Augustine on NT 91
91 On the words of the gospel, Mt 22,42 Where the Lord asks the Jews whose son they said David was.
1). When the Jews were asked (as we have just now heard out of the Gospel when it was being read), how our Lord Jesus Christ, whom David himself called his Lord was David’s Son, they were not able to answer. For what they saw in the Lord, that they knew. For He appeared to them as the Son of man; but as the Son of God He was hidden. Hence it was, that they believed that He could be overcome, and that they derided Him as He hung upon the Tree, saying, “If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross, and we will believe on Him.”1 They saw one part of what He was, they knew not the other, “For had they known Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”2 Yet they knew that the Christ was to be the Son of David. For even now they hope that He will come. They know not that He is come already, but this their ignorance is voluntary. For even if they did not acknowledge Him on the tree, they ought notto have failed to acknowledge Him on His Throne. For in whose Name are all nations called and blessed, but in His whom they think not to have been the Christ? For this Son of David, that is, “of the seed of David according to the flesh,” is the Son of Abraham. Now if it was said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed;”3 and they see now that in our Christ are all nations blessed, why wait they for what is already come, and fear not that which is yet to come? for our Lord Jesus Christ, making use of a prophetic testimony to assert His authority, called Himself “the Stone.” Yea such a stone, “that whosoever shall stumble against it shall be shaken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.”4 For when this stone is stumbled against, it lieth low; by lying low, it “shaketh” him that stumbleth against it; being lifted on high, by its coming down it “grindeth” the proud “to powder.” Already therefore are the Jews “shaken” by that stumbling; it yet remains that by His Glorious Advent they should be “ground to powder” also, unless peradventure whilst they are yet alive, they acknowledge Him that they die not. For God is patient, and inviteth them day by day to the Faith.
2. But when the Jews could not answer the Lord proposing a question, and asking “whose Son they said Christ was;” and they answered, “the Son of David;“5 He goes on with the further question put to them, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand till I make Thine enemies My footstool. If David then,” He saith,” in spirit call Him Lord, how is He his Son?”6 He did not say, “He is not his Son, but how is He his son?” When he saith “How,” it is a word not of negation, but of enquiry; as though He should say to them, “Ye say well indeed that Christ is David’s Son, but David himself doth call Him Lord; whom he then calleth Lord, how is He his Son?” Had the Jews been instructed in the Christian faith, which we hold; had they not closed their hearts against the Gospel, had they wished to have spiritual life in them, they would, as instructed in the faith of the Church, have made answer to this question and said, “Because in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God:”7 see how He is David’s Lord. But because “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;”8 see how He is David’s Son. But as being ignorant, they were silent, nor when they shut their mouths did they open their ears, that what they could not answer when questioned, they might after instruction know.
3. But seeing that is a great thing to know the mystery how He is David’s Son and David’s Lord: how one Person is both Man and God; how in the forth of Man He is less than the Father, in the form of God equal with the Father; how again He saith, on the one hand, “The Father is greater than I;”9 and on the other, “I and My Father are one;”10 seeing this is a great mystery,11 our conduct must be fashioned, that it may be comprehended. For to the unworthy is it closed up, it is opened to those who are meet for it. It is not with stones, or clubs, or the fist, or the heel, that we knock unto the Lord. It is the life which knocks, it is to the life that it is opened. The seeking is with the heart, the asking is with the heart, the knocking is with the heart, the opening is to the heart. Now that heart which asks rightly, and knocks and seeks rightly, must be godly. Must first love God for His Own sake (for this is godliness); and not propose to itself any reward which it looks for from Him other than God Himself. For than Him is there nothing better. And what precious thing can he ask of God, in whose sight God Himself is lightly esteemed? He giveth earth, and thou rejoicest, thou lover of the earth, who art thyself become earth. If when He giveth earthly goods, thou dost rejoice, how much more oughtest thou to rejoice when He giveth thee Himself, who made heaven and earth? So then God must be loved for His own sake.For the Devil not knowing what was passing in the heart of holy Job, brought this as a great charge against him, saying, “Doth Jb worship God for His Own sake.”12
