Augustin on Psalms 83
1. Of this Psalm the title is, "A song of a Psalm of Asaph." We have already often said what is the interpretation of Asaph, that is, congregation. That man, therefore, who was called Asaph, is named in representation of the congregation of God's people in the titles of many Psalms. But in Greek, congregation. is called synagogue, which has come to be held for a kind of proper name for the Jewish people, that it should be called The Synagogue; even as the Christian people is more usually called The Church, in that it too is congregated.
2. The people of God, then, in this Psalm saith, "O God, who shall be like unto Thee?" (verse 1). Which I suppose to be more fitly taken of Christ, because, being made in the likeness of men,(2) He was thought by those by whom He was despised to be comparable to other men: for He was even "reckoned among the unrighteous,"(3) but for this purpose, that He might be judged. But when He shall come to judge, then shall be done what is here said, "O God, who is like unto Thee?" For if the Psalms did not use to speak to the Lord Christ, that too would not be spoken which not one of the faithful can doubt was spoken unto Christ. "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom."(4) To him therefore also now it is said, "O God, who shall be like unto Thee?" For unto many Thou didst vouchsafe to be likened in Thy humiliation, even so far as to the robbers that were crucified with Thee: but when in glory Thou shalt come, "who shall be like unto Thee?" ...
3. "For lo Thine enemies have sounded, and they that hate Thee have lifted up the head" (verse 2). He seems to me to signify the last days, when these things that are now repressed by fear are to break forth into free utterance, but quite irrational, so that it should rather be called a "sound," than speech or discourse. They will not, therefore, then begin to hate, but "they that hate Thee" will then "lift up the head." And not "heads," but "head;" since they are to come even to that point, that they shall have that head, which "is lifted up above all that is called God, and that is worshipped;"(5) so that in him especially is to be fulfilled, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased;"(6) and when He to whom it is said, "Keep not silence, nor grow mild, O God," shall "slay him with the breath of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming."(7) "Upon Thy people they have malignantly taken counsel" (verse 3). Or, as other copies have it, "They have cunningly devised counsel, and have devised against Thy saints." In scorn this is said. For how should they be able to hurt the nation or people of God, or His saints, who know how to say, "If God be for us, who shall be against us?"(8)
4. "They have said, Come, and let us destroy them from a nation" (verse 4). He has put the singular number for the plural: as it is said, "Whose is this cattle," even though the question be of a flock, and the meaning "these cattle." Lastly, other copies have "from nations," where the translators have rather followed the sense than the word. "Come, and let us destroy them from a nation." This is that sound whereby they "sounded" rather than spake, since they did vainly make a noise with vain sayings. "And let it not be mentioned of the name of Israel any more." This others have expressed more plainly," and let there not be remembrance of the name of Israel any more." Since, "let it be mentioned of the name" (memoretur nominis), is an unusual phrase in the Latin language; for it is rather customary to say, "let the name be mentioned" (memoretur nomen); but the sense is the same. For he who said, "let it be mentioned of the name," translated the Greek phrase. But Israel must here be understood in fact of the seed of Abraham, to which the Apostle saith, "Therefore ye are the seed of Abraham, according to the promise heirs."(1) Not Israel according to the flesh, of which he saith," Behold Israel after the flesh."
