Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, JOHN VI. 55, " FOR MY FLESH IS MEATINDEED, AND MY BLOOD IS DRINK INDEED. HE THAT EATETH MY FLESH," ETC.
1. As we heard when the Holy Gospel was being read, the Lord Jesus Christ exhorted us by the promise of eternal life to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Ye that heard these words, have not all as yet understood them. For those of you who have been baptized and the faithful do know what He meant.
But those among you who are yet called Catechumens, or Hearers, could be hearers, when it was being read, could they be understanders too? Accordingly our discourse is directed to both. Let them who already eat the Flesh of the Lord and drink His Blood, think What it is they eat and drink, lest, as the Apostle says, "They eat and drink judgment to themselves." But they who do not yet eat and drink, let them hasten when invited to such a Banquet.
Throughout these days the teachers feed you. Christ daily feedeth you, That His Table is ever ordered before you. What is the reason. O Hearers, that ye see the Table, and come not to the Banquet? And peradventure, just now when the Gospel was being read, ye said in your hearts, "We are thinking what it is that He saith, `My Flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed.' How is the Flesh of the Lord eaten, and the Blood of the Lord drunk? We are thinking what He saith." Who hath closed it against thee, that thou dost not know this? There is a veil over it; but if thou wilt, the veil shall be taken away.Come to the profession, and thou hast resolved the difficulty. For what the Lord Jesus said, the faithful know well already. But thou art called a Catechumen, art called a Hearer, and art deaf. For the ears of the booty thou hast open, seeing that thou hearest the words which were spoken; but the ears of the heart thou hast still closed, seeing thou understandest not what was spoken. I plead, I do not discuss it. Lo, Easter is at hand, give in thy name for baptism. If the festivity arouse thee not, let the very curiosity induce thee: that thou mayest know the meaning of, Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him." That thou mayest know with me what is meant, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee:" and as I say to thee, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee," so do I too knock, open thou to me. When I speak aloud to the ears, I knock at the breast.
2. But if the Catechumens, my Brethren, are to be exhorted not to delay to approach to this so great grace of regeneration; what great care ought we to have in building up the faithful, that their approaching may profit them, and that they eat and drink not such a Banquet unto their own judgment? Now that they may not eat and drink unto judgment, let them live well. Be ye exhorters, not by words, but by your conduct; that they who have not been baptized, may in such wise hasten to follow you, that they perish not by imitating you. Do ye who are married keep the fidelity of the marriage-bed with your wives. Render what you require. As a husband thou requirest chastity from thy wife; give her an example, not words. Thou art the head, look where thou goest. For thou oughtest to go where it may not be dangerous for her to follow: yea, thou oughtest to walk thyself where thou wouldest have her follow. Thou requirest strength from the weaker sex; the lust of the flesh ye have both of you: let him that is the stronger, be the first to conquer. And yet, which is to be lamented, many men are conquered by the women. Women preserve chastity, which men will not preserve; and in that they preserve it not, would wish to appear men: as though he was in sex the stronger, only that the enemy might more easily subdue him. There is a struggle, a war, a combat. The man is stronger than the woman, the "man is the head of the woman." The woman combats and overcomes; dost thou succumb to the enemy? The body stands firm, and does the head lie low? But those of you who have not yet wives, and who yet already approach to the Lord's Table, and eat the Flesh of Christ, and drink His Blood, if ye are about to marry, keep yourselves for your wives. As ye would have them come to you, such ought they also to find you. What young man is there who would not wish to marry a chaste wife? And if he were to espouse a virgin who would not desire she should be unpolluted? Thou lookest for one unpolluted, be unpolluted thyself. Thou lookest for one pure, be not thyself impure. For it is not that she is able, and thou art not able. If it were not possible, then could not she be so. But, seeing that she can, let this teach thee, that it is possible. And that she may have this power, God is her ruler. But thou wilt have greater glory if thou shalt do it. Why greater glory? The vigilance of parents is a check to her, the very modesty of the weaker sex is a bridle to her; lastly, she is in fear of the laws of which thou art not afraid. Therefore iris then that thou wilt have greater glory if thou shall do it; because if thou do it, thou fearest God. She has many things to fear besides God, thou fearest God alone. But He whom thou fearest is greater than all. He is to be feared in public, He in secret. Thou goest out, thou art seen; thou goest in, thou art seen; the lamp is lighted, He seeth thee; the lamp is extinguished, He seeth thee; thou enterest into thy closet, He seeth thee; in the retirement of thine own heart, He seeth thee. Fear Him, Him whose care it is to see thee; and even by this fear be chaste. Or if thou wilt sin, seek for some place where He may not see thee, and do what thou wouldest.
3. But ye who have taken the vow already, chasten your bodies more strictly, and suffer not yourselves to loosen the reins of concupiscence even after those things which are permitted; that ye may not only turn away from an unlawful connection, but may despise even a lawful look. Remember, in whichever sex ye are, whether men or women, that ye are leading on earth the life of Angels: "For the Angels are neither given in marriage, nor marry." This shall we be, when we shall have risen again. How much better are ye, who before death begin to be what men will be after the resurrection! Keep your proper degrees, for God keepeth for you your honours. The resurrection of the dead is compared to the stars that are set in heaven. "For star differeth from star in glory," as the Apostle says; "so also is the resurrection of the dead." For after one manner virginity shall shine there, after another shall wedded chastity shine there, after another shall holy widowhood shine there. They shall shine diversely, but all shall be there. The brilliancy unequal, the heaven the same.
4. With your thoughts then on your degrees, and keeping your professions, approach ye to the Flesh of the Lord, approach to the Blood of the Lord. Whoso knoweth himself to be otherwise, let him not approach. Be moved to compunction rather by my words. For they who know that they are keeping for their wives, what froth their wives they require, they who know that they are in every way keeping continence, if this they have vowed to God, feel joy at my words; but they who hear me say, "Whosoever of you are not keeping chastity, approach not to that Bread," are saddened. And I should have no wish to say this; but what can I do? Shall I fear man, so as to suppress the truth? What, if those servants do not fear the Lord, shall I therefore too not fear? as if I do not know that it is said, " `Thou wicked and slothful servant," thou shouldest dispense, and I require." Lo, I have dispensed, O Lord my God; lo, in Thy Sight, and in the sight of Thy Holy Angels, and of this Thy people, I have laid out Thy money; for I am afraid of Thy judgment. I have dispensed, do Thou require. Though I should not say it, Thou wouldest do it. Therefore I rather say, I have dispensed, do Thou convert, do Thou spare. Make them chaste who have been unchaste, that in Thy Sight we may rejoice together when the judgment shall come, both he who hath dispensed and he to whom it hath been dispensed. Doth this please you? May it do so! Whosoever of you are unchaste, amend yourselves, whilst ye are alive. For I have power to speak the word of God, but to deliver the unchaste, who persevere in wickedness, from the judgment and condemnation of God, have I no power.