Augustin on the mounts 2025
2025 Mt 6,11
25. The fourth petition is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Daily bread is put either for all those things which meet the wants of this life, in reference to which He says in His teaching, “Take no thought for the morrow:” so that on this account there is added, “Give us this day:” or, it is put for the sacrament of the body of Christ, which we daily receive: or, for the spiritual food, of which the same Lord says, “Labour for the meat which perisheth not;”54 and again, “I am the bread of life,55 which came down from heaven.”56 But which of these three views is the more probable, is a question for consideration. For perhaps some one may wonder why we should pray that we may obtain the things which are necessary for this life,—such, for instance, as food and clothing,—when the Lord Himself says, “Be not anxious what ye shall eat, or what ye shall put on.” Can any one not be anxious for a thing which he prays that he may obtain; when prayer is to be offered with so great earnestness of mind, that to this refers all that has been said about shutting our closets, and also the command, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added57 unto you”? Certainly He does not say, Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and then seek those other things; but “all these things,” says He, “shall be added unto you,” that is to say, even though ye are not seeking them. But I know not whether it can be found out, how one is rightly said not to seek what he most earnestly pleads with God that he may receive.
26. But with respect to the sacrament of the Lord’s body (in order that they may not start a question, who, the most of them being in Eastern parts; do not partake of the Lord’s supper daily, while this bread is called daily bread: in order, therefore, that they may be silent, and not defend their way of thinking about this matter even by the very authority of the Church, because they do such things without scandal, and are not prevented from doing them by those who preside over their churches, and when they do not obey are not condemned; whence it is proved that this is not understood as daily bread in these parts: for, if this were the case, they would be charged with the commission of a great sin, who do not on that account receive it daily; but, as has been said, not to argue at all to any extent from the case of such parties), this consideration at least ought to occur to those who reflect, that we have received a rule for prayer from the Lord, which we ought not to transgress, either by adding or omitting anything. And since this is the case, who is there who would venture to say that we ought only once to use the Lord’s Prayer, or at least that, even if we have used it a second or a third time before the hour at which we partake of the Lord’s body, afterwards we are assuredly not so to pray during the remaining hours of the day? For we shall no longer be able to say, “Give us this day, respecting what we have already received; or every one will be able to compel us to celebrate that sacrament at the very last hour of the day.
27. It remains, therefore, that we should understand the daily bread as spiritual, that is to say, divine precepts, which we ought daily to meditate and to labour after. For just with respect to these the Lord says, “Labour for the meat which perisheth not.” That food, moreover, is called daily food at present, so long as this temporal life is measured off by means of days that depart and return. And, in truth, so long as the desire of the soul is directed by turns, now to what is higher, now to what is lower, i.e. now to spiritual things, now to carnal, as is the case with him who at one time is nourished with food, at another time suffers hunger; bread is it daily necessary, in order that the hungry man may be recruited, and he who is falling down may be raised up. As, therefore, our body in this life, that is to say, before that great change, is recruited with food, because it feels loss; so may the soul also, since by means of temporal desires it sustains as it were a loss in its striving after God, be reinvigorated by the food of the precepts. Moreover, it is said, “Give us this day,” as long as it is called to-day, i.e. in this temporal life. For we shall be so abundantly provided with spiritual food after this life unto eternity, that it will not then be called daily bread; because there the flight of time, which causes days to succeed days, whence it may be called to-day, will not exist. But as it is said, “To-day, if ye will hear His voice,”58 which the apostle interprets in the Epistle to the Hebrews, As long as it is called to-day;59 so here also the expression is to be understood, “Give us this day.” But if any one wishes to understand the sentence before us also of food necessary for the body, or of the sacrament of the Lord’s body, we must take all three meanings conjointly; that is to say, that we are to ask for all at once as daily bread, both the bread necessary for the body, and the visible hallowed bread, and the invisible bread of the word of God.60
