Augustine on NT 61
61 On the words of the gospel, Mt 7,7 “Ask, and it shall be given you;” etc. An exhortation to alms-deeds.
1. In the lesson of the Holy Gospel the Lord hath exhorted us to prayer. “Ask,” saith He, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?1 Or if he ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?2 If ye then,” saith He, “though ye be evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?3 Though ye be evil,” He saith, “ye know how to give good gifts unto your children.” A marvellous thing, Brethren! we are evil: yet have we a good Father. What is more evident? We have heard our proper name: “Though ye be evil, ye know how to give good gifts unto your children.” And now see what kind of Father He showeth them, whom he called evil. “How much more shall your Father?” Father of whom? undoubtedly of the evil. And what kind of Father? “None is good but God only.”4
2. For this cause have we who are evil a good Father, that we may not always continue evil. No evil man can make another man good. If no evil man can make another good, how can an evil man make himself good? He only can make of an evil man a good man, who is good eternally. “Heal me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.”5 Why then do those vain ones6 say to me in words vain as themselves, “Thou canst save thyself if thou wilt”? “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.” We were created good by The Good; for “God made man upright,”7 but by our own free will, we became evil. We had power from being good to become evil, and we shall have power from being evil to become good. But it is He who is ever Good, who maketh the good out of the evil; for man by his own will had no power to heal himself. Thou dost not look out for a physician to wound thyself; but when thou hast wounded thyself, thou lookest out for one to cure thee. Good things then after the time present, temporal good things, such as are concerned with the body and flesh, we do know how to give to our children, even though we are evil. For even these are good things, who would doubt it? A fish, an egg, bread, fruit, wheat, the light we see, the air we breathe, all these are good; the very riches by which men are lifted up, and which make them loth to acknowledge other men to be their equals; by which, I say, men are lifted up rather in love of their dazzling clothing, than with any thought of their common nature, even these riches, I repeat, are good; but all these goods which I have now mentioned may be possessed by good and bad alike; and though they be good themselves, yet cannot they make their owners good.
3. A good then there is which maketh good, and a good there is whereby thou mayest do good. The Good which maketh good is God. For none can make man good, save He who is Good eternally. Therefore that thou mayest be good, call upon God. But there is another good whereby thou mayest do good, and that is, whatever thou mayest possess. There is gold, there is silver; they are good, not such as can make thee good, but whereby thou mayest do good. Thou hast gold and silver, and thou desirest more gold and silver. Thou both hast, and desirest to have; thou art at once full, and thirsty. This is a disease, not opulence. When men are in the dropsy,8 they are full of water, and yet are always thirsty. They are full of water, and yet they thirst for water. How then canst thou take pleasure in opulence, who hast thereby this dropsical desire? Gold then thou hast, it is good; yet thou hast not whereby thou canst be made good, but whereby thou canst do good. Dost thou ask, What good can I do with gold? Hast thou not heard in the Psalm, “He hath dispersed abroad, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness remaineth for ever.”9 This is good, this is the good whereby thou art made good; righteousness. If thou have the good whereby thou art made good, do good with that good which cannot make thee good. Thou hast money, deal it out freely. By dealing it out freely, thou increasest righteousness. “For he hath dispersed abroad, hath distributed, hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth for ever.” See what is diminished and what increased. Thy money is diminished, thy righteousness increased. That is diminished which thou must soon have lost, that diminished which thou must soon have left behind thee; that increased which thou shalt possess for ever.
4. It is then a secret of gainful dealing I am giving; learn so to trade. For thou dost commend the merchant who selleth lead and getteth gold, and wilt thou not commend the merchant, who layeth out money, and getteth righteousness? But thou wilt say, I do not lay out my money, because I have not righteousness. Let him who has righteousness lay his money out; I have not righteousness, so at least let me have my money. Dost thou not then wish to lay out thy money, because thou hast not righteousness? Yea, lay it out then rather that thou mayest have righteousness. For from whence shalt thou have righteousness but from God, the Fountain of righteousness? Therefore, if thou wilt have righteousness, be God’s beggar, who just now out of the Gospel urged thee to ask, and seek, and knock. He knew His beggar, and lo the Householder, the mighty rich One, rich, to wit, in riches spiritual and eternal, exhorteth thee and saith, “Ask, seek, knock; he that asketh receiveth, he that seeketh findeth, to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”10 He exhorteth thee to ask, and will he refuse thee what thou askest?
5. Consider a similitude or comparison drawn from a contrary case (as of that unjust judge), which is an encouragement to us to prayer. “There was,” saith the Lord, “in a city a certain judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man.”11 A certain widow importuned him daily, and said, “Avenge me.” He would not for a long time; but she ceased not to petition, and he did through her importunity what he would not of his own good will.12 For thus by a contrary case hath He recommended us to pray.
