Augustine wrote his De catechizandis rudibus as a help for those who were giving elementary instructions about Christianity to people who had expressed some interest. His outline included, of course, a study of the Scriptures as the story of salvation. At the end of that he thought that prospective Christians should be warned that they will not be exempt from tests caused not only by the opposition of people outside but also, and perhaps even more, by the lives of wicked Christians. From the number of words devoted to the latter, one is tempted to think that Augustine thought the wicked outnumbered the good within the Church. In any case, the text is another clear illustration that he had a very realistic, not at all idealized, notion of the Church.
11. On the completion of this narration, the hope of the resurrection should be set forth, and, so far as the capacity and strength of the hearer will bear it, and so far also as the measure of time at our disposal will allow, we ought to treat our arguments against the vain scoffings of unbelievers on the subject of the resurrection of the body, as well as on that of the future judgment, with its goodness in relation to good people, its severity in relation to wicked people, its truth in relation to all. And after the penalties of the impious have thus been declared with detestation and horror, then the kingdom of the righteous and faithful, and that supernal city and its joy, should form the next themes for our discourse.
At this point, moreover, (more…)
And now, to conclude, for it is hardly befitting on this Day to speak much, when God has done His greatest work. Let us think of it and of Him. Let us rejoice in the Day which He has made, and let us be “willing in the Day of His Power.” This is Easter Day. Let us say this again and again to ourselves with fear and great joy. (more…)
“A helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly” Ps 45:3). Many are our troubles, and in every one of them we should flee to God; whether it is trouble in our families or with our health, or danger to our loved ones, or about things needed to sustain this life, a Christian should have no other refuge than his Savior, than his God: he will be strong when he flees to God. A Christian will not be strong in himself, will not be his own strength; the one who has become his refuge will be his strength. But, my dear brothers and sisters, among all the troubles of the human soul none is greater than the consciousness of sin. For if there is no wound there, if that inner realm that is called conscience is sound, wherever else he may suffer troubles, he can flee there and there find God. But if there is no rest there because of an abundance of sins, and because God is not there, what is one to do? Where shall he flee if he begins to suffer troubles? He will flee from the countryside to the city, from the city-streets to his home, from his home to his bedroom, but his trouble will follow him. From his bedroom he has nowhere to flee except to his inner bedroom. But if there is disquiet there, the smoke of wickedness, the flame of sin, he can’t flee there either. He’s driven out from there; he’s driven out from himself. And see: now he finds the enemy to be the very one to whom he had fled. Where can anyone flee from himself? Wherever he flees, he drags himself behind, and wherever he drags such a self, he tortures himself about himself.
These are the troubles that find a person exceedingly, and there are none harsher; the less inward troubles are, the less harsh they are. Notice, beloved: when trees are cut down and are being planed by carpenters, sometimes they seem damaged and rotten on their surface. But the carpenter looks at the inner marrow (as it were) of the tree, and if he finds the inner wood sound, he can promise that it will last if used in a building, and he won’t be overly concerned that the outer part is wounded if he thinks the inner part is sound. Now, nothing is more inward than one’s consciousness. And what use is it if what is external is sound while the marrow of one’s consciousness has rotted? These are the intense, quite disturbing troubles, the “exceeding” troubles the Psalmist speaks of. But even for them the Lord has become a helper by forgiving sins. For only forgiveness heals the consciences of sinners. (Augustine, En in Ps 45, 3; PL 36, 515-16)
In Book 13 of his De Trinitate, Augustine addressed the theme of our redemption by Christ. He introduces the subject by asking a question that may have been asked in every generation–it is still being asked today. As the following excerpt indicates, he was concerned to eliminate from the beginning the misunderstanding that has plagued some presentations of the atonement and I once heard summarized in these terms: “God was so alienated from sinful human beings that it required the blood-sacrifice of his Son before he could forgive them.” As always Augustine approached the subject on the basis of Scriptural teachings he accepted as posing the real terms of the question.