4. So then if the adversary brought this charge, we ought to fear lest it be brought against us. For with a very slanderous accuser have we to deal. If he seek to invent what is not, how much more will he seek to object what really is. Nevertheless let us rejoice, that ours is such a Judge, as cannot be deceived by our accuser. For if we had a man for our judge, the enemy might invent for him what he would. For none is more subtle in invention than the devil. For he it is who at this time also invents all false accusations against the saints. He knows his accusations can have no avail with God, and so He scatters them among men. Yet what does this profit him,seeing the Apostle says, “Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience?”13 Yet think ye that he does not invent these false charges with aught of subtlety? Yes, well he knows what evil he shall work thereby, if the watchfulness of faith resist him not. For for this reason scatters he his evil charges against the good, that the weak may think that there are no good, and so may give themselves up to be hurried along, and made a prey of by their lusts, whilst they say within themselves, “For who is there that keeps the commandments of God, or who is there that preserves chastity?” and whilst he thinks that no one does, he himself becomes that no one. This then is the devil’s art. But such a man was Job, that he could not invent any such charge against him; for his life was too well known and manifest. But because he had great riches, he brought that against him, which if it had any existence, might lie in the heart, and not appear in the conduct. He worshipped God, he gave alms; and with what heart he did this none knew, no not the Devil himself; but God had known. God giveth His testimony to His own servant; the Devil calumniates the servant of God. He is allowed to be tried, Jb is proved, the Devil is confounded. Jb is found to worship God for His Own sake, to love Him for His Own sake; not because He gave him ought, but because He did not take away Himself. For he said, “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so is it done, blessed be the Name of the Lord.”14 The fire of temptation approached him; but it found him gold, not stubble; it cleared away the dross from it, but did not reduce it to ashes.
5. Because then, in order to understand the mystery15 of God, how Christ is both man and God, the heart must be cleansed: and it is cleansed by a good conversation, by a pure life,16 by chastity, and sanctity, and love, and by “faith, which worketh by love”17 (now all this that I am speaking of, is, as it were, the tree which hath its root in the heart; for it is only from the root of the heart that actions proceed; in which if thou plant desire, thorns spring forth; if thou plant charity, good fruit): the Lord, after that question which He had proposed to the Jews, when they were not able to answer it, immediately went on to speak of good actions, that He might show why they were unworthy to understand what He asked them. For when those proud and wretched men were not able to answer, they ought of course to. have said, “we do not know; Master, tell us.” But no: they were speechless at the proposing of the question, and they opened not their mouth to seek instruction. And so the Lord in reference to their pride said immediately, “Beware of the Scribes which love the chief seats in the synagogues, and the first rooms at feasts.”18 Not because they hold them, but because they love them. For in these words he accused their heart. Now none can accuse the heart, but He who can inspect it. For meet it is that to the servant of God, who holds some post of honour in the Church, the first place should be assigned; because if it were not given him, it were evil for him who refuses to give it; but yet it is no good to him to whom it is given. It is meet and right then that in the congregation of Christians their Prelates19 should sit in eminent place, that by their very seat they may be distinguished, and that their office may be duly marked; yet not so that they should be puffed up for their seat; but that they should esteem it a burden, for which they are to render an account. But who knows whether they love this, or do not love it? This is a matter of the heart, it can have no other judge but God. Now the Lord Himself warned His disciples, that they should not fall into this leaven; as He calls it in another place, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”20 And when they supposed that He said this to them because they had brought no bread; He answered them, “Have ye forgotten how many thousands were filled with the five loaves? Then understood they,” it is said, “that He called their doctrine leaven.”21 For these present temporal good things they loved, but they neither feared the evil things eternal, nor loved the good things eternal. And so their hearts being closed, they could not understand what the Lord asked them.
