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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 80

Sermon 80 on the New Testament

[CXXX. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 6:9 , where the miracle of the five loaves and the two fishes is related.

1. It was a great miracle that was wrought, dearly beloved, for five thousand men to be filled with five loaves and two fishes, and the remnants of the fragments to fill twelve baskets. A great miracle: but we shall not wonder much at what was done, if we give heed to Him That did it. He multiplied the five loaves in the hands of them that broke them, who multiplies the seeds that grow in the earth, so as that a few grains are sown, and whole barns are filled. But, because he does this every year, no one marvels. Not the inconsiderableness of what is done, but its constancy takes away admiration of it. But when the Lord did these things, He spoke to them that had understanding, not by words only, but even by the miracles themselves. The five loaves signified the five books of Moses' Law. The old Law is barley compared to the Gospel wheat. In those books are great mysteries concerning Christ contained. Whence He says Himself, If you had believed Moses, you would believe Me also; for he wrote of Me. But as in barley the marrow is hid under the chaff, so in the veil of the mysteries of the Law is Christ hidden. As those mysteries of the Law are developed and unfolded; so too those loaves increased when they were broken. And in this that I have explained to you, I have broken bread unto you. The five thousand men signify the people ordered under the five books of the Law. The twelve baskets are the twelve Apostles, who themselves too were filled with the fragments of the Law. The two fishes are either the two precepts of the love of God and our neighbour, or the two people of the circumcision and uncircumcision, or those two sacred personages of the king and the priest. As these things are explained, they are broken; when they are understood, they are eaten.

2. Let us turn to Him who did these things. He is Himself The Bread which came down from heaven; but Bread which refreshes the failing, and does not fail; Bread which can be tasted, cannot be wasted. This Bread did the manna also figure. Wherefore it is said, He gave them the Bread of heaven, man ate Angels' Bread. Who is the Bread of heaven, but Christ? But in order that man might eat Angels' Bread, the Lord of Angels was made Man. For if He had not been made Man, we should not have His Flesh; if we had not His Flesh, we should not eat the Bread of the Altar. Let us hasten to the inheritance, seeing we have hereby received a great earnest of it. My brethren, let us long for the life of Christ, seeing we hold as an earnest the Death of Christ. How shall He not give us His good things, who has suffered our evil things? In this our earth, in this evil world, what abounds, but to be born, to labour, and to die? Examine thoroughly man's estate, convict me if I lie: consider all men whether they are in this world for any other end than to be born, to labour, and to die? This is the merchandize of our country: these things here abound. To such merchandize did that Merchantman descend. And forasmuch as every merchant gives and receives; gives what he has, and receives what he has not; when he procures anything, he gives money, and receives what he buys: so Christ too in this His traffic gave and received. But what received He? That which abounds here, to be born, to labour, and to die. And what did He give? To be born again, to rise again, and to reign for ever. O Good Merchant, buy us. Why should I say buy us, when we ought to give You thanks that You have bought us? Thou dost deal out our Price to us, we drink Your Blood; so do you deal out to us our Price. And we read the Gospel, our title deed. We are Your servants, we are Your creatures: You have made us, You have redeemed us. Any one can buy his servant, create him he cannot; but the Lord has both created and redeemed His servants; created them, that they might be; redeemed them, that they might not be captives ever. For we fell into the hands of the prince of this world, who seduced Adam, and made him his servant, and began to possess us as his slaves. But the Redeemer came, and the seducer was overcome. And what did our Redeemer to him who held us captive? For our ransom he held out His Cross as a trap; he placed in It as a bait His Blood. He indeed had power to shed His Blood, he did not attain to drink it. And in that he shed the Blood of Him who was no debtor, he was commanded to render up the debtors; he shed the Blood of the Innocent, he was commanded to withdraw from the guilty. He verily shed His Blood to this end, that He might wipe out our sins. That then whereby he held us fast was effaced by the Redeemer's Blood. For he only held us fast by the bonds of our own sins. They were the captive's chains. He came, He bound the strong one with the bonds of His Passion; He entered into his house into the hearts, that is, of those where he did dwell, and took away his vessels. We are his vessels. He had filled them with his own bitterness. This bitterness too he pledged to our Redeemer in the gall. He had filled us then as his vessels; but our Lord spoiling his vessels, and making them His Own, poured out the bitterness, filled them with sweetness.

