Augustine on NT 72


Sermon XXII. [LXII. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 12,33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good,” etc.

1). The Lord Jesus hath admonished us, that we be good trees, and that so we may be able to bear good fruits. For He saith, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt, for the tree, is known by his fruit.”1 When He says,” Makethe tree good, and his fruit good;” this of course is not an admonition, but a wholesome precept, to which obedience is necessary. But when He saith, “Make the tree corrupt, and hisfruit corrupt;” this is not a precept that thou shouldest do it; but an admonition, that thou shouldest beware of it. For He spoke against those, who thought that although they were evil,they could speak good things or have good works. This the Lord Jesus saith is impossible.For the man himself must first be changed, in order that his works may be changed. For if a man abide in his evil state, he cannot have good works; if he abide in his good state, he cannot have evil works.

2. But who was found good by the Lord, since “Christ died for the ungodly”?2 He foundthem all corrupt trees, but to those who “believed in His Name, He gave power to become the sons of God.”3 Whosoever then now is a good man, that is, a good tree, was found corrupt, and made good. And if when He came He had chosen to root up the corrupt trees, what tree would have remained which did not deserve to be rooted up? But He came first to impart4 mercy, that He might afterwards exercise judgment, to whom it is said, “I will sing unto Thee O Lord, of mercy and judgment.”5 He gave then remission of sins to those who believed in Him, He would not even take account with them of past reckonings.6 He gave remission of sins, He made them good trees. He delayed the ax, He gave7 security.

3. Of this ax does John speak, saying,” Now is the ax laid unto the root of the trees; every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire.”8 With this ax does the Householder in the Gospel threaten, saying, “Behold these three years I come to this tree, and find no fruit on it.” Now I must clear9 the ground; wherefore let it be cut down. And the husbandman intercedes, saying, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then Thou shalt come and cut it down.”10 So the Lord hath visited mankind as it were three years, that is, at three several times. The first time was before the Law; the second under the Law; the third is now, which is the time of grace. For if He did not visit mankind before the Law, whence was Abel, and Enoch, and Noe, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, whose Lord He was pleased to be called? And He to whom all nations belonged, as though He were the God of three men only, said, “I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.”11 But if He did not visit under the Law, He would not have given the Law itself. After the Law, came the very Master of the house in person; He suffered, and died, and rose again; He gave the Holy Spirit, He made the Gospel to be preached throughout all the world, and yet a certain tree remained unfruitful. Still is there a certain portion of mankind, which doth not yet amend itself. The husbandman intercedes; the Apostle prays for the people; “I bow my knees,” he saith, “unto the Father for you, that being rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”12 By bowing the knees, he intercedes with the Master of the house for us, that we be not rooted up. Therefore since He must necessarily come, let us take care that He find us fruitful. The digging about the tree is the lowliness of the penitent. For every ditch is low. The dunging it, is the filthy13 robe14 of repentance. For what is more filthy than dung; yet if well used, what more profitable?

4. Let each one then be a good tree; let him not suppose that he can bear good fruit, if he remain a corrupt tree. There will be no good fruit, but from the good tree. Change the heart, and the work will be changed. Root out desire, plant in charity. “For as desire is the root of all evil,”15 so is charity the root of all good. Why then do men fret and contend one with another, saying, “What is good?” O that thou knewest what good is! What thou dost wish to have is not very good; this is good which thou dost not wish to be. For thou dost wish to have health of body; it is good indeed; yet thou canst not think that to be any great good, which the wicked have as well. Thou dost wish to have gold and silver; I grant that these also are good things, but then only if thou make a good use of them; and a good use of them thou wilt not make, if thou art evil thyself. And hence gold and silver are to the evil evil; to the good are good, not because gold and silver make them good; but because they find them good, they are turned to a good use. Again, thou dost wish to have honour, it is good; but this too only if thou make a good use of it. To how many has honour been the occasion of destruction! And again, to how many has honour been the instrument16 of good works!

