Sermo ad Caesariensis Ecclesiae Plebem

Address to the People of the Church at Caesarea

Translation copyright 1996 by Jean Goodwin. Contact the author for permission to reproduce.

1. Your spontaneous love--you know how much joy it gives us. We rejoice in the Lord our God of whom the Apostle Paul said: "He himself is our peace, He makes us one" [Eph. 2:14]. Let us therefore give thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, for while before we thought we knew the will of our brother Emeritus, now He has allowed us to know how much Emeritus loves unity.

Listen, at any rate, to the chief thing which God willed that we hear from Emeritus' own mouth. Immediately after we came into this church, standing just over there where we first began to speak with him, by the inspiration of God (who both instructs the heart and rules the tongue) Emeritus said to us: "I cannot unwill what you will, but I can will what I will."

See what he promises when he says that he cannot unwill what we will! If he cannot unwill what we will, he must know what we will; but it is only this which we will and you will, this which everyone wills: the will of God. And what God wills is not hidden. The will and testament of God makes us His joint heirs; it promises that "I give you my peace, my peace I leave to you" [John 14:27]. Sooner or later, therefore, Emeritus cannot unwill what we will.

He puts us off a bit, though, with his second statement: "I can will what I will." That is what he said: "I cannot unwill what you will, but I can will what I will." He can will what he wills, but he can't unwill what we will? We understand what he says he can do. He wills just what he wills--but that which he "just wills," God does not will. What does Emeritus "just will"? To be in dissension from the Catholic Church, to be in communion with the faction of Donatus, to be in schism, to be among those who say "I am of Paul, I am of Apollo, I am of Cephus" [I Cor. 1:12]. But God does not will this, and the Apostle chides: "is Christ divided?" [1 Cor. 1:13]. So Emeritus can "will what he wills"--but only for now, to save face--while in reason he cannot "will what he wills." For just this is what he wills and only thus can he will what he wills.

Since he can't unwill what we will, he should immediately unwill his own will and perform our will. Don't be upset at any little delay, brothers, while he "wills what he wills"; pray that he performs what he promised, that he not unwill what we will.

(And all exclaimed: "Either here or nowhere!")

Your cries reveal your hearts; help us also with your prayers. The God who ordains unity has the power to direct wills toward the better. When your love exclaimed "either here or nowhere," in that cry we recognized and loved your love. And we also--not just now, but always--have intended [Emeritus' reconciliation], hoped for it. Likewise--and more importantly--it has been the resolve of Deuterius, our brother, your bishop. We have long known his mind. His prayers with our own poured forth on this matter at the Conference where we promised [continuity of episcopal office] to those who were outside [the Church]. We hold by the undertakings we made then. Let us never be so attached to our own offices that we neglect unity. Let us be less in honors, but greater in affection. For we know how we must court frailty, in order to achieve unity.

2. Now, we do not mean to speak, brothers, as if those who remain in schism have any hope of the Lord. There are many [Catholics] who argue without understanding what they say, asserting "if they are schismatics, if they are heretics, why should we receive them?" Listen, my brothers: if we are to receive them as proposed, then let us now receive this man, our brother Emeritus--whether a good man or a bad, still a brother. Indeed I do mean "brother," because even he knows what was told us through the prophet and repeated by us at the Conference: "say 'you are our brothers' to those who hate you" [Is. 66:5]. They hate us. We believe that they should stop hating. Yet as long as they hate us they will hear from us "brother." Until their hate is done, the word will be our witness against them.

Of course we will not receive them as they are; heavens no! Now they are heretics; we will receive them as Catholics: let them change, they will be received. But because of the evil they hold to we cannot search out the good things we know are in them. They hold to dissension, schism, heresy as their own personal evils. The goods we know to be in them are not their own. The goods belong to our Lord, the goods belong to the Church. Theirs is not the baptism; it is of Christ. It is the name of God, not that of Donatus, that is invoked over those ordained bishops--I certainly would not receive as a bishop someone ordained in the name of Donatus!

When a soldier wanders off and deserts, the fault is his own; but the brand he's marked with still belongs to his commander. Now, our brother did not exactly desert, since he never has been [a Catholic], but he was born into desertion when he was branded by a deserter. The person who first made the schism and separated himself from the Catholic Church was a deserter, along with all those he drew after him. Others were branded by the deserters--not with the sign of a deserter, but with the sign of the commander. For a deserter does not imprint his own mark. What do I mean when I say that a deserter does not imprint his own mark? Donatus did not baptize in the name of Donatus. Now if Donatus, when he made the schism, had baptized in the name of Donatus, he would have imprinted the mark of a deserter. If, when I called for unity, I discovered the brand of a deserter, I would destroy it, demolish it, suppress it, abolish, reject, repudiate, anathematize and damn it. But instead the deserter remains imprinted with the brand of his commander. Our Lord and God Jesus Christ seeks out the deserter; the fault of desertion is erased, but not His own brand. So when I come for my brother and gather him in, I look for his faith in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. That is the brand of my Commander. That was the brand He ordained that His soldiers--or rather, His lieutenants--impress upon those whom they gathered into His camp; as when he said "Go, baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit" [Matt. 28:19]. That was the brand the Apostle Paul knew the Lord had ordained to be imprinted on all believers; as when he exclaimed to those who wanted to be of Paul: "Was Paul crucified for you?" Why do you want to be of me and not of my Lord? Why do you want to be of me and not rather of him whose I am? Mind, heed your brand; "for were you baptized in the name of Paul?" [1 Cor. 1:13].