Some people say, “Did God have no other way to free human beings from this wretched mortal condition than that he should want his only begotten Son, God co-eternal with himself, to become man, to take on human soul and flesh, to be made mortal, and to suffer death?” (more…)
What follows teaches us that he will come for judgement. For a fire will go before him (Ps 96:3). Are we afraid? Let us change and we will not be afraid. The chaff fears the fire, but what does fire do to gold? You now have it in your power to do what should be done so that you do not experience as an unrepentant sinner what is going to come even if you don’t want it to come. If we were able to prevent the day of judgement from coming, I think that even so it would not be right to live wickedly. If fire were not to come on Judgement Day and sinners were threatened only by separation from the face of God, they would still have to mourn no matter how great the flood of delights they might enjoy, no matter that they might never be punished for their sins, because they would not see the one by whom they were created and would not know the ineffable pleasure of seeing the face of God. But what am I to say? To whom shall I say it? That is a punishment for lovers, but not for despisers. Those who have begun to experience at all the pleasure of wisdom and truth know what I am talking about, that is, what a great punishment it is simply to be separated from the face of God. As for those who have not experienced that pleasure, if they still don’t desire God’s face, at least let them fear the fire. Let the punishment terrify those whom the reward does not attract. (En in Ps 49, 7; PL 36, 569)
Concerning the Bride, let us see what He says; that you, when you know the Bridegroom and the Bride, may not without reason come to the marriage. For every celebration is a celebration of marriage: the Church’s nuptials are being celebrated. The King’s Son is about to marry a wife, and that King’s Son is Himself a King; and the guests frequenting the marriage are themselves the Bride. It’s not as in an ordinary marriage where some are guests, and another is she that is being married; in the Church they that come as guests, if they come to good purpose, become the Bride. For all the Church is Christ’s Bride. (Augustine on I John, Hom. 2, 2; PL 35, 1990)
“They have not in-voked God” (Ps 52:6). Don’t such people entreat God every day? They’re not entreating God. Pay attention and with God’s help I may be able to explain this. God wishes to be worshipped gratis; he wants to be loved gratis, that is, to be loved chastely, not to be loved because he gives something other than himself but because he gives himself. One who in-vokes God so that he may become rich, is not in-voking God. One in-vokes something that one wants to come to oneself. What does in-voke mean if not to call into oneself? … If you say, “God, give me riches,” you don’t want God himself to come to you; you want riches to come to you. You in-voke something that you want to come to you. If you were to in-voke God, he would come to you; he would himself be your wealth. But as it is you want to have a full coffer but an empty conscience. God fills hearts, not coffers. What good does external wealth do you if an inner poverty weighs you down? Those who in-voke God for worldly comforts, for earthly goods, for the present life and earthly happiness are not in-voking God. (Augustine, EnPs 52, 8; PL 36, 617-618)
“Who will seek his mercy and truth for his sake?” (Ps 60(61):8) It says in another place: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth for those who are seeking his covenant and his testimonies” (Ps 2410). A long sermon could be given on truth and mercy, but I promised to be brief. So, briefly, here is what truth and mercy are, because it is no small thing that was said: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.” It is called mercy because God does not consider our merits, but his own goodness, when he forgives all our sins and promises eternal life. It is called truth because he does not fail to give what he promised. We must acknowledge them here, and let us do them ourselves, so that as God showed us his mercy and truth–his mercy by forgiving our sins, his truth by fulfilling his promise–so also we show mercy and truth here–mercy towards the weak, towards the needy, even towards our enemies, truth by not heaping sin upon sin. Those who often promise themselves God’s mercy have a thought creep in that makes God unjust. They think that if the sinner continues and does not want to cease his wicked deeds, God will come and will put him in the same place as those who obey him. Would it be just that he place you who continue to sin where he will place people who have stopped sinning? Are you so unjust that you want to make God unjust, too? Why do you want to turn God to your will? You should turn to God’s will. And who is it that does this except one of those few of whom it is said: “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). Rightly is it said, then, “Who will seek his mercy and truth for his sake?”
Why does it say, “for his sake”? Wouldn’t it be enough to say, “Who will seek”? It adds “for his sake” because there are many who seek God’s mercy and truth in his books, and when they have learned them, live for themselves and not for him. “They pursue their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Ph 2:21). They preach mercy and truth and don’t do them…. But those who love God and Christ, when they preach his mercy and truth, will themselves be seeking them for his sake and not for their own–not so that they can receive temporal benefits but so that it will benefit Christ’s members, that is, believers in him. They minister what they know “so that those who live may not now live for themselves but for him who died for them” (2 Cor 5:18). “Who will seek his mercy and truth for his sake?” (Augustine, EnPs 60:8; PL 36, 728)
In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall arise again incorrupt–that is, whole–and we shall be changed. We are then told what kind of change there will be: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, and when this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality, then will come to pass the word that has been written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:51-55) For although the first fruits of the mind have begun in us now so that we desire Jerusalem, many things from the corruptible flesh now fight against us which will not fight us when death is swallowed up in victory. Peace will triumph, and the war will come to an end. And when peace triumphs, that city will triumph which is called “Vision of Peace.” Death will no longer fight us. But for now how many of death’s things we still have to fight! From death come the carnal delights that prompt us to many unlawful things. Even if we do not consent to them, we have to struggle not to consent to them. At first, the desires of the flesh lead us and we follow willingly; later they drag us though we resist them; then when we have received grace, they begin neither to lead nor to drag us but still fight against us; victory comes only after a fight. Even if they assault you, don’t let them subdue you; later, when death is swallowed up in victory, they will cease to fight. What is that text? “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (Augustine, EnPs 64 4; PL 36, 775)
St. Augustine began one of his homilies with the following prayer which, with proper adjustments, could be said by both preacher and congregation as the preacher begins to speak:
“May the Lord help us by your prayers so that I say what I should say and you should hear, so that the Word of God may be useful to us all.”
[EnPs 139, 1: PL 37: 1803]