5. Let us then, if we can, make a distinctionas to these goods; for it is of good trees that we are speaking. And here there is nothing, which every one ought so much to think of, as to turnhis eyes upon himself, to learn in himself, examine himself, inspect himself, search into himself, and find out himself; and kill what isdispleasing; and long for and plant in that whichis well-pleasing (to God). For when a man finds himself so empty of better goods, why is he greedy of external goods? And what profit is there in a coffer full of goods, with an empty conscience? Thou wishest to have good things, and dost thou not then wish to be good thyself? Seest thou not that thou oughtest rather to blush for thy good things, if thy house is full of good things, and thou its owner art evil? For what is there, tell me, thou wouldest wish to have that is bad. Not any one thing I am sure; neither wife; nor son; nor daughter; nor manservant; nor maidservant; nor country seat; nor a coat; nay nor a shoe;17 and yet thou art willing to have a bad life. I pray thee prefer thy way of life to thy shoes. All things which encompass thy sight, as being of elegance andbeauty, are highly prized by thee; and art thouso lightly esteemed by thyself, and so devoid of i beauty? If the good things of which thine house is full, which thou hast longed to possess, and feared to lose, could make answer to thee, would they not cry out to thee, As thou wishest to have us good, so do we also wish to have a good owner? And now in speechless accents do they address thy Lord against thee: “Lo! thou hast given him so many good things, and he himself is evil. What profit is there to him in that he hath, when he hath not Him who hath given him all!”

6. One then who has been admonished, and it may be moved to compunction by these words, may ask what is good? what is the nature of good? and whence it comes? Well is it that thou hast understood that it is thy duty to ask this. I will answer thy enquiries, and will say, “That is good which thou canst not lose against thy will.” For gold thou mayest lose even against thy will; and so thou canst a house; and honours, and even the health of the body; but the good whereby thou art truly good, thou dost neither receive against thy will, nor against thy will dost lose it. I enquire then, “What is the nature of this good?” One of the Psalms teaches us an important matter, perchance it is even this that we are seeking for. For it says, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be heavy in heart?”18 How long will that tree be in its three19 years fruitlessness? “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be heavy in heart?” What is “heavy in heart”? “Why do ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” And then it goes on to say what we must really seek after; “Know ye that the Lord hath magnified His Holy One?”20 Now Christ hath come, now hath He been magnified, now hath He risen again, and ascended into heaven, now is His Name preached through the world: “How long will ye be heavy in heart?” Let the times past suffice; now that that Holy One hath been magnified, “How long will ye be heavy in heart?” After the three years, what remains but the ax? “How long will ye be heavy in heart? Why do ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” Vain, useless, frivolous,21 fleeting things are these still sought after, now that Christ the Holy One hath been so magnified? Truth now is crying aloud, and is vanity still sought after? “How long will ye be heavy in heart?”

7. With good reason is this world severely scourged; for the world hath known now its Master’s words. “And the servant,” He saith, “that knew not his Master’s will, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”22 Why? That he may seek after his Master’s will. The servant then who knew not His will, this was the world, before “He magnified His Holy One;” it was “the servant who knew not his Master’s will,” and therefore “shall be beaten with few stripes.” But the servant who now knoweth his Master’s will, that is now, since the Godhead “sanctified His Holy One,” and “doeth not His will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” What marvel then, if the world be now much beaten? “It is the servant which knew his Master’s will, and did commit things worthy of stripes.” Let him then not refuse to be beaten with many stripes; since if in unrighteousness he will not hear his teacher, in righteousness must he feel his avenger. At least, let him not murmur against Him that chasteneth him, when he sees that he is worthy of stripes, that so he may attain23 mercy; through Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 (Mt 12,33
2 (Rm 5,6
3 (Jn 1,12
4 Praerogare.
5 (Ps 101,1
6 Chartis.
7 Distulit securim, dedit securitatem.
8 (Mt 3,10
9 Evacuare.
10 (Lc 13,7 etc.
11 (Ex 3,15
12 (Ep 3,14 Ep 3,17-19.
13 Sordes paenitentiae.
14 Bingh, Antiq. 18,c. 2, § 2).
15 (1Tm 6,10). Cupiditas, Vulgate.
16 Ministerium.
17 Vide Serm. ccxxxii. (vii). 8.
18 (Ps 4,3 Sept. (iv. 2, English version).
19 Triennio.
20 (Ps 4,4
21 Pompatica.
22 (Lc 12,48).
23 Mereatur.


