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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 88

Sermon 88 on the New Testament

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On the words of the Gospel, John 10:14 , I am the good shepherd, etc. Against the Donatists.

1. We have heard the Lord Jesus setting forth to us the office of a good shepherd. And herein He has doubtless given us to know, as we may understand it, that there are good shepherds. And yet that the multitude of shepherds might not be understood in a wrong sense; He says, I am the good Shepherd. And wherein He is the good Shepherd, He shows in the words following; The good Shepherd, says He, lays down His life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, sees the wolf coming, and flees; because he cares not for the sheep, for he is an hireling. Christ then is the good Shepherd. What was Peter? Was he not a good shepherd? Did not he too lay down his life for the sheep? What was Paul? What the rest of the Apostles? What the blessed Bishops, Martyrs, who followed close upon their times? What again our holy Cyprian? Were they not all good shepherds, not hirelings, of whom it is said, Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward? All these then were good shepherds, not simply for that they shed their blood, but that they shed it for the sheep. For not in pride, but in charity they shed it.

2. For even among the heretics, they who for their iniquities and errors have suffered any trouble, vaunt themselves in the name of martyrdom, that with this fair covering disguised they may plunder the more easily, for wolves they are. Now if you would know in what rank they are to be held, hear that good shepherd, the Apostle Paul, that not all who even give up their bodies in suffering to the flames, are to be accounted to have shed their blood for the sheep, but rather against the sheep. If, says he, I speak with the tongues of men, and angels, but have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. If I should know all mysteries, and have all prophecy, and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing. Now a great thing truly is this faith that removes mountains. They are indeed all great things; but if I have them without charity, says he, not they, but I am nothing. But up to this point he has not touched them, who glory in sufferings under the false name of martyrdom. Hear how he touches, yea rather pierces them through and through. If I should distribute, says he, all my goods to the poor, and deliver my body to be burned. Now here they are. But mark what follows; but have not charity, it profits me nothing. Lo, they have come to suffering, come even to the shedding of blood, yea come to the burning of the body; and yet it profits them nothing, because charity is lacking. Add charity, they all profit; take charity away, all the rest profit nothing.

3. What a good is this charity, Brethren! What more precious? What yields greater light? Or strength? Or profit? Or security? Many are the gifts of God, which even the wicked have, who shall say, Lord, we have prophesied in Your Name, in Your Name have cast out devils, in Your Name done many mighty works. And He will not answer, You have not done them. For in the Presence of so great a Judge, they will not dare to lie or boast of things they have not done. But for that they had not charity, He answers them all, I know you not. Now how can he have so much as the smallest charity, who when even convicted, loves not unity? It was then as impressing on good shepherds this unity, that our Lord was unwilling to mention many shepherds. For it is not, as I have said already, that Peter was not a good shepherd, and Paul, the rest of the Apostles, and the holy Bishops who were after them, and blessed Cyprian. All these were good shepherds; and notwithstanding to good shepherds, He commended not good shepherds, but a good Shepherd. I, says He, am the good Shepherd.

4. Let us question the Lord with such little understanding as we have, and in most humble discourse hold converse with so great a Master. What sayest Thou, O Lord, Thou good Shepherd? For You are the good Shepherd, who art also the good Lamb; at once Pastor and Pasturage, at once Lamb and Lion. What sayest Thou? Let us give ear and aid us, that we may understand. I, says He, am the good Shepherd. What is Peter? Is he either not a shepherd, or a bad one? Let us see, if he be not a shepherd. Do you love Me? You said to Him Lord, Do you love Me? And he answered, I do love You. And Thou to him, Feed My sheep. Thou, You, Lord, by Your Own questioning, by the strong assurance of Your Own words, made of the lover a shepherd. He is a shepherd then to whom You committed Your sheep to be fed. You Yourself entrusted them, he is a shepherd. Let us now see whether he be not a good one. This we find by the very question, and his answer. You asked, whether he loved You; he answered, I do love You. Thou saw his heart, that he answered truth. Is he not then good, who loves so great a Good? Whence that answer drawn from his inmost heart? Wherefore was this Peter, who had Your eyes in his heart for witnesses, sad because You asked him not once only, but a second and a third time, that by a threefold confession of love, he might efface the threefold sin of denial; wherefore, I say, being sad that he was asked repeatedly by Him who knew what He was asking, and had given what He heard; wherefore being sad, did he return such an answer, Lord, You know all things, You know that I love You? What! In making such a confession, such a profession rather, would he lie? In truth then, he made answer of his love to You, and from his inmost heart he gave utterance to a lover's words. Now You have said, A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things. So then he is both a shepherd, and a good shepherd; nothing it is true to the power and goodness of the Shepherd of shepherds; but nevertheless even he is both a shepherd, and a good one; and all other such are good shepherds.

