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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 87

Sermon 87 on the New Testament

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The tenth chapter of the Gospel of John . Of the shepherd, and the hireling, and the thief.

1. Your faith, dearly beloved, is not ignorant, and I know that you have so learned by the teaching of that Master from heaven, in whom you have placed your hope, that our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now suffered for us and risen again, is the Head of the Church, and the Church is His Body, and that in His Body the unity of the members and the bond of charity is, as it were, its sound health. But whosoever grows cold in charity, has become enfeebled in the Body of Christ. But He who has already exalted our Head, is able also to make even the feeble members whole; provided, that is, that they be not cut off by excessive impiety, but adhere to the Body until they be made whole. For whatsoever yet adheres to the body, is not beyond hope of healing; whereas that which has been cut off, can neither be in process of curing, nor be healed. Since then He is the Head of the Church, and the Church is His Body, Whole Christ is both the Head and the Body. He has already risen again. We have therefore the Head in heaven. Our Head intercedes for us. Our Head without sin and without death, now propitiates God for our sins; that we too at the end rising again, and changed into heavenly glory, may follow our Head. For where the Head is, there are the rest of the members also. But while we are here, we are members; let us not despair, for we shall follow our Head.

2. For consider, Brethren, the love of this our Head. He is now in heaven, yet does He suffer here, as long as His Church suffers here. Here Christ is hungered, here He is thirsty, is naked, is a stranger, is sick, is in prison. For whatsoever His Body suffers here, He has said that Himself suffers; and at the end, severing off this His Body to the right hand, and severing the rest by whom He is now trodden under foot to the left, He will say to those on the right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For what deservings? For I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat; and so He goes over the rest, as if He had Himself received; to such a degree that they, not understanding it, make answer and say, Lord, when saw we You an hungred, a stranger, and in prison? And He says to them, Forasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of Mine, you have done it unto Me. So also in our own body, the head is above, the feet are on the earth; yet in any crowding and throng of men, when any one treads on your foot, does not the head say, You are treading upon me? No one has trodden on your head, or on your tongue; it is above, in safety, no harm has happened unto it; and yet because by the bond of charity there is unity from the head even to the feet, the tongue does not separate itself therefrom, but says, You are treading upon me; when no one has touched it. As then the tongue, which no one has touched, says, You are treading upon me; so Christ, the Head, which no one treads on, said, I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat. And to them who did not so, He said, I was an hungred, and you gave Me no meat. And how did He finish? Thus; These shall go into everlasting burning, but the righteous into life eternal.

3. When our Lord then was speaking on this occasion, He said, that He is the Shepherd, He said also that He is the Door. You find them both in that place, both I am the Door and I am the Shepherd. In the Head He is the Door, the Shepherd in the Body. For He says to Peter, in whom singly He forms the Church; Peter, do you love Me? He answered, Lord, I do love You. Feed My sheep. And a third time, Peter, do you love Me? Peter was grieved because He asked him the third time; as though He who saw the conscience of the denier, saw not the confessor's faith. He had known him always, had known him even when Peter had not known himself. For he did not know himself at that time when he said, I will be with You even unto death; and how infirm he was he knew not. Just as it constantly happens in fact to invalids, that the sick man knows not what is going on within him, but the physician knows; when yet the former is suffering from the very sickness, and the physician is not. The physician can better tell what is going on in another, than he who is sick what is going on in himself. Peter then was at that time the invalid, and the Lord the Physician. The former declared that he had strength, when he had not; but the Lord touching the pulse of his heart, declared that he should deny Him thrice. And so it came to pass, as the Physician foretold, not as the sick presumed. Therefore, after His resurrection the Lord questioned him, not as being ignorant with what a heart he would confess the love of Christ, but that he might by a threefold confession of love, efface the threefold denial of fear.

