Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. XI.
THANK THEE, O FATHER, LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, THAT THOU DIDST HIDE THESE THINGS FROM THE WISE AND UNDERSTANDING," ETC.
1. WHEN the Holy Gospel was being read, we heard that the Lord Jesus exulted in Spirit, and said, "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Thus much to begin with, we find before we pass on further, if we consider the words of the Lord with due attention, with diligence, and above all with piety, that we ought not invariably to understand when we read of "confession" in the Scriptures, the confession of a sinner. Now especial need there was of saying this, and of reminding you, Beloved, of this, because as soon as this word was uttered by the reader's voice, there followed upon it the sound of the beating of your breasts, when ye had heard, I mean, what the Lord said, "I confess to Thee, O Father." At the uttering of these words, "I confess," ye beat your breasts. Now what means this beating of the breast, but to show that which lies hid within the breast, and to chastise by the visible beating the secret sin? And why did ye this, but because ye heard, "I confess to Thee, O Father." Ye heard the words "I confess," but ye did not consider, who it is that confesses. But consider now. If Christ, from whom all sin is far removed, said, "I confess:" confession does not belong to the sinner only, but sometimes to him also that praiseth God. We confess then, whether in praising God, or accusing ourselves. In either case it is a godly confession, either when thou blamest thyself, who art not without sin, or when thou praisest Him who can have no sin.
2. But if we consider it well: thine own blame is His praise. For why is it that thou dost now confess in accusing thyself for thy sin? in accusing thyself why dost thou confess? but because thou art become alive from the dead? for the Scripture saith, "Confession perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not." If confession perisheth from the dead, he who confesseth must be alive; and if he confesseth sin he hath undoubtedly risen again from death. Now if he that confesseth sin hath risen again from the dead, who hath raised him? No dead man can raise himself. He only was able to raise Himself, who though His Body was dead, was not dead. For He raised up that which was dead. He raised up Himself, who in Himself was alive, but in His Body that was to be raised was dead. For not the Father only, of whom it was said by the Apostle, "Wherefore God also hath exalted Him," raised the Son, but the Lord also raised Himself, that is, His Body. Whence He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again." But the sinner is dead, especially he whom the load of sinful habit presseth down, who is buried as it were like Lazarus. For he was not merely dead, he was buried also. Whosoever then is oppressed by the load of evil habit, of a wicked life, of earthly lusts, I mean, so that that in his case is true which is piteously described in a certain Psalm, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," he is such an one, of whom it is said, "Confession perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not." And who shall raise him up, but He who when the stone was removed, cried out, and said, "Lazarus, Come forth?" Now what is to "come forth," but to bring forth what was hidden? He then who confesseth "cometh forth." "Come forth" he could not were he not alive; he could not be alive, had he not been raised again. And therefore in confession the accusing of one's self, is the praise of God.
3. Now one may say, what profit then is the Church, if he that confesseth comes forth, at once raised to life again by the voice of the Lord? What profit to Him that confesseth, is the Church, to which the Lord said, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven." Consider this very case of Lazarus: he comes forth, but with his bands. He was alive already through confession, but he did not yet walk free, entangled as he was in his bands. What then doth the Church to which it was said, "Whatsoever ye shall loose, shall be loosed;" but what the Lord said forthwith to His disciples, "Loose him, and let him go"?
4. Whether then we accuse ourselves, or directly praise God, in both ways do we praise God. If with a pious intention we accuse ourselves, by so doing we praise God. When we praise God directly, we do as it were celebrate His Holiness, who is without sin: but when we accuse ourselves, we give Him glory, by whom we have risen again. This if thou shall do, the enemy will find none occasion whereby to overreach thee before the judge. For when thou shall be thine own accuser, and the Lord thy Deliverer, what shall he be but a mere calumniator? With good reason hath the Christian hereby provided protection for himself against his enemies, not those that may be seen, flesh and blood, to be pitied, rather than to be feared, but against those against whom the Apostle exhorts us to arm ourselves: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood;" that is, against men whom ye see raging against you. They are but vessels, which another uses, they are but instruments which another handles. "The devil," saith the Scripture," entered into the heart of Judas, that he should betray the Lord." One may say then, what have I done? Hear the Apostle, "Give not place to the devil." Thou hast given him place by an evil will: he entered, and possessed, and now uses thee. He had not possessed thee, hadst thou not given him place.