5. What means it then, that to good shepherds Thou dost set forth One Only Shepherd, but that in One Shepherd Thou teachest unity? And the Lord Himself explains this more clearly by my ministry, putting you, beloved, in remembrance by this Gospel, and saying, Hear what I have set forth; I have said, 'I am the good Shepherd.' because all the rest, all the good shepherds, are My members. One Head, One Body, One Christ. So then both the Shepherd of shepherds, and the shepherds of the Shepherd, and the sheep with their shepherds under The Shepherd. What is all this, but what the Apostle says? For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. Therefore if Christ be even so, with good reason does Christ in Himself containing all good shepherds, set forth One, saying, 'I am the good Shepherd.' 'I am,' I Alone am, all the rest with Me are one in unity. Whoever feeds without Me, feeds against Me. 'He that gathers not with Me, scatters.' Hear then this unity more forcibly set forth; Other sheep, says He, I have which are not of this fold. For He was speaking to the first fold of the stock of the fleshly Israel. But there were others of the stock of the faith of this Israel, and they were yet without, were among the Gentiles, predestinated, not yet gathered in. These He knew who had predestinated them; He knew, who had come to redeem them with the shedding of His Own Blood. He saw them who did not yet see Him; He knew them who yet believed not on Him. Other sheep, says He, I have which are not of this fold; because they are not of the stock of the flesh of Israel. But nevertheless they shall not be outside of this fold, for them also I must bring, that there may be One Fold, and One Shepherd.

6. With good reason then to This Shepherd of shepherds, does His Beloved, His Spouse, His Fair One, but by Him made fair, before by sin deformed, beautiful afterward through pardon and grace, speak in her love and ardour after Him, and say to Him, Where feedest Thou? And observe how, by what transport this spiritual love is here animated. And far better are they by this transport delighted, who have tasted ought of the sweetness of this love. They hear this properly, who love Christ. For in them, and of them, does the Church sing this in the Song of Songs; who love Christ, as it seemed without beauty, yet the Only Beautiful One. For we saw Him, it is said, and He had neither beauty nor comeliness. Such He appeared on the Cross, such when crowned with thorns did He exhibit Himself, disfigured, and without comeliness, as if He had lost His power, as if not the Son of God. Such seemed He to the blind. For it is in the person of the Jews that Isaiah said this, We saw Him, and He had no beauty nor comeliness. When it was said, If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross. He saved others, Himself He cannot save. And smiting Him on the head with a reed, they said, Prophesy unto us, you Christ, who smote You? Because He had neither beauty nor comeliness. As such did you Jews see Him. For blindness has happened in part to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles enter in, until the other sheep come. Because then blindness has happened, therefore did you see the Comely One without comeliness. For had you known Him, you would never have crucified the Lord of Glory. But you did it, because you knew Him not. And yet He who as though without beauty bare with you, all Beauteous as He was, prayed for you; Father, says He, forgive them, for they know not what they do. For if He were without comeliness, how is it that she loves Him, who says, Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loves? How is it that she loves Him? How is it that she burns for Him? How is it that she fears so much to stray from Him? How is it that she has so great delight in Him, that her only punishment is to be without Him? What would there be for which He should be loved, if He were not beautiful? But how could she love Him so, if He appeared to her as He did to those blind men persecuting Him, and knowing not what they do? As what then did she love Him? As comely in form above the sons of men. Comely in form above the sons of men, grace is poured abroad in Your Lips. So then from these Your Lips, Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loves. Tell me, says she, O Thou whom, not my flesh, but, my soul loves. Tell me where You feed, where Thou liest down in the midday; lest haply I light, as one veiled, upon the flocks of Your companions.

