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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm XLIX.16061606     Lat. XLVIII. [From a sermon preached before a bishop.]

The First Part.

1. …“Hear ye these things, all ye nations” (ver. 1). Not then you only who are here. For of what power is our voice so to cry out, as that all nations may hear? For Our Lord Jesus Christ hath proclaimed it through the Apostles, hath proclaimed it in so many tongues that He sent; and we see this Psalm, which before was only repeated in one nation, in the Synagogue of the Jews, now repeated throughout the whole world, throughout all Churches; and that fulfilled which is here spoken of, “Hear ye these words, all ye nations.”…Of whom ye are: “With ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.” This He seemeth to have repeated a second time, lest to have said “hear,” before, were too little. What I say, he saith, “hear, with ears ponder,” that is, hear not cursorily. What is, “with ears ponder”? It is what the Lord said, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear:” 16071607     Matt. xi. 15. for as all who were in His presence must have had ears, what ears did He require save those of the heart, when He said, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear”? The same ears also this Psalm doth smite. “With ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.” Perhaps there is here some distinction. We ought not indeed to narrow our view, but there is no harm in explaining even this view of the sense. Perhaps there is some difference between the saying, “all nations,” and the saying, “all ye that dwell in the world.” For perchance he would have us understand the expression, “dwell in,” with a further meaning, so as to take all nations for all the wicked, but the dwellers of the world all the just. For he doth inhabit who is not held fast: but he that is occupied is inhabited, and doth not inhabit. Just as he doth possess whatever he hath, who is master of his property: but a master is one who is not held in the meshes of covetousness: while he that is held fast by covetousness is the possessed, and not the possessor.…

2. Therefore let even the ungodly hear: “Hear ye this, all ye nations.” Let the just also hear, who have not heard to no purpose, and who rather rule the world than are ruled by the world: “with ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.”

3. And again he saith, “both all ye earthborn, and sons of men” (ver. 2). The expression “earthborn” he doth refer to sinners; the expression “sons of men” to the faithful and righteous. Ye see then that this distinction is observed. Who are the “earthborn”? The children of the earth. Who are the children of the earth? They who desire earthly inheritances. Who are the “sons of men”? They who appertain to the Son of Man. We have already before explained this distinction to your Sanctity, 16081608     On Ps. viii. and have concluded that Adam was a man, but not the son of man; that Christ was the Son of Man, but was God also. For whosoever pertain to Adam, are “earthborn:” whosoever pertain to Christ, are “sons of men.” Nevertheless, let all hear, I withhold my discourse from no one. If one is “earthborn,” let him hear, because of the judgment: another is a “son of man,” let him hear for the kingdom’s sake. “The rich and poor together.” Again, the same words are repeated. The expression “rich” refers to the “earthborn;” but the word “poor” to the “sons of men.” By the “rich” understand the proud, by the “poor” the humble.…He saith in another Psalm, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”16091609     Ps. xxii. 26. How hath he commended the poor? “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” What eat they? That Food which the faithful know. How shall they be satisfied? By imitating the Passion of their Lord, and not without cause receiving their recompense. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied, and they shall praise the Lord who seek Him.” What of the rich? Even they eat. But how eat they? “All the rich upon the earth have eaten and worshipped.” 16101610     Ps. xxii. 29. He said not, “Have eaten and are satisfied;” but, “have eaten and worshipped.” They worship God indeed, but they will not display brotherly humaneness. These eat and worship; those eat and are filled: yet both eat. Of the eater what he eateth is required: let him not be forbidden by the distributor to eat, but let him be admonished to fear him who doth require his account. Let these words then be heard by sinners and righteous, nations, and those who inhabit the world, “earthborn and sons of men, the rich and the poor together:” not divided, not separated. That is for the time of the harvest to do, the hand of the winnower will effect that.16111611     Matt. iii. 12. Now together let rich and poor hear, let goats and sheep feed in the same pasture, until He come who shall separate the one on His right hand, the other on His left.16121612     Matt. xxv. 32. Let them all hear together the teacher, lest separated from one another they hear the voice of the Judge.

