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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 12

Sermon 12 on the New Testament

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[LXII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 8:8 , I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, etc., and of the words of the apostle, 1 Corinthians 8:10 , For if a man see you who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's temple, etc.

1. We have heard, as the Gospel was being read, the praise of our faith as manifested in humility. For when the Lord Jesus promised that He would go to the Centurion's house to heal His servant, He answered, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and he shall be healed. By calling himself unworthy, he showed himself worthy for Christ to come not into his house, but into his heart. Nor would he have said this with so great faith and humility, had he not borne Him in his heart, of whose coming into his house he was afraid. For it were no great happiness for the Lord Jesus to enter into his house, and yet not to be in his heart. For this Master of humility both by word and example, sat down even in the house of a certain proud Pharisee, by name Simon; and though He sat down in his house, there was no place in this heart, where the Son of Man could lay His Head.

2. For so, as we may understand from the words of the Lord Himself, did He call back from His discipleship a certain proud man, who of his own accord was desirous to go with Him. Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. And the Lord seeing in his heart what was invisible, said, Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay His Head. That is, in you, guile like the fox does dwell, and pride as the birds of heaven. But the Son of Man simple as opposed to guile, lowly as opposed to pride, has not where to lay His Head; and this very laying, not the raising up of the head, teaches humility. Therefore does He call back this one who was desirous to go, and another who refused He draws onward. For in the same place He says to a certain man, Follow Me. And he said, I will follow You, Lord, but let me first go and bury my father. His excuse was indeed a dutiful one: and therefore was he the more worthy to have his excuse removed, and his calling confirmed. What he wished to do was an act of dutifulness; but the Master taught him what he ought to prefer. For He wished him to be a preacher of the living word, to make others live. But there were others by whom that first necessary office might be fulfilled. Let the dead, He says, bury their dead. When unbelievers bury a dead body, the dead bury the dead. The body of the one has lost its soul, the soul of the others has lost God. For as the soul is the life of the body; so is God the life of the soul. As the body expires when it loses the soul, so does the soul expire when it loses God. The loss of God is the death of the soul: the loss of the soul the death of the body. The death of the body is necessary; the death of the soul voluntary.

3. The Lord then sat down in the house of a certain proud Pharisee. He was in his house, as I have said, and was not in his heart. But into this centurion's house He entered not, yet He possessed his heart. Zacchæus again received the Lord both in house and heart. Yet the centurion's faith is praised for its humility. For he said, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; and the Lord said, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel; according to the flesh, that is. For he too was an Israelite undoubtedly according to the spirit. The Lord had come to fleshly Israel, that is, to the Jews, there to seek first for the lost sheep, among this people, and of this people also He had assumed His Body. I have not found there so great faith, He says. We can but measure the faith of men, as men can judge of it; but He who saw the inward parts, He whom no man can deceive, gave His testimony to this man's heart, hearing words of lowliness, and pronouncing a sentence of healing.

4. But whence did he get such confidence? I also, says he, am a man set under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes: and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. I am an authority to certain who are placed under me, being myself placed under a certain authority above me. If then I a man under authority have the power of commanding, what power must Thou have, whom all powers serve? Now this man was of the Gentiles, for he was a centurion. At that time the Jewish nation had soldiers of the Roman empire among them. There he was engaged in a military life, according to the extent of a centurion's authority, both under authority himself, and having authority over others; as a subject obedient, ruling others who were under him. But the Lord (and mark this especially, Beloved, as need there is you should), though He was among the Jewish people only, even now announced beforehand that the Church should be in the whole world, for the establishment of which He would send Apostles; Himself not seen, yet believed on by the Gentiles: by the Jews seen, and put to death. For as the Lord did not in body enter into this man's house, and still, though in body absent, yet present in majesty, healed his faith, and his house; so the same Lord also was in body among the Jewish people only: among the other nations He was neither born of a Virgin, nor suffered, nor walked, nor endured His human sufferings, nor wrought His divine miracles. None of all this took place in the rest of the nations, and yet was that fulfilled which was spoken of Him, A people whom I have not known, has served Me. And how if it did not know Him? Hath obeyed Me by the hearing of the ear. The Jewish nation knew, and crucified Him; the whole world besides heard and believed.

