Augustine on NT 106
106 On the words of the gospel, Lc 11,39 “Now do ye Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the platter,” etc.
1). Ye have heard the holy Gospel, how the Lord Jesus in that which He said to the Pharisees, conveyed doubtless a lesson to His own disciples, that they should not think that righteousness consists in the cleansing of the body. For every day did the Pharisees wash themselves in water before they dined; as if a daily washing could be a cleansing of the heart. Then He showed what sort of persons they were. He told them who saw them; for He saw not their faces only but their inward parts. For that ye may know this, that Pharisee, to whom Christ made answer, thought within himself, he uttered nothing aloud, yet the Lord heard him. For within himself he blamed the Lord Christ, because He had so come to his feast without having washed. He was thinking, the Lord heard, therefore He answered. What then did He answer? “Now do ye Pharisees wash the outside of the platter; but within ye are full of guile and ravening.”1 What! is this to come to a feast! how did He not spare the man by whom He had been invited? Yea rather by rebuking He did spare him, that being reformed He might spare him in the judgment. And what is it that He showeth to us? That Baptism also which is conferred once for all, cleanses by faith. Now faith is within, not without. Wherefore it is said and read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Cleansing their hearts by faith.”2 And the Apostle Peter thus speaks in his Epistle; “So too hath He given yon a similitude from Noah’s ark, how that eight souls were saved by water.” And then he added, “So also in a like figure will baptism save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience.3 “This answer of a good conscience” did thePharisees despise, and washed “that which was without;” within they continued full of pollution.
2. And what did He say to them after this? “But rather give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you.”4 See the praise of alms, do, and prove it. But mark awhile; this was said to the Pharisees. These Pharisees were Jews, the choice men as it were of the Jews. For those of most consideration and learning were then called Pharisees. They had not been washed by Christ’s Baptism; they had not yet believed on Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who walked among them, yet was not acknowledged by them. How then doth He say to them, “Give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you”? If the Pharisees had paid heed to Him, and given alms, at once according to His word “all things would have been clean to them;” what need then was there for them to believe on Him? But if they could not be cleansed, except by believing on Him, who “cleanseth the heart by faith;” what means, “Give alms, and behold all things are clean I unto you”? Let us carefully consider this, and peradventure He Himself explains it.
3. When He had spoken thus, doubtless they thought that they did give alms. And how did they give them? They tithed all they had, they took away a tenth of all their produce, and gave it. It is no easy matter to find a Christian who doth as much. See what the Jews did. Not wheat only, but wine, and oil; nor this only, but even the most trifling things, cummin, rue, mint, and anise,5 in obdience to God’s precept, they tithed all; put aside, that is, a tenth part, and gave alms of it. I suppose then that they recalled this to mind, and thought that the Lord Christ was speaking to no purpose, as if to those who did not give alms; whereas they knew their own doings, how that they tithed, and gave alms of the minutest and most trifling of their produce. They mocked Him within themselves as He spake thus, as if to men who did not give alms. The Lord knowing this, immediately subjoined, “But woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, who tithe mint, and cummin, and rue, and all herbs.”6 That ye may know, I am aware of your alms. Doubtless these tithes are your alms; yea even the minutest and most trifling of your fruits do ye tithe; “Yet ye leave the weightier matters of the law, judgment and charity.” Mark. Ye have “left judgment and charity,” and ye tithe herbs. This is not to do alms. “These,” saith He, “ought ye to do, and not to leave the other undone.” Do what? “Judgment and charity, justice and mercy;” and “not to leave the other undone.” Do these; but give the preference to the others.