6. Again, He saith, “A certain man to whom some guest had come, went to his friend, and began to knock and say, A guest is come to me,lend me three loaves.” He answered, “I am already in bed, and my servants with me.” The other does not leave off, but stands and presses his case, and knocks and begs as one friend of another. And what saith He? “I say unto you that he riseth, and not because of his friendship,” but “because of the other’s importunity he giveth him as many as he wanted. Not because of his friendship,” though he is his friend, but “because of his importunity.”13 What is the meaning of “because of his importunity?” Because he did not leave off knocking; because even when his request was refused, he did not turn away. He who was not willing to give, gave what was asked, because the other fainted not in asking. How much more then shall that Good One give who exhorteth us to ask, who is displeased if we ask not? But when at times He giveth somewhat slowly, it is that He is showing us the value of His good14 things; not that He refuses them. Things which have been long desired, are obtained with the greater pleasure,whereas those which are given quickly, are held cheap. Ask then, seek, be instant. By the very asking and seeking thou dost grow so as to contain the more. God is keeping in reserve for thee, what it is not His will to give thee quickly, that thou mayest learn for great things to long with great desire. Therefore “ought we always to pray, and not to faint.”15
7. If then God hath made us His beggars by admonishing, and exhorting, and commanding us to ask, and seek, and knock, let us for our part pay regard to those who ask from us. We ask, and from whom do we ask? Who are we that ask? What do we ask? From whom, or who are we, or what is it that we ask? We ask of the Good God; and we that ask are evil men; but we ask for righteousness, whereby we may be good. We ask then for that which we may have for ever, wherewith when we shall be filled, we shall want no more. But in order that we may be filled, let us hunger and thirst; hungering and thirsting, let us ask, and seek, and knock. “For blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”16 Wherefore are they blessed? They do hunger and thirst, and are they blessed? Is want ever a blessing? They are not blessed in that they hunger and thirst, but in that they will be filled. There will there be blessedness, in the fulness, not in the hunger. But hunger must go before the fulness, that no loathing attach to the bread.
8. We have said then, from whom it is that we ask, and who we are that ask, and what we ask. But we also are asked ourselves. For we are God’s mendicants; that He may acknowledge His mendicants, let us on our part acknowledge ours. But let us think in this case again, when anything is asked of us, who they are that ask, from whom they ask, and what they ask? Who then are they that ask? Men. From whom do they ask? From men. Who are they that ask? Mortals. From whom? From mortals. Who are they that ask? Frail beings. From whom? From frail beings. Who are they that ask? Wretches. And from whom? From wretches. Excepting in the matter of wealth, they that ask are as they of whom they ask. With what face canst thou ask before thy lord, who dost not acknowledge thine own equal? “I am not,”he will say, “as he is,” far be it from me to be such as he. It is thus that one clad in silk, and puffed up with pride, speaks of one who is wrapped in rags. But I ask you when you both are stripped. I ask you not as you are now when clothed, but as you were when you were first born. Both were naked, both weak, beginning a life of misery, and therefore beginning it with cries.
9. See then, recall, O rich man, to mind thy first beginnings; see whether thou broughtest anything into the world. Now thou hast come indeed, and hast found so great abundance. But tell me, I pray thee, what didst thou bring hither? Tell me, or if thou art ashamed to say, hear the Apostle. “We brought nothing into this world.”17 He saith, “We brought nothing into this world.” But perhaps because thou broughtest in nothing, but yet hast found much here, thou wilt take away something hence? This too, peradventure through love of riches, thou art afraid to confess. Hear this also, and let the Apostle who will not flatter, tell thee. “We brought nothing into this world,” to wit when we were born; “neither can we carry anything out,” to wit when we shall depart out of the world. Thou broughtest in nothing, and thou shalt carry nothing away. Why then dost thou puff up thyself against the poor man? When infants first are born, let only the parents, servants, dependants, and the crowds of obsequious attendants, get out of the way; and then let the wealthy children with their cries be recognised. Let the rich woman and the poor give birth together; let them take no notice of their children, let them go away for a little while; then let them return, and recognise them if they can. See then, O rich man, “thou broughtest nothing into this world; neither canst thou carry anything out.” What I have said of them at their birth, I may say of them in death.If it be not so, when by any chance old sepulchres are broken up, let the bones of the rich be recognised if they can. Therefore, thou rich man, give ear to the Apostle, “We brought nothing into this world.” Acknowledge it, true it is. “Neither can we carry anything out.” Acknowledge it, this is true also.
10. What follows then? “Having food and covering, let us be therewith content; for they who wish to be rich fall into temptation, and many and hurtful lusts, which drown then in destruction and perdition. For avarice is the root of all evil, which some following after, have erred from the faith.”18 Now consider what they have abandoned. Grieved thou art that they have abandoned this, but see now in what they have entangled themselves. Hear; “They have erred from the faith, and entangled themselves in many sorrows.” But who? “They who wish to be rich.” It is one thing to be rich, another to wish to become rich. He is rich, who is born of rich parents, and he is rich not because he wished it, but because many left him their inheritances. His19 wealth I see, I make no question as to the pleasure he takes in it. In this Scripture it is covetousness that is condemned, not gold, or silver, or riches, but covetousness. For they who do not wish to become rich, or do not care about it, who do not burn with covetous desires, nor are inflamed by the fires of avarice, but who yet are rich, let them hear the Apostle (it has been read to-day), “Charge them that are rich in this world.”20 Charge them what? Charge them before all things, not to be proud in their conceits, for there is nothing which riches do so much generate as pride. Each several fruit, each several grain of corn, each several tree, has its peculiar worm, and the worm of the apple is of one kind, and of the pear another, and of the bean another, and of the wheat another. The worm of riches is21 pride.