4. Therefore does the Lord require this of Peter, Peter, do you love Me? As though, What will you give Me, what will you do for Me, seeing that you love Me? What was Peter to do for his Lord risen again, and going into heaven, and sitting on the right hand of the Father? As if He had said, This shall you give Me, this shall you do for Me, if you love Me, feed My sheep; enter in by the Door, not go up by another way. You heard when the Gospel was being read, He that enters in by Door, is the shepherd; but he that goes up another way, is a thief and a robber; and he seeks to disperse, and to scatter, and to spoil. Who is he that enters in by the Door? He that enters in by Christ. Who is he? He who imitates the Passion of Christ, who acknowledges the Humility of Christ; that whereas God was made Man for us, man may acknowledge himself to be, not God, but man. For whoever wishes to appear God, when he is man, does not imitate Him, who, being God, was made Man. But to you it is not said, Be anything less than you are; but acknowledge what you are. Acknowledge yourself feeble, acknowledge yourself man, acknowledge yourself a sinner; acknowledge that it is He That justifies, acknowledge that you are full of stains. Let the stain of your heart appear in your confession, and you shall belong to Christ's flock. For the confession of sins invites the physician's healing; as in sickness, he that says, I am well, seeks not the physician. Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up to the temple? The one boasted of his sound estate, the other showed his wounds to the Physician. For the Pharisee said, I thank You, O God, that I am not as this publican. He gloried over the other. So then if that publican had been whole, the Pharisee would have grudged it him; for that he would not have had any one over whom to extol himself. In what state then had he come, who had this envious spirit? Surely he was not whole; and whereas he called himself whole, he went not down cured. But the other casting his eyes down to the ground, and not daring to lift them up unto heaven, smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. And what says the Lord? Verily I say unto you, that the publican went down from the temple justified rather than the Pharisee. For every one that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted. They then who exalt themselves, would go up into the sheepfold by another way; but they who humble themselves, enter in by the Door into the sheepfold. Therefore said He of the one, he enters in; of the other, he goes up. He that goes up, you see, who seeks exaltation, does not enter in, but falls. Whereas he that abases himself, that he may enter in by the Door, falls not, but is the shepherd.

5. But the Lord mentioned three characters, and our duty is to search them out in the Gospel, that of the shepherd, the hireling, and the thief. I suppose you took notice when the lesson was being read, that He marked out the shepherd, the hireling, and the thief. The Shepherd, said He, lays down His life for the sheep, and enters in by the door. The thief and the robber, said He, go up by another way. The hireling, He said, if he sees a wolf or even a thief, flees; because he cares not for the sheep; for he is an hireling, not a shepherd. The one enters in by the door, because he is the shepherd; the second goes up another way, because he is a thief; the third seeing them who wish to spoil the sheep fears and flees, because he is an hireling, because he cares not for the sheep; for he is an hireling. If we shall find these three characters, you have found, holy brethren, both those whom you should love, and those whom you should tolerate, and those of whom you must beware. The Shepherd is to be loved, the hireling is to be tolerated, of the robber must we beware. There are men in the Church of whom the Apostle speaks, who preach the Gospel by occasion, seeking of men their own advantage, whether of money, or of honour, or human praise. They preach the Gospel, wishing to receive rewards in whatsoever way they can, and seek not so much his salvation to whom they preach, as their own advantage. But he who hears the word of salvation from him who has not salvation, if he believe Him whom he preaches, and put not his hope in him, by whom salvation is preached to him; he that preaches shall have loss; he to whom he preaches shall have gain.

6. You have the Lord saying of the Pharisees, They sit in Moses' seat. The Lord did not mean them only; as if He would send those who should believe in Christ to the school of the Jews, that they might learn there wherein is the way to the kingdom of heaven. Did not the Lord come for this end, that He might establish a Church, and separate those Jews who had a good faith, and a good hope, and a good love, as wheat from the chaff, and might make them one wall of the circumcision, to which should be joined another wall from the uncircumcision of the Gentiles, of which two walls coming from different directions, Himself should be the Corner-Stone? Did not the same Lord therefore say of these two people who were to be one, And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold? Now He was speaking to the Jews; Them also, said He, must I bring, that there may be one fold, and One Shepherd. Therefore there were two ships out of which He had called His disciples. They figured these two people, when they let down their nets, and took up so great a draught and so large a number of fishes, that the nets were almost broken. And they laded, it is said, both the ships. The two ships figured the One Church, but made out of two peoples, joined together in Christ, though coming from different parts. Of this too the two wives, who had one husband Jacob, Leah and Rachel, are a figure. Of these two, the two blind men also are a figure, who sat by the way side, to whom the Lord gave sight. And if you pay attention to the Scriptures, you will find the two Churches, which are not two but One, figured out in many places. For to this end the Corner-Stone serves, for to make of two One. To this end serves That Shepherd, for to make of two flocks One. So then the Lord who was to teach the Church, and to have a school of His Own beyond the Jews, as we see at present, would He be likely to send those who believe in Him unto the Jews, to learn? But under the name of the Scribes and Pharisees He intimated that there would be some in His Church who would say and not do; but, in the person of Moses He designated Himself. For Moses represented Him, and for this reason did he put a veil before him, when he was speaking to the people; because as long as they were in the law given up to carnal joys and pleasures, and looking for an earthly kingdom, a veil was put upon their face, that they should not see Christ in the Scriptures. For when the veil was taken away, after that the Lord had suffered, the secrets of the temple were discovered. Accordingly when He was hanging on the Cross, the veil of the temple was rent from the top even to the bottom; and the Apostle Paul says expressly, But when you shall turn to Christ, the veil shall be taken away. Whereas with him who turns not to Christ, though he read the law of Moses, the veil is laid upon his heart, as the Apostle says. When the Lord then would signify beforehand that there would be some such in His Church, what did He say? The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. What they say, do; but do not what they do.