4. If this be so, why did He say to them,” Do alms, and behold all things are clean unto you”? What is, “Do alms”? Do mercy. What is, “Do mercy”? If thou understand, begin with thine own self. For how shouldest thou be merciful to another, if thou art cruel to thyself?“Give alms, and all things are clean unto you.” Do true alms. What is alms? Mercy. Hear the Scripture; “Have mercy on thine own soul, pleasing God.”7 Do alms, “Have mercy on thine own soul, pleasing God.” Thine own soul is a beggar before thee, return to thy conscience. Whosoever thou art, who art living in wickedness or unbelief, return to thy conscience; and there thou findest thy soul in beggary, thou findest it needy, thou findest it poor, thou findest it in sorrow, nay perhaps thou dost not find it in need,but dumb through its neediness. For if it beg, it “hungereth after righteousness.” Now when thou findest thy soul in such a state (all this is within, in thy heart), first do alms, give it bread. What bread? If the Pharisee had asked this question, the Lord would have said to him, “Give alms to thine own soul.” For this He did say to him; but he did not understand it, when He enumerated to them the alms which they were used to do, and which they thought were unknown to Christ; and He saith to them, “I know that ye do this, ‘ye tithe mint and anise, cummin and rue;’ but I am speaking of other alms; ye despise ‘judgment and charity.’ In judgment and charity give alms to thine own soul.” What is “in judgment”? Look back, and discover thyself; mislike thyself, pronounce a judgment against thyself. And what is charity? “Love the Lord God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; love thyneighbour as thyself:”8 and thou hast done alms first to thine own soul, within thy conscience. Whereas if thou neglect this alms, give what thou wilt, give how much thou wilt; reserve of thy goods not a tenth, but a half; give nine parts,and leave but one for thine own self: thou doest nothing, when thou doest not alms to thine own soul, and art poor in thyself. Let thy soul have its food, that it perish not by famine. Give her bread. What bread, thou wilt say? He speaketh with thee Himself. If thou wouldest hear, and understand, and believe the Lord, He would say to thee Himself, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.9 Wouldest thou not first give this Bread to thine own soul, and do alms unto it? If then thou believest, thou oughtest so to do, that thou mayest first feed thine own soul. Believe in Christ, and the things which are within shall be cleansed; and what is without shall be clean also. “Let us turn to the Lord,” etc.
1 (Lc 11,39
2 (Ac 15,9
3 (1P 3,20-21.
4 (Lc 11,41
5 (Mt 23,23).
6 (Lc 11,42
7 (Si 30,23 Vulgate.
8 (Mt 22,37 etc.
9 (Jn 6,41
107 On the words of the gospel, Lc 12,15 “And he said unto them, take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness.”1
1. I Doubt not but that ye who fear God, do hear His word with awe, and execute it with cheerfulness; that what He hath promised, ye may at present hope for, hereafter receive. We have just now heard the Lord Christ Jesus, the Son of God, giving us a precept. The Truth, who neither deceiveth, nor is deceived, hath given us a precept; let us hear, fear, beware. What is this precept then: “I say unto you, Beware of all covetousness”?2 What is, “of all covetousness”? What is, “of all”? Why did He add, “of all”? For He might have spoken thus “Beware of covetousness” It suited Him to add, “of all; and to say, “Beware of all covetousness.”
2. Why He said this, the occasion as it were out of which these words arose, is shown to us in the holy Gospel. A certain man appealed to Him against his brother, who had taken away all his patrimony, and gave not back his proper portion to his brother. Ye see then how good a case this appellant had. For he was not seeking to take by violence another’s, but was seeking only for his own which had been left him by his parents; these was he demanding back by his appeal to the judgment of the Lord. He had an unrighteous brother; but against an unrighteous brother had he found a righteous Judge. Ought he then in so good a cause to lose that opportunity? Or who would say to his brother, “Restore to thy brother his portion,” if Christ would not say it? Would thatjudge be likely to say it, whom perhaps his richer and extortionate brother might corrupt by a bribe? Forlorn then as he was, and despoiled of his father’s goods, when he had found such and so great a Judge he goes up to Him, he appeals to, he beseeches Him, he lays his cause before Him in few words. For what occasion was there to set forth his cause at length, when he was speaking to Him who could even see the heart? “Master,” he says, “speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.”3 The Lord did not say to him, “Let thy brother come.” No, He neither sent for him to be present, nor in his presence did He say to him who had appealed to Him, “Prove what thou wast saying.” He asked for half an inheritance, he asked for half an inheritance on earth; the Lord offered him a whole inheritance in heaven. The Lord gave more than asked for.
3. “Speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Just case, short case. But let us hear Him who at once gives judgment and instruction. “Man,” He saith. “O man;” for seeing thou valuest this inheritance so highly, what art thou but a man? He wished to make him something more than man. What more did He wish to make him, from whom He wished to take covetousness away? What more did He wish to make him? I will tell you, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.”4 Lo, what He wished to make him, to reckon him that hath no covetousness among the “gods.” “Man, who made Me a divider among you?”5 So the Apostle Paul His servant, when he said, “I beseech you, brethren, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you,”6 was unwilling to be a divider. And afterwards he thus admonished them who were running after his name, and dividing Christ: “Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”7 Judge then, how wicked are those men, who would have Him to be divided, who would not be a divider. “Who,” saith He, “hath made Me a divider among you?”
