Augustine on NT 103


Sermon LIII. [CIII. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Lc 10,38 “And a certain woman named Martha received him into her house,” etc.

1. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ which have just been read out of the Gospel, give us to understand, that there is some one thing for which we must be making, when we toil amid the manifold engagements of this life. Now we make for this as being yet in pilgrimage, and not in our abiding place; as yet in the way, not yet in our country; as yet in longing, not yet in enjoyment. Yet let us make for it, and that without sloth and without intermission, that we may some time be able to reach it.

2. Martha and Mary were two sisters, true kinswomen both, not only in blood, but in religion also; both clave to the Lord, both with one heart served the Lord when He was present in the flesh. Martha received Him, as strangers are usually received. Yet it was the handmaid received her Lord, the sick her Saviour, the creature her Creator. And she received Him to be fed in the body, herself to be fed in spirit. For the Lord was pleased to “take on Him the form of a servant,”1 and “having taken the form of a servant” in it to be fed by servants, by reason of His condescension, not His condition. For this truly was condescension, to allow Himself to be fed by others. He had a body, wherein He might hunger indeed and thirst; but do ye not know that when He hungered in the wilderness Angels ministered to Him?2 So then, in that He was pleased to be fed, He showed favour to them that fed Him. And what marvel is this, seeing He showed this same favour to the widow as touching the Holy Elias, whom He had before fed by the ministry of a raven?3 Did He fail in His power of feeding him, when He sent him to the widow? By no means. He did not fail in His power of feeding him, when He sent him to the widow; but He designed to bless the religious widow, by means of her pious office paid to His servant. Thus then was the Lord received as a guest, “who came unto His own, and His own received Him not: but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God:”4 adopting servants, and making them brethren; redeeming captives, and making them co-heirs. Yet let none of you, as perhaps may be the case, say, “O blessed they who obtained the grace5 to receive Christ into their own house!” Do not grieve, do not murmur, that thou wert born in times when thou seest the Lord no more in the flesh; He has not taken this blessedness from thee. “Forasmuch,” says He, “as ye have done it unto the least of Mine, ye have done unto Me.”6

3. These few words, as the shortness of the time allowed me, would I speak concerning the Lord who was pleased to be fed in the flesh, while He feedeth in the spirit: let us now come to the subject which I have proposed concerning unity. Martha, who was arranging and preparing to feed the Lord, was occupied about much serving. Mary her sister chose rather to be fed by the Lord. She in a manner deserted her sister who was toiling about much serving, and she sat herself at the Lord’s feet, and in stillness heard His word. Her most faithful ear had heard already; “Be still, and see that I am the Lord.”7 Martha was troubled, Mary was feasting; the one was arranging many things, the other had her eyes upon the One. Both occupations were good; but yet as to which was the better, what shall we say? We have One whom we may ask, let us give ear together. Which was the better, we heard now when the lesson was read, and let us hear again as I repeat it. Martha appeals to her Guest, lays the request of her pious complaints before the Judge, that her sister had deserted her, and neglected to assist her when she was so busied in her serving. Without any answer from Mary, yet in her presence, the Lord gives judgment. Mary preferred as in repose to commit her cause to the Judge, and had no mind to busy herself in making answer. For if she were to be getting ready words to answer, she must remit her earnest attention to hear. Therefore the Lord answered, who was in no difficulty for words, in that He was the Word. What then did He say? “Martha, Martha.”8 The repetition of the name is a token of love, or perhaps of exciting attention; she is named twice, that she might give the more attentive heed. “Martha, Martha,” hear: “Thou art occupied about many things: but one thing is needful;”9 for so meaneth unum opus est, not “one work,” that is, one single work, but one is needful, is expedient, is necessary, which one thing Mary had chosen.10

4. Consider, Brethren, this “one thing,” and see if even in multitude itself anything pleases, but “this oneness.” See how great a number, through God’s mercy, ye are: who could bear you, if ye did not mind “one thing”? Whence in this many is this quiet? Give oneness, and it is a people; take oneness away, and it is a crowd. For what is a crowd, but a disordered multitude? But give ear to the Apostle: “NowI beseech you, brethren.” He was speaking to a multitude; but be wished to make them all “one.” “Now I beseech you, brethren, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be perfected in the same mind, and in the same knowledge.”11 And in another place, “That ye be of one mind, thinking one thing, doing nothing through strife or vainglory.”12 And the Lord prays to the Father touching them that are His: “that they may be one even as We are One.”13 And in the Acts of the Apostles; “And the multitude of them that believed were of one soul, and of one heart.”14 Therefore, “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His Name in one together.”15 For one thing is necessary, that celestial16 Oneness, the Oneness in which the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit are One. See how the praise of Unity is commended to us. Undoubtedly our God is Trinity. The Father is not the Son the Son is not the Father, the Holy Spirit is neither the Father, nor the Son, but the Spirit of both; and yet these Three are not Three Gods, nor Three Almighties; but One God, Almighty, the whole Trinity is one God; because One thing is necessary. To this one thing nothing brings us, except being many we have one heart.