6. But what then has the Church of God to do, that it may be able to understand what it has first obtained22 grace to believe? It must make the mind capacious for receiving what shall be given it. And that this may be done, that the mind, that is, may be capacious, our Lord God suspends His promises, He has not taken them away. Therefore does He suspend them, that we may stretch out ourselves; and therefore do we stretch ourselves out, that we may grow; and therefore do we grow, that we may reach them. Behold the Apostle Paul stretching himself out unto these suspended promises: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forth unto those things which are before, I press earnestly toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”23 He was running on the earth; the prize hung suspended from heaven. He ran then on the earth; but in spirit he ascended. Behold him thus stretching himself out, behold him hanging forth after the suspended prize. “I press on,” he says, “for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
7. We must journey on then, yet for this no need of anointing the feet, or looking out for beasts, or providing a vessel. Run with the heart’s affection, journey on with. love, ascend by charity. Why seekest thou for the way? Cleave unto Christ, who by Descending and Ascending hath made Himself the Way. Dost thou wish to ascend? Hold fast to Him that ascendeth. For by thine own self thou canst not rise. “For no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.”24 If no one ascendeth but He that descended, that is, the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus, dost thou wish to ascend also? Be then a member of Him who Only hath ascended. For He the Head, with all the members, is but One Man. And since no one can ascend, but he who in His Body is made a member of Him; that is fulfilled, “that no man hath ascended, but He that descended.” For thou canst not say,” Lo, why hath Peter, for instance, ascended, why hath Paul ascended, why have the Apostles ascended, if no one hath ascended, but He that descended?” The answer to this is, “What do Peter, and Paul, and the rest of the Apostles, and all the faithful, what do they hear from the Apostle? ‘Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular.’25 If then the Body of Christ and His members belong to One, do not thou make two of them. For He left ‘father and mother, and clave to his wife, that two might be one flesh.’26 He left His Father, in that here He did not show Himself as equal with the Father; but ‘emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.’27 He left His mother also, the synagogue of which He was born after the flesh. He clave to His Wife, that is, to His Church. Now in the place where Christ Himself brought forward this testimony, He showed that the marriage bond might not be dissolved: ‘Have ye not read,’ said He, ‘that God which made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, They twain shall be in one flesh? What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’28 And what is the meaning of ‘They twain shall be in one flesh’? He goes on to say; ‘Wherefore they are no more twain but one flesh.’ Thus ‘no man hath ascended, but He that descended.’“29
8. For that ye may know, that the Bridegroom and the Bride are One according to the Flesh of Christ, not according to His Divinity (for according to His Divinity we cannot be what He is; seeing that He is the Creator, we the creature; He the Maker, we His work; He the Framer, we framed by Him; but in order that we might be one with Him in Him, He vouchsafed to be our Head, by taking of us flesh wherein to die for us); that ye may know then that this whole is One Christ, He said by Isaiah, “He hath bound a mitre on me as a bridegroom, and clothed me with ornaments as a bride.”30 He is then at once the Bridegroom and the Bride. That is, the Bridegroom in Himself as the Head, the Bride in the body. “For they twain,” saith He, “shall be in one flesh; so now they are no more twain, but one flesh.”
9. Seeing then that we are of His members, in order that we may understand this mystery as I have said, Brethren, let us live holily, let us love God for His Own sake. Now He who showeth to us while in our pilgrimage the form of a servant, reserveth for those that reach their country the form of God. With the form of a servant hath He laid down the way, with the form of God He hath prepared the home. Seeing then that it is a hard matter for us to comprehend this, but no hard matter to believe it; for Isaiah says, “Unless ye believe ye shall not understand;”31 let us “walk by faith as long as we are in pilgrimage from the Lord, till we come to sight where we shall see face to face.”32 As walking by faith, let us do good works. In these good works, let there be a free love of God for His Own sake, and an active33 love of our neighbour. For we have nothing we can do for God; but because we have something we may do for our neighbour, we shall by our good offices to the needy, gain His favour who is the source of all abundance.34 Let every one then do what he can for others; let him freely bestow upon the needy of his superfluity. One has money; let him feed the poor, let him clothe the naked, let him build a church, let him do with his money all the good he can. Another has good counsel; let him guide his neighbour, let him by the light of holiness drive away the darkness of doubting. Another has learning; let him draw out of this store of the Lord, let him minister food to his fellow-servants, strengthen the faithful, recall the wandering, seek the lost, do all the good he can. Something there is, which even the poor may deal out to one another; let one lend feet to the lame, another give his own eyes to guide the blind; another visit the sick,another bury the dead. These are things which all may do, so that in a word it would be hardto find one who has not some means of doing good to others. And last of all comes that important duty which the Apostle speaks of; “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so shall ye fulfil the law of Christ.”35
1 (Mt 27,42
2 1Co 2,8.
3 (Gn 22,18
4 (Ps 118,22 Lc 20,17-18
5 (Mt 22,42
6 (Mt 22,43-45).
7 (Jn 1,1
8 (Jn 1,14
9 (Jn 14,28
10 (Jn 10,30
12 (Jb 1,9). Gratis.
13 (2Co 1,12
14 (Jb 1,21 Sept.
17 (Ga 5,6).
18 (Mt 23,6 Mc 12,39
19 Prepositi plebis.
20 (Mt 16,6
21 (Mt 16,9 Mt 16,12.
23 (Ph 3,12 etc.
