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  • ST. AUGUSTINE'S WRITINGS -
    FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN THE CHURCH


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    64. The angels are in concord with us even now, when our sins are forgiven. Therefore, in the order of the Creed, after the reference to “holy Church” is placed the reference to “forgiveness of sins.” For it is by this that the part of the Church on earth stands; it is by this that “what was lost and is found again” is not lost again. Of course, the gift of baptism is an exception. It is an antidote given us against original sin, so that what is contracted by birth is removed by the new birth — though it also takes away actual sins as well, whether of heart, word, or deed. But except for this great remission — the beginning point of a man’s renewal, in which all guilt, inherited and acquired, is washed away — the rest of life, from the age of accountability (and no matter how vigorously we progress in righteousness), is not without the need for the forgiveness of sins.

    This is the case because the sons of God, as long as they live this mortal life, are in a conflict with death. And although it is truly said of them, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” yet even as they are being led by the Spirit of God and, as sons of God, advance toward God, they are also being led by their own spirits so that, weighed down by the corruptible body and influenced by certain human feelings, they thus fall away from themselves and commit sin. But it matters how much . Although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime. Thus we can say of the life of holy men even while they live in this mortality, that they are found without crime. “But if we say that we have no sin,” as the great apostle says, “we deceive even ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” f134

    65. Nevertheless, no matter how great our crimes, their forgiveness should never be despaired of in holy Church for those who truly repent, each according to the measure of his sin. And, in the act of repentance, f135 where a crime has been committed of such gravity as also to cut off the sinner from the body of Christ, we should not consider the measure of time as much as the measure of sorrow. For, “a contrite and humbled heart God will not despise.” f136 Still, since the sorrow of one heart is mostly hid from another, and does not come to notice through words and other such signs — even when it is plain to Him of whom it is said, “My groaning is not hid from thee” — times of repentance have been rightly established by those set over the churches, that satisfaction may also be made in the Church, in which the sins are forgiven. For, of course, outside her they are not forgiven. For she alone has received the pledge of the Holy Spirit, without whom there is no forgiveness of sins. Those forgiven thus obtain life everlasting.

    66. Now the remission of sins has chiefly to do with the future judgment.

    In this life the Scripture saying holds true: “A heavy yoke is on the sons of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb till the day of their burial in the mother of us all.” Thus we see even infants, after the washing of regeneration, tortured by divers evil afflictions. This helps us to understand that the whole import of the sacraments of salvation has to do more with the hope of future goods than with the retaining or attaining of present goods.

    Indeed, many sins seem to be ignored and go unpunished; but their punishment is reserved for the future. It is not in vain that the day when the Judge of the living and the dead shall come is rightly called the Day of Judgment. Just so, on the other hand, some sins are punished here, and, if they are forgiven, will certainly bring no harm upon us in the future age. Hence, referring to certain temporal punishments, which are visited upon sinners in this life, the apostle, speaking to those whose sins are blotted out and not reserved to the end, says: “For if we judge ourselves truly we should not be judged by the Lord. But when we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we may not be condemned along with this world.” f140

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