11. “Charge therefore the rich of this world that they be not proud in their conceits.” He hath shut out the abuse,22 let him teach now the proper use. “That they be not proud in their conceits.” But whence cometh the defence against pride? From that which follows: “Nor trust in the uncertainty of riches.” They who trust not in the uncertainty of riches, are not proud in their conceits. If they be not proud in their conceits,” let them fear. If they fear, they are not proud in their conceits. How many are they who were rich yesterday, and are poor to-day? How many go to sleep rich, and through robbers coming and taking all away, wake up poor? Therefore “charge them not to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the Living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy,” things temporal, and things eternal. But things eternal more for enjoyment, the things temporal for use. Things temporal as for travellers, things eternal as for inhabitants. Things temporal, whereby we may do good; things eternal, whereby we may be made good. Therefore let the rich do this, “Let them not be proud in their conceits, nor trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the Living God,who giveth us all things richly to enjoy.” Let them do this. But what can they do with what they have? Hear what. “Let them be rich in good works, let them easily distribute.”23 For they have wherewithal. Why then do they not do it? Poverty is a hard estate. But they may give easily, for they have the means. “Let them communicate,” that is, let them acknowledge their fellow-mortals as their equals. “Let them communicate, let them lay up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come.”24 For, saith he, when I say, Let them distribute easily, let them communicate,” I have no wish to spoil, or strip them, or leave them empty. It is a painful lesson I teach; I show them a place to put their goods, “let them lay up in store for themselves.” For I have no wish that they should remain in poverty. “Let them lay upfor themselves in store.” I do not bid them lose their goods, but I show them whither to remove them. “Let them lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may hold on the true25 life.” The present then is a false life; let them lay hold on the true life·“For it is vanity of vanities, and all is vanity. What so great abundance hath man in all his labour, wherewith he laboureth under the sun?”26 Therefore the true life must be laid hold upon, our riches must be removed to the place of the true life, that we may find there what we give here. He makeththis exchange of our goods who also changeth ourselves.
12. Give then, my brethren, to the poor, “Having food and covering, let us be therewith content.” The rich man has nothing from his riches, but what the poor man begs of him, food and covering. What more hast thou from all that thou possessest? Thou hast got food andnecessary covering. Necessary I say, not useless, not superfluous. What more dost thou get from thy riches? Tell me. Assuredly all thou hast more will be superfluous. Let thy super fluities then be the poor man’s necessaries. But thou wilt say, I get costly banquets, I feed on costly meats. But the poor man, what does he feed on? On cheap food; the poor man feeds on cheap, and I, says he, on costly meats. Well, I ask you, when you both are filled, the costly enters into thee, but when it is once entered, what does it become? If we had but looking-glasses within us, should we not be put to shame for all the costly meat whereby thou hast been filled? The poor man hungers, and so does the rich; the poor man seeks to be filled, so does the rich. The poor man is filled with inexpensive, the rich with costly meats. Both are filled alike, the object27 whither both wish to attain is one and the same, only the one reaches it by a short, the other by a circuitous way. But thou wilt say, I relish better my costly food. True, and it is hard for thee to be satisfied, dainty as thou art. Thou knowest not the relish of that which hunger seasons.28 Not that I have said this to force the rich to feed on the meat and drink of the poor. Let the rich use what their infirmity has accustomed them to; but let them be sorry, that they are not able to do otherwise. For it would be better for them if they could. If then the poor man be not puffed up for his poverty, why shouldest thou for thine infirmity? Use then choice, and costly meats, because thou art so accustomed, because thou canst not do otherwise, because if thou dost change thy custom,thou art made ill. I grant thee this, make use of superfluities, but give to the poor necessaries; make use of costly meats, but give to the poor inexpensive food. He is looking to receive from thee, and thou art looking to receive from God; he is looking to the hand which was made as he was, and thou art looking to the hand that made thee, and made not thee only, but the poor man with thee. He set you both one and the same journey, this present life: you have found yourselves companions in it, you are walking one way: he is carrying nothing, thou art loaded excessively: he is carrying nothing with him, thou art carrying with thee more than thou dost need. Thou art loaded: give him of that thou hast; so shalt thou at once feed him, and lessen thine own burden.
13. Give then to the poor; I beg, I advise, I charge, I command you. Give to the poor whatever ye will. For I will not conceal from you, Beloved, why it is that I have deemed it necessary to deliver this discourse to you. As I am going to and from the Church, the poor importune me, and beg me to speak to you, that they may receive something of you. They have urged me to speak to you; and when they see that they receive nothing from you, they suppose that all my labour among you is in vain. Something also they expect from me. I give them all I can; but have I the means sufficient to supply all their necessities? Forasmuch then as I have not means sufficient to supply all their necessity, I am at least their ambassador to you. You have heard and applauded; God be thanked. You have received the seed, you have returned an answer. But these your commendations weigh me down rather, and expose me to danger. I bear them, and tremble whilst I bear them. Nevertheless, my brethren, these your commendations are but the tree’s leaves; it is the fruit I am in quest of.
1 (Mt 7,7-10.
2 (Lc 11,12
3 (Mt 7,11).
4 (Lc 18,19
5 (Jr 17,14
7 (Qo 7,29
9 (Ps 112,9
10 (Mt 7,8).
11 (Lc 18,2
13 (Lc 11,5 etc.
15 (Lc 18,1
16 (Mt 5,6
17 (1Tm 6,7).
18 1Tm 6,8-10.
19 Video facultates non interrogo voluptates.
20 (1Tm 6,17
21 Sermon 35 (85, Bened). 3.
23 (1Tm 6,18 Vulgate.
