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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 97

Sermon 97 on the New Testament

[CXLVII. Ben.]

On the same words of the Gospel of John 21:15 , Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? etc.

1. You remember that the Apostle Peter, the first of all the Apostles, was disturbed at the Lord's Passion. Of his own self disturbed, but by Christ renewed. For he was first a bold presumer, and became afterwards a timid denier. He had promised that he would die for the Lord, when the Lord was first to die for him. When he said then, I will be with You even unto death, and I will lay down my life for You; the Lord answered him, Will you lay down your life for Me? Verily I say unto you, Before the cock crow, you shall deny Me thrice. They came to the hour; and because that Christ was God, and Peter a man, the Scripture was fulfilled, I said in my panic, Every man is a liar. And the Apostle says, For God is true, and every man a liar. Christ true, Peter a liar.

2. But what now? The Lord asks him as you heard when the Gospel was being read, and says to him, Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? He answered and said, Yea Lord You know that I love You. And again the Lord asked this question, and a third time He asked it. And when he asserted in reply his love, He commended to him the flock. For each several time the Lord Jesus said to Peter, as he said, I love you; Feed My lambs, feed My little sheep. In this one Peter was figured the unity of all pastors, of good pastors, that is, who know that they feed Christ's sheep for Christ, not for themselves. Was Peter at this time a liar, or did he answer untruly that he loved the Lord? He made this answer truly; for he made answer of that which he saw in his own heart. Whereas when he said, I will lay down my life for You, he would presume on future strength. Now every man knows it may be what sort of man he is at the time when he is speaking; what he shall be on the morrow, who knows? So then Peter turned back his eyes to his own heart, when he was asked by the Lord, and in confidence made answer of what he saw there: 'Yea, Lord, You know that I love You.' What I tell You, You know; what I see here in my heart, You see also. Nevertheless, he did not venture to say what the Lord had asked. For the Lord had not simply said, Lovest Thou me? but had added, Do you love Me more than these? that is, Do you love Me more than these here do? He was speaking of the other disciples; Peter could not say ought but, I love You; he did not venture to say, more than these. He would not be a liar a second time. It were enough for him to bear testimony to his own heart; it was no duty of his to be judge of the heart of others.

3. Peter then was true; or rather was Christ true in Peter? Now when the Lord Jesus Christ would, He abandoned Peter, and Peter was found a man; but when it so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, He filled Peter, and Peter was found true. The Rock (Petra) made Peter true, for the Rock was Christ. And what did He announce to him, when he answered a third time that he loved Christ, and a third time the Lord commended His little sheep to Peter? He announced to him beforehand his suffering. When you were young, says He, you girded yourself, and went where you would, but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not. The Evangelist has explained to us Christ's meaning. This spoke He, says he, signifying by what death he should glorify God; that is that he was crucified for Christ; for this is, You shall stretch forth your hands. Where now is that denier? Then after this the Lord Christ said, Follow Me. Not in the same sense as before, when he called the disciples. For then too He said, Follow Me; but then to instruction, now to a crown. Was he not afraid to be put to death when he denied Christ? He was afraid to suffer that which Christ suffered. But now he must be afraid no more. For he saw Him now Alive in the Flesh, whom he had seen hanging on the Tree. By His Resurrection Christ took away the fear of death; and forasmuch as He had taken away the fear of death, with good reason did He enquire of Peter's love. Fear had thrice denied, love thrice confessed. The threefoldness of denial, the forsaking of the Truth; the threefoldness of confession, the testimony of love.

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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/160397.htm>.

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