5. "Since they have imagined with one consent; together against Thee have they disposed a testament" (verse 5): as though they could be the stronger. In fact, "a testament" is a name given in the Scriptures not only to that which is of no avail till the death of the testators, but every convenant and decree they used to call a testament. For Laban and Jacob made a testament,(2) which was certainly to have force between the living; and such cases without number are read in the words of God. Then he begins to make mention of the enemies of Christ, under certain proper names of nations; the interpretation of which names sufficiently indicates what he would have to be understood. For by such names are most suitably figured the enemies of the truth. "Idumaeans," for instance, are interpreted either "men of blood," or "of earth." "Ismaelites," are "obedient to themselves," and therefore not to God, but to themselves. "Moab," "from the father;" which in a bad sense has no better explanation, than by considering it so connected with the actual history, that Lot, a father, by the illicit intercourse procured by his daughter, begat him; since it was from that very circumstance he was so named.(3) Good, however, was his father, but as "the Law is good if one use it lawfully,"(4) not impurely and unlawfully. "Hagarens," proselytes, that is strangers, by which name also are signified, among the enemies of God's people, not those who become citizens, but those who persevere in a foreign and alien mind, and when an opportunity of doing harm occurs, show themselves. "Gebal," "a vain valley," that is, humble in pretence. "Amon," "an unquiet people," or "a people of sadness." "Amalech," "a people licking;" whence elsewhere it is said, "and his enemies shall lick the earth."(5) The "alien race," though by their very name in Latin, they sufficiently show themselves to be aliens, and for this cause of course enemies, yet in the Hebrew are called "Philistines," which is explained, "falling from drink," as of persons made drunken by worldly luxury. "Tyre" in Hebrew is called Sor; which whether it be interpreted straitness or tribulation, must be taken in the case of these enemies of God's people in that sense, of which the Apostle speaks, "Tribulation and straitness on every soul of man that doeth evil."(6) All these are thus enumerated in the Psalms: "The tabernacles of the Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagarenes, Gebal, and Amon, and Amalech, and the Philistines with those who inhabit Tyre."
6. And as if to point out the cause why they are enemies of God's people, he adds, "For Assur came with them." Now Assur is often used figuratively for the devil, "who works in the children of disobedience,"(7) as in his own vessels, that they may assail the people of God. "They have holpen the children of Lot," he saith: for all enemies, by the working in them of the devil, their prince, "have holpen the children of Lot," who is explained to mean "one declining." But the apostate angels are well explained as the children of declension, for by declining from truth they swerved to become followers of the devil. These are they of whom the Apostle speaks: "Ye wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."(8) Those invisible(9) enemies are holpen then by unbelieving men, in whom they work in order to assail the people of God.
7. Now let us see what the prophetic spirit prays may fall upon them, rather foretelling than cursing. "Do thou to them," he saith, "as unto Madian and Sisera, as unto Jabin at the brook of Kishon" (verse 9). "They perished at Endor, they became as the dung of the earth"(verse 10). All these, the history relates, were subdued and conquered by Israel, which then was the people of God: as was the case also with those whom he next mentions: "Make their princes like Oreb and Zeb, and Zebee and Salmana"(verse 11). The meaning of these names is as follows: Madian is explained a perverted judgment: Sisera, shutting out of joy: Jabin, wise.(10) But in these enemies conquered by God's people is to be understood that wise man of whom the Apostle speaketh, "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?"(11) Oreb is dryness, Zeb, wolf, Zebee, a victim, namely of the wolf; for he too has his victims; Salmana, shadow of commotion. All these agree to the evils which the people of God conquer by good. Moreover Kishon, the torrent in which they were conquered, is explained, their hardness. Endor, where they perished, is explained, the Fountain of generation, but of the carnal generation namely, to which they were given up, and therefore perished, not heeding the regeneration which leadeth unto life, where they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage,(1) for they shall die no more. Rightly then it is said of these: "they became as the dung of the earth," in that nothing was produced of them but fruitfulness of the earth. As then all these were in figure conquered by the people of God, as figures, so he prays that those other enemies may be conquered in truth.
8. "All their princes, who said, Let us take to ourselves the sanctuary of God in possession" (verse 12). This is that vain noise, with which, as said above, Thy enemies have made a murmuring. But what must be understood by "the sanctuary of God," except the temple of God? as saith the Apostle: "For the temple of God is holy,(2) which temple ye are."(3) For what else do the enemies aim at, but to take into possession, that is, to make subject to themselves the temple of God, that it may give in to their ungodly wills?
9. But what follows? "My God, make them like unto a wheel" (verse 13). This is fitly taken as meaning that they should be constant in nothing that they think; but I think it may also be rightly explained, make them like unto a wheel, because a wheel is lifted up on the part of what is behind,(4) is thrown down on the part of what is in front; and so it happens to all the enemies of the people of God. For this is not a wish, but a prophecy. He adds: "as the stubble in the face of the wind." By face he means presence; for what face hath the wind, which has no bodily features, being only a motion, in that it is a kind of wave of air? But it is put for temptation, by which light and vain hearts are hurried away.