24 1Tm 6,19.
25 Veram, Vulgate.
26 (Qo 1,2-3), Sept).
62 And of the words of the apostle, 1Co 8,10 “for if a man see thee who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol’s temple,” etc.
1). We have heard, as the Gospel was being read, the praise of our faith as manifested in humility. For when the Lord Jesus promised that He would go to the Centurion’s house to heal His servant, He answered, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and he shall be healed.”1 By calling himself unworthy, he showed himself worthy for Christ to come not into his house, but into his heart. Nor would he have said this with so great faith and humility, had he not borne Him in his heart, of whose coming into his house he was afraid. For it were no great happiness for the Lord Jesus to enter into his house, and vet not to be in his heart. For this Master of humility both by word and example, sat down even in the house of a certain proud Pharisee, by name Simon;2 and though He sat down in his house, there was no place in this heart, “where the Son of Man could lay His Head.”3
2. For so, as we may understand from the words of the Lord Himself, did He call back from His discipleship a certain proud man, who of his own accord was desirous to go with Him. “Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.”4 And the Lord seeing in his heart what was invisible, said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head.”5 That is, in thee, guile like the fox doth dwell, and pride as the birds of heaven. But the Son of Man simple as opposed to guile, lowly as opposed to pride, hath not where to lay His Head; and this very laying, not the raising up of the head, teaches humility. Therefore doth He call back this one who was desirous to go, and another who refused He draweth onward. For in the same place He saith to a certain man, “Follow Me.” And he said, “I will follow Thee, Lord, but let me first go and bury my father.”6 His excuse was indeed a dutiful one: and therefore was he the more worthy to have his excuse removed, and his calling confirmed. What he wished to do was an act of dutifulness; but the Master taught him what he ought to prefer. For He wished him to be a preacher of the living word, to make others live. But there were others by whom that first necessary office might be fulfilled. “Let the dead,” He saith, “bury their dead.” When unbelievers bury a dead body, the dead bury the dead. The body of the one hath lost its soul, the soul of the others hath lost God. For as the soul is the life of the body; so is God the life of the soul. As the body expires when it loses the soul, so doth the soul expire when it loses God. The loss of God is the death of the soul: the loss of the soul the death of the body. The death of the body is necessary; the death of the soul voluntary.
3. The Lord then sat down in the house of a certain proud Pharisee. He was in his house, as I have said, and was not in his heart. But into this centurion’s house He entered not, yet He possessed his heart. Zacchaeus again received the Lord both in house and heart.7 Yet the centurion’s faith is praised for its humility. For he said, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof;”8 and the Lord said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel;”9 according to the flesh, that is. For he too was an Israelite undoubtedly according to the spirit. The Lord had come to fleshly Israel, that is, to the Jews, there to seek first for the lost sheep, among this people, and of this people also He had assumed His Body. “I have not found there so great faith,” He saith. We can but measure the faith of men, as men can judge of it; but He who saw the inward parts, He whom no man can deceive, gave His testimony to this man’s heart, hearing words of lowliness, and pronouncing a sentence of healing.
4. But whence did he get such confidence? “I also,” saith he, “am a man set under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh: and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”10 I am an authority to certain who are placed under me, being myself placed under a certain authority above me. If then I a man under authority have the power of commanding, what power must Thou have, whom all powers serve? Now this man was of the Gentiles, for he was a centurion. At that time the Jewish nation had soldiers of the Roman empire among them. There he was engaged in a military life, according to the extent of a centurion’s authority, both under authority himself, and having authority over others; as a subject obedient, ruling others who were under him. But the Lord (and mark this especially, Beloved, as need there is you should), though He was among the Jewish people only, even now announced beforehand that the Church should be in the whole world, for the establishment of which He would send Apostles; Himself not seen, yet believed on by the Gentiles: by the Jews seen, and put to death. For as the Lord did not in body enter into this man’s house, and still, though in body absent, yet present in majesty, healed his faith, and his house; so the same Lord also was in body among the Jewish people only: among the other nations He was neither born of a Virgin, nor suffered, nor walked, nor endured His human sufferings, nor wrought His divine miracles. None of all this took place in the rest of the nations, and yet was that fulfilled which was spoken of Him, “A people whom I have not known, hath served Me.” And how if it did not know Him? “Hath obeyed Me by the hearing of the ear.”11 The Jewish nation knew, and crucified Him; the whole world besides heard and believed.
5. This absence, so to say, of His body, and presence of His power among all nations, He signified also in the instance of that woman who had touched the edge of His garment, when He asketh, saying, “Who touched Me?”12 He asketh, as though He were absent; as though present, He healeth. “The multitude,” say the disciples, “press Thee, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me?” For as if He were so walking as not to be touched by anybody at all, He said, “Who touched Me?” And they answer, “The multitude press Thee.” And the Lord would seem to say, I am asking for one who touched, not for one who pressed Me. In this case also is His Body now, that is, His Church. The faith of the few “touches” it, the throng of the many “press” it. For ye have heard, as being her children, that Christ’s Body is the Church, and if ye will, ye yourselves are so. This the Apostle says in many places, “For His body’s sake, which is the Church;”13 and again, “But ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”14 If then we are His body, what His body then suffered in the crowd, that doth His Church suffer now. It is pressed by many, touched by few. The flesh presses it, faith touches it. Lift up therefore your eyes, I beseech you, ye who have wherewithal to see. For ye have before you something to see. Lift up the eyes of faith, touch but the extreme border of His garment, it will be sufficient for saving health.
