AUGUSTINE is so catholic, both his perceptions of the human quandary and in his interpretation of the cosmic role played by Christ’s saving Church, as to defy ready analysis of his significance. Clearly, one who could so reveal the soul’s yearning in his Confessions, even as he dramatized the Lord’s inexorable victory in The City of God, would be expected to preach the redeeming Gospel to the nations. Augustine was abundantly able to do so. From a plethora of sermons, selections have been made in terms of his evangelical qualities, homiletic versatility, and all-round appeal to the Christian believer. The first three selections are in the edition and translation of MPL 38: 372-74, 584-89, 796-97; NPNF 1st Ser., VI, 271-72, 408-11, 543-44. The last three are translated by Miss Caroline Warner from MPL 38:966-67, 971-72, 1058-60, and 1475-78.
ON THAT THAT IS WRITTEN IN THE GOSPEL, MATT. 5:16, “EVEN SO LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN, THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS, AND GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN”: AND CONTRARIWISE, 6:1, “TAKE HEED THAT YE DO NOT YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE MEN, TO BE SEEN OF THEM”
(Sermon IV [LIV Ben.] on New Testament Lessons)
1. It is wont to perplex many persons, Dearly beloved, that our Lord Jesus Christ in His Evangelical Sermon, after He had first said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16); said afterwards, Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them (Matt. 6:1). For so the mind of him who is weak in understanding is disturbed, is desirous to obey both precepts, and distracted by diverse, and contradictory commandments. For a man can as little obey but one master, if he give contradictory orders, as he can serve two masters, which the Saviour Himself hath testified in the same Sermon to be impossible. What then must the mind that is in this hesitation do, when it thinks that it cannot, and yet is afraid not to obey? For if he set his good works in the light to be seen of men, that he may fulfill the command, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven; he will think himself involved in guilt because he has done contrary to the other precept which says, Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them. And again, if fearing and avoiding this, he conceal his good works, he will think that he is not obeying Him who commands, saying, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.
2. But he who is of a right understanding, fulfills both, and will obey in both the Universal Lord of all, who would not condemn the slothful servant, if he commanded those things which could by no means be done. For give ear to Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God (Rom. 1:1), both doing and teaching both duties. See how his light shineth before men, that they may see his good works. We commend ourselves, saith he, to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (II Cor. 4:2). And again, For we provide things honest, not only in the 74 sight of God, but also in the sight of men (II Cor. 8:21). And again, Please all men in all things, even as I please all men in all things (I Cor. 10:33). See, on the other hand, how he takes heed, that he do not his righteousness before men to be seen of them. Let every man, saith he, prove his own work, and then shall he have glorying in himself, and not in another (Gal. 6:4). And again, For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience (II Cor. 1:12). And that, than which nothing is plainer, If, saith he, I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10). But lest any of those who are perplexed about the precepts of our Lord Himself as contradictory, should much more raise a question against His Apostle and say, How sayest thou, Please all men in all things, even as I also please all men in all things: and yet also sayest, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ? May the Lord Himself be with us, who spake also in His servant and Apostle, and open to us His will, and give us the means of obeying it.
3. The very words of the Gospel carry with them their own explanation; nor do they shut the mouths of those who hunger, seeing they feed the hearts of them that knock. The intention of a man’s heart, its direction and its aim, is what is to be regarded. For if he who wishes his good works to be seen of men, sets before men his own glory and advantage, and seeks for this in the sight of men, he does not fulfill either of those precepts which the Lord has given as touching this matter; because He has at once looked to doing his righteousness before men to be seen of them; and his light has not so shined before men that they should see his good works, and glorify His Father which is in heaven. It was himself he wished to be glorified, not God; he sought his own advantage, and loved not the Lord’s will. Of such the Apostle says, For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s (Phil. 2:21) Accordingly, the sentence was not finished at the words, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works; but there was immediately subjoined why this was to be done; that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven; that when a man who does good works is seen of men, he may have only the intention of the good work in his own conscience, but may have no intention of being known, save for the praise of God, for their advantage-sake to whom he is thus made known; for to them this advantage comes, that God who has given this power to 75 man begins to be well-pleasing to them; and so they do not despair, but that the same power might be vouchsafed to themselves also if they would. And so He did not conclude the other precept, Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, otherwise than in the words, to be seen of them; nor did He add in this case, that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven, but rather, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. For by this He shows us, that they who are such, as he will not have His faithful ones to be, seek a reward in this very thing, that they are seen of men — that it is in this they place their good — in this that they delight the vanity of their heart — in this is their emptiness, and inflation, their swelling, and wasting away. For why was it not sufficient to say, Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, but that he added, that ye may be seen of them, except because there are some who do their righteousness before men; not that they may be seen of them, but that the works themselves may be seen; and the Father which is in heaven, who hath vouchsafed to endow with these gifts the ungodly whom He had justified, may be glorified?