5. This absence, so to say, of His body, and presence of His power among all nations, He signified also in the instance of that woman who had touched the edge of His garment, when He asks, saying, Who touched Me? He asks, as though He were absent; as though present, He heals. The multitude, say the disciples, press You, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me? For as if He were so walking as not to be touched by anybody at all, He said, Who touched Me? And they answer, The multitude press You. And the Lord would seem to say, I am asking for one who touched, not for one who pressed Me. In this case also is His Body now, that is, His Church. The faith of the few touches it, the throng of the many press it. For you have heard, as being her children, that Christ's Body is the Church, and if you will, you yourselves are so. This the Apostle says in many places, For His body's sake, which is the Church; and again, But you are the body of Christ, and members in particular. If then we are His body, what His body then suffered in the crowd, that does His Church suffer now. It is pressed by many, touched by few. The flesh presses it, faith touches it. Lift up therefore your eyes, I beseech you, you who have wherewithal to see. For you have before you something to see. Lift up the eyes of faith, touch but the extreme border of His garment, it will be sufficient for saving health.

6. See ye how that which you have heard out of the Gospel was at that time to come is now present. Therefore, said He, on occasion of the commendation of the Centurion's faith, as in the flesh an alien, but of the household in heart, Therefore I say unto you, Many shall come from the east and west. Not all, but many; yet they shall come from the East and West; the whole world is denoted by these two parts. Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. But the children of the kingdom, the Jews, namely. And how the children of the kingdom? Because they received the Law; to them the Prophets were sent, with them was the temple and the Priesthood; they celebrated the figures of all the things to come. Yet of what things they celebrated the figures, they acknowledged not the presence. And, Therefore the children of the kingdom, He says, shall go into outer darkness, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. And so we see the Jews reprobate, and Christians called from the East and West, to the heavenly banquet, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, where the bread is righteousness, and the cup wisdom.

7. Consider then, brethren, for of these are you; you are of this people, even then foretold, and now exhibited. Yes, verily, you are of those who have been called from the East and West, to sit down in the kingdom of heaven, not in the temple of idols. Be then the Body of Christ, not the pressure of His Body. You have the border of His garment to touch, that you may be healed of the issue of blood, that is, of carnal pleasures. You have, I say, the border of the garment to touch. Look upon the Apostles as the garment, by the texture of unity clinging closely to the sides of Christ. Among these Apostles was Paul, as it were the border, the least and last; as he says himself, I am the least of the Apostles. In a garment the last and least thing is the border. The border is in appearance contemptible, yet is it touched with saving efficacy. Even to this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted. What state so low, so contemptible as this! Touch then, if you are suffering from a bloody flux. There will go power out of Him whose garment it is, and it will heal you. The border was proposed to you just now to be touched, when out of the same Apostle there was read, For if any one see him which has knowledge sit at meat in an idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him who is weak, be emboldened to eat things offered to idols? And through your knowledge shall your weak brother perish, for whom Christ died! How think ye may men be deceived by idols, which they suppose are honoured by Christians? A man may say, God knows my heart. Yes, but your brother did not know your heart. If you are weak, beware of a still greater weakness; if you are strong, have a care of your brother's weakness. They who see what you do, are emboldened to do more, so as to desire not only to eat, but also to sacrifice there. And lo, Through your knowledge the weak brother perishes. Hear then, my brother; if you disregarded the weak, would you disregard a brother also? Awake. What if so you sin against Christ Himself? For attend to what you can not by any means disregard. But, says he, when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Let them who disregard these words, go now, and sit at meat in the idol's temple; will they not be of those who press, and do not touch? And when they have been at meat in the idol's temple, let them come and fill the Church; not to receive saving health, but to make a pressure there.

8. But you will say, I am afraid lest I offend those above me. By all means be afraid of offending them, and so you will not offend God. For you who are afraid lest you offend those above you, see whether there be not One above him whom you are afraid of offending. By all means then be loth to offend those above you. This is an established rule with you. But then is it not plain, that he must on no account be offended, who is above all others? Run over now the list of those above you. First are your father and mother, if they are educating you aright; if they are bringing you up for Christ; they are to be heard in all things, they must be obeyed in every command; let them enjoin nothing against one above themselves, and so let them be obeyed. And who, you will say, is above him who begot me? He who created you. For man begets, but God creates. How it is that man begets, he does not know; and what he shall beget, he does not know. But He who saw you that He might make you, before that he whom He made existed, is surely above your father. Your country again should be above your very parents; so that whereinsoever your parents enjoin anything against your country, they are not to be listened to. And whatsoever your country enjoin against God, it is not to be listened to. For if you will be healed, if after the issue of blood, if after twelve years' continuance in that disease, if after having spent your all upon physicians, and not having received health, you wish at length to be made whole; O woman, whom I am addressing as a figure of the Church, your father enjoins you this, and your people that. But your Lord says to you, Forget your own people, and your father's house. For what good? For what advantage? With what useful result? Because the King has desired your beauty. He has desired what He made, since when deformed He loved you, that He might make you beautiful. For you unbelieving, and deformed, He shed His Blood, and He made you faithful and beauteous, He has loved His own gifts in you. For what did you bring to your spouse? What did you receive for dowry from your former father, and former people? Was it not the excesses and the rags of sins? Your rags He cast away, your robe impure He tore asunder. He pitied you that He might adorn you. He adorned you, that He might love you.

