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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 38

Sermon 38 on the New Testament

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On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 20:30 , about the two blind men sitting by the way side, and crying out, Lord, have mercy on us, Thou Son of David.

1. You know, Holy Brethren, full well as we do, that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the Physician of our eternal health; and that to this end He took the weakness of our nature, that our weakness might not last forever. For He assumed a mortal body, wherein to kill death. And, though He was crucified through weakness, as the Apostle says, yet He lives by the power of God. They are the words too of the same Apostle; He dies no more, and death shall have no more dominion over Him. These things, I say, are well known to your faith. And there is also this which follows from it, that we should know that all the miracles which He did on the body, avail to our instruction, that we may from them perceive that which is not to pass away, nor to have any end. He restored to the blind those eyes which death was sure sometime to close; He raised Lazarus to life who was to die again. And whatever He did for the health of bodies, He did it not to this end that they should be for ever; whereas at the last He will give eternal health even to the body itself. But because those things which were not seen, were not believed; by means of these temporal things which were seen, He built up faith in those things which were not seen.

2. Let no one then, Brethren, say that our Lord Jesus Christ does not those things now, and on this account prefer the former to the present ages of the Church. In a certain place indeed the same Lord prefers those who do not see, and yet believe, to them who see and therefore believe. For even at that time so irresolute was the infirmity of His disciples, that they thought that He whom they saw to have risen again must be handled, in order that they might believe. It was not enough for their eyes that they had seen Him, unless their hands also were applied to His limbs, and the scars of His recent wounds were touched; that that disciple who was in doubt, might cry out suddenly when he had touched and recognised the scars, My Lord and my God. The scars manifested Him who had healed all wounds in others. Could not the Lord have risen again without the scars? Yes, but He knew the wounds which were in the hearts of His disciples, and to heal them He had preserved the scars on His own Body. And what said the Lord to him who now confessed and said, My Lord and my God? Because you have seen, He said, you have believed; blessed are they who do not see, and yet believe. Of whom spoke He, Brethren, but of us? Not that He spoke only of us, but of those also who shall come after us. For after a little while when He had departed from the sight of men, that faith might be established in their hearts, whosoever believed, believed, though they saw Him not, and great has been the merit of their faith; for the procuring of which faith they brought only the movement of a pious heart, and not the touching of their hands.

3. These things then the Lord did to invite us to the faith. This faith reigns now in the Church, which is spread throughout the whole world. And now He works greater cures, on account of which He disdained not then to exhibit those lesser ones. For as the soul is better than the body, so is the saving health of the soul better than the health of the body. The blind body does not now open its eyes by a miracle of the Lord, but the blinded heart opens its eyes to the word of the Lord. The mortal corpse does not now rise again, but the soul does rise again which lay dead in a living body. The deaf ears of the body are not now opened; but how many have the ears of their heart closed, which yet fly open at the penetrating word of God, so that they believe who did not believe, and they live well, who did live evilly, and they obey, who did not obey; and we say, Such a man has become a believer; and we wonder when we hear of them whom once we had known as hardened. Why then do you marvel at one who now believes, who is living innocently, and serving God; but because you behold him seeing, whom you had known to be blind; dost behold him living, whom you had known to be dead; dost behold him hearing, whom you had known to be deaf? For consider that there are who are dead in another than the ordinary sense, of whom the Lord spoke to a certain man who delayed to follow the Lord, because he wished to bury his father; Let the dead, said He, bury their dead. Surely these dead buriers are not dead in body; for if this were so, they could not bury dead bodies. Yet does he call them dead; where, but in the soul within? For as we may often see in a household, itself sound and well, the master of the same house lying dead; so in a sound body do many carry a dead soul within; and these the Apostle arouses thus, Awake, you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. It is the Same who gives light to the blind, that awakens the dead. For it is with His voice that the cry is made by the Apostle to the dead, Awake, you that sleep. And the blind will be enlightened with light, when he shall have risen again. And how many deaf men did the Lord see before His eyes, when He said, He that has ears to hear, let him hear. For who was standing before Him without his bodily ears? What other ears then did He seek for, but those of the inner man?