5. Good are ministrations done to the poor, and especially the due services and the religious offices done to the saints of God. For they are a payment, not a gift, as the Apostle says, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?”17 Good are they, we exhort you to them, yea by the word of the Lord we build you up, “be not slow to entertain” the saints. Sometimes, they who were not aware of it, by entertaining those whom they knew not, have entertained angels.18 These things are good; yet better is that thing which Mary hath chosen. For the one thing hath manifold trouble from necessity; the other hath sweetness from charity. A man wishes when he is serving, to meet with something; and sometimes he is not able: that which is lacking is sought for, that which is at hand is got ready; and the mind is distracted. For if Martha had been sufficient for these things, she would not have demanded her sister’s help. These things are manifold, are diverse, because they are carnal, because they are temporal; good though they be, they are transitory. But what said theLord to Martha? “Mary hath chosen that better part.” Not thou a bad, but she a better. Hear, how better; “which shall not be taken away from her.”19 Some time or other, the burden of these necessary duties shall be taken from thee: the sweetness of truth is everlasting. “That which she hath chosen shall not be taken away from her.” It is not taken away, but yet it is increased. In this life, that is, is it increased, in the other life it will be perfected, never shall it be “taken away.”

6. Yea, Martha, blessed in thy good serving, even thou (with thy leave would I say it) seekest this reward for all thy labour —quiet. Now thou art occupied about much serving, thou hast pleasure in feeding bodies which are mortal, though they be the bodies of Saints; but when thou shalt have got to that country, wilt thou find there any stranger whom thou mayest receive into thine house? wilt thou find the hungry, to whom thou mayest break thy bread? or the thirsty, to whom thou mayest hold out thy cup? the sick whom thou mayest visit? the litigious, whom thou mayest set at one? the dead, whom thou mayest bury? None of all these will be there, but what will be there? What Mary hath chosen; there shall we be fed, and shall not feed others. Therefore there will that be in fulness and perfection which Mary hath chosen here; from that rich table, from the word of the Lord did she gather up some crumbs. For would ye know what will be there? The Lord Himself saith of His servants: “Verily I say unto you, that He will make them to sit down to meat, and will pass by20 and serve them.”21 What is “to sit down to meat,” but to “be still”? What is, “to sit down to meat,” but to rest? What is, “He will pass by and serve them”? First, He passeth by, and so serveth. And where? In that heavenly Banquet, of which he saith, “Verily I say unto you, Many shall come from the East and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”22 There will the Lord feed us, but first He passeth on from hence. For (as ye should know) the Pasch is by interpretation Passing-over. The Lord came, He did divine things, He suffered human things. Is He still spit upon? Is He still struck with the palm of the hand? Is He still crowned with thorns? Is He still scourged? Is He still crucified? Is He still wounded with a spear? “He hath passed by.” And so too the Gospel tells us, when He kept the Paschal feast with His disciples. What says the Gospel? “But when the hour was come that Jesus should pass out of this world unto the Father.”23 Therefore did He pass,24 that He might feed us; let us follow, that we may be fed.

1 (Ph 2,7
2 (Mt 4,11
3 (1R 17,6
4 (Jn 1,11-12.
5 Meruerunt.
6 (Mt 25,40
7 (Ps 46,10
8 (Lc 10,41
9 (Lc 10,42).
10 St. Augustin is explaining the words unum opus est, which in themselves might mean, “there is one work,” or as in the text.
11 (1Co 1,10
12 (Ph 2,2-3.
13 (Jn 17,22
14 (Ac 4,32
15 (Ps 34,3
16 Supernum.
17 (1Co 9,11
18 (He 13,2
19 (Lc 10,42
20 harelqwn;transiens, Vulgate.
21 (Lc 12,37
22 (Mt 8,11).
23 (Jn 13,1
24 metabhv; transeat, Vulgate.


Sermon LIV. £[CIV. Ben.]

Again, on the words of the gospel, Lc 10,38 etc., About Martha and Mary.