4. Thou hast petitioned for a kindness; hear counsel. “I say unto you, Beware of all covetousness.”8 “Perhaps,” he would say, “thou wouldest call him covetous and greedy, if he were seeking another’s goods; but I say, seek not even thine own greedily or covetously.” This is “Of all, beware of all covetousness.” A heavy burden this! If by any chance this burden be imposed on them that are weak; let Him be sought unto, that He who imposes it, may vouchsafe to give us strength. For it isnot a thing to be lightly regarded, my Brethren, when our Lord, our Redeemer, our Saviour, who died for us, who gave His Own Blood as our ransom, to redeem us, our Advocate and Judge; it is no light matter when He saith, “Beware.” He knoweth well how great the evil is; we know it not, let us believe Him. “Beware,” saith He. Wherefore? of what? “of all covetousness.” I am but keeping what is mine own, I am not taking away another’s; “Beware of all covetousness.” Not only is he covetous, who plunders the goods of others; but he is covetous too, who greedily keeps his own. But if he is so blamed who greedily keeps his own; how is he condemned who plunders what is another’s! “Beware,” He saith, “of all covetousness: For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” He that stores up great abundance, how much does he take therefrom to live? When he has taken it, and in a way separated in thought sufficient to live upon from it, let him consider for whom the rest remains; test haply when thou keepest wherewith to live, thou art gathering only wherewith to die. Behold Christ, behold truth, behold severity. “Beware,” saith truth: “Beware,” saith severity. If thou love not the truth, fear severity. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Believe Him, He doth not deceive thee. On the other hand, thou sayest, “Yea, ‘a man’s life’ does ‘consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.’“ He doth not deceive thee; thou deceivest thyself.
5. Out of this occasion then, when that appellant was seeking his own portion, not desiring to plunder another’s, arose that sentence of the Lord, wherein He said not, “Beware of covetousness;” but added, “of all covetousness.” Nor was this all: He giveth another example of a certain rich man, “whose ground had turned out well.”9 “There was,” He saith, “a certain rich man, whose ground had turned10 out well.” What is, “had turned out well”? The ground which he possessed had brought forth a great produce. How great? So that he could not find where to bestow it: suddenly, through his abundance he became straitened—this old covetous man. For how many years had already passed away, and yet those barns had been enough? So great then was the produce, that the accustomed places were not sufficient. And the wretched man sought counsel, not as to how he should lay the additional produce out, but how he should store it up; and in thinking he discovered an expedient. He seemed as it were wise in his own eyes, by the discovery of this expedient. Knowingly did he think of it, wisely hit upon it. What was this he wisely hit upon? “I will destroy,” he says, “my” old “barns, and will build new ones greater, and will fill them; and I will say to my soul.” What wilt thou say to thy soul? “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry.”11 This did the wise discoverer of this expedient say to his soul.
6. “And God,” who doth not disdain to speak even with fools, “said unto him.”12 Some of you may peradventure say, And how did God speak with a fool? O, my Brethren, with how many fools does He speak here, when the Gospel is read! When it is read, are not they who hear and do not, fools? What then did the Lord say? For he, I repeat, thought himself wise by the discovery of his expedient. “Thou fool,” He saith; “Thoufool,” who seemest wise unto thyself; “Thou fool,” who hast said to thy soul, “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years: to-day is thy soul required of thee!” Thy soul to which thou hast said, “Thou hast much goods,” to-day is “required,” and hath no good at all. Let it then despise these goods, and be herself good, that when she is “required,” she may depart in assured hope. For what is more perverse13 than a man14 who wishes to have “much goods,” and does not wish to be good himself? Unworthy art thou to have them, who dost not wish to be what thou dost wish to have. For dost thou wish to have a bad country house? No indeed, but a good one. Or a bad wife? No, but a good one. Or a bad hood?15 Or even a bad shoe? And Why a bad soul only? He did not in this place say to this fool who was thinking on vain things, building barns, and who had no regard to the wants16 of the poor; He did not say to him, “To-day shall thy soul be hurried away to hell:” He said no such thing as this, but “is required of thee.” “I do not tell thee whither thy soul shall go; yet hence, where thou art laying up for it such store of things, must it depart, whether thou wilt or no.” Lo, “thou fool,” thou hast thought to fill thy new and greater barns, as if there was nothing to be done with what thou hast.
