St. Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. CHAP. V. 3 AND 8, "BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT:" ETC., BUT ESPECIALLY ON THAT, "BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART: FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD."
1. By the return of the commemoration of a holy virgin, who gave her testimony to Christ, and was found worthy of a testimony from Christ, who was put to death openly, and crowned invisibly, I am reminded to speak to you, beloved, on that exhortation which the Lord hath just now uttered out of the Gospel, assuring us that there are many sources of a blessed life, which there is not a man that does not wish for. There is not a man surely can be found, who does not wish to be blessed. But oh! if as men desire the reward, so they would not decline the work that leads to it! Who would not run with all alacrity, were it told him, "Thou shalt be blessed"? Let him then also give a glad and ready ear when it is said, "Blessed, if thou shalt do thus." Let not the contest be declined, if the reward be loved; and let the mind be enkindled to an eager execution of the work, by the setting forth of the reward. What we desire, and wish for, and seek, will be hereafter; but what we are ordered to do for the sake of that which will be hereafter, must be now. Begin now, then, to recall to mind the divine sayings, and the precepts and rewards of the Gospel. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The kingdom of heaven shall be thine hereafter; be poor in spirit now. Wouldest thou that the kingdom of heaven should be thine hereafter? Look well to thyself whose thou art now. Be poor in spirit. You ask me, perhaps, "What is to be poor in spirit?" No one who is puffed up is poor in spirit; therefore he that is lowly is poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is exalted; but "he who humbleth himself shall be exalted."
2. Mark what follows: "Blessed," saith He, "are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Thou wishest to possess the earth now; take heed lest thou be possessed by it. If thou be meek, thou wilt possess it; if ungentle, thou wilt be possessed by it. And when thou hearest of the proposed reward, do not, in order that thou mayest possess the earth, unfold the lap of covetousness, whereby thou wouldest at present possess the earth, to the exclusion even of thy neighbour by whatever means; let no such imagination deceive thee. Then wilt thou truly possess the earth, when thou dost cleave to Him who made heaven and earth. For this is to be meek, not to resist thy God, that in that thou doest well He may be well-pleasing to thee, not thou to thyself; and in that thou sufferest ill justly, He may not be unpleasing to thee, but thou to thyself. For no small matter is it that thou shalt be well-pleasing to Him, when thou art displeased with thyself; whereas if thou art well-pleased with thine own self, thou wilt be displeasing to Him.
3. Attend to the third lesson, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." The work consisteth in mourning, the reward in consolation; for they who mourn in a carnal sort, what consolations have they? Miserable consolations, objects rather of fear. There the mourner is comforted by things which make him fear lest he have to mourn again. For instance, the death of a son causes the father sorrow, and the birth of a son joy. The one he has carried out to his burial, the other he has brought into the world; in the former is occasion of sadness, in the latter of fear: and so in neither is there consolation. That therefore will be the true consolation, wherein shall be given that which may not be lost, so that they may rejoice for their after consolation, who mourn that they are in exile now.
4. Let us come to the fourth work and its reward, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Dost thou desire to be filled? Whereby? If the flesh long for fulness, after digestion thou wilt suffer hunger again. So He saith, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again." If the remedy which is applied to a wound heal it, there is no more pain; but that which is applied against hunger, food that is, is so applied as to give relief only for a little while. For when the fulness is past, hunger returns. This remedy of fulness is applied day by day, yet the wound of weakness is not healed. Let us therefore "hunger and thirst after righteousness, that we may be filled" with that righteousness after which we now hunger and thirst. For filled we shall be with that for which we hunger and thirst. Let our inner man then hunger and thirst, for it hath its own proper meat and drink. "I," saith He, "am the Bread which came down from heaven." Here is the bread of the hungry; long also for the drink of the thirsty, "For with Thee is the well of life.")
5. Mark what comes next: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Do this, and so shall it be done to thee; deal so with others, that God may so deal with thee. For thou art at once in abundance and in want--in abundance of temporal things, in want of things eternal. The man whom thou hearest is a beggar, and thou art thyself God s beggar. Petition is made to thee, and thou makest thy petition. As thou hast dealt with thy petitioner, so shall God deal with His. Thou art at once full and empty; fill the empty with thy fulness, that thy emptiness may be filled with the fulness of God.
