Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Fathers of the Church

Sermon CXLV


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 145 is on John 16:24: “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name”; and Luke 10:17: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.”


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. WHEN the Holy Gospel was being read, we heard what in truth ought at once to put every earnest soul in motion to seek, not to faint. For whoso is not moved, is not changed. But there is a dangerous movement, of which it is written, "Suffer not my feet to be moved." But there is another movement of him who seeketh, knocketh, asketh. What then has been read we have all heard; but I suppose we have not all understood. It makes mention of that which together with me ye should seek, with me ask, for the receiving of which ye should with me knock. For as I hope the grace of the Lord will be with us, that whereas I wish to minister to you, I too may be thought worthy to receive. What is it, I pray you, that we have just heard that the Lord said to His disciples? "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name." Is He not speaking to those disciples, who, after He had sent them, having given them power to preach the Gospel, and to do mighty works, returned with joy, and said to Him, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy Name"? Ye recognise, ye recollect this which I have quoted from the Gospel, which in every passage and every sentence speaketh truth, nowhere false, nowhere deceiveth. How then is it true, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name"? and, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name"? Of a surety this puts the mind in motion to ascertain the secret of this difficulty. Therefore ask we, seek, knock. Be there in us faithful godliness, not a restlessness of the flesh, but a submission of the mind, that He who seeth us knocking may open unto us.

2. What the Lord then may give to be ministered unto you, do ye with earnest attention, that is, with hunger, receive; and when I shall have spoken it, ye will doubtless with sound taste approve what is placed before you out of the Lord's store. The Lord Jesus knew whereby the soul of man, that is, the rational mind, made after the image of God, could be satisfied: only, that is, by Himself. This He knew, and knew that it was as yet without that fulness. He knew that He was manifest, and He knew that He was hidden. He knew what in Him was exhibited, what concealed. He knew all this. "How great," says the Psalm, "is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden to them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that hope in Thee!" "Thy sweetness" both great and manifold "hast Thou hidden to them that fear Thee." If thou hidest it to them that fear Thee, to whom dost Thou open it? "Thou hast wrought it for them that hope in Thee." A twofold question has arisen, but either is solved by the other. If any one inquires after the other, what is this, "Thou hast hidden it to them that fear Thee; wrought it for them that hope in Thee"? Are they that fear, and they that hope, different? Do not the very same who fear God, hope in God? Who hopeth on Him who doth not fear Him? Who in a godly sort feareth Him, and hath not hope in Him? Let this then first be solved. Somewhat would I say concerning those who hope and those who fear.