7. But peradventure he was not yet a Christian. Let us hear then, Brethren, to whom as believers the Gospel is read, by whom He who spake these things, is worshipped, whose mark is borne by us on our forehead, and is held in the heart. For of very great concernment is it where a man hath the mark of Christ, whether in the forehead, or both in the forehead and the heart. Ye have heard to-day the words of the holy prophet Ezekiel, how that before God sent one to destroy the ungodly people, He first sent one to mark them, and said to him, “Go and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and moan for the sins of my people that are done in the midst of them.”17 He did not say, “which18 are done without them;” but “in the midst of them.” Yet they “sigh and moan;” and therefore are they “marked on the forehead:” in the forehead of the inner man, not the outer. For there is a forehead in the face, there is a forehead in the conscience. So it happens that when the inner forehead is stricken, the outer grows red; either red with shame, or pale with fear. So then there is a forehead of the inner man. There were they “marked” that they might not be destroyed; because though they did not correct the sins which were “done in the midst of them,” yet they sorrowed for them, and by that very sorrow separated themselves; and though separated in God’s sight, they were mixed with them in the eyes of men. They are “marked” secretly, are not hurt openly. Afterwards the Destroyer is sent, and to him it is said, “Go, lay waste, spare neither young nor old, male nor female, but come not near those who have the mark on their forehead.”19 How great security is granted to you, my Brethren, who among this people are sighing, and moaning for the iniquities which are being done in the midst of you, and who do them not!
8. But that ye may not commit iniquities, “beware of all covetousness.” I will tell you in its full extent, what is “of all covetousness.” In matter of lust he is covetous, whom his own wife suffices not. And idolatry itself is called covetousness; because again in matter of divine worship20 he is covetous, whom the one and true God suffices not. What but the covetous soul makes for itself many gods? What but the covetous soul makes to itself false21 martyrs? “Beware of all covetousness.” Lo, thou lovest thine own goods, and dost boast thyself in that thou seekest not the goods of others; see what evil thou doest in not hearing Christ, who saith, “Beware of all covetousness.” See thou dost love thine own goods, thou dost not take away the goods of others; thou hast the fruits of thy labour, they are justly thine; thou hast been left an heir, some one whose good graces thou hast attained has given it to thee; thou hast been on the sea, and in its perils, hast committed no fraud, hast sworn no lie, hast acquired what it hath pleased God thou shouldest; and thou art keeping it greedily as in a good conscience, because thou dost not possess it from evil sources, and dost not seek what is another’s. Yet if thou give not heed to Him who hath said, “Beware of all covetousness,” hear how great evils thou wilt be ready to do for thine own goods’ sake. Lo, for example, it hath chanced to thee to be made a judge. Thou wilt not be corrupted, because thou dost not seek the goods of others; no one giveth thee a bribe and says, “Give judgment against my adversary.” This be far from thee, a man, who seekest not the things of others, how couldest thou be persuaded to do this? Yet see what evil thou wilt be ready to do for thine own goods’ sake. Peradventure he that wishes thee to judge evilly, and pronounce sentence for him against his adversary is a powerful man, and able to bring up false accusation against thee, that thou mayest lose what thou hast. Thou dost reflect, and think upon his power, think of thine own goods thou art keeping, which thou dost love: not which thou hast possessed, but in whose power22 rather thou art thyself unhappily fixed. This thy bird-lime, by reason of which thou hast not the wings of virtue free, thou dost look to; and thou sayest within thine own self, “I am offending this man, he has much influence in the world; he will suggest evil accusations against me, and I shall be outlawed,23 and lose all I have.” Thus thou wilt give unrighteous judgment, not when thou seekest another’s, but when thou keepest thine own.