4. Again, what eyes did He look for when He spoke to those who saw indeed, but who saw only with the eyes of the flesh? For when Philip said to Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us; he understood indeed that if the Father were shown him, it might well suffice him; but how would the Father suffice him whom He that was equal to the Father sufficed not? And why did He not suffice? Because He was not seen. And why was He not seen? Because the eye whereby He might be seen was not yet whole. For this, namely, that the Lord was seen in the flesh with the outward eyes, not only the disciples who honoured Him saw, but also the Jews who crucified Him. He then who wished to be seen in another way, sought for other eyes. And therefore it was that to him who said, Show us the Father, and it suffices us; He answered, Have I been so long time with you; and yet have you not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me, has seen the Father also. And that He might in the mean while heal the eyes of faith, he has first of all instructions given him regarding faith, that so he might attain to sight. And lest Philip should think that he was to conceive of God under the same form in which he then saw the Lord Jesus Christ in the body, he immediately subjoined; Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? He had already said, He who has seen Me, has seen the Father also. But Philip's eye was not yet sound enough to see the Father, nor consequently to see the Son who is Himself Coequal with the Father. And so Jesus Christ took in hand to cure, and with the medicines and salve of faith to strengthen the eyes of his mind, which as yet were weak and unable to behold so great a light, and He said, Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? Let not him then who cannot yet see what the Lord will one day show him, seek first to see what he is to believe; but let him first believe that the eye by which he is to see may be healed. For it was only the form of the servant which was exhibited to the eyes of servants; because if He who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, could have been now seen as equal with God by those whom He wished to be healed, He would not have needed to empty Himself, and to take the form of a servant. But because there was no way whereby God could be seen, but whereby man could be seen, there was; therefore He who was God was made man, that that which was seen might heal that whereby He was not seen. For He says Himself in another place, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Philip might of course have answered and said, Lord, lo, I see You; is the Father such as I see You to be? Forasmuch as You have said, 'He who has seen Me, has seen the Father also'? But before Philip answered thus, or perhaps before he so much as thought it, when the Lord had said, He who has seen Me, has seen the Father also; He immediately added, Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? For with that eye he could, not yet see either the Father, or the Son who is equal with the Father; but that his eye might be healed for seeing, he was to be anointed unto believing. So then before you see what you can not now see, believe what as yet you see not. Walk by faith, that you may attain to sight. Sight will not gladden him in his home whom faith consoles not by the way. For so says the Apostle, As long as we are in the body, we are in pilgrimage from the Lord. And he subjoins immediately why we are still in pilgrimage, though we have now believed; For we walk by faith, He says, not by sight.

5. Our whole business then, Brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen. To this end are celebrated the Holy Mysteries; to this end is preached the word of God; to this end are the moral exhortations of the Church, those, that is, that relate to the correction of manners, to the amendment of carnal lusts, to the renouncing the world, not in word only, but in a change of life: to this end is directed the whole aim of the Divine and Holy Scriptures, that that inner man may be purged of that which hinders us from the sight of God. For as the eye which is formed to see this temporal light, a light though heavenly, yet corporeal, and manifest, not to men only, but even to the meanest animals (for for this the eye is formed, to see this light); if anything be thrown or fall into it, whereby it is disordered, is shut out from this light; and though it encompass the eye with its presence, yet the eye turns itself away from, and is absent from it; and through its disordered condition is not only rendered absent from the light which is present, but the light to see which it was formed, is even painful to it. So the eye of the heart too when it is disordered and wounded turns away from the light of righteousness, and dares not and cannot contemplate it.

6. And what is it that disorders the eye of the heart? Evil desire, covetousness, injustice, worldly concupiscence, these disorder, close, blind the eye of the heart. And yet when the eye of the body is out of order, how is the physician sought out, what an absence of all delay to open and cleanse it, that that may be healed whereby this outward light is seen! There is running to and fro, no one is still, no one loiters, if even the smallest straw fall into the eye. And God it must be allowed made the sun which we desire to see with sound eyes. Much brighter assuredly is He who made it; nor is the light with which the eye of the mind is concerned of this kind at all. That light is eternal Wisdom. God made you, O man, after His own image. Would He give you wherewithal to see the sun which He made, and not give you wherewithal to see Him who made you, when He made you after His own image? He has given you this also; both has He given you. But much do you love these outward eyes, and much do you despise that interior eye; it you carry about bruised and wounded. Yea, it would be a punishment to you, if your Maker should wish to manifest Himself unto you; it would be a punishment to your eye, before that it is cured and healed. For so Adam in paradise sinned, and hid himself from the face of God. As long then as he had the sound heart of a pure conscience, he rejoiced at the presence of God; when that eye was wounded by sin, he began to dread the Divine light, he fled back into the darkness, and the thick covert of the trees, flying from the truth, and anxious for the shade.

