We have, however, read in the Gospel of three dead persons who were raised to life by the Lord, and, let us hope, to some good purpose. For surely the Lord’s deeds are not merely deeds, but signs. And if they are signs, besides their wonderful character, they have some real significance: and to find out this in regard to such deeds is a somewhat harder task than to read or hear of them. We were listening with wonder, as at the sight of some mighty miracle enacted before our eyes, in the reading of the Gospel, how Lazarus was restored to life.
If we turn our thoughts to the still more wonderful works of Christ, every one that believes rises again: if we all consider, and understand that more horrifying kind of death, every one who sins dies. But every man is afraid of the death of the flesh; few, of the death of the soul. In regard to the death of the flesh, which must certainly come some time, all are on their guard against its approach: this is the source of all their labor. Man, destined to die, labors to avert his dying; and yet man, destined to live for ever, labors not to cease from sinning. And when he labors to avoid dying, he labors to no purpose, for its only result will be to put off death for a while, not to escape it; but if he refrain from sinning, his toil will cease, and he shall live forever.
Oh that we could arouse men, and be ourselves aroused along with them, to be as great lovers of the life that abides, as men are of that which passes away! What will a man not do who is placed under the peril of death? When the sword was overhanging their heads, men have given up every means of living they had in reserve. Who is there that has not made an immediate surrender of all, to escape being slain? And, after all, he has perhaps been slain. Who is there that, to save his life, has not been willing at once to lose his means of living, and prefer a life of beggary to a speedy death? Who has had it said to him, Be off to sea if you would escape with your life, and has delayed to do so? Who has had it said to him, Set to work if you would preserve your life, and has continued a sluggard?
It is but little that God requires of us, that we may live for ever: and we neglect to obey Him. God says not to you, Lose all you have, that you may live a little time oppressed with toil; but, Give to the poor of what you have, that you may live always exempt from labor. The lovers of this temporal life, which is theirs, neither when, nor as long as they wish, are our accusers; and we accuse not ourselves in turn, so sluggish are we, so lukewarm about obtaining eternal life, which will be ours if we wish it, and will be imperishable when we have it; but this death which we fear, notwithstanding all our reluctance, will yet be ours in possession.
[St. Augustine of Hippo, Tractate 49 on the Gospel of St. John]
Late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved You! For behold You were within me, and I outside; I sought You outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that You have made. You were with me and I was not with You. I was kept from You by those things, yet had they not been in You, they would not have been at all.
You called and shouted to me to break open my deafness: You sent forth Your beams and shined upon me and chased away my blindness: You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in breath and now I pant for You: I tasted You, and now hunger and thirst for You: You touched me, and I burn for You peace.
[Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 10]
Oh! that I might repose in You! Oh! that You would enter into my heart, and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace You, my sole good! What are You to me? In Your pity, teach me to utter it. Or what am I to You that You demand my love, and, if I give it not, are angry with me, and threaten me with grievous woes? Is it then a slight woe to love You not? Oh! for Your mercies’ sake, tell me, O Lord my God, what You are to me. Say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. So speak, that I may hear. Behold, Lord, my heart is before You; open it’s ears, and say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. After this voice let me haste, and take hold of You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die—lest I die—only let me see Your face.
Narrow is the mansion of my soul; You enlarge it, that You may enter in. It is ruinous; You repair it. It has that within which must offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, except You? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Your servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, You know. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto You, and You, my God, have forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with You, who are the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest my iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with You; for if You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?
[Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Chapter 5]
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-5)
What is, Let him take up his cross? Let him bear whatever trouble he has; so let him follow Me. For when he shall begin to follow Me in conformity to My life and precepts, he will have many to contradict him, he will have many to hinder him, he will have many to dissuade him, and that from among those who are even as it were Christ’s companions. They who hindered the blind men from crying out were walking with Christ. Whether therefore they be threats or caresses, or whatsoever hindrances there be, if you wish to follow, turn them into your cross, bear it, carry it, do not give way beneath it. There seems to be an exhortation to martyrdom in these words of the Lord. If there be persecution, ought not all things to be despised in consideration of Christ?
The world is loved; but let Him be preferred by whom the world was made. Great is the world; but greater is He by whom the world was made. Fair is the world; but fairer is He by whom the world was made. Sweet is the world; but sweeter is He by whom the world was made. Evil is the world; and good is He by whom the world was made.
[Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 46 on the New Testament]
Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob, grew up together. The primacy of the elder was transferred to the younger by a bargain and agreement between them, when the elder immoderately lusted after the lentils the younger had prepared for food, and for that price sold his birthright to him, confirming it with an oath. We learn from this that a person is to be blamed, not for the kind of food he eats, but for immoderate greed.
Isaac grew old, and old age deprived him of his eyesight. He wished to bless the elder son, and instead of the elder, who was hairy, unwittingly blessed the younger, who put himself under his father’s hands, having covered himself with kid-skins, as if bearing the sins of others. Lest we should think this guile of Jacob’s was fraudulent guile, instead of seeking in it the mystery of a great thing, the Scripture has predicted in the words just before, Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a simple man, dwelling at home. Genesis 25:27 Some of our writers have interpreted this, without guile. But whether the Greek ἄλαστος means without guile, or simple, or rather without reigning, in the receiving of that blessing what is the guile of the man without guile? What is the guile of the simple, what the fiction of the man who does not lie, but a profound mystery of the truth?