This is the way that we will gather them in, without flattering those we can't. Let them be gathered in, not puffed up; let them come, they will be received. We do not hate in them what is of God. We do not hate their own selves, since they are of God and what they have is of God. Of God they are, since they are men and every man is a creature of God; of God is what they possess, the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit; the baptism of the Trinity is of God, of God the gospel they hold, of God the faith they have.

3. So, someone will ask me, what are the Donatists missing, if they have all these things? You ask, do they have the baptism of Christ? Yes. You ask, do they have the faith of Christ? Yes. If they have these, what do they lack? What is baptism? A sacrament[--a "holy thing"]. Listen to the Apostle: "if I understand all holy things" [1 Cor. 13:2 ff.]. It is a great thing to understand all the holy things of God, for though we understand any number of holy things, who then understands all? What else does the Apostle say? "If I understand all holy things, if I have all prophecy," and he adds "and all knowledge." But [you reply] you were talking of faith! Listen further: "if I have all faith." It is difficult to have all faith, even as it's difficult to understand all holy things. And what does he mean by "all"?--"so that I could move mountains." "But if I have not love, I am nothing." Pay attention, brothers; pay attention, I pray you, to the voice of the Apostle, and understand why we seek our brothers through such pains and dangers. Love, it is love that seeks them from our hearts. "On behalf of my brothers and neighbors," the Psalm says, "I will speak peace about you," speaking of the holy city, Jerusalem [Ps. 121 (122):8]. Listen therefore, my brothers, to what the Apostle said: "if I have all holy things, all knowledge, prophecy, faith"--how much faith?--"so that I could move mountains; but I have not love, I am nothing." He does not say "all those things are nothing," but rather "if I have not love, I am nothing." Who would be so mad to say that the holy things of God are nothing? Who so mad to say that prophecy is nothing, knowledge nothing, faith nothing? They aren't nothing; but although they are great, having these great things I am still nothing, if I don't have the love by which these great things do me any good. If I don't have love, though they can belong to me, they cannot do me good.

4. Listen therefore, brother [Emeritus], listen, I pray you. You ask me: why do you seek me? I respond: because you are my brother. You reply to me: if I'm so lost, why do you bother to seek me? And I respond: if you weren't lost, I wouldn't seek you. Why do you seek me, you ask; if I am lost, why do you seek me? Then I reply: Because you are lost, I seek. And why do I seek you, what am I after? So that it might once be said about me: "Your brother was dead and now lives, he was lost and now is found" [Luke 15:32]. You reply: but I already have the sacrament. You have, I know it; that's why I seek you. You give me yet another reason to seek you with even greater pains. For you are a sheep from the flock of my Lord, wandering off with His brand; thus I seek you the more, since you have His brand.

Why shouldn't we share one Church? We have one brand; why aren't we in one flock? That's why I seek you, so that this sacrament be an instrument of your salvation, not evidence of your damnation. Don't you realize that a deserter is condemned for the same brand that the soldier is honored for? Therefore I seek you, so that you may not perish because of this mark. For it is a sign of salvation, if you would hold to salvation, if you would hold to love. While you are outside [the Church], this mark of salvation can belong to you, but it cannot do you any good. Come in, so that what you already possess may do you good--not to receive what you already possess, but that what you possess might begin to do you good and that you might receive what you lack. For you already possess the sign of peace, but peace itself you lack.

In that house--I mean, in you yourself--discord dwells, though "peace" is posted at the door. I recognize the sign, but I am calling for the the one who lives there. I read the sign, peace: the baptism in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit; this sign, "peace," I've read it, but it's the inhabitant I seek. I am calling for my brother; I recognize the sign, "peace"--I have the same one--I want to enter in. What does this mean, "enter in"? Receive me as a brother, that we may together invoke our Father. I will not pray with you, [you say]--so the sign says, "peace," but discord answers back? Surely I will labor, with God's help, to evict discord, that intruder, and re-establish peace, the rightful possessor. When I throw out discord and let in peace, do I need to change the sign on the door?