10. This levity, by which consent is easily given to what is evil, is followed by severe torment; therefore he proceeds:-- "Like as the fire that burneth up the wood, and as the flame that consumeth the mountains" (verse 14): "so shall Thou persecute them with Thy tempest, and in Thy anger shalt disturb them" (verse 15). Wood, he saith, for its barrenness, mountains for their loftiness; for such are the enemies of God's people, barren of righteousness, full of pride. When he says, "fire" and "flame," he means to repeat under another term, the idea of God judging and punishing. But in saying, "with Thy tempest," he means, as he goes on to explain, "Thy anger:" and the former expression, "Thou shall persecute," answers to, "Thou shalt disturb." We must take care, however, to understand, that the anger of God is free from any turbulent emotion; for His anger is an expression for His just method of taking vengeance: as the law might be said to be angry when its ministers are moved to punish by its sanction.
11. "Fill their faces with shame, and they shall seek Thy name, O Lord" (verse 16). Good and desirable is this which he prophesieth for them: and he would not prophesy thus, unless there were even in that company of the enemies of God's people, some men of such kind that this would be granted to them before the last judgment: for now they are mixed together, and this is the body of the enemies, in respect of the envy whereby they rival the people of God. And now, where they can, they make a noise and lift up their head: but severally, not universally as they will do at the end of the world, when the last judgment is about to fall. But it is the same body, even in those who out of this number shall believe and pass into another body (for the faces of these are filled with shame, that they may seek the name of the Lord), as well as in those others who persevere unto the end in the same wickedness, who are made as stubble before the wind, and are consumed like a wood and barren mountains. To these he again returns, saying, "They shall blush and be vexed for ever and ever" (verse 17). For those are not vexed for ever and ever who seek the name of the Lord, but having respect unto the shame of their sins, they are vexed for this purpose, that they may seek the name of the Lord, through which they may be no more vexed.
12. Again, he returns to these last, who in the same company of enemies are to be made ashamed for this purpose, that they may not be ashamed for ever: and for this purpose to be destroyed in as far as they are wicked, that being made good they may be found alive for everse For having said of them, "Let them be ashamed and perish," he instantly adds, "and let them know that Thy name is the Lord, Thou art only the Most Highest in all the earth" (verse 18). Coming to this knowledge, let them be so confounded as to please God: let them so perish, as that they may abide. "Let them know," he says, "that Thy name is the Lord:" as if whoever else are called lords are named so not truly but by falsehood, for they rule but as servants, and compared with the true Lord are not lords; as it is said, I AM THAT I AM:(5) as if those things which are made are not, compared with Him by whom they are made. He adds, "Thou only art the Most Highest in all the earth:" or, as other copies have it, "over all the earth;" as it might be said, in all the heaven, or over all the heaven: but he used the latter word in preference, to depress the pride of earth. For earth ceaseth to be proud, that is, man ceaseth, to whom it was said, "Thou art dust;"(1) and "why is earth and ashes proud?"(2) when he saith that the Lord is the Most Highest above all the earth, that is, that no man's thoughts avail against those "who are called according to His purpose," and of whom it is said, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"(3)
84 (Ps 84)
1. This Psalm is entitled," For the winepresses." And, as you observed with me, my beloved (for I saw that you attended most closely), nothing is said in its text either of any press, or wine-basket, or vat, or of any of the instruments or the building of a winepress; nothing of this kind did we hear read; so that it is no easy question what is the meaning of this title inscribed upon it, "for the winepresses." For certainly, if after the title it mentioned anything about such things as I enumerated, carnal persons might have believed that it was a song concerning those visible wine-presses; but as it has this title, yet says nothing afterwards of those winepresses which we know so well, I cannot doubt that there are other wine-presses, which the Spirit of God intended us to look for and to understand here. Therefore, let us recall to mind what takes place in these visible winepresses, and see how this takes place spiritually in the Church. The grape hangs on the vines, and the olive on its trees. For it is for these two fruits that presses are usually made ready; and as long as they hang on their boughs, they seem to enjoy free air; and neither is the grape wine, nor the olive oil, before they are pressed. Thus it is with men whom God predestined before the world to be conformed to the image of His only-begotten Son,(5) who has been first and especially pressed in His Passion, as the great Cluster. Men of this kind, therefore, before they draw near to the service of God, enjoy in the world a kind of delicious liberty, like hanging grapes or olives: but as it is said, "My son, when thou drawest near to the service of God, stand in judgment and fear, and make thy soul ready for temptation:"(6) so each, as he draweth near to the service of God, findeth that he is come to the winepress; he shall undergo tribulation, shall be crushed, shall be pressed, not that he may perish in this world, but that he may flow down into the storehouses of God. He hath the coverings of carnal desires stripped off from him, like grape-skins: for this hath taken place in him in carnal desires, of which the Apostle speaks, "Put ye off the old man, and put on the new man."(7) All this is not done but by pressure: therefore the Churches of God of this time are called winepresses.
