Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 423 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO THE MOST BELOVED AND MOST HOLY MOTHER FELICITAS, AND BROTHER RUSTICUS, AND TO THE SISTERS WHO ARE WITH THEM, AUGUSTIN AND THOSE WHO ARE WITH HIM SEND GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. Good is the Lord, and to every place extends His mercy, which comforts us by your love to us in Him. How much He loves those It who believe and hope in Him, and who both love Him and love one another, and what blessings He keeps in store for them hereafter, He proves most remarkably in this, that on the unbelieving, the abandoned, and the perverse, whom He threatens with eternal fire, if they persevere in their evil disposition to the end, He does in this life bestow so many benefits, making "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good," "on the just and on the unjust," words in which, for the sake of brevity, some instances are mentioned that many more may be suggested to reflection; for who can reckon up how many gracious benefits the wicked receive in this life from Him whom they despise? Amongst these, this is one of great value, that by the experience of the occasional afflictions, which like good physician He mingles the pleasures of this life, He admonishes them, if only they will give heed, to flee from the wrath to come, and while they are in the way, that is, in this life, to agree with the word of God, which they have made an adversary to themselves by their wicked lives. What, then, is not bestowed in mercy on men by the Lord God, since even affliction sent by Him is a blessing? For prosperity is a gift of God when He comforts, adversity a gift of God when He warns; and if He bestows these things, as I have said, even on the wicked, what does He prepare for those who bear with one another? Into this number you rejoice that through His grace you have been gathered, "forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." For there shall not be awanting occasion for your bearing one with another till God shall have so purified you, that, death being "swallowed up in victory," "God shall be all in all."
2. We ought never, indeed, to take pleasure in quarrels; but however averse we may be to them, they occasionally either arise from love, or put it to the test. For how difficult is it to find any one willing to be reproved; and where is the wise man of whom it is said, "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee"? But are we on that account not to reprove and find fault with a brother, to prevent him from going down through false security to death? For it is a common and frequent experience, that when a brother is found fault with he is mortified at the time, and resists and contradicts his friend, but afterwards reconsiders the matter in silence alone with God, where he is not afraid of giving offence to men by submitting to correction, but is afraid of offending God by refusing to be reformed, and thenceforward refrains from doing that for which he has been justly reproved; and in proportion as he hates his sin, he loves the brother whom he feels to have been the enemy of his sin. But if he belong to the number of those of whom it is said, "Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee," the quarrel does not arise from love on the part of the reproved, but it exercises and tests the love of the reprover; for he does not return hatred for hatred, but the love which constrains him to find fault endures unmoved, even when he who is found fault with requites it with hatred. But if the reprover renders evil for evil to the man who takes offence at being reproved, he was not worthy to reprove another, but evidently deserves to be himself reproved. Act upon these principles, so that either quarrels may not arise, or, if they do arise, may quickly terminate in peace. Be more earnest to dwell in concord than to vanquish each other in controversy. For as vinegar corrodes a vessel if it remain long in it, so anger corrodes the heart if it is cherished till the morrow. These things, therefore, observe, and the God of peace shall be with you. Pray also unitedly for us, that we may cheerfully practise the good advices which we give to you.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF I/I, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.