6. Mark what comes next: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." This is the end of our love; an end whereby we are perfected, and not consumed. For there is an end of food, and an end of agarment; of food when it is consumed by the eating; of a garment when it is perfected in the weaving. Both the one and the other have an end; but the one is an end of consumption, the other of perfection. Whatsoever we now do, whatsoever we now do well, whatsoever we now strive for, or are in laudable sort eager for, or blamelessly desire, when we come to the vision of God, we shall require no more. For what need he seek for, with whom God is present? or what shall suffice him, whom God sufficeth not? We wish to see God, we seek, we kindle with desire to see Him. Who doth not? But mark what is said: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Provide thyself then with that whereby thou mayest see Him. For (to speak after the flesh) how with weak eyes desirest thou the rising of the sun? Let the eye be sound, and that light will be a rejoicing, if it be not sound, it will be but a torment. For it is not permitted with a heart impure to see that which is seen only by the pure heart. Thou wilt be repelled, driven hack from it, and wilt not see it. For "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." How often already hath he enumerated the blessed, and the causes of their blessedness, and their works and recompenses, their merits and rewards! But nowhere hath it been said, "They shall see God." "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, they shall be filled." "Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy." In none of these hath it been said, "They shall see God." When we come to the "pure in heart," there is the vision of God promised. And not without good cause; for there, in the heart, are the eyes, by which God is seen. Speaking of these eyes, the Apostle Paul saith. "The eyes of your heart being enlightened."s At present then these eyes are enlightened, as is suitable to their infirmity, by faith; hereafter as shall be suited to their strength, they shall be enlightened by sight. "For as long as we are in the body we are absent from the Lord; For we walk by faith, not by sight." Now as long as we are in this state of faith, what is said of us? "We see now through a glass darkly; but then face to face."
7. Let no thought be entertained here of a bodily face. For if enkindled by the desire of seeing God, thou hast made ready thy bodily face to see Him, thou wilt be looking also for such a face in God. But if now thy conceptions of God are at least so spiritual as not to imagine Him to be corporeal (of which subject I treated yesterday at considerable length, if yet it was not in vain), if I have succeeded in breaking down in your heart, as in God's temple, that image of human form; if the words in which the Apostle expresses his detestation of those, "who, professing themselves to be wise became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man," have entered deep into your minds, and taken possession of your inmost heart; if ye do now detest and abhor such impiety, if ye keep clean for the Creator His own temple, if ye would that He should come and make His abode with you, "Think of the Lord with a good heart, and in simplicity of heart seek for Him." Mark well who it is to whom ye say, if so be ye do say it, and say it in sincerity, "My heart said to Thee, I will seek Thy face." Let thine heart also say, and add, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek." For so wilt thou seek it well, because thou seekest with thine heart. Scripture speaks of the "face of God, the arm of God, the hands of God, the feet of God, the seat of God," and His footstool; but think not in all this of human members. If thou wouldest be a temple of truth, break down the idol of falsehood. The hand of God is His power. The face of God is the knowledge of God. The feet of God are His presence. The seat of God, if thou art so minded, is thine own self. But perhaps thou wilt venture to deny that Christ is God! "Not so," you say. Dost thou grant this too, that "Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God? "I grant it," you say. Hear then "The soul of the righteous is the seat of wisdom." "Yes." For where hath God His scat, but where He dwelleth? And where doth He dwell, but in His temple? "For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." Take heed therefore how thou dost receive God. "God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth." Let the ark of testimony enter now into thy heart, if thou art so minded, and let Dagon fall. Now therefore give ear at once, and learn to long for God; learn to make ready that whereby thou mayest see God. "Blessed," saith He, "are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Why dost thou make ready the eyes of the body? If He should be seen by them, that which should be so seen would be contained in space. But He who is wholly everywhere is not contained in space. Cleanse that whereby He may be seen.