6. See ye how that which ye have heard out of the Gospel was at that time to come is now present. Therefore, said He, on occasion of the commendation of the Centurion’s faith, as in the flesh an alien, but of the household in heart, “Therefore I say unto you, Many shall come front the east and west.”15 Not all, but “many;” yet they shall “come from the East and West;” the whole world is denoted by these two parts. “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” “But the children of the kingdom,” the Jews, namely. And how “the children of the kingdom”? Because they received the Law; to them the Prophets were sent, with them was the temple and the Priesthood; they celebrated the figures of all the things to come. Yet of what things they celebrated the figures, they acknowledged not the presence. And, “Therefore the children of the kingdom,” He saith, shall go into outer darkness, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” And so we see the Jews reprobate, and Christians called from the East and West, to the heavenly banquet, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, where the bread is righteousness, and the16 cup wisdom.
7. Consider then, brethren, for of these are ye; ye are of this people, even then foretold, and now exhibited.17 Yes, verily, ye are of those who have been called from the East and West, to sit down in the kingdom of heaven, not in the temple of idols. Be ye then the Body of Christ, not the pressure of His Body. Ye have the border of His garment to touch, that ye may be healed of the issue of blood, that is, of carnal pleasures. Ye have, I say, the border of the garment to touch. Look upon the Apostles as the garment, by the texture of unity clinging closely to the sides of Christ. Among these Apostles was Paul, as it were the border, the least and last; as he saith himself, “I am the least of the Apostles.”18 In a garment the last and least thing is the border. The border is in appearance contemptible, yet is it touched with saving efficacy.19 “Even to this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted.”20 What state so low, so contemptible as this! Touch then, if thou art suffering from a bloody flux. There will go power out of Him whose garment it is, and it will heal thee. The border was proposed to you just now to be touched, when out of the same Apostle there was read, “For if any one see him which hath knowledge sit at meat in an idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him who is weak, be emboldened to eat things offered to idols? And through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ died!”21 How think ye may men be deceived by idols, which they suppose are honoured by Christians? A man may say, “God knows my heart.” Yes, but thy brother did not know thy heart. If thou art weak, beware of a still greater weakness; if thou art strong, have a care of thy brother’s weakness. They who see what you do, are emboldened to do more, so as to desire not only to eat, but also to sacrifice there. And lo, “Through thy knowledge the weak brother perisheth.” Hear then, my brother; if thou didst disregard the weak, wouldest thou disregard a brother also? Awake. What if so thou sin against Christ Himself? For attend to what thou canstnot by any means disregard. “But,” saith he,“when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience ye sin against Christ.”22 Let them who disregard these words, go now, land sit at meat in the idol’s temple; will they not be of those who press, and do not touch. And when they have been at meat in the idol’s I temple, let them come and fill the Church; not to receive saving health, but to make a pressure there.
8. But thou wilt say, I am afraid lest I offend those above me. By all means be afraid of offending them, and so thou wilt not offend God. For thou who art afraid lest thou offend those above thee, see whether there be not One above him whom thou art afraid of offending. By all means then be loth to offend those above thee. This is an established rule with thee. But then is it not plain, that he must on no account be offended, who is above all others? Run over now the list of those above thee. First are thy father and mother, if they are educating theearight; if they are bringing thee up for Christ; they are to be heard in all things, they must be obeyed in every command; let them enjoin nothing against one above themselves, and so let them be obeyed. And who, thou wilt say, is above him who begat me? He who created thee. For man begets, but God creates. How it is that man begets, he does not know; and what he shall beget, he does not know. But He who saw thee that He might make thee, before that he whom He made existed, is surely above thy father. Thy country again should be above thy very parents; so that whereinsoever thy parents enjoin aught against thy country, they are not to be listened to. And whatsoever thy country enjoin against God, it is not to be listened to. For if thou wilt be healed, if after the issue of blood, if after twelve years’ continuance in that disease, if after having spent thine all upon physicians, and not having received health, thou dost wish at length to he made whole; O woman, whom I am addressing as a figure of the Church, thy father enjoineth thee this, and thy people that. But thy Lord saith to thee, “Forget thine own people, and thy father’s house.”23 For what good? for what advantage? with what useful result? “Because the King hath desired thy beauty.” He hath desired what He made, since when deformed He loved thee, that He might make thee beautiful. For thee unbelieving, and deformed, He shed His Blood, and He made thee faithful and beauteous, He hath loved His own gifts in thee. For what didst thou bring to thy spouse? What didst thou receive for dowry from thy former father, and former people? Was it not the excesses24 and the rags of sins? Thy rags He cast away, thy robe impure25 He tore asunder. He pitied thee that He might adorn thee. He adorned thee, that He might love thee.
