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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 82

Sermon 82 on the New Testament

[CXXXII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 6:55 ,For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats 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. You 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 feeds you, That His Table is ever ordered before you. What is the reason. O Hearers, that you see the Table, and come not to the Banquet? And perhaps, just now when the Gospel was being read, you said in your hearts, We are thinking what it is that He says, '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 says. Who has closed it against you, that you do not know this? There is a veil over it; but if you will, the veil shall be taken away. Come to the profession, and you have resolved the difficulty. For what the Lord Jesus said, the faithful know well already. But you are called a Catechumen, art called a Hearer, and art deaf. For the ears of the booty you have open, seeing that you hear the words which were spoken; but the ears of the heart you have still closed, seeing you understand not what was spoken. I plead, I do not discuss it. Lo, Easter is at hand, give in your name for baptism. If the festivity arouse you not, let the very curiosity induce you: that you may know the meaning of, Whoso eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood dwells in Me, and I in him. That you may know with me what is meant, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you: and as I say to you, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you, so do I too knock, open 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 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. You who are married, keep the fidelity of the marriage-bed with your wives. Render what you require. As a husband you require chastity from your wife; give her an example, not words. You are the head, look where you go. For you ought to go where it may not be dangerous for her to follow: yea, you ought to walk yourself where you would have her follow. You require strength from the weaker sex; the lust of the flesh you 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; do you 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 you 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? You look for one unpolluted, be unpolluted yourself. You look for one pure, be not yourself impure. For it is not that she is able, and you are not able. If it were not possible, then could not she be so. But, seeing that she can, let this teach you, that it is possible. And that she may have this power, God is her ruler. But you will have greater glory if you shall 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 you are not afraid. Therefore it is then that you will have greater glory if you shall do it; because if you do it, you fear God. She has many things to fear besides God, you fear God alone. But He whom you fear is greater than all. He is to be feared in public, He in secret. You go out, you are seen; you go in, you are seen; the lamp is lighted, He sees you; the lamp is extinguished, He sees you; you enter into your closet, He sees you; in the retirement of your own heart, He sees you. Fear Him, Him whose care it is to see you; and even by this fear be chaste. Or if you will sin, seek for some place where He may not see you, and do what you would.

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 you may not only turn away from an unlawful connection, but may despise even a lawful look. Remember, in whichever sex you are, whether men or women, that you 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 you, who before death begin to be what men will be after the resurrection! Keep your proper degrees, for God keeps for you your honours. The resurrection of the dead is compared to the stars that are set in heaven. For star differs 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 knows 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 from 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, 'You wicked and slothful servant,' you should dispense, and I require. Lo, I have dispensed, O Lord my God; lo, in Your Sight, and in the sight of Your Holy Angels, and of this Your people, I have laid out Your money; for I am afraid of Your judgment. I have dispensed, do Thou require. Though I should not say it, You would do it. Therefore I rather say, I have dispensed, do Thou convert, do Thou spare. Make them chaste who have been unchaste, that in Your Sight we may rejoice together when the judgment shall come, both he who has dispensed and he to whom it has been dispensed. Does this please you? May it do so! Whosoever of you are unchaste, amend yourselves, while you 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.

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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/160382.htm>.

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