9. Give me a man who has given ear to Christ, give me a man who has heard with fear “Beware of all covetousness;” and let him not say to me, “I am a poor man, a plebeian of mean estate, one of the common people, how can I hope ever to be a judge? I am in no fear of this temptation, the peril of which thou hast placed before mine eyes.” Yet lo, even this poor man I will tell what he ought to fear. Some rich and powerful person calls thee to give false witness for him. What wilt thou be doing now? Tell me. Thou hast a good little property of thine own; thou hast laboured for it, hast acquired, and kept it. That person requires of thee; “Give false witness for me, and I will give thee so and so much.” Thou who seekest not the things of others, sayest, “That be far from me: I do not seek for what it has not pleased God to give me, I will not receive it; depart from me.” “Hast thou no wish to receive what I give? I will take away what thou hast already.” See now prove thyself, question now thine own self. Why dost thou look at me? Look inward on thine own self, look at thine own self within, examine thine own self within; sit down before thine own self, and summon thine own self before thee, and stretch thyself upon the rack of God’s commandment, and torment thyself with His fear, and deal not softly with thyself; answer thine own self. Lo, if any one were to threaten thee with this, what wouldest thou do? “I will take away from thee what with so great labour thou hast acquired, if thou wilt not give false witness for me.” Give him that; “Beware of all covetousness.” “O my servant,” He will say to thee, “whom I have redeemed and made free, whom from a servant I have adopted to be a brother, whom I have set as a member in My Body, give ear to Me: He may take away what thou hast acquired, Me he shall not take away from thee. Art thou keeping thine own goods, that thou mayest not perish? What, have I not said unto thee, ‘Beware of all covetousness’?”
10. Lo, thou art in confusion, tossed to and fro; thy heart as a ship is shaken about by tempests. Christ is asleep: awake Him, that sleepeth, and thou shalt be exposed no more to the raging of the storm. Awake Him, who was pleased to have nothing here, and thou hast all, who came even to the Cross for thee, whose “Bones” as He was naked and hanging “were numbered” by them that mocked Him; and “beware of all covetousness.” Covetousness of money is not all; “beware of covetousness” of life. A dreadful covetousness, covetousness much to be feared. Sometimes a man will despise what he has, and say, “I will not give false witness; I will not. You tell me, I will take away what thou hast. Take away what I have; you do not take away what I have within. For he was not left a poor man, who said, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; it is done as it pleased the Lord; blessed’ therefore ‘be the Name of the Lord. Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, naked shall I return to the earth.’24 Naked outwardly, well-clothed within. Naked as regards these rags, these corruptible rags outwardly, clothed within. With what? ‘Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness.’”25 But what if he say to thee, when thou hast despised the things which thou possessest, what if he say to thee, “I will kill thee”? If thou have given ear to Christ, answer him, “Wilt Thou kill me? Better that thou shouldest kill my body, than that I by a false tongue should kill my soul! What canst thou do to me? Thou wilt kill my body; my soul will depart at liberty, to receive again at the end of the world even this very body she hath despised. What canst thou do to me then? Whereas if I should give false witness for thee, with thy tongue do I kill myself; and not in my body do I kill myself; ‘For the mouth that lieth killeth the soul.’“26 But peradventure thou dost not say so. And why dost thou not say so? Thou wishest to live; thou wishest to live longer than God hath appointed for thee? Dost thou then “beware of all covetousness”? So long was it God’s will that thou shouldest live, till this person came to thee. It may he that he will kill thee, to make a martyr of thee. Entertain then no undue desire of life; and so thou wilt not have an eternity of death. Ye see how that covetousness everywhere, when we wish for more than is necessary, causes us to sin. Beware we of all covetousness, if we would enjoy eternal wisdom.
1 pavsh", for th`", pleonexia"—A. B. D. K. L. M. Q. X., etc., Verss. ap. Scholz. Griesbach regards it as the more probable reading). [Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort read pavsh" with a
2 (Lc 12,15).
3 (Lc 12,13
4 (Ps 82,6
5 (Lc 12,14
6 (1Co 1,10
7 (1Co 1,12-13.
8 (Lc 12,15
9 (Lc 12,16
11 (Lc 12,18-19.
12 (Lc 12,20
14 Vid.Serm. 22,(lxxii. Ben). 4 (iii).; 32,(lxxxii. Ben). 14 (xi).; xxxv. (lxxxv. Ben).
17 Ez 9,4.
18 Against the Donatists.
19 Ez 9,6.
21 In allusion to the Circumcelliones amongst the Donatists. See ab. p. 305, note).
22 Quibus male inhaesisti.
24 (Jb 1,21 Jb 1
25 (Ps 132,9
26 (Sg 1,11).