7. When wicked clerics hear this which is said against them, they would pervert it. For I have heard that some do wish to pervert this sentence. Would they not, if they might, efface it from the Gospel? But because they cannot efface it, they go about to pervert it. But the grace and mercy of the Lord is present, and allows them not to do so; for He has hedged round all His declarations with His truth, and in such wise balanced them; that if any one would wish to cut off anything from them, or to introduce anything by a bad reading or interpretation, any right hearted man may join to the Scripture what has been cut off from the Scripture, and read what went above or below, and he will find the sense which the other wished to interpret wrongly. What then, think ye, do they say of whom it is said, Do what they say? That it is (and in truth it is so) addressed to laymen. For what does the layman who wishes to live well say to himself, when he takes notice of a wicked cleric? The Lord said, 'What they say, do; what they do, do not.' Let me walk in the way of the Lord, not follow this man's conversation. Let me hear from him not his words, but God's. I will follow God, let him follow his own lust. For if I should wish to defend myself in such wise before God as to say, 'Lord, I saw that your cleric living evilly, and therefore I lived evilly;' would He not say to me, 'You wicked servant, had you not heard from Me, What they say, do, but what they do, do not?' But a wicked layman, an unbeliever, who belongs not to Christ's flock, who belongs not to Christ's wheat, who as chaff is only borne with in the floor, what does he say to himself when the word of God begins to reprove him? Away; why do you talk to me? The very Bishops and Clergy do not do it, and do you force me to do it? Thus he seeks for himself not a patron for his bad cause, but a companion for punishment. For will that wicked one whosoever he be that he has chosen to imitate, will he ever defend him in the day of judgment? For as with all whom the devil seduces, he seduces them not to be partakers of a kingdom, but of his damnation; so all who follow the wicked, seek companions for themselves to hell, not protection unto the kingdom of heaven.

8. How then do they pervert this declaration when it is said to them in their wicked lives, With good reason was it said by the Lord,'What they say, do; what they do, do not'? It was well said, say they. For it was said to you, that you should do what we say; but that you should not do what we do. For we offer sacrifice, you may not. See the cunning craftiness of these men; what shall I call them? Hirelings. For if they were shepherds, they would not say such things. Therefore the Lord, that He might shut their mouths, went on, and said, They sit in Moses' seat; what they say, do; but what they do, do not; for they say, and do not. What is it then, Brethren? If He had spoken of offering sacrifice; would He have said, For they say, and do not? For they do offer sacrifice, they do offer unto God. What is it that they say, and do not? Hear what follows; For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, and they themselves will not touch them with one of their fingers. So openly did He rebuke, describe, and point them out. But those men when they thus wish to pervert the passage, show plainly that they seek nothing in the Church but their own advantage; and that they have not read the Gospel; for had they known but this very page, and read the whole, they would never have dared to say this.

9. But attend to a more clear proof that the Church has such as these. Lest any one should say to us, He spoke entirely of the Pharisees, He spoke of the Scribes, He spoke of the Jews; for the Church has none such. Who then are they of whom the Lord says, Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven? And He added, Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, and in Your Name done many mighty works, and in Your Name have eaten and drunken? What! Do the Jews do these things in Christ's name? Assuredly it is manifest, that He speaks of them who have the Name of Christ. But what follows? Then will I say to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, all you that work iniquity. Hear the Apostle sighing concerning such as these. He says that some preach the Gospel through charity, others by occasion; of whom he says, They do not preach the Gospel rightly. A right thing, but themselves not right. What they preach is right; but they who preach it are not right. Why is he not right? Because he seeks something else in the Church, seeks not God. If he sought God, he would be chaste; for the soul has in God her lawful husband. Whosoever seeks from God ought besides God, does not seek God chastely. Consider, Brethren; if a wife love her husband because he is rich, she is not chaste. For she loves not her husband, but her husband's gold. Whereas if she love her husband, she loves him both in nakedness and poverty. For if she love him because he is rich; what if (as human chances are) he be outlawed and all on a sudden be reduced to need? She gives him up, perhaps; because what she loved was not her husband, but his property. But if she love her husband indeed, she loves him even more when poor; for that she loves with pity too.