Sermon XXIII. [LXXIII. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 13,19 etc., Where the Lord Jesus explaineth the parables of the sower.

1). Both yesterday and to-day ye have heard the parables of the sower, in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do ye who were present yesterday, recollect to-day. Yesterday we read of that sower, who when he scattered seed, “some fell by the way side,”1 which the birds picked up; “some in stony places,” which dried up from the heat; “some among thorns, which were choked,” and could not bring forth fruit; and “other some into good ground, and it brought forth fruit, a hundred, sixty, thirty fold.” But to-day the Lord hath again spoken another parable of the sower, “who sowed good seed in his field. While men slept the enemy came, and sowed tares upon it.”2 As long as it was only in the blade, it did not appear; but when the fruit of the good seed began to appear, “then appeared the tares also.” The servants of the householder were offended, when they saw a quantity of tares among the good wheat, and wished to root them out, but they were notsuffered to do so; but it was said to them, “Letboth grow together until the harvest.”3 Now the Lord Jesus Christ explained this parable also; and said that He was the sower of the good seed, and He showed how that the enemy who sowed the tares was the devil; the time of harvest, the end of the world; His field the whole world. And what saith He? “In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn.” Why are ye so hasty, He says, ye servants full of zeal? Ye see tares among the wheat, ye see evil Christians among the good; and ye wish to root up the evil ones; be quiet, it is not the time of harvest. That time will come, may it only find you wheat! Why do ye vex yourselves? Why bear impatiently the mixture of the evil with the good? In the field they may be with you, but they will not be so in the barn.

2. Now ye know that those three places mentioned yesterday where the seed did not grow, “the way side,” “the stony ground,” and “the thorny places,” are the same as these “tares.” They received only a different name under a different similitude. For when similitudes are used, or the literal meaning of a term is not expressed, not the truth but a similitude of the truth is conveyed by them. I see that but few have understood my meaning; yet it is for the benefit of all that I speak. In things visible, a way side is a way side, stony ground is stony ground, thorny places are thorny places; they are simply what they are, because the names are used in their literal sense. But in parables and similitudes one thing may be called by many names; therefore there is nothing inconsistent in my telling you that that “way side,” that “stony ground,” those “thorny places,” are bad Christians, and that they too are the “tares.” Is not Christ called “the Lamb”? Is not Christ “the Lion” too? Among wild beasts, and cattle, a lamb is simply a lamb, and a lion, a lion: but Christ is both. The first are respectively what they are in propriety of expression;the Latter both together in a figurative sense.4 Nay much more; besides this it may happen that under a figure, things very different from one another may be called by one and the same name. For what is so different as Christ and the devil? yet both Christ and the devil are called “a lion.” Christ is called “a lion:” “The Lion hath prevailed of the tribe of Judah;”5 and the devil is called a lion: “Know ye not that your adversary the Devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour?”6 Both the one and the other then is a lion; the one a lion by reason of His strength; the other for his savageness; the one a lion for His “prevailing;” the other for his injuring. The devil again is a serpent, “that old serpent;”7 are we commanded then to imitate the devil, when our Shepherd told us, “Be ye wise as serpents, and simple as doves”?8

3. Accordingly I yesterday addressed “the way side,” I addressed the “stony ground,” I addressed the “thorny places;” and I said, Be ye changed whilst ye may: turn up with the plough the hard ground, cast the stones out of the field, pluck up the thorns out of it. Be loth to retain that hard heart, from which the word of God may quickly pass away and be lost. Be loth to have that lightness of soil, where the root of charity can take no deep hold. Be loth to choke the good seed which is sown in you by my labours, with the lusts and the cares of this world. For it is the Lord who sows; and we are only His labourers. But be ye the “good ground.” I said yesterday, and I say again today to all, Let one bring forth “a hundred, another sixty, another thirty fold.” In one the fruit is more, in another less; but all will have a place in the barn. Yesterday I said all this, to-day I am addressing the tares; but the sheep themselves are the tares. O evil Christians, O ye, who in filling only press the Church by your evil lives; amend yourselves before the harvest come. “Say not, I have sinned, and what hath befallen me?”9 God hath not lost His power; but He is requiring repentance from thee. I say this to the evil, who yet are Christians; I say this to the tares. For they are in the field; and it may so be, that they who to-day are tares, may to-morrow be wheat. And so I will address the wheat also.

