The Sermons of St. Augustine, besides their other excellencies, furnish a beautiful picture of perhaps the deepest and most powerful mind of the Western Church adapting itself to the little ones of Christ. In them, he who has furnished the mould for all the most thoughtful minds for fourteen hundred years, is seen forming with loving tenderness the babes in Christ. Very touching is the child-like simplicity, with which he gradually leads them through what to them were difficulties, watching all the while whether he made himself clear to them, keeping up their attention, pleased at their understanding, dreading their approbation, and leading them off from himself to some practical result. Very touching the tenderness with which he at times reproves, the allowance which he makes for human infirmities and for those in secular life, if they will not make their infirmities their boast, or in allowed duties and indulgences forget God. But his very simplicity precludes the necessity of any preface. His Sermons explain themselves. They appear from a passage in the Commentary on the Psalms to have been often taken down in writing at the time by the more attentive sort of hearers (as were those of St. Chrysostom); Possidius states that this was done from the commencement of his presbyterate, and that "thence through the body of Africa, excellent doctrine and the most sweet savour of Christ was diffused and made manifest, the Church of God beyond seas, when it heard thereof, partaking of the joy."
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Sermons On Selected Lessons Of The New Testament
St. Augustine of Hippo
Saint Augustine – A Biography
Introductory Essay. St. Augustin as an Exegete.
Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament.
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Sermons On Selected Lessons Of The New Testament, St. Augustine
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Germany
Augustine(Aurelius Augustinus) was a Saint, a doctor of the Latin church, born at Tagaste, a small town of Numidia in Africa, not far from Carthage, Nov. 13, 354, died Aug. 28, 430. His father, Patricius, was a pagan nobleman of moderate 'fortune, while his mother, Monica, who has been canonized by the church, was an earnest Christian. Augustine was sent to the best schools of Madaura and Carthage. His own "Confessions" tell us that his conduct at this period of his life was far from exemplary. His studies, chiefly in the heathen poets, were more favorable to the development of his fancy and his style than to his Christian growth. The death of his father, which threw him upon his own resources, and the influence of some philosophical works, especially the Hortensius of Cicero, roused him to a diligent search after truth. Unable to find this in the writings of the Greek and Roman sages, and dissatisfied with what seemed to him the crude and fragmentary teachings of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, he adopted the dualism of the Manichgeans. At the age of 29 he went to Rome. There his reputation as a teacher of eloquence soon rivaled that of Symmachus, then at the height of his renown. On the recommendation of that orator, he was called to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric.
Ambrose was then bishop of Milan, and Augustine's first care was to know so famous a preacher. After repeated interviews with Ambrose, the conversion of his own illegitimate son, and the entreaties of his mother, he resolved to embrace Christianity. The history of his conversion forms the most striking chapter in his "Confessions." After eight months of seclusion, which he spent with his mother and brother and son, preparing for his confirmation in the church, and maturing his plans for the future, Augustine in the Easter week of 387 was baptized, together with his son and brother, by the hand of Ambrose. He at once set out on his return to Africa. On the way his mother died, and a small chapel among the ruins of Ostia marks the traditional spot of her burial. The death of his son, which took place soon after his return, confirmed his inclination to the monastic life. He retired to Tagaste, and passed nearly three years in studious seclusion, varied only by occasional visits to the neighboring towns. On one of these visits, when he was present at the church in Hippo, a sermon which the bishop Valerius delivered, asking for a priest to assist him in his church, turned all eyes toward this famous scholar. No refusals were allowed, and Augustine was ordained.
Preaching was soon added to his duties, an exception being made in his case to the usual rule, and the periods of the African orator, in harsh Latin or the harsher Punic tongue, were received with vehement applause. He was soon called to be assistant bishop, and then, on the death of the elder prelate, the whole charge of the church of Hippo was entrusted to his care. He retained the office until his death, a period of 35 years. The details of his episcopal life are minutely related by his friend Possidius. He preached every day and sometimes twice in the day; was frugal in his domestic arrangements, being a strict ascetic, and requiring of his attendant priests and deacons an equal simplicity of diet and dress; given to hospitality, yet without display; warmly interested in every kind of charity; courteous in his bearing, welcoming even infidels to his table; bold against all wickedness and wrong, whatever the rank of the transgressor; and untiring in his visits to widows and orphans, to the sick and the afflicted. He disputed with Manichajans, Arians, the followers of Priscillian, of Origen, and Tertullian, the Donatists, and the Pelagians, and allowed no doubtful utterance of doctrine to pass without his questioning.
To his industry in controversy must be added his vast correspondence with emperors, nobles, doctors, missionaries, bishops, in every quarter of the globe, on questions of dogma, of discipline, and of policy his solid works of commentary, criticism, morality, philosophy, and theology, and even his poetry, for to him are attributed several of the sweetest hymns of the Catholic anthology. The titles alone of the works of Augustine make a long catalogue. The single volume of "Sermons" contains nearly 700 pieces, shorter indeed and less ornate than the celebrated sermons of Basil and Chrysostom, but justifying Augustine's reputation for sacred oratory. The volume of "Commentaries on the Psalms" is more rich in practical remarks than in accurate learning. His remarks upon the "Four Gospels" are more valuable. His work on the "Care that should be taken for the Dead" contains some striking views concerning the relation of the living to disembodied souls. The volume of his "Epistles" is remarkable, as illustrating his best style and the finest traits in his character.
