Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MARK VIII. 5, ETC., WHERE THE MIRACLE OF THE SEVEN LOAVES IS RELATED.
1. IN expounding to you the Holy Scriptures, I as it were break bread for you. Do ye in hunger receive it, and break forth with a fulness of phrase from the heart; and ye who are rich in your banquet, be not meagre in good works and deeds. What I deal out to you is not mine own. What ye eat, I eat; what ye live upon, I live upon. We have in heaven a common store-house; for from thence comes, the Word of God.
2. The "seven loaves" signify the seven-fold operation of the Holy Spirit; the "four thousand men," the Church established on the four Gospels; "the seven baskets of fragments," the perfection of the Church. For by this number very constantly is perfection figured. For whence is that which is said, "seven times in a day will I praise thee"? Does a man sin who does not praise the Lord so often? What then is "seven times will I praise," but "I will never cease from praise"? For he who says "seven times," signifies all time. Whence in this world there are continual revolutions of seven days. What then is "seven times in a day will I praise Thee," but what is said in another place, "His praise shall always be in my mouth"? With reference to this perfection, John writes to seven Churches. The Apocalypse is a book of St. John the Evangelist; and he writes "to seven Churches." Be ye hungered; own ye these baskets. For those fragments were not lost; but seeing that ye too belong to the Church, they have surely profited you. In that I explain this to you, I minister to Christ; and when ye hear peaceably, ye "sit down." I in my body sit, but in my heart I am standing, and ministering to you in anxiety; lest peradventure, not the food, but the vessel offend any of you. Ye know the feast of God, ye have often heard it, that it is for the heart, not for the belly.
3. Of a truth four thousand men were filled by seven loaves; what is more wonderful than this! Yet even this were not enough, had not seven baskets also been filled with the fragments that remained. O great mysteries! they were works, and the works spake. If thou understand these doings, they are words. And ye too belong to the four thousand, because ye live under the fourfold Gospel. To this number the children and women did not belong. For so it is said, "And they that did eat were four thousand men, excepting women and children." As though the void of understanding, and the effeminate were without number. Yet let even these eat. Let them eat: it may be the children will grow, and will be children no more; it may be the effeminate will be amended, and become chaste. Let them eat; we dispense, we deal out to them. But who these are, God inspecteth His feast, and if they do not amend themselves, He who knew how to invite them thither, knoweth also how to separate them from the rest.
4. Ye know it, dearly Beloved; call to mind the parable of the Gospel, how that the Lord came in to inspect the guests at a certain feast of His. The Master of the house who had invited them, as it is written, "found there a man which had not on a wedding garment." For to the marriage had that Bridegroom invited them who is "fair in beauty above the children of men." That Bridegroom became deformed because of His deformed spouse, that he might make her fair. How did the Fair One become deformed? If I do not prove it, I am blaspheming. The testimony of his fair beauty the Prophet gives me, who saith, "Thou art fair in beauty above the children of men." The testimony of his deformity another Prophet gives me, who saith, "We saw Him, and He had no grace, nor beauty; but His countenance was marred, and His whole look. deformed." O Prophet, who saidst, "Thou art fair in beauty above the children of men;" thou art contradicted; another Prophet cometh out against thee, and saith, "Thou speakest falsely. We have seen Him. What is this that thou sayest, 'Thou art fair in beauty above the children of men? We have seen Him, and He had no grace nor beauty.'" Are then these two Prophets at disagreement in the Corner-stone of peace? Both spake of Christ, both spake of the Cornerstone. In the corner the wails unite. If they do not unite, it is not a building, but a ruin. No, the Prophets agree, let us not leave them in strife. Yea, rather let us understand their peace; for they know not how to strive. O Prophet, who saidst, "Thou art fair in beauty above the children of men;" where didst thou see Him? Answer me, answer where didst thou see Him? "Being in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God." There I saw Him. Dost thou doubt that He who is "equal with God" is "fair in beauty above the children of men"? Thou hast answered; now let him answer who said, "We saw Him, and He had no grace, nor beauty." Thou hast said so; tell us where didst thou see Him? He begins from the other's words; where the other ended, there he begins. Where did he end? "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Lo, where he saw Him who was "fair in beauty above the children of men;" do thou tell us, where thou sawest that "He had no grace nor beauty. But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man." Of His deformity he still further says; "He humbled Himself, having become obedient unto death even the death of the cross." Lo, where I saw Him. Therefore are they both in peaceful concord, both are at peace together. What is more "fair" than God? What more "deformed" than the Crucified?