4. O ye Christians, whose lives are good, ye sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! the harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who can make the separation, and who cannot make mistakes. We in this time present are like those servants of whom it was said, “Wilt Thou that we go and gather them up?”10 for we were wishing, if itmight be so, that no evil ones should remain among the good. But it has been told us, “Let both grow together until the harvest.”11 Why? For ye are such as may be deceived. Hear finally; “Lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”12 What good are ye doing? Will ye by your eagerness make a waste of My harvest? The reapers will come, and who the reapers are He hath explained, “And the reapers are the angels.”13 We are but men, the reapers are the angels. We too indeed, if we finish our course, shall be equal to the angels of God; but now when we chafe against the wicked, we are as yet but men. And we ought now to give ear to the words, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”14 For do ye think, my Brethren, that these tares we read of do not get up into this15 seat?16 Think ye that they are all below, and none above up here? God grant we may not be so. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you.”17 I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.

1 (Mt 13,3-8.
2 (Mt 13,24-25.
3 (Mt 13,30
4 Per similitudinem.
5 (Ap 5,5
6 (1P 5,8
7 (Ap 12,9
8 (Mt 10,16).
9 (Si 5,4
10 (Mt 13,28
11 (Mt 13,30
12 (Mt 13,29
13 (Mt 13,39
14 (1Co 10,12
15 Apsidas.
16 Apsis the higher semicircular or arched part of the chancel, where the bishop had his throne with the presbyters. See Bing). Antiq. B. 8,c. 6,§§ 9, 10.
17 (1Co 4,3


Sermon XXIV. [LXXIV. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 13,52 “Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of Heaven,” etc.

1). The lesson of the Gospel reminds me to seek out, and to explain to you, Beloved, as the Lord shall give me power, who is “that Scribe instructed in the kingdom of God, who is “like unto an householder bringing out of his treasure things new and old.”1 For here the lesson ended. “What are the new and old things of an instructed Scribe?” Now it is well known who they were, whom the ancients, after the custom of our Scriptures, called Scribes, those, namely, who professed the knowledge of the Law. For such were called Scribes among the Jewish people, not such as are so called now in the service2 of judges, or the custom of states. For we must not enter school to no purpose, but we must know in what signification to take the words of Scripture; lest when anything is mentioned out of it, which is usually understood in another secular use of the term, the hearer mistake it, and by thinking of its customary meaning, understand not what he has heard. The Scribes then were they who professed the knowledge of the Law, and to them belonged both the keeping and the studying, as well as also the transcribing and the expounding, of the books of the Law.

2. Such were they whom our Lord Jesus Christ rebukes, because they have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and “would neither enter in themselves, nor suffer others to enter in;”3 in these words finding fault with the Pharisees and Scribes, the teachers of the law of the Jews. Of whom in another place He says, “Whatsoever they say, do, but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not.”4 Why is it said to you, “For they say and do not?” but that there are some of whom what the Apostle says, is clearly exemplified, “Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”5 It is surely plain that the Lord speaks of these, “For they say and do not.” They then are Scribes, but not “instructed in the kingdom of God.”