10. And yet, Brethren, our God never can be poor. He is rich, He made all things, heaven and earth, the sea and Angels. In the heaven, whatsoever we see, whatsoever we see not, He made it. But notwithstanding, we ought not to love these riches, but Him who made them. For He has promised you nothing but Himself. Find anything more precious, and He will give you this. Beauteous is the earth, the heaven, and the Angels; but more beauteous is He who made them. They then who preach God, as loving God; who preach God, for God's sake, feed the sheep, and are no hirelings. This chastity did our Lord Jesus Christ require of the soul, when He said to Peter, Peter, do you love Me? What is Do you love Me? Are you chaste? Is not your heart adulterous? Do you seek not your own things in the Church, but Mine? If then you be such an one, and lovest Me, feed My sheep. For you shall be no hireling, but you shall be a shepherd.

11. But they did not preach chastely, concerning whom the Apostle sighs. But what does he say? What then? Notwithstanding every way, whether by occasion or in truth, Christ is preached. He suffers then that hirelings there should be. The shepherd preaches Christ in truth, the hireling by occasion preaches Christ, seeking something else. Notwithstanding, both the one and the other preaches Christ. Hear the voice of the shepherd Paul; Whether by occasion or in truth, Christ is preached. Himself a shepherd, he was pleased to have the hireling. For they act where they are able, they are useful as far as they are able. But when the Apostle for other uses sought for those whose ways the weak ones might imitate; he says, I have sent unto you Timotheus, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways. And what does he say? I have sent unto you a shepherd, to bring you into remembrance of my ways; that is, who himself also walks as I walk. And in sending this shepherd, what does he say? For I have no one so likeminded, who with sincere affection is anxious for you. Were there not many with him? But what follows? For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's; that is, I have wished to send unto you a shepherd; for there are many hirelings; but it were not meet for an hireling to be sent. An hireling is sent for the transaction of other affairs and business; but for those which Paul then desired, a shepherd was necessary. And he scarcely found one shepherd among many hirelings; for the shepherds are few, the hirelings many. But what is said of the hirelings? Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward. Of the shepherd, what says the Apostle? But whosoever shall cleanse himself from such as these shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and useful to the Lord, prepared always unto every good work. Not unto certain things prepared, and unto certain not prepared, but unto every good work prepared. So much have I said, concerning the shepherds.

12. But we will now speak of the hirelings. The hireling when he sees the wolf lying in wait for the sheep, flees. This the Lord said. Why? Because he cares not for the sheep. So long then is the hireling of use, as he sees not the wolf coming, as he sees not the thief and the robber; but when he sees them, he flees. And who is there of the hirelings, who flees not from the Church, when he sees the wolf and the robber? And wolves and robbers abound. They are they who go up by another way. Who are these who go up? They who of Donatus' way wish to make havoc of Christ's sheep, they go up by another way. They do not enter in by Christ, because they are not humble. Because they are proud, they go up. What is, they go up? They are lifted up. Whereby do they go up? By another way: whence they wish to be named from their way. They who are not in unity are of another way, and by this way they go up, that is, are lifted up, and wish to spoil the sheep. Now mark how they go up. It is we, they say, who sanctify, we justify, we make righteous. See whither they have got up. But he that exalts himself, shall be abased. Our Lord God is able to abase them. Now the wolf is the devil, he lies in wait to deceive, and they that follow him; for it is said that they are clothed indeed with the skins of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. If the hireling observe anyone indulging in wicked talking, or in sentiments to the deadly hurt of his soul, or doing ought that is abominable and unclean, and notwithstanding that he seems to bear a character of some importance in the Church (from which if he hopes for advantage he is an hireling); says nothing, and when he sees the man perishing in his sin, sees the wolf following him, sees his throat dragged by his teeth to punishment; says not to him, You sin; does not chide him, lest he lose his own advantage. This I say is, When he sees the wolf, he flees; he does not say to him, You are doing wickedly. This is no flight of the body, but of the soul. He whom you see standing still in body flies in heart, when he sees a sinner, and does not say to him, You sin; yea when he even is in concert with him.