3. The Law hath fear, Grace hope. But what difference is there between the Law and Grace, since the Giver both of the Law and Grace is One? The Law alarmeth him who relieth on himself, Grace assisteth him who trusteth in God. The Law, I say, alarmeth; do not make light of this because it is brief; weigh it well, and it is considerable. Look well at what I have said, take what we minister, prove wherefrom we take it. The Law alarmeth him who relieth on himself, Grace assisteth him who trusteth in God. What saith the Law? Many things: and who can enumerate them? I bring forward one small and short precept from it which the Apostle hath brought forward, a very small one; let us see who is sufficient for it. "Thou shalt not lust." What is this, Brethren? We have heard the Law; if there be no grace, thou hast heard thy punishment. Why dost thou boast to me whosoever thou art that hearing this dost rely upon thyself, why dost thou boast to me of innocence? Why dost thou flatter thyself thereupon? Thou canst say, "I have not plundered the goods of others;" I hear, I believe, perhaps I even see it, thou dost not plunder the goods of others. Thou hast heard, "Thou shalt not lust." "I do not go in to another man's wife;" this again I hear, believe, see. Thou hast heard, "Thou shalt not lust." Why dost thou inspect thyself all round without, and dost not inspect within? Look in, and thou wilt see another law in thy members Look in, why dost thou pass over thyself? Descend into thine own self. Thou wilt "see another law in thy members resisting the law of thy mind, and bringing thee into captivity in the law of sin which is in thy members." With good reason then is the sweetness of God hidden to thee. The law placed in thy members, resisting the law of thy mind, bringeth thee into captivity. Of that sweetness which to thee is hidden, the holy Angels drink; thou canst not drink and taste that sweetness, captive as thou art. "Thou hadst not known concupiscence, unless the Law had said, Thou shalt not lust." Thou heardest, fearedst, didst try to fight, couldest not overcome. For "sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought death." Surely ye recognise them, they are the Apostle's words. "Sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." Why didst thou vaunt thyself in thy pride? Lo, with thine own arms hath the enemy conquered thee. Thou verily, didst look for a commandment as a defence: and, lo, by the commandment the enemy hath found an occasion of entering in. "For sin taking occasion by the commandment," he saith, "deceived me, and by it slew me." What means what I said, "With thine own arms hath the enemy conquered thee"? Hear the same Apostle going on, and saying; "Wherefore the Law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." Make answer now to the revilers of the Law: make answer on the Apostle's authority, "The commandment is holy, the Law holy, the commandment just and good. Was then that which is good, made death unto me? God forbid! But sin that it might appear sin, by that which is good wrought death in me." Why is this but because on receiving the commandment thou didst fear, not love? Thou fearedst punishment, thou didst not love righteousness. Whoso feareth punishment, wisheth, if it were possible, to do what pleaseth him, and not to have what he feareth. God forbiddeth adultery, thou hast coveted another's wife, thou dost not go in unto her, thou dost not do so, opportunity is given thee, thou hast time, a favourable place is open, witnesses are absent, yet thou dost not do it, wherefore? Because thou fearest the punishment. But no one will know it. Will not God know it? So it is clear, because God knoweth what thou art about to do, thou doest it not; but here thou fearest the threatenings of God, not lovest His commandments. Why dost thou not do it? Because if thou do, thou wilt be cast into hell fire. It is the fire thou fearest. O if thou didst love chastity, thou wouldest not do it, even though thou mightest be altogether unpunished. If God were to say to thee, "Lo, do it, I will not condemn thee, I will not condemn thee to hell fire, but I will withhold My Face from thee." If thou did it not because of this threat, it would be from the love of God that thou didst not do it, not from the fear of judgment. But thou wouldest do it, perhaps I mean thou wouldest do so; for it is not my place to judge. If thou do it not on this principle because thou abhorrest the contamination of adultery, because thou lowest His precepts, that thou mayest obtain His promises, and not because thou fearest His condemnation, it is the grace which maketh saints that aideth thee; it is all of grace, ascribe it not to thine own self, attribute it not to thine own strength. Thou actest from delight in it, well; thou actest in charity, well; I assent, I agree. Charity worketh by thee, when thou actest with thy will. At once dost thou taste sweetness, if thou hope on the Lord.

4. But whence hast thou this charity, if yet thou hast it? for I am afraid lest even yet it is through fear thou doest it not, and lest thou seem great in thine own eyes. Now if it is through charity that thou doest it not, thou art truly great. Hast thou charity? "I have," you say. Whence? "From myself." Far art thou from sweetness, if thou hast it from thine own self. Thou wilt love thine own self, because thou wilt love that from which thou hast it. But I will convict thee that thou hast it not. For in that thou dost think that thou hast so great a thing from thine own self, by that very fact I do not believe thou hast it. For if thou hadst, thou wouldest know from whence thou hadst it. Hast thou charity from thyself, as if it were some light, some little thing? "If thou shouldest speak with the tongues of men and Angels, but have not charity, thou wouldest be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. If thou shouldest know all mysteries, and have all knowledge, and all prophecy, and all faith so that thou couldest remove mountains, but not have charity," these things could not profit thee. "If thou shouldest distribute all thy goods to the poor, and deliver up thy body to be burned, but not have charity, thou wouldest be nothing." How great is this charity, which if it be wanting, all things profit nothing! Compare it not to thy faith, not to thy knowledge, not to thy gift of tongues, to lesser things, to the eye of thy body, the hand, the foot, the belly, to any one lowest member compare charity, are these least things to be in any way compared to charity? So then the eye and nose thou hast from God, and hast thou charity from thine own self? If thou hast given thyself charity which surpasseth all things, thou hast made God of light account with thee. What more can God give thee? Whatever He may have given, is less. Charity which thou hast given thyself, surpasseth all things. But if thou hast it, thou hast not given it to thyself. "For what hast thou which thou hast not received?" Who gave to me, who gave to thee? God. Acknowledge Him in His gifts, that thou feel not His condemnation. By believing the Scriptures, God hath given thee charity, a great boon, charity, which surpasseth all things. God gave it thee, "because the charity of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts;" by thine own self, perhaps? God forbid; "by the Holy Ghost, who hath been given us."