4. And what is it they are now to hear? “My mouth shall speak of wisdom, and the meditation of my heart understanding” (ver. 3). And this repetition is perhaps made, lest perchance if he had said only “my mouth,” thou shouldest suppose that one spake to thee who had understanding but in his lips. For many have understanding in their lips, but have not in their heart, of whom the Scripture saith, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”16131613     Isa. xxix. 13. What saith he then who speaketh to thee? when he hath said, “My mouth shall speak of wisdom,” in order that thou mayest know that what is poured forth from the mouth floweth from the bottom of the heart, he hath added, “And the meditation of my heart of understanding.”

5. “I will incline mine ear to the parable, I will show my proposition upon the harp” (ver. 4).…And why “to a parable”? Because “now we see through a glass darkly,”16141614     1 Cor. xiii. 12. as saith the Apostle; “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”16151615     2 Cor. v. 6. For our vision is not yet that face to face, where there are no longer parables, where there no longer are riddles and comparisons. Whatever now we understand we behold through riddles. A riddle is a dark parable which it is hard to understand. Howsoever a man may cultivate his heart and apply himself to apprehend mysteries, so long as we see through the corruption of this flesh, we see but in part.…But as He was seen by those who believed, and by those who crucified Him, when He was judged; so will He be seen, when He shall have begun to be judge, both by those whom He shall condemn, and by those whom He shall crown. But that vision of divinity, which He hath promised to them that love Him, when He saith, “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and he that loveth Me keepeth My commandments, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him:”16161616     John xiv. 21. this the ungodly shall not see. This manifestation is in a certain way familiar: He keepeth it for His own, He will not show it to the ungodly. Of what sort is the vision itself? Of what sort is Christ? Equal to the Father. Of what sort is Christ? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”16171617     John i. 1. For this vision we sigh now, and groan so long as we sojourn here; to this vision we shall be brought home at the last, this vision now we see but darkly. If then we see now darkly, let us “incline our ear to the parable,” and then let us “show our proposition upon the harp:”16181618     [He explains “the harp” elsewhere as the body, used by the soul “as the harper useth the harp”; and see p. 139, supra.—C.] let us hear what we say, do what we enjoin.

6. And what hath he said? “And wherefore shall I fear in the evil day? The iniquity of my heel shall compass me” (ver. 5). He beginneth something obscurely. Therefore he ought the rather to fear if the iniquity of his heel shall compass him. Nay, for let not man fear, he saith, who hath not power to escape. For example, he who feareth death, what shall he do to escape death? Let him tell me how he is to escape what Adam oweth, he who is born of Adam. But let him consider that he is born of Adam, and hath followed Christ, and ought to pay what Adam oweth, and obtain what Christ hath promised. Therefore, he who feareth death can no wise escape: but he who feareth the damnation which the ungodly shall hear, “Go ye into everlasting fire,”16191619     Matt. xxv. 41. hath an escape. Let him not fear then. For why should he fear? Will the iniquity of his heel compass him? If then he avoid “the iniquity of his heel,” and walk in the ways of God, he shall not come to the evil day: the evil day, the last day, shall not be evil to him.…Now while they live, let them take heed to themselves, let them put away iniquity from their heel: let them walk in that way, let them walk in the way of which He saith Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life:”16201620     John xiv. 6. and let them not fear in the evil day, for He giveth them safety who became “The Way.” Therefore let them avoid the iniquity of their heel. With the heel a man slippeth. Let your Love observe. What was said by God to the Serpent? “She shall mark thy head, and thou shalt mark her heel.”16211621     Gen. iii. 15. [“She shall mark,” etc. So the Vulgate, but not in the older editions. The Septuagint is conclusive as to the ancient exposition of the Jews, for the neuter (σπ™ρμα) had a masculine pronoun (αὐτός) as nominative to the verb. So Jerome, Dominus noster conteret Satanam. It is noteworthy that our author attaches no such force to his reading as Mariolatry demands.—C.] The devil marketh thy heel, in order that when thou slippest he may overthrow thee. He marketh thy heel, do thou mark his head. What is his head? The beginning of an evil suggestion. When he beginneth to suggest evil thoughts, then do thou thrust him away before pleasure ariseth, and consent followeth; and so shalt thou avoid his head, and he shall not grasp thy heel. But wherefore said He this to Eve? Because through the flesh man doth slip. Our flesh is an Eve within us. “He that loveth his wife,” he saith, “loveth himself.” What meaneth “himself”? He continueth, and saith, “For no man ever yet hath hated his own flesh.”16221622     Eph. v. 28, 29. Because then the devil would make us slip through the flesh, just as he made that man Adam to slip, through Eve; Eve is bidden to mark the head of the devil, because the devil marketh her heel.16231623     [See Hippolytus, A.N.F. vol. v. p. 166.—C.] “If then the iniquity of our heel shall compass us, why fear we in the evil day,” since being converted to Christ we are able not to do iniquity; and there will be nothing to compass us, and we shall joy and not sorrow in the last day?