2. But who are we who are placed in the wine-presses? "Sons of Core." For this follows: "For the winepresses, to the sons of Core." The sons of Core has been explained, sons of the bald: as far as those could explain it to us, who know that language, according to their service due to God.(8) ...
3. But being placed under pressure, we are crushed for this purpose, that for our love by which we were borne towards those worldly, secular, temporal, unstable, and perishable things, having suffered in them, in this life, torments, and tribulations of pressures, and abundance of temptations, we may begin to seek that rest which is not of this life, nor of this earth; and the Lord becomes, as is written, "a refuge for the poor man."(9) What is, "for the poor man"? For him who is, as it were, destitute, without aid, without help, without anything on which he may rest, in earth. For to such poor men, God is present. For though men abound in money on earth, ... they are filled more with fear than with enjoyment. For what is so uncertain as a rolling thing? It is not unfitly that money itself is stamped round, because it remains not still. Such men, therefore, though they have something, are yet poor. But those who have none of this wealth, but only desire it, are counted also among rich men who will be rejected; for God takes account not of power, but of will. The poor then are destitute of all this world's substance, for even though it abounds around them, they know how fleeting it is; and crying unto God, having nothing in this world with which they may delight themselves, and be held down, placed in abundant pressures and temptations, as if in winepresses, they flow down, having become oil or wine. What are these latter but good desires? For God remains their only object of desire; now they love not earth. For they love Him who made heaven and earth; they love Him, and are not yet with Him. Their desire is delayed, in order that it may increase; it increases, in order that it may receive. For it is not any little thing that God will give to him who desires, nor does he need to be little exercised to be made fit to receive so great a good: not anything which He hath made will God give, but Himself who made all things. Exercise thyself to receive God: that which thou shalt have for ever, desire thou for a long time. ...
4. Wherefore, most beloved, as each can, make vows, and perform to the Lord God(1) what each can: let no one look back, no one delight himself with his former interests, no one turn away from that which is before to that which is behind: let him run until he arrive: for we run not with the feet but with the desire. But let no one in this life say that he hath arrived. For who can be so perfect as Paul?(2) Yet he saith, "Brethren, I count not myself to have attained."
5. If therefore thou feelest the passions of this world, even when thou art happy, thou understandest now that thou art in the winepress. ... If therefore the world smile upon thee with happiness, imagine thyself in the winepress, and say, "I found trouble and heaviness, and I did call upon the name of the Lord."(3) He said not, I found trouble, without meaning, of such a kind as was hidden: for some troubles are hidden from some in this world, who think they are happy while they are absent from God. "For as long as we are in the body," he saith, "we are absent from the Lord."(4) If thou wert absent from thy father, thou wouldest be unhappy: art thou absent from the Lord, and happy? There are then some who think it is well with them. But those who understand, that in whatever abundance of wealth and pleasures, though all things obey their beck, though nothing troublesome creep in, nothing adverse terrify, yet that they are in a bad case as long as they are absent from the Lord; with a most keen eye these have found trouble, and grief, and have called on the name of the Lord. Such is he who sings in this Psalm. Who is he? The Body of Christ. Who is that? You, if you will: all we, if we will: for Christ's Body is one. ... "How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts" (verse 1). He was in some tabernacles, that is, in winepresses: but he longed for other tabernacles, where is no pressure: in this he sighed for them, from these, he, as it were, flowed down into them by the channel of longing desire.
