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ness, and that hath done all things which shut men from the kingdom; let this man be not a heathen, but a Christian and accepted of God, but afterward a whoremonger, an adulterer, an effeminate person, unnaturally lustful, a thief, a drunkard, a slanderer, and one that hath diligently committed such crimes, truly I will not be to him an author of despairing, although he hath persevered in these wickednesses to an extreme old age."-Truly neither would I. But neither could he nor any man else be forward to warrant his particular. But if the remaining portion of his old age be well employed, according as the time is, and the spending of that time, and the earnestness of the repentance, and the greatness of the grief, and the heartiness of the return, and the fulness of the restitution, and the zeal of amends, and the abundance of charity, and the largeness of the devotion, so we approach to very many degrees of hope. But there is difference between the case of an extreme old age, and a death-bed. That may have more time, and better faculties, and fitted opportunities, and a clearer choice, and a more perfect resistance between temptation and grace. But for the state of death-bed, although there is in that also some variety, yet the best is very bad, and the worst is stark nought; but concerning the event of both, God only is the judge. Only it is of great use that Chrysostom says in the same letters to Theodorus, "Quodque est majoris facilitatis argumentum, etiamsi non omnem præ se fert pœnitentiam, brevem illam et exiguo tempore factam non abnuit, sed magnâ mercede compensat:" "Even a dying person ought not to despair, and leave off to do those little things of which only there is then left to him a possibility; because even that imperfect repentance, done in that little time, God rejects not, but will give to it a great reward.” -So he did to Ahab. And whatsoever is good, shall have a good, some way or other it shall find a recompense: but every recompense is not eternal glory, and every good thing shall not be recompensed with heaven. To the same purpose is that of Cœlestinus, reproving them that denied repentance to persons, "qui obitus sui tempore hoc animæ suæ cupiunt remedio subveniri," "who at the time of their death desired to be admitted to it." "Horremus, fateor, tantæ impietatis aliquem reperiri, ut de Dei pietate desperet; quasi non posset ad se quovis tempore concurrenti succurrere, et peri
clitantem sub onere peccatorum hominem, pondere quo se expedire desiderat, liberare." "I confess (saith he) we abhor that any one should be found to be of so great impiety as to despair of God's mercy; as if he could not at any time relieve him that comes to him, and ease him that runs to be eased of the burden of his sins." "Quid hoc rogo aliud est," &c. "What else is this but to add death to the dying man, and to kill his soul with cruelty, by denying that he can be absolved, since God is most ready to help, and inviting to repentance, and thus promises, saying, ' In what day soever the sinner shall be converted, his sins shall not be imputed to him;' and again, I would not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live?' He therefore takes salvation from a man, who denies him his hoped-for repentance in the time of his death; and he despairs of the clemency of God, who does not believe it sufficient to help the dying man in a moment of time. The thief on the cross hanging on Christ's right hand had lost his reward, if the repentance of one hour had not helped him. When he was in pain, he repented and obtained paradise by one discourse. Therefore the true conversion to God of dying persons, is to be accounted of by the mind rather than by time." Thus far St. Cœlestine. The sum of which is this: that dying persons must not be thrust into despair: because God's mercy is infinite, and his power is infinite. He can do what he please, and he may do more than we know of, even more than he hath promised; and therefore they that are spiritual, must not refuse to do all that they can to such miserable persons. And in all this there is nothing to be reproved, but that the good man by incompetent arguments goes about to prove what he had a mind to. If the hindering such persons to despair be all that he intends, it is well; if more be intended, his arguments will not do it. 66. Afterward, in the descending ages of the church, things grew worse, and it began to be good doctrine even in the days of St. Isidore: "Nullus desperare debet veniam, etiamsi circa finem vitæ ad pœnitentiam convertatur. Unumquemque enim Deus de suo fine, non de vitâ præteritâ judicat":" "God judges a man by his end, not by his past life; and therefore no man must despair of pardon, though he be not converted till about the end of his life." But in these
words there is a lenitive," circa finem vitæ ;" if he be converted "about the end of his life;" that is, in his last or declining years which may contain a fair portion of time, like those who were called in the eleventh hour, that is, 'circa finem vitæ,' but not in fine;' about,' not 'in the end of their life.' But St. Austin, or Gennadius, or whoever is author of the book' De Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus,' speaks home to the question, but against the former doctrine". Pœnitentiâ aboleri peccata indubitanter credimus, etiamsi in ultimo vitæ spiritu admissorum pœniteat, et publicâ lamentatione peccata prodantur, quia propositum Dei, quo decrevit salvare quod perierat, stat immobile: et ideo quia voluntas ejus non mutatur, sive emendatione vitæ si tempus conceditur, sive supplici confessione, si continuò vitâ exceditur, venia peccatorum fideliter præsumatur ab illo, qui non vult mortem peccatoris, sed ut convertatur à perditione pœnitendo, et salvatus miseratione Domini vivat. Si quis aliter de justissimâ Dei pietate sentit, non Christianus sed Novatianus est:" "That sins are taken off by repentance, though it be but in the last breath of our life, we believe without doubting. He that thinks otherwise is not a Christian but a Novatian. If we have time, our sins are taken away by amendment of life; but if we die presently, they are taken off by humble confession.'-This is his doctrine. And if he were infallible, there were nothing to be said against it. But to balance this, we have a more sober discourse of St. Austin in these words: "If any man placed in the last extremity of sickness, would be admitted to repentance, and is presently reconciled, and so departs, I confess to you, we do not deny to him what he asks, but we do not presume that he goes hence well. I do not presume, I deceive you not, I do not presume. A faithful man living well, goes hence securely. He that is baptized but an hour before, goes hence securely. He that repents and afterward lives well, goes hence securely. He that repents at last and is reconciled, whether he goes hence securely I am not secure. Where I am secure, I tell you, and give security; where I am not secure, I can admit to repentance, but I cannot give security."-And a little after. "Attend to what I say. I ought to explain clearly what I say, lest any one should misunderstand me. Do I say he shall be damned? I do not say it.