7. It seems obscure, obscure it is; for it is a mystery of the sacred marriage bed. For she says, The King has brought me into His chamber. Of such a chamber is this a mystery. But you who are not as profane kept off from this chamber, hear what you are, and say with her, if with her you love (and you do love with her, if you are in her); say all, and yet let one say, for unity says; Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loves. For they had one soul to Godward, and one heart. Tell me where You feed, where Thou liest down in the midday? What does the midday signify? Great heat, and great brightness. So then, make known to me who are Your wise ones, fervent in spirit, and brilliant in doctrine. Make known to me Your Right Hand, and men learned in heart, in wisdom. To them may I cleave in Your Body, to them be united, with them enjoy You. Tell me then, tell me, where You feed, where Thou liest down in the midday; lest I fall upon them who say other things of You, entertain other sentiments of You; believe other things of You, preach other things of You; and have their own flocks, and are Your companions; for that they live of Your table, and handle the sacraments of Your table. For companions are so called, because they eat together, messmates as it were. Such are reproved in the Psalm; For if Mine enemy had spoken great things against Me, I would surely have hidden Myself from him; and if he that hated Me had spoken great things against Me, I would surely have hidden Myself from him; but you a man of one mind with Me, My guide, and My familiar, who took sweet meats together with Me, in the house of God we walked with consent. Why then now against the house of the Lord with dissent, but that they have gone out from us, but they were not of us? Therefore, O Thou whom my soul loves, that I may not fall upon such, Your companions, but companions such as Samson's were, who kept not faith with their friend, but wished to corrupt his wife. Therefore, that I may not fall upon such as these, that I may not light upon them, that is, fall upon them, as one that is veiled, as one that is concealed, that is, and obscure, not as established upon the mountain. Tell me then, O you whom my soul loves, where You feed, where Thou liest down in the midday; who are the wise and faithful in whom Thou dost specially rest, lest by chance as in blindness I fall upon the flocks, not Your flocks, but the flocks of Your companions. For you did not say to Peter, Feed your sheep, but, Feed My sheep.

8. Let then the good Shepherd, and, the Comely in form above the sons of men, make answer to this beloved one; make answer to her whom He has made beautiful from among the children of men. Hear what He answers, and understand, beware of that wherewith He alarms, love that which He advises. What then does He answer? How free from soft caresses, yea, to her caresses He returns severity! He is sharp that He may bind her closely, that He may keep her. If you know not yourself, says He, O you fair one among women: for however fair others may be by the gifts of your Spouse, they are heresies, fair in outward ornament, not within: fair are they without, and outwardly they shine, they disguise themselves by the name of righteousness; but all the beauty of the King's daughter is within. If then you know not yourself; that you are one, that you are throughout all nations, that you are chaste, that you ought not to corrupt yourself with the disordered converse of evil companions. If you know not yourself, that in uprightness, he has espoused you to Me, to present you a chaste Virgin to Christ; and that in uprightness you should present your own self to Me, lest by evil converse, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds too should be corrupted from my purity. If, I say, you know not yourself to be such, go your way; go your way. For to others I shall say, Enter into the joy of your Lord. To you I shall not say, Enter in; but, Go your way; that you may be among those, who went out from us. Go your way. That is, if you know not yourself, then, go your way. But if you know yourself, enter in. But, if you know not yourself, go your way by the footsteps of the flocks, and feed your kids in the tents of the shepherds. Go your way by the footsteps, not of the Flock, but, of the flocks, and feed, not as Peter, My sheep, but, your kids; in the tents, not of the Shepherd, but, of the shepherds; not of unity, but of dissension; not established there, where there is One flock and One Shepherd. The beloved one was confirmed, edified, made stronger, prepared to die for her Spouse and to live with her Spouse.