3. Peradventure some of you may say, “And how can a bad man speak what is good, when it is written, in the words of the Lord Himself, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth evil things. Ye hypocrites, how can ye being evil speak good things?6 In the one place He says, “How can ye being evil speak good things?’” in the other He says, “What they say, do, but do ye not after their works. For they say, and do not.” If “they say and do not,” they are evil; if they are evil, they cannot “speak good things;” how then are we to do what we hear from them, when we cannot hear from them what is good? Now take heed, Holy and Beloved,7 how this question may be solved. Whatever an evil man brings forth from himself, is evil; whatever an evil man brings forth out of his own heart, is evil; for there is the evil treasure. But whatever a good man brings forth out of his heart, is good; for there is the good treasure. Whence then did those evil men bring forth good things? “Because they sat in Moses” seat.”8 Had He not first said, “They sit in Moses’ seat;” He would never have enjoined that evil men should be heard. For what they brought forth out of the evil treasure of theirown heart, was one thing; another what they gave utterance to out of the seat of Moses, the criers so to say of the judge. What the crier says, will never be attributed to him if he speak in the presence of the judge. What the crier says in his own house is one thing, what the crier says as hearing it from the judge is another. For whether he will or no, the crier must proclaim the sentence9 of punishment even of his own friend. And so whether he will or no, must he proclaim the sentence of the acquittal even of his own enemy. Suppose him to speak from his heart; lie acquits his friend, and punishes his enemy. Suppose him to speak from the judge’s chair; he punishes his friend, and acquits his enemy. So with the Scribes; suppose them to speak out of their own heart; thou wilt hear, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.”10 Suppose them to speak from Moses’ seat; thou wilt hear, “Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not bear false witness. Honour thy father and mother; thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.”11 Do then this which the official seat12 proclaims by the mouth of the Scribes; not that which their heart utters. For so embracing both judgments of the Lord, thou wilt not be obedient in the one, and guilty of disobedience in the other; but wilt understand that both agree together, and wilt regard both that as true, “that a good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things;” and that other also, that those Scribes did not speak good things out of the evil treasure of their heart, but that they were able to speak good things out of the treasure of Moses’ seat.

4. So then those words of the Lord will not disturb you, when He says,” Every tree is known by his own fruit. Do men gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles?”13 The Scribes and Pharisees of the Jews therefore were thorns and thistles, and notwithstanding, “what they say do, but do ye not after their works.” So then the grape is gathered from thorns, and the fig from thistles, as He has given thee to understand according to the method I have just laid down. For so sometimes in the vineyard’s thorny hedge, the vines get entangled, and clusters of grapes hang from the brambles. Thou hadst no sooner heard the name of thorns, than thou weft on the point of disregarding the grape. But seek for the root of the thorns, and thou wilt see where to find it. Follow too the root of the hanging cluster, and thou wilt see where to find it. So understand that the one refers to the Pharisee’s heart, the other to Moses’ seat.

5. But why were they such as they were? “Because,” says St. Paul, “the vail is upon their heart. And they do not see that the old things are passed away, and all things are become new.”14 Hence it is that they were such, and all others who even now are like them. Why are they old things? Because they have been a long while published. Why new? Because they relate to the kingdom of God. How the vail then is taken away, the Apostle himself tells us. “But when thou shalt turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.”15 So then the Jew who does not turn to the Lord, does not carry on his mind’s eye to the end. Just as at that time the children of Israel in this figure did not carry on the gaze of their eyes “to the end,”16 that is, to the face of Moses. For the shining face of Moses contained a figure of the truth; the vail was interposed because the children of Israel could not yet behold the glory of his countenance. “Which figure is done away.”17 For so said the Apostle; “which is done away.”Why done away? Because when the emperor comes, the images of him are taken away. The image is looked upon, when the emperor is not present; but where he is, whose image it is, there the image is removed. There were then images borne before Him, before that our Emperor the Lord Jesus Christ came. When the images were taken away, the glory of the Emperor’s presence is seen. Therefore, “When any one turneth to the Lord, the vail is taken away.” For the voice of Moses sounded through the vail, but the face of Moses was not seen. And so now the voice of Christ sounds to the Jews by the voice of the old Scriptures: they hear their voice, but they see not the face of Him that speaketh. Would they then that the vail should be taken away? “Let them turn to the Lord.” For then the old things are not taken away, but laid up in a treasury, that the Scribe may henceforth be “instructed in the kingdom of God, bringing forth out of his treasure” not “new things” only, nor “old things” only. For if he bring forth “new things” only or “old things” only; he is not “a scribe instructed in the kingdom of God, bringing forth out of his treasure things new and old.” If he say and do them not; he brings forth froth the official seat, not from the treasure of his heart. And (we speak the truth, Holy Brethren) what things are brought out of the old, are illustrated by the new. Therefore do “we turn to the Lord, that the vail may be taken away.”