7. Therefore, my Brethren, since we too are born of him, and as the Apostle says, In Adam all die; for we were all at first two persons if we were loth to obey the physician, that we might not be sick; let us obey Him now, that we may be delivered from sickness. The physician gave us precepts, when we were whole; He gave us precepts that we might not need a physician. They that are whole, He says, need not a physician, but they that are sick. When whole we despised these precepts, and by experience have felt how to our own destruction we despised His precepts. Now we are sick, we are in distress, we are on the bed of weakness; yet let us not despair. For because we could not come to the Physician, He has vouchsafed to come Himself to us. Though despised by man when he was whole, He did not despise him when he was stricken. He did not leave off to give other precepts to the weak, who would not keep the first precepts, that he might not be weak; as though He would say, Assuredly you have by experience felt that I spoke the truth when I said, Touch not this. Be healed then now at length, and recover the life you have lost. Lo, I am bearing your infirmity; drink the bitter cup. For you have of your own self made those my so sweet precepts which were given to you when whole, so toilsome. They were despised and so your distress began; cured you can not be, unless you drink the bitter cup, the cup of temptations, wherein this life abounds, the cup of tribulation, anguish, and sufferings. Drink then, He says, drink, that you may live. And that the sick man may not make answer, I cannot, I cannot bear it, I will not drink; the Physician, all whole though he be, drinks first, that the sick man may not hesitate to drink. For what bitterness is there in this cup, which He has not drunk? If it be contumely; He heard it first when He drove out the devils, He has a devil, and by Beelzebub He casts out devils. Whereupon in order to comfort the sick, He says, If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household? If pains are this bitter cup, He was bound and scourged and crucified. If death be this bitter cup, He died also. If infirmity shrink with horror from any particular kind of death, none was at that time more ignominious than the death of the cross. For it was not in vain that the Apostle, when setting forth His obedience, added, Made obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

8. But because He designed to honour His faithful ones at the end of the world, He has first honoured the cross in this world; in such wise that the princes of the earth who believe in Him have prohibited any criminal from being crucified; and that cross which the Jewish persecutors with great mockery prepared for the Lord, even kings His servants at this day bear with great confidence on their foreheads. Only the shameful nature of the death which our Lord vouchsafed to undergo for us is not now so apparent, Who, as the Apostle says, was made a curse for us. And when as He hung, the blindness of the Jews mocked Him, surely He could have come down from the Cross, who if He had not so willed, had not been on the Cross; but it was a greater thing to rise from the grave than to come down from the Cross. Our Lord then in doing these Divine, and in suffering these human things, instructs us by His Bodily miracles and Bodily patience, that we may believe, and be made whole to behold those things invisible which the eye of the body has no knowledge of. With this intent then He cured these blind men of whom the account has just now been read in the Gospel. And consider what instruction He has by their cure conveyed to the man who is sick within.

9. Consider the issue of the thing, and the order of the circumstances. Those two blind men sitting by the way side cried out as the Lord passed by, that He would have mercy upon them. But they were restrained from crying out by the multitude which was with the Lord. Now do not suppose that this circumstance is left without a mysterious meaning. But they overcame the crowd who kept them back by the great perseverance of their cry, that their voice might reach the Lord's ears; as though He had not already anticipated their thoughts. So then the two blind men cried out that they might be heard by the Lord, and could not be restrained by the multitudes. The Lord was passing by, and they cried out. The Lord stood still, and they were healed. For the Lord Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will you that I shall do unto you? They say unto Him, That our eyes may be opened. The Lord did according to their faith, He recovered their eyes. If we have now understood by the sick, the deaf, the dead, the sick, and deaf, and dead, within; let us look out in this place also for the blind within. The eyes of the heart are clossd; Jesus passes by that we may cry out. What is, Jesus passes by? Jesus is doing things which last but for a time. What is Jesus passes by? Jesus does things which pass by. Mark and see how many things of His have passed by. He was born of the Virgin Mary; is He being born always? As an infant was He suckled; is He suckled always? He ran through the successive ages of life unto man's full estate; does He grow in body always? Boyhood succeeded to infancy, to boyhood youth, to youth man's full stature in several passing successions. Even the very miracles which He did are passed by, they are read and believed. For because these miracles are written that so they might be read, they passed by when they were being done. In a word, not to dwell long on this, He was Crucified: is He hanging on the Cross always? He was Buried, He Rose again, He Ascended into heaven; now He dies no more, death shall no more have dominion over Him. And His Divinity abides ever, yea, the Immortality of His Body now shall never fail. But nevertheless all those things which were wrought by Him in time have passed by; and they are written to be read, and they are preached to be believed. In all these things then, Jesus passes by.

