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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 8

Sermon 8 on the New Testament

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[LVIII. Ben.]

Again on the Lord's Prayer, Matt. vi . To the Competentes.

1. You have just repeated the Creed, where in brief summary is contained the Faith. I have already before now told you what the Apostle Paul says, How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Because then you have both heard, and learned, and repeated how you must believe in God; hear today how He must be called upon. The Son Himself, as you heard when the Gospel was read, taught His disciples and His faithful ones this Prayer. Good hope have we of obtaining our cause, when such an Advocate has dictated our suit. The Assessor of the Father, as you have confessed, who sits on the right hand of the Father; He is our Advocate who is to be our Judge. For from thence will He come to judge the quick and dead. Learn then, this Prayer also which you will have to repeat in eight days time. But whosoever of you have not repeated the Creed well, have yet time enough, let them learn it; because on the Sabbath day in the hearing of all who shall be present, you will have to repeat it: on the last Sabbath day, when you will be here to be baptized. But in eight days from today will you have to repeat this Prayer, which you have heard today.

2. Of which the first clause is, Our Father, which art in heaven. We have found then a Father in heaven; let us take good heed how we live on earth. For he who has found such a Father, ought so to live that he may be worthy to come to his inheritance. But we say all in common, Our Father. How great a condescension! This the emperor says, and this says the beggar: this says the slave, and this his lord. They say all together, Our Father, which art in heaven. Therefore do they understand that they are brethren, seeing they have one Father. Now let not the lord disdain to have his slave for a brother, seeing the Lord Christ has vouch-safed to have him for a brother.

3. Hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come. This hallowing of God's Name is that whereby we are made holy. For His Name is always Holy. We wish also for His kingdom to come; come it will, though we wish it not; but to wish and pray that His kingdom may come, is nothing else than to wish of Him, that He would make us worthy of His kingdom, lest haply, which God forbid, it should come, and not come to us. For to many that will never come, which nevertheless must come. For to them will it come, to whom it shall be said, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. But it will not come to them to whom it shall be said, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire. Therefore when we say, Your kingdom come, we pray that it may come to us. What is, may come to us? May find us good. This we pray for then, that He would make us good; for then to us will His kingdom come.

4. We go on, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. The Angels serve You in heaven, may we serve You in earth! The Angels do not offend You in heaven, may we not offend You in earth! As they do Your will, so may we do it also! And here what do we pray for, but that we may be good? For when we do God's will (for He without doubt does His own will), then is His will done in us. And we may understand in another and a right sense these words, Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth. We receive the commandment of God, and it is well-pleasing to us, well-pleasing to our mind. For we delight in the law of God after the inward man. Then is His will done in heaven. For our spirit is compared to heaven, but to the earth our flesh. What then is Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth? That as Your command is well-pleasing to our mind, so may our flesh consent thereto; and so that strife be ended which is described by the Apostle, for the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. When the Spirit lusts against the flesh, His will is even now done in heaven; when the flesh lusts not against the Spirit, His will is now done in earth. There will be harmony complete when He will; be then the contest now, that there may be victory hereafter. Thus again, Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth, may be well understood, by making heaven to be the Church, because it is the throne of God; and earth the unbelievers, to whom it is said, Earth you are, and unto earth shall you go. When therefore we pray for our enemies, for the enemies of the Church, the enemies of the Christian name, we pray that His will may be done as in heaven, so in earth, that is, as in Your faithful ones, so in Your blasphemers also, that they all may become heaven.

5. There follows next, Give us this day our daily bread. It may be understood simply that we pour forth this prayer for daily sustenance, that we may have abundance: or if not that, that we may have no want. Now he said daily, for as long as it is called today. Daily we live, and daily rise, and are daily fed, and daily hunger. May He then give us daily bread. Why did He not say covering too, for the support of our life is in meat and drink, our covering in raiment and lodging. Man should desire nothing more than these. Forasmuch as the Apostle says, We brought nothing into this world, neither can we carry anything out: having food and covering, let us be therewith content. Perish covetousness, and nature is rich. Therefore if this prayer have reference to our daily sustenance, since this is a good understanding of the words, Give us this day our daily bread; let us not marvel, if under the name of bread other necessary things are also understood. As when Joseph invited his brethren, These men, says he, will eat bread with me today. Why, were they to eat bread only? No, but in the mention of bread only, all the rest was understood. So when we pray for daily bread, we ask for whatever is necessary for us in earth for our bodies' sake. But what says the Lord Jesus? Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Again, this is a very good sense of, Give us this day our daily bread, your Eucharist, our daily food. For the faithful know what they receive, and good for them it is to receive that daily bread which is necessary for this time present. They pray then for themselves, that they may become good, that they may persevere in goodness, and faith, and a holy life. This do they wish, this they pray for; for if they persevere not in this good life, they will be separated from that Bread. Therefore, Give us this day our daily bread. What is this? Let us live so,that we be not separated from Your altar. Again, the Word of God which is laid open to us, and in a manner broken day by day, is daily bread. And as our bodies hunger after that other, so do our souls after this bread. And so we both ask for this bread simply, and whatsoever is in this life needful both for our souls and bodies, is included in daily bread.