4. They who are such, neither do they account their righteousness as their own, but His, by the faith of whom they live (whence also the Apostle says, That I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil. 3:8, 9); and in another place, That we may be the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21). Whence also he finds fault with the Jews in these words, Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and wishing to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3). Whosoever then wish their good works to be so seen of men, that He may be glorified from whom they have received those things which are seen in them, and that thereby those very persons who see them, may through the dutifulness of faith be provoked to imitate the good, their light shines truly before men, because there beams forth from them the light of charity; theirs is no mere empty fume of pride; and in the very act they take precautions, that they do not their righteousness before men to be seen of them, in that they do not reckon that righteousness as their own, nor do they therefore do it that they may be seen; but that He may be made known, who is praised in them that are justified, 76 that so He may bring to pass in him that praises that which is praised in others, that is, that He may make him that praises to be himself the object of praise. Observe the Apostle too, how that when he had said, Please all men in all things, as I also please all men in all things (I Cor. 10:33); he did not stop there, as if he had placed in that, namely, the pleasing men, the end of his intention; for else he would have said falsely, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ; but he subjoined immediately why it was that he pleased men; Not seeking, saith he mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. So he at once did not please men for his own profit, lest he should not be the servant of Christ; and he did please men for their salvation’s sake, that he might be a faithful Minister of Christ; because for him his own conscience in the sight of God was enough, and from him there shined forth in the sight of men something which they might imitate.
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MARK 8:34, “IF ANY MAN WOULD COME AFTER ME, LET HIM DENY HIMSELF,” ETC. AND ON THE WORDS I JOHN 2:15, “IF ANY MAN LOVE THIS WORLD, THE LOVE OF THE FATHER IS NOT IN HIM”
(Sermon XLVI [XCVI Ben.] on New Testament Lessons)
1. Hard and grievous does that appear which the Lord hath enjoined, that whosoever will come after Him, must deny himself (Mark 8:34). But what He enjoineth is not hard or grievous; who aideth us that what He enjoineth may be done. For both is that true which is said to Him in the Psalm, Because of the words of Thy lips I have kept hard ways (Ps. 17:4; D. 16:4). And that is true which He said Himself, My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matt. 11:30). For whatsoever is hard in what is enjoined us, charity makes easy. We know what great things love itself can do. Very often is this love even abominable and impure; but how great hardships have men suffered, what indignities and intolerable things have they endured, to attain to the object of their love? whether it be a lover of money 77 who is called covetous; or a lover of honour, who is called ambitious; or a lover of beautiful women, who is called voluptuous. And who could enumerate all sorts of loves? Yet consider what labour all lovers undergo, and are not conscious of their labours; and then does any such one most feel labour, when he is hindered from labour. Since then the majority of men are such as their loves are, and that there ought to be no other care for the regulation of our lives, than the choice of that which we ought to love; why dost thou wonder, if he who loves Christ, and who wishes to follow Christ, for the love of Him denies himself? For if by loving himself man is lost, surely by denying himself he is found.
2. The first destruction of man, was the love of himself. For if he had not loved himself, if he had preferred God to himself, he would have been willing to be ever subject unto God; and would not have been turned to the neglect of His will, and the doing his own will. For this is to love one’s self, to wish to do one’s own will. Prefer to this God’s will; learn to love thyself by not loving thyself. For that ye may know that it is a vice to love one’s self, the Apostle speaks thus, For men shall be lovers of their own selves (II Tim. 3:2). And can he who loves himself have any sure trust in himself? No; for he begins to love himself by forsaking God, and is driven away from himself to love those things which are beyond himself; to such a degree that when the aforesaid Apostle had said, Men shall be lovers of their own selves, he subjoined immediately, lovers of money. Already thou seest that thou art without. Thou hast begun to love thyself: stand in thyself if thou canst. Why goest thou without? Hast thou, as being rich in money, become a lover of money? Thou has begun to love what is without thee, thou hast lost thyself. When a man’s love then goes even away from himself to those things which are without, he begins to share the vanity of his vain desires, and prodigal as it were to spend his strength. He is dissipated, exhausted, without resource or strength, he feeds swine; and wearied with this office of feeding swine, he at last remembers what he was and says, How many hired servants of my Father’s are eating bread, and I here perish with hunger! (Luke 15:17) But when the son in the parable says this, what is said of him, who had squandered all he had on harlots, who wished to have in his own power what was being well kept for him with his father; he wished to have it at his own disposal, 78 he squandered all, he was reduced to indigence: what is said of him? And when he returned to himself. If he returned to himself, he had gone away from himself. Because he had fallen from himself, had gone away from himself, he returns first to himself, that he may return to that state from which he had fallen away by falling from himself. For as by falling away from himself, he remained in himself; so by returning to himself, he ought not to remain in himself, lest he again go away from himself. Returning then to himself, that he might not remain in himself, what did he say? I will arise and go to my Father (Luke 15:18). See, whence he had fallen away from himself, he had fallen away from his Father; he had fallen away from himself, he had gone away from himself to those things which are without. He returns to himself, and goes to his Father, where he may keep himself in all security. If then he had gone away from himself, let him also in returning to himself, from whom he had gone away, that he may go to his Father, deny himself. What is deny himself? Let him not trust in himself, let him feel that he is a man, and have respect to the words of the prophet, Cursed is every one that putteth his hope in man (Jer. 17:5). Let him withdraw himself from himself, but not toward things below, Let him withdraw himself from himself, that he may cleave unto God. Whatever of good he has, let him commit to Him by whom he was made; whatever of evil he has, he has made it for himself. The evil that is in him God made not; let him destroy what himself has done, who has been thereby undone. Let him deny himself, He saith, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