10. And what are the two blind men by the way side, but the two people to cure whom Jesus came? Let us show those two people in the Holy Scriptures. It is written in the Gospel, Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also must I bring, that there may be one fold and One Shepherd. Who then are the two people? One the people of the Jews, and the other of the Gentiles. I am not sent, He says, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. To whom did He say this? To the disciples; when that woman of Canaan who confessed herself to be a dog, cried out that she might be found worthy of the crumbs from the master's table. And because she was found worthy, now were the two people to whom He had come made manifest: the Jewish people, to wit, of whom He said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and the people of the Gentiles, whose type this woman exhibited whom He had first rejected, saying, It is not meet to cast the children's bread to the dogs; and to whom when she said, Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table; He answered, O woman, great is your faith, be it unto you even as you will. For of this people also was that centurion of whom the same Lord says, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. Because he had said, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. So then the Lord even before His Passion and Glorification pointed out two people, the one to whom He had come because of the promises to the Fathers; and the other whom for His mercy's sake He did not reject; that it might be fulfilled which had been promised to Abraham, In your seed shall all nations be blessed. Wherefore also the Apostle after the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, when He was despised by the Jews, went to the Gentiles. Not that he was silent however towards the Churches which consisted of Jewish believers; I was unknown, he says, by face unto the Churches of Judæa which were in Christ. But they heard only that he which persecuted us in times past, now preaches the faith which once he destroyed, and they glorified God in me. So again Christ is called the Corner Stone who made both one. For a corner joins two walls which come from different sides together. And what was so different as the circumcision and uncircumcision, having one wall from Judæa, the other from the Gentiles? But they are joined together by the corner stone. For the stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner. There is no corner in a building, except when two walls coming from different directions meet together, and are joined in a kind of unity. The two blind men then crying out unto the Lord were these two walls according to the figure.

11. Attend now, dearly Beloved. The Lord was passing by, and the blind men cried out. What is was passing by? As we have already said, He was doing works which passed by. Now upon these passing works is our faith built up. For we believe in the Son of God, not only in that He is the word of God, by whom all things were made; for if He had always continued in the form of God, equal with God, and had not emptied Himself in taking the form of a servant, the blind men would not even have perceived Him, that they might be able to cry out. But when He wrought passing works, that is, when He humbled Himself, having become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, the two blind men cried out, Have mercy on us, you Son of David. For this very thing that He David's Lord and Creator, willed also to be David's Son, He wrought in time, He wrought passing by.

12. Now what is it, Brethren, to cry out unto Christ, but to correspond to the grace of Christ by good works? This I say, Brethren, lest haply we cry aloud with our voices, and in our lives be dumb. Who is he that cries out to Christ, that his inward blindness may be driven away by Christ as He is passing by, that is, as He is dispensing to us those temporal sacraments, whereby we are instructed to receive the things which are eternal? Who is he that cries out unto Christ? Whoever despises the world, cries out unto Christ. Whoever despises the pleasures of the world, cries out unto Christ. Whoever says not with his tongue, but with his life, The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world, cries out unto Christ. Whoever disperses abroad and gives to the poor, that his righteousness may endure for ever, cries out unto Christ. For let him that hears, and is not deaf to the sound, sell that you have, and give to the poor; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not; let him as he hears the sound as it were of Christ's footsteps passing by, cry out in response to this in his blindness, that is, let him do these things. Let his voice be in his actions. Let him begin to despise the world, to distribute to the poor his goods, to esteem as nothing worth what other men love, let him disregard injuries, not seek to be avenged, let him give his cheek to the smiter, let him pray for his enemies; if any one have taken away his goods, let him not ask for them again; if he have taken anything from any man, let him restore fourfold.

13. When he shall begin to do all this, all his kinsmen, relations, and friends will be in commotion. They who love this world, will oppose him. What madness this! You are too extreme: what! Are not other men Christians? This is folly, this is madness. And other such like things do the multitude cry out to prevent the blind from crying out. The multitude rebuked them as they cried out; but did not overcome their cries. Let them who wish to be healed understand what they have to do. Jesus is now also passing by; let them who are by the way side cry out. These are they who know God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him. These are by the way side, to whom as blinded in heart Jesus gives His precepts. For when those passing things which Jesus did are recounted, Jesus is always represented to us as passing by. For even unto the end of the world there will not be wanting blind men sitting by the way side. Need then there is that they who sit by the way side should cry out. The multitude that was with the Lord would repress the crying of those who were seeking for recovery. Brethren, do ye see my meaning? For I know not how to speak, but still less do I know how to be silent. I will speak then, and speak plainly. For I fear Jesus passing by and Jesus standing still; and therefore I cannot keep silence. Evil and lukewarm Christians hinder good Christians who are truly earnest, and wish to do the commandments of God which are written in the Gospel. This multitude which is with the Lord hinders those who are crying out, hinders those that is who are doing well, that they may not by perseverance be healed. But let them cry out, and not faint; let them not be led away as if by the authority of numbers; let them not imitate those who became Christians before them, who live evil lives themselves, and are jealous of the good deeds of others. Let them not say, Let us live as these so many live. Why not rather as the Gospel ordains? Why do you wish to live according to the remonstrances of the multitude who would hinder you, and not after the steps of the Lord, who passes by? They will mock, and abuse, and call you back; cry out till you reach the ears of Jesus. For they who shall persevere in doing such things as Christ has enjoined, and regard not the multitudes that hinder them, nor think much of their appearing to follow Christ, that is of their being called Christians; but who love the light which Christ is about to restore to them, more than they fear the uproar of those who are hindering them; they shall on no account be separated from Him, and Jesus will stand still, and make them whole.