9. What need of more, Brethren. Ye are Christians, and have heard, that “If ye sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” Do not disregard it, if ye would not be wiped out of the book of life. How long shall I go about to speak in bright and pleasing terms to you, what my grief forceth me to speak in some sort, and will not suffer me to keep secret? Whosoever they are who are minded to disregard these things, and sin against Christ, let them only consider what they are doing. We wish the rest of the Heathen to be gathered in; and ye are stones in their way: they have a wish to come; they stumble, and so return. For they say in their hearts, Why should we leave the gods whom the very Christians worship as we do? God forbid, thou wilt say, that I should worship the gods of the Gentiles. I know, I understand, I believe thee. But what account art thou making of the consciences of the weak which thou art wounding? What account art thou making of their price, if thou disregard the purchase? Consider for how great a price was the purchase made. “Through thy knowledge,” saith the Apostle, “shall the weak brother perish;” that knowledge which thou professest to have, in that thou knowest that an idol is nothing, and that in thy mind thou art thinking only of God, and so sittest down in the idol’s temple. In this knowledge the weak brother perisheth. And lest thou shouldest pay no regard to the weak brother, he added, “for whom Christ died.” If thou wouldest disregard him, yet consider his Price, and weigh the whole world in the balance with the Blood of Christ. And lest thou shouldest still think that thou art sinning against a weak brother, and so esteem it after that he had heard that he was “Peter” a a trivial fault, and of small account, he saith, “Ye sin against Christ.” For men are in the habit of saying, I sin against man; am I sinning against God?” Deny then that Christ is God. Dost thou dare deny that Christ is God? Hast thou learned this other doctrine, when thou didst sit at meat in the idol’s temple? The school of Christ doth not admit that doctrine. I ask; Where learnedst thou that Christ is not God? The Pagans are wont to say so. Seest thou what bad associations26 do? Seest thou, “that evil communications corrupt good manners?”27 There thou canst not speak of the Gospel, and thou dost hear others talking of idols. There thou losest the truth that Christ is God; and what thou dost drink in there, thou vomitest out in the Church. It may be thou art bold enough to speak here; bold enough to mutter among the crowds; “Was not then Christ a man? Was He not crucified?” This hast thou learned of the Pagans. Thou hast lost thy soul’s health, thou hast not touched the border. On this point then touch again the border, and receive health. As I taught thee to touch it in this that is written, “Whoso seeth a brother sit at meat in the idol’s temple;”28 touch it also concerning the Divinity of Christ. The same border said of the Jews, “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever,”29 Behold, against Whom, even the Very God, thou dost sin, when thou sittest down with false gods.
10. It is no god, you will say; because it is the tutelary genius of Carthage. As though if it were Mars or Mercury, it would be a god. But consider in what light it is esteemed by them; not what it is in itself. For I know also as well as thou, that it is but a stone. If this “genius” be any ornament, let the citizens of Carthage live well; and they themselves will be this “genius” of Carthage. But if the “genius” be a devil, ye have heard in that same Scripture, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.”30 We know well that it is no God; would that they knew it too! but because of those weak ones who do not know it, their conscience ought not to be wounded. It is this that the Apostle warns us of. For that they regard that statue as something divine, and take it for a god, the altar is witness. What does the altar there, if it be not accounted a god? Let no one tell me; it is no deity, it is no God. I have said already, “Would that they only knew this, as we all do.” But how they regard it, for what they take it, and what they do about it, that altar is witness. It is convincing against the intentions of all who worship there, grant that it may not be convincing also against those who sit at meat with them!
11. Yes, let not Christians press the Church, if the Pagans do. She is the Body of Christ. Were we not saying, that the Body of Christ was pressed, and not touched. He endured those who pressed Him; and was looking out for those who “touched” Him. And, Brethren, I would that if the Body of Christ be pressed by Pagans, by whom it is wont to be pressed; that at least Christians would not press the Body of Christ. Brethren, it is my business to speak to you, my business it is to speak to Christians; “For what have I to do to judge them that are without?”31 the Apostle himself saith. Them we address in another way, as being weak. With them we must32 deal softly, that they may hear the truth; in you the corruption must be cut out. If ye ask whereby the Pagans are to be gained over, whereby they are to be illuminated, and called to salvation; forsake their solemnities, forsake their trifling shows; and then if they do not consent to our truth, let them blush at their own scantiness.
12. If he who is over thee be a good man, he is thy nourisher; if a bad man, he is thy tempter. Receive the nourishment in the one case with gladness, and in the temptation show thyself approved. Be thou gold. Regard this world as the furnace of the goldsmith; in one narrow place are there things, gold, chaff, fire. To the two former the fire is applied, the chaff is burned, and the gold purified. A man has yielded to threats, and been led away to the idol’s temple: Alas! I bewail the chaff; I see the ashes. Another has not yet yielded to threats nor terrors; has been brought before the judge, and stood firm in his confession, and has not bent down to the idol image: what does the flame with him? Does it not purify the gold? Stand, fast then, Brethren, in the Lord; greater in power, is He who hath called you. Be not afraid of the threats of the ungodly. Bear with your enemies; in them ye have those for whom ye may pray; let them by no means terrify you. This is saving health, draw out in this feast here from this source; here drink that wherewith ye may be satisfied, and not in those other feasts, that only whereby ye may be maddened. Stand fast in the Lord. Ye are silver, ye shall be gold. This similitude is not our own, it is out of Holy Scripture. Ye have read and heard, “As gold in the furnace hath He tried them, and received them as a burnt-offering.”33 See what ye shall be among the treasures of God. Be ye rich as touching God, not as if to make Him rich, but as to become rich from Him. Let Him replenish you; admit nought else into your heart.