9. What need of more, Brethren. You are Christians, and have heard, that If you sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Do not disregard it, if you would not be wiped out of the book of life. How long shall I go about to speak in bright and pleasing terms to you, what my grief forces me to speak in some sort, and will not suffer me to keep secret? Whosoever they are who are minded to disregard these things, and sin against Christ, let them only consider what they are doing. We wish the rest of the Heathen to be gathered in; and you are stones in their way: they have a wish to come; they stumble, and so return. For they say in their hearts, Why should we leave the gods whom the very Christians worship as we do? God forbid, you will say, that I should worship the gods of the Gentiles. I know, I understand, I believe you. But what account are you making of the consciences of the weak which you are wounding? What account are you making of their price, if you disregard the purchase? Consider for how great a price was the purchase made. Through your knowledge, says the Apostle, shall the weak brother perish; that knowledge which you profess to have, in that you know that an idol is nothing, and that in your mind you are thinking only of God, and so sittest down in the idol's temple. In this knowledge the weak brother perishes. And lest you should pay no regard to the weak brother, he added, for whom Christ died. If you would disregard him, yet consider his Price, and weigh the whole world in the balance with the Blood of Christ. And lest you should still think that you are sinning against a weak brother, and so esteem it after that he had heard that he was Peter, a trivial fault, and of small account, he says, You sin against Christ. For men are in the habit of saying, I sin against man; am I sinning against God? Deny then that Christ is God. Do you dare deny that Christ is God? Have you learned this other doctrine, when you sat at meat in the idol's temple? The school of Christ does not admit that doctrine. I ask; Where did you learn that Christ is not God? The Pagans are wont to say so. Do you see what bad associations do? Do you see, that evil communications corrupt good manners? There you can not speak of the Gospel, and you hear others talking of idols. There you lose the truth that Christ is God; and what you drink in there, you vomit out in the Church. It may be you are bold enough to speak here; bold enough to mutter among the crowds; Was not then Christ a man? Was He not crucified? This have you learned of the Pagans. You have lost your soul's health, you have not touched the border. On this point then touch again the border, and receive health. As I taught you to touch it in this that is written, Whoever sees a brother sit at meat in the idol's temple; touch it also concerning the Divinity of Christ. The same border said of the Jews, Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Behold, against Whom, even the Very God, you sin, when you sit down with false gods.

10. It is no god, you will say; because it is the tutelary genius of Carthage. As though if it were Mars or Mercury, it would be a god. But consider in what light it is esteemed by them; not what it is in itself. For I know also as well as you, that it is but a stone. If this genius be any ornament, let the citizens of Carthage live well; and they themselves will be this genius of Carthage. But if the genius be a devil, you have heard in that same Scripture, The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils. We know well that it is no God; would that they knew it too! But because of those weak ones who do not know it, their conscience ought not to be wounded. It is this that the Apostle warns us of. For that they regard that statue as something divine, and take it for a god, the altar is witness. What does the altar there, if it be not accounted a god? Let no one tell me; it is no deity, it is no God. I have said already, Would that they only knew this, as we all do. But how they regard it, for what they take it, and what they do about it, that altar is witness. It is convincing against the intentions of all who worship there, grant that it may not be convincing also against those who sit at meat with them!

11. Yes, let not Christians press the Church, if the Pagans do. She is the Body of Christ. Were we not saying, that the Body of Christ was pressed, and not touched. He endured those who pressed Him; and was looking out for those who touched Him. And, Brethren, I would that if the Body of Christ be pressed by Pagans, by whom it is wont to be pressed; that at least Christians would not press the Body of Christ. Brethren, it is my business to speak to you, my business it is to speak to Christians; For what have I to do to judge them that are without? the Apostle himself says. Them we address in another way, as being weak. With them we must deal softly, that they may hear the truth; in you the corruption must be cut out. If you ask whereby the Pagans are to be gained over, whereby they are to be illuminated, and called to salvation; forsake their solemnities, forsake their trifling shows; and then if they do not consent to our truth, let them blush at their own scantiness.