108 On the words of the gospel, Lc 12,35 “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like,” etc. And on the words of the 34th psalm, 5,12, “what man is he that desireth life,” etc.
1). Our Lord Jesus Christ both came to men, and went away from men, and is to come to men. And yet He was here when He came, nor did He depart when He went away, and He is to come to them to whom He said, “Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.”1 According to the “form of a servant” then, which He took for our sakes, was He born at a certain time, and was slain, and rose again, and now “dieth no more, neither shall death have any more dominion over Him;”2 but according to His Divinity, wherein He was equal to the Father, was He already in this world, and “theworld was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”3 On this point ye have just heardthe Gospel, what admonition it has given us, putting us on our guard, and wishing us to be unencumbered and prepared to await the end; that after these last4 things, which are to befeared in this world, that rest may succeed which hath no end. Blessed are they who shall be partakers of it. For then shall they be in security, who are not in security now; and again then shall they fear, who will not fear now. Unto this waiting, and for this hope’s sake, havewe been made Christians. Is not our hope not of this world? Let us then not love the world. From the love of this world have we been called away, that we may hope for and love another. In this world ought we to abstain from all unlawful desires, to have, that is, “our loins girded;” and to be fervent and to shine in good works, that is, to have “our lights burning.” For the Lord Himself said to His disciples in another place of the Gospel, “No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light unto all that are in the house.”5 And to show of what He was speaking, He subjoined and said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”6
2. Therefore He would that “our loins should be girded, and our lights burning.”7 What is, “our loins girded”? “Depart from evil.”8 What is to “burn”? What is to have our “lights burning”? It is this, “And do good.” What is that which He said afterwards, “And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding:”9 except that which follows in that Psalm, “Seek after peace, and ensue it”?10 These three things, that is, “abstaining from evil, and doing good,” and the hope of everlasting reward, are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is written, that Paul taught them of “temperance and righteousness,”11 and the hope of eternal life. To temperance belongs, “let your loins be girded.” To righteousness, “and your lights burning.” To the hope of eternal life, the waiting for the Lord. So then, “depart from evil,” this is temperance, these are the loins girded: “and do good,” this is righteousness, these are the “lights burning;” “seek peace, and ensue it,” this is the waiting for the world to come: therefore, “Be ye like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will come from the wedding.”
3. Having then these precepts and promises, why seek we on earth for “good days,” where we cannot find them? For I know that ye do seek them, when ye are either sick, or in any of the tribulations, which in this world abound. For when life draws towards its close, the old man is full of complaints, and with no joys. Amid all the tribulations by which mankind is worn away, men seek for nothing but “good days,” and wish for a long life, which here they cannot have. For even a man’s long life is narrowed within so short a span to the wide extent of all ages, as if it were but one drop to the whole sea. What then is man’s life, even that which is called a long one? They call that a long life, which even in this world’s course is short; and as I have said, groans abound even unto the decrepitude of old age. This at the most is but brief, and of short duration; and yet how eagerly is it sought by men, with how great diligence, with how great toil, with how great carefulness, with how great watchfulness, with how great labour do men seek to live here for a long time, and to grow old. And yet this very living long, what is it but running to the end? Thou hadst yesterday, and thou dost wish also to have to-morrow. But when this day and to-morrow are passed, thou hast them not. Therefore thou dost wish for the day to break, that may draw near to thee whither thou hast no wish to come. Thou makest some annual festival with thy friends, and hearest it there said to thee by thy well-wishers, “Mayest thou live many years,” thou dost wish that what they have said, may come to pass. What? Dost thou wish that years and years may come, and the end of these years come not? Thy wishes are contrary to one another; thou dost wish to walk on, and dost not wish to reach the end.
4. But if, as I have said, there is so great care in men, as to desire with daily, great and perpetual labours, to die somewhat later: with how great cause ought they to strive, that they may never die? Of this, no one will think. Day by day “good days” are sought for in this world, where they are not found; yet no one wishes so to live, that he may arrive there where they are found. Therefore the same Scripture admonishes us, and says, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?”12 Scripture so asked the question, as that It knew well what answer would be given It; knowing that all men would “seek for life and good days.” In accordance with their desire It asked the question, as if the answer would be given It from the heart of all, “I wish it;” It said thus, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” Just as even at this very hour in which I am speaking to you, when ye heard me say, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” ye all answered in your heart, “I.” For so do I too, who am speaking with you, “wish for life and good days;” what ye seek, that do I seek also.