1. When the holy Gospel was being read, we heard that the Lord was received by a religious woman into her house, and her name was Martha. And while she was occupied in the care of serving, her sister Mary was sitting at the Lord’s Feet, and hearing His Word. The one was busy, the other was still; one was giving out, the other was being filled. Yet Martha, all busy as she was in that occupation and toil of serving, appealed to the Lord, and complained of her sister, that she did not help her in her labour. But the Lord answered Martha for Mary; and He became her Advocate, who had been appealed to as Judge. “Martha,” He saith, “thou art occupied about many things, when one thing is necessary. Mary bath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.”1 For we have heard both the appeal of the appellant, and the sentence of the Judge. Which sentence answered the appellant, defended the other’s cause. For Mary was intent on the sweetness of the Lord’s word. Martha was intent, how she might feed the Lord; Mary intent how she might be fed by the Lord. By Martha a feast was being prepared for the Lord, in whose feast Mary was even now delighting herself. As Mary then was listening with sweet pleasure to His most sweet word, and was feeding with the most earnest affection, when the Lord was appealed to by her sister, how, think we, did she fear, lest the Lord should say to her, “Rise and help thy sister”? For by a wondrous sweetness was she held; a sweetness of the mind which is doubtless greater than that of the senses.2 She was excused, she sat in greater confidence. And how excused? Let us consider, examine, investigate it thoroughly as we can, that we may be fed also.

2. For what, do we imagine that Martha’s serving was blamed, whom the cares of hospitality had engaged, who had received the Lord Himself into her house? How could she be rightly blamed, who was gladdened by so greata guest? If this be true, let men give over theirministrations to the needy; let them choose for themselves “the better part, which shall not be taken from” them; let them give themselves3 wholly to the word, let them long after the sweetness of doctrine; be occupied about the saving knowledge; let it be no care to them, what stranger is in the street, who there is that wants bread, or clothing, or to be visited, to be redeemed, to be buried; let works of mercy cease, earnest heed be given to knowledge only. If this be “the better part,” why do not all do this, when we have the Lord Himself for our defender in this behalf? For we do not fear in this matter, lest we should offend His justice, when we have the support of His judgment.

3. And yet it is not so; but as the Lord spake so it is. It is not as thou understandest; but it is as thou oughtest to understand it. So mark; “Thou art occupied about many things, when one thing is needful. Mary hath chosen the better part.” Thou hast not chosen a bad part; but she a better. And how better? Because thou art “about many things,” she about “one thing.” One is preferred to many. For one does not come from many, but many from one.

The things which were made, are many, He who made them is One. The heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that in them are, how many are they! Who could enumerate them? who conceive their vast number? Who made all these? God made them all. Behold, “they are very good.”4 Very good are the things He made; how much better is He who made them! Let us consider then our “occupations about many things.” Much serving is necessary for the refreshment of our bodies. Wherefore is this? Because we hunger, and thirst. Mercy is necessary for the miserable. Thou breakest bread to the hungry; because thou hast found an hungry man; take hunger away; to whom dost thou break bread? Take houseless wandering5 away; to whom dost thou show hospitality? Take nakedness away; to whom dost thou furnish clothes? Let there be no sickness; whom dost thou visit? No captivity; whom dost thou redeem? No quarrelling; whom dost thou reconcile? No death; whom dost thou bury? In that world to come, these evils will not be; therefore these services will not be either. Well then did Martha, as touching the bodily—what shall I call it, want, or will, of the Lord?—minister to His mortal flesh. But who was He in that mortal flesh? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God:”6 see what Mary was listening to! “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us:”7 see to whom Martha was ministering! Therefore “hath Mary chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.” For she chose that which shall abide for ever; “it shall not be taken from her.” She wished to be occupied about “one thing.” She understood already, “But it is good for me to cleave to the Lord.”8 She sat at the feet of our Head. The more lowlily she sat, the more amply did she receive. For the water flows together to the low hollows of the valley, runs down from the risings of the hill. The Lord then did not blame Martha’s work, but distinguished between their services. “Thou art occupied about many things; yet one thing is needful.” Already hath Mary chosen this for herself. The labour of manifoldness passeth away, and the love of unity abideth. Therefore what she hath chosen, “shall not be taken from her.” But from thee, that which thou hast chosen (of course this follows, of course this is understood) from thee, that which thou hast chosen shall be taken away. But to thy blessedness shall it be taken away,that that which is better may be given. Forlabour shall be taken away from thee, that rest may be given. Thou art still on the sea, she is already in port.