3. And whither must the Lord be followed? Whither He is gone, we know; but a very few days since we celebrated the solemn memorial of it. For he has risen again, and ascended into heaven; thither must He be followed. Undoubtedly we must not despair of it, because He hath Himself promised us, not because man can do anything. Heaven was far away from us, before that our Head had gone into heaven. But now why should we despair, if we are members of that Head? Thither then must He be followed. And who would be unwilling to follow Him to such an abode? Especially seeing that we are in so great travail on earth with fears and pains. Who would be unwilling to follow Christ thither, where is supreme felicity, supreme peace, perpetual security? Good is it to follow Him thither: but we must see by what way we are to follow. For the Lord Jesus did not 79 say the words we are engaged in, when He had now risen from the dead. He had not yet suffered, He had still to come to the Cross, had to come to His dishonouring, to the outrages, the scourging, the thorns, the wounds, the mockeries, the insults, Death. Rough as it were is the way; it makes thee to be slow; thou hast no mind to follow. But follow on. Rough is the way which man has made for himself, but what Christ hath trodden in His passage is worn smooth. For who would not wish to go to exaltation? Elevation is pleasing to all; but humility is the step to it. Why dost thou put out thy foot beyond thee? Thou hast a mind to fall, not to ascend. Begin by the step, and so thou hast ascended. This step of humility those two disciples were loth to have an eye to, who said, Lord, bid that one of us may sit at Thy right hand, and the other at the left in Thy kingdom (Mark 10:37). They sought for exaltation, they did not see the step. But the Lord showed them the step. For what did He answer them? Ye who seek the hill of exaltation, can ye drink the cup of humiliation? And therefore He does not say simply, Let him deny himself, and follow Me howsoever: but He said more, Let him take up his cross, and follow Me.
4. What is, Let him take up his cross? Let him bear whatever trouble he has; so let him follow Me. For when he shall begin to follow Me in conformity to My life and precepts, he will have many to contradict him, he will have many to hinder him, he will have many to dissuade him, and that from among those who are even as it were Christ’s companions. They who hindered the blind man from crying out were walking with Christ. Whether therefore they be threats or caresses, or whatsoever hindrances there be, if thou wish to follow, turn them into thy cross, bear it, carry it, do not give way beneath it. There seems to be an exhortation to martyrdom in these words of the Lord. If there be persecution, ought not all things to be despised in consideration of Christ? The world is loved; but let Him be preferred by whom the world was made. Great is the world; but greater is He by whom the world was made. Fair is the world; but fairer is He by whom the world was made. Sweet is the world; but sweeter is He by whom the world was made. Evil is the world; and good is He by whom the world was made. How shall I be able to explain and unravel what I have said? May God help me? For what I have said? what have ye applauded? See, it is but a question, and yet ye 80 have already applauded. How is the world evil, if He by whom the world was made is good? Did not God make all things, and behold they were very good? Does not Scripture at each several work of creation testify that God made it good, by saying, And God saw that it was good, and at the end summed them all up together thus how that God had made them, And behold they were very good (Gen. 1:3)?
5. How then is the world evil, and He good by whom the world was made? How? Since the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not (John 1:10). The world was made by Him, the heaven and earth and all things that are in them: the world knew Him not, the lovers of the world; the lovers of the world and the despisers of God; this world knew Him not. so then the world is evil, because they are evil who prefer the world to God. And He is good who made the world, the heaven, and earth, and sea, and themselves who love the world. For this only, that they love the world and do not love God, He made not in them. But themselves, all that appertains to their nature He made; what appertains to guiltiness, He made not. This is that I said a little while ago, let man efface what he has made, so will he be well-pleasing to Him who made Him.”
6. For there is among men themselves a good world also; but one that has been made good from being evil. For the whole world if you take the word “world” for men, putting aside (what we call the world) the heaven and earth and all things that in them are; if you take the world for men, the whole world did he who first sinned make evil. The whole mass was corrupted in the root. God made man good; so runs the Scripture, God made man upright; and men themselves found out many cogitations (Eccles. 7:29; D. 30). Run from these “many” to One, gather up thy scattered things into one; flow on together, fence thyself in, abide with One; go not to many things. There is blessedness. But we have flowed away, have gone on to perdition: we were all born with sin, and to that sin wherein we were born have we too added by our evil living, and the whole world has become evil. But Christ came, and He chose that which He made, not what He found; for He found all evil, and by His grace He made them good. And so was made another “world”; and the “world” now persecutes the “world.”