2028 Mt 6,12
28. The fifth petition follows: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive61 our debtors.” It is manifest that by debts are meant sins, either from that statement which the Lord Himself makes, “Thou shall by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing;62 or from the fact that He called those men debtors who were reported to Him as having been killed, either those on whom the tower fell, or those whose blood Herod had mingled with the sacrifice. For He said that men supposed it was because they were debtors above measure i.e. sinners, and added “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise die.”63 Here, therefore, it is not a money claim that one is pressed to remit, but whatever sins another may have committed against him. For we are enjoined to remit a money claim by that precept rather which has been given above, “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;”64 nor is it necessary to remit a debt to every money debtor; but only to him who is unwilling to pay, to such an extent that he wishes even to go to law. “Now the servant of the Lord,” as says the apostle, “must not go to law.”65 And therefore to him who shall be unwilling, either spontaneously or when requested, to pay the money which he owes, it is to be remitted. For his unwillingness to pay will arise from one of two causes, either that he has it not, or that he is avaricious and covetous of the property of another; and both of these belong to a state of poverty: for the former is poverty of substance, the latter poverty of disposition. Whoever, therefore, remits a debt to such an one, remits it to one who is poor, and performs a Christian work; while that rule remains in force, that he should be prepared in mind to lose what is owing to him. For if he has used exertion in every way, quietly and gently, to have it restored to him, not so much aiming at a money profit, as that he may bring the man round to what is right, to whom without doubt it is hurtful to have the means of paying, and yet not to pay; not only will he not sin, but he will even do a very great service, in trying to prevent that other, who is wishing to make gain of another’s money, from making shipwreck of the faith; which is so much more serious a thing, that there is no comparison. And hence it is understood that in this fifth petition also, where we say, “Forgive us our debts “the words are spoken not indeed in reference to money, but in reference to all ways in which any one sins against us, and by consequence in reference to money also. For the man who refuses to pay you the money which he owes, when he has the means of doing so, sins against you. And if you do not forgive this sin, you will not be able to say, “Forgive us, as we also forgive;” but if you pardon it, you see how he who is enjoined to offer such a prayer is admonished also with respect to forgiving a money debt.
29. That may indeed be construed in this way, that when we say, “Forgive us our debts, as66 we also forgive,” then only are we convicted of having acted contrary to this rule, if we do not forgive them who ask pardon, because we also wish to be forgiven by our most gracious Father when we ask His pardon. But, on the other hand, by that precept whereby we are enjoined to pray for our enemies, it is not for those who ask pardon that we are enjoined to pray. For those who are already in such a state of mind are no longer enemies. By no possibility, however, could one truthfully say that he prays for one whom he has not pardoned. And therefore we must confess that all sins which are committed against us are to be forgiven, if we wish those to be forgiven by our Father which we commit against Him. For the subject of revenge has been sufficiently discussed already, as I think.67
2030 Mt 6,13
30. The sixth petition is, “And brings us not into temptation.” Some manuscripts have the word“lead,”68 which is, I judge, equivalent in meaning: for both translations have arisen from the one Greek word which is used. But many parties in prayer express themselves thus, “Suffer us not to be led into temptation;” that is to say, explaining in what sense the word “lead” is used. For God does not Himself lead, but suffers that man to be led into temptation whom He has deprived of His assistance, in accordance with a most hidden arrangement, and with his deserts. Often, also, for manifest reasons, He judges him worthy of being so deprived, and allowed to be led into temptation. But it is one thing to be led into temptation, another to be tempted. For without temptation no one can be proved, whether to himself, as it is written, “He that hath not been tempted, what manner of things doth he know?”69 or to another, as the apostle says, “And your temptation in my flesh ye despised not:”70 for from this circumstance he learnt that they were stedfast, because they were not turned aside from charity by those tribulations which had happened to the apostle according to the flesh. For even before all temptations we are known to God, who knows all things before they happen.