24 (Jn 3,13
25 (1Co 12,27
26 (Ep 5,31
27 (Ph 2,7
28 (Mt 19,4 etc).
29 (Jn 3,13
30 (Is 61,10 Sept.
31 (Is 7,9 Sept.
32 (2Co 5,6-7.
34 Promerebimur abundantem.
35 (Ga 6,2
92 On the same words of the gospel, Mt 22,42.
1). The question which was proposed to the Jews, Christians ought to solve. For the LordJesus Christ, who proposed it to the Jews, did not solve it Himself, to the Jews, I mean, Hedid not, but to us He hath solved it. I will put you in remembrance, Beloved, and ye will find that He hath solved it.But first consider the knot of the question. He asked the Jews what they “thought of Christ, whose Son He was to be;” for they too look for the Christ. They read of Him in the Prophets, they expected Him to come, when He was come they killed Him; for where they read that Christ would come, there did they read that they should kill Christ. But His future coming they hoped for in the Prophets; for they did not see their future crime. He therefore so questioned them about the Christ, not as if about One who was unknownto them, or whose Name they had never heard, or whose coming they, had never hoped for. For they err in that even yet they hope for Him. And we indeed hope for Him too; but we hope for Him as One who is to come as Judge, not tobe judged. For the Holy Prophets prophesiedboth, that He should come first to be judgedunrighteously, that He should come afterwards to judge with righteousness. “What think ye,” then, saith he, “of Christ? whose Son is He? They answered Him, The Son of David.”1 And this was entirely according to the Scriptures. But He said, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto My Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. If David then in spirit call Him Lord, how is He his Son?”2
2. Here then is need of a caution, lest Christ be thought to have denied that He was the Son of David. He did not deny that He was the Son of David, but He enquired the way. “Ye have said that Christ is the Son of David, I do not deny it; but David calls Him Lord; tell me how is He his Son, who is also his Lord; tell me how?” They did not tell Him, but were silent. Let us then tell by the explanation of Christ Himself. Where? By His Apostle. But first, whereby do we prove that Christ hath Himself explained it? The Apostle says, “Would ye receive a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?”3 So then in the Apostle hath He vouchsafed to solve this question. In the first place, what said Christ speaking by the Apostle to Timothy? “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my Gospel.”4 See, Christ is the Son of David. How is He also David’s Lord? Tell us, O Apostle: “who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Acknowledge David’s Lord. If thou acknowledge David’s Lord, our Lord, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of the Angels, equal with God, in the form of God, how is He David’s Son? Marc what follows. The Apostle shows thee David’s Lord by saying, “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” And how is He David’s Son? “But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, having become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him.”5 Christ “of the seed of David,” the Son of David, rose again because “He emptied Himself.” How did He “empty Himself”? By taking that which He was not, not by losing that which He was. He “emptied Himself,” He “humbled himself.” Though He was God, He appeared as man. He was despised as He walked on earth, He who made the heaven. He was despised as though a mere man, as though of no power. Yea, not despised only, but slain moreover. He was that stone that lay on the ground, the Jews stumbled against it, and were shaken. And what doth He Himself say? “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be shaken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.”6 First, He lay low, and they stumbled against Him; He shall come from above, and He will “grind” them that have been shaken “to powder.”
3. Thus have ye heard that Christ is both David’s Son, and David’s Lord: David’s Lord always, David’s Son in time: David’s Lord, born of the substance of His Father, David’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Ghost. Let us hold fast both. The one of them will be our eternal habitation, the other is our deliverance from our present exile. For unless our Lord Jesus Christ had vouchsafed to become man, man had perished. He was made that which He made, that what He made might not perish. Very Man, Very God; God and man whole Christ. This is the Catholic faith. Whoso denieth that Christ is God is a Photinian;7 whoso denieth that Christ is man is a Manichaean.8 Whoso confesseth that Christ is God equal with the Father and very man, that He truly suffered, truly shed His blood (for the Truth would not have set us free, if He had given a false price for us); whoso confesseth both, is a Catholic. He hath the country, he hath the way. He hath the country, “In the beginning was the Word;”9 He hath the country, “Being in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”10 He hath the way, “The Word was made flesh;”11 He hath the way, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.”12 He is the home whither we are going, He is the way whereby we go. Let us by Him go unto Him, and we shall not go astray.
1 (Mt 22,42
2 (Mt 22,43-45).
3 (2Co 13,3
4 (2Tm 2,8
5 (Ph 2,6 etc.