8. Hear and understand, if haply through His help I shall be able to explain it; and may He help us to the understanding of all the above-named works and rewards, how suitable rewards are apportioned to their corresponding duties. For where is there anything said of a reward which does not suit, and harmonize with its work? Because the lowly seem as it were aliens from a kingdom, He saith, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Because meek men are easily despoiled of their land, He saith, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land." Now the rest are plain at once; they are understood of themselves, and require no one to treat of them at length; they need only one to mention them. "Blessed are they that mourn." Now what mourner does not desire consolation? "They," saith He, "shall be comforted." "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." What hungry and thirsty man does not seek to be filled? "And they," saith He, "shall be filled." "Blessed are the merciful." What merciful man but wishes that a return should be rendered him by God of His own work, that it may be so done to him, as he doeth to the poor? "Blessed," saith He, "are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." How in each case hath every duty its appropriate reward: and nothing is introduced in the reward which doth not suit the precept! For the precept is, that thou be "poor in spirit;" the reward, that thou shalt have the "kingdom of heaven." The precept is, that thou be "meek;" the reward, that thou shalt "possess the earth." The percept is, that thou "mourn;" the reward, that thou shalt be "comforted." The precept is, that thou "hunger and thirst after righteousness;" the reward, that thou shalt "be filled." The precept is, that thou be "merciful;" the reward, that thou shalt "obtain mercy." And so the precept is, that thou cleanse the heart; the reward, that thou shalt see God.
9. But do not so conceive of these precepts and rewards, as to think when thou dost hear, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," that the poor in spirit, or the meek, or they that mourn, or they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, or the merciful, will not see Him. Think not of those that are pure in heart, that they only will see Him, whilst the others will be excluded from the sight of Him. For all these several characters are the self-same persons They shall all see; but they shall not see in that they are poor in spirit, or meek, or in that they mourn, and hunger and thirst after righteousness, or are merciful, but in that they are pure in heart. Just as if bodily works were duly assigned to the several members of the body, and one were to say for example, Blessed are they who have feet, for they shall walk; blessed are they that have hands, for they shall work; blessed are they that have a voice, for they shall cry aloud; blessed are they who have a mouth and tongue, for they shall speak; blessed are they that have eyes, for they shall see. Even so our Lord arranging in their order the members as it were of the soul, hath taught what is proper to each. Humility qualifies for the possession of the kingdom of heaven; meekness qualifies for possessing the earth; mourning for consolation; hunger and thirst after righteousness for being filled; mercy for the obtaining mercy; a pure heart for seeing God.
10. If then we desire to see God, whereby shall our eye be purified? For who would not care for, and diligently seek the means of purifying that eye whereby he may see Him whom he longeth after with an entire affection? The Divine record has expressly mentioned this when it says "purifying their hearts by faith." The faith of God then purifies the heart, the pure heart sees God. But because this faith is sometimes so defined by men who deceive themselves, as though it were enough only to believe (for some promise themselves even the sight of God and the kingdom of heaven, who believe and live evilly); against these, the Apostle James, incensed and indignant as it were with a holy charity, saith in his Epistle, "Thou believest there is one God." Thou applaudest thyself for thy faith, for thou markest how that many ungodly men think there are gods many, and thou rejoicest in thyself because thou dost believe that there is but one God; "Thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." Shall they also see God? They shall see Him who are pure in heart. But who can say that unclean spirits are pure in heart? And yet they also "believe and tremble."