6. And what follows? "My soul longeth and faileth for the courts of the Lord" (verse 2). It is not enough that it "longeth and faileth:" for what doth it fail? "For the courts of the Lord." The grape when pressed hath failed: but for what? So as to be changed into wine, and to flow into the vat, and into the rest of the storeroom, to be kept there in great quiet. Here it is longed for, there it is received: here are sighs, there joy: here prayers, there praises: here groans, there rejoicing. Those things which I mentioned, let no one while here turn from ashamed: let no one be unwilling to suffer. There is danger, lest the grape, while it fears the winepress, should be devoured by birds or by wild beasts. ...
7. Thou hast heard a groan in the winepress, "My soul longeth and faileth for the courts of the Lord:" hear how it holdeth out, rejoicing in hope: "My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God." Here they have rejoiced for that cause. Whence cometh rejoicing, but of hope? Wherefore have they rejoiced? "In the living God." What has rejoiced in thee? "My heart and my flesh." Why have they rejoiced? "For," saith he, "the sparrow hath found her a house, and the turtledove a nest, where she may lay her young" (verse 3). What is this? He had named two things, and he adds two figures of birds which answer to them: he had said that his heart rejoiced and his flesh, and to these two he made the sparrow and turtle-dove to correspond: the heart as the sparrow, the flesh as the dove. The sparrow hath found herself a home: my heart hath found itself a home. She tries her wings in the virtues of this life, in faith, and hope, and charity, by which she may fly unto her home: and when she shall have come thither, she shall remain; and now the complaining voice of the sparrow, which is here, shall no longer be there. For it is the very complaining sparrow of whom in another Psalm he saith, "Like a sparrow alone on the housetop."(5) From the housetop he flies home. Now let him be on the housetop, treading on his carnal house: he shall have a heavenly house, a perpetual home: that sparrow shall make an end of his complaints. But to the dove he hath given young, that is, to the flesh: "the dove hath found a nest, where she may lay her young." The sparrow a home, the dove a nest, and a nest too where she may lay her young. A home is chosen as for ever, a nest is framed for a time: with the heart we think upon God, as if the sparrow flew to her home: with the flesh we do good works. For ye see how many good works are done by the flesh of the saints; for by this we work the things we are commanded to work, by which we are helped in this life. "Break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor and roofless into thy house; and if thou see one naked, clothe him:"(6) and other such things which are commanded us we work only through the flesh. ... We speak, brethren, what ye know: how many seem to do good works without the Church?(7) how many even Pagans feed the hungry, clothe the naked, receive the stranger, visit the sick, comfort the prisoner? how many do this? The dove seems, as it were, to bring forth young: but finds not herself a nest. How many works may heretics do not in the Church; they place not their young in a nest. They shall be trampled on and crushed: they shall not be kept, shall not be guarded. ...In that faith lay thy young: in that nest work thy works. For what the nests are, what that nest is, follows at once· Having said, And the dove hath found herself a nest, where she may lay her young; as if thou hadst asked, What nest? "Thy altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God." What is, "My King and my God?" Thou who rulest me, who hast created me.
