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Home > Fathers of the Church > Expositions on the Psalms (Augustine) > Psalm 132

Exposition on Psalm 132

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1. It was right indeed, most beloved, that we should rather hear our Brother, my colleague, when present before all of us. And just now he refused not, but put us off; for he extorted from me that he might now listen to me, on the condition that I also may listen to him, for in charity itself we are all listening unto Him, who is our One Master in heaven. Attend therefore to the Psalm, entitled A Song of Degrees; considerably longer than the rest under the same title. Let us not therefore linger, save where necessity shall compel us: that we may, if the Lord permit, explain the whole. For you also ought not to hear everything as men untaught; ye ought in some degree to aid us from your past listenings, so that it may not be needful that everything should be declared to you as though new.

2. Lord, remember David, and all his meekness Psalm 131:1. David according to the truth of history was one man, king of Israel, son of Jesse. He was indeed meek, as the Divine Scriptures themselves mark and command him, and so meek that he did not even render evil for evil to his persecutor Saul. He preserved towards him so great humility, that he acknowledged him a king, and himself a dog: and answered the king not proudly nor rudely, though he was more powerful in God; but he rather endeavoured to appease him by humility, than to provoke him by pride. Saul was even given into his power, and this by the Lord God, that he might do to him what he listed: but since he was not commanded to slay him, but had it only placed in his power (now a man is permitted to use his power), he rather turned towards mercy what God gave him....The humility of David is therefore commended, the meekness of David is commended; and it is said to God, Lord, remember David, and all his meekness. For what purpose? How he swore unto the Lord, and vowed a vow unto the Almighty God of Jacob Psalm 131:2. Therefore remember for this, that he may fulfil what he has promised. David himself vowed as though he had it in his power, and he prays God to fulfil his vow: there is devotion in the vow, but there is humility in the prayer. Let no one presume to think he fulfilled by his own strength what he has vowed. He who exhorts you to vow, Himself aids you to fulfil. Let us therefore see what he vowed, and hence we comprehend how David should be understood in a figure. David is interpreted, Strong of hand, for he was a great warrior. Trusting indeed in the Lord his God, he dispatched all wars, he laid low all his enemies, God helping him, according to the dispensation of that kingdom; prefiguring nevertheless some One strong of hand to destroy His enemies, the devil and his angels. These enemies the Church wars against, and conquers....What then does he mean, How he swore, etc.? Let us see what vow is this. We can offer God nothing more pleasing than to swear. Now to swear is to promise firmly. Consider this vow, that is, with what ardour he vowed what he vowed, with what love, with what longing; nevertheless, he prays the Lord to fulfil it in these words, O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness. In this temper he vowed his vow, and there should be a house of God: I will not come within the tabernacle of mine house, nor climb up into my bed Psalm 131:3. I will not suffer my eyes to sleep, nor my eyelids to slumber Psalm 131:4. This seems not enough; he adds, Neither the temples of my head to take any rest, until I find out a place for the Lord; an habitation for the God of Jacob Psalm 131:5. Where did he seek a place for the Lord? If he was meek, he sought it in himself. For how is one a place for the Lord? Hear the Prophet: Upon whom shall My Spirit rest? Even upon him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My words. Isaiah 66:2 Do you wish to be a place for the Lord? Be thou poor in spirit, and contrite, and trembling at the word of God, and you will yourself be made what you seek. For if what you seek be not realized in yourself, what does it profit you in another....

3. How many thousands believed, my brethren, when they laid down the price of their possessions at the Apostles' feet! But what says Scripture of them? Surely they have become a temple of God; not only each respectively a temple of God, but also all a temple of God together. They have therefore become a place for the Lord. And that you may know that one place is made for the Lord in all, Scripture says, They were of one heart and one soul toward God. But many, so as not to make a place for the Lord, seek their own things, love their own things, delight in their own power, are greedy for their private interests. Whereas he who wishes to make a place for the Lord, should rejoice not in his private, but the common good....

