Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, LUKE XVI. 9, "MAKE TO YOURSELVES FRIENDS BY MEANS OF THE MAMMON OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS," ETC.
1. Our duty is to give to others the admonitions we have received ourselves. The recent lesson of the Gospel has admonished us to make friends of the mammon of iniquity, that they too may" receive "those who do so" into everlasting habitations." But who are they that shall have everlasting habitations, but the hints of God? And who are they who are to be received by them into everlasting habitations, but they who serve their need, and minister cheerfully to their necessities? Accordingly let us remember, that in the last judgment the Lord will say to those who shall stand on His right hand, "I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat;" and the rest which ye know. And upon their enquiring when they had afforded these good offices to Him, He answered, "When ye did it to one of the least of Mine, ye did it unto Me." These least are they who receive into everlasting habitations. This He said to them on the right hand, because they did so: and the contrary He said to them on the left, because they would not. But what have they on the right hand who did so, received, or rather, what are they to receive? "Come," says He, "ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat. When ye did it to one of the least of Mine, ye did it unto Me." Who then are these least ones of Christ? They are those who have left all they had, and followed Him, and have distributed whatever they had to the poor; that unencumbered and without any worldly fetter they might serve God, and might lift their shoulders free from the burdens of the world, and winged as it were aloft. These are the least. And why the least? Because lowly, because not puffed up, not proud. Yet weigh them in the scales, these least ones, and thou wilt find them a heavy weight.
2. But what means it, that He says they are "friends of the mammon of iniquity "? What is "the mammon of iniquity "? First, what is "mammon "? For it is not a Latin word. It is a Hebrew word, and cognate to the Punic language. For these languages are allied to one another by a kind of nearness of signification. What the Punics call mammon, is called in Latin, "lucre " What the Hebrews call mammon, is called in Latin, "riches." That we may express the whole then in Latin, our Lord Jesus Christ says this, "Make to yourselves friends of the riches of iniquity." Some, by a bad understanding of this, plunder the goods of others, and bestow some of that upon the poor, and so think that they do what is enjoined them. For they say, "To plunder the goods of others, is the mammon of iniquity; to spend some of it, especially on the poor saints, this is to make friends with the mammon of iniquity. This understanding of it must be corrected, yea, must be utterly effaced from the tablets of your heart. I would not that ye should so understand it. Give alms of your righteous labours: give out of that which ye possess rightfully. For ye cannot corrupt Christ your Judge, that He should not hear you together with the poor, from whom ye take away. For if thou wert to despoil any one who was weak, thyself being stronger and of greater power, and he were to come with thee to the judge, any man you please on this earth, who had any power of judging, and he were to wish to plead his cause with thee; if thou wert to give anything of the spoil and plunder of that poor man to the judge, that he might pronounce judgment in thy favour; would that judge please even thee?
True, he has pronounced judgment in thy favour, and yet so great is the force of justice, that he would displease even thee. Do not then represent God to thyself as such an one as this. Do not set up such an idol in the temple of thine heart. Thy God is not such as thou oughtest not to be thyself. If thou wouldest not judge so, but wouldest judge justly; even so thy God is better than thou: He is not inferior to thee: He is more just, He is the fountain of justice. Whatsoever good thou hast done, thou hast gotten from Him; and whatsoever good thou hast given vent to, thou hast drunk in from Him. Dost thou praise the vessel, because it hath something from Him, and blame the fountain? Do not give alms out of usury and increase. I am speaking to the faithful, am speaking to those to whom we distribute the body of Christ. Be in fear and amend yourselves: that I may not have hereafter to say, Thou doest so, and thou too doest so. Yet I trow, that if I should do so, ye ought not to be angry with me, but with yourselves, that ye may amend yourselves. For this is the meaning of the expression in the Psalm, "Be ye angry, and sin not."
I would have you be angry, but only that ye may not sin. Now in order that ye may not sin, with whom ought ye to be angry but with yourselves? For what is a penitent man, but a man who is angry with himself? That he may obtain pardon, he exacts punishment from himself; and so with good right says to God, "Turn Thine eyes from my sins, for I acknowledge my sin." If thou acknowledgest it, then He will pardon it. Ye then who have done so wrongly, do so no more: it is not lawful.
3. But if ye have done so already, and have such money in your possession, and have filled your coffers thereby, and were heaping up treasure by these means: what ye have comes of evil, now then add not evil to it, and make to yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity. Had Zacchaeus what he had from good sources? Read and see. He was the chief of the publicans, that is, he was one to whom the public taxes were paid in: by this he had his wealth.
He had oppressed many, had taken from many, and so had heaped much together. Christ entered into his house, and salvation came upon his house; for so said the Lord Himself, "This day is salvation come to this house." Now mark the method of this salvation. First he was longing to see the Lord, because he was little in stature: but when the crowd hindered him, he got up into a sycamore tree, and saw Him as He passed by. But Jesus saw him, and said, "Zacchaeus, come down, I must abide at thy house." Thou art hanging there, but I will not keep thee in suspense. I will not, that is, put thee off. Thou didst wish to see Me as I passed by, to-day shalt thou find Me dwelling at thy house. So the Lord went in unto him, and he, filled with joy, said, "The half of my goods I give to the poor." Lo, how swiftly he runs, who runs to make friends of the mammon of iniquity. And lest he should be held guilty on any other account, he said, "If I have taken anything from any man, I" will "restore fourfold." He inflicted sentence of condemnation on himself, that he might not incur damnation. So then, ye who have anything from evil sources, do good therewith. Ye who have not, wish not to acquire by evil means. Be thou good thyself, who doest good with what is evilly acquired: and when with this evil thou beginnest to do any good, do not remain evil thyself. Thy money is being converted to good, and dost thou thyself continue evil?