But what is the blessing itself? See, he says, the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord has blessed: therefore God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine: let nations serve you, and princes adore you: and be lord of your brethren, and let your father’s sons adore you: cursed be he that curses you, and blessed be he that blesses you. Genesis 27:27-29 The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations.
It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled. Isaac is the law and the prophecy: even by the mouth of the Jews Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood. The world like a field is filled with the odor of Christ’s name: His is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples: His is the plenty of grain and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of His body and blood. Him the nations serve, Him princes adore. He is the Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews. Him His Father’s sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for He Himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh. He is cursed that curses Him, and he that blesses Him is blessed.
Christ, I say, who is ours is blessed, that is, truly spoken of out of the mouths of the Jews, when, although erring, they yet sing the law and the prophets, and think they are blessing another for whom they erringly hope. So, when the elder son claims the promised blessing, Isaac is greatly afraid, and wonders when he knows that he has blessed one instead of the other, and demands who he is; yet he does not complain that he has been deceived, yea, when the great mystery is revealed to him, in his secret heart he at once eschews anger, and confirms the blessing. Who then, he says, has hunted me venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before you came, and have blessed him, and he shall be blessed? Genesis 27:33 Who would not rather have expected the curse of an angry man here, if these things had been done in an earthly manner, and not by inspiration from above? O things done, yet done prophetically; on the earth, yet celestially; by men, yet divinely! If everything that is fertile of so great mysteries should be examined carefully, many volumes would be filled; but the moderate compass fixed for this work compels us to hasten to other things.
[Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book 16]
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me to the end?
How long will You turn Your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul,
Having grief in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Look upon me and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say,
“I prevailed against him”;
Those who afflict me will greatly rejoice, if I am shaken.
But I hope in Your mercy;
My heart shall greatly rejoice in Your salvation;
I will sing to the Lord, who shows kindness to me;
I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High.
[Psalm 12 Septuagint, (13 Vulgate)]
1. For Christ is the end of the law to every one that believes (Romans 10:4). How long, O Lord? Will You forget me unto the end? (Psalm 12:1) that is, put me off as to spiritually understanding Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, and the true end of all the aim of the soul. How long will You turn away Your face from me? As God does not forget, so neither does He turn His face away: but Scripture speaks after our manner. Now God is said to turn away His face, when He does not give to the soul, which as yet has not the pure eye of the mind, the knowledge of Himself.
2. How long shall I take counsel in my soul? (Psalm 12:2). There is no need of counsel but in adversity. Therefore How long shall I place counsel in my soul? is as if it were said, How long shall I be in adversity? Or at least it is an answer, so that the meaning is this, So long, O Lord, will You forget me to the end, and so long turn away Your face from me, until I shall place counsel in my own soul: so that except a man place counsel in his own soul to work mercy perfectly, God will not direct him to the end, nor give him that full knowledge of Himself, which is face to face. Grief in my heart daily? How long shall I have, is understood. And through the day signifies continuance, so that day is taken for time: from which as each one longs to be free, he has sorrow in his heart, making entreaty to rise to things eternal, and not endure man’s day.
3. How long will my enemy be exalted over me? either the devil, or carnal habit.
4. Look upon me and hear me, O Lord my God (Psalm 12:3). Look on me, refers to what was said, How long do You turn Your face from me. Hear, refers to what was said, How long will You forget me to the end?Enlighten my eyes, that I sleep not in death. The eyes of the heart must be understood, that they be not closed by the pleasurable eclipse of sin.
5. Lest my enemy say, “I prevailed against him” (Psalm 12:4). The devil’s mockery is to be feared. Those who afflict me greatly rejoice, if I am shaken; the devil and his angels; who exulted not over that righteous man, Job, when they troubled him; because he was not moved, that is, did not draw back from the steadfastness of his faith (Job 2:3).
6. But I hope in Your mercy (Psalm 12:5). Because this very thing, that a man be not moved, and that he abide fixed in the Lord, he should not attribute to self: lest when he glories that he has not been moved, he be moved by this very pride. My heart shall greatly rejoice in Your salvation; in Christ, in the Wisdom of God. I will sing to the Lord who shows kindness to me; spiritual good things, not belonging to man’s day. And I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High (Psalm 12:6); that is, I give thanks with joy, and in most due order employ my body, which is the song of the spiritual soul. But if any distinction is to be marked here, I will sing with the heart, I will chant with my works; to the Lord, that which He alone sees, but to the name of the Lord, that which is known among men, which is serviceable not for Him, but for us.
[Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on Psalm 12]
“He did not deal with us according to our sins, Nor reward us according to our transgressions; For according to the height of heaven from earth, So the Lord reigns in mercy over those who fear Him.” (Psalm 102:10-11)
Thanks unto God, because He has granted this. We have not received what we were deserving of: “He did not dealt with us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our transgressions. For according to the height of heaven from earth, So the Lord reigns on mercy over those who fear Him.”
Observe the heaven: everywhere on every side it covers the earth, nor is there any part of the earth not covered by the heaven. Men sin beneath heaven: they do all evil deeds beneath the heaven; yet they are covered by the heaven. From it is light for the eyes, from it air, from it breath, from it rain upon the earth for the sake of its fruits, from heaven all mercy. Take away the aid of heaven from the earth: it will fail at once. As then the protection of heaven abides upon the earth, so does the Lord’s protection abide upon them that fear Him. You fear God, His protection is above you.
But perhaps you are scourged, and think that God has forsaken you. God has forsaken you if the protection of heaven has forsaken the earth.
[Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm CIII]