1 (Mt 13,52
2 Officiis.
3 (Lc 11,52
4 (Mt 23,3
5 (Rm 2,21 etc).
6 (Mt 12,34-35.
7 Sanctitas Vestra.
8 (Mt 23,2
9 Vocem.
10 (Is 22,13
11 (Ex 20,12, etc.
12 Cathedra.
13 (Lc 6,44 Mt 7,16
14 (2Co 3,15 2Co 5,17.
15 (2Co 3,16
16 (2Co 3,13). ei`" to; telo".
17 tou` katargoumevnou). Quod evacuatur).


Sermon XXV. [LXXV. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 14,24 “ But the boat was now in the midst of the sea, distressed by the waves.”

1). The lesson of the Gospel which we have just heard is a lesson of humility to us all, that we may see and know where we are, and whither we must tend and hasten. For that ship which carries the disciples, which was tossed in the waves by a contrary wind, is not without its meaning. Nor without a meaning1 did the Lord after He had left the multitudes, go up into a mountain to pray alone; and then coming to His disciples found them in danger, walking on the sea, and getting up into the ship strengthened them, and appeased the waves. But what marvel if He can appease all things who created all? Nevertheless after He was come up into the ship, they who were being borne in her, came saying, “Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.”2 But before this plain discovery of Himself3 they were troubled, saying, “It is a phantom.4 But He coming up into the ship took away the fluctuation of mind from their hearts, when they were now more endangered in their souls by doubting, than before in their bodies by the waves.

2. Yet in all this that the Lord did, He instructs us as to the nature of our life here. In this world there is not a man who is not a stranger; though all do not desire to return to their own country. Now by this very journey we are exposed to waves and tempests; but we must needs be at least in the ship. For if there be perils in the ship, without the ship there is certain destruction. For whatever strength of arm he may have who swims in the open sea, yet in time he is carried away and sunk, mastered by the greatness of its waves. Need then there is that we be in the ship, that is, that we be carried in the wood, that we may be able to cross this sea. Now this Wood in which our weakness is carried is the Cross of the Lord, by which we are signed, and delivered from the dangerous tempests5 of this world. We are exposed to the violence of the waves; but He who helpeth us is God.

3. For in that when the Lord had left the multitudes, “He went up alone into a mountain to pray;”6 that mountain signifies the height of heaven. For having left the multitudes, the Lord after His Resurrection ascended Alone into heaven, and “there,” as the Apostle says, “He maketh intercession for us.”7 There is some meaning then in His “leaving the multitudes, and going up into a mountain to pray Alone.” For He Alone is as yet the First-begotten from the dead, after the resurrection of His Body, unto the right hand of the Father, the High Priest and Advocate of our prayers. The Head of the Church is above, that the rest of the members may follow at the end. If then “He maketh intercession for us,” above the height of all creatures, as it were on the mountain top, “He prayeth Alone.”

4. Meanwhile the ship which carries the disciples, that is, the Church, is tossed and shaken by the tempests of temptation; and the contrary wind, that is, the devil her adversary, rests not, and strives to hinder her from arriving at rest. But greater is “He who maketh intercession for us.” For in this our tossing to and fro in which we toil, He giveth us confidence in coming to us, and strengthening us; only let us not in our trouble throw ourselves out of the ship, and cast ourselves into the sea. For though the ship be in trouble, still it is the ship. She alone carrieth the disciples, and receiveth Christ. There is danger, it is true, in the sea; but without her there is instant perishing. Keep thyself therefore in the ship, and pray to God. For when all counsels fail, when even the rudder is unserviceable, and the very spreading of the sails is rather dangerous than useful, when all human help and strength is gone, there remains only for the sailors the earnest cry of entreaty, and pouring out of prayer to God. He then who grants to sailors to reach the haven, shall He so forsake His own Church, as not to bring it on to rest?