5. Just as if gold were necessary for us all, and we all, I as well as you, were wishing to get at the gold, and there was some anywhere in a field of yours, in a place subject to your power, and I were to see you searching for it, and were to say to you, “What are ye searching for?” ye were to answer me, “Gold.” And I were to say to you, “Ye are searching for gold, and I am searching for gold too: what ye are searching for, I am searching for; but ye are not searching for it where we can find it. Listen to me then, where we can find it; I am not taking it away from you, I am showing you the spot;” yea, let us all follow Him, who knows where what we are seeking for, is. So now too seeing that ye desire “life and good days,” we cannot say to you, “Do not desire ‘life and good days;’“ but this we say, “Do not seek for ‘life and good days’ here in this world, where ‘good days’ cannot be.” Is not this life itself like unto death? Now these days here hasten and pass away: for to-day has shut out yesterday; tomorrow only rises that it may shut out to-day. These days themselves have no abiding; wherefore wouldest thou abide with them? Your desire then whereby ye wish for “life and good days,” I not only do not repress, but I even more strongly inflame. By all means “seek” for” life, seek for good days;” but let them be sought there, where they can be found.
6. For would ye with me hear His counsel, who knoweth where “good days” and where “life” is? Hear it not from me, but together with me. For One says to us, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me.” And let us run together, and stand, and prick up our ears, and with our hearts understand the Father, who hath said, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”13 And then follows what he would teach us, and to what end the fear of the Lord is useful. “Who is the man that wisheth life, and loveth to see good days?” We all answer, “We wish it.” Let us listen then to what follows, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.”14 Now say, “I wish it.” Just now when I said, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” we all answered, “I.” Come then, let some one now answer “I.” So then, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.” Now say, “I.” Wouldest thou then have “good days” and “life,” and wouldest thou not “refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile”? Alert to the reward, slow to the work! And to whom if he does not work is the reward rendered? I would that in thy house thou wouldest render the reward even to him that does work! For to him that works not, I am sure thou dost not render it. And why? Because thou owest nothing to him that does not work! And God hath a reward proposed. What reward? “Life and good days,” which life we all desire, and unto which days we all strive to come. The promised reward He will give us. What reward? “Life and good days.” And what are “good days”? Life without end, rest without labour.
7. Great is the reward He hath set before us: in so great a reward as is set before us, let us see what He hath commanded us. For enkindled by the reward of so great a promise, and by the love of the reward, let us make ready at once our strength, our sides, our arms, to do His bidding. Is it as if He were to command us to carry heavy burdens, to dig something it may be, or to raise up some machine? No, no such laborious thing hath He enjoined thee, but hath enjoined thee only to “refrain” that member which amongst all thy members thou dost move so quickly. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” It is no labour to erect a building, and is it a labour to hold in the tongue? “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” Speak no lie, speak no revilings, speak no slanders, speak no false witnesses, speak no blasphemies. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” See how angry thou art, if any one speaks evil of thee. As thou art angry with another, when he speaks evil of thee; so be thou angry with thyself, when thou speakest evil of another. “Let thy lips speak no guile.” What is in thine heart within, be that spoken out. Let not thy breast conceal one thing, and thy tongue utter another. “Depart from evil, and do good.” For how should I say, “Clothe the naked,” to him who up to this time would strip him that is clothed? For he that oppresses his fellow-citizen, how can he take in the stranger? So then in proper order, first “depart from evil,” and “do good;” first “gird up thy loins,” and then “light the lamp.” And when thou hast done this, wait in assured hope for “life and good days.” “Seek peace, and ensue it;” and then with a good face wilt thou say unto the Lord, “I have done what Thou hast bidden, render me what Thou hast promised.”
1 (Mt 28,20
2 (Rm 6,9
3 (Jn 1,10
4 The troubles through the incursions of the barbarian tribes, as heralds of the end. See St. Cyprian, Ad Demetr. 2, p. 201, Oxf. tr.; De Mort. 5,2, p. 216, 7.
5 (Mt 5,15
6 (Mt 5,16
7 (Lc 12,35
8 (Ps 34,14
9 (Lc 12,36
10 (Ps 34,14
11 (Ac 24,25).
12 (Ps 34,12
13 (Ps 34,11
14 (Ps 34,13).
Augustine on NT 106