8. ... "Blessed are those who dwell in Thy house" (verse 4). ... If thou hast thy own house, thou art poor; if God's, thou art rich. In thy own house thou wilt fear robbers; of the house of God, He is Himself the wall. Therefore "blessed are those who dwell in Thy house." They possess the heavenly Jerusalem, without constraint, without pressure, without difference and division of boundaries; all have it, and each have all. Great are those riches· Brother crowdeth not brother: there is no want there. Next, what will they do there? For among men it is necessity which is the mother of all employments. I have already said, in brief, brethren, run in your mind through any occupations, and see if it is not necessity alone which produces them. Those very eminent arts which seem so powerful in giving help to others, the art of speaking in their defence or of medicine in healing, for these are the most excellent employments in this life; take away litigants, who is there for the advocate to help? take away wounds and diseases? what is there for the physician to cure? And all those employments of ours which are required and done for our daily life, arise from necessity. To plough, to sow, to clear fallow ground, to sail; what is it which produces all these works, but necessity and want? Take away hunger, thirst, nakedness; who has need of all these things? ... For instance, the injunction, "Break thy bread to the hungry." For whom could you break bread, if there were nobody hungry? "Take in the roofless poor into thy house."(1) What stranger is there to take in, where all live in their own country? What sick person to visit, where they enjoy perpetual health? What litigants to reconcile, where there is everlasting peace? What dead to bury, where there is eternal life? None of those honourable actions which are common to all men will then be your employment, nor any of these good works; the young swallows will then fly out of their nest. What then? You have said already what we shall have; "Those who dwell in Thy house are blessed." Say now what they shall do, for I see not then any need to induce me to action. Even what I am now saying and arguing springs from some need. Will there be any such argument there to teach the ignorant, or remind the forgetful? Or will the Gospel be read in that country where the Word of God Itself shall be contemplated? ... "They shall be always praising Thee." This shall be our whole duty, an unceasing Hallelujah. Think not, my brethren, that there will be any weariness there: if ye are not able to endure long here in saying this, it is because(2) some want draws you away from that enjoyment. If what is not seen gives not so much joy here, if with so much eagerness under the pressure and weakness of the flesh we praise that which we believe, how shall we praise that which we see? "When death shall be swallowed up in victory, when this mortal shall have put on immortality,"(3) no one will say, "I have been standing a long time;" no one will say, "I have fasted a long time," "I have watched a long time." For there shall be great endurance, and our immortal bodies shall be sustained in contemplation of God. And if the word which we now dispense to you keeps your weak flesh standing so long, what will be the effect of that joy? how will it change us? "For we shall be like Him, since we shall see Him as He is."(4) Being made like Him, when shall we ever faint? what shall draw us off? Brethren, we shall never be satiated with the praise of God, with the love of God. If love could fail, praise could fail. But if love be eternal, as there will there be beauty inexhaustible, fear not lest thou be not able to praise for ever Him whom thou shalt be able to love for everse For this life let us sigh.
9. But how shall we come thither? "Happy is the man whose strength is in Thee"(verse 5). He knew where he was, and that by reason of the frailty of his flesh he could not fly to that state of blessedness: he thought upon his own burden, as it is said elsewhere; "For the corruptible body weighs down the soul, and the earthly house depresses the understanding which has many thoughts."(5) The Spirit calls upward, the weight of the flesh calls back again downward: between the double effort to raise and to weigh down, a kind of struggle ensues: this struggle goes toward the pressure of the wine-press. Hear how the Apostle describes this same struggle of the winepress, for he was himself afflicted there, there he was pressed. ... "Miserable man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord."(1) ... "For I delight in the Law of God according to the inner man." But what shall I do? how shall I fly? how shall I arrive thither? "I see another law in my members," etc. ... And as in the words of the Apostle, that difficulty and that almost inextricable struggle is alleviated by the addition, "The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord;" so here, when he sighed in the ardent longing for the house of God, and those praises of God, and when a kind of despair arose at the feeling of the burden of the body and the weight of the flesh, again he awoke to hope, and said (verse 5), "Blessed is the man whose taking up(2) is in Thee."