• C. 80.
Lib. 50. hom. 41.
Do I say he shall be pardoned? I do not say it. And what say you to me? I know not. I presume not, I promise not, I know not. Will you free yourself from doubt? Will you avoid that which is uncertain? Repent while thou art in health. For if you do penance while you are well, and sickness find you so doing, run to be reconciled; and if you do so, you are secure. Why are you secure? Because you repented at that time when you could have sinned. But if you repent then when you cannot sin, thy sins have left thee, thou hast not left them. But how know you that God will not forgive him? You say true. How? I know not. I know that, I know not this. For therefore I give repentance to you, because I know not. For if I knew it would profit you nothing, I would not give it you. And if I did know that it would profit you, I would not affright you. There are but these two things. Either thou shalt be pardoned, or thou shalt not. Which of these shall be in thy portion I know not. Therefore keep that which is certain, and let go that which is uncertain." Some suppose these to have been the words of St. Ambrose, not of St. Austin. But St. Austin" hath in his sermons 'de Tempore' something more decretory than the former discourse. "He that is polluted with the filth of sins, let him be cleansed 'exomologesis satisfactione,' 'with the satisfaction of repentance.' Neither let him put it off, that he do not require it till his death-bed, where he cannot perform it. For that persuasion is unprofitable. It is nothing for a sinner to repent, unless he finish his repentance. For the voice of the penitent alone is not sufficient for the amendment of his faults: for in the satisfaction for great crimes, not words, but works, are looked after. Truly repentance is given in the last, because it cannot be denied; but we cannot affirm, that they who so ask, ought to be absolved. For how can the lapsed man do penance? How shall the dying man do it? How can he repent, who cannot do works of satisfaction or amendment of life? And therefore that repentance which is required by sick men, is itself weak; that which is required by dying men, I fear lest that also die. And therefore whosoever will find mercy of God, let him do his repentance in this world, that he may be saved in the world to come."-Higher yet are the words of Pauli
u Serm. 57.
mus, bishop of Nola, to Faustus of Rhegium, inquiring what is to be done to death-bed penitents: "Inimicâ persuasione mentitur, qui maculas longâ ætate contractas subitis et inutilibus abolendas gemitibus arbitratur: quo tempore con"6 He fessio esse potest, satisfactio esse non potest." lies with the persuasion of an enemy, who thinks that those stains which have been long contracting, can be suddenly washed off with a few unprofitable sighings, at that time when he can confess, but never make amends." -And a little after; "Circa exequendam interioris hominis sanitatem, non solùm accipiendi voluntas, sed agendi expectatur utilitas:" and again, "Hujusmodi medicina sicut "Then a man ore poscenda, ita opere consummanda est." repents truly, when what he affirms with his mouth, he can finish with his hand ;"-that is, not only declaim against sin, but also mortify it. To which I add the words of Asterius, bishop of Amasea. "At cum debitum tempus adveniet, et indeprecabile decretum corporis et animæ nexum dissolvet, reputatio subibit eorum quæ in vita patrata sunt, et pœnitentia sera et nihil profutura. Tunc enim demum pœnitentia prodest, cum pœnitens emendandi facultatem habet; sublatâ verò copiâ recte faciendi, inutilis est dolor, et irrita pœnitentia:" "When the set time shall come, when the irrevocable decree shall dissolve the union of soul and body, then shall the memory of those things return which were done in our lifetime, and a late repentance that shall profit -nothing. For then repentance is profitable, when the penistent can amend his fault: but when the power of doing well is taken away, grief is unprofitable, and the repentance wain." Now to the words of Gennadius before quoted, I answer, that they are a fierce reproof of the Novatian doctrine, and too great an earnestness of going so far from them, that the left also the severity, which wise and good men did at that time teach, and ought always to press. He went to cure one error by another, never thinking any contradictory sufficient, unless it were against every thing that the Novatians did say, though also it was said and believed by the orthodox. But I shall resume this discourse in the following chapters, where upon another occasion I shall give account of the severity of the primitive church in this article; which at first
Epist. 1. Bibl. SS. PP. tom. 5.
y Homil. de Divit. et Lazaro.