7. But who are they whom the “iniquity of their heel shall compass”? “They who trust in their virtue,16241624     Or, “might” (virtute). and in the abundance of their riches do glory” (ver. 6). Therefore such sins will I avoid, and the “iniquity of my heel” shall never compass me. What is avoiding such sins? Let us not trust in our own virtue, let us not glory in the abundance of our own riches, but let us glory in Him who hath promised to us, being humble, exaltation, and hath threatened condemnation to men exalted; and then iniquity of our heel shall never compass us.

8. There are some who rely on their friends, others rely on their virtue, others on their riches. This is the presumption of mankind which relieth not on God. He hath spoken of virtue, he hath spoken of riches, he speaketh of friends. “Brother redeemeth not,16251625     Oxf. mss. “hath not redeemed,” and so through the paragraph. shall man redeem?” (ver. 7). Dost thou expect that man shall redeem thee from the wrath to come? If brother redeem thee not, shall man redeem thee? Who is the brother, who if He hath not redeemed thee, no man will redeem? It is He who said after His resurrection, “Go, tell My brethren.”16261626     Matt. xxviii. 10. Our Brother He hath willed to be: and when we say to God, “Our Father,” this is manifested in us. For he that saith to God, “Our Father;” saith to Christ, “Brother.”16271627     See on St. John, Hom. xxi. § 3. Therefore let him that hath God for his Father and Christ for his Brother, not fear in the evil day. “For the iniquity of his heel shall not compass him;” for he relieth not on his virtue, nor glorieth in the abundance of his riches, nor vaunteth himself of his powerful friends. Let him rely on Him who died for him, that he might not die eternally: who for his sake was humbled, in order that he might be exalted; who sought him ungodly, in order that He might be sought by him faithful. Therefore if He redeem not, shall man redeem? Shall any man redeem, if the Son of man redeem not? If Christ redeem not, shall Adam redeem? “Brother redeemeth not, shall man redeem?”16281628     [The Latin versions do not divide into verses such as our author seems to have made.—C.]