10. What then does God supply by His grace to him whom He taketh hold of to lead him on? He goes on to say: "He hath placed steps(3) in his heart." ... Where does it place steps? "In his heart, in the valley of weeping" (verse 6). So here thou hast for a winepress the valley of weeping, the very pious tears in tribulation are the new wine of those that love. ...They went forth "weeping," he says, "casting their seed."(4) Therefore, by the grace of God may upward steps be placed in thy heart. Rise by loving. Hence the Psalm "of degrees" is called. ... "He hath placed steps of ascent to the place which He hath appointed" (verse 7). Now we lament; whence proceed our lamentations, but from that place where the steps of our ascent are placed? Whence comes our lamentation, but from that cause wherefore the Apostle exclaimed that he was a wretched man, because he saw another law in his members, warring against the law in his mind?(5) And whence does this proceed? From the penalty of sin. And we thought that we could easily be righteous as it were by our own strength, before we received the command; "but when the command came, sin revived; but I died,"(6) saith the Apostle. For a law was given to men, not such as could save them at once, but it was to show them in what severe sickness they were lying. ... But when sin was made manifest by the law given, sin was but increased, for it is both sin, and against the Law; "Sin," saith he, "taking occasion by the command, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence."(7) What does he mean by "taking occasion by the law"? Having received the command, men tried as by their own strength to obey it; conquered by lust, they became guilty of transgression of this very command also. But what saith the Apostle? "Where sin abounded, grace hath much more abounded;"(8) that is, the disease increased, the medicine became of more avail. Accordingly, my brethren, did those five porches of Solomon, in the middle of which the pool lay, heal the sick at all? The sick, says the Evangelist, lay in the five porches.(9) In the Gospel we have and read it. Those five porches are the law in the five books of Moses. For this cause the sick were brought forth from their houses that they might lie in the porches. So the law brought the sick men forth, but did not heal them: but by the blessing of God the water was disturbed, as by an Angel descending into it. At the sight of the water troubled, the one person who was able, descended and was healed. That water surrounded by the five porches, was the people of the Jews shut up in their law. The Lord came and disturbed this people, so that He Himself was slain. For if the Lord had not troubled the Jews by coming down to them, would He have been crucified? So that the troubled water signified the Passion of the Lord, which arose from His troubling the Jewish people. The sick man who believeth in this Passion, like him who descended into the troubled water, is healed thereby. He whom the Law could not heal, that is, while he lay in the porches, is healed by grace, by faith in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. ...
11. "He shall give blessing," saith he, "who gave the law." ... Grace shall come after the law, grace itself is the blessing. And what has that grace and blessing given unto us? "They shall go from virtue to virtue." For here by grace many virtues are given. "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith, to another the gift of healing, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, to another prophecy."(10) Many virtues, but necessary for this life; and from these virtues we go on to "a virtue." To what "virtue"? To "Christ the Virtue of God and the Wisdom of God."(11) He giveth different virtues in this place, who for all the virtues which are necessary and useful in this valley of weeping shall give one virtue, Himself. For in Scripture and in many writers four virtues are described useful for life: prudence, by which we discern between good and evil; justice, by which we give each person his due, "owing no man anything,"(12) but loving all men: temperance, by which we restrain lusts; fortitude, by which we bear all troubles. These virtues are now by the grace of God given unto us in the valley of weeping: from these virtues we mount unto that other virtue. And what will that be, but the virtue of the contemplation of God alone? ... It follows in that place: "They shall go from virtue to virtue." What virtue? That of contemplation. What is contemplation? "The God of Gods shall appear in Sion." The God of Gods, Christ of the Christians. ... When all is finished, that mortality makes necessary, He shall appear to the pure in heart, as He is, "God with God," The Word with the Father, "by which all things were made."
12. And again, from the thought of those joys he returns to his own sighs. He sees what has come before in hope, and where he is in reality. ... Therefore returning to the groans proper to this place, he saith, "O Lord God of virtues, hear my prayer: hearken, O God of Jacob" (verse 8): for Jacob himself also Thou hast made Israel out of Jacob. For God appeared unto him, and he was called Israel,(1) seeing God. Hear me therefore, O God of Jacob, and make me Israel. When shall I become Israel? When the God of Gods shall appear in Sion.
13. "Behold, O God our defender. And look on the face of Thy Christ" (verse 9). For when doth God not look upon the face of His Christ? What is this, "Look on the face of Thy Christ"? By the face we are known What is it then, Look on the face of Thy Christ? Cause Thy Christ to become known to all. Look on the face of Thy Christ: let Christ become known to all, that we may be able to go from strength to strength, that grace may abound, since sin hath abounded.