11. Our faith then must be different from the faith of devils. For our faith purifies the heart; but their faith makes them guilty. For they do wickedly, and therefore say they to the Lord, "What have we to do with Thee?" When thou hearest the devils say this, thinkest thou that they do not acknowledge Him? "We know," they say, "who Thou art: Thou art the Son of God." This Peter says, and is commended; the devil says it, and is condemned. Whence cometh this, but that though the words be the same, the heart is different? Let us then make a distinction in our faith, and not be content to believe. This is no such faith as purifieth the heart. "Purifying their hearts," it is said, "by faith." But by what, and what kind of faith, save that which the Apostle Paul defines when he says, "Faith which worketh by love." That faith distinguishes us from the faith of devils, and from the infamous and abandoned conduct of men. "Faith," he says. What faith? "That which worketh by love," and which hopeth for what God doth promise. Nothing is more exact or perfect than this definition. There are then in faith these three things. He in whom that faith is which worketh by love, must necessarily hope for that which God doth promise. Hope therefore is the associate of faith. For hope is necessary as long as we see not what we believe, lest perhaps through not seeing, and by despairing to see, we fail. That we see not, doth make us sad; but that we hope we shall see, comforteth us. Hope than is here, and she is the associate of faith. And then charity also, by which we long, and strive to attain, and glow with desire, and hunger and thirst. This then is taken in also; and so there will be faith, hope, and charity. For how shall there not be charity there, since charity is nothing else but love? And this faith is itself defined as that "which worketh by love." Take away faith, and all thou believest perisheth; take away charity, and all that thou dost perisheth. For it is the province of faith to believe, of charity to do. For if thou believest without love, thou dost not apply thyself to good works; or if thou dost, it is as a servant, not as a son, through fear of punishment, not through love of righteousness. Therefore I say, that faith purifieth the heart, which worketh by love.
12. And what does this faith effect at present? What does it by so many testimonies of Scripture, by its manifold lessons, its various and plentiful exhortations, but make us "see now through a glass darkly, and hereafter face to face." But return not now in thought again to this thy bodily face. Think only of the face of the heart. Force, compel, press thine heart to think of things divine. Whatsoever occurs to thy mind that is like to a body, throw it off from thee. If thou canst not yet say, "It is this," yet at least say, "It is not this." For when wilt thou be able to say, "This is God"? Not even then, when thou shall see Him; for what thou shalt then see is ineffable. Thus the Apostle says, that he "was caught up into the third heaven, and heard ineffable words." If the words are ineffable, what is He whose words they are? Therefore as thou dost think of God, perchance there is presented to thee the idea of some human figure of marvellous and exceeding greatness, and thou hast set it before the eyes of thy mind as something very great, and grand, and of vast extension. Still somewhere thou hast set bounds to it. If thou hast, it is not God. But if thou hast not set bounds to it, where can the face be? Thou art fancying to thyself some huge body, and in order to distinguish the members in it, thou must needs set bounds to it. For in no other way but by setting bounds to this large body, canst thou distinguish the members. But what art thou about, O foolish and carnal imagination! Thou hast made a large bulky body, and so much the larger, as thou hast thought the more to honour God. Another adds one cubit to it, and makes it greater than before.
13. But "I have read," you will say. What hast thou read, who hast understood nothing? Yet tell me, what hast thou read? Let us not thrust back the babe in understanding with his play. Tell me, what hast thou read? "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool." I hear thee; I have read it also: but it may be that thou thinkest thyself to have the advantage, in that thou hast both read and believed. But I also believe what thou hast just said. Let us then believe it together. What do I say? Let us search it out together. Lo! hold fast what thou hast so read and believed; "Heaven is My throne (that is, "my seat," for "throne," in Greek, is "seat," in Latin), and the earth is My footstool." But hast thou not read these words as well, "Who has meted out the heaven with the palm of His hand?" I conclude that thou hast read them; thou dost acknowledge them, and confess that thou believest them; for in that book we read both the one and the other, and believe both. But now think a while, and teach me. I make thee my teacher, and myself the little one. Teach me, I pray thee, "Who is He that sitteth on the palm of His hand?"