4. Let us therefore, brethren, abstain from the possession of private property; or from the love of it, if we may not from its possession; and we make a place for the Lord. It is too much for me, says some one. But consider who you are, who art about to make a place for the Lord. If any senator wished to be entertained at your house, I say not senator, the deputy of some great man of this world, and should say, something offends me in your house; though you should love it, you would remove it, nevertheless, lest you should offend him, whose friendship you were courting. And what does man's friendship profit you?...Desire the friendship of Christ without fear: He wishes to be entertained at your house; make room for Him. What is, make room for Him? Love not yourself, love Him. If you love yourself, you shut the door against Him; if you love Him, you open unto Him: and if you open and He enter, you shall not be lost by loving yourself, but shall find yourself with Him who loves you....

5. Lo, we heard of the same at Ephrata Psalm 131:6. What? A place for the Lord. We heard of it at Ephrata: and found it in the plains of the forests. Did he hear it where he found it? Or did he hear it in one place, find it in another? Let us therefore enquire what Ephrata is, where he heard it; let us also enquire what mean the plains of the forests, where he found it. Ephrata, a Hebrew word, is rendered in Latin by Speculum, as the translators of Hebrew words in the Scriptures have handed down to us, that we might understand them. They have translated from Hebrew into Greek, and from Greek we have versions into Latin. For there have been who watched in the Scriptures. If therefore Ephrata means a mirror, that house which was found in the woodland plains, was heard of in a mirror. A mirror has an image: all prophecy is an image of things future. The future house of God, therefore, was declared in the image of prophecy. We have found it in the plains of the forests. What are the plains of the forests? Saltus is not here used in its common sense, as a plot of ground of so many hundred acres; saltus properly signifies a spot as yet untilled and woody. For some copies read, in the plains of the wood. What then were the woodland plains, save nations yet untilled? What were they, save regions yet covered with the thorns of idolatry? Thus, though there were thorns of idolatry there, still we find a place for the Lord there, a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. What was declared in the image to the Jews, was manifested in the faith of the Gentiles.

6. We will go into His tabernacles Psalm 131:7. Whose? Those of the Lord God of Jacob. They who enter to dwell therein, are the very same who enter that they may be dwelt in. You enter into your house, that you may dwell therein; into the house of God, that you may be dwelt in. For the Lord is better, and when He has begun to dwell in you, He will make you happy. For if you be not dwelt in by Him, you will be miserable. That son who said, Father, give me the portion of the goods, etc., Luke 15:12-20 wished to be his own master. It was well kept in his father's hands, that it might not be wasted with harlots. He received it, it was given into his own power; going to a far country, he squandered it all with harlots. At length he suffered hunger, he remembered his father; he returned, that he might be satisfied with bread. Enter therefore, that you may be dwelt in; and may be not your own, so to speak, but His: We will go into His tabernacles. We will worship on the spot where His feet stood. Whose feet? The Lord's, or those of the house of the Lord itself? For that is the Lord's house, wherein he says He ought to be worshipped. Beside His house, the Lord hears not unto eternal life; for he belongs to God's house, who has in charity been built in with living stones. But he who has not charity, falls; and while he falls, the house stands....

7. But if you incline to understand it of the house itself, where the feet of that house have stood; let your feet stand in Christ. They will then stand, if you shall persevere in Christ. For what is said of the devil? He was a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth. John 8:44 The feet of the devil therefore stood not. Also what says he of the proud? O let not the foot of pride come against me; and let not the hand of the ungodly cast me down. There are they fallen, all that work wickedness: they are cast down, and were not able to stand. That then is the house of God, whose feet stand. Whence John rejoicing, says: what? He that has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom stands and hears him. If he stand not, he hears him not. Justly he stands, because he rejoices on account of the bridegroom's voice. Now therefore ye see why they fell, who rejoice because of their own voice. That friend of the Bridegroom said, The same is He which baptizes. John 1:33 Some say, We baptize: rejoicing in their own voice, they could not stand; and belong not to that house of which it is said, where His feet stood.

8. Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place Psalm 131:8. He says unto the Lord sleeping, Arise. You know already who slept, and who rose again....You, and the ark of Your sanctification: that is, Arise, that the ark of Your sanctification, which You have sanctified, may arise also. He is our Head; His ark is His Church: He arose first, the Church will arise also. The body would not dare to promise itself resurrection, save the Head arose first. The Body of Christ, that was born of Mary, has been understood by some to be the ark of sanctification; so that the words mean, Arise with Your Body, that they who believe not may handle.

9. Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let Your saints sing with joyfulness Psalm 131:9. When You rise from the dead, and go unto Your Father, let that royal Priesthood be clothed with faith, since the righteous lives by faith; Romans 1:17 and, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit, let the members rejoice in the hope of resurrection, which went before in the Head: for to them the Apostle says, Rejoicing in hope. Romans 12:12

10. For Your servant David's sake, turn not away the face of Your Anointed Psalm 131:10. These words are addressed unto God the Father. For Your servant David's sake, turn not away the face of Your Anointed. The Lord was crucified in Judæa; He was crucified by the Jews; harassed by them, He slept. He arose to judge those among whose savage hands He slept: and He says elsewhere, Raise Thou Me up again, and I shall reward them. He both has rewarded them, and will reward them. The Jews well know themselves how great were their sufferings after the Lord's death. They were all expelled from the very city, where they slew Him. What then? Have all perished even from the root of David and from the tribe of Judah? No: for some of that stock believed, and in fact many thousands of men of that stock believed, and this after the Lord's resurrection. They raged and crucified Him: and afterwards began to see miracles wrought in the Name of Him Crucified; and they trembled still more that His Name should have so much power, since when in their hands He seemed unable to work any; and pricked at heart, at length believing that there was some hidden divinity in Him whom they had believed like other men, and asking counsel of the Apostles, they were answered, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38 Since then Christ arose to judge those by whom He had been crucified, and turned away His Presence from the Jews, turning His Presence towards the Gentiles; God is, as it seems, besought in behalf of the remnant of Israel; and it is said to Him, For Your servant David's sake, turn not away the presence of Your Anointed. If the chaff be condemned, let the wheat be gathered together. May the remnant be saved, as Isaiah says, And the remnant has clearly been saved: Isaiah 10:21-22 for out of them were the twelve Apostles, out of them more than five hundred brethren, to whom the Lord showed Himself after His Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15:6 out of their number were so many thousands baptized, Acts 2:41 who laid the price of their possessions at the Apostles' feet. Thus then was fulfilled the prayer here made to God: For Your servant David's sake, turn not away the presence of Your Anointed.

11. The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, and He shall not repent Psalm 131:11. What means, has made an oath? Hath confirmed a promise through Himself. What means, He shall not repent? He will not change. For God suffers not the pain of repentance, nor is He deceived in any matter, so that He would wish to correct that wherein He has erred. But as when a man repents of anything, he wishes to change what he has done; thus where you hear that God repents, look for an actual change. God does it differently from you, although He calls it by the name of repentance; for thou dost it, because you had erred; while He does it, because He avenges, or frees. He changed Saul's kingdom, when He repented, as it is said: and in the very passage where the Scripture says, It repented Him; it is said a little after, for He is not a man that He should repent. When therefore He changes His works through His immutable counsel, He is said to repent on account of this very change, not of His counsel, but of His work. But He promised this so as not to change it. Just as this passage also says: The Lord swore, and will not repent, You are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; so also since this was promised so that it should not be changed, because it must needs happen and be permanent; he says, The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, and He shall not repent; Of the fruit of your body shall I set upon your seat. He might have said, of the fruit of your loins, wherefore did He choose to say, Of the fruit of your body? Had He said that also, it would have been true; but He chose to say with a further meaning, Ex fructu ventris, because Christ was born of a woman without the man.