4. Ye see then, dearly Beloved, and, as I suppose, ye understand already, that in these two women, who were both well pleasing to the Lord, both objects of His love, both disciples; ye see, I say (and an important thing it is which whosoever understand, understand hereby, a thing which, even those of you who do not understand ought to give ear to, and to know), that in these two women the two lives are figured, the life present, and the life to come, the life of labour, and the life of quiet, the life of sorrow, and the life of blessedness, the life temporal, and the life eternal. These are the two lives: do ye think of them more fully. What this life contains, I speak not of a life of evil, or iniquity, or wickedness, or luxuriousness, or ungodliness; but of labour, and full of sorrows, by fears subdued, by temptations disquieted: even this harmless life I mean, such as was suitable for Martha: this life I say, examine as best ye can; and as I have said, think of it more fully than I speak. But a wicked life was far from that house, and was neither with Martha nor with Mary; and if it ever had been, it fled at the Lord’s entrance. There remained then in that house, which had received the Lord, in the twowomen the two lives, both harmless, both praiseworthy; the one of labour, the other of ease;neither vicious, neither slothful. Both harmless, both, I say, praiseworthy: but one of labour, the other of ease: neither vicious, which the life of labour must beware of; neither slothful, which the life of ease must beware of. There were then in that house these two lives, and Himself, the Fountain of life. In Martha was the image of things present, in Mary of things to come. What Martha was doing, that weare now; what Mary was doing, that we hope for. Let us do the first well, that we may have the second fully. For what of it have we now? How far have we it? As long as we are here, how much of it is there that we have?For in some measure are we employed in it now, and ye too when removed from business, and laying aside domestic cares, ye meet together, stand, listen. In so far as ye do this, ye are like Mary. And with greater facility do ye do that which Mary doeth, than I who have to distribute. Yet if I say ought, it is Christ’s; therefore doth it feed you, because it is Christ’s. For the Bread is common to us all, of which I too live as well as you. “But now we live, if ye, Brethren, stand fast in the Lord.”9 I would not that ye should stand fast in us, but in the Lord. “For neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”10

1 (Lc 10,41-42.
2 Ventris.
3 Vacent.
4 (Gn 1,31
5 Peregrinationem.
6 (Jn 1,1).
7 (Jn 1,14
8 (Ps 73,28
9 (1Th 3,8 1Th 3
10 (1Co 3,7


Sermon LV). [CV. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Lc 11,5 “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight,” etc.

1. We have heard our Lord, the Heavenly Master, and most faithful Counsellor exhorting us, who at once exhorteth us to ask, and giveth when we ask. We have heard Him in the Gospel exhorting us to ask instantly, and to knock even after the likeness of intrusive importunity. For He has set before us, for the sake of example, “If any of you had a friend, and were to ask of him at night for three loaves,1 when a friend out of his way had come to him, and he had nothing to set before him; and he were to answer that he was now at rest, and his servants with him, and that he must not be disturbed by his entreaties; but the other were to be instant and persevering in knocking, and not being alarmed in modesty to depart, but compelled by necessity to continue on; that he would rise, though not for friendship’s sake, at least for the other’s importunity, and would give him as many as he wished.” And how many did he wish? He wished for no more than three. To this parable then, the Lord adjoined an exhortation, and urged us earnestly to ask, seek, knock, till we receive what we ask, and seek, and knock for, making use of an example from a contrary case; as of that “judge who neither feared God, nor regarded man,”2 and yet when a certain widow besought him day by day, overcome by her importunity, he gave her that which he could not in kindness give her, against his will. But our Lord Jesus Christ, who is in the midst of us a Petitioner, with God a Giver, would not surely exhort us so strongly to ask, if He were not willing to give. Let then the slothfulness of men be put to shame; He is more willing to give, than we to receive; He is more willing to show mercy, than we to be delivered from misery; and doubtless if we shall not be delivered, we shall abide in misery. For the exhortation He giveth us, He giveth only for our own sakes.

2. Let us awake, and believe Him who exhorteth us, obey Him who promiseth us, and rejoice in Him who giveth unto us. For peradventure, some time or other some friend out of his way has come to us too, and we have found nothing to set before him; and under the experience of this necessity, we have received both for ourselves and him. For it cannot be, but that some one of us hath fallen in with a friend who asked him something, which he could not answer; and then he has discovered that he has it not, when he is pressed to give it. A friend has come to thee “out of the way,” out, that is, of the life of this world, in which all men are passing along as strangers, and no one abides here as possessor; but to every man it is said, “Thou hast been refreshed, pass on, go on thy way, give place to the next comer.”3 Or perhaps from an evil “way,” that is, from an evil life, some friend of thine wearied out, and not finding the truth, by the hearing and perceiving of which he may be made happy, but exhausted amid all the lust and poverty of the world, comes to thee, as to a Christian, and says, “Give me an account of this, make me a Christian.” And he asks what it may be thou didst not know through the simplicity of thy faith; and so thou hast not whereby to recruit him in his hunger, and reminded thus thou discoverest thine own indigence; and when thou wishest to teach thou art forced to learn; and whilst thou dost blush before him who asked thee, as not finding in thyself what he was seeking for, thou art compelled to seek, that thou mayest be thought worthy4 to find.