13. My Brethren, does ever either Presbyter or Bishop come up here, and say anything from this higher place, but that the property of others must not be plundered, that there must be no fraud committed, no wickedness done? They cannot say ought else who sit in Moses' seat, and it is it that speaks by them, not they themselves. What then is, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? and, Every tree is known by his fruit? Can a Pharisee speak good things? A Pharisee is a thorn; how from a thorn do I gather grapes? Because You, Lord, have said, What they say, do; but what they do, do not. Do You bid me gather grapes of thorns when You say, Do men gather grapes of thorns? The Lord answers you, I have not bidden you gather grapes of thorns: but look, mark well, if haply, as is often the case, the vine when it trails all along upon the ground, be not entangled in thorns. For we sometimes find this, my Brethren, a vine planted over sedge, how it has there a thorny hedge, and throws out its branches, and entangles them in the thorny hedge, and the grape hangs among the thorns; and he that sees it plucks the grape, yet not from the thorns, but from the vine which is entangled in the thorns. In like manner then the Pharisees are thorny; but by sitting in Moses' seat, the vine wraps them round, and grapes, that is, good words, good precepts, hang from them. If you pick the grape, the thorn will not prick you, when you read, What they say, do; but what they do, do not. But the thorn will prick you, if you do what they do. So then that you may gather the grape, and not be caught in the thorns, What they say, do; but what they do, do not. Their deeds are the thorns, their words are the grapes, but from the vine, that is, from Moses' seat.

14. These then flee, when they see the wolf, when they see the robber. Now this it was that I had began to say, that from this higher place they can say nothing, but, Do well, do not forswear yourselves, defraud not, cheat not any. But sometimes men's lives are so bad, that counsel is asked of a Bishop on the taking away of another man's estate, and from him is such counsel sought. It has sometimes happened to ourselves, we speak from experience: for we should not have believed it. Many men require from us evil counsels, counsels of lying, of fraud; thinking that they please us thereby. But by the Name of Christ, if what we are saying is pleasing to the Lord, no such man has tempted us, and found what he wished in us. For with the good pleasure of Him who has called us, we are shepherds, not hirelings. But as says the Apostle, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's day; yea, I judge not even my own self. For I am conscious of nothing by myself, but I am not hereby justified. But He That judges me is the Lord. My conscience is not therefore good, because you praise it. For how do you praise what you do not see? Let Him praise, who sees; yea let Him correct, if He sees ought there which offends His Eyes. For I too do not say that I am perfectly whole; but I beat my breast, and say to God, Be merciful, that I sin not. Yet I do think, for I speak in His Presence, that I seek nothing from you, but your salvation; and constantly do I groan over the sins of my brethren, and I suffer distress, and am tormented in mind, and often do I reprove them; yea, I never cease reproving them. All who remember what I say are witnesses, how often my brethren who sin have been reproved, and earnestly reproved, by me.

15. I am now treating of my counsel with you, holy Brethren. In Christ's Name you are the people of God, you are a Catholic people, you are members of Christ; you are not divided from unity. You are in communion with the members of the Apostles, you are in communion with the memories of the Holy Martyrs, who are spread over the whole world, and you belong to my cure, that I may render a good account of you. Now my whole account, what it is you know. Lord, You know that I have spoken, You know that I have not kept silence, You know in what spirit I have spoken, You know that I have wept before You, when I spoke, and was not heard. This I imagine is my whole account. For the Holy Spirit by the prophet Ezekiel has given me sure hope. You know this passage concerning the watchman; O son of man, says He, I have set you a watchman unto the house of Israel; if when I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, you shall die the death, you do not speak; that is (for I speak to you that you may speak), if you do not announce it, and the sword, that is, what I have threatened on the sinner, come, and take him away; that wicked man indeed shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand. Why? Because he did not speak. But if the watchman see the sword coming, and blow the trumpet, that he may fly, and he took not to himself, that is, amend not himself, that it find him not in the punishment which God threatens, and the sword shall come and take any one away; that wicked man indeed shall die in his iniquity; but you, says He, hast delivered your own soul. And in that place of the Gospel, what else says He to the servant? When he said, Lord, I knew You to be a difficult or hard Man, in that Thou reapest where You have not sowed, and gatherest where You have not scattered; and I was afraid, and went and hid Your talent in the earth, lo, You have that is Yours. And He said, 'Thou wicked and slothful servant,' because you knew Me to be a difficult and hard Man, to reap where I have not sown, and to gather where I have not scattered, My very covetousness ought the more to teach you, that I look for profit from My money. 'You ought therefore to have given My money to the exchangers, and at My coming I should have required My own with usury.' Did He say, You ought to give, and require? It is we then, Brethren, who give, He will come to require. Pray ye, that He may find us prepared.

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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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