The name of Augustine, in the dogmatic history of the church, is best known in connection with the heresy of Pelagius; but his works which are most widely known are the "Confessions" and "The City of God." In the former, written just after his conversion, he gives a history of his life up to that time, not so much in its outward circumstance as in its inward experience and change. It has been translated into every Christian tongue, and is classed with the choicest memorials of devotion, both in Catholic and Protestant oratories. His treatise on "The City of God" (De Civitate Dei) is the monument of highest genius in the ancient church, and in its kind has never been surpassed. Its immediate purpose was to vindicate the faith of the gospel against the pagans, who had just devastated Rome. The first five books confute the heathen thesis that the worship of the ancient gods is essential to human prosperity, and that miseries have only come since the decline of this worship. The five following books refute those who maintain that the worship of pagan deities is useful for the spiritual life.
The remaining twelve books are employed in setting forth the doctrines of the Christian religion, under the somewhat fanciful form of "two cities," the city of the world and the city of God. The influence of Augustine upon his own age, and upon all succeeding ages of Christian history, cannot be exaggerated. It is believed that he was at once one of the purest, the wisest, and the holiest of men; he was equally mild and firm, prudent and fearless; at once a philosopher and a mystic, a student and a ruler. Of his singular humility manifold instances are recorded. His severe self-discipline matches the strictest instances of the hermit life. In his " Retractations," begun after the close of his 70th year, he reviews his writings, taking back whatever is doubtful or extravagant, and harmonizing discordant opinions. The aid of a coadjutor relieved Augustine in his latter years of a portion of his responsibility; yet questions of conscience were constantly presented to him. When Genseric and his Vandals showed themselves on the coasts of Africa, the question was put to him if it were lawful for a bishop at such a season to fly and leave his flock. The answer which he made was illustrated by his own course.
He calmly waited for the threatened approach, and when the fleet of the foe was in the bay of Hippo, and the army was encamped before the walls, exerted himself only to quiet the fears and sustain the faith of his brethren. He died of fever before the catastrophe. The bishop Possidius, who watched at his bedside, gives an edifying account of his last days, and of the grief of the people at his loss. His relics were transported to Italy, and mostly rest at present in the cathedral of Pavia. Within the present century the bone of his right arm has, with solemn pomp, been returned to the church of Bona in Algeria, which occupies the site of ancient Hippo. The best edition of Augustine's works is that of the Benedictines, published at Paris and at Antwerp' at the close of the 17th century, in 11 vols, folio. An edition in 11 volumes was also published in Paris in 1836-'9. An additional volume of sermons, before unpublished, found at Monte Casino and Florence, was published at Paris in 1842. An English translation by various hands has been undertaken at Edinburgh, under the editorship of the Rev. Marcus Dods, the 3rd and 4th volumes of which appeared in 1872.
By the Rev. David Schley Schaff.
Theexegetical writings of Augustin are commentaries on Genesis (first three chapters), the Psalms, the Gospel and First Epistle of John, the Sermon on the Mount, the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, and a Harmony of the Gospels. Many of his commentaries, like those of Chrysostom, are expository homilies preached to his congregation at Hippo; all are practical rather than grammatical and critical. He only covered the first five verses of the first chapter of Romans, and found his comments so elaborate, that, from fear of the immense proportions a commentary on the whole Epistle would assume, he drew back from the task. Augustin’s other writings abound in quotations from Scripture, and pertinent expositions. His controversies with the Manichaeans and Donatists were particularly adapted to render him thorough in the knowledge of the Bible, and skilled in its use.
The opinions of Augustin’s ability as an exegete, and the worth of his labors in the department of connected Biblical exposition, have greatly differed. Some not only represent him at his weakest in this capacity, but disparage his exegesis as of inferior merit. Others have given him, and some at the present time still give him, a very high rank among the chief commentators of the early Church. Père Simon, as quoted by Archbishop Trench (Sermon on the Mount, p. 65), says, “One must needs read a vast deal in the exegetical writings of Augustin to light on any thing which is good.” Reuss expresses himself thus: “The fact is, that his exegesis was the weak side of the great man” (Gesch. d. heil. Schriften N. T. p. 263). Farrar, in his History of Interpretation (p. 24), declares his comments to be “sometimes painfully beside the mark,” and in general depreciates the value of Augustin’s expository writings.
On the other hand, the student is struck with the profound esteem in which Augustin was held as an interpreter of Scripture during the Middle Ages. His exposition was looked upon as the highest authority; and a saying was current, that, if one had Augustin on his side, it was sufficient (Si Augustinus. adest, sufficit ipse tibi). So powerful was his influence, that Rupert of Deutz, in the preface to his Commentary on St. John, deemed it necessary to state, in part in vindication of his own effort, that, though the eagle wings of the Bishop of Hippo overshadowed the Gospel, he did not exhaust the right of all Christians to handle the Gospel. The Reformers quote Augustin more frequently than any Father, and were greatly indebted to his writings, especially for their views on sin and grace. Among modern opinions according to him a high rank in this department may be mentioned two. The Rev. H. Browne, in the preface to the translation of Augustin’s Homilies on St. John, in the Oxford Library of the Fathers (I. vi.), is somewhat extravagant in his praise, when he says, that, “as an interpreter of the Word of God, St. Augustin is acknowledged to stand at an elevation which few have reached, none surpassed.” Archbishop Trench, in the essay on Augustin as an interpreter of Scripture, prefixed to his edition of the Sermon on the Mount, accords equal praise, and speaks specifically of the “tact and skill with which he unfolded to others the riches which the Word contains” (p. 133).