5. Yet, Brethren, this exceeding trouble is not in this ship, save only in the absence of the Lord. What! can he who is in the Church, have his Lord absent from him? When has he his Lord absent from him? When he is overcome by any lust. For as we find it said in a certain place in a figure,8 “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil:”9 and this is understood not of this visible sun which holds as it were the zenith of glory among the rest of the visible creation, and which can be seen equally by us and by the beasts; but of that Light which none but the pure hearts of the faithful see; as it is written, “That was the true Light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.”10 For this light of the visible sun “lighteneth” even the minutest and smallest animals. Righteousness then and wisdom is that true light, which the mind ceases to see, when it is overcome by the disordering of anger as by a cloud; and then, as it were, the sun goes down upon a man’s wrath. So also in this ship, when Christ is absent, every one is shaken by his own storms, and iniquities, and evil desires. For, for example, the law tells thee, “Thou shall not bear false witness.” If thou observe the truth of witness, thou hast light in the soul; but if overcome by the desire of filthy lucre, thou hast determined in thymind to speak false witness, thou wilt at once begin through Christ’s absence to be troubled by the tempest, thou wilt be tossed to and fro bythe waves of thy covetousness, thou wilt be endangered by the violent storm of thy lusts, and as it were through Christ’s absence be well nigh sunk.

6. What cause of fear is there, lest the ship be diverted from her course, and take a backward direction; which happens when, abandoning the hope of heavenly rewards, desire turneth the helm, and a man is turned to those things which are seen and pass away! For whosoever is disturbed by the temptations of lusts, and nevertheless still looks into those things which are within, is not so utterly in a desperate state, if he beg pardon for his faults, and exert himself to overCome and surmount the fury of the raging sea. But he who is so turned aside from what he was, as to say in his heart, “God does not see me;for He does not think of me, nor care whether I sin;” he hath turned the helm, borne away bythe storm, and driven back to the point he camefrom. For there are many thoughts in the heartsof men; and when Christ is absent, the ship is tossed by the waves of this world, and by tempests manifold.

7. Now the fourth watch of the night, is the end of the night; for each watch consists of three hours. It signifies then, that now in the end of the world the Lord is come to help, and is seen to walk upon the waters. For though this ship be tossed about by the storms of temptations, yet she sees her Glorified God walking above all the swellings of the sea; that is, above all the principalities of this world. For before it was said by an expression suited to the time of His Passion,11 when according to the flesh He showed forth an example of humility, that the waves of the sea vainly raged12 against Him, to which He yielded voluntarily for our sakes. that that prophecy, “I am come into the depths of the sea, and the floods overflow Me,”13 might be fulfilled. For He did not repel the false witnesses, nor the savage shout of those that said, “Let Him be crucified.” He did not by His power repress the savage hearts and words of those furious men, but in patience endured them all. They did unto Him whatsoever they listed; because He “became obedient to death, even the death of the Cross.”14 But after that He was risen from the dead, that He might pray alone for His disciples placed in the Church as in a ship, and borne on in the faith of His Cross, as in wood, and in peril through this world’s temptations as through the waves of the sea; His Name began to be honoured even in this world in which He was despised, accused, and slain; that He who in the dispensation of His suffering in the flesh, “had come into the depths of the sea, and the floods had overwhelmed Him,” might now through the glory of His Name tread upon the necks of the proud as on the foaming waters. Just as we now see the Lord walking as it were upon the sea, under whose feet we behold the whole madness of this world subjected.

8. But to the perils of tempests are added also the errors of heretics; and there are not wanting those who so try the minds of them that are in the ship, as to say that Christ15 was not born of a Virgin, nor had a real body, but seemed to the eyes what He was not. And these opinions of heretics have sprung up now, when the Name of Christ is already glorified throughout all nations; when Christ, that is, is as it were now walking on the sea. The disciples in their trial said, “It is a phantom.”16 But He giveth us strength against these pestilent opinions by His own voice, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.”17 For men in vain fear have conceived these opinions concerning Christ, looking at his Honour and Majesty; and they think that He could not be so born, who hath deserved to be so Glorified, fearing Him as it were “walking on the sea.” For by this action the excellency of His honour is figured; and so they think that He was a phantom. But when he saith, “It is I;” what else doth He say but that there is nothing in Him which does not really exist? Accordingly if He showeth His flesh, it is flesh; if bones, they are bones; if scars, they are scars. For “there was not in Him yea and nay, but in Him was yea,”18 as the Apostle says. Hence that expression,“Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.” Thatis, do not so stand in awe of My Majesty, as to wish to take away the reality of My Being from Me. Though I walk upon the sea, though I have under My feet the elation and the pride of this world, as the raging waves, yet have I appeared as very Man, yet does My Gospel proclaim the very truth concerning Me, that I was born of a Virgin, that I am the Word made flesh; that I said truly, “Handle Me, and see, for a spirit hath not bones as ye see Me have,”19 that they were true impresses of My wounds which the hands of the doubting Apostle handled. And therefore “It is I; be not afraid.”