6. Forgive us our debts, we say, and we may well say so; for we say the truth. For who is he that lives here in the flesh, and has no debts? What man is there that lives so, that this prayer is not necessary for him? He may puff himself up, justify himself he cannot. It were well for him to imitate the Publican, and not swell as the Pharisee, who went up into the temple, and boasted of his deserts, and covered up his wounds. Whereas he who said, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner, knew wherefore he went up. This prayer the Lord Jesus, consider, my brethren, this prayer the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to offer, those great first Apostles of His, the leaders of our flock. If the leaders of the flock then pray for the remission of their sins, what ought the lambs to do, of whom it is said, Bring young rams unto the Lord? You knew then that you have repeated this in the Creed, because among the rest you have mentioned there the remission of sins. There is one remission of sins which is given once for all; another which is given day by day. There is one remission of sins which is given once for all in Holy Baptism; another which is given as long as we live here in the Lord's Prayer. Wherefore we say, Forgive us our debts.

7. And God has brought us into a covenant, and agreement, and a firm bond with Him, in that we say, as we also forgive our debtors. He who would say it effectually, Forgive us our debts, must say truly, as we also forgive our debtors. If this which is last he either say not, or say deceitfully, the other which is first he says in vain. We say to you then especially who are approaching to Holy Baptism, from your hearts forgive everything. And ye faithful, who taking advantage of this occasion are listening to this prayer, and our exposition of it, do ye wholly and from your hearts forgive whatsoever you have against any. Forgive it there where God sees. For sometimes a man remits with the mouth, and in the heart retains; he remits with the mouth for men's sake, and retains in the heart, as not fearing the eyes of God. But do ye remit entirely. Whatever you have retained up to these holy days, in these holy days at least remit. The sun ought not to go down upon your wrath, yet many suns have passed. Let then your wrath at length pass away also, now that we are celebrating the days of the great Sun, of that Sun of which Scripture says, Unto you shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings. What is, in His wings? In His protection. Whence it is said in the Psalms, Keep me under the shadow of Your wings. But as to others who in the day of judgment shall repent, but all too late, and who shall mourn, yet unavailingly, it has been foretold by Wisdom what they shall then say as they repent and groan for anguish of spirit, What has pride profited us, or what good has riches with our vaunting brought us? All these things are passed away like a shadow. And, Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness has not shined unto us, and the Sun of righteousness rose not upon us. That Sun rises upon the righteous only; but this sun which we see, God makes, daily to rise upon the good and evil. The righteous attain to the seeing of that Sun; and that Sun dwells now in our hearts by faith. If then you are angry, let not this sun go down in your heart upon your wrath; Let not the sun go down upon your wrath; lest haply you be angry, and so the Sun of righteousness go down upon you, and you abide in darkness.

8. Now do not think that anger is nothing. My eye was disordered because of anger, says the Prophet. Surely he whose eye is disordered cannot see the sun; and if he should try to see it, it were pain, and no pleasure to him. And what is anger? The lust of vengeance. A man lusts to be avenged, and Christ is not yet avenged, the holy martyrs are not yet avenged. Still does the patience of God wait, that the enemies of Christ, the enemies of the martyrs, may be converted. And who are we, that we should seek for vengeance? If God should seek it at our hands, where should we abide? He who has never in any matter done us harm, does not wish to avenge Himself of us; and do we seek to be avenged, who are almost daily offending God? Forgive therefore; from the heart forgive. If you are angry, yet sin not. Be angry, and sin not. Be angry as being but men, if so be you are overcome by it; yet sin not, so as to retain anger in your heart (for if you do retain it, you retain it against yourselves), lest ye enter not into that Light. Therefore forgive. What then is anger? The lust of vengeance. And what is hatred? Inveterate anger. If anger become inveterate, it is then called hatred. And this he seems to acknowledge, who when he had said, My eye is disordered because of anger; added, I have become inveterate among all mine enemies. What was anger when it was new, became hatred when it was turned into long continuance. Anger is a mote, hatred, a beam. We sometimes find fault with one who is angry, yet we retain hatred in our own hearts; and so Christ says to us, You see the mote in your brother's eye, and see not the beam in your own eye. How grew the mote into a beam? Because it was not at once plucked out. Because you suffered the sun to rise and go down so often upon your wrath, and made it inveterate, because you contracted evil suspicions, and watered the mote, and by watering hast nourished it, and by nourishing it, hast made it a beam. Tremble then at least when it is said, Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer. You have not drawn the sword, nor inflicted any bodily wound, nor by any blow killed another; the thought only of hatred is in your heart, and hereby are you held to be a murderer, guilty are you before the eyes of God. The other man is alive, and yet you have killed him. As far as you are concerned, you have killed the man whom you hate. Reform then, and amend yourself. If scorpions or adders were in your houses, how would ye toil to purify them, that you might be able to dwell in safety? Yet are you angry, yea inveterate anger is in your hearts, and there grow so many hatreds, so many beams, so many scorpions, so many vipers, and will you not then purify the house of God, your heart? Do then what is said, As we also forgive our debtors; and so say securely, Forgive us our debts. For without debts in this earth ye cannot live; but those great crimes which it is your blessing to have been forgiven in Baptism, and from which we ought to be ever free, are of one sort, and of another are those daily sins, without which a man cannot live in this world, by reason of which this daily prayer with its covenant and agreement is necessary; that as we say with all cheerfulness, Forgive us our debts; so we may say with all truth, As we also forgive our debtors. So much then have we said as touching past sins; what now for the future?