The truth certainly is not with those who minimize Augustin’s services in the department of exposition. Whether we compare him with ancient or modern commentators, he will fall behind the greatest in some particulars; but in profundity of insight into the meaning of the text, in comprehensive knowledge of the whole Scriptures, in simplicity of spiritual aim, he stands in the first rank. It is as a contributor to theological and religious thought that he asserts his eminence. Exposition is something more than bald textual and lexicographical comment: it aims also at a spiritual perception of the truth as it is in Christ, and requires a capacity to extract, for the spiritual nutriment of the reader, the vital forces of the Scriptures. In this sense Augustin is eminently worthy of study. Of textual details, he gives only the barest minimum of any value. His mistakes, arising out of his slender philological apparatus and his reverence for the LXX., are numerous and glaring. He often wanders far away from the plain meaning of the text, into allegorical and typical fancies, like the other Fathers, and many of the older Protestant commentators. He was not prepared for, nor did he aim at, grammatico-historical exegesis in the modern sense of the word; but be possessed extraordinary acumen and depth, spiritual insight, an uncommon knowledge of Scripture as a whole, and a pious intention to bring the truth to the convictions of men, and to extend the kingdom of Christ.
As to Augustin’s special equipment for the work of an exegete and on his exegetical principles, the following may be added:—Exegetical Equipment.
1. Augustin had no knowledge of Hebrew (Confessions, xi. 3; in this ed. vol. i. p. 164). His knowledge of Greek was only superficial, and far inferior to that of Jerome (vol. i. p. 9). He depended almost entirely on the imperfect old Latin version before its revision by Jerome, and was at first even prejudiced against this revision, the so-called Vulgate. But it should be remembered that only two of the great expositors of the ancient Church were familiar with Hebrew,—Origen and Jerome. Augustin knew only a few Hebrew words. In the treatise on Christian Doctrine (ii. 11, 16; this ed. vol. ii. p. 540) he adduces the words Amen and Hallelujah as being left untranslated on account of the sacredness of the original forms, and the words Racha and Hosanna as being untranslatable by any single Latin equivalents. In the Sermon on the Mount (i. 9, 23) he refers again to Racha, and defends its Hebrew origin as against those who derived it from the Greek termrJavko"(a rag).
Augustin’s linguistic attainments seem to have included familiarity with Punic (Sermon on the Mount, ii. 14, 47). The Phoenician origin of the North African people, the location of his birthplace and his episcopal diocese, furnish an explanation of this.
2. For the Old Testament, Augustin used, besides the Latin version, occasionally the Septuagint, and had at hand the versions of Symmachus, Theodotion, and Aquila (Quaest. in Num. 52). He had profound reverence for the LXX., and was inclined to give credit to the Jewish tradition that each of the translators was confined in a separate cell, and on comparing their work, which they had accomplished without communication with each other, found their several versions to agree, word for word. He held that the original was given through them in Greek by the special direction of the Holy Spirit, and in such a way as to be most suitable for the Gentiles (Christian Doctrine, ii. 15, 22; this ed. p. 542). He declared that the Latin copies were to be corrected from the LXX., which was as authoritative as the Hebrew. Such a claim for the authority of the Greek translation would make a knowledge of the Hebrew almost unnecessary.
This excessive reverence for the LXX. has led Augustin to uphold, in his exegesis of the Old Testament, all its errors of translation, which a different view, coupled with a knowledge of Hebrew, would in most cases have prevented him from accepting. Even at its plain and palpable mistakes he takes no offence. He accepts the translation, “Yet three days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” as of equal authority with the “forty days” of the original, claiming a special symbolic meaning for both.
3. For the New Testament, Augustin used some Latin translation or translations older than the Vulgate. He declares the Latin translations to be without number (Christian Doctr. ii. 11, 16; this ed. vol. ii. p. 540). There was already in his day “an endless diversity” of readings in the Latin manuscripts. He vindicated for the Greek original the claim of final authority, to which the Latin copies were to yield. As there was likewise diversity of text among the Greek copies, he laid down the rule, that those manuscripts were to be chosen for comparison by the Latin student which were preserved in the churches of greater learning and research (Christian Doctr. ii. 15, 22; in this ed. ii. p. 543). Not infrequently does Augustin cite the readings of the Greek. In some cases he makes references to passages where there is a conflict of text in the Latin authorities. He differs quite largely from Jerome’s Vulgate, to which he offered opposition, on the ground that a new translation might unsettle the faith of some. In these variations of construction and language he was sometimes nearer the original than Jerome. Sometimes he does not approximate so closely. As a matter of interest, and for the convenience of the reader, the differences of Augustin’s text and the Vulgate will be found, in all important cases, noted down in this edition of the Sermon on the Mount.
Examples of Augustin’s improvement upon the Vulgate are the omission of the clause, “and despitefully use you” (et calumniantibus vos, Matt. v. 44), the use of quotidianum panem (“daily bread”) instead of supersubstantialem, and of inferas (“bring”) instead of inducas (“lead”), in the fourth and sixth petitions of the.Lord’s Prayer (Matt. vi. 11, 12). In reference to the last passage, it must be said, however, that he notes a difference in the Latin Mss., some using infero, some induco; and while he adopts the former verb, he finds the terms equivalent in meaning (Serm. on the Mt. ii. 9, 30).