12. If he who is over you be a good man, he is your nourisher; if a bad man, he is your tempter. Receive the nourishment in the one case with gladness, and in the temptation show yourself approved. Be gold. Regard this world as the furnace of the goldsmith; in one narrow place are there things, gold, chaff, fire. To the two former the fire is applied, the chaff is burned, and the gold purified. A man has yielded to threats, and been led away to the idol's temple: Alas! I bewail the chaff; I see the ashes. Another has not yet yielded to threats nor terrors; has been brought before the judge, and stood firm in his confession, and has not bent down to the idol image: what does the flame with him? Does it not purify the gold? Stand, fast then, Brethren, in the Lord; greater in power, is He who has called you. Be not afraid of the threats of the ungodly. Bear with your enemies; in them you have those for whom you may pray; let them by no means terrify you. This is saving health, draw out in this feast here from this source; here drink that wherewith ye may be satisfied, and not in those other feasts, that only whereby ye may be maddened. Stand fast in the Lord. You are silver, you shall be gold. This similitude is not our own, it is out of Holy Scripture. You have read and heard, As gold in the furnace has He tried them, and received them as a burnt-offering. See what you shall be among the treasures of God. Be rich as touching God, not as if to make Him rich, but as to become rich from Him. Let Him replenish you; admit nought else into your heart.

13. Do we lift up ourselves unto pride, or tell you to be despisers against the powers ordained? Not so. Do you again who are sick on this point, touch also that border of the garment? The Apostle himself says, Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God. He then who resists the power, resists the ordinance of God. But what if it enjoin what you ought not to do? In this case by all means disregard the power through fear of Power. Consider these several grades of human powers. If the magistrate enjoin anything, must it not be done? Yet if his order be in opposition to the Proconsul, you do not surely despise the power, but choosest to obey a greater power. Nor in this case ought the less to be angry, if the greater be preferred. Again, if the Proconsul himself enjoin anything, and the Emperor another thing, is there any doubt, that disregarding the former, we ought to obey the latter? So then if the Emperor enjoin one thing, and God another, what judge ye? Pay me tribute, submit yourself to my allegiance. Right, but not in an idol's temple. In an idol's temple He forbids it. Who forbids it? A greater Power. Pardon me then: you threaten a prison, He threatens hell. Here must you at once take to you your faith as a shield, whereby you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the enemy.

14. But one of these powers is plotting, and contriving evil designs against you. Well: he is but sharpening the razor wherewith to shave the hair, but not to cut the head. You have but just now heard this that I have said in the Psalm, You have worked deceit like a sharp razor. Why did He compare the deceit of a wicked man in power to a razor? Because it does not reach, save to our superfluous parts. As hairs on our body seem as it were superfluous, and are shaven off without any loss of the flesh; so whatsoever an angry man in power can take from you, count only among your superfluities. He takes away your poverty; can he take away your wealth? Your poverty is your wealth in your heart. Your superfluous things only has he power to take away, these only has he power to injure, even though he had license given him so far as to hurt the body. Yea even this life itself to those whose thoughts are of another life, this present life, I say, may be reckoned among the things superfluous. For so the Martyrs have despised it. They did not lose life, but they gained Life.

15. Be sure, Brethren, that enemies have no power against the faithful, except so far as it profits them to be tempted and proved. Of this be sure, Brethren, let no one say ought against it. Cast all your care upon the Lord, throw yourselves wholly and entirely upon Him. He will not withdraw Himself that you should fall. He who created us, has given us security touching our very hairs. Verily I say unto you, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Our hairs are numbered by God; how much more is our conduct known to Him to whom our hairs are thus known? See then, how that God does not disregard our least things. For if He disregarded them, He would not create them. For He verily both created our hairs, and still takes count of them. But you will say, though they are preserved at present, perhaps they will perish. On this point also hear His word, Verily I say unto you, there shall not an hair of your head perish. Why are you afraid of man, O man, whose place is in the Bosom of God? Fall not out of His Bosom; whatsoever you shall suffer there, will avail to your salvation, not to your destruction. Martyrs have endured the tearing of their limbs, and shall Christians fear the injuries of Christian times? He who would do you an injury now, can only do it in fear. He does not say openly, come to the idol-feast; he does not say openly, come to my altars, and banquet there. And if he should say so, and you were to refuse, let him make a complaint of it, let him bring it as an accusation and charge against you: He would not come to my altars, he would not come to my temple, where I worship. Let him say this. He does not dare; but in his guile he contrives another attack. Make ready your hair; he is sharpening the razor; he is about to take off your superfluous things, to shave what you must soon leave behind you. Let him take off what shall endure, if he can. This powerful enemy, what has he taken away? What great thing has he taken away? That which a thief or housebreaker could take: in his utmost rage, he can but take what a robber can. Even if he should have license given him to the slaying of the very body, what does he take away, but what the robber can take? I did him too much honour, when I said, a robber. For be the robber who and what he may, he is a man. He takes from you what a fever, or an adder, or a poisonous mushroom can take. Here lies the whole power of the rage of men, to do what a mushroom can! Men eat a poisonous mushroom, and they die. Lo! In what frail estate is the life of man; which sooner or later you must abandon; do not struggle then in such wise for it, as that you should be abandoned yourself.