6 (Mt 21,44
7 Vinc. Lirinens). Commonit. xii.; Conf. 7,26 (xx)., Oxf. transl, and note f.
8 Conf. 5,16 (ix)., 20 (x)., 25 (xix)., vii. 25 (xix)., Oxf. trans. and note A, p. 325). De Dono Perseverant, c. 67 (xxiv)., Serm. 66,(cxvi. Ben). 1-5 (i.-iv)., Epist. 236 (al. 74) 2.
9 (Jn 1,1
10 (Ph 2,6
11 (Jn 1,14
12 (Ph 2,7
93 On the words of the gospel, Mt 25,1 “then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins.”
1. Ye who were present yesterday remember my promise; which with the Lord’s assistance is to be made good to-day, not to you only, but to the many others also who have come together. It is no easy question, who the ten virgins are, of whom five are wise, and five foolish. Nevertheless, according to the context of this passage which I have wished should be read again to you to-day, Beloved, I do not think, as far as the Lord vouchsafes to give me understanding, that this parable or similitude relates to those women only who by a peculiar and more excellent sanctity are called Virgins in the Church, whom by a more usual term we are wont also to call, “The Religious;”1 but if I mistake not this parable relates to the whole Church.2 But though we should understand it of those only who are called “the Religious,” are they but ten? God forbid that so great a company of virgins should be reduced to so small a number! But perhaps one may say, “But what if though they be so many in outward profession, yet in truth they are so few, that scarce ten can be found!” It is not so. For if he had meant that the good virgins only should be understood by the ten, He would not have represented five foolish ones among them. For if this is the number of the virgins which are called, why are the doors of the great house shut against five?
2. So then let us understand, dearly Beloved, that this parable relates to us all, that is, to the whole Church together, not to the Clergy3 only of whom we spoke yesterday; nor to the laity only; but generally to all. Why then are the Virgins five and five? These five and five virgins are all Christian souls together. But that I may tell you what by the Lord’s inspiration I think, it is not souls of every sort, but such souls as have the Catholic faith, and seem to have good works in the Church of God; and yet even of them, “five are wise, and five are foolish.” First then let us see why they are called “five,” and why “virgins,” and then let us consider the rest. Every soul in the body is therefore denoted4 by the number five, because it makes use of five senses. For there is nothing of which we have perception by the body, but by the five folded gate, either by the sight, or the hearing, or the smelling, or the tasting, or the touching. Whoso then abstaineth from unlawful seeing, unlawful hearing, unlawful smelling, unlawful tasting, and unlawful touching, by reason of his uncorruptness5 hath gotten the name of virgin.
3. But if it be good to abstain from the unlawful excitements of the senses, and on that account every Christian soul has gotten the name of virgin why are five admitted and five rejected? They are both virgins, and yet are rejected. It is not enough that they are virgins; and that they havelamps.They are virgins, by reason of abstinence from unlawful indulgence of the senses; they have lamps, by reason of good works. Of which good works the Lord saith,” Let your works shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”6 Again He saith to His disciples, “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.”7 In the “girded loins” is virginity; in the “burning lamps” good works.
4. The title of virginity is not usually applied to married persons: yet even in them there is a virginity of faith, which produces wedded chastity. For that you may know, Holy Brethren, that every one; every soul, as touching the soul, and that uncorruptness of faith by which abstinence from things unlawful is practised, and by which good works are done, is not unsuitably called “a virgin;” the whole Church which consists of virgins, and boys, and married men and married women, is by one name called a Virgin. Whence prove we this? Hear the Apostle saying, not to the religious women only but to the whole Church together; “I have espoused you to One Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”8 And because the devil, the corrupter of this virginity,is to be guarded against, after the Apostle had said, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ;”he subjoined, “But I fear, lest as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”9 Few have virginity in the body; in the heart all ought to have it. If then abstinence from what is unlawful be good, whereby it has received the name of virginity, and good works are praiseworthy, which are signified by the lamps; why are five admitted and five rejected? If there be a virgin, and one who carries lamps, who yet is not admitted; where shall he see himself, who neither preserveth a virginity from things unlawful, and who not wishing to have good works walketh in darkness?