14. See, thou hast drawn the figure and lineaments of the members of God from a human body. And perhaps it has occurred to thee to think, that it is according to the body that we were made after the Image of God. I will admit this idea for a time to be considered, and canvassed, and examined, and by disputation to be thoroughly sifted. Now then, if it please thee, hear me; for I heard thee in what thou wast pleased to say. God sitteth in heaven, and meteth out the heaven with His palm. What! doth the same heaven become broad when it is God's seat, and narrow, when He meteth it out? Or is God when sitting, limited to the measure of His palm? If this be so, God did not make us after His likeness, for the palm of our hand is much narrower than that part of the body whereon we sit. But if He be as broad in His palm as in His sitting, He hath made our members quite unlike His. There is no resemblance here. Let the Christian then blush to set up such an idol in his heart as this. Wherefore take heaven for all saints. For the earth also is spoken of all who are in the earth, "Let all the earth worship Thee." If we may properly say with regard to those who dwell on the earth, "Let all the earth worship Thee," we may with the same propriety say also as to those who dwell in heaven, "Let all the heaven bear Thee." For even the Saints who dwell on earth, though in their body they tread the earth, in heart dwell in heaven.
For it is not in vain that they are reminded to "lift up their hearts," and when they are so reminded, they answer, "that they lift them up:" nor in vain is it said, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth." In so far therefore as they have their conversation there, they do bear God, and they are heaven; because they are the seat of God; and when they declare the words of God, "The heavens declare the glory of God."
15. Return then with me to the face of the heart, and make it ready. That to which God speaketh is within. The ears, and eyes, and all the rest of the visible members, are either the dwelling place or the instrument of some thing within. It is the inner man where Christ doth dwell, now by faith, and hereafter He will dwell in it, by the presence of His Divinity, when we shall have known "what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height; when we shall have known also the love of Christ that surpasseth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God." Now then if thou wouldest enter into the meaning of these words, summon all thy powers to comprehend the breadth, and length, and height, and depth. Wander not in the imagination of the thoughts through the spaces of the world, and the yet comprehensible extent of this so vast a body. Look for what I am speaking of in thine own self. The "breadth" is in good works; the "length" is in long-suffering and perseverance in well-doing; the "height" is in the expectation of rewards above, for which height's sake thou art bidden "to lift up thy heart." Do well, and persevere in well-doing, because of God's reward. Esteem earthly things as nothing, lest, when this earth shall be smitten with any scourge of that wise One, thou say that thou hast worshipped God in vain, hast done good works in vain, hast persevered in good works in vain. For by doing good works thou hadst as it were the "breadth," by persevering in them thou hadst as it were the "length;" but by seeking earthly things thou hast not had the "height." Now observe the "depth;" it is the grace of God in the secret dispensation of His will. "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?" and, "Thy judgments are as a great depth."
16. This conversation of well-doing, of perseverance in well-doing, of hoping for rewards above, of the secret dispensation of the grace of God, in wisdom not in foolishness, nor yet in finding fault, because one man is after this manner and another after that; for "there is no iniquity with God;" apply this, I say, if you think good, also to the Cross of thy Lord. For it was not without a meaning that He chose this kind of death, in whose power it was even either to die or not. Now if it was in His power to die or not, why was it not in His power also to die in this or the other manner! Not without a meaning then did He select the Cross, whereby to crucify thee to this world. For the "breadth" is the transverse beam in the cross where the hands are fastened, to signify good works. The "length" is in that part of the wood which reaches from this transverse beam to the ground. For there the body is crucified and in a manner stands, and this standing signifies perseverance.
Now "the height" is in that part, which from the same transverse beam projects upward to the head, and hereby is signified the expectation of things above. And where is the "depth" but in t at part which is fixed m the ground? For so is the dispensation of grace, hidden and in secret. It is not seen itself, but from thence is projected all that is seen. After this, when thou shalt have comprehended all these things, not in the mere understanding but in action also ("for a good understanding have all they that do hereafter)," then if thou canst, stretch out thyself to attain to the knowledge of the "love of Christ which passeth knowledge." When thou hast attained to it, thou "wilt be filled with all the fulness of God." Then will be fulfilled the "face to face." Now thou wilt be filled with all the fulness of God, not as if God should be full of thee, but so that thou shalt be full of God. Seek there, if thou canst, for any bodily face. Away with such trifles from the eye of the mind. Let the child cast away his playthings, and learn to handle more serious matters. And in many things we are but children; and when we were more so than we are, we were borne with by our betters. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see God." For by this is the heart purified; for that in it is that faith "which worketh by love." Hence, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."