12. What then? The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, and He shall not shrink from it; Of the fruit of your body shall I set upon your seat. If your children will keep My covenant and My testimonies that I shall learn them, their children also shall sit upon your seat for evermore Psalm 131:12. If your children keep My covenant, their children also shall sit for evermore. The parents establish a desert on behalf of their children. What if his children should keep the covenant, and their children should not keep it? Why is the happiness of the children promised in relation to their parents' deservings? For what says He, If your children will keep My covenant, their children also shall sit for evermore — He says not, if your children keep My covenant, they shall sit upon your seat; and if their children keep My covenant, they also shall sit upon your seat: but he says, If your children keep My covenant, their children also shall sit upon your seat for evermore — except because He here wished their fruit to be understood by their children? If your children, He says, will keep My covenant, and if your children shall keep My testimonies that I shall learn them; their children also shall sit upon your seat: that is, this will be their fruit, that they sit upon your seat. For in this life, brethren, do all of us who labour in Christ, all of us who tremble at His words, who in any way endeavour to execute His will, and groan while we pray His help that we may fulfil what He commands; do we already sit in those seats of bliss which are promised us? No: but holding His commandments, we hope this will come to pass. This hope is spoken of under the figure of sons; because sons are the hope of man living in this life, sons are his fruit. For this reason also men, when excusing their avarice, allege that they are reserving for their children what they hoard up; and, unwilling to give to the destitute, excuse themselves under the name of piety, because their children are their hope. For all men who live according to this world, declare it to be their hope, to be fathers of children they may leave behind them. Thus then He describes hope generally under the name of children, and says, If your children will keep My covenant and My testimonies that I shall learn them, their children also shall sit upon your seat for evermore: that is, they shall have such fruits, that their hope shall not deceive them, that they may come there where they hope to come. At present therefore they are as fathers, men of hope for the future; but when they have attained what they hope, they are children; because they have brought forth and produced in their works that which they gain. And this is preserved unto them for the future, because futurity itself commonly signifies children.

13. Or if you understand actual men to be meant by children, the words, If your children will keep My covenant and My testimonies that I shall teach them, may mean, If your children will keep My covenant and testimonies that I shall teach them, and their children also; that is, if they too keep My covenant; so that here you must make a slight pause, and then infer that they shall sit upon your seat for evermore; that is, both your children and their children, but all if they keep My covenant. What then, if they keep it not? Hath the promise of God failed? No: but it is said and promised for this reason, that God foresaw: what, save that they would believe? But that no man should as it were threaten God's promises, and prefer to place in his own power the fulfilment of what God promised: for this reason he says, He made an oath: whereby he shows that it will without doubt take place. How then has He said here, If they will keep My covenant? Glory not in the promises, and leave out your failing to keep the covenant. Then will you be the son of David, if you shall keep the covenant; but if you dost not keep it, you will not be David's son. God promised to the sons of David. Say not, I am David's son if you degenerate. If the Jews, who were born of this very stock, say not this (nay, they say it, but they are under a delusion. For the Lord says openly, If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. John 8:39 He thereby denied them to be children, because they did not the works), how do we call ourselves David's children, who are not of his race according to the flesh? It follows then that we are not children, save by imitating his faith, save by worshipping God, as he worshipped. If therefore what you hope not through descent, you will not endeavour to obtain by works; how shall the sitting upon David's seat be fulfilled in you? And if it shall not be fulfilled in you, do you think that it shall not be fulfilled at all? And how has He found it in the woodland tracts? And how did His feet stand? Whatsoever then you may be, that house will stand.

14. For the Lord has chosen Sion to be an habitation for Himself Psalm 131:13. Sion is the Church Herself; She is also that Jerusalem unto whose peace we are running, who is in pilgrimage not in the Angels, but in us, who in her better part waits for the part that will return; whence letters have come unto us, which are every day read. This city is that very Sion, whom the Lord has chosen.

15. This shall be My rest for ever Psalm 131:14. These are the words of God. My rest: I rest there. How greatly does God love us, brethren, since, because we rest, He says that He also rests! For He is not sometimes Himself disturbed, nor does He rest as we do; but He says that He rests there, because we shall have rest in Him. Here will I dwell: for I have a delight therein.

