gather" but "to scatter abroad." And afterwards He subjoined, "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven."146 What is this "wherefore?" Shall the blasphemy of the Spirit only not be forgiven, because "he who is not with Christ is against Him, and he who gathereth not with Him scattereth abroad?" Even so, doubtless. For he that gathereth not with Him, howsoever he may gather under His name, hath not the Holy Ghost.
37. Thus then hath He altogether forced us to understand that the remission of no sin nor blasphemy can be effected anywhere else, save in the gathering together of Christ, which scattereth not abroad. For it is gathered together in the Holy Spirit, which is not as that unclean spirit, divided against Himself. And therefore all congregations, or dispersions rather, which call themselves Churches of Christ, and are divided against themselves and contrary one to the other, and hostile to the congregation of Unity, which is His True Church, do not therefore belong to His congregation, because they seem to have His Name. But they might belong to it, if the Holy Spirit in whom this congregation is joined together, were divided against Himself. But because this is not so ("for he that is not with Christ is against Him, and he that gathereth not with Him scattereth abroad"); therefore all manner of sin and all blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men in this congregation, which Christ gathereth together in the Holy Spirit, who is not divided against Himself. But that blasphemy of the Spirit Himself, whereby in an impenitent heart resistance is made to this so great gift of God even to the end of this present life, shall not be forgiven. For though a man so oppose himself to the truth, as to resist God speaking, not in the Prophets, but in His Only Son (since for our sakes He was pleased that He should be the Son of Man, that He might speak to us in Him), yet shall he be forgiven when in repentance he shall have recourse to the goodness of God, who forasmuch as He "willeth not the death of the wicked, but rather that he should turn from his way and live,"147 hath given the Holy Spirit to His Church, that whosoever forgiveth sins in the Spirit, they should be forgiven. But whoso stands out as an enemy to this gift, so as not in repentance to seek it, but by impenitence to gainsay it, his sin becomes unpardonable; not sin of any one specific kind, but the contempt, or even opposing of the remission of sins itself. And so a word is spoken against the Holy Spirit, when men never come from the dispersion to the congregation which has received the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins. Unto which congregation if any come without hypocrisy, though it be through the ministry of a wicked clergyman, a reprobate and a hypocrite, so he be a Catholic minister, he shall receive remission of sins in this Holy Spirit. For such is the working of this Spirit in the Holy Church, even in this present time, when the corn148 is as it were being threshed with the chaff, that he despises no man's sincere confession, and is deceived by no man's false pretences, and so flies from the reprobate, as yet by their ministry to gather together those that are approved.149 One refuge then there is against unpardonable blasphemy, that we take heed of an impenitent heart; and that it be not thought that repentance can avail ought, unless the Church be kept to, in which remission of sins is given, and the fellowship of the Spirit is preserved in the bond of peace.
38. I have through the mercy and assistance of the Lord handled, as I best was able, this most difficult question, if indeed I have been able to do it in any measure. Nevertheless, whatever I have not been able to apprehend in the difficulties of it, let it not be imputed to the truth itself, which is a healthful exercise to the godly, even when it is hidden, but to my infirmity, who either could not see what others might have understood, or could not explain what I did understand. But for that which perhaps I have been able to discover by force of meditation, and to develop in words, to Him must the thanks be given, from whom I have sought, from whom I have asked, unto whom I have knocked, that I might have wherewithal to be nourished myself in meditation, and to minister to you in speaking.