9. “He shall not give to God his propitiation, and the price of the redemption of his soul” (ver. 8). He trusteth in his virtue, and in the abundance of his riches doth glory, who “shall not give to God his propitiation:” that is, satisfaction whereby he may prevail with God for his sins: “nor the price of the redemption of his soul,” who relieth on his virtue, and on his friends, and on his riches. But who are they that give the price of the redemption of their souls? They to whom the Lord saith, “Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness, that they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”16291629     Luke xvi. 9. They give the price of the redemption of their soul who cease not to do almsdeeds. So those whom the Apostle chargeth by Timothy he would not have to be proud, lest they should glory in the abundance of their riches. Lastly, what they possessed he would not have to grow old in their hands: but that something should be made of it to be for the price of the redemption of their souls. For he saith, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded: nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”16301630     1 Tim. vi. 17. And as if they had said, “What shall we then make of our riches?” he continueth, “Let them be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate,”16311631     1 Tim. vi. 18. and they will not lose that. How know we? Hear what followeth. “Let them lay up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the true life.”16321632     1 Tim. vi. 19. So shall they give the price of the redemption of their soul. And our Lord counselleth this: “Make for yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where thief approacheth not, neither moth corrupteth.”16331633     Luke xii. 33. God would not have thee lose thy wealth, but He hath given thee counsel to change the place thereof. Let your love understand. Suppose thy friend were just now to enter thy house, and find thou hadst placed thy store of grain in a damp place, and he knew the natural proneness of grain to decay, which thou perchance knewest not, he would give thee counsel of this sort, saying, “Brother, thou art losing what with great toil thou hast gathered, thou hast placed it in a damp place, in a few days this grain will decay.” “And what am I to do, brother? “Raise it into a higher place.” Thou wouldest hearken to thy friend suggesting that thou shouldest raise grain from a lower to a higher chamber, and dost thou not hearken to Christ charging thee to lift thy treasure from earth to heaven, where not what thou keepest in store may be paid to thee, but that thou mayest keep in store earth, mayest receive heaven, mayest keep in store things mortal, mayest receive things everlasting, that while thou lendest Christ to receive at thy hands but a small loan upon earth, He may repay thee a great recompense in Heaven? Nevertheless, they whom “the iniquity of their heel shall compass,” because they trust in their virtue, and in the abundance of their riches do glory, and rely on human friends who are able to help them in nothing, “shall not give to God their propitiation, and the price of the redemption of their souls.”

10. And what hath he said of such a man? “Yea, he hath laboured for ever, and shall live till the end” (ver. 9). His labour shall be without end, his life shall have an end. Wherefore saith he, “He shall live till the end”? Because such men think life to be nought but daily enjoyments. So when many poor and needy men of our times, unstable, and not looking to what God doth promise them for their labours, see rich men in daily feastings, in the splendour and glitter of gold and of silver, they say what? “These are the only people;16341634     Soli sunt isti. they really live!” This is a saying, be it said no longer: we both warn you, and it remains to warn you, that it be said by fewer persons than it would be said, if we had not warned you. For we do not presume to say that we so say these words, as that it be not said, but that it be said by fewer persons: for it will be said even unto the end of the world. It is too little that he saith, “he liveth;” he addeth and saith, he thundereth, thinkest thou that he alone liveth? Let him live! his life will be ended: because he giveth not the price of the redemption of his soul, his life will end, his labour will not end. “He laboured for ever, and shall live till the end.” How shall he live till the end? As he lived that was “clothed with purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day,”16351635     Luke xvi. 19. who, being proud and puffed up, spurned the man full of sores lying before his gate, whose sores the dogs licked, and who longed for the crumbs which fell from his table. What did those riches profit him? Both changed places: the one was borne from the rich man’s gate into Abraham’s bosom, the other from his rich feasts was cast into the fire; the one was in peace, the other burned; the one was sated, the other thirsted; the one had laboured till the end, but he lived for ever; the other had lived till the end, but he laboured for ever. And what did it profit the rich man, who asked, while lying in torments in hell, that a drop of water should be poured upon his tongue from the finger of Lazarus, saying, “For I am burning here in this flame,”16361636     Luke xvi. 24. and it was not granted to him? One longed for the drop from the finger, as the other had for the crumbs from the rich man’s table; but the labour of the one is ended, and the life of the other is ended: the labour of this is for ever, the life of that is for ever. We who labour perchance here on the earth, have not our life here: and shall not be so placed hereafter, for our life shall be Christ for ever: while they who “will” have their life here, shall labour for ever and live till the end.