4. Augustin’s textual and grammatical comments are few in number, but they cannot be said to be wanting in all value. A few instances will suffice for a judgment of their merit:—
In the Harmony of the Gospels (ii. 29, 67), writing of the daughter of Jairus (Matt. ix. 29), he mentions that some codices contain the reading “woman” (mulier) for “damsel.” Commenting on Matt. v. 22, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause,” he includes the expression “without a cause” (eijkh`) without even a hint of its spuriousness (Serm. on the Mt. i. 9, 25); but in his Retractations (i. 19. 4) he makes the correction, “The Greek manuscripts do not contain sine causa.” Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, the Vulgate and the Revised English Version, in agreement with the oldest mss., omit the clause. He refers to a conflict of the Greek and Latin text of Matt. v. 39 (“Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek”), and follows the authority of the Greek in omitting the adjective “right” (Serm. on the Mt. i. 19, 58). At Matt. vi. 4 he casts out, on the authority of the Greek, the adverb palam (“openly”), which was found in many Latin translations (as it is also found in the Textus Receptus, but not in the Vulgate, and the Sinaitic, B, D, and other mss.). Commenting on Matt. vii. 12, “Wherefore all things whatsoever ye would that men,” etc., he refers to the addition of “good” before “things” by the Latins, and insists upon its erasure on the basis of the Greek text (Serm. on the Mt. ii. 22, 74).
On occasion, though very rarely, he quotes the Greek, as in the Sermon on the Mount (nh; th;n kauvchsin, i. 17, 51;iJmavtion, i. 19, 60), in confirmation of his opinions of the text.
At other times he compares Greek and Latin terms of synonymous or kindred meanings. One of the most important of these is the passage (City of God,x. 1; this ed. vol. ii. p. 181) where he draws a clear distinction betweenlatreiva, qrhskeiva, ersevbeia, qeosevbeia. Other examples of the kind under review are given by Trench (p. 20 sqq.).
It is evident that Augustin’s equipment was defective from the stand-point of the modern critical exegete. It would be wrong, however, to say that he shows no concern about textual questions. But his exegetical power shows itself in other ways than minute textual investigation, —in comprehensive comparison of Scripture with Scripture, and penetrating spiritual vision. To these qualities he adds a purpose to be exhaustive, sparing no pains to develop the full meaning of the passage under review. More exhaustive discussions can hardly be found, to take a single example, than that on Matt. v. 25, “Agree with thine adversary quickly” (Serm. on the Mt. xi. 31, where, however, the view least reasonable is taken), or spiritually satisfactory ones than the discussion of the gradation of sin and its punishment (Matt. v. 21, 22; Serm. on the Mt. ix. 22), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. vii. i), or pungently suggestive than the handling of the words of our Lord at the marriage feast at Cana: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John ii. 4; Homily VIII.), or more indicative of great principles underlying the vindication to the evangelists of a true historical character and of independence of each other (at least in minor details) than discussions like that about the differences in the details of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, alone common of the miracles to the fourfold Gospel (a sort of prelude to works like Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences), and the relation of this miracle to the miracle of the seven loaves (Harmony, xlvi.). Exegetical Principles.
Augustin has laid down in a separate treatise a code of exegetical principles. His Christian Doctrine (vol. ii. of this series) is the earliest manual of Biblical hermeneutics. In spite of irrelevant and lengthy digressions, it contains many suggestions of value, which have not been improved upon in modern treatises on the subject.
1. He emphasizes Hebrew and Greek scholarship as an important aid to the expositor, and an essential condition of the interpretation of the figurative language of Scripture (ii. 11, 16; 16, 23, this ed., pp. 539, 543).
2. He will have his interpreter acquainted with sacred geography (ii. 29, 45, p. 549), natural history (ii. 16, 24, p. 543; 29, 45, p. 549), music (ii. 16, 26, p. 544), chronology (ii. 28, 42, p. 549) and the science of numbers (ii. 16, 25, p. 543), natural science generally (ii. 29, 45 sqq., p. 549 sqq.), history (ii. 28, 43, p. 549), dialectics (ii. 31, 48, p. 550), and the writings of the ancient philosophers (ii. 40, 60, p. 554). He was the first to suggest a work which has been realized in our dictionaries of the Bible. Pertinent to the subject he says, “What some men have done in regard to all words and names found in Scripture, in the Hebrew and Syriac and Egyptian and other tongues, taking up and interpreting separately such as were left in Scripture without interpretation; and what Eusebius has done in regard to the history of the past…I think might be done in regard to other matters.…For the advantage of his brethren a competent man might arrange in their several classes, and give an account of, the unknown places, and animals and plants, and trees and stones and metals, and other species of things mentioned in Scripture” (ii. 39, 59, p. 554). It is, in view of this sage suggestion, almost incomprehensible that Augustin pays no attention to these subjects in his commentaries. Jerome, on the other hand, is quite rich in these departments.