14. For how are our eyes made whole? That as by faith we perceive Christ passing by in the temporal economy, so we may attain to the knowledge of Him as standing still in His unchangeable Eternity. For then is the eye made whole when the knowledge of Christ's Divinity is attained. Let your love apprehend this; attend ye to the great mystery which I am to speak of. All the things which were done by our Lord Jesus Christ in time, graft faith in us. We believe in the Son of God, not on the Word only, by which all things were made; but on this very Word, made flesh that He might dwell among us, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and the rest which the Faith contains, and which are represented to us that Christ might pass by, and that the blind, hearing His footsteps as He passes by, might by their works cry out, by their life exemplifying the profession of their faith. But now in order that they who cry out may be made whole, Jesus stands still. For he saw Jesus now standing still who says, Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. For he saw Christ's Divinity as far as in this life is possible. There is then in Christ the Divinity and the Humanity. The Divinity stands still, the Humanity passes by. What means, The Divinity stands still? It changes not, is not shaken, does not depart away. For He did not so come to us, as to depart from the Father; nor did He so ascend as to change His place. When He assumed Flesh, it changed place; but God assuming Flesh, seeing He is not in place, does not change His place. Let us then be touched by Christ standing still, and so our eyes be made whole. But whose eyes? The eyes of those who cry out when He is passing by; that is, who do good works through that faith, which has been dispensed in time, to instruct us in our infancy.

15. Now what thing more precious can we have than the eye made whole? They rejoice who see this created light which shines from heaven, or even that which is given out from a lamp. And how wretched do they seem, who cannot see this light? But wherefore do I speak, and talk of all these things, but to exhort you all to cry out, when Jesus passes by. I hold up this light which perhaps ye do not see as an object of love to you, Holy Brethren. Believe, while as yet ye see not; and cry out that you may see. How great is thought to be the unhappiness of men, who do not see this bodily light? Does any one become blind; immediately it is said; God is angry with him, he has committed some wicked deed. So said Tobias' wife to her husband. He cried out because of the kid, lest it had come of theft; he did not like to hear the sound of any stolen thing in his house; and she, maintaining what she had done, reproached her husband; and when he said, Restore it if it be stolen; she answered insultingly, Where are your righteous deeds? How great was her blindness who maintained the theft; and how clear a light he saw, who commanded the stolen thing to be restored! She rejoiced outwardly in the light of the sun; he inwardly in the light of Righteousness. Which of them was in the better light?

16. It is to the love of this light that I would exhort you, Beloved; that you would cry out by your works, when the Lord passes by; let the voice of faith sound out, that Jesus standing still, that is, the Unchangeable, Abiding Wisdom of God, and the Majesty of the Word of God, by which all things were made, may open your eyes. The same Tobias in giving advice to his son, instructed him to this, to cry out; that is, he instructed him to good works. He told him to give to the poor, charged him to give alms to the needy, and taught him, saying, My son, alms suffers not to come into darkness. The blind gave counsel for receiving and gaining light. Alms, says he, suffers not to come into darkness. Had his son in astonishment answered him, What then, father, have you not given alms, that you now speakest to me in blindness; are you not in darkness, and yet you say to me, Alms suffers not to come into darkness. But no, he knew well what the light was, concerning which he gave his son instruction, he knew well what he saw in the inner man. The son held out his hand to his father, to enable him to walk on earth; and the father to the son, to enable him to dwell in heaven.