3. And where shouldest thou seek. Where but in the books of the Lord? Peradventure what he has asked is contained in the book, but it is obscure. Perhaps the Apostle has declared it in some Epistle: declared it in such wise, that thou canst read, but canst not understand it: thou art not permitted to pass on. For the interrogator urges thee; Paul himself, or Peter, or any of the Prophets thou art not allowed to ask. For this family is now at rest with their Lord, and intense is the ignorance of this life, that is, it is midnight, and thy hungry friend is urgent upon thee. A simple faith haply sufficed thee, him it suffices not. Is he then to be abandoned? Is he to be cast out of thy house? Therefore unto the Lord Himself, unto Him with whom the family is at rest, knock by prayer, ask, be instant. He will not, as that friend in the parable, arise and give thee as overcome by importunity. He wisheth to give; thou for thy knocking hast not yet received; knock on; He wisheth to give. And what He wisheth to give, He deferreth, that thou mayest long the more for it when deferred, lest if given quickly it should be lightly esteemed.

4. But when thou hast gotten the three loaves, that is, to feed on and understand the Trinity, thou hast that whereby thou mayest both live thyself, and feed others. Now thou needest not fear the stranger who comes out of his way to thee, but by taking him in mayest make him a citizen of the household: nor needest thou fear lest thou come to the end of it. That Bread will not come to an end, but it will put an end to thine indigence. It is Bread, God the Father, and it is Bread, God the Son, and it is Bread, God the Holy Ghost. The Father Eternal, the Son Coeternal with Him, and the Holy Ghost Coeternal. The Father Unchangeable, the Son Unchangeable, the Holy Ghost Unchangeable. The Father Creator, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father the Shepherd and the Giver of life, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father the Food and Bread eternal, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Learn, and teach; live thyself, and feed others. God who giveth to thee, giveth thee nothing better than Himself. Othou greedy one, what else wast thou seeking for? Or if thou seek for aught else, what will suffice thee whom God doth suffice not?

5. But necessary it is that thou have charity, that thou have faith, that thou have hope; that which is given may be sweet unto thee. And these same, faith, hope, charity, are three. And these too are gifts of God. For faith we have received from Him; “As God,” saith he, “hath distributed to every one the measure of faith.”5 And hope we have received from Him, to whom it is said, “Wherein Thou hast caused me to hope.”6 And charity we have received from Him, of whom it is said, “The charity of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which hath been given to us.”7 Now these three are likewise in some measure different; but all gifts of God. For “there abide these three, faith, hope, charity; but the greatest of these is charity.”8 In those loaves it is not said that any one loaf was greater than the others; but simply that three loaves were asked for, and were given.

6. See other three things: “Who is there of you, whom if his son ask a loaf, will he give him a stone? Or who is there of you of whom if his son ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? or if he ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being 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!”9 Let us then again consider these three things, if haply there be not here those three, “faith, hope, charity; but the greatest of these is charity.” Set down then these three things, a loaf, a fish, an egg; the greatest of these is a loaf. Therefore in these three things do we well understand charity by “the loaf.” On which account He has opposed a stone to a loaf; because hardness is contrary to charity. By “a fish” we understand faith. A certain holy man has said, and we are glad to say it too; “The ‘good fish’ is a godly faith.” It lives amidst the waves, and is not broken or dissolved by the waves. Amidst the temptations and tempests of this world, liveth godly faith; the world rages, yet it is uninjured. Observe only that serpent is contrary to faith. For My faith is she betrothed to whom it is said in the Song of Songs, “Come from Lebanon, My spouse, coming and passing over to Me from the beginning of faith.”10 Therefore betrothed too, because faith is the beginning of betrothal. For something is promised by the bridegroom, and by this plighted faith is he held bound. Now to the fish the Lord opposed the serpent, to faith the devil. Wherefore to this betrothed one does the Apostle say, “I have betrothed you to One Husband, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ.” And, “I fear lest as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds also should be corrupted from the purity which is in Christ;”11 that is, which is in the faith of Christ. For he says, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”12 Therefore let not the devil corrupt our faith, let him not devour the fish.