31. When, therefore, it is said, “The Lord your God tempteth (proveth) you, that He may know if ye love Him,”71 the words “that He may know” are employed for what is the real state of the case, that He may make you know: just as we speak of a joyful day, because it makes us joyful; of a sluggish frost, because it makes us sluggish; and of innumerable things of the same sort, which are found either in ordinary speech, or in the discourse of learned men, or in the Holy Scriptures. And the heretics who are opposed to the Old Testament, not understanding this, think that the brand of ignorance, as it were, is to be placed upon Him of whom it is said, “The Lord your God tempteth you:” as if in the Gospel it were not written of the Lord, “And this He said to tempt (prove) him, for He Himself knew what He would do.”72 For if He knew the heart of him whom He was tempting, what is it that He wished to see by tempting him? But in reality, that was done in order that he who was tempted might become known to himself, and that he might condemn his own despair, on the multitudes being filled with the Lord’s bread, while he had thought they had not enough to eat.
2032 32. Here, therefore, the prayer is not, that we should not be tempted, but that we should not be brought into temptation: as if, were it necessary that any one should be examined by fire, he should pray, not that he should not be touched by the fire, but that he should not be consumed. For “the furnace proveth the potter’s vessels. and the trial of tribulation righteous men.”73 Joseph therefore was tempted with the allurement of debauchery, but he was not brought into temptation.74 Susanna was tempted, but she was not led or brought into temptation;75 and many others of both sexes: but Jb most of all, in regard to whose admirable stedfastness in the Lord his God, those heretical enemies of the Old Testament, when they wish to mock at it with sacrilegious mouth, brandish this above other weapons, that Satan begged that he should be tempted.76 For they put the question to unskilful men by no means able to understand such things, how Satan could speak with God: not understanding (for they cannot, inasmuch as they are blinded by superstition and controversy) that God does not occupy space by the mass of His corporeity; and thus exist in one place, and not in another, or at least have one part here, and another elsewhere: but that He is everywhere present in His majesty, not divided by parts, but everywhere complete. But if they take a fleshly view of what is said, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,”77 —to which passage our Lord also bears testimony, when He says, “Swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool,”78 —what wonder if the devil, being placed on earth, stood before the feet of God, and spoke something in His presence? For when will they be able to understand that there is no soul, however wicked, which can yet reason in any way, in whose conscience God does not speak? For who but God has written the law of nature in the hearts of men?—that law concerning which the apostle says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness,79 and their thoughts80 the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another, in the day when the Lord81 shall judge the secrets of men.”82 And therefore, as in the case of every rational soul, which thinks and reasons, even though blinded by passion, we attribute whatever in its reasoning is true, not to itself but to the very light of truth by which, however faintly, it is according to its capacity illuminated, so as to perceive some measure of truth by its reasoning; what wonder if the depraved spirit of the devil, perverted though it be by lust, should be represented as having heard from the voice of God Himself, i.e. from the voice of the very Truth, whatever true thought it has entertained about a righteous man whom it was proposing to tempt? But whatever is false is to be attributed to that lust from which he has received the name of devil. Although it is also the case that God has often spoken by means of a corporeal and visible creature whether to good or bad, as being Lord and Governor of all, and Disposer according to the merits of every deed: as, for instance, by means of angels, who appeared also under the aspect of men; and by means of the prophets, saying, Thus saith the Lord. What wonder then, if, though not in mere thought, at least by means of some creature fitted for such a work, God is said to have spoken with the devil?
33. And let them not imagine it unworthy of His dignity, and as it were of His righteousness, that God spoke with him: inasmuch as He spoke with an angelic spirit, although one foolish and lustful, just as if He were speaking with a foolish and lustful human spirit. Or let such parties themselves tell us how He spoke with that rich man, whose most foolish covetousness He wished to censure, saying: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required83 of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?”84 Certainly the Lord Himself says so in the Gospel, to which those heretics, whether they will or no, bend their necks. But if they are puzzled by this circumstance, that Satan asks from God that a righteous man should be tempted; I do not explain how it happened, but I compel them to explain why it is said in the Gospel by the Lord Himself to the disciples, “Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat;”85 and He says to Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”86 And when they explain this to me, they explain to themselves at the same time that which they question me about. But if they should not be able to explain this, let them not dare with rashness to blame in any book what they read in the Gospel without offence.