7. What is the “world” which persecutes? That of which it is said to us, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. 81 If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (I John 2:15 f.), even as God abideth for ever. Lo! I have spoken of two “worlds,” the “world” which persecutes, and that which it persecutes. What is the “world” which persecutes? All that is the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world; and the world passeth away. Lo, this is the “world” which persecutes. What is the “world” which it persecutes? He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever, even as God abideth for ever.
8. But see, that which persecutes is called the “world”; let us prove whether that also which suffers persecution is called “the world.” What! Art thou deaf to the voice of Christ who speaketh, or rather to Holy Scriptures which testifieth, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (II Cor. 5:19)? If the world hate you, know ye that it first hated Me (John 15:18). See, the “world” hates. What does it hate but the “world”? What “world”? “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” The condemned “world” persecutes; the reconciled “world” suffers persecution. The condemned “world” is all that is without the Church; the reconciled “world” is the Church. For He says, The Son of Man came not to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved (John 3:17).
9. Now in this world, holy, good, reconciled, saved, or rather to be saved, and now saved in hope, for we are saved in hope (Rom. 8:24); in this world, I say, that is in the Church which wholly follows Christ, He hath said as of universal application, Whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself. For it is not that the virgins ought to give ear to this, and the married women ought not; or that the widows ought, and the women who still have their husbands ought not; or that monks ought, and the married men ought not; or that the clergy ought, and the laymen ought not: but let the whole Church, the whole body, all the members, distinguished and distributed throughout their several offices, follow Christ. Let the whole Church follow Him, that only Church, let the dove follow Him, let the spouse follow Him, let her who has been redeemed and endowed with the 82 Bridesgroom’s blood, follow Him. There virgin purity hath its place; there widowed continence hath its place; married chastity there hath its place; but adultery hath no place of its own there; and no place there hath lasciviousness, unlawful and meet for punishment. But let these several members which have their place there, in their kind and place and measure, “follow Christ”; let them “deny themselves”; that is, let them presume nothing of themselves: let them “take up their cross,” that is, let them in the world endure for Christ’s sake whatever the world may bring upon them. Let them love Him, who Alone doth not deceive, who Alone is not deceived, Alone deceiveth not; let them love Him, for that is true which He doth promise. But because He doth not give at once, faith wavers. Hold on, persevere, endure, bear delay and thou hast borne the cross.
10. Let not the virgin say, “I shall alone be there.” For Mary shall not be there alone, but the widow Anna shall be there also. Let not the woman which hath an husband say, “The widow will be there, not I”; for it is not that Anna will be there, and Susanna not be there. But by all means let them who would be there prove themselves hereby, that they who have here a lower place envy not, but love in others the better place. For, for instance, my Brethren, that ye may understand me; one man has chosen a married life, another a life of continence; if he who has chosen the married life, has adulterous lusts, he has looked back”; he has lusted after that which is unlawful. He too who would wish afterwards to return from continence to a married life, has “looked back”; he has chosen what is in itself lawful, yet he has “looked back.” Is marriage then to be condemned? No. Marriage is not to be condemned; but see whither he had come who has chosen it. He had already got before it. When he was living as a young man in voluptuousness, marriage was before him; he was making his way towards it; but when he had chosen continence, marriage was behind him. Remember, saith the Lord, Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32). Lot’s wife, by looking behind, remained motionless. To whatever point then any one has been able to reach, let him fear to “look back” from thence; and let him walk in the way, let him “follow Christ.” Forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forth unto those things which are before, let him by an earnest inward intention press on toward the prize of the calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13, 14). Let those that are married 83 regard the unmarried as above themselves; let them acknowledge that they are better; let them in them love what themselves have not; and let them in them love Christ.
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, JOHN 21:16. “SIMON, SON OF JOHN, LOVEST THOU ME?”