3. He presses the view that the Scripture is designed to have more interpretations than one (Christ. Doctr. iii. 27, 38 sq.; this ed. p. 567). Augustin constantly applies this canon (e.g., on the petition, “Thy will be done,” Sermon on the Mount, ii. 7, 21–23). He adopted the seven rules of the Donatist Tichonius as assisting to a deep understanding of the Word. These rules relate (1) to the Lord and His body, (2) to the twofold division of the Lord’s body, (3) to the promises and the Law, (4) to species and genus, (5) to times, (6) to recapitulation, (7) to the devil and his body (Christ. Doctr.iii. 30, 42, pp. 568–573). He explains and illustrates these laws at length, but denies that they exhaust the rules for discovering the hidden truth of Scripture.
4. He commends the method of interpreting obscure passages by the light of passages that are understood, and prefers it before the interpretation by reason (Christ. Doctr. iii. 29, 39, p. 567).
5. The spirit and intent of the interpreter are of more importance than verbal accuracy and critical acumen (a qualification not always too strictly insisted upon in these modern days of commentators and critical Biblical study). One must be in sympathy with the Gospel of Christ to interpret its records. Even the mistakes of an exegete, properly disposed, may confirm religious faith and character; and so far forth are his labors to be commended, though he himself is to be corrected, that he err not again after the same manner. “If the mistaken interpretation,” he says, “tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, the interpreter goes astray in much the same way as a man who, by mistake, quits the highroad, but yet reaches, through the fields, the same place to which the road leads” (Christ. Doctr. i. 36, 41 sq.; ii. p. 533).
That Augustin followed his own canons of interpretation, his writings show. He does not hesitate to put more than one interpretation upon a text (as especially in the Psalms), and none has been more elaborate in comparing Scripture with Scripture than he. If he had possessed the familiarity with the Hebrew that he recommends so strongly to others, he would have been preserved from the misinterpretations with which his commentaries on the Old Testament abound.
Use of Allegory.
Augustin’s use of allegory has exposed him to much harsh criticism. What was the practice of all, ought not to be considered a mortal fault in one. None of the ancient expositors were free from it. Some of the modern expositors, except as their works are designed only as a critical arsenal for the student, are defective because of all absence of the allegorical element.
Where Scripture itself has led the way, as in the case of the allegory of Hagar and Sarah (Gal. iv.) and other cases, the uninspired penman will be pardoned if he follow. The use of the allegorical method, however, was carried to the most unreasonable excess, reaching its culmination in Gregory’s Commentary on Job. That writer finds that the patriarch of Uz represents Christ, his sons the clergy, his three daughters the three classes of the laity who are to worship the Trinity, his friends the heretics, the oxen and she-asses the heathen, etc. The frequent extravagance of Augustin, proceeding out of his intellectual and Scriptural exuberance, cannot be commended; but it will be found that his allegory is seldom commonplace, and mingled with it, where it is most vicious, are comments of rare aptness and common sense. In the Old Testament he looks upon almost every character and event as symbolic of Christ and Christian institutions. But, as Trench well says, “it is indeed far better to find Christ everywhere in the Old Testament than to find Him nowhere” (p. 54).
In his effort to display the unity and harmony of all Scripture (to which he was forced by the controversy with the Manichaeans) he often strains after comparisons; and this came to be so much of a habit with him, that, where he had no special purpose to gain, he is guilty of the same excess. An instance among many is furnished in the opening chapters of the Sermon on the Mount (iv. 11), where a close comparison is instituted between the Beatitudes and the seven Spiritual operations of Isa. xi. 2, 3. The historical element is nowhere denied, but something else is constantly being superinduced upon it, especially in the Old Testament.
A single illustration of Augustin’s allegorical interpretation will suffice. Turning away from the Psalms, where his imagination is particularly fertile along this line, I extract one on the parable of the five loaves and two fishes, as found in the XXIV. Homily on John. The five loaves mean the five Books of Moses. They are not wheaten, but barley, because they belong to the Old Testament. The nature of barley is such that it is hard to be got at, as the kernel is set in a coating of husk which is tenacious and hard to be stripped off. Such is the letter of the Old Testament, enveloped in a covering of carnal sacraments. The little lad represents the people of Israel, which, in its childishness of mind, carried but did not eat. The two fishes signify the persons of the Priest and King, which therefore point to Christ. The multiplication of the loaves signifies the exposition into many volumes of the five Books of Moses. There were five thousand people fed, because they were under the Law, which is unfolded in five books. “They sat upon the grass;” that is, they were carnally minded, and rested in carnal things. The “fragments” are the truths of hidden import which the people cannot receive, and which were therefore entrusted to the twelve apostles.
The excessive taste for this style of interpretation, in which the homilists and Biblical writers of a thousand years had revelled, was sternly rebuked by the Reformers. Especially did Luther utter his protest, on the ground that the fancies into which this method was apt to lead had a tendency to shake confidence in the literal truth of the sacred volume. He remarks, “Augustin said beautifully that a figure proves nothing;” but, probably from the high regard he had for the great theologian, he did not condemn his allegorizing exegesis.
However much the great African bishop may have laid himself open to the rebuke of a more critical and mechanical age in this regard and others, his exegesis will continue to be admired for the diligence with which the sacred text is scanned, the reverent frame of heart with which it is approached, and the rich treasures of spiritual truth which it brings forth to the willing and devout reader.