11. “For he shall not see death, though he shall have seen wise men dying” (ver. 10). The man who laboured for ever and shall live till the end, “shall not see death, though he shall have seen wise men dying.” What is this? He shall not comprehend what death is, whenever he shall have seen wise men dying. For he saith to himself, “this fellow, for all he was wise and dwelled with wisdom and worshipped God with piety, is he not dead? Therefore I will enjoy myself while I live; for if they that are wise in other respects, could do anything, they would not have died.” Just as the Jews saw Christ hanging on the Cross and despised Him, saying, “If this Man were the Son of God, He would come down from the Cross:”16371637     Matt. xxvii. 40, 42. not seeing what death is. If they had seen what death is; if they had seen, I say.16381638     Al. “if they had seen themselves.” He died for a time, that He might live again for ever: they lived for a time, that they might die for ever. But because they saw Him dying, they saw not death, that is to say, they understood not what was very death. What say they even in Wisdom? “Let us condemn Him with a most shameful death, for by His own sayings He shall be respected;”16391639     Wisd. ii. 20. [The Jews, even in their own book of Wisdom, show what they did to “the Just One.” The whole passage is so remarkable, that we need not wonder at the esteem in which this book was held by the Fathers. St. James (v. 6) seems to refer to this passage.”—C.] for if he is indeed the Son of God, He will deliver Him from the hands of His adversaries: He will not suffer His Son to die, if He is truly His Son. But when they saw themselves insulting Him upon the Cross, and Him not descending from the Cross, they said, He was indeed but a Man. Thus was it spoken: and surely He could have come down from the Cross, He that could rise again from the tomb: but He taught us to bear with those who insult us; He taught us to be patient of the tongues of men, to drink now the cup of bitterness, and afterwards to receive everlasting salvation.…

12. “The imprudent and unwise shall perish together.” Who is “the imprudent”? He that looketh not out for himself for the future. Who is “the unwise”? He that perceiveth not in what evil case he is. But do thou perceive in what evil case thou art now, and look out that thou be in a good case for the future. By perceiving in what evil case thou art, thou wilt not be unwise: by looking out for thyself for the future, thou wilt not be imprudent. Who is he that looketh out for himself? That servant to whom his master gave what he should expend, and afterwards said to him, “Thou canst not be my steward, give an account of thy stewardship;” and who answered, “What shall I do? I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed;”16401640     Luke xvi. 1, 2, etc. had, nevertheless, by even his master’s goods made to himself friends, who might receive him when he was put out of his stewardship. Now he cheated his master in order that he might get to himself friends to receive him: fear not thou lest thou be cheating, the Lord Himself exhorteth thee to do so: He saith Himself to thee, “Make to thyself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.”16411641     Luke xvi. 9. Perhaps what thou hast got, thou hast gotten of unrighteousness: or perhaps this very thing is unrighteousness, that thou hast and another hath not, thou aboundest and another needeth. Of this mammon of unrighteousness, of these riches which the unrighteous call riches, make to thyself friends, and thou shalt be prudent: thou art gaining for thyself, and art not cheating. For now thou seemest to lose it. Wilt thou lose it if thou place it in a treasury? For boys, my brethren, no sooner find some money, wherewith to buy something, than they put it in a money-box,16421642     Thesaurario. which they open not until afterwards: do they, because they see not what they have got, on that account lose it? Fear not: boys put in a money-box, and are secure: dost thou place it in the hand of Christ, and fear? Be prudent, and provide for thyself against the future in Heaven. Be therefore prudent, copy the ant, as saith the Scripture:16431643     Prov. vi. 8, xxx. 25. “Store in summer, lest thou hunger in winter;” the winter is the last day, the day of tribulation; the winter is the day of offences and of bitterness: gather what may be there for thee for the future: but if thou doest not so, thou wilt perish both imprudent and unwise.