(Sermon XCVI [CXLVI Ben.] on New Testament Lessons)
1. Ye have observed, beloved, that in to-day’s lesson it was said by the Lord to Peter in a question, Lovest thou Me? To whom he answered, Thou knowest, Lord, that I love thee. This was done a second, and a third time; and at each several reply, the Lord said, Feed my lambs (John 21:15). To Peter did Christ commend His lambs to be fed, who fed even Peter himself. For what could Peter do for the Lord, especially now that He had an Immortal Body, and was about to ascend into heaven? As though He had said to him, ‘Lovest thou Me?’ Herein show that thou lovest Me, ‘Feed My sheep.’ So then, Brethren, do ye with obedience hear that ye are Christ’s sheep; seeing that we on our part with fear hear, Feed My sheep? If we feed with fear, and fear for the sheep; these sheep how ought they to fear for themselves? Let then carefulness be our portion, obedience yours; pastoral watchfulness our portion, the humility of the flock yours. Although we too who seem to speak to you from a higher place, are with fear beneath your feet; forasmuch as we know how perilous an account must be rendered of this, as it were, exalted seat. Wherefore, dearly beloved, Catholic plants, Members of Christ, think What a Head ye have! Children of God, think What a Father ye have found. Christians, think What an Inheritance is promised you. Not such as on earth cannot be possessed by children, save when their parents are dead. For no one on earth possesses a father’s inheritance, save when he is dead. But we whilst our Father liveth shall possess what He shall give; for that our Father cannot die. I add more, I say more, and say the truth; our Father will Himself be our Inheritance.84
2. Live consistently, especially ye candidates of Christ, recently baptized, just regenerated, as I have admonished you before, so say I now, and give expression to my solicitude; for the present lesson of the Gospel hath forced upon me a greater fear: take heed to yourselves, do not imitate evil Christians. Say not I will do this, for many of the faithful do it. This is not to procure a defence for the soul; but to look out for companions unto hell. Grow ye in this floor of the Lord; herein ye will find good men to please you, if ye yourselves are good. For are ye our private property? Heretics and schismatics have made their own private property out of what they have stolen from the Lord, and would feed, not Christ’s flocks, but their own against Christ. It is true indeed, they place His title on these their spoils, that their robberies may be as it were maintained by the title of His Power. What doeth Christ when such as these are converted, who have received the title of His Baptism out of the Church? He casteth out the spoiler, He doth not efface the title, and taketh possession of the house; because He hath found His title there. What need is there that He should change His Own Name? Do they take heed to what the Lord said to Peter, Feed my lambs, feed My sheep? Did he say to him, Feed thy lambs; or Feed thy sheep? But for them who are shut out, what said He in the Song of Songs, unto the Church? The Spouse speaking to the Bride, saith, If thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women, go forth (Cant. 1:8, Sept.) As though He said, “I do not cast thee out, ‘go forth, if thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women,’ if thou know not thyself in the mirror of divine Scripture, if thou give not heed, O thou fair woman, to the mirror which with no false lustre deceiveth thee; if thou know not that of thee it is said, ‘Thy glory shall be above all earth’ (cf. Ps. 57:11; D. 56:12); that of thee it is said, “I will give thee nations for thine inheritance, and the limits of the earth for thy possession’ (cf. Ps. 2:8); and other innumerable testimonies which set forth the Catholic Church. If then thou know not these, thou hast no part in Me, thou canst not make thyself My heir. ‘Go forth then in the footsteps of the flocks,’ not in the fellowship of the flock; and feed thy goats, not as it was said to Peter, ‘My sheep.’ ” To Peter it was said, “My sheep”; to schismatics it is said, “thy goats.” In the one place “sheep,” in the other “goats”; in the one place “Mine,” in the other “thine.” Recollect the right Hand and the 85 left of our Judge; recollect where the goats shall stand, and where the sheep (Matt. 25:33); and it will be plain to you where is the right hand, where the left, the white and the black, the lightsome, and the darksome, the fair and the deformed, that which is about to receive the kingdom, and that which is to find everlasting punishment.
AND LET EVERY ONE OF YOU (D. EVERY MAN) BE SWIFT TO HEAR, BUT SLOW TO SPEAK: From the Words of the Apostle James (1:19). And from the same (1:22): BUT BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD AND NOT HEARERS ONLY, DECEIVING YOUR OWN SELVES
(Sermon CLXXIX on New Testament Lessons)
1. In this sermon we must consider the duties of both the hearers and the preachers of the Word of God. The blessed Apostle James appropriately addresses the faithful hearers of the Word of God when he says: Be ye doers of the Word, not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For you do not deceive Him whose word it is, nor him through whom it is spoken; you deceive yourselves. Therefore, using as a text this precept which springs from the fountain of truth by the mouth of the truthful Apostle, we may dare to exhort you; and you should give heed to our exhortation.
Now he who does not inwardly listen to the Word of God is an empty preacher of it in public. Nor are we so destitute of human wisdom and of the understanding of the faith as to be ignorant of our danger when we preach the Word of God to the people. But we have this comfort — that when we are imperiled by our duty, we are aided by your prayers. And that you may know, brethren, how much safer your position is than ours, I cite for you another precept of the Apostle himself: Let every one of you be swift to hear, but slow to speak. In treating of this precept, where we are advised to be more swift to hear, more slow to speak, I will speak first of our duty of speaking. Then, when I have justified the duty discharged by us who often speak, I will come to the point which I stated first.
2. To hear the Word of God is safer than to preach it. We exhort 86 you not to be hearers only but also doers of the Word. Now we address you often, and unless you understand the necessity for this, who is there who does not judge us when he reads: Let every man be swift to hear but slow to speak? Yet it is zeal for you which does not permit us to keep this precept. And you, therefore, should pray to support him whom you know to be endangered for your sakes.