9. Lead us not into temptation: forgive what we have done already, and grant that we may not commit any more sins. For whosoever is overcome by temptation, commits sin. Thus the Apostle James says, Let no man say when he is tempted, he is tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts He any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Therefore that you be not drawn away by your lust; consent not to it. It has no means of conceiving, but by you. You have consented, hast as it were in your heart admitted her embrace. Lust has risen up, deny yourself to her, follow her not. It is a lust unlawful, impure, and shameful, it will alienate you from God. Give it not then the embrace of your consent, lest you have to bewail the birth; for if you consent, that is, when you have embraced her, she conceives, and when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin. Do you not yet fear? Sin brings forth death; at least, fear death. If you fear not sin, yet fear that whereunto it leads. Sin is sweet; but death is bitter. This is the infelicity of men; that for which they sin, they leave here when they die, and the sin themselves they carry with them. Thou dost sin for money, it must be left here: or for a country seat; it must be left here: or for some woman's sake; she must be left here; and whatsoever it be for which you sin, when you shall have closed your eyes in death, you must leave it here; yet the sin itself which you commit, you carry with you.

10. May sins then be forgiven; the past forgiven, and the future cease. But without them here below you can not live; be they either lesser sins, or small, or trivial. Yet let not even these small and trivial sins be despised. With little drops is the river filled. Let not even the lesser sins be despised. Through narrow chinks in the ship the water oozes in, the hold keeps filling, and if it be disregarded the ship is sunk. But the sailors are not idle; their hands are active, — active that the water may be drained off from day to day. So be your hands active, that you may pump from day to day. What is the meaning of be your hands active? Let them give, do good works, so be your hands engaged. Break your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor and houseless into your house; if you see the naked, clothe him. Do all you can, do it with the means you can command, do it cheerfully, and so put up your prayer with confidence. It will have two wings, a double alms. What is a double alms? Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you. The one alms is that which is done from the heart, when you forgive your brother his sin. The other alms is that which is done out of your substance, when you deal bread to the poor. Offer both, lest without either wing your prayer remain motionless.

11. Therefore when we have said, Lead us not into temptation, there follows, But deliver us from evil. Now whoever wishes to be delivered from evil, bears witness that he is in evil. And thus says the Apostle, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. But who is there that wishes for life, and loves to see good days? Seeing that all men in this flesh have only evil days; who does not wish it? Do what follows, Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile: depart from evil, and do good, seek peace, and ensue it; and then you have got rid of evil days, and your prayer, deliver us from evil, is fulfilled.

12. Therefore the three first petitions, Hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth, are for eternity. But the four following relate to this life, Give us this day our daily bread. Shall we ask day by day for daily bread, when we shall have come to that fullness of blessing? Forgive us our debts. Shall we say this in that kingdom, when we shall have no debts? Lead us not into temptation. Shall we be able to say this then, when there will be no temptation? Deliver us from evil. Shall we say this, when there shall be nothing from which to be delivered? Therefore these four are necessary, because of our daily life, but the three first in reference to the life eternal. But all things let us ask, with a view of attaining to that life, and let us pray here, that we be not separated from it. Every day must this prayer be said by you, when you are baptized. For the Lord's Prayer is said daily in the Church before the Altar of God, and the faithful hear it. We have no fear therefore as to your not learning it carefully, because even if any of you should be unable to get it perfectly, he will learn it by hearing it day by day.

13. Therefore on the Saturday when by the grace of God you will keep the Vigil, you will have to repeat not the Prayer, but the Creed. For if you do not know the Creed now, you will not hear that every day in the Church, and among the people. But when you have learned it, that you may not forget it, say it every day when you rise; when you are preparing for sleep, rehearse your Creed, to the Lord rehearse it, remind yourselves of it, and be not weary of repeating it. For repetition is useful, lest forgetfulness steal over you. Do not say, I said it yesterday, I have said it today, I say it every day, I know it perfectly well. Call your faith to mind, look into yourself, let your Creed be as it were a mirror to you. Therein see yourself, whether you believe all which you profess to believe, and so rejoice day by day in your faith. Let it be your wealth, let it be in a sort the daily clothing of your soul. Do you not always dress yourself when you rise. So by the daily repetition of your Creed dress your soul, lest haply forgetfulness make it bare, and you remain naked, and that take place which the Apostle says, (may it be far from you!) If so be that being unclothed, we shall not be found naked. For we shall be clothed by our faith: and this faith is at once a garment and a breastplate; a garment against shame, a breastplate against adversity. But when we shall have arrived at that place where we shall reign, no need will there be to say the Creed. We shall see God; God Himself will be our vision; the vision of God will be the reward of our present faith.

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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. <>.

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