TheSermons of St. Augustin, besides their other excellencies, furnish a beautiful picture of perhaps the deepest and most powerful mind of the Western Church adapting itself to the little ones of Christ. In them, he who has furnished the mould for all the most thoughtful minds for fourteen hundred years, is seen forming with loving tenderness the babes in Christ. Very touching is the child-like simplicity, with which he gradually leads them through what to them were difficulties, watching all the while whether he made himself clear to them, keeping up their attention, pleased at their understanding, dreading their approbation, and leading them off from himself to some practical result. Very touching the tenderness with which he at times reproves, the allowance which he makes for human infirmities and for those in secular life, if they will not make their infirmities their boast, or in allowed duties and indulgences forget God. But his very simplicity precludes the necessity of any preface. His Sermons explain themselves. They appear from a passage in the Commentary on the Psalms to have been often taken down in writing at the time by the more attentive sort of hearers (as were those of St. Chrysostom); Possidius states that this was done from the commencement of his presbyterate, and that “thence through the body of Africa, excellent doctrine and the most sweet savour of Christ was diffused and made manifest, the Church of God beyond seas, when it heard thereof, partaking of the joy.” Those on the New Testament have been now selected, both as furnishing a comment, and as a gradual introduction to what is found in a larger measure elsewhere, the spiritual interpretation of Holy Scripture. It will doubtless seem strange to some at first sight that the spiritual meaning of numbers, for instance, should be made a part of religious instruction. And yet, it might not require any great diffidence to think that St. Augustin knew better than any of us, the tendency and effects of his mode of teaching upon minds, which he evidently treated with such tender care, and that they who have entered into that system can estimate its value better than they who have not. It will appear also, probably, that a system which sees a meaning everywhere in Holy Scripture is more reverential than one which overlooks it; as, on the other hand, as a fact, the anti-mystical interpretation has both in ancient and modern times stood connected with a cold rationalism, and with heresy. This is, however, a large subject, upon which this does not seem the place to enter, since such interpretations are here only incidental and subordinate, and it is here intended only to give a practical warning. Those who close their eyes, of course, never see. The eye also requires to be insensibly familiarized with what, as new, is strange to it. But whoever will not set himself against what is in fact the received mode of interpretation of the Church, will be insensibly won by it, and will have his reward. The interpretations of St. Augustin were, as he himself often says, sought by his own prayers and the prayers of his people, and will, to those who receive them, open a rich variety of meaning and instruction. One might instance, of the most solemn sort, the analogy of the three dead, whom our Lord raised, with the three stages of sin, consent, act, and habit, as an affecting and impressive specimen of this mode of instruction, which has been adopted, in a manner, by the spiritual perception of the Western Church.
On his directly practical teaching, it will be borne in mind, that to him the Church is mainly indebted for the overthrow of Pelagianism, and the vindication of the doctrine of the free grace of God. When then he insists, as he does so frequently, on the value of good works and especially almsgiving, to which he seems to recur with such especial sympathy, it will not be hastily thought that so deep and consistent a thinker, and so imbued with Divine truth, was at variance with himself and with it, and we may in his teaching gain more constraining motives to encourage ourselves and others, if so one great stain of our times, the neglect of Christ’s poor, may be mitigated or effaced. On the other hand, when he speaks of heresy, he speaks of what he had himself been; of the nothingness of this world’s pleasures and applause, of what he had himself, when unbaptized, too miserably tasted; of Christ’s power to save out of them, what he had himself felt; of the grace of God, what he had himself used; of the value of alms, as having himself given up what was his; of humility, as showing it in the very language in which he praises it; of the joys of Heaven, and the love of God, as that for which he had abandoned freely and for ever all on earth, for which he was daily labouring, enduring, sighing.
It remains to say, that the text used is that of the Benedictines, in which their large resources in mss. have been so excellently employed, and that the Editors are indebted for the translation to the Rev. R. G. Macmullen, M.A., Fellow of Corpus Christi College.
E. B. Pusey.
Christ Church, Oxford,Feast of St. Barnabas, 1844.
Of the agreement of the evangelists Matthew and Luke in the generations of the Lord.
1. May He, beloved, fulfil your expectation who hath awakened it: for though I feel confident that what I have to say is not my own, but God’s, yet with far more reason do I say, what the Apostle in his humility saith, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” I do not doubt accordingly that you remember my promise; in Him I made it through whom I now fulfil it, for both when I made the promise, did I ask of the Lord, and now when I fulfil it, do I receive of Him. Now you will remember, beloved, that it was in the matins of the festival of the Lord’s Nativity, that I put off the question which I had proposed for resolution, because many came with us to the celebration of the accustomed solemnities of that day to whom the word of God is usually burdensome; but now I imagine that none have come here, but they who desire to hear, and so I am not speaking to hearts that are deaf, and to minds that will disdain the word, but this your longing expectation is a prayer for me. There is a further consideration; for the day of the public shows has dispersed many from hence, for whose salvation I exhort you to share my great anxiety, and do you with all earnestness of mind, entreat God for those who are not yet intent upon the spectacles of the truth, but are wholly given up to the spectacles of the flesh; for I know and am well assured, that there are now among you those who have this day despised them, and have burst the bonds of their inveterate habits; for men are changed both for the better and the worse. By daily instances of this kind are we alternately made joyful and sad; we joy over the reformed, are sad over the corrupted; and therefore the Lord doth not say that he who beginneth, shall be saved, “But he that endureth unto the end shall be saved.”