Let me tell you another thing, my brethren, which I want you to believe, for you cannot see it in my heart. I, who preach to you constantly because my superior and brother, your Bishop, commands it, am truly happy only when I am listening. My joy, I say, is real only when I listen, not when I preach. Then only, I rejoice with confidence. That happiness is not puffed up. Pride’s dangerous precipice is not to be feared on the solid rock of truth.
You can know that this is true when you recall the words: To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness (Ps. 51:8; D. 50:10). Where I hear, there I rejoice. Then the verse continues: The bones that have been humbled shall rejoice. When we are listening we are humble; but when we preach, even if we are not endangered by pride, we escape the peril only by curbing ourselves. Even if I am not elated, I am in danger of elation. But when I listen, I enjoy with none to defraud; I rejoice with none to witness.
Such joy that friend of the bridegroom knew when he said: He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom . . . stands and hears him (John 3:29). And he stands just because he hears him. For the first man stood because he heard God and fell because he heard the serpent. Therefore, the friend of the bridegroom stands and hears him; and says, “I rejoice.” He rejoiceth because of the bridegroom’s voice (ibid.) — not because of his own voice, but because of the voice of the bridegroom. But the voice of the bridegroom, which he heard within, he did not withhold from the people without.
10. Let no unheeding listener plead the faults of the preacher . . .1 Now perhaps someone — or two — or rather the majority in this assembly is judging me and saying: “I should like to know whether 87 that man who is preaching to me does all that he himself hears or that he says to others.” To such men I answer: But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by your or by man‘s day (I Cor. 4:3). For I myself, although I can know in some part what I now am, do not know what I am to be tomorrow. But to you, who are so disturbed, the Lord has given sure counsel concerning me. If I do what I say or what I hear, Be ye imitators (D. followers) of me as I also am of Christ (I Cor. 4:3, 16). But if I say and do not, hear the Lord: Whatsoever they . . . say . . . do; but according to their works do ye not (Matt. 23:3). If you think well of me, you praise me; if you think ill, you accuse me; but you do not excuse yourself.
If you turn to accusation of doing his own works ill against a wicked preacher who speaks to you the Word of God, how do you excuse yourself? For your Lord, your Redeemer, who paid your ransom, enrolled you in His service, and made you not His slave but His brother, does not cease to remind you and say to you: What they say, do; but what they do, do not. For they say, the verse continues, and do not. They speak good things, they do evil things. You must listen to good things and not evil things. Here you will answer: How can I hear good things from a bad man? Do men gather grapes of thorns (Matt. 7:16)?
ON THE TRADITION OF THE CREED (I)
(Sermon CCXII. For the Season — The Second Day After the Fifth Sunday in Lent)
1. Why the Creed is called the Symbol. The time has come for you to receive the Creed which contains in few words all which you believe for your eternal salvation. We rightly call it the Symbol, from the analogy of another use of the word — for merchants have a symbol or sign which they use among themselves to keep the members of their association faithful to their agreement. And you are members of a spiritual association, seeking, like merchants, the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45 f.). This pearl is love, which is poured forth in [your] hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to [you] (Rom. 5:5). 88 Such love is attained through the faith which is contained in this Symbol. That is:
You believe in God, the Father Almighty, Invisible, Immortal, King of worlds, Creator of things visible and invisible, and in all else concerning Him which either pure reason or the authority of the Holy Scripture rightly declares.
Nor is the Son to be separated from the Excellency of God. For these things are not asserted of the Father as if they did not also belong to Him who said: I and the Father are one (John 10:30); and of whom the Apostle said: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6). Robbery, of course, is the appropriation of what belongs to another; but the equality of the Son is not by robbery but by nature.
Truly how shall the Son through whom all things were made (John 1:3) not be omnipotent; since also He is the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24) of which it is written: Being but one, she can do all things (Wisd. 7:27)? Moreover, He is by nature invisible in that true form in which He is equal to the Father. Surely the Word of God is by nature invisible — that Word which was in the beginning with God and was God (John 1:2, 1).
In this nature, too, He is wholly immortal — that is, He remains in every way unchanging. The human soul is also called immortal in a certain sense — but that is not true immortality when there is so great mutability that both progress and regress are possible. Thus, it is the soul’s death to be separated from the life of God through its own ignorance. And it is its life to run to the fountain of life that, in the light of God, it may see light (cf. Ps. 36:9; D. 35:10). For in that life, through the grace of God, you will find resurrection from the death you are now renouncing. But the Word of God, which is the only begotten Son, abides always with the Father without change. He does not become less, for the Eternal does not diminish. Neither does He grow greater, for the Perfect does not increase.
He also is the Creator of worlds, visible and invisible; because, as the Apostle said: In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him . . . and by him all things endure (Col. 1:16, 17).
