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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 91

Sermon 91 on the New Testament

[CXLI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 14:6 , I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

1. Amongst other things, when the Holy Gospel was being read, you heard what the Lord Jesus said, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Truth and life does every man desire; but not every man does find the way. That God is a certain Life Eternal, Unchangeable, Intelligible, Intelligent, Wise, Making wise, some philosophers even of this world have seen. The fixed, settled, unwavering truth, wherein are all the principles of all things created, they saw indeed, but afar off; they saw, but amid the error in which they were placed; and therefore what way to attain to that so great, and ineffable, and beatific a possession they formed not. For that even they saw (as far as can be seen by man) the Creator by means of the creature, the Worker by His work, the Framer of the world by the world, the Apostle Paul is witness, whom Christians ought surely to believe. For he said when he was speaking of such; The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness. These are, as you recognise, the words of the Apostle Paul; The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men; who detain the truth in unrighteousness. Did he say that they do not detain truth? No: but, They detained the truth in unrighteousness. What they detain, is good; but wherein they detain it, is bad. They detain the truth in unrighteousness.

2. Now it occurred to him that it might be said to him, Whence do these ungodly men detain the truth? Hath God spoken to any one of them? Have they received the Law as the people of the Israelites by Moses? Whence then do they detain the truth, though it be even in this unrighteousness? Hear what follows, and he shows. Because that which can be known of God, he says, is manifest in them; for God has manifested it unto them. Manifested it unto them to whom He has not given the Law? Hear how He has manifested it. For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Ask the world, the beauty of the heaven, the brilliancy and ordering of the stars, the sun, that suffices for the day, the moon, the solace of the night; ask the earth fruitful in herbs, and trees, full of animals, adorned with men; ask the sea, with how great and what kind of fishes filled; ask the air, with how great birds stocked; ask all things, and see if they do not as if it were by a language of their own make answer to you, God made us. These things have illustrious philosophers sought out, and by the art have come to know the Artificer. What then? Why is the wrath of God revealed against this ungodliness? Because they detain the truth in unrighteousness? Let him come, let him show how. For how they came to know Him, he has said already. The invisible things of Him, that is God, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal Power also and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. They are the Apostle's words, not mine: And their foolish heart was darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. What by curious search they found, by pride they lost. Professing themselves to be wise, attributing, that is, the gift of God to themselves, they became fools. They are the Apostle's words, I say; Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

3. Show, prove their foolishness. Show, O Apostle, and as you have shown us whereby they were able to attain to the knowledge of God, for that the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by those things that are made; so now show how, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Hear; Because they changed, he says, the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things. For of figures of these animals, the Pagans made themselves gods. You have found out God, and you worship an idol. You have found out the truth, and this very truth do you detain in unrighteousness. And what by the works of God you have come to know, by the works of man you lose. You have considered the universe, hast collected the order of the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all the elements; you will not take heed to this, that the world is the work of God, an idol is the work of a carpenter. If the carpenter as he has given the figure, could also give a heart, the carpenter would be worshipped by his own idol. For, O man, as God is your Framer, so the idol's framer is a man. Who is your God? He That made you. Who is the carpenter's god? He That made him. Who is the idol's god? He that made it. If then the idol had a heart, would he not worship the carpenter who made it? See in what unrighteousness they detained the truth, and found not the way that leads to that possession which they saw.

4. But Christ, for that He is with the Father, the Truth, and Life, the Word of God, of whom it is said, The Life was the Light of men; for that I say He is with the Father, the Truth, and Life, and we had no way whereby to go to the Truth, the Son of God, who is ever in the Father the Truth and Life, by assuming man's nature became the Way. Walk by Him as Man, and you come to God. By Him you go, to Him you go. Look not out for any way whereby to come to Him, besides Himself. For if He had not vouchsafed to be the Way, we should have always gone astray. He then became the Way Whereby you should come; I do not say to you, seek the Way. The Way Itself has come to you, arise and walk. Walk, with the life, not with the feet. For many walk well with the feet, and with their lives walk ill. For sometimes even those who walk well, run outside the way. Thus you will find men living well, and not Christians. They run well; but they run not in the way. The more they run, the more they go astray; because they are out of the Way. But if such men as these come to the Way, and hold on the Way, O how great is their security, because they both walk well, and do not go astray! But if they do not hold on the Way, however well they walk, alas! How are they to be bewailed! For better is it to halt in the way, than to walk on stoutly outside the way. Let this suffice for you, Beloved. Turn we to the Lord, etc.

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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/160391.htm>.

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