2. Now what more marvellous, what more magnificent thing could our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and also the Son of man (for this also He vouchsafed to be), grant to us, than the gathering into His fold not only of the spectators of these foolish shows, but even some of the actors in them; for He hath combated unto salvation not only the lovers of the combats of men with beasts, but even the combatants themselves, for He also was made a spectacle Himself. Hear how. He hath told us Himself, and foretold it before He was made a spectacle, and in the words of prophecy announced beforehand what was to come to pass, as if it were already done, saying in the Psalms, “They pierced My hands and My feet, they told all My bones.” Lo! how He was made a spectacle, for His bones to be told! and this spectacle He expresseth more plainly, “they observed and looked upon Me.” He was made a spectacle and an object of derision, made a spectacle by them who were to show Him no favour indeed in that spectacle, but who were to be furious against Him, just as at first He made His martyrs spectacles; as saith the Apostle, “We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” Now two sorts of men are spectators of such spectacles; the one, carnal, the other, spiritual men. The carnal look on, as thinking those martyrs who are thrown to the beasts, or beheaded, or burnt in the flames, to be wretched men, and they detest and abhor them; but others look on, like the holy Angels, not regarding the laceration of their bodies, but admiring the unimpaired purity of their faith. A grand spectacle to the eyes of the heart doth a whole mind in a mangled body exhibit! When these things are read of in the church, you behold them with pleasure with these eyes of the heart, for if you were to behold nothing, you would hear nothing; so you see you have not neglected the spectacles to-day, but have made a choice of spectacles. May God then be with you, and give you grace with gentle persuasiveness to report your spectacles to your friends, whom you have been pained to see this day running to the amphitheatre, and unwilling to come to the church; that so they too may begin to contemn those things, by the love of which themselves have become contemptible, and may, with you, love God, of whom none who love Him can ever be ashamed, for that they love Him who cannot be overcome: let them, as you do, love Christ, who by that very thing wherein He seemed to be overcome, overcame the whole world. For He hath overcome the whole world as we see, my brethren; He hath subjected all powers, He hath subjugated kings, not with the pride of soldiery, but by the ignominy of the Cross: not bythe fury of the sword, but by hanging on the Wood, by suffering in the body, by working in the Spirit. His body was lifted up on the Cross, and so He subdued souls to the Cross; and now what jewel in their diadem is more precious than the Cross of Christ on the foreheads of kings? In loving Him you will never be ashamed. Whereas from the amphitheatre how many return conquered, because those are conquered, for whom they are so madly interested! still more would they be conquered were they to conquer. For so would they be enslaved to the vain joy, to the exultation of a depraved desire, who are conquered by the very circumstance of running to these shows. For how many, my brethren, do you think have this day been in hesitation whether they would go here or there? And they who in this hesitation, turning their thoughts to Christ, have run to the church, have overcome, not any man, but the devil himself, him that hunteth after the souls of the whole world. But they who in that hesitation have chosen rather to run to the amphitheatre, have assuredly been overcome by him whom the others overcame—overcame in Him who saith, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” For the Captain suffered Himself to be tried, only that He might teach His soldier to fight.
3. That our Lord Jesus Christ might do this He became the Son of man by being born of a woman. But now, would He have been any less a man, if He had not been born of the Virgin Mary” one may say. “He willed to be a man; well and good; He might have so been, and yet not be born of a woman; for neither did He make the first man whom He made, of a woman.” Now see what answer I make to this. You say, Why did He choose to be born of a woman? I answer, Why should He avoid being born of a woman? Granted that I could not show that He chose to be born of a woman;do you show why He need have avoided it.But I have already said at other times, that if He had avoided the womb of a woman, it might have betokened, as it were, that He could have contracted defilement from her; but by how much He was in His own substance more incapable of defilement, by so much less had He cause to fear the woman’s womb, as though He could contract defilement from it. But by being born of a woman, He purposed to show to us some high mystery. For of a truth, brethren, we grant too, that if the Lord had willed to become man without being born of a woman, it were easy to His sovereign Majesty. For as He could be born of a woman without a man, so could He also have been born without the woman. But this hath He shown us, that mankind of neither sex might despair of its salvation, for the human sexes are male and female. If therefore being a man, which it behoved Him assuredly to be, He had not been born of a woman, women might have despaired of themselves, as mindful of their first sin, because by a woman was the first man deceived, and would have thought that they had no hope at all in Christ. He came therefore as a man to make special choice of that sex, and was born of a woman to console the female sex, as though He would address them and say; “That ye may know that no creature of God is bad, but that unregulated pleasure perverteth it, when in the beginning I made man, I made them male and female. I do not condemn the creature which I made. See I have been born a Man, and born of a woman; it is not then the creature which I made that I condemn, but the sins which I made not.” Let each sex then at once see its honour, and confess its iniquity, and let them both hope for salvation. The poison to deceive man was presented him by woman, through woman let salvation for man’s recovery be presented; so let the woman make amends for the sin by which she deceived the man, by giving birth to Christ. For the same reason again, women were the first who announced to the Apostles the Resurrection of God. The woman in Paradise announced death to her husband, and the women in the Church announced salvation to the men; the Apostles were to announce to the nations the Resurrection of Christ, the women announced it to the Apostles. Let no one then reproach Christ with His birth of a woman, by which sex the Deliverer could not be defiled, and to which it was in the purpose of the Creator to do honour.