13. Do we lift up ourselves unto pride, or tell you to be despisers against the powers ordained? Not so. Do ye again who are sick on this point, touch also that border of the garment? The Apostle himself saith, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God. He then who resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.”34 But what if it enjoin what thou oughtest not to do? In this case by all means disregard the power through fear of Power. Consider these several grades of human powers. If the magistrate35 enjoin anything, must it not be done? Yet if his order be in opposition to the Proconsul, thou dost not surely despise the power, but choosest to obey a greater power. Nor in this case ought the less to be angry, if the greater be preferred. Again, if the Proconsul himself enjoin anything, and the Emperor another thing, is there any doubt, that disregarding the former, we ought to obey the latter? So then if the Emperor enjoin one thing, and God another, what judge ye? Pay me tribute, submit thyself to my allegiance. Right, but not in an idol’s temple. In an idol’s temple He forbids it. Who forbids it? A greater Power. Pardon me then: thou threatenest a prison, He threateneth hell. Here must thou at once take to thee thy “faith as a shield, whereby thou mayest be able to quench all the fiery darts of the enemy.”36
14. But one of these powers is plotting, and contriving evil designs against thee. Well: he is but sharpening the razor wherewith to shave the hair, but not to cut the head. Ye have but just now heard this that I have said in the Psalm, “Thou hast worked deceit like a sharp razor.”37 Why did He compare the deceit of a wicked man in power to a razor? Because it does not reach, save to our superfluous parts. As hairs on our body seem as it were superfluous, and are shaven off without any loss of the flesh; so whatsoever an angry man in power can take from thee, count only among thy superfluities. He takes away thy poverty; can he take away thy wealth? Thy poverty is thy wealth in thy heart. Thy superfluous things only hath he power to take away, these only hath he power to injure, even though he had license given him so far as to hurt the body. Yea even this life itself to those whose thoughts are of another life, this present life, I say, may be reckoned among the things superfluous. For so the Martyrs have despised it. They did not lose life, but they gained Life.
15. Be sure, Brethren, that enemies have no power against the faithful, except so far as it profiteth them to be tempted and proved. Of this be sure, Brethren, let no one say ought against it. Cast all your care upon the Lord, throw yourselves wholly and entirely upon Him. He will not withdraw Himself that ye should fall. He who created us, hath given us security touching our very hairs. “Verily I say unto you, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”38 Our hairs are numbered by God; how much more is our conduct known to Him to whom our hairs are thus known? See then, how that God doth not disregard our least things. For if He disregarded them, He would not create them. For He verily both created our hairs, and still taketh count of them. But thou wilt say, though they are preserved at present, perhaps they will perish. On this point also hear His word, “Verily I say unto you, there shall not an hair of your head perish.”39 Why art thou afraid of man, O man, whose place is in the Bosom of God? Fall not out of His Bosom; whatsoever thou shall suffer there, will avail to thy salvation, not to thy destruction. Martyrs have endured the tearing of their limbs, and shall Christians fear the injuries of Christian times? He who would do thee an injury now,can only do it in fear. He does not say openly,come to the idol-feast; he does not say openly, come to my altars, and banquet there. And if he should say so, and thou wast to refuse, let him make a complaint of it, let him bring it as an accusation and charge against thee: “He would not come to my altars, he would not come to my temple, where I worship.” Let him say this. He does not dare; but in his guile he contrives another attack. Make ready thy hair; he is sharpening the razor; he is about to take off thy superfluous things, to shave what thou must soon leave behind thee. Let him take off what shall endure, if he can. This powerful enemy, what has he taken away? what great thing has he taken away? That which a thief or housebreaker could take: in his utmost rage, he can but take what a robber can. Even if he should have license given him to the slaying of the very body, what does he take away, but what the robber can take? I did him too much honour, when I said, “a robber.” For be the robber who and what he may, he is a man. He takes from thee what a fever, or an adder, or a poisonous mushroom can take. Here lies the whole power of the rage of men, to do what a mushroom can! Men eat a poisonous mushroom, and they die. Lo! in what frail estate is the life of man; which sooner or later thou must abandon; do not struggle then in such wise for it, as that thou shouldest be abandoned thyself.
16. Christ is our Life; think then of Christ. He came to suffer, but also to be glorified; to be despised, but to be exalted also; to die; but also to rise again. If the labour alarm thee, see its reward. Why dost thou wish to arrive by softness at that to which nothing but hard labour can lead? Now thou art afraid, lest thou shouldest lose thy money; because thou earnest thy money with great labour. If thou didst not attain to thy money, which thou must some time or other lose, at all events when thou diest, without labour, wouldest thou desire without labour to attain to the Life eternal? Let that be of higher value in thine eyes, to which after all thy labours thou shalt in such sort attain as never more to lose it. If this money, to which thou hast attained after all thy labours on such condition as that thou must some time lose it, be of high value with thee; how much more ought we to long after those things which are everlasting!
17. Give no credit to their words, neither be afraid of them. They say that we are enemies of their idols. May God so grant, and give all into our power, as He hath already given us that which we have broken down. For this I say, Beloved, that ye may not attempt to do it, when it is not lawfully in your power to do it; for it is the way of ill-regulated men, and the mad Circumcelliones,40 both to be violent when they have no power, and to be ever eager in their wishes to die without a cause. Ye heard what we read to you, all of you who were present in the Mappalia.41 “When the land shall have been given into your power (he saith first, “into your power,” and so enjoined what was to be done); “then,” saith he, “ye shall destroy their altars, and break in pieces their groves, and hew down all their images.”42 When we shall have got the power, do this. When the power has not been given us, we do not do it; when it is given, we do not neglect it. Many Pagans have these abominations on their own estates; do we go and break them in pieces? No, for our first efforts are that the idols in their hearts should be broken down. When they too are made Christians themselves, they either invite us to so good a work, or anticipate us. At present we must pray for them, not be angry with them. If very painful feelings excite us, it is rather against Christians, it is against our brethren, who will enter into the Church in such a mind, as to have their body there, and their heart anywhere else. The whole ought to be within. If that which man seeth is within, why is that which God seeth without?