5. Therefore doth he warn and say, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers." Any one might suppose this meant against the kings of the earth, against the powers of this world. How so? are they not flesh and blood? And once for all it is said, "not against flesh and blood." Turn thy attention from all men. What enemies then remain? "Against principalities and powers of spiritual wickedness, the rulers of the world." It might seem as though he gave the devil and his angels more than they have. It is so, he has called them the "rulers of the world." But to prevent misunderstanding, he explains what this world is, of which they are the rulers. "The rulers of the world, of this darkness." What is, "of the world, of this darkness?" The world is full of those who love it, and of unbelievers, over whom he is ruler. This the Apostle calls darkness. This darkness the devil and his angels are the rulers of. This is not the natural, and unchangeable darkness: this darkness changes, and becomes light; it believes, and by believing is enlightened. When this takes place in it, it will hear the words, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." For when ye were darkness, ye were not in the Lord: again, when ye are light, ye are light not in yourselves, but in the Lord. "For what hast thou which thou hast not received?" Inasmuch then as they are invisible enemies, by invisible means must they be subdued. A visible enemy indeed thou mayest overcome by blows; thy invisible enemy thou conquerest by belief. A man is a visible enemy; to strike a blow is visible also. The devil is an invisible enemy; to believe is invisible also. Against invisible enemies then there is an invisible fight.
6. From these enemies how can any man say that he is safe? For this I had begun to speak of, but I thought it necessary to treat of these enemies at some little length. But now that we know our enemies, let us see to our defence against them. "In praising I will call upon the Lord, so shall I be safe from mine enemies." Thou seest what thou hast to do. "In praising call;" that is, "in praising the Lord, call." For thou wilt not be safe from thine enemies, if thou praise thyself. "In praising call upon the Lord, and thou shalt be safe from thine enemies." For what doth the Lord Himself say? "The sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me, and there is the way, in which I will show him My salvation." Where is the way? In the sacrifice of praise. Let not your foot then wander out of this way. Keep in the way; depart not from it; from the praise of the Lord depart not a foot, nay, not a nail's breadth. For if thou wilt deviate from this way, and praise thyself instead of the Lord, thou wilt not be safe from thine enemies; for it is said of them, "They have laid stumbling-blocks for me by the way." Therefore in whatever, measure thou thinkest that thou hast good of thine own self, thou hast deviated from the praise of God. Why dost thou marvel then, if thine enemy seduce thee, when thou art thine own seducer? Hear the Apostle, "For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he seduceth himself."
7. Give heed then to the Lord confessing; "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth." I confess to Thee, that is, I praise Thee. I praise Thee, not I accuse myself. Now as far as the taking of very man is concerned, all, is grace, singular and perfect grace. What merit had that man who is Christ, if thou take away the grace, even that so pre-eminent grace, whereby it behoved that there should be One Christ, and that He whom we acknowledge should be He? Take away this grace, and what is Christ but a mere man? what but the same as thou art thyself? He took a Soul, He took a Body, He took a perfect Man; He uniteth him to Himself, the Lord maketh one Person with the servant. What pre-eminent grace is this! Christ in heaven, Christ on earth; Christ at once both in heaven and earth; not two Christs, but the same Christ, both in heaven and earth. Christ with the Father, Christ in the Virgin's womb; Christ on the Cross, Christ succouring some souls in hell; and on the self-same day Christ in paradise with the robber who confessed. And how did the robber attain to this blessedness, but because he held on that I way, in which "He showeth His salvation"? That way, from which let not thy foot wander. For in that he accused himself, he praised God, and made his own life blessed. He looked in hope for this from the Lord, and said to Him, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." For he considered his own wicked deeds, and thought it much, if mercy should be shown him even at the last. But the Lord immediately after He had said, "Remember me"--when?