16. I will bless her widow with blessings, and will satisfy her poor with bread Psalm 131:15. Every soul that is aware that it is bereft of all help, save of God alone, is widowed. For how does the Apostle describe a widow? She that is a widow indeed and desolate, trusts in God. 1 Timothy 5:5-6 He was speaking of those whom we all call Widows in the Church. He says, She that lives in pleasure, is dead while she lives; and he numbers her not among the widows. But in describing true widows, what says he? She that is a widow indeed and desolate, trusts in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. Here he adds, but she that lives in pleasure, is dead while she lives. What then makes a widow? That she has no aid from any other source, save from God alone. They that have husbands, take pride in the protection of their husbands: widows seem desolate, and their aid is a stronger one. The whole Church therefore is one widow, whether in men or in women, in married men or married women, in young men or in old, or in virgins: the whole Church is one widow, desolate in this world, if she feel this, if she is aware of her widowhood: for then is help at hand for her. Do ye not recognise this widow in the Gospel, my brethren, when the Lord declared that men ought always to pray and not to faint? There was in a city a judge, He said, which feared not God, neither regarded man. And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him day by day, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. The widow, by daily importunity, prevailed with him: for the judge said within himself, Though I fear not God; neither regard man, yet because this woman troubles me, I will avenge her. Luke 18:1-8 If the wicked judge heard the widow, that he might not be molested; hears not God His Church, whom He exhorts to pray?

17. Also, I will satisfy her poor with bread; what means this, brethren? Let us be poor, and we shall then be satisfied. Many who trust in the world, and are proud, are Christians; they worship Christ, but are not satisfied; for they have been satisfied, and abound in their pride. Of such it is said, Our soul is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy, and with the despitefulness of the proud: these have abundance, and therefore eat, but are not satisfied. And what is said of them in the Psalm? All such as be fat upon the earth have eaten and worshipped. They worship Christ, they venerate Christ, they pray unto Christ; but they are not satisfied with His wisdom and righteousness. Wherefore? Because they are not poor. For the poor, that is the humble in heart, the more they hunger, the more they eat; and the more empty they are of the world, the more hungry they are. He who is full refuses whatsoever you will give him, because he is full. Give me one who hungers; give me one of whom it is said, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled: Matthew 5:6 and these will be the poor of whom he has just said, And will satisfy her poor with bread. For in the very Psalm where it is said, All such as be fat upon the earth have eaten and worshipped; this is said of the poor also, and exactly in the same manner as in this Psalm, The poor shall eat, and be satisfied: they that seek after the Lord shall praise Him. Where it is said, All such as be fat upon earth have eaten and worshipped: it is said, the poor shall eat, and be satisfied. Why, when the rich are said to have worshipped, are they not said to be satisfied; yet when the poor are mentioned, they are said to be satisfied? And whence are they satisfied? What is the nature, brethren, of this satisfying? God Himself is their bread. The bread came down upon the earth, that He might become milk unto us; and said to His own, I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven. John 6:51 Hence these words in the Psalm, The poor shall eat, and be satisfied. From what source shall they be satisfied? Hear what follows: And they that seek after the Lord shall praise Him.

18. Be therefore poor, be ye among the members of that widow, let your help be solely in God alone. Money is nought; not thence will you have aid. Many have been cast headlong down for money's sake, many have perished on account of money; many for the sake of their riches have been marked out by plunderers; they would have been safe, had they not had what made men hunt for them. Many have presumed in their more powerful friends: they in whom they presumed have fallen, and have involved in their ruin those who trusted in them. Look back upon the instances to be seen in the human race. Is it anything singular that I am telling you? We speak these things not only from these Scriptures; read them in the whole world. Take heed that you presume not in money, in a friend, in the honour and the boasting of the world. Take away all these things: but if you have them, thank God if you despise them. But if you are puffed up by them; think not when you will be the prey of men; already are you the Devil's prey. But if you have not trusted in these things, you will be among the members of that widow, who is the Church, of whom it is said, I will bless her widow with blessings; you will also be poor, and one of those of whom it is said, And will satisfy her poor with bread.