9. These words which I have quoted out of the Holy Song of Songs, of a kind of bridal song of the Bridegroom and the Bride (for it is a spiritual wedding, wherein we must live in great purity, for Christ has granted to the Church in spirit that which His Mother had in body, to be at once a Mother and a Virgin); these words, I say, the Donatists accommodate to their own perverted sense in a very different meaning. And how I will not conceal from you, and what you may answer them, I will, by the Lord's help, as well as I shall be able, briefly recommend. When then we begin to press them with the light of the Church's unity spread over the whole world, and demand of them to show us any testimony out of the Scriptures, where God has foretold that the Church should be in Africa, as if all the rest of the nations were lost; they are in the habit of taking this testimony in their mouths, and saying; Africa is under the midday sun; the Church then they say, asking the Lord where He feeds, where He lies down; He answers, 'Under the midday sun;' as if the voice of her who put the question, were, Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loves, where You feed, where Thou liest down; and the Voice of Him who answers, were, Under the midday sun; that is, in Africa. If then it be the Church which asks, and the Lord makes answer where he feeds, in Africa, because the Church was in Africa; then she who asks was not in Africa. Tell me, she says, O Thou whom my soul loves, where You feed, where Thou liest down; and He makes answer to some Church out of Africa, Under the midday sun, in Africa I lie down, in Africa I feed, as if it were, I do not feed in you. I repeat, if she who asks is the Church, which no one disputes, which not even themselves gainsay; and they hear something about Africa; then she who asks is out of Africa; and because it is the Church, the Church is out of Africa.

10. But see, I admit that Africa is under the midday sun; although Egypt is rather under the meridian, under the midday sun than Africa. Now after what fashion This Shepherd is there in Egypt, they who know, will acknowledge; and for them that know not, let them enquire how large a flock lie gathers there, how great a multitude He has of holy men and women who utterly despise the world. That flock has so increased, that it has expelled superstitions even thence. To pass over how it has in its increase banished thence the whole superstition of idols, which had been firmly fixed there; I admit what you say, O evil companions; I admit it altogether, I agree that Africa is in the South, and that Africa is signified in that which is said, Where do You feed, where do You lie down under the midday sun? But do you too equally observe how that up to this point these are the words of the Bride, and not yet of the Bridegroom. Hitherto it is the Bride that says, Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loves, where You feed, where Thou dost lie down in the midday, lest by chance I light, as one veiled. O you deaf, and blind one, if in the midday you see Africa, why in her that is veiled do you not see the Bride? Tell me, she said, O Thou whom my soul loves. Without doubt she addresses her Spouse, when she says, whom [in the masculine ] my soul loves. Just as if it were said, Tell me, O you whom [in the feminine ] my soul loves; we should understand that the Bridegroom spoke these words to His Bride; so when you hear, Tell me, O you whom (in the masculine) my soul loves, where You feed, where Thou liest down; add to this, to her words belongs also what follows, In the midday. I am asking, where You feed in the midday, lest by chance I light as one veiled upon the flocks of Your companions. I consent entirely, I admit what you understand of Africa; it is signified by the midday. But then as you understand it, the Church of Christ beyond the sea is addressing her Spouse, in fear of falling into the African error, O Thou whom my soul, loves, tell me, teach me. For I hear that in the midday, that is in Africa, there are two parties, yea rather many schisms. Tell me, then, where You feed, what sheep belong to You, what fold Thou biddest me love there, whereunto ought I to unite myself. Lest by chance I light as one veiled. For they mock me as if I were concealed, they mock me as destroyed, as though I existed nowhere else. Lest, then, as one veiled, as if concealed, I light upon the flocks, that is, upon the congregarious of the heretics, your companions; the Donatists, the Maximinianists, the Rogatists and all the other pests who gather without, and who therefore scatter; Tell me, I pray You, if I must seek my Shepherd there, that I fall not into the gulf of re-baptizing. I exhort you, I beseech you by the sanctity of such nuptials, love this Church, be in this holy Church, be this Church; love the good Shepherd, the Spouse so fair, who deceives no one, who desires no one to perish. Pray too for the scattered sheep; that they too may come, that they too may acknowledge Him, that they too may love Him; that there may be One Flock and One Shepherd. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

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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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