3. Let us then love Him, for He is sweet. Taste and see that the Lord is sweet. He is to be feared, but to be loved still more. He is Man and God; the One Christ is Man and God; as one man is soul and body: but God and Man are not two Persons. In Christ indeed there are two substances, God and Man; but one Person, that the Trinity may remain, and that there be not a quaternity introduced by the addition of the human nature. How then can it be that God should not have mercy upon us, for whose sake God was made Man? Much is that which He has done already; more wonderful is that which He has done, than what He has promised; and by that which He has done, ought we to believe what He has promised. For that which He has done, we should scarcely believe, unless we also saw it. Where do we see it? In the peoples that believe, in the multitude that has been brought unto Him. For that has been fulfilled which was promised to Abraham; and from these things which we see, we believe what we do not see. Abraham was one single man, and to him was it said, In your seed shall all nations be blessed. If he had looked to himself, when would he have believed? He was one single man, and was now old; and he had a barren wife, and one who was so far advanced in age, that she could not conceive, even though she had not been barren. There was nothing at all from which any hope could be drawn. But he looked to Him That gave the promise, and believed what he did not see. Lo, what he believed, we see. Therefore from these things which we see, we ought to believe what we see not. He begot Isaac, we saw it not; and Isaac begot Jacob, and this we did not see; and Jacob begot twelve sons, and them we saw not; and his twelve sons begot the people of Israel; this great people we see. I have now begun to mention those things which we do see. Of the people of Israel was born the Virgin Mary, and she gave birth to Christ; and, lo, in Christ all nations are blessed. What more true? More certain? More plain? Together with me, long after the world to come, you who have been gathered together out of the nations. In this world has God fulfilled His promise concerning the seed of Abraham. How shall He not give us His eternal promises, whom He has made to be Abraham's seed? For this the Apostle says: But if you be Christ's (they are the Apostle's words), then are you Abraham's seed.

4. We have begun to be some great thing; let no man despise himself: we were once nothing; but we are something. We have said unto the Lord, Remember that we are dust; but out of the dust He made man, and to dust He gave life, and in Christ our Lord has He already brought this same dust to the Kingdom of Heaven. For from this dust took He flesh, from this took earth, and has raised earth to heaven, He who made heaven and earth. If then these two new things, not yet done, were set before us, and it were asked of us, Which is the most wonderful, that He who is God should be made Man, or he who is man should be made a man of God? Which is the more wonderful? Which the more difficult? What has Christ promised us? That which as yet we see not; that is, that we should be His men, and reign with Him, and never die? This is so to say with difficulty believed, that a man once born should arrive at that life, where he shall never die. This is what we believe with a heart well cleansed, cleansed, I mean, of the world's dust; that this dust close not up our eye of faith. This it is that we are bid believe, that after we have been dead, we shall be even with our dead bodies in life, where we shall never die. Wonderful it is; but more wonderful is that which Christ has done. For which is the more incredible, that man should live for ever, or that God should ever die? That men should receive life from God is the more credible; that God should receive death from men I suppose is the more incredible. Yet this has been brought to pass already: let us then believe that which is to be. If that which is the more incredible has been brought to pass, shall He not give us that which is the more credible? For God has power to make of men Angels, who has made of earthy and filthy spawn, men. What shall we be? Angels. What have we been? I am ashamed to call it to mind; I am forced to consider it, yet I blush to tell it. What have we been? Whence did God make men? What were we before we were at all? We were nothing. When we were in our mother's wombs, what were we? It is enough that you remember. Withdraw your minds from the whence you were made, and think of what you are. You live; but so do herbs and trees live. You have sensation, and so have cattle sensation. You are men, you have got beyond the cattle, you are superior to the cattle; for that you understand how great things He has done for you. You have life, you have sensation, you have understanding, you are men. Now to this benefit what can be compared? You are Christians. For if we had not received this, what would it profit us, that we were men! So then we are Christians, we belong to Christ. For all the world's rage, it does not break us; because we belong to Christ. For all the world's caresses, it does not seduce us; we belong to Christ.

5. A great Patron have we found, Brethren. You know that men depend much upon their patrons. A dependent of a man in power will make answer to any one who threatens him. You can do nothing to me, as long as my lord's head is safe. How much more boldly and surely may we say, You can do nothing to us, while our Head is safe. Forasmuch as our Patron is our Head. Whosoever depend upon any man as patron, are his dependents; we are the members of our Patron. Let Him bear us in Himself, and let no man tear us away from Him. Since what labours soever we shall have endured in this world, all that passes away, is nothing. The good things shall come which shall not pass away; by labours we arrive at them. But when we have arrived, no one tears us away from them. The gates of Jerusalem are shut; they receive the bolts too, that to that city it may be said, Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, praise your God, O Sion. For He has strengthened the bolts of your gates; He has blessed your children within you. Who has made your borders peace. When the gates are shut, and the bolts drawn, no friend goes out, no enemy enters in. There shall we have true and assured security, if here we shall not have abandoned the truth.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160380.htm>.

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