But since he emptied himself, not losing the form of God but 89 taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7); through this form of a servant, the Invisible became visible, for He was born of the Holy Ghost and Mary, the Virgin. In this form of a servant, Omnipotence became weak, for He suffered under Pontius Pilate. In this form of a servant, Immortality endured death, for He was crucified and buried. In this form of a servant, the King of worlds rose on the third day. In this form of a servant, the Creator of things, visible and invisible, ascended into heaven, from which He had never departed. In this form of a servant, He sits at the right hand of the Father — He who is the arm of the Father of Whom the prophet said, And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed (Isa. 53:1)? In this form of a servant, He shall come to judge the living and the dead, for He willed to share their death although He was the Life of the living.
Through Him the Holy Spirit was sent to us from the Father and from Him. The Spirit of the Father and the Son was sent from Both — was begotten of none, a Unity with Both, the Equal of Both.
This Trinity is One God, Omnipotent, Invisible, King of worlds, Creator of things visible and invisible. For we do not say three Lords, nor three Omnipotents, nor three Creators, nor three of anything which can be said of the Excellency of God. Although in this Trinity, the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Son nor Father; yet that Father is Father of the Son, and that Son is Son of the Father, and that Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Believe, that you may understand; for unless you believe, you will not understand (cf. Isa. 7:9, Sept.).
Through this faith you hope for grace in which all sins will be forgiven you. By this you will be saved, and not of yourselves, for this is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23). Now after this death which comes to all, which is the penalty incurred long ago by the first man, you hope for the final resurrection of your bodies — not a resurrection to pain and suffering to which the wicked shall rise; nor to the pleasures of carnal delights, as the foolish think; but as the Apostle says: It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:44). Then the body will not be a load upon the soul (cf. Wisd. 9:15), nor will it need repair since it will suffer no lack.
2. Why the Creed must be learned and remembered. I have preached to you this short sermon on the whole Creed, as is required. In that Creed you know that all I have said in this sermon is contained 90 in few words. These words you must not write down in any way in order to preserve them. Learn them by hearing them. And when you have memorized them, do not put them in writing. But keep them always in memory and reflect upon them. For all that you hear in the Creed is contained in the divine words of the Holy Scripture.
The Creed which confesses our Faith in these exact words must not be written down. For it is to us a memorial of the promise of God when he announced the New Covenant through the prophet and said: This is (D. shall be) the covenant that I will make with [them] . . . after those days saith the Lord. I will give my law in their mind (D. bowels), and I will write it in their heart (Jer. 31:33). To remind you of this, the Creed is learned by hearing, and it is not written on tablets or on any sort of material, but in the heart.
He who has called you to His kingdom and glory will grant to you who are born again by His grace that these words be written in your hearts by the Holy Spirit, in order that you may love because you believe, and that faith may work through love. So may you be pleasing to the Lord God, the Giver of all good; not fearing punishment like slaves, but loving justice like free men.
This, then, is the Creed. Its substance is already known to you through the Scriptures and the preaching of the Church. But this brief form must be steadfastly held and upheld by the faithful.
ON THE DEDICATION OF A CHURCH (II)
(Sermon CCCXXXVII. On the Saints)
Note: The authenticity of this sermon has been seriously questioned and as vigorously defended. Of real merit in any case, it is placed here in its traditional setting. — Ed.
1. The building of a church must be considered a good work according to the faith and love of the builder. The building of the heavenly church. When the good works which the faithful accomplish with their temporal and earthly wealth are deposited in the heavenly 91 treasure house, they are seen by faith which has the eye of piety in the heart. So it is with these buildings of yours, constructed by a united group of religious men. When he who has faith sees them with the physical eye, he praises inwardly what he sees outwardly. By visible light he perceives that at which he rejoices by invisible truth. For faith is occupied in appreciating, not how beautiful the parts of this house are, but how great was the beauty of the human soul from which issue these works of love.
Therefore, the Lord will reward his faithful servants who accomplished this work so piously, so joyously, so devotedly, by setting them securely into the fabric of His building. As living stones shaped by faith, fixed in place by hope, cemented by love, they hasten toward that building, for which the wise architect, the Apostle, laid the foundation, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:10, 11), Himself the chief cornerstone. Even so Peter reminds us from the words of the prophet: Rejected indeed by men but chosen and made honorable by God (I Pet. 2:4).
By adhering to Him we are firmly fixed; by depending on Him we are made strong. He is at the same time our foundation, because He guides our course; and the corner, because He unites us. He is the true rock on which the wise man builds his house and endures, completely secure against all the temptations of this world. That house is not swept away by descending rain, nor overturned by flooding rivers, nor shaken by tempestuous winds (cf. Matt. 7:24, 25). He is also our peace who hath made both one (Eph. 2:14), for in Him, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (Gal. 6:15). For these two like walls, coming from different directions, were far apart, until, brought to Him as to a corner, they were joined together in Him.