7. There remains hope, which, as I think, is compared to an egg. For hope has not yet arrived at attainment; and an egg is something, but not yet the chicken. So then quadrupeds give birth to young ones, but birds to the hope of young. Hope therefore exhorts us to this, to despise things present, to wait for things to come; “forgetting those things which are behind,” let us, with the Apostle,” reach forth unto those things which are before.”13 For so hesays; “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forth unto those things which are before, I follow on earnestly unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Nothing then is so hostile tohope, as to “look back,” to place hope, that is, in those things which flit by and pass away; but in those things should we place it, which are not yet given, but which sometime will be given, and will never pass away. But when the world is deluged by trials,14 as it were the sulphureous rain of Sodom, the example of Lot’s wife must be feared. For she “looked behind;”15 and in the spot where she looked behind, there did she remain. She was turned into salt, that she might season the wise by her example. Of this hope the Apostle Paul speaketh thus; “For we are saved in hope; but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for: but if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. For what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for.”16 It is an egg, and not as yet the chicken. And it is covered with a shell; it is not seen because it is covered; let it be with patience waited for; let it feel the warmth, that it may come to life. Press on, “reach forth unto the things which are before, forget the past. For the things which are seen, are temporal. Not looking back,” says he, “at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”17 Unto those things which are not seen then extend thy hope, wait, endure. Look not back. Fear “the scorpion” for thine “egg.” See how he wounds with the tail, which he has behind him. Let not then the “scorpion” crush thine “egg,” let not this world crush thy hope (so to say) with its poison, therefore against thee, because behind. How loudly does the world talk to thee, what an uproar does it make behind thy back, that thou mayest look back! that is, that thou mayest place thy hope in present things (and yet not even present, for they cannot be called present which have no fixedness), and mayest turn thy mind away from that which Christ hath promised, and not yet given, but who, seeing He is faithful, will give it, and mayest be content to look for rest in a perishing world.

8. For this cause does God mingle bitternesses with the felicities of earth, that another felicity may be sought, in whose sweetness there is no deceit; yet by these very bitternesses does the world endeavour to turn thee away from thy longing pursuit after the things “which are before,” and to turn thee back. For these bitternesses, for these tribulations dost thou murmur and say, “See, all things are perishing in Christian times.” What complaint is this! God hath not promised me that these things shall not perish; Christ hath not promised me this. The Eternal hath promised things eternal: if I believe, from a mortal, I shall be made eternal. What noise is this, O world18 impure! what murmuring is this! Why art thou trying to turn me back? Perishing as thou art, thou wishest to detain me; what wouldest thou do, if thou hadst any permanence? Whom wouldest thou not beguile by thy sweetness, if with all thy bitternesses thou dost impose thy false nourishment19 upon us? For me, if I have hope, if I hold fast my hope, my “egg” has not been wounded by the “scorpion.” “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be ever in my mouth.”20 Be the world prosperous, or be the world turned upside down; “I will bless the Lord,” who made the world. Yes, verily, I will bless Him. Be it well with me according to the flesh, or be it ill according to the flesh, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be ever in my mouth.” For if I bless when it is well, and blaspheme when it is ill with me; I have received the “scorpion’s” sting, being pricked “I have looked back;” which be far from us. “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away: it is done, as the Lord pleased; blessed be the name of the Lord.”21

9. The city which has given us birth according to the flesh still abideth, God be thanked. O that it may receive a spiritual birth, and together with us pass over unto eternity! If the city which has given us birth according to the flesh abide not, yet that which has given us birth according to the Spirit abides for ever. “The Lord doth build up Jerusalem.”22 Has He by sleeping brought His building to ruin, or by not keeping it, let the enemy into it? “Except the Lord keep the city, he that keepeth it waketh but in vain.”23 And what “city”? “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”24 What is Israel, but the seed of Abraham? What the seed of Abraham, but Christ? “And to thy seed,” he says, “which is Christ.”25 And to us what says he? “But ye are Christ’s, therefore Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”26 “In thy seed,” saith He, “shall all nations be blessed.”27 The holy city, the faithful city, the city on earth a sojourner, hath its foundation in heaven. O faithful one, do not corrupt thy hope, do not lose thy charity, “gird up thy loins,” light, and hold out thy lamps before thee; “wait for the Lord, when He will return from the wedding.”28 Why art thou alarmed, because the kingdoms of the earth are perishing? Therefore hath a heavenly kingdom been promised thee, that thou mightest not perish with the kingdoms of the earth. For it was foretold, foretold distinctly, that they should perish. For we cannot deny that it was foretold. Thy Lord for whom thou art waiting, hath told thee, “Nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”29 The kingdoms of the earth have their changes; He will come of whom it is said, “and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”30