5. So then this Bridegroom, "fair in beauty above the children of men," became deformed that He might make His Spouse fair to whom it is said, "O thou beauteous among women," of whom it is said, "Who is this that cometh up, whitened" with the brightness of light, not the colouring of falsehood! He then who called them to the wedding, found a man who had not a wedding garment, and He said unto him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless." For he found not what to answer. And the Master of the house Who had invited him said, "Bind him hands and feet, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." For so small a fault, so great a punishment? For great it is. It is called a small fault not to have "the wedding garment;" small, but only by those who do not understand. How would He have been so incensed, how would He have so judged, to cast him, on account of the wedding garment which he had not, "bound hands and feet into outer darkness, where was weeping and gnashing of teeth," unless it had been a very grievous fault, not to have "the wedding garment"? I say this; seeing ye have been invited through me; for though He invited you, He invited you by my ministry. Ye are all at the feast, have the wedding garment. I will explain what it is, that ye may all have it, and if any one now hears me who has it not, let him, before the Master of the house comes and inspects His guests, be changed for the better, let him receive "the wedding garment," and so sit down in all assurance.
6. For in truth, dearly Beloved, he who was cast forth from the feast, does not signify one man; far from it. They are many. And the Lord Himself who put forth this parable, the Bridegroom Himself, who calleth together to the feast, and quickeneth whom He calleth, He hath Himself explained to us, that that man does not denote one man, but many, there, in that very place, in the same parable. I do not go far for this, I find the explanation there, there I break the bread, and set it before you to be eaten. For He said, when he who had not "the wedding garment was cast out thence into outer darkness," He said and added immediately, "for many are called, but few chosen." Thou hast cast forth one man from hence, and Thou sayest, "for many are called, but few chosen." Without doubt the chosen are not cast forth; and they were the few guests who remained; and the "many" were represented in that one, because that one who hath not "the wedding garment" is the body of the wicked.
7. What is "the wedding garment"? Let us search for it in the Holy Scriptures. What is "the wedding garment "? Without doubt it is something which the bad and good have not in common; let us discover this, and we shall discover "the wedding garment." Among the gifts of God, what have not the good and bad in common? That we are men and not beasts, is a gift of God; but this is common to good and bad. That the light from heaven rises upon us, that the rain descends from the cloud, the fountains flow, the fields yield their fruit; these are gifts, but common to the good and bad. Let us go to the marriage feast, let us leave the others without, who being called come not. Let us consider the guests themselves, that is, Christians. Baptism is a gift of God, the good and bad have it. The Sacraments of the Altar the good and bad receive together. Saul prophesied for all his wickedness, and in his rage against a holy and most righteous man, even while he was persecuting him, he prophesied. Are the good only said to believe? "The devils also believe and tremble." What shall I do? I have sifted all, and have not yet come to "the wedding garment." I have unfolded my envelopings, I have considered all, or almost all, and have not yet come to that garment. The Apostle Paul in a certain place has brought me a great collection of excellent things; he has laid them open before me, and I have said to him, "Show me, if so be thou hast found among them that 'wedding garment.'" He begins to unfold them one by one, and to say, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, though I have all knowledge, and the gift of prophecy, and all faith, so that I could remove mountains; though I distribute all my goods to the poor, and give my body to be burned."
Precious garments! nevertheless, there is not yet here that "wedding garment."
Now bring out to us "the wedding garment." Why dost thou keep us in suspense, O Apostle? Peradventure prophecy is a gift of God which both good and bad have not. "If," says He, "I have not charity, nothing profiteth me." See "the wedding garment;" put it on, ye guests, that ye may sit down securely. Do not say; "we are too poor to have that garment." Clothe others, and ye are clothed yourselves. It is winter, clothe the naked. Christ is naked; and He will give you that "wedding garment" whosoever have it not. Run to Him, beseech Him; He knoweth how to sanctify His faithful ones, He knoweth how to clothe His naked ones. That ye may be able as having "the wedding garment" to be free from. the fear of the outer darkness, and the binding of your members and hands and feet; let not your works fail. If they fail, with hands bound what canst thou do? with feet bound, whither wilt thou fly? Keep then that "wedding garment," put it on, and so sit down in security, when He comes to inspect. The Day of Judgment will come; He is now giving a long space, let him who erewhile was naked now be clothed.