2. Build in toil, dedicate in joy. This visible building was erected for our physical assembling together. That building of which we are a part is built to be the spiritual habitation of God. For the temple of God is holy, the Apostle says, which you are (I Cor. 3:17). As we build this church with a heavy weight of earthly materials, so we erect that temple with a well-ordered way2 of life. This church will be dedicated by us who are now your guests; that temple will be dedicated 92 by the Lord who comes at the end of the world. When our corruptible heart shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality (cf. I Cor. 15:53), because the body of our humiliation will conform to the body of His Glory (cf. Phil. 3:21).
Hear now the words of the Psalm of Dedication: Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing to thee, and I may not regret (Ps. 30:11-12; D. 29: 12, 13). For while we are being built, our humiliation mourns; but when we shall be dedicated, our glory will sing to Him. For in building there is toil, but in dedication, joy. When the stones are quarried from the mountains, and the beams hewn from the forest, when they are being shaped, smoothed, fitted together, there is hard labor and pain. But when the dedication of the finished building is celebrated, joy and confidence take the place of toils and pains. And that spiritual building, the habitation of God, shall be, not for a time, but for eternity.
When for faith men are set apart from their faithless life, so long as there remains in them anything not good and corrupt, it must be lopped off and cut down, until they become peaceful and pious, fit to be joined together. How many temptations they fear! How many tribulations they endure! But when the day of the dedication of the eternal temple comes, when we are told: Come ye blessed of my Father, possess your kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34), how great will be that exultation, that confidence! Clear will be the song, muted by no weakness. Then He who loved us and gave Himself for us shall reveal Himself. He who became visible to men, because He was born of a mother, will appear to them as God, Maker of all things, because He was in the Father. Then He will enter His temple, perfected and adorned, firm in unity, arrayed in immortality, to dwell there forever. Then He will fill all things, will shine in all things, that God may be all in all (I Cor. 15:28).
3. The desire to live in the House of the Lord. Those who dwell therein are the House of God. A man once desired this one thing alone of the Lord; and that man are we if we so will. For this end he labored with groanings, for this he flooded his bed nightly with weeping and watered his couch with tears (Ps. 6:6; D. 6:7). For this his tears were his bread day and night, while it was said to him 93 daily: Where is they God (Ps. 42:3; D. 41:4)? He himself says: One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may see the delight of the Lord and guard (D. visit) his temple (Ps. 27:4; 26:4).
God Himself dwells with His own; they are themselves His habitation. For those who dwell in the House of God are themselves the house of God, beholding His delight, and guarding His temple, and hidden in the secret place of His countenance (cf. Ps. 27:5; D. 26:5). This hope we possess; its realization we do not yet see. But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience (Rom. 8:25); and through patience we are built.
4. Our Foundation is above, not below. Therefore, brethren, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon earth (Col. 3:1, 2). For Christ, our Foundation, is set above, that we may be built upward (cf. Col. 2:7). For a building of earthly materials, whose heavy mass can fall only downwards, the foundation is placed underneath. On the contrary for us, the foundation stone is set above, that He may draw us upward by the force of His love.
Quickly therefore, with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will. Do ye all things without murmurings (Phil. 2:12-14). Be ye also as living stones built up into the temple of God (D. a spiritual house) (I Pet. 2:5). Build then the House of God of yourselves, as beams which will not decay. Square yourselves, shape yourselves. By toil, by self-denial, by watching, by constant occupation, prepare yourselves for every good work, so that you may deserve rest in eternal life in the company of angels.
5. The eternal dwelling must be prepared by good works. This building of yours was built for time; it will not endure for eternity. So also our bodies, for whose needs it was erected by works of mercy, are not everlasting, but temporal and mortal. But we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven (II Cor. 5:1). There also our bodies, by the transformation of the resurrection, will be made heavenly and everlasting. Yet even now, although we do not see Him by sight, face to face as it shall be (cf. 94 I Cor. 13:12), God dwells in us by faith. And by good works as we are made a lowly habitation for Him Who so dwells. Such works are not eternal, but they lead to eternal life. And among them stands the work by which this church was built.
But in heaven we shall be occupied with no such construction. No building which can fall is erected there where none who enters can suffer death. Yet let your temporal work be good that your reward may be eternal. In this world I say, in spiritual love, build a habitation for faith and hope by all good works, although such works will have an end, because there will be no need for them.
Therefore, lay, as a foundation in your hearts, the counsels of the prophets and apostles. As a pavement without stumbling block, spread your humility. Establish sound doctrine in your hearts by prayers and sermons, like strong walls. Light them by divine testimonies as by candles. Like columns, support the weak. Like a roof, protect the poor. And may the Lord, our God, return us eternal good for temporal, and keep you forever, perfected and dedicated.
1 Deleted portion has special reference to ch. 9, here omitted.
2 The translation here reflects St. Augstine’s pun on the words molibus and moribus.