18. Now ye may know, Dearly Beloved, that these unite their murmurings with Heretics and with Jews. Heretics, Jews, and Heathens have made a unity against Unity. Because it has happened, that in some places the Jews have received chastisement because of their wickednesses; they charge and suspect us, or pretend, that we are always seeking the like treatment for them. Again, because it has happened that the heretics43 in some places have suffered the penalty of the laws for the impiety and fury of their deeds of violence; they say immediately that we are seeking by every means some harm for their destruction. Again, because it has been resolved that laws should be passed against the Heathen, yea for them rather, if they were only wise. (For as when silly boys are playing with the mud, and dirtying their hands, the strict master comes, shakes the mud out of their hands, and holds out their book; so has it pleased God by the hands of princes His subjects to alarm their childish, foolish hearts, that they may throw away the dirt from their hands, and set about something useful. And what is this something usefulwith the hands, but, “Break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the houseless poor into thy house”?44 But nevertheless these children escapefrom their master’s sight, and return stealthily to their mud, and when they are discovered they hide their hands that they may not be seen). Because then it has so pleased God, they think that we are looking out for the idols everywhere, and that we break them down in all places where we have discovered them. How so? Are there not places before our very eyes in which they are? Or are we indeed ignorant where they are? And yet we do not break them down, because God has not given them into our power. When does God give them into our power? When the masters of these things shall become Christians. The master of a certain place has just lately wished this to be done. If he had not been minded to give the place itself to the Church, and only had given orders that thereshould be no idols on his property; I think that it ought to have been executed with the greatestdevotion, that the soul of the absent Christian brother, who wishes on his land to return thanks to God, and would not that there should be anything there to God’s dishonour, might be assisted by his fellow-Christians. Added to this, that in this case he gave the place itself to the Church. And shall there be idols n the Church’s estate? Brethren, see then what it is that displeases the Heathens. It is but a little matter with them that we do not take them away from their estates, that we do not break them down: they would have them kept up even in our own places. We preach against idols, we take them away from the hearts of men; we are persecutors of idols; we openly profess it. Are we then to be the preservers of them? I do not touch them when I have not the power; I do not touch them when the lord of the property complains of it; but when he wishes it to be done, and gives thanks for it, I should incur guilt if I did it not.
1 (Mt 8,8
2 (Lc 7,36
3 (Lc 9,58
4 (Lc 9,57
5 (Mt 8,20).
6 (Lc 9,59
7 (Lc 19,6
8 (Mt 8,8
9 (Mt 8,10
10 (Mt 8,9
11 (Ps 17,44-45 Sept. (xviii. 43, 44, English version).
12 (Lc 8,45
13 (Col 1,24
14 (1Co 12,27).
15 (Mt 8,11
18 (1Co 15,9
20 (1Co 4,11
21 (1Co 8,10-11.
22 (1Co 8,12).
23 (Ps 45,10
27 (1Co 15,33
28 (1Co 8,10
29 (Rm 9,5
30 (1Co 10,20).
31 (1Co 5,12
33 (Sg 3,6
34 (Rm 13,1-2.
36 (Ep 6,16
37 (Ps 51,4 Sept. (lii. 2, English version)).
38 (Mt 10,30
39 (Lc 21,18
40 By the Donatists called Agonistici (St. Augustin, In Ps 133,6), and by the Catholics Circilliones, or Circumcelliones, that is, Vagrants.Circumcelliones dicti sunt, quia circum cellas vagantur, solent enim ire hac illac nusquam habentes pedes (In Ps 132,3). They were of a very licentious and abandoned character, and in their fanaticism they would often commit suicide, to which the text may suppose to refer (Lib. de Haeres. c. 69; Brev. Coll. cum Donant. 8, ). They exercised extreme cruelty against the Catholics (Cont. Cresc. Don.lib. 3, 43,, 46,). Their form of salutation was Deo laudes (Cont. lit. Petil.lib. 2, 65,), which St. Augustin (In Ps 133,6) says was more feared than the roaring of a lion. For the time of their origin see Opt.lib. 3.
41 A place where St. Cyprian’s body was buried outside the walls of Carthage. Macrius in his Hierolexicon (ad verb) thinks it ought to be written Mapalia, i.e). domus rurales.
42 (Dt 7,1 Dt 12,3).
43 This refers doubtless to the laws against the Donatists. The Emperor Honorius issued an edict against them A.D. 405, and another A.D. 410, and A.D. 412, and again A.D 414, on occasion of the death of Marcellinus, and to prevent and advantage which the Donatists might derive from his death. For he had been judge in the conference between the Catholics and Donatists, granted by the Emperor at the request of the deputies of the council of Carthage, four years before (Fleury, H. E. B. xxii., cxxvi).: and to him had been entrusted the execution of the laws issued against the Donatists for the maintenance of the Catholic religion.
44 (Is 58,7
Augustine on NT 61