13. But that rich man16441644     Luke xvi. 22. too died, and a like funeral was made for him. See to what men have brought themselves: they regard not what a wicked life he led while he lived, but what pomp followed him when he died! O happy he, whom so many lament! But the other lived in such sort, that few lament. For all ought to lament a man living so sadly. But there is the funeral train; he is received in a costly tomb, he is wound in costly robes, he is buried in perfumes and spices. Secondly, what a monument he hath! How marbled! Doth he live in that same monument? He is therein dead. Men deeming these to be good things, have strayed from God, and have not sought the true good things, and have been deceived with the false. To this end see what followeth. He who gave not the price of the redemption of his soul, who understood not death, because he saw wise men dying, he became imprudent and unwise, in order that he might die with them. And how shall they perish, who “shall leave their riches to aliens”?…

14. But do those same aliens indeed serve them who are called their own? Hear in what they serve them, observe how they are ridiculed: why hath he said, “to strangers”? Because they can do them no good. Nevertheless, wherein do they seem to themselves to do good? “And their tombs shall be their house for ever” (ver. 11). Now because these tombs are erected, the tombs are a house. For often thou hearest a rich man saying, I have a house of marble which I must quit, and I think not for myself of an eternal house, where I shall alway be. When he thinketh to make for himself a monument of marble or of sculpture, he is deeming as it were of an eternal house: as if therein this rich man would abide! If he would abide there, he would not burn in hell. We must consider that the place where the spirit of an evil doer abideth, is not where the mortal body is laid: but “their tombs shall be their house for ever. Their dwelling places are from generation to generation.” “Dwelling places” are wherein they abode for a season: “house” is wherein they will abide as it were for ever, that is to say, their tombs. Thus they leave their dwelling places, where they abode while they lived, to their families, and they pass as it were to everlasting houses, to their tombs. What profit to them are “their dwelling places, from generation to generation”? Now suppose a generation and generation are sons, grandsons there will be, and great grandsons; what do their dwelling places, what do they profit them? What? Hear: “they shall invoke their names in their lands.” What is this? They shall take bread and wine to their tombs, and there they shall invoke the names of the dead. Dost thou consider how loudly was invoked the name of the rich man after his death, when men drank them drunk at his monument, and there came down not one drop upon his own burning tongue? Men minister to their own belly, not to the ghosts of their friends. The souls of the dead nothing doth reach, but what they have done of themselves while alive: but if they have done nought of themselves while alive, nothing doth reach them dead. But what do the survivors? They will but “invoke their names in their lands.”

15. “And man though he was in honour perceived not, he was compared to the beasts without sense, and was made like to them” (ver. 12).…They ought, on the contrary, to have made ready for themselves an eternal house in good works, to have made ready for themselves everlasting life, to have sent before them expenditure, to have followed their works, to have ministered to a needy companion, to have given to him with whom they were walking, not to have despised Christ covered with sores before their gate, who hath said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”16451645     Matt. xxv. 40. However, “man being in honour hath not understood.” What is, “being in honour”? Being made after the image and likeness of God, man is preferred to beasts. For God hath not so made man as He made a beast: but God hath made man for beasts to minister to: is it to his strength then, and not to his understanding? Nay. But he “understood not;” and he who was made after the image of God, “is compared to the beasts without sense, and is made like unto them.” Whence it is said elsewhere, “Be ye not like to horse and mule, in which there is no understanding.”16461646     Ps. xxxii. 9.

16. “This their own way is an offence to them” (ver. 13). Be it an offence to them, not to thee. But when will it be so to thee too? If thou thinkest such men to be blessed. If thou perceivest that they be not blessed, their own way will be an offence to themselves; not to Christ, not to His Body, not to His members. “And afterwards they shall bless with their mouth.” What meaneth, “Afterwards they shall bless with their mouth”? Though they have become such, that they seek nothing but temporal goods, yet they become hypocrites: and when they bless God, with lips they bless, and not with heart. Christians like these, when to them eternal life is commended, and they are told, that in the name of Christ they ought to be despisers16471647     Most mss. “there should be a despising.” of riches, do make grimaces in their hearts: and if they dare not do it with open face, lest they blush, or lest they should be rebuked by men, yet they do it in heart, and scorn; and there remaineth in their mouth blessing, and in their heart cursing.


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