5. Of these then, my Brethren, yea, of these let us the rather treat. He who will not see what is evil, he who will not hear what is evil, he that turneth away his smell from the unlawful fumes, and his taste from the unlawful food of the sacrifices, he who refuseth the embrace of another man’s wife, breaketh his bread to the hungry, bringeth the stranger into his house, clotheth the naked, reconcileth the litigious, visiteth the sick, burieth the dead;he surely is a virgin, surely he hath lamps. What seek we more? Something yet I seek. What seekest thou yet, one will say? Something yet I seek; the Holy Gospel hath set me on the search. It hath said that even of these, virgins, and carrying lamps, some are wise and some foolish. By what do we see this? By what make the distinction? By the oil. Some great, some exceedingly great thing doth this oil signify. Thinkest thou that it is not charity? This we say as searching out what it is; we hazard no precipitate judgment. I will tell you why charity seems to be signified by the oil. The Apostle says, “I show unto you a way above the rest.”10 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”11 This, that is “charity,” is “that way above the rest,” which is with good reason signified by the oil. For oil swims above all liquids. Pour in water, and pour in oil upon it, the oil will swim above. Pour in oil, pour in water upon it, the oil will swim above. If you keep the usual order, it will be uppermost;12 if you change the order, it will be uppermost. “Charity never falleth.”13
6. What is it then, Brethren? Let us treat now of the five wise and the five foolish virgins. They wished to go to meet the Bridegroom. What is the meaning of “to go and meet the Bridegroom”? To go with the heart, to bewaiting for his coming. But he tarried. “While he tarries, they all slept.” What is “all”? Both the foolish and the wise, “all slumbered and slept.” Think we is this sleep good? What is this sleep? Is it that at the tarrying of the Bridegroom, “because iniquity aboundeth, the love of many waxeth cold”? Are we to understand this sleep so? I like it not. I will tell you why. Because among them are the wise virgins; and certainly when the Lord said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold;” He went on to say, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”14 Where would ye have those wise virgins be? Are they not among those that “shall endure unto the end”? They would not be admitted within at all, Brethren, for any other reason, than because they have “endured unto the end.” No coldness of love then crept over them, in them love did not wax cold; but preserves its glow even unto the end. And because it glows even unto the end, therefore are the gates of the Bridegroom opened to them; therefore are they told to enter in, as that excellent servant, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”15 What then is the meaning of they “all slept”?16 There is another sleep which no one escapes. Remember ye not the Apostle saying, “But I would not have you to be ignorant. brethren, concerning them which are asleep,”17 that is, concerning them which are dead? For why are they called “they which are asleep,” but because they are in their own day? Therefore “they all slept.” Thinkest thou that because one is wise, he has not therefore to die? Be the virgin foolish, or be she wise, all suffer equally the sleep of death.
7. But men continually say to themselves, “Lo, the day of judgment is coming now, so many evils are happening, so many tribulations thicken; behold all things which the Prophets have spoken, are well-nigh fulfilled; the day of judgment is already at hand.” They who speak thus, and speak in faith, go out as it were with such thoughts to “meet the Bridegroom.” But, lo! war upon war, tribulation upon tribulation, earthquake upon earthquake, famine upon famine, nation against nation, and still the Bridegroom comes not yet. Whilst then He is expected to come, all they who are saying, “Lo, He is coming, and the Day of Judgment will find us here,” fall asleep. Whilst they are saying this, they fall asleep. Let each one then have an eye to this his sleep, and persevere even unto his sleep in love; let sleep find him so waiting. For suppose that he has fallen asleep. “Will not He who fails asleep afterwards rise again?”18 Therefore “they all slept;” both of the wise and the foolish virgins in the parable, it is said, “they all slept.”
8. “Lo, at midnight there was a cry made.”19 What is, “at midnight”? When there is no expectation, no belief at all of it. Night is put for ignorance. A man makes as it were a calculation with himself: “Lo, so many years have passed since Adam, and the six thousand years are being completed, and then immediately according to the computation of certain expositors, the Day of Judgment will come;” yet these calculations come and pass away, and still the coming of the Bridegroom is delayed, and the virgins who had gone to meet him sleep. And, lo, when He is not looked for, when men are saying, “The six thousand years were waited for, and, Io, they are gone by, how then shall we know when He will come?” He will come at midnight. What is, “will come at midnight”? Will come when thou art not aware. Why will He come when thou art not aware of it? Hear the Lord Himself, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Lord hath put in His own power.”20 “The day of the Lord,” says the Apostle, “will come as a thief in the night.”21 Therefore watch thou by night that thou be not surprised by the thief. For the sleep of death—will ye, or nill ye—it will come.