"when Thou comest into Thy kingdom," saith, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shall thou be with Me in paradise."Mercy offered at once, what misery deferred.
8. Hear then the Lord confessing; "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth." What do I confess? Wherein do I praise thee? For this confession, as I have said before, signifieth praise. "Because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." What is this, Brethren? Understand by that which is opposed to them. "Thou hast hid these things," saith he, "from the wise and prudent;" and he did not say, thou hast revealed them to the foolish and imprudent, but "Thou hast hid these things" indeed "from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." To these wise and prudent, who are really objects of derision, to the arrogant who in false pretence are great, yet in truth are only swollen up, he opposed not the foolish, nor the imprudent, but babes. Who are babes? The humble. Therefore "Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent." Under the name of the wise and prudent, He hath Himself explained that the proud are understood, when He said, "Thou hast revealed them unto babes." Therefore from those who are not babes Thou hast hidden them. What is from those who are not babes? From those who are not humble. And who are they but the proud? O way of the Lord! Either there was none, or it lay hid, that it might be revealed to us. Why did the Lord exult? "Because it was revealed unto babes." We must be little babes; for if we would wish to be great, "wise and prudent as it were, it is not revealed unto us. Who are these great ones? The wise and prudent. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Here then thou hast a remedy suggested from its opposite. For if by "professing thyself wise, thou art become a fool; profess thyself a fool, and thou wilt be wise." But profess it in truth, profess it from the heart, for it is really so as thou professest. If thou profess it, do not profess it before men, and forbear to profess it before God. As to thyself, and all that is thine, thou art altogether dark. For what else is it to be a fool, but to be dark in heart? He saith of them at last, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
Before they professed this, what do we find? "And their foolish heart was darkened." Acknowledge then that thou art not to thyself a light. At best thou art but an eye, thou art not the light. And what good is even an open and a sound eye, if the light be wanting? Acknowledge therefore that of thine own self thou art no light to thyself; and cry out as it is written, "Thou, Lord, wilt light my candle: Thou wilt enlighten, O Lord, my darkness with Thy Light." For myself I was all darkness; but Thou art the Light that scattereth the darkness, and enlighteneth me; of myself I am no light to myself, yea I have no portion of light but in Thee.
9. So John also, the friend of the Bridegroom, was thought to be the Christ, was thought to be the Light. "He was not that Light, but that he might bear witness of the Light." But what was the Light? It was the true Light. What is the true Light? "That which lighteneth every man." If that be the true Light which lighteneth every man, then it lightened John also, who professed and confessed rightly, "Of His fulness have all we received." See if he said ought else, but "Thou, O Lord, shalt lighten my candle." Finally, being now enlightened, He gave His testimony. For the benefit of the blind the lamp gave witness to the Day. See how that He is a lamp; "Ye sent," He said, "unto John, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light; he was a burning and a shining lamp." He, the lamp, that is, a thing enlightened, was lighted that it might shine. That which can be lighted can be extinguished also. Now that it may not be extinguished, let it not expose itself to the wind of pride. Therefore, "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent," from those who thought themselves to be light, and were darkness; and who because they were darkness, and thought themselves to be light, could not even be enlightened. But they who were darkness, and confessed that they were darkness, were little babes, not great; were humble, not proud. Rightly therefore did they say, "O Lord, Thou wilt lighten my candle." They knew themselves, they praised the Lord. They did not stray from the way of salvation; "They in praise called upon the Lord, and they were saved from their enemies."
10. Turning then to the Lord our God, the Father Almighty, in purity of heart, let us render unto Him, as our frailty best can, our highest and abundant thanks, with our whole mind praying His singular goodness, that in His good pleasure He would vouchsafe to hear our prayers, that by His Power He would drive out the enemy from our deeds and thoughts, would enlarge our faith, direct our minds, grant us spiritual thoughts, and bring us safe to His endless blessedness, through His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.