4. But, say they, “how are we to believe that Christ was born of a woman?” I would answer, by the Gospel which hath been preached and is still preached to all the world. But these men, blind themselves, and aiming to blind others, seeing not what they ought to see, whilst they try to shake what ought to be believed, endeavour to obtrude a question on a matter which is now believed through all the earth. For they answer and say: “Do not think to overwhelm us with the authority of the whole world—let us look to Scripture itself, urge not arguments of mere numbers against us, for the seduced multitude favours you.” To this I answer, in the first place, “Does the seduced multitude favour me?” This multitude was once a scantling. Whence grew this multitude, which in this increase was announced so long before? For this which hath been seen to increase, is none other than the same which was seen beforehand. I need not have said, it was a scantling; once it was Abraham only. Consider, brethren; it was Abraham alone throughout all the world at that time; throughout the whole world, among all men, and all nations; Abraham alone to whom it was said, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed;” and what he alone believed of his own single person, is exhibited as present now to many in the multitude of his seed. Then it was not seen, and was believed; now it is seen, and it is contested; and what was then said to one man, and was by that one believed, is disputed now by some few, when in many it is made good. He who made His disciples fishers of men, inclosed within His nets every kind of authority. If great numbers are to be believed, what more widely diffused over the whole world than the Church? If the rich are to be believed, let them consider how many rich He hath taken; if the poor, let them consider the thousands of poor; if nobles, almost all the nobility are within the Church; if kings, let them see all of them subjected to Christ; if the more eloquent, and wise, and learned, let them see how many orators, and scientific men, and philosophers of this world, have been caught by those fishermen, to be drawn from the depth to salvation let them think of Him who, coming down to heal by the example of His own humility that great evil of maws soul, pride, “chose the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (not the really wise, but who seemed so to be), “and chose the base things of the world, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”
5. “Whatever you may choose to say,” they say, “we find that in the place where we read that Christ was born, the Gospels disagree with one another, and two things which disagree cannot both be true;” for, says one, “when I have proved this disagreement, I may rightly disallow belief in it, or, at least, do you who accept the belief in it, shew the agreement.” And what disagreement, I ask, will you prove? “A plain one,” says he, “which none can gainsay.” With what security, brethren, do you hear all this, because ye are believers! Attend, dearly beloved, and see what wholesome advice the Apostle gives, who says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus our Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith;” for with this simple and assured faith ought we to abide stedfastly in Him, that He may Himself open to the faithful what is hidden in Him; for as the same Apostle saith, “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” and He does not hide them to refuse them, but to stir up desire for those hidden things. This is the advantage of their secrecy. Honour in Him then what as yet thou understandest not, and so much the more as the veils which thou seest are more in number: for the higher in honour any one is, the more veils are suspended in his palace. The veils make that which is kept secret honoured, and to those who honour it, the veils are lifted up; but as for those who mock at the veils, they are driven away from even approaching them. Because then we “turn unto Christ, the veil is taken away.”
6. They bring forward then their cavillings, and say “You allow Matthew is an Evangelist.” We answer: Yes indeed, with a godly confession, and a heart devout, in neither having any doubt at all, we answer plainly, Matthew is an Evangelist. “Do you believe him?” they say. Who will not answer, I do? How clear an assent doth that your godly murmur convey! So, brethren, you believe it in all assurance; you have no cause to blush for it. I am speaking to you, who was once deceived, when as in my early boyhood I chose to bring to the divine Scriptures a subtlety of criticising before the godly temper of one who was seeking truth: by my irregular life I shut the gate of my Lord against myself: when I should have knocked for it to be opened, I went on so as to make it more I closely shut, for I dared to search in pride for that which none but the humble can discover. How much more blessed now are you, with what sure confidence do you learn, and in what safety, who are still young ones in the nest of faith, and receive the spiritual food; whereas I, wretch that I was, as thinking myself fit to fly, left the nest, and fell down before I flew: but the Lord of mercy raised me up, that I might not be trodden down to death by passers by, and put me in the nest again; for those same things then troubled me, which now in quiet security I am proposing and explaining to you in the Name of the Lord.
7. As then I had begun to say, thus do they cavil. “Matthew,” say they, “is an Evangelist, and you believe him?” Immediately that we acknowledge him to be an Evangelist, we necessarily believe him. Attend then to the generations of Christ, which Matthew has set down. “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” How the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham? He could not be shown to be so, but by the succession of generations; for certain it is that when the Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, neither Abraham nor David was in this world, and dost thou say that the same man is both the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham? Let us, as it were, say to Matthew, Prove thy word, for I am waiting for the succession of the generations of Christ. “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king.” Now observe how from this point the genealogy is brought down from David to Christ, who is called the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David. “And David begat Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; and Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon; and after the carrying away into Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Thus then by the order and succession of fathers and forefathers, Christ is found to be the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham.
8. Now upon this thus faithfully narrated, the first cavil they bring is, that the same Matthew goes on to say, “All the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Then in order to tell us how Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, he went on and said, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise;” for by the line of the generations he had showed why Christ is called the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham. But now it needed to be shown how He was born and appeared among men: and so there follows immediately that narrative, by means of which we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ was not only born of the everlasting God, coeternal with Him who begat Him before all times, before all creation, by whom all things were made; but was also now born from the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary, which we confess equally with the other; for you remember and know (for I am speaking to Catholics, to my brethren), that this is our faith, that this we profess and confess; for this faith thousands of martyrs have been slain in all the world.
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