9. “But when that cry was made at midnight.”What cry was this, but that of which the Apostle says, “In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump”? “For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”?22 And so when the cry was made at midnight, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh;” what follows? “Then all those virgins arose.” What is, “they” all arose? “The hour will come,” said the Lord Himself, “when all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.”23 Therefore at the last trumpet they all arose. “Now those wise virgins had brought oil with them in their vessels; but the foolish brought no oil with them.”24 What is the meaning of “brought no oil with them in their vessels”? What is “in their vessels”? In their hearts. Whence the Apostle says, “Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience.”25 There is the oil, the precious oil; this oil is of the gift of God. Men can put oil into their vessels, but they cannot create the olive. See, I have oil; but didst thou create the oil? It is of the gift of God. Thou hast oil. Carry it with thee. What is “carry it with thee”? Have it within, there please thou God.
10. For, Io, those “foolish virgins, who brought no oil with them,” wish to please men by that abstinence of theirs whereby they are called virgins, and by their good works, when they seem to carry lamps. And if they wish to please men, and on that account do all these praiseworthy works, they do not carry oil with them. Do you then carry it with thee, carry it within where God seeth; there carry the testimony of thy conscience. For he who walks to gain the testimony of another, does not carry oil with him. If thou abstain from things unlawful, and doest good works to be praised of men; there is no oil within. And so when men begin to leave off their praises, the lamps fail. Observe then, Beloved, before those virgins slept, it is not said that their lamps were extinguished. The lamps of the wise virgins burned with an inward oil, with the assurance of a good conscience, with an inner glory, with an inmost charity. Yet the lamps of the foolish virgins burned also. Why burnt they then? Because there was yet no want of the praises of men. But after that they arose, that is in the resurrection from the dead, they began to trim their lamps, that is, began to prepare to render unto God an account of their works. And because there is then no one to praise, every man is wholly employed in his own cause, there is no one then who is not thinking of himself, therefore were there none to sell them oil; so their lamps began to fail, and the foolish betook themselves to the five wise, “give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”26 They sought for what they had been wont to seek for, to shine that is with others’ oil, to walk after others’ praises. “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”
11. But they say, “Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you, but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”27 This was not the answer of those who give advice, but of those who mock. And why mock they? Because they were wise, because wisdom was in them. For they were not wise by ought of their own; but that wisdom was in them, of which it is written in a certain book, she shall say to those that despised her, when they have fallen upon the evils which she threatened them; “I will laugh over your destruction.”28 What wonder then is it, that the wise mock the foolish virgins? And what is this mocking?
12. “Go ye to them that sell, and buy for yourselves:”29 ye who never were wont to live well, but because men praised you, who sold you oil. What means this, “sold you oil”? “Sold praises.” Who sell praises, but flatterers? How much better had it been for you not to have acquiesced in flatterers, and to have carried oil within, and for a good conscience-sake to have done all good works; then might ye say, “The righteous shall correct me in mercy, and reprove me, but the oil of the sinner shall not fatten30 my head.”31 Rather, he says, let the righteous correct me, let the righteous reprove me, let the righteous buffet me, let the righteous correct me, than the “oil of the sinner fatten mine head.” What is the oil of the sinner, but the blandishments of the flatterer?
13. “Go ye” then “to them that sell,” this have ye been accustomed to do. But we will not give to you. Why? “Lest there be not enough for us and you.” What is, “lest there be not enough”? This was not spoken in any lack of hope, but in a sober and godly humility. For though the good man have a good conscience; how knows he, how He may judge who is deceived by no one? He hath a good conscience, no sins conceived in the heart solicit32 him, yet, though his conscience be good, because of the daily sins of human life, he saith to God, “forgive us our debts;” seeing he hath done what comes next, “as we also forgive our debtors.”33 He hath broken his bread to the hungry from the heart, from the heart hath clothed the naked; out of that inward oil he hath done good works, and yet in that judgment even his good conscience trembleth.