4. There is indeed another way of understanding it; and I will not withhold it too. The mammon of iniquity is all the riches of this world, from whatever source they come. For howsoever they be heaped together, they are the mammon of iniquity, that is, the riches of iniquity. What is, "they are the riches of iniquity "? It is money which iniquity calls by the name of riches. For if we seek for the true riches, they are different from these. In these Job abounded, naked as he was, when he had a heart full to Godward, and poured out praises like most costly gems to his God, when he had lost all he had. And from what treasure did he this, if he had nothing? These then are the true riches. But the other sort are called riches by iniquity. Thou dost possess these riches. I blame it not: an inheritance has come to thee, thy father was rich, and he left it to thee. Or thou hast honestly acquired them: thou hast a house full of the fruit of just labour; I blame it not. Yet even thus do not call them riches. For if thou dost call them riches, thou wilt love them: and if thou love them, thou wilt perish with them. Lose, that thou be not lost: give, that thou mayest gain: sow, that thou mayest reap. Call not these riches, for "the true" they are not. They are full of poverty, and liable ever to accidents. What sort of riches are those, for whose sake thou art afraid of the robber, for whose sake thou art afraid of thine own servant, lest he should kill thee, and take them away, and fly? If they were true riches, they would give thee security.
5. So then those are the true riches, which when we have them, we cannot lose. And lest haply thou shouldest fear a thief because of them, they will be there where none can take them away. Hear thy Lord, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where no thief approacheth." Then will they be riches, when thou hast removed them hence. As long as they are in the earth, they are not riches. But the world calls them riches, iniquity calls them so. God calls them therefore the mammon of iniquity, because iniquity calls them riches. Hear the Psalm, "O Lord, deliver me out of the hand of strange children, whose mouth hath spoken vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity. Whose sons are as new plants, firmly rooted from their youth. Their daughters decked out, adorned round about after the similitude of a temple. Their storehouses full, flowing out from this into that. Their oxen fat, their sheep fruitful, multiplying in their goings forth. There is no breach of wall, nor going forth, no crying out in their streets." Lo, what sort of happiness the Psalmist has described: but hear what is the case with them whom he has set forth as children of iniquity. "Whose mouth hath spoken vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity." Thus has he set them forth, and said that their happiness is only upon the earth. And what did he add? "They are happy the people that hath these things." But who caller them so? "Strange children," aliens from the race, and belonging not to the seed of Abraham: they "called the people happy that hath these things." Who called them so? "They whose mouth hath spoken vanity." It is a vain thing then to call them happy who have these things. And yet they are called so by them, "whose mouth hath spoken vanity." By them the "mammon of iniquity" of the Gospel is called riches.
6. But what sayest thou? Seeing that these "strange children" that they "whose mouth hath spoken vanity," have "called the people happy that hath these things," what sayest thou? These are false riches, show me the true. Thou findest fault with these, show me what thou praisest. Thou wishest me to despise these, show me what to prefer. Let the Psalmist speak himself. For he who said, "they called the people happy that hath these things," gives us such an answer, as if we had said to him, that is, to the Psalmist himself, "Lo, this thou hast taken away from us, and nothing hast thou given us: lo, these, lo, these we despise; whereby shall we live, whereby shall we be happy? For they who have spoken, they will undertake to answer for themselves. For they have 'called' men 'who have' riches 'happy.' But what sayest thou?" As if he had been thus questioned, he makes answer and says, They call the rich happy: but I say, "Happy are the people whose is the Lord their God." Thus then thou hast heard of the true riches, make friends of the mammon of iniquity, and thou shalt be "a happy people, whose is the Lord their God." At times we go along the way, and see very pleasant and productive estates, and we say, "Whose estate is that?" We are told, "such a man's;" and we say, "Happy man!" We "speak vanity." Happy he whose is that house, happy he whose that estate, happy he whose that flock, happy he whose that servant, happy he whose is that household. Take away vanity if Thou wouldest hear the truth. "Happy he whose is the Lord" his "God." For not he who has that estate is happy: but he whose is that "God." But in order to declare most plainly the happiness of possessions, thou sayest that thy estate has made thee happy. And why? Because thou livest by it. For when, thou dost highly praise thine estate, thou sayest thus," It finds me food, I live by it." Consider whereby thou dost really live. He by whom thou livest, is He to whom thou sayest, "With Thee is the fountain of life." "Happy is the people: whose God is the Lord." O Lord my God, O Lord our God, make us happy by Thee, that we may come unto Thee. We wish not to be happy from gold, or silver, or land, from these earthly, and most vain, and transitory goods of this perishable life. Let not "our mouth speak; vanity." Make us happy by Thee, seeing that we shall never lose Thee. When we shall once have gotten Thee, we shall neither lose Thee, nor be lost ourselves. Make us happy by Thee, because "Happy is the people whose is the Lord their God." Nor will God be angry if we shall say of Him, He is our estate. For we read that "the Lord is the portion of my inheritance." Grand thing, Brethren, we are both His inheritance, and He is ours, seeing that we both cultivate His service? and He cultivateth us. It is no derogation to His honour that He cultivateth us. Because if we cultivate Him as our God, He cultivateth us as His field. And, (that ye may know that He doth cultivate us) hear Him whom He hath sent to us: "I," saith He, "am the vine, ye are the branches, My Father is the Husbandman."
Therefore He doth cultivate us. But if we yield fruit, He prepares for us His garner. But if under the attention of so great a hand we will be barren, and for good fruit bring forth thorns, I am loth to say what follows. Let us make an end with a theme of joy. "Let us turn then to the Lord," etc.