17. To be brief; that I may conclude this Sermon, Brethren, with a matter which touches me very nearly, and gives me much pain, see what crowds there are which rebuke the blind as they cry out. But let them not deter you, whosoever among this crowd desire to be healed; for there are many Christians in name, and in works ungodly; let them not deter you from good works. Cry out amid the crowds that are restraining you, and calling you back, and insulting you, whose lives are evil. For not only by their voices, but by evil works, do wicked Christians repress the good. A good Christian has no wish to attend the public shows. In this very thing, that he bridles his desire of going to the theatre, he cries out after Christ, cries out to be healed. Others run together there, but perhaps they are heathens or Jews? Ah! Indeed, if Christians went not to the theatres, there would be so few people there, that they would go away for very shame. So then Christians run there also, bearing the Holy Name only to their condemnation. Cry out then by abstaining from going, by repressing in your heart this worldly concupiscence; hold on with a strong and persevering cry unto the ears of the Saviour, that Jesus may stand still and heal you. Cry out amidst the very crowds, despair not of reaching the ears of the Lord. For the blind men in the Gospel did not cry out in that quarter, where no crowd was, that so they might be heard in that direction, where there was no impediment from persons hindering them. Amidst the very crowds they cried out; and yet the Lord heard them. And so also do ye even amidst sinners, and sensual then, amidst the lovers of the vanities of the world, there cry out that the Lord may heal you. Go not to another quarter to cry out unto the Lord, go not to heretics, and cry out unto Him there. Consider, Brethren, how in that crowd which was hindering them from crying out, even there were they who cried out made whole.

18. For observe this too, Holy Brethren, what it is to persevere in crying out. I will speak of what many as well as myself have experienced in Christ's name; for the Church does not cease to give birth to such as these. When any Christian has begun to live well, to be fervent in good works, and to despise the world; in this newness of his life he is exposed to the animadversions and contradictions of cold Christians. But if he persevere, and get the better of them by his endurance, and faint not in good works; those very same persons who before hindered will now respect him. For they rebuke, and hinder, and withstand him so long as they have any hope that he will yield to them. But if they shall be overcome by their perseverance who make progress, they turn round and begin to say, He is a great man, a holy man, happy he to whom God has given such grace. Now do they honour him, they congratulate and bless and laud him; just as that multitude did which was with the Lord. They first hindered the blind men that they might not cry out; but when they continued to cry so as to attain to be heard, and to obtain the Lord's mercy, that same multitude now says, Jesus calls you. And they who a little before rebuked them that they should hold their peace, use now the voice of exhortation. Now he only is not called by the Lord who is not in labour in this world. But who is there in this life who is not in labour through his sins and iniquities? But if all labour, it is said to all, Come unto Me, all you that labour. Now if this is said to all, why do you ascribe your miscarriage to Him that so invites you? Come. His house is not too narrow for you; the kingdom of God is possessed equally by all, and wholly by each one; it is not diminished by the increasing number of those who possess it, because it is not divided. And that which is possessed by many with one heart, is whole and entire for each one.

19. Yet in the mysterious sense of this passage, Brethren, we recognise what is expressed most plainly in other places of the sacred books, that there are within the Church both good and bad, as I often express it, wheat and chaff. Let no one leave the floor before the time, let him bear with the chaff in the time of threshing, let him bear with it in the floor. For in the barn he will have none of it to bear with. The Winnower will come, who shall divide the bad from the good. There will then be a bodily separation too, which a spiritual separation now precedes. In heart be always separated from the bad, in body be united with them for a time, only with caution. Yet be not negligent in correcting those who belong to you, who in any way appertain to your charge, by admonition, or instruction, by exhortation, or by threats. Do it, in whatsoever way ye can. And because ye find in Scripture and in the examples of Saints, whether of those who lived before or after the coming of the Lord in this life, that the bad do not defile the good in unity with them, do not on this account become slow in the correction of the bad. In two ways the bad will not defile you; if you consent not to him, and if you reprove him; this is, not to communicate with him, not to consent to him. For there is a communication, when an agreement either of the will or of the approbation is joined to his deed. This the Apostle teaches us, when he says, Have no communication with the unfruitful works of darkness. And because it was a small matter not to consent, if negligence in correction accompanied it, he says, But rather reprove them. See how he comprehended both at once, Have no communication, but rather reprove them. What is, Have no communication? Do not consent to them, do not praise them, do not approve them. What is, But rather reprove them? Find fault with, rebuke, repress them.

20. But then in the correction and repressing of other men's sins, one must take heed, that in rebuking another he do not lift up himself; and that sentence of the Apostle must be thought of, Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall. Let the voice of chiding sound outwardly in tones of terror, let the spirit of love and gentleness be maintained within. If a man be overtaken in a fault, as the same Apostle says, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so shall you fulfil the law of Christ. And again in another place, The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are held captive by him at his will. So then be neither consenting to evil, so as to approve of it; nor negligent so as not to reprove it; nor proud so as to reprove it in a tone of insult.