14. "For one day in Thy courts is better than a thousand" (verse 10). Those courts they were for which he sighed, for which he fainted. "My soul longeth and faileth for the courts of the Lord:"(2) one day there is better than a thousand days. Men long for thousands of days, and wish to live here long: let them despise these thousands of days, let them long for one day, which has neither rising nor setting: one day, an everlasting day, to which no yesterday yields, which no to-morrow presses. Let this one day be longed for by us. What have we to do with a thousand days? We go from the thousand days to one day; let us hasten to that one day,(3) as we go from strength to strength.
15. "I have chosen to be cast away in the house of the Lord, rather than to dwell in the tents of sinners" (verse 11). For he found the valley of weeping, he found humility by which he might rise: he knoweth that if he would raise himself he shall fall, if he humble himself he shall be exalted: he hath chosen to be cast away, that he may be raised up. How many beside this tabernacle of the Lord's winepress, that is beside the Catholic Church, wishing to be lifted up, and loving their honours, refuse to see the truth. If this verse had been in their heart, would they not cast away honours, and run to the valley of weeping, and hence find in their heart the way of ascent, and hence go from virtues to virtue, placing their hope in Christ, not in some man or another? A good word is this, a word to rejoice in, a word to be chosen. He himself chose to be cast away in the house of the Lord; but He who invited him to the feast, when he chose a lower place calleth him to a higher one, and saith unto him, "Go up higher."(4) Yet he chose not but to be in the house of the Lord, in any part of it, so that he were not outside the threshold.
16. Wherefore did he choose? ... "Because God loveth mercy and truth" (verse 12). The Lord loveth mercy, by which He first came to my help: He loveth truth, so as to give to him that believeth what He has promised.(5) Hear in the case of the Apostle Paul, His mercy and truth, Paul who was first Saul the persecutor. He needed mercy, and he has said that it was shown towards him: "I who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, that in me Christ Jesus might show forth all longsuffering towards those who shall believe in Him unto life eternal."(6) So that, when Paul received pardon of such great crimes, no one should despair of any sins whatever being forgiven him. Lo! Thou hast Mercy. ... Lo, we see that Paul holdeth Him a debtor, having received mercy, demanding truth. The Lord, he says, shall give back in that day. What shall He give thee back, but that which He oweth thee? How oweth He unto thee? What hast thou given Him? "Who hath first given unto Him, and it shall be restored to him again."(5) The Lord Himself hath made Himself a debtor, not by receiving, but by promising: it is not said unto Him, Restore what Thou hast received: but, Restore what Thou hast promised. He hath shown mercy unto me, he saith, that He might make me innocent: for before I was a blasphemer and injurious: but by His grace I have been made innocent. But He who first showed mercy, can He deny His debt? "He loveth mercy and truth. He will give grace and glory." What grace, but that of which the same one said: "By the grace of God I am what I am"?(7) What glory, but that of which he said, "There is laid up. for me a crown of glory"?(8)
17. Therefore "the Lord will not withhold good from those who walk in innocence" (verse 12). Why then, O men, are ye unwilling to keep innocence, except in order that ye may have good things? ... Thou seest wealth in the hands of robbers, of the impious, the wicked, the base; in the hands of scandalous and criminal men thou seest wealth: God giveth them these things on account of their fellowship in the human race, for the abundant overflowing of His goodness: who also "maketh His sun to rise upon the good and the evil, and causeth it to rain upon the righteous and upon the sinners."(1) Giveth He so much to the wicked, and keepeth nothing for thee? He keepeth something: be at ease, He who had mercy on thee when thou wast impious, doth He desert thee when thou hast become pious? He who gave to the sinner the free gift of His Son's death, what keepeth He for the saved through that death? Therefore be at ease. Hold Him a debtor, for thou hast believed in Him promising. What then remains for us here, in the winepress, in affliction, in hardship, in our present dangerous life? What remains for us, that we may arrive thither? "O Lord God of virtues, blessed is the man that putteth his hope in Thee."
Augustin on Psalms 83