Surely I proclaim to my Lord: O Christ, You who are our peace, You who make many one, make us one that we may truly sing to You, "Behold how good and joyous it is for brothers to live as one" [Ps. 132 (133):1]. Let in concord, put out discord; dwell Yourself under your sign. Stay there, don't let another take possession and make a lie of the sign. Change this man, though he speaks against You, as You changed in an hour the robber on the cross.

5. And let us examine what you possess. I have, you say, the sacrament; I have the baptism. If I say to you, prove it, you show me what you have received, you tell me what you have confessed, you tell me what you hold to. I recognize them; I won't alter them, I won't erase them--heaven forbid, that trying to recover a deserter, I harm his commander. Thus you proved to me that you have the sacrament; by expounding the sacrament you proved to me that you have faith. Prove to me now that you have love: hold to unity. I don't want you to just say to me, I have love; prove it. We have one Father; let us pray together. What do you say when you pray, I ask you? "Our Father who art in heaven." Thank God. And following the commandment of our Lord, you go on, "who art in heaven." Each of us has his own father on earth; together we find but One in heaven. "Our Father who art in heaven"--that is the Father you invoke.

It is the will of our Father to have but one wife [that is, the Church]. If we praise one Father, why don't we recognize also one mother?

You may say that you sprang from another woman; still, the wife would have borne you, though from another's womb. Perhaps not everyone understands what I mean. We know that [among the Patriarchs] even sons born of slaves were adopted by legitimate wives so that they might share in the inheritance. This was the will of the wife. For example, Ishmael was indeed disinherited. But Sarah had brought him forth, although he came from a different womb. Sarah bore him of her own accord; she herself said, "I want you to make sons for me from this woman" [Gen. 16:2] and Abraham did so. (For "the wife does not have power over her body, but only her husband does; and likewise the husband does not have power over his own body, but only his wife does" [I Cor. 7:4]). Now, Ishmael would have remained a son, if he had not been so proud; it was pride that disinherited Ishmael. For the slave woman was stiff-necked, and so it was said, "throw out the slave and her son; don't let the son of a slave be heir with my son Isaac" [Gen. 21:10]. Do you want to know what peace can do, what concord can do, what humility can do--and what pride prevents? Ishmael was disinherited, but the sons of the slaves of Jacob--for the legitimate wives willed their birth--these sons of slaves were named joint heirs of one inheritance. All together they are accounted the twelve Patriarchs; difference of mother distinguished none, since love drew all together.

What difference does it make where you were baptized? It's still my baptism, Sarah says to you, it's still my baptism, Rachel says to you. Put aside pride, enter into your inheritance--especially since that inheritance is not of this earth, as was given to the sons of Jacob. To the sons of Israel the earth was given--the more who own it, the less there is. But as our inheritance was given peace, as I read in the testament, "My peace I give you, My peace I leave to you" [John 14:27]. Together let us share what cannot be divided. It does not lessen when shared, no matter how many enter into it, even as was promised: "Your seed will be as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the shore. In your seed I will bless all peoples" [Gen. 22:17-18]. And it is said in the Apocalypse: "I saw many in white robes and holding palm branches, no one could count them, coming from all peoples" [Rev. 7:9]. Let them enter, let them hold to peace. Our holding will not be less; only dissension will make it so. Behold, my brothers, how we suffer the lessening up till now, the dissension of our brother; let him agree in peace, it will be widened.

6. But what can we accomplish, unless we bear with our brother's weakness and not desert him? It is the sweat of my brow, I believe, that will bear fruit. The Lord our God, who willed us to come to you, who commanded us to seek Emeritus, who meanwhile allowed us to find him out--at least in body--He will allow us, aided by your prayers, to find out his heart, to delight in his accord, to give thanks to God for his salvation; a salvation he cannot find except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church there can be everything except salvation. He can hold office, he can have sacraments, he can sing "alleluia," he can respond "amen," he can hold to the gospel, he can have faith and preach in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But never except in the Catholic Church can he find salvation.

All the other things will fade, my brothers. Now he thinks of gaining stature among his own people if he continues obdurate, and of being deemed a martyr for the Donatist faction. Heaven forbid! In the name of our Lord let it be erased from his heart, this pride. He well knows, even he has read it: "If I hand over my body to be burned, but I have not love, it will do me no good" [1 Cor. 13:3]. I'm not saying that if he puffs himself up because he has endured some alleged injuries on behalf of the Donatist faction, or some other earthly punishments, that these will do him no good. Rather I mean that whatever he goes through while outside [the Church], even from an enemy of Christ--not from a Catholic seeking a brother's salvation, but from an enemy of Christ--while outside, whatever he endures--even if this man outside of the Church of Christ is ordered by the enemy of Christ to make offerings to idols, to worship his gods, and when he refuses, he is killed by this enemy of Christ--he can shed his blood, but he will not gain thereby a [martyr's heavenly] crown.