21. But whoever forsakes unity, violates charity; and whosoever violates charity, how great gifts soever he have, he is nothing. If he speak with the tongues of men and of angels; if he knew all mysteries, if he have all faith, so as to remove mountains, if he distribute all his goods to the poor, if he give his body to be burned, and have not charity; it is nothing; it profits him nothing. He possesses all things to no useful end, who has not that one thing by which he may use all these things well. So then let us embrace charity, studying to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let not those seduce us who understand the Scriptures in a carnal manner, and who in making a bodily separation, are separated themselves by a spiritual sacrilege from the good grain of the Church which is spread over the whole world. For throughout the whole world has the good seed been sown. That good Sower, the Son of Man, has scattered the good seed not in Africa only, but everywhere. But the enemy has sown tares upon it. Yet what says the Householder? Let both grow together until the harvest. Grow where? In the field, of course. What is the field? Is it Africa? No! What is it then? Let us not interpret it ourselves, let the Lord speak; let us not suffer any one to make his guess at his own pleasure. For the disciples said to the Master, Declare unto us the parable of the tares. And the Lord declared it: The good seed, said He, are the children of the Kingdom. But the tares are the children of the wicked one. Who sowed them? The enemy that sowed them, said He, is the devil. What is the field? The field, said He, is this world. What is the harvest? The harvest, said He, is the end of the world. Who are the reapers? The reapers, said He, are the Angels. Is Africa the world? Is this present time the harvest? Is Donatus the reaper? Look then for the harvest throughout the whole world, throughout the whole world grow unto the harvest, throughout the whole world bear with the tares even until the harvest. Let not perverse men seduce you, that chaff so light, which flies out of the floor before the coming of the Winnower; let them not seduce you. Hold them fast even to this single parable of the tares, and suffer them not to speak of anything else. This man, one will say, surrendered the Scriptures; no, not so: but this other man surrendered them. Whosoever it might be who has surrendered them, has their faithlessness made void the faithfulness of God? What is the faithfulness of God? That which He promised to Abraham, saying, In your seed shall all nations be blessed. What is the faithfulness of God? Let both grow together until the harvest. Grow where? Throughout the field. What is throughout the field? Throughout the world.

22. Here they say; It is true both kinds did once grow throughout the world, but the good wheat is diminished, and confined to this our country, and our small communion. But the Lord does not allow you to interpret as you will. He who explains this parable Himself, shuts your mouth, your sacrilegious, profane, and ungodly mouth, that is counter to your own interests, while you run counter to the testator, even as he calls you to the inheritance. How does He shut your mouth? By saying, Let both grow together until the harvest. If the harvest has come already, let us believe that the wheat has been diminished. Though not even then shall it be diminished, but gathered up into the barn. For so He says, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn. If then they grow until the harvest, and after the harvest are gathered in, how are they diminished, you wicked, you ungodly one? I grant that in comparison with the tares and chaff the wheat is less in quantity; still both grow together until the harvest. For when iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold; the tares and the chaff multiply. But because throughout the whole world wheat cannot be wanting, which by enduring unto the end shall be saved, both grow together until the harvest. And if because of the abundance of the wicked it is said, When the Son of Man comes, do you think, shall He find faith on the earth? and by this denomination are signified all those who by transgression of the law imitate him to whom it was said, Earth you are, and unto earth shall you return; yet because of the abundance of the good also, and because of him to whom it was said, Your seed shall be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea; is that also written, Many shall come from the East and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, in the kingdom of God. Both then grow together until the harvest, and both the tares or chaff have their passages in the Scriptures, and the wheat theirs. And they who do not understand them, confound them and are themselves confounded; and in their blind desire they make such an uproar, that they will not be silenced even by the clear manifestation of the truth.