34. Temptations, therefore, take place by means of Satan not by his power, but by the Lord’s permission, either for the purpose of punishing men for their sins, or of proving and exercising them in accordance with the Lord’s compassion. And there is a very great difference in the nature of the temptations into which each one may fall. For Judas, who sold his Lord, did not fall into one of the same nature as Peter fell into, when, under the influence of terror, he denied his Lord. There are also temptations common to man, I believe, when every one, though well disposed, yet yielding to human frailty, falls into error in some plan, or is irritated against a brother, in the earnest endeavour to bring him round to what is right, yet a little more than Christian calmness demands: concerning which temptations the apostle says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man;” while he says at the same time, “But God is faithful, who will not suffer87 you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear88 it.”89 And in that sentence he makes it sufficiently evident that we are not to pray that we may not be tempted, but that we may not be led into temptation. For we are led into temptation, if such temptations have happened to us as we are not able to bear. But when dangerous temptations, into which it is ruinous for us to be brought and led, arise either from prosperous or adverse temporal circumstances, no one is broken down by the irksomeness of adversity, who is not led captive by the delight of prosperity.90
35. The seventh and last petition is, “But deliver us from evil.”91 For we are to pray not only that we may not be led into the evil from which we are free, which is asked in the sixth place; but that we may also be delivered from that into which we have been already led. And when this has been done, nothing will remain terrible, nor will any temptation at all have to be feared. And yet in this life, so long as we carry about our present mortality, into which we were led by the persuasion of the serpent, it is not to be hoped that this can be the case; but yet we are to hope that at some future time it will take place: and this is the hope which is not seen, of which the apostle, when speaking, said, “But hope which is seen is not hope.”92 But yet the wisdom which is granted in this life also, is not to be despaired of by the faithful servants of God. And it is this, that we should with the most wary vigilance shun what we have understood, from the Lord’s revealing it, is to be shunned; and that we should with the most ardent love seek after what we have understood, from the Lord’s revealing it, is to be sought after. For thus, after the remaining burden of this mortality has been laid down in the act of dying, there shall be perfected in every, part of man at the fit time, the blessedness which has been begun in this life, and which we have from time to time strained every nerve to lay hold of and secure.
2036 Mt 6,9-13
36. But the distinction amongthese seven petitions is to be considered and commended. For inasmuch as our temporal life is being spent now, and that which is eternal hoped for, and inasmuch as eternal things are superior in point of dignity, albeit it is only when we have done with temporal things that we pass to the other; although the three first petitions begin to be answered in this life, which is being spent in the present world (for both the hallowing of God’s name begins to be carried on just with the coming of the lord of humility; and the coming of His kingdom, to which He will come in splendour, will be manifested, not after the end of the world, but in the end of the world; and the perfect doing of His will in earth as in heaven, whether you understand by heaven and earth the righteous and sinners, or spirit and flesh, or the Lord and the Church, or all these things together, will be brought to completion just with the perfecting of our blessedness, and therefore at the close of the world), yet all three will remain to eternity. For both the hallowing of God’s name will go on for ever, and there is no end of His kingdom, and eternal life is promised to our perfected blessedness. Hence those three things will remain consummated and thoroughly completed in that life which is promised us.