7. The Donatists themselves showed they knew this at the Conference we held together at Carthage, when they admitted that their forbearers had persecuted [the Catholic] Bishop Caecilian. In dissension from the Catholic Church these Donatist forbearers made a schism [about a century ago]. They persecuted Caecilian--indeed, it was the first generation of the Donatist faction who persecuted him. They even dragged him to the Emperor's court, accusing him of all sorts of nonexistent crimes. The Emperor ordered the case to be heard. It was heard before a panel of bishops. The charges were found to be false and Caecilian was absolved. But they didn't stop persecuting him; rather they repeatedly appealed to the Emperor until eventually he himself heard and considered the two sides. He considered, and he judged Caecilian innocent. And when we pointed this out at the Conference, they disagreed with us and claimed that the Emperor had condemned Caecilian to exile. That is just not true. But yet see what they admitted, that Caecilian was persecuted by their ancestors, dragged before the Emperor and exiled. We read it in the Conference records--the assertions are of Emeritus himself, his own signature attests his words. So pay attention, I ask you, and decide our case. Certainly their ancestors persecuted Caecilian, certainly they dragged him before the Emperor, certainly they had him condemned--I won't insist that he was found innocent--but [for the sake of argument,] let it be as they say. When they persecuted him, when they had him condemned, what was Caecilian? When he endured persecution from their ancestors, what was he? You ask me: well, what was he? was he a christian? was he a Catholic? or what? The Donatists do not deny he was a Catholic, but call him a criminal. Criminals, therefore, can be persecuted by the saints. So let's accept this hypothesis: Caecilian was a criminal when he endured persecution. I won't say that they lied, only that they were mistaken about this; that we might come to some agreement with them, [we will assume that] Caecilian was a criminal. But what does this make his persecutors? Take your choice. If the Donatists were sinners, fly from the sinners, come to us; if however they were saints, then it happens that even saints can persecute the wrongdoer. So don't be angry at us, if we persecute you; don't say that those who persecute are always wrong. For you've now demonstrated that the right can persecute the wrong. Can they or can't they? You have to admit one or the other. If they can't, why did your party persecute Caecilian? If they can, why are you so shocked? Do you praise the punishment while refusing to take responsibility for it? "Blessed," said the Lord, "are those who endure persecution" [Matt. 5:10]. And He added, "for righteousness' sake." So you too expel robbers, expel sorcerers, expel adulterers; you expel the impious, expel the sacreligious, expel heretics. Such people endure persecutions, but not on account of righteousness.

8. And what sort of persecution is our brother Emeritus enduring by being drawn to us? A rather more glorious persecution, I readily acknowledge. Let him find fault who will; I still acknowledge this sort of persecution. I read the psalm: "I will track down one who speaks ill of his neighbor" [Ps. 100 (101):5]. If I am right to pursue someone who secretly speaks ill of his neighbor, aren't I yet more right to pursue someone publicly blaspheming the Church of God?--when he says, "it is not the Church," when he says, "the real Church is that of our faction," when he says, "that one is a whore"? I should not therefore pursue someone blaspheming the Church? Clearly I should, since I am a member of the Church; clearly I should, since I am a son of the Church. I use the voice of the Church, the Church herself speaks through me the psalm: "I will pursue my enemies and I will capture them; I will not turn aside until they fail" [Ps. 18:37]. Let them fail in evil, let them prosper in good.

Brothers, don't think that anything unheard-of is happening to our brother Emeritus. When the Donatist faction prevailed at Constantine, Petialius [a Donatist bishop] seized one of our lay people, a catechumen born of Catholic parents; he used force against him, unwilling, tracked him down escaping, searched him out hiding, dragged him forth fearing, baptized him trembling, ordained him unwilling. See the sort of violence he used against us! He dragged off our party to their deaths; do we not lead them to their salvation?

9. I have spoken these things for your love because of what you said, "either here or nowhere." This is also what we want; that it happen here, here--but in peace; here, here--but in unity; here, here--but within the society of love. Then well it would be to happen here. But if it is not thus, better it be nowhere than here. May the Lord allow it to be here rather than nowhere. But if not here, let it be elsewhere. Let it be thus: here, or elsewhere.

You have heard, he has heard. What God works within his soul, he knows. We will continue to beat on his ears from the outside; God knows what He speaks within, that He preaches peace and will not cease to preach it until He is heard. Let Him add His mercy to your assisting prayers and our labor will bear fruit. But if Emeritus will not today come into communion, still we should not be weary, but should continue the work as much as we can; and this should not weary us. We can be put off, but we cannot and should not stop insisting. Let Him who led Emeritus to us aid us, that we might bring him into unity with you and rejoice together in His peace.

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Last updated 27 November 1996.
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