10. They who have promised this to earthly kingdoms have not been guided by truth, but have lied through flattery. A certain poet of theirs has introduced Jupiter speaking, and he says of the Romans;

To them no bounds of empire I assign,

Nor term of years to their immortal line.31

Most certainly truth makes no such answer. This empire which thou hast given “without term of years,” is it on earth, or in heaven? On earth assuredly. And even if it were in heaven, yet “heaven and earth shall pass away.”32 Those things shall pass away which God hath Himself made; how much more rapidly shall that pass away which Romulus founded! Perhaps if we had a mind to press Virgil on this point, and tauntingly to ask him why he said it; he would take us aside privately, and say to us, “I know this as well as you, but what could I do who was selling words to the Romans, if by this kind of flattery I did not promise something which was false? And yet even in this very instance I have been cautious, when I said, ‘I assigned to them an empire without term of years,’ I introduced their Jupiter to say it. I did not utter this falsehood in my own person, but put upon Jupiter the character of untruthfulness: as the god was false, the poet was false. For would ye know that I well knew the truth of it? In another place, when I did not introduce this stone, called Jupiter, but spoke in my own person, I said,‘Th’ impending ruin of the Roman state.’33

See how I spoke of the impending ruin of the state. I spoke of its impending ruin. I did not suppress it.” When he spoke in truth he was not silent as to its ruin; when in flattery, he promised that it should abide for ever.

11. Let us not then faint, my Brethren: an end there will be to all earthly kingdoms. If that end be now, God knoweth. For peradventure it is not yet, and we, through some infirmity, or mercifulness, or misery, are wishing that it may not be yet; nevertheless will it not therefore some day be? Fix your hope in God, desire the things eternal, wait for the things eternal. Ye are Christians, Brethren, we are all Christians. Christ did not come down into the flesh that34 we might live softly; let us endure rather than love the things present; manifest is the harm of adversity, deceitful is the soft blandishment of prosperity. Fear the sea, even when it is a calm. On no account let us hear in vain, “Let us lift up our hearts.” Why place we our hearts in the earth, when we see that the earth is being turned upside down? We cannot but exhort you, that ye may have something to say and answer in defence of your hope against the deriders and blasphemers of the Christian name. Let no one by his murmuring turn you back from waiting for the things to come. All who by reason of these adversities blaspheme our Christ, are the “scorpion’s” tail. Let us put our egg under the wings of that Hen of the Gospel, which crieth out to that false and abandoned city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen her chickens, and thou wouldest not!”35 Let it not be said to us, “How often would I, and thou wouldest not!” For that hen is the Divine Wisdom; but I assumed flesh to accommodate Itself to its chickens. See the hen with feathers bristling, with wings hanging down, with voice broken, and tremulous, and faint, and languid, accommodating herself to her little ones. Our egg then, that is, our hope, let us place beneath the wings of this Hen.

12. Ye have noticed, it may be, how a hen will tear a scorpion in pieces. O then that the Hen of the Gospel would tear in pieces and devour these blasphemers, creeping out of their holes, and inflicting hurtful stings, would pass them over into Her Body, and turn them into an egg. Let them not be angry; we seem to be excited; but we do not return curses for curses. “We are cursed, and we bless, being defamed, we entreat.”36 But “let him not speak of Rome, it is said of me: O that he would hold his tongue about Rome;” as though I were insulting it, and not rather entreating the Lord for it, and exhorting you all, unworthy as I am. Be it far from me to insult it! The Lord avert this frommy heart, and from the grief of my conscience. Have we not had many brethren there? have we not still? Does not a large portion of the pilgrim city Jerusalem live there? has it not endured there temporal afflictions? but it has not lost the things eternal. What can I say then, when I speak of Rome, but that is false, which they say of our Christ, that He is Rome’s destroyer, and that the gods of wood and stone were her defenders? Add what is more costly, “gods of brass.” Add what is costlier still, “of silver and gold:” the “idols of the nations are silver and gold.”37 He did not say, “stone;” he did not say, “wood;” he did not say, “clay;” but, what they value highly, “silver and gold.” Yet these silver and golden idols “have eyes, and see not.”38 The gods of gold, of wood, are as regards their costliness unequal; but as to “having eyes, and seeing not,” they are equal. See to what sort of guardians learned men have entrusted Rome, to those “who have eyes, and see not.” Or if the were able to preserve Rome, why did they first perish themselves? The say; “Rome perished at the same time.”Nevertheless they perished. “No,” they say, “they did not perish themselves, but their statues.” Well, how then could they keep your houses, who were not able to keep their own statues? Alexandria once lost such gods as these. Constantinople some time since, ever since it was made a grand city, for it was made so by a Christian Emperor, lost its false gods; and yet it has increased, and still increases, and remains. And remain it will, as long as God pleases. For we do not to this city either promise an eternal duration because we say this. Carthage remains now in its possession of the Name of Christ, yet once on a time its goddess Caelestis39 was overthrown; because celestial she was not, but terrestrial.