37. But the other four things which we ask seem to me to belong to this temporal life.93 And the first of them is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” For whether by this same thing which is called daily bread be meant spiritual bread, or that which is visible in the sacrament or in this sustenance of ours, it belongs to the present time, which He has called “to-day,” not because spiritual food is not everlasting, but because that which is called daily food in the Scriptures is represented to the soul either by the sound of the expression or by temporal signs of any kind: things all of which will certainly no more have existence when all shall be taught of God,94 and thus shall no longer be making known to others by movement of their bodies, but drinking in each one for himself by the purity of his mind the ineffable light of truth itself. For perhaps for this reason also it is called bread, not drink, because bread is converted into aliment by breaking and masticating it, just as the Scriptures feed the soul by being opened up and made the subject of discourse; but drink, when prepared, passes as it is into the body: so that at present the truth is bread, when it is called daily, bread; but then it will be drink, when there will be no need of the labour of discussing and discoursing, as it were of breaking and masticating, but merely of drinking unmingled and transparent truth. And sins are at present forgiven us, and at present we forgive them; which is the second petition of these four that remain: but then there will be no pardon of sins, because there will be no sins. And temptations molest this temporal life; but they will have no existence when these words shall be fully realized, “Thou shall hide them in the secret of Thy presence.”95 And the evil from which we wish to be delivered, and the deliverance from evil itself, belong certainly to this life, which as being mortal we have deserved at the hand of God’s justice, and from which we are delivered by His mercy.
2038 38. The sevenfold number of these petitions also seems to me to correspond to that sevenfold number out of which the whole sermon before us has had its rise.96 For if it is the fear of God through which the poor in spirit are blessed, inasmuch as theirs is the kingdom of heaven; let us ask that the name of God may be hallowed among men through that “fear which is clean, enduring for ever.”97 If it is piety through which the meek are blessed, inasmuch as they shall inherit the earth; let us ask that His kingdom may come, whether it be over ourselves, that we may become meek, and not resist Him, or whether it be from heaven to earth in the splendour of the Lord’s advent, in which we shall rejoice, and shall be praised, when He says, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit98 the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation99 of the world.”100 For “in the Lord,” says the prophet, “shall my soul be praised; the meek shall hear thereof, and be glad.”101 If it is knowledge through which those who mourn are blessed, inasmuch as they shall be comforted; let us pray that His will may be done as in heaven so in earth, because when the body, which is as it were the earth, shall agree in a final and complete peace with the soul, which is as it were heaven, we shall not mourn: for there is no other mourning belonging to this present time, except when these contend against each other, and compel us to say, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind;” and to testify our grief with tearful voice, “O wretched102 man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?103 If it is fortitude through which those are blessed who hunger and thirst after righteousness, inasmuch as they shall be filled; let us pray that our daily bread may be given to us to-day, by which, supported and sustained, we may be able to reach that most abundant fulness. If it is prudence through which the merciful are blessed, inasmuch as they shall obtain mercy; let us forgive their debts to our debtors, and let us pray that ours may be forgiven to us. If it is understanding through which the pure in heart are blessed, inasmuch as they shall see God; let us pray not to be led into temptation, lest we should have a double heart, in not seeking after a single good, to which we may refer all our actings, but at the same time pursuing things temporal and earthly. For temptations arising from those things which seem to men burdensome and calamitous, have no power over us, if those other temptations have no power which befall us through the enticements of such things as men count good and cause for rejoicing. If it is wisdom through which the peacemakers are blessed, inasmuch as they shall be called the children of God;104 let us pray that we may be freed from evil, for that very freedom will make us free, i.e. sons of God, so that we may cry in the spirit of adoption, “Abba, Father.”105
39. Nor are we indeed carelessly to pass by the circumstance, that of all those sentences in which the Lord has taught us to pray, He has judged that that one is chiefly to be commended which has reference to the forgiveness of sins: in which He would have us to be merciful, because it is the only wisdom for escaping misery. For in no other sentence do we pray in such a way that we, as it were, enter into a compact with God: for we say, “Forgive us, as we also forgive.” And if we lie in that compact, the whole prayer is fruitless. For He speaks thus: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
2040 Mt 6,16-18