16. Christ is our Life; think then of Christ. He came to suffer, but also to be glorified; to be despised, but to be exalted also; to die; but also to rise again. If the labour alarm you, see its reward. Why do you wish to arrive by softness at that to which nothing but hard labour can lead? Now you are afraid, lest you should lose your money; because you earn your money with great labour. If you did not attain to your money, which you must some time or other lose, at all events when you die, without labour, would you desire without labour to attain to the Life eternal? Let that be of higher value in your eyes, to which after all your labours you shall in such sort attain as never more to lose it. If this money, to which you have attained after all your labours on such condition as that you must some time lose it, be of high value with you; how much more ought we to long after those things which are everlasting!

17. Give no credit to their words, neither be afraid of them. They say that we are enemies of their idols. May God so grant, and give all into our power, as He has already given us that which we have broken down. For this I say, Beloved, that you may not attempt to do it, when it is not lawfully in your power to do it; for it is the way of ill-regulated men, and the mad Circumcelliones, both to be violent when they have no power, and to be ever eager in their wishes to die without a cause. You heard what we read to you, all of you who were present in the Mappalia. When the land shall have been given into your power (he says first, into your power, and so enjoined what was to be done); then, says he, you shall destroy their altars, and break in pieces their groves, and hew down all their images. When we shall have got the power, do this. When the power has not been given us, we do not do it; when it is given, we do not neglect it. Many Pagans have these abominations on their own estates; do we go and break them in pieces? No, for our first efforts are that the idols in their hearts should be broken down. When they too are made Christians themselves, they either invite us to so good a work, or anticipate us. At present we must pray for them, not be angry with them. If very painful feelings excite us, it is rather against Christians, it is against our brethren, who will enter into the Church in such a mind, as to have their body there, and their heart anywhere else. The whole ought to be within. If that which man sees is within, why is that which God sees without?

18. Now you may know, Dearly Beloved, that these unite their murmurings with Heretics and with Jews. Heretics, Jews, and Heathens have made a unity against Unity. Because it has happened, that in some places the Jews have received chastisement because of their wickednesses; they charge and suspect us, or pretend, that we are always seeking the like treatment for them. Again, because it has happened that the heretics in some places have suffered the penalty of the laws for the impiety and fury of their deeds of violence; they say immediately that we are seeking by every means some harm for their destruction. Again, because it has been resolved that laws should be passed against the Heathen, yea for them rather, if they were only wise. (For as when silly boys are playing with the mud, and dirtying their hands, the strict master comes, shakes the mud out of their hands, and holds out their book; so has it pleased God by the hands of princes His subjects to alarm their childish, foolish hearts, that they may throw away the dirt from their hands, and set about something useful. And what is this something useful with the hands, but, Break your bread to the hungry, and bring the houseless poor into your house? But nevertheless these children escape from their master's sight, and return stealthily to their mud, and when they are discovered they hide their hands that they may not be seen.) Because then it has so pleased God, they think that we are looking out for the idols everywhere, and that we break them down in all places where we have discovered them. How so? Are there not places before our very eyes in which they are? Or are we indeed ignorant where they are? And yet we do not break them down, because God has not given them into our power. When does God give them into our power? When the masters of these things shall become Christians. The master of a certain place has just lately wished this to be done. If he had not been minded to give the place itself to the Church, and only had given orders that there should be no idols on his property; I think that it ought to have been executed with the greatest devotion, that the soul of the absent Christian brother, who wishes on his land to return thanks to God, and would not that there should be anything there to God's dishonour, might be assisted by his fellow Christians. Added to this, that in this case he gave the place itself to the Church. And shall there be idols in the Church's estate? Brethren, see then what it is that displeases the Heathens. It is but a little matter with them that we do not take them away from their estates, that we do not break them down: they would have them kept up even in our own places. We preach against idols, we take them away from the hearts of men; we are persecutors of idols; we openly profess it. Are we then to be the preservers of them? I do not touch them when I have not the power; I do not touch them when the lord of the property complains of it; but when he wishes it to be done, and gives thanks for it, I should incur guilt if I did it not.

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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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