With withering sarcasm, St. Pacian tramples the arguments of the Novatians, a sect that said no one could repent after baptism. When one loner disagrees with the whole Catholic Church, it seems more likely that the whole Church is right.
The whole treatise of the Novatians, which you have addressed to me thronged with propositions on all sides, amounts to this, brother Sympronian: that there is no room for repentance after baptism; that the Church cannot remit mortal sin; that by the receiving of sinners she herself perishes. What illustrious honor! Singular authority! Great constancy! To reject the guilty; to flee the touch of sinners; to have so little confidence in her own innocence!
Who asserts this doctrine, brother? Moses? Paul? Christ? But Moses wishes to be wiped out of the book for the sake of blasphemers; and Paul to be accursed for his brethren; and the Lord Himself wishes to suffer for the unrighteous.
None of these, you will say. Who then, I ask? It was the ordinance of Novatian.
He must be some spotless and pure man, I suppose, who was no follower of (the heretic) Novatus, who never deserted the Church, who was made bishop by bishops, who was consecrated according to the received rites, who obtained the episcopal chair in the Church when it was duly vacant.
Novatian, you will say, discerned this, but Christ taught it. Was there no one of discernment from the Advent of Christ right up to the reign of the Emperor Decius (when Novatian lived)? Again, since Decius, has every bishop been weary of his office? Are all the others lazy men, choosing rather to join themselves with the lost, to perish with the miserable, to be wounded through the wounds of others? Novatian triumphs! Righteousness is set free! Novatian guides, and every error is corrected!
–St. Pacian, Letter 3, 1-3
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
When I hear debates about Christian doctrine, do I give due weight to the authority and tradition of the Catholic Church?
Lord, put an end to all the schisms that separate your churches, and put down heresies and scandals as soon as they come up.
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