40. There follows a precept concerning fasting, having reference to that same purification of heart which is at present under discussion. For in this work also we must be on our guard, lest there should creep in a certain ostentation and hankering after the praise of man, which would make the heart double, and not allow it to be pure and single for apprehending God. “Moreover, when ye fast,” says He, “be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces,106 that they may appear107 unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But ye,108 when ye fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that ye appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward you.” It is manifest from these precepts that all our effort is to be directed towards inward joys, lest, seeking a reward from without, we should be conformed to this world, and should lose the promise of a blessedness so much the more solid and firm, as it is inward, in which God has chosen that we should become conformed to the image of His Son.109
41. But in this section it is chiefly to be noticed, that there may be ostentatious display not merely in the splendour and pomp of things pertaining to the booty, but also in doleful squalor itself; and the more dangerous on this account, that it deceives under the name of serving God. And therefore he who is very conspicuous by immoderate attention to the body, and by the splendour of his clothing or other things, is easily convicted by the things themselves of being a follower of the pomps of the world, and misleadsno one by a cunning semblance of sanctity;I but in regard to him who under a profession of Christianity, fixes the eyes of men upon himself by unusual squalor and filth, when he does it voluntarily, and not under the pressure of necessity, it may be conjectured from the rest of his actings whether he does this from contempt of superfluous attention to the body, or from a certain ambition: for the Lord has enjoined us to beware of wolves under a sheep’s skin; but “by their fruits,” says He, “shall ye know them.” For when by temptations of any kind those very things begin to be withdrawn from them or refused to them, which under that veil they either have obtained or desire to obtain, then of necessity it appears whether it is a wolf in a sheep’s skin or a sheep in its own. For a Christian ought not to delight the eyes of men by superfluous ornament on this account, because pretenders also too often assume that frugal and merely necessary dress, that they may deceive those who are not on their guard: for those sheep also ought not to lay aside their own skins, if at any time wolves cover themselves there with.
42. It is usual, therefore, to ask what He means, when He says: “But ye, when ye fast, anoint your head, and wash your faces, that ye appear not unto men to fast.” For it would not be right in any one to teach (although we may wash our face according to daily custom) that we ought also to have our heads anointed when we fast. If, then, all admit this to be most unseemly, we must understand this precept with respect to anointing the head and washing the face as referring to the inner man.110 Hence, to anoint the head refers to joy; to wash the face, on the other hand, refers to purity: and therefore that man anoints his head who rejoices inwardly in his mind and reason. For we rightly understand that as being the head which has the pre-eminence in the soul, and by which it is evident that the other parts of man are ruled and governed. And this is done by him who does not seek his joy from without, so as to draw his delight in a fleshly way from the praises of men. For the flesh, which ought to be subject, is in no way the head of the whole nature of man. “No man,” indeed, “ever yet hated his own flesh,” as the apostle says, when giving the precept as to loving one’s wife;111 but the man is the head of the woman, and Christ is the head of the man.112 Let him, therefore, rejoice inwardly in his fasting113 in this very circumstance, that by his fasting he so turns away from the pleasure of the world as to be subject to Christ, who according to this precept desires to have the head anointed. For thus also he will wash his face, i.e. cleanse his heart, with which he shall see God, no veil being interposed on account of the infirmity contracted from squalor; but being firm and stedfast, inasmuch as he is pure and guileless. “Wash you,” says He, “make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes.”114 From the squalor, therefore, by which the eye of God is offended, our face is to be washed. For we, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.115
2043 Mt 6,19-23
43. Often also the thought of things necessary belonging to this life wounds and defiles our inner eye; and frequently it makes the heart double, so that in regard to those things in which we seem to act rightly with our fellowmen, we do not act with that heart wherewith the Lord enjoins us; i.e., it is not because we love them, but because we wish to obtain some advantage from them for the necessity of the present life. But we ought to do them good for their eternal salvation, not for our own temporal advantage. May God, therefore, incline our heart to His testimonies, and not to covetousness.116 For “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”117 But he who looks after his brother from a regard to his own necessities in this life, does not certainly do so from love, because he does not look after him whom he ought to love as himself, but after himself; or rather not even after himself, seeing that in this way he makes his own heart double, by which he is hindered from seeing God, in the vision of whom alone there is certain and lasting blessedness.
Augustin on the mounts 2025