23. See, they say, the Prophet says, Depart ye, go out from thence, and touch no unclean thing; how then for peace sake should we bear with the wicked, from whom we are commanded to go out and depart that we touch not the unclean thing? We understand that departure spiritually, they corporally. For I also cry out with the Prophet (for however mean a vessel I am, God makes use of me to minister to you); I also cry out and say to you, Depart ye, go out from thence, and touch not the unclean thing; but with the touch of the heart, not of the body. For what is it to touch the unclean thing, but to consent to sin. And what is it to go out from thence, but to do what appertains to the rebuking of the wicked, as far as can be done, according to each one's grade and condition, with the maintenance of peace? You are displeased at a man's sin, you have not touched the unclean thing. You have reproved, rebuked, admonished him, hast administered, if the case required it, a suitable discipline, and such as does not violate unity; then you have gone out from thence. Now consider the actions of the Saints, lest perhaps this should seem to be an interpretation of my own. As Saints have understood these words, so surely ought they to be understood. Go out from them, says the Prophet. I will first maintain this meaning of the words from their customary use, and will afterwards show that that meaning is not my own. It often happens that men are accused; and when they are accused they defend themselves, and when the accused defends himself with good reason and justice, the hearers say, He has got out of this. Got out; whither has he gone? He abides still in the place where he was, yet has he got out of this. How has he got out of it? By the good account he has rendered, and by his most satisfactory defense. This is what the holy Apostles did when they shook off the dust from their feet against those who did not receive the message of peace which was sent to them. That watchman, got out from thence, to whom it was I said, I have made you a watchman unto the house of Israel. For it was told him If you warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his way, that wicked one shall die in his iniquity, and you shall deliver your soul. This if he do, he goes out from him, not by a bodily separation, but by the defense of his own work. For he did what it was his duty to do; though the other, whose duty it was to obey, obeyed not. This then is that, Go out from thence.

24. So cried Moses and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Let us see then if they acted thus, if they left the people of God, and betook themselves to other nations. How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah utter against the sinners, and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his crying out he went out from them. This is to go out from them; this is not to touch the unclean thing, the not consenting to them in will, and the not sparing them in word. What shall I say of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people, among whom themselves were able to be such as they were? When Moses himself, Brethren, was receiving the law in the mount, the people below made an idol. The people of God, the people who had been led through the waves of the Red Sea which gave way to them, and overwhelmed their enemies who followed after, after so many signs and miracles displayed in plagues upon the Egyptians even unto death, and for their protection unto deliverance, yet demanded an idol, obtained an idol by force, made an idol, adored an idol, sacrificed unto an idol. God shows His servant what the people had done, and says that He will destroy them from before His Face. Moses makes intercession for them as he was about to return to this people; yet had he a good opportunity of retiring and going out from them, as these persons understand it, that he might not touch the unclean thing, might not live among them; but he did not so. And that he might not seem to have acted thus from necessity rather than from love, God offered him another people; so that He might destroy these: I will make of you, He said, a great nation. But he did not accept it; he cleaves to the sinners, he prays for the sinners. And how does he pray? O signal proof of love, my Brethren! How does he pray? Mark that, as it were, mother's fondness, of which I have often spoken. When God threatened the sacrilegious people, Moses' tender heart trembled, and on their behalf he opposed himself to the wrath of God. Lord, he says, if You will forgive their sin, forgive; but if not, blot me out of Your book which You have written. With what a father's and mother's fondness, yet with what assurance said he this, as he considered at once the justice and the mercy of God; that in that He is just, He would not destroy the righteous man; and that in that He is merciful, He would pardon the sinners.

25. It is now surely plain to your discernment, in what manner all such testimonies of the Scriptures are to be received; so that when Scripture says, that we must depart from the wicked, we are bid to understand this in no other sense, but that we depart in heart; lest by the separation from the good, we commit a greater evil than we shrink from in the union of the wicked, as these Donatists have done. But if they were truly good, and so had reproved the wicked, and not rather being themselves wicked, had defamed the good, they would for peace sake bear with any, be they who they might, seeing they have received the Maximianists as sound, whom they condemned before as lost. Undoubtedly the Prophet has said plainly, Depart ye, go out from thence, and touch not the unclean thing. But that I may understand what he said, I pay attention to what he did. By his own deeds he explains his words. He said, Depart ye. To whom did he say so? To the righteous of course. From whom did he bid them depart? From sinners and wicked men of course. I ask then, did he depart from such himself? I find that he did not. So then he understood it in another sense. For surely he would be the first to do what he enjoined. He departed from them in heart, he rebuked and reproved them. By keeping himself from consenting to them, he did not touch the unclean thing; but by rebuking them he went out free in the sight of God; and to him God neither imputes his own sins, because he sinned not; nor the sins of others, because he approved them not; nor negligence, because he kept not silence; nor pride, because he continued in unity. So then, my Brethren, how many soever you have among you, who are still weighed down by the love of the world, covetous, or perjured persons, adulterers, spectacle hunters, consulters of astrologers, of fanatics, of soothsayers, of augurs and diviners, drunkards, sensualists, whatever there is of bad that you know you have among you; show your disapprobation of it all as far as you are able, that you may in heart depart; and reprove them, that you may go out from them; and consent not to them, that ye touch not the unclean thing.

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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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