9. But this, that the disciples thought He was a phantom, does not represent these only, does not designate them only who deny that the Lord had human flesh, and who sometimes by their blind perverseness disturb even those who are in the ship; but those also who think that the Lord has in anything spoken falsely, and who do not believe that the things which He has threatened the ungodly will come to pass. As though He were partly true, and partly false, appearing like a phantom in His words, as though He were something which is “yea and nay.” But they who understand His voice aright, who saith, “It is I; be not afraid;” believe at once all the words of the Lord, so that as they hope for the rewards He promises, so do they fear the punishments He threatens. For as that is true which He will say to those who are set on the right hand, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;”20 so is that true, which they on the left hand will hear, “Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his Angels.”21 For this very opinion, by which men think that Christ’s threatenings against the unrighteous and the abandoned are not true, has arisen from this, that they see many nations and multitudes innumerable subject to His Name; so that hence Christ appears to them to be a phantom, because He walked upon the sea; that is, He seems to speak falsely in His threats of punishment, because, as it were, He cannot destroy such numberless people who are subject to His Name and honour. But let them hear Him, saying, “It is I;” let them not therefore “be afraid,” who believing Christ to be true in all things, not only seek after what He hath promised, but avoid also what He hath threatened; because though He walk upon the sea, that is, though all the nations of men in this world are subject unto Him; yet is He no phantom, and therefore He doth not speak falsely, when He saith, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”22

10. What then does Peter’s daring to come to Him on the waters also signify? For Peter generally stands for a figure of the Church. What else then do we think is meant by, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water;”23 but, Lord, if Thou art true, and in nothing speakest falsely, let Thy Church also be glorified in this world, because prophecy hath proclaimed this concerning Thee. Let her walk then on the waters, and so let her come to Thee, to whom it is said, “The rich among the people shall entreat Thy favour.”24 But since to the Lord the praise of men is no temptation, but men are ofttimes in the Church disordered by human praises and honours, and well nigh sunk by them; therefore did Peter tremble in the sea, terrified at the great violence of the storm. For who does not fear those words, “They who call thee blessed cause thee to err, and disturb the ways of thy feet?”25 And because the soul hath much wrestling against the eager desire of human praise, good is it in such peril to betake one’s self to prayer and earnest entreaty: lest haply he who is charmed with praise, be overwhelmed and sunk by blame. Let Peter cry out as he totters in the water, and say, “Lord, save me.” For the Lord will reach forth His hand, and though He chide, saying, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” wherefore didst thou not look straight forward upon Him to whom thou wast making thy way, and glory only in the Lord? Nevertheless He will snatch him from the waves, and will not suffer Him to perish, who confesses his own infirmity, and begs His help. But when they had received the Lord into the ship, and their faith was strengthened and all doubt removed, and the tempests of the sea assuaged, so that they were come to a firm and secure landing, they all worship Him, saying, “Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.” For this is that everlasting joy, where Truth made manifest, and the Word of God, and the Wisdom by which all things were made, and the exceeding height of His Mercy, are both known and loved).

1 Causa.
2 (Mt 14,33
3 Evidentiam.
4 favntasma. Mt 14,26.
5 Submersionibus.
6 (Mt 14,23
7 (Rm 8,34).
8 In sacramento.
9 (Ep 4,26-27.
10 (Jn 1,9
11 (Ex voce passionis ejus.
12 Evanuerunt.
13 (Ps 69,2
14 (Ph 2,8
15 Manichees, Conf. B. 5,9 (16), 10 (20); B. 9,3 (6).
16 (Mt 14,26
17 (Mt 14,27).
18 (2Co 1,19
19 (Lc 24,39
20 (Mt 25,34
21 (Mt 25,41
22 (Mt 7,21
23 (Mt 14,28
24 (Ps 45,12
25 (Is 3,12 Vulgate).

Augustine on NT 72