13. And that which they say is not true, that immediately on losing her gods Rome has been taken40 and ruined. It is not true at all; their images were overthrown before; and even so were the Goths with Rhadagaisus41 conquered. Remember, my Brethren, remember; it is no long time since, but a few years, call it to mind. When all the images in the city of Rome had been overthrown, Rhadagaisus king of the Goths came with a large army, much more numerous than that of Alaric was. Rhadagaisus was a Pagan; he sacrificed to Jupiter every day. Everywhere it was announced, that Rhadagaisus did not cease from sacrificing. Then said they all, “Lo, we do not sacrifice, he does sacrifice, we, who are not allowed to sacrifice must be conquered by him who does sacrifice.” But God making proof that not even temporal deliverance, nor the preservation of these earthly kingdoms, consist in these sacrifices, Rhadagaisus, by the Lord’s help, was marvellously overcome. Afterwards came other Goths who did not sacrifice, they came, who though they were not Catholics in the Christian faith, were yet hostile and opposed to idols, and they took Rome; they conquered those who put their trust in idols, who were still seeking after the idols they had lost, and desiring still to sacrifice to the lost gods. And amongst them too were some of our brethren, and these were afflicted also: but they had learnt to say, “I will bless the Lord at all times.”42 They were involvedin the afflictions of their earthly kingdom: but they lost not the kingdom of heaven; yea, I rather, they were made the better for obtaining it through the exercise of tribulations. And if they did not in their tribulations blaspheme, they came out as sound vessels from the furnace, and were filled with the blessing of the Lord. Whereas those blasphemers, who follow and long after earthly things, who place their hope in earthly things, when these they have lost, whether they will or no, what shall they retain? where shall they abide? Nothing without, nothing within; an empty coffer, an emptier conscience. Where is their rest? where their salvation? where their hope? Let them then come, let them give over blaspheming, let them learn to adore; let the scorpions with their stings be devoured by the Hen, let them be turned into His body who makes them pass over into it; let them on earth be exercised, in heaven be crowned.

1 (Lc 11,5).
2 (Lc 18,2
3 (Si 29,27
4 Merearis.
5 (Rm 12,3
6 (Ps 119,49
7 (Rm 5,5).
8 (1Co 13,13
9 (Lc 11,11-13.
10 (Ct 4,8 Sept. See on St. Cyprian, Ep. p. 278, note n.
11 (2Co 11,2-3.
12 (Ep 3,17
13 (Ph 3,13
14 As by the irruption of the barbarian tribes.
15 (Gn 19,26
16 (Rm 8,24-25.
17 (2Co 4,18).
18 Munde immunde.
19 Alimenta mentiris.
20 (Ps 34,1
21 (Jb 1,21 Sept.
22 (Ps 147,2
23 (Ps 127,1
24 (Ps 121,4
25 (Ga 3,16
26 (Ga 3,29
27 (Gn 12,3 Gn 22,18.
28 (Lc 12,35-36.
29 (Mc 13,8
30 (Lc 1,33
31 Virg). Aeneid, i. 282-283 (Dryden).
32 (Lc 21,33
33 Georg.ii. 489).
34 Ad delicias.
35 (Mt 23,37
36 (1Co 4,12-13.
37 (Ps 115,4
38 (Ps 115,5
39 Tutelary goddess of Carthage). De Civit. Dei, 2,4 and 26; Ps 62, § 7, 98, § 14. Tert). Apol. 1,12, 24.
40 By Alaric, Gibbon, vol. 4, 109, etc.
41 King of the Goths, who invaded Italy, A.D. 406, four years before the taking of Rome by Alaric, 410, Gibbon, (Rm Emp. vol. 4, 31-38).
42 (Ps 34,1

Augustine on NT 103