14. See then what this, “Give us oil,” is. They were told “Go ye rather to them that sell.” In that ye have been used to live upon the praises of men, ye do not carry oil with you; but we can give you none; “lest there be not enough for us and you.” For scarcely do we judge of ourselves, how much less can we judge of you? What is “scarcely do we judge of ourselves”? Because, “When the righteous King sitteth on the throne, who will glory that his heart is pure?”34 It may be thou dost not discover anything in thine own conscience; but He who seeth better, whose Divine glance penetrateth into deeper things, discovereth it may be something, He seeth it may be something, He discovereth something. How much better mayest thou say to Him, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant”?35 Yea, how much better, “Forgive us our debts”? Because it shall be also said to thee because of those torches, because of those lamps; “I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat.” What then? did not the foolish virgins do so too? Yea, but they did it not before Him. How then did they do it? As the Lord forbiddeth, who said, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven: and when ye pray, be not as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.”36 They have bought oil, they have given the price; they have bought it, they have not been defrauded of men’s praises, they have sought men’s praises, and have had them. These praises of men aid them not in the judgment day. But the other virgins, how have they done? “Let your works shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”37 He did not say, “may glorify you.” For thou hast no oil of thine own self. Boast thyself and say, I have it; but from Him, “for what hast thou that thou hast not received?”38 So then in this way acted the one, and in that the other.
15. Now it is no wonder, that “while they are going to buy,” while they are seeking for persons by whom to be praised, and find none; while they are seeking for persons by whom to be comforted, and find none; that the door is opened, that “the Bridegroom cometh,”39 and the Bride, the Church, glorified then with Christ, that the several members may be gathered together into their whole. “And they went in with Him into the marriage, and the door was shut.” Then the foolish virgins came afterwards; but had they bought any oil, or found any from whom they might buy it? Therefore they found the doors shut; they began to knock,but too late.
16. It is said, and it is true, and no deceiving saying, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you;”40 but now when it is the time of mercy, not when it is the time of judgment. For these times cannot be confounded, since the Church sings to her Lord of “mercy and judgment.”41 It is the time of mercy; repent. Canst thou repent in the time of judgment? Thou wilt be then as those virgins, against whom the door was shut. “Lord, Lord, open to us.” What! did they not repent, that they had brought no oil with them? Yes, but what profiteth them their late repentance, when the true wisdom mocked them? Therefore “the door was shut.” And what was said to them? “I know you not.” Did not He know them, who knoweth all things? What then is, “I know you not?”42 I refuse, I reject you. In my art I do not acknowledge you, my art knoweth not vice; now this is a marvellous thing, it doth not know vice, and it judgeth vice. It doth not know it in the practice of it; it judgeth by reproving it. Thus then, “I know you not.”
17. The five wise virgins came, and “went in.” How many are ye, my Brethren, in the profession of Christ’s Name! let there be among you the five wise, but be not five such persons only. Let there be among you the five wise, belonging to this wisdom of the number five. For the hour will come, and come when we know not. It will come at midnight, Watch ye. Thus did the Gospel close; “Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.”43 But if we are all to sleep, how shall we watch? Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with hope, watch with charity, watch with good works; and then, when thou shalt sleep in thy body, the time will come that thou shalt rise. And when thou shall have risen, make ready the lamps. Then shall they go out no more, then shall they be renewed44 with the inner oil of conscience; then shall that Bridegroom fold thee in His spiritual45 embrace, then shall He bring thee into His House where thou shall never sleep, where thy lamp can never be extinguished. But at present we are in labour, and our lamps flicker46 amid the winds and temptations of this life; but only let our flame burn strongly, that the wind of temptation may increase the fire, rather than put it out.
1 Sancti moniales.
2 Bing). Antiq. B, 7,c. 4,sect. 8).
6 (Mt 5,16
7 (Lc 12,35
8 (2Co 11,2
9 (2Co 11,3
10 Supereminentiorem. 1 Cor. xii. 31.
11 (1Co 13,1).
13 (1Co 13,8). Cadit).
14 (Mt 24,12-13.
15 (Mt 25,21
16 (Mt 25,5
17 (1Th 4,13
18 (Ps 40,9 Sept. (xli. 8, English version).
19 (Mt 25,6
20 (Ac 1,7
21 (1Th 5,2
22 (1Co 15,52
23 (Jn 5,28-29.
24 (Mt 25,3-4.
25 (2Co 1,12).
26 (Mt 25,8
27 (Mt 25,9
28 (Pr 1,26
29 (Mt 25,92
31 (Ps 140,5 Sept. (cxli. English version).
33 (Mt 6,12
34 (Pr 20,8-9 Sept.
35 (Ps 143,2
36 (Mt 6,1 etc).
37 (Mt 5,16
38 (Mt 7,7
39 (Mt 25,10
40 (Mt 7,7
41 (Ps 101,1
42 (Mt 25,12
43 (Mt 25,13
Augustine on NT 91