Fathers of the Church

Sermon CXI

Description

The content of Augustine’s sermons is rich and varied, embraces all the themes of Scripture and the liturgy and serves as a valuable commentary on the great dogmatic and exegetical works. They are a model of popular eloquence which is at the same time clear yet profound, lively and incisive, direct and effective. (Agostino Trapè) Sermon 111 is on Luke 13:21, the parable of the leaven, and v. 23: “Lord, are they few who are saved?”

Provenance

Augustine’s Sermons are the fruit of a career of preaching which continued without interruption for almost forty years. The library at Hippo must have contained very many sermons, perhaps three or four thousand, the greater part of which were probably never revised and published by Augustine, and have perished. Around five hundred are now extant, of which those numbered 51 ff. are on the New Testament.

by Augustine of Hippo in Uncertain | translated by R. G. Macmullen; Ed. Philip Schaff

1. "THE three measures of meal" of which the Lord spake, is the human race. Recollect the deluge; three only remained, from whom the rest were to be re-peopled. Noe had three sons, by them was repaired the human race. That holy "woman who hid the leaven," is Wisdom. Lo, the whole world crieth out in the Church of God, "I know that the Lord is great." Yet doubtless there are but few who are saved. Ye remember a question which was lately set before us out of the Gospel, "Lord," it was said, "are there few that be saved ?"What said the Lord to this? He did not say, "Not few, but many are they who are saved." He did not say this. But what said He, when He had heard, "Are there few that be saved? Strive to enter by the strait gate." When thou hearest then, "Are there few that be saved?" the Lord confirmed what He heard. Through the "strait gate" but "few" can "enter." In another place He saith Himself, "Strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that go thereby: but broad and spacious is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which walk thereby." Why rejoice we in great numbers? Give ear to me, ye "few." I know that ye are "many," who hear me, yet but "few" of you hear to obey. I see the floor, I look for the corn. And hardly is the corn seen, when the floor is being threshed; but the time is coming, that it shall be winnowed. But few then are saved m comparison of the many that shall perish. For these same "few" will constitute in themselves a great mass. When the Winnower shall come with His fan in His Hand, "He will cleanse His floor, and lay up the wheat into the garner; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." Let not the chaff scoff at the wheat; in this He speaketh truth, and deceiveth no one. Be ye then in yourselves among many a many, few though ye be in comparison of a certain many. So large a mass is to come out of this floor, as to fill the garner of heaven. For the Lord Christ would not contradict Himself, who hath said, "Many there are who enter in by the narrow gate, many who go to ruin through the wide gate;" contradict Himself, who hath in another place said, "Many shall come from the East and West." "Many" then are the "few;" both "few" and "many." Are the "few" one sort, and the "many" another? No. But the "few" are themselves the "many;" "few" in comparison of the lost, "many in the society of the Angels. Hearken, dearly Beloved. The Apocalypse hath this written; "After this I beheld of all languages, and nations, and tribes, a great multitude, which no man can number, coming with white robes and palms." This is the mass of the saints. With how much clearer voice will the floor say, when it has been fanned, separated from the crowd of ungodly, and evil, and false Christians, when those who "press" and do not "touch" (for a certain woman in the Gospel "touched," the crowd "pressed" Christ), shall have been severed unto everlasting fire; when all they then, who are to be damned shall have been separated off, with how great assurance will the purified mass, standing at the Right Hand, fearing now for itself the admixture of no evil men, nor the loss of any of the good, now about to reign with Christ, say, "I know that the Lord is great"!

2. If then, my Brethren (I am speaking to the corn), if they acknowledge what I say, predestined unto life eternal, let them speak by their works, not by their voices. I am constrained to speak to you, what I ought not. For I ought to find in you matter of praise, not to seek subjects for admonition. Yet see I will say but a few words, I will not dwell upon it. Acknowledge the duty of hospitality, thereby some have attained unto God. Thou takest in some stranger, whose companion in the way thou thyself also art; for strangers are we all. He is a Christian who, even in his own house and in his own country, acknowledges himself to be a stranger. For our country is above, there we shall not be strangers. For every one here below, even in his own house, is a stranger. If he be not a stranger, let him not pass on from hence. If pass on he must, he is a stranger. Let him not deceive himself, a stranger he is; whether he will or not, he is a stranger. And he leaves that house to his children, one stranger to other strangers. Why? If thou wert at an inn, wouldest thou not depart when another comes? The same thou doest even in thine own house. Thy father left a place to thee, thou wilt some day leave it to thy children. Neither dost thou abide here, as one who is to abide always, nor to those who are so to abide, wilt thou leave it. If we are all passing away, let us do something which cannot pass away, that when we shall have passed away, and have come thither whence we may not pass away, we may find our good works there. Christ is the keeper, why dost thou fear lest thou shouldest lose what thou spendest on the poor? "Let us turn to the Lord," etc.

[And after the Sermon.]

I suggest to you, Beloved, what ye know already. To-morrow breaks the anniversary day of the venerable lord Aurelius' ordination; he asks and admonishes you, dear Brethren, by my humble ministry, that ye would be so good as to meet together with all devotion at the basilica of Faustus. Thanks be to God.

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/VI, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.