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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 24

Sermon 24 on the New Testament

[LXXIV. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 13:52 , Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple to the kingdom of Heaven, etc.

1. The lesson of the Gospel reminds me to seek out, and to explain to you, Beloved, as the Lord shall give me power, who is that Scribe instructed in the kingdom of God, who is like an householder bringing out of his treasure things new and old. For here the lesson ended. What are the new and old things of an instructed Scribe? Now it is well known who they were, whom the ancients, after the custom of our Scriptures, called Scribes, those, namely, who professed the knowledge of the Law. For such were called Scribes among the Jewish people, not such as are so called now in the service of judges, or the custom of states. For we must not enter school to no purpose, but we must know in what signification to take the words of Scripture; lest when anything is mentioned out of it, which is usually understood in another secular use of the term, the hearer mistake it, and by thinking of its customary meaning, understand not what he has heard. The Scribes then were they who professed the knowledge of the Law, and to them belonged both the keeping and the studying, as well as also the transcribing and the expounding, of the books of the Law.

2. Such were they whom our Lord Jesus Christ rebukes, because they have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and would neither enter in themselves, nor suffer others to enter in; in these words finding fault with the Pharisees and Scribes, the teachers of the law of the Jews. Of whom in another place He says, Whatsoever they say, do, but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not. Why is it said to you, For they say and do not? but that there are some of whom what the Apostle says, is clearly exemplified, Thou that preachest a man should not steal, do you steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, do you commit sacrilege? Thou that makest your boast of the Law, through breaking the Law do you dishonour God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you. It is surely plain that the Lord speaks of these, For they say and do not. They then are Scribes, but not instructed in the kingdom of God.

3. Peradventure some of you may say, And how can a bad man speak what is good, when it is written, in the words of the Lord Himself, 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil things. You hypocrites, how can you being evil speak good things?' In the one place He says, How can you being evil speak good things? in the other He says, What they say, do, but do ye not after their works. For they say, and do not. If they say and do not, they are evil; if they are evil, they cannot speak good things; how then are we to do what we hear from them, when we cannot hear from them what is good? Now take heed, Holy and Beloved, how this question may be solved. Whatever an evil man brings forth from himself, is evil; whatever an evil man brings forth out of his own heart, is evil; for there is the evil treasure. But whatever a good man brings forth out of his heart, is good; for there is the good treasure. Whence then did those evil men bring forth good things? Because they sat in Moses' seat. Had He not first said, They sit in Moses' seat; He would never have enjoined that evil men should be heard. For what they brought forth out of the evil treasure of their own heart, was one thing; another what they gave utterance to out of the seat of Moses, the criers so to say of the judge. What the crier says, will never be attributed to him if he speak in the presence of the judge. What the crier says in his own house is one thing, what the crier says as hearing it from the judge is another. For whether he will or no, the crier must proclaim the sentence of punishment even of his own friend. And so whether he will or no, must he proclaim the sentence of the acquittal even of his own enemy. Suppose him to speak from his heart; he acquits his friend, and punishes his enemy. Suppose him to speak from the judge's chair; he punishes his friend, and acquits his enemy. So with the Scribes; suppose them to speak out of their own heart; you will hear, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die. Suppose them to speak from Moses' seat; you will hear, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness. Honour your father and mother; you shall love your neighbour as yourself. Do then this which the official seat proclaims by the mouth of the Scribes; not that which their heart utters. For so embracing both judgments of the Lord, you will not be obedient in the one, and guilty of disobedience in the other; but wilt understand that both agree together, and wilt regard both that as true, that a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things; and that other also, that those Scribes did not speak good things out of the evil treasure of their heart, but that they were able to speak good things out of the treasure of Moses' seat.

4. So then those words of the Lord will not disturb you, when He says, Every tree is known by his own fruit. Do men gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles? The Scribes and Pharisees of the Jews therefore were thorns and thistles, and notwithstanding, what they say do, but do ye not after their works. So then the grape is gathered from thorns, and the fig from thistles, as He has given you to understand according to the method I have just laid down. For so sometimes in the vineyard's thorny hedge, the vines get entangled, and clusters of grapes hang from the brambles. You had no sooner heard the name of thorns, than you were on the point of disregarding the grape. But seek for the root of the thorns, and you will see where to find it. Follow too the root of the hanging cluster, and you will see where to find it. So understand that the one refers to the Pharisee's heart, the other to Moses' seat.

5. But why were they such as they were? Because, says St. Paul, the veil is upon their heart. And they do not see that the old things are passed away, and all things have become new. Hence it is that they were such, and all others who even now are like them. Why are they old things? Because they have been a long while published. Why new? Because they relate to the kingdom of God. How the veil then is taken away, the Apostle himself tells us. But when you shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. So then the Jew who does not turn to the Lord, does not carry on his mind's eye to the end. Just as at that time the children of Israel in this figure did not carry on the gaze of their eyes to the end, that is, to the face of Moses. For the shining face of Moses contained a figure of the truth; the veil was interposed because the children of Israel could not yet behold the glory of his countenance. Which figure is done away. For so said the Apostle; which is done away. Why done away? Because when the emperor comes, the images of him are taken away. The image is looked upon, when the emperor is not present; but where he is, whose image it is, there the image is removed. There were then images borne before Him, before that our Emperor the Lord Jesus Christ came. When the images were taken away, the glory of the Emperor's presence is seen. Therefore, When any one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the voice of Moses sounded through the veil, but the face of Moses was not seen. And so now the voice of Christ sounds to the Jews by the voice of the old Scriptures: they hear their voice, but they see not the face of Him that speaks. Would they then that the veil should be taken away? Let them turn to the Lord. For then the old things are not taken away, but laid up in a treasury, that the Scribe may henceforth be instructed in the kingdom of God, bringing forth out of his treasure not new things only, nor old things only. For if he bring forth new things only or old things only; he is not a scribe instructed in the kingdom of God, bringing forth out of his treasure things new and old. If he say and do them not; he brings forth from the official seat, not from the treasure of his heart. And (we speak the truth, Holy Brethren) what things are brought out of the old, are illustrated by the new. Therefore do we turn to the Lord, that the veil may be taken away.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160324.htm>.

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