19. Sometimes, however, and we must not pass over this without mention, you find a poor man proud, and a rich man humble: we daily endure such persons. You hear a poor man groaning beneath a rich man, and when the more powerful rich man presses upon him, then you see him humble: sometimes not even then, but even then proud; whence you see what he would have been, had he any property. God's poor one is therefore poor in spirit, not in his purse. Sometimes a man goes forth having a full house, rich lands, many estates, much gold and silver; he knows that he must not trust in these, he humbles himself before God, he does good with them; thus his heart is raised unto God, so that he is aware that not only do riches themselves profit him nothing, but that they even impede his feet, save He rule them, and aid them: and he is counted among the poor who are satisfied with bread. You find another a proud beggar, or not proud only because he has nothing, nevertheless seeking whereby he may be puffed up. God does not heed the means a man has, but the wish he has, and judges him according to his wish for temporal blessings, not according to the means which it is not his lot to have. Whence the Apostle says of the rich, Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. What therefore should they do with their riches? He goes on to say: That they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate. And see that they are poor in this world: Laying up in store for themselves, he adds, a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 When they have laid hold of eternal life, then will they be rich; but since they have it not as yet, they should know that they are poor. Thus it is that God counts among His poor all the humble in heart, who are established in that twofold charity, Matthew 22:37-39 whatever they may have in this world — among His poor, whom He satisfies with bread.

20. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall rejoice and sing Psalm 131:16. We are now at the end of the Psalm; attend for a short space, Beloved. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall rejoice and sing. Who is our salvation, save our Christ? What means, therefore, I will clothe her priests with salvation? As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27 And her saints shall rejoice and sing. Whence shall they rejoice and sing? Because they have been clothed with salvation: not in themselves. For they have become light, but in the Lord; for they were darkness before. Ephesians 5:8 Therefore he has added, There will I raise up the horn of David Psalm 131:17: this will be David's height, that trust be put in Christ. For horn signifies height: and what sort of height? Not carnal. Therefore, while all the bones are wrapped up in flesh, the horn goes beyond the flesh. Spiritual altitude is a horn. But what is spiritual loftiness, save to trust in Christ? Not to say, It is my work, I baptize; but, He it is who baptizes. John 1:33 There is the horn of David: and that you may know that there is the horn of David, heed what follows: I have ordained a lantern for mine Anointed. What is a lantern? You already know the Lord's words concerning John: He was a burning and a shining light. John 5:35 And what says John? He it is who baptizes. Herein therefore shall the saints rejoice, herein the priests shall rejoice: because all that is good in themselves, is not of themselves, but of Him who has the power of baptizing. Fearlessly therefore does every one who has received baptism come unto His temple; because it is not man's, but His who made the horn of David to flourish.

21. Upon Him shall My sanctification flourish Psalm 131:18. Upon whom? Upon Mine Anointed. For when He says, Mine anointed, it is the voice of the Father, who says, I will bless her widow with blessings, and will satisfy her poor with bread. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall rejoice and sing. He who says, There will I raise up the horn of David, is God. He Himself says, I have ordained a lantern for Mine Anointed, because Christ is both ours and the Father's: He is our Christ, when He saves us and rules us, as He is also our Lord: He is the Son of the Father, but both our Christ and the Father's. For if He were not the Father's Christ, it would not be said above, For Your servant David's sake, turn not Thou away the presence of Your Anointed. Upon Him shall My sanctification flourish. It flourishes upon Christ. Let none of men assume this to himself, that he himself sanctifies: otherwise it will not be true, Upon Him shall My sanctification flourish. The glory of sanctification shall flourish. The sanctification of Christ therefore in Christ Himself, is the power of the sanctification of God in Christ. In that he says, shall flourish, he refers to His glory: for when trees flourish, then are they beautiful. Sanctification therefore is in Baptism: thence it flourishes, and is brightened. Why has the world yielded to this beauty? Because it flourishes in Christ; for, put it in man's power, and how does it then flourish? Since all flesh in grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the grass.

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Source. Translated by J.E. Tweed. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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