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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm CXXXIII.56275627     Lat. CXXXII. A public discourse, in which he defends the Monks against the Donatists.

1. This is a short Psalm, but one well known and quoted. “Behold, how good and how pleasant is it, that brethren should dwell together in unity” (ver. 1). So sweet is that sound, that even they who know not the Psalter, sing that verse. …

2. For these same words of the Psalter, this sweet sound, that honeyed melody, as well of the mind as of the hymn, did even beget the Monasteries. By this sound were stirred up the brethren who longed to dwell together. This verse was their trumpet. It sounded through the whole earth, and they who had been divided, were gathered together. The summons of God, the summons of the Holy Spirit, the summons of the Prophets, were not heard in Judah, yet were heard through the whole world. They were deaf to that sound, amid whom it was sung; they were found with their ears open, of whom it was said, “They shall see him, who were not told of him; they shall understand who heard not.”56285628     Isa. lxv. 1. Yet, most beloved, if we reflect, the very blessing hath sprung from that wall56295629     Alluding to the two walls, Jewish and Gentile, meeting in the corner. See on Ps. lix. § 5, p. 243, and on Ps. xcv. § 6, p. 468. of circumcision. For have all the Jews perished? and whence were the Apostles, the sons of the Prophets, the sons of the exiles?56305630     Ps. cxxvii. 4. Excussi, a literal translation of the Greek LXX. ἐκτετιναγμἐνοι. This translation of the ambiguous Hebrew root רעַנָ which means to shake out, or expel, and רעַג a young man, is preferred by the LXX. to the “young men” of our version. St. Augustin’s interpretation see on Ps. cxxvii. § 7, p. 608. He speaks as to them who know. Whence those five hundred, who saw the Lord after His resurrection, whom the Apostle Paul commemorates?56315631     1 Cor. xv. 6. Whence those hundred and twenty,56325632     Acts i. 15. who were together in one place after the resurrection of the Lord, and His ascension into heaven, on whom when gathered into one place the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, sent down from heaven, sent, even as He was promised?56335633     Acts ii. 1–4. All were from thence, and they first dwelt together in unity; who sold all they had, and laid the price of their goods at the Apostles’ feet, as is read in the Acts of the Apostles.56345634     Acts iv. 34, 35. And distribution was made to each one as he had need,56355635     Acts ii. 45. and none called anything his own, but they had all things common. And what is “together in unity”? They had, he says, one mind and one heart God-wards.56365636     Acts iv. 32. So they were the first who heard, Behold how good and how pleasant is it, that brethren dwell together. They were the first to hear, but heard it not alone.…

3. From the words of this Psalm was taken the name of Monks, that no one may reproach you who are Catholics by reason of the name. When you with justice reproach heretics by reason of the Circelliones,56375637     The Circumcelliones were a wandering kind of Anchorites, who lived under no rule, and were guilty of various irregularities, and who were censured by the forty-second Canon of the Council of Trullo. Confer also Papias: St. Jerome, Ep. 22, § 34; Hunneric’s Edict. Vict. Vitens. lib. 3. A number of these, in Africa, took up the cause of Donatus in a fanatical manner, and perpetrated various acts of violence under pretence of religion, robbing and beating whom they would, sending threatening notices, etc., and sometimes seeking death, or even committing suicide under the name of Martyrdom. See on Ps. xi. p. 42, note 4, on Ps. lv. p. 218, note 1, on Ps. xcvi. p. 473, note 8, and S. Optatus, b. iii. c. iv. p. 59, where a historical account is given. Ducange refers to St. Augustin, Ep. 48, 50, 61, 68; Contra Parmenian, b. i. cap. 11; Contra Crescon. b. iii. c. 42, 47; Collat. Carthag. 3, cap. 174, 281; Possidius, Life of St. Augustin, c. 10, 11; Auctor Prædestinati, b. i. hæres 69, etc. Also Cod. Theod. Cen. 52, De Hæreticis, but doubtfully as to its application. [See Gibbon, D. and F. cap. xxi. note 157, ed. Milman.—C.] that they may be saved by shame, they reproach you on the score of the Monks.…

4. Moreover, beloved, there are they who are false Monks, and we know men of this kind; but the pious brotherhood is not annulled, because of them who profess to be what they are not. There are false Monks, as there are false men among the Clergy, and among the faithful.56385638     [See A.N.F. vol. vi. p. 279.—C.]

5. Since the Psalm says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant is it, that brethren should dwell together in one,” why then should we not call Monks so? for Monos56395639     μόνος, Gr. is one. Not one in any manner, for a man in a crowd is one, but though he can be called one along with others, he cannot be Monos, that is, alone, for Monos means “one alone.” They then who thus live together as to make one man, so that they really possess what is written, “one mind and one heart,”56405640     Acts iv. 32. many bodies, but not many minds; many bodies, but not many hearts; can rightly be called Monos, that is, one alone.56415641     [The institution has perished even in many parts of unreformed Europe, only because of the intolerable evils of their corrupt and degenerate condition.—C.]

6. Let the Psalm tell us what they are like. “As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment” (ver. 2). What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution, but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered.…

7. “As the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the hills of Sion” (ver. 3). He would have it understood, my brethren, that it is of God’s grace that brethren dwell together in unity.…

8. But ye should know what Hermon is. It is a mountain far distant from Jerusalem, that is, from Sion. And so it is strange that he says thus: As the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the mountains of Sion, since mount Hermon is far distant from Jerusalem, for it is said to be over Jordan. Let us then seek out some interpretation of Hermon. The word is Hebrew, and we learn its meaning from them who know that language. Hermon is said to mean, a light set on a high place. For from Christ comes the dew. No light is set on a high place, save Christ. How is He set on high? First on the cross, afterwards in heaven. Set on high on the cross when He was humbled; humbled, but His humiliation could not but be high. The ministry of man grew less and less, as was signified in John; the ministry of God in our Lord Jesus Christ increased, as was shown at their birth. The former was born, as the tradition of the Church shows, on the 24th of June, when the days begin to shorten. The Lord was born on the 25th of December, when the days begin to lengthen. Here John himself confessing, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”56425642     John iii. 30. And the passion of each shows this. The Lord was exalted on the cross; John was diminished by beheading. Thus the light set on high is Christ, whence is the dew of Hermon.…But if he have the dew of Hermon, which fell on the hill of Sion, he is quiet, peaceable, humble, submissive, pouring forth prayer in place of murmuring. For murmurers are admirably described in a certain passage of the Scriptures, “The heart of a fool is as the wheel of a cart.” 56435643     Ecclus. xxxiii. 5. What is the meaning of “the heart of a fool is as the wheel of a cart”? It carries hay, and creaks. The wheel of a cart cannot cease from creaking. Thus there are many brethren, who do not dwell together, save in the body. But who are they who dwell together? They of whom it is said, “And they had one mind and one heart towards God.”56445644     Acts iv. 32.

9. “Because there the Lord commanded blessing.” Where did He command it? Among the brethren who dwell together. There He enjoined blessing, there they who dwell with one heart bless God. For thou blessest not God in division of heart.…Art thou straitened on earth? Depart, have thy habitation in heaven. How shall I, a man clothed in flesh, enslaved to the flesh, thou wilt say, have my habitation in heaven. First go in heart, whither thou wouldest follow in the body. Do not hear, “Lift up your hearts,” with a deaf ear. Keep thy heart lifted up, and no one will straiten thee in heaven.


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