The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Augustine’s Homily on Matthew 13:24-30

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 7, 2012

Here St Augustine’ gives some very practical advice on how to relate to, deal with, and reprove sinners. In section III he makes reference to Africa (i.e., his native north Africa) and his fellow north African, Donatus, founder of the heresy of Donatism.

I. You will easily understand, beloved brethren, the hidden meaning of this Gospel, when you remember what we said about some other words of Holy Scripture comparing the just and the wicked in the Church of God to the wheat and the cockle. By this figure we are taught that the threshing-floor is not to be left before the time of the harvest, that the cockle may not be taken away without being separated from the wheat; for the floor would be deprived of its due, and the wheat thus taken off could not be preserved in the barn. A time will arrive when the Householder Himself will come with the fan in His hand, and separate the just from the wicked. There will be, in regard to the soul and in regard to the body, a separation of the just and the wicked; for, with your hearts and dispositions you must be separated from the wicked, though in a spirit of humility you are for a time associated with them by the bonds of the body. Let not this connection make you careless, for it is your duty to endeavour in every way to correct and convert those entrusted to your care, now teaching, then advising, or even threatening them as far as you are obliged or able to do so. Do not excuse your carelessness respecting this duty by quoting examples taken from the Old and New Testaments, or the lives of the saints, and thus endeavouring to show that, though living among the godless, they preserved their souls stainless. My answer will be: That these servants of God did not agree with the wickedness of sinners, but punished them. It is quite true that there can be no intimacy between ourselves and others as long as we are opposed to their opinions; but when we approve of the doings of the wicked and agree with them in their sinfulness, then we enter into mutual fellowship, forbidden by the Apostle, who says: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11). However, since to refuse our consent to evil would not be enough, unless we apply the necessary remedies to cure it, the Apostle adds: But rather reprove them (ibid.), giving us to understand that these two things must be united, namely, not to have any communication with sinners, and also to punish them. The first is observed, when the sinful act is neither praised nor approved of, nor consented to; and the second, when the sinner is reproved, punished, and prevented from doing wrong again.

II. However, when we reprove and punish sinners, let us not be puffed up on account of our own virtue; let us remember the words of the Apostle: He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall (1 Cor 10:12). When you prevent others from committing sin, or fearlessly punish them, do not forget to make use of kindness and love at the same time, again remembering the teaching of the great Apostle: If a man be overtaken by any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another s burdens; and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ (Gal 6:1-2). And in another epistle the same Apostle says: The servant of the Lord must not wrangle, but be mild towards all men; apt to teach, patient with modesty; admonishing them that resist the truth, if peradventure God may give them repentance to know the truth, and they may recover themselves from the snare of the devil, by whom they are held captive at his will (2 Tim 2:24, et seq.). We conclude from all this that we must neither flatter nor praise the wicked, and that, when punishing them, we must be neither careless nor haughty, nor by proud and injudicious reproaches treat them with contempt.

III. He that forsakes the unity, that is, the union of the Christians belonging to the true Church, will infallibly suffer the loss of charity. And if he lose that virtue, he is nothing, even should he possess all other virtues in the highest degree. The great Apostle says: If I speak the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become like a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I should remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. A nd if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). Thus will it be with the Christian who has not charity. He is deprived of that virtue which gives merits to all others, so that other virtues will be fruitless for heaven and dead before God. Let us, therefore, practise charity, and take great care to preserve the union of minds through the bond of peace. Let us not be deceived by the words of those who, being carnal, have left the communion of the faithful, and are thus separated, as through a spiritual sacrilege, from the true wheat of the Church sown all over the world. This precious seed was sown in the world by the good Sower, the Son of Man. For His will was not that this seed should be sown only in some countries, like Africa,* in which we live, but among all nations. The cockle, springing up among the wheat, was the work of the enemy. Yet the good man of the house would not allow his servants to gather it up, but told them to let both, the wheat and the cockle, grow until the harvest. Now, where is the good seed to grow up, unless in the field in which it was sown? Is Africa this special field? No. But which is this field? The words of our Lord are clear and explicit; for, when asked by His disciples to explain the parable, He said: The field is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle are the children of the wicked one. And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels (Matt 13:38-39). After these words shall we believe, according to heretics, that the field spoken of is not the world, but only Africa? That the harvest will not take place at the end of the world, but in the present time, and that Donatus, the chief of the heretics, is the reaper? Ah! far from accepting such doctrines against the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself, let us patiently await the harvest which will take place in the whole world. We let the good seed, spread out in the world, grow up until the time appointed by the householder, and we suffer the cockle, oversowed among the good seed and growing up every where, to remain until the time of the harvest. But let us take heed, lest we be deceived by the language of these wicked men who, being as light as chaff, will be cast out of the barn, even before the Householder comes to separate them. The application of this parable of the cockle, which we explained, ought to be sufficient to convince the heretics of the falsehood of their conclusions. But they will, perhaps, say, in order to excuse their errors and justify their conduct, that the Sacred Books were once handed over to the pagans by some Christians afraid of torments and tortures. But since these Christians being unknown, cannot be discovered, now this one and then another is accused of that crime. Yet, whatever may be the truth about these Christians, I ask whether their infidelity has destroyed the Faith which comes from God? Is it not the same Faith that God once promised Abraham, saying that all nations should be blessed in his seed? And what are we taught by this Faith? To let both, that is, the good seed and the cockle, the just and the wicked, grow up in the field of the Church, namely, the world, until the time of the harvest, the end of the world.

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One Response to “St Augustine’s Homily on Matthew 13:24-30”

  1. […] St Augustine’s Homily on Matthew 13:24-30. Also posted under Homilies. […]

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