5. Return with me to that captive, return with me to my proposition. "The Law alarmeth him that relieth on himself, grace assisteth him who trusteth in God." For look at that captive. "He seeth another law in his members resisting the law of his mind, and leading him captive in the law of sin, which is in his members." Lo, he is bound, lo, he is dragged along, lo, he is led captive, lo, he is subjected. What hath that profited him, "Thou shalt not lust"? He hath. heard, "Thou shalt not lust;" that he might know his enemy, not that he might overcome him. "For he had not known concupiscence," that is, his enemy, "unless the Law had said, Thou shalt not lust." Now thou hast seen the enemy, fight, deliver thyself, make good thy liberty, let the suggestions of pleasure be kept down, unlawful delight be utterly destroyed. Arm thyself, thou hast the Law, march on, conquer if thou canst. For what good is it that through the little portion of God's grace thou hast already, thou "delightest in the Law of God after the inward man? But thou seest another law in thy members resisting the law of thy mind;" not "resisting" yet powerless for aught, but "leading thee captive in the law of sin." Behold, whence to thee who fearest that "plentifulness of sweetness is hidden!" to him that feareth it "is hidden," how is it" wrought" out for him that "trusteth"? Cry out under thine enemy, for that thou hast an assailant, thou hast an Helper too, who looketh upon thee as thou tightest, who helpeth thee in difficulty; but only if He find thee "trusting;" for the proud He hateth. What then wilt thou cry under this enemy? "Wretched man that I am!" Ye see it already, for ye have cried out. Be this your cry, when haply thou art distressed under the enemy, say ye, in your inmost heart say, in sound faith say, "Wretched man that I am!" Wretched that I am! "Therefore wretched," because "I." "Wretched man that I am," both because "I," and because "man." For "he is disquieted in vain." For though "man walketh in the Image;" yet, "wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Wilt thou thyself? where is thy strength, where is thy confidence? Of a surety thou both criest out, and art silent; silent, that is, from extolling thyself, not from calling upon God. Be silent, and cry out. For God Himself too is both silent, and crieth aloud; He is silent from judgment, He is not silent from precept; so be thou too silent from elation, not from invocation; lest God say to thee, "I have been silent, shall I be silent always?" Cry out therefore, "O wretched man that I am!" Acknowledge thyself conquered, put thine own strength to shame, and say, "Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" What did I say above? The Law alarmeth him that relieth upon himself. Behold, man relied upon himself, he attempted to fight, he could not get the better, he was conquered, prostrated, subjugated, led captive. He learnt to rely upon God, and it remaineth that him whom the Law alarmed while he relied upon himself, grace should assist now that be trusteth in God. In this confidence he saith, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord." Now see the sweetness, taste it, relish it; hear the Psalm, "Taste and see that the Lord is sweet." He hath become sweet to thee, for that He hath delivered thee. Thou wast bitter to thine own self, when thou didst rely upon thyself. Drink sweetness, receive the earnest of so great abundance.

6. The disciples then of the Lord Jesus Christ while yet under the Law had to be cleansed still, to be nourished still, to be corrected stilI, to be directed still. For they still had concupiscence; whereas the Law saith, "Thou shalt not lust." Without offence to those holy rams, the leaders of the flock, without offence to them I would say it, for I say the truth: the Gospel relates, that they contended which of them should be the greatest, and whilst the Lord was yet on earth, they were agitated by a dissension about pre-eminence. Whence was this, but from the old leaven? whence, but from the law in the members, resisting the law of the mind? They sought for eminence; yea, they desired it; they thought which should be the greatest; therefore is their pride put to shame by a little child. Jesus calleth unto him the age of humility to tame the swelling desire. With good reason then when they returned too, and said, "Lord, behold even the devils are subject unto us through Thy Name." (It was for a nothing that they rejoiced; of what importance was it compared to that which God promised?) The Lord, the Good Master, quieting fear, and building up a firm support, said to them, "In this rejoice not that the devils are subject unto you." Why so? Because "many will come in My Name, saying, Behold, in Thy Name we have cast out devils; and I will say to them, I know you not. In this rejoice not, but rejoice because your Dances are written in heaven." Ye cannot yet be there, yet notwithstanding ye are already written there. Therefore" rejoice." So that place again, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name." For what ye have asked, in comparison with that which I am willing to give, is nothing. For what have ye asked in My Name? That the devils should be subject unto you? "In this rejoice not," that is, what ye have asked is nothing; for if it were anything, He would bid them rejoice. So then it was not absolutely nothing, but that it was little in comparison of that greatness of God's rewards. For the Apostle Paul was not really not anything; and yet in comparison of God, "Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth." And so I say to you, and I say to myself, both to myself and you I say, when we ask in Christ's Name for these temporal things. For ye have asked undoubtedly. For who doth not ask? One asketh for health, if he is sick; another asketh for deliverance, if he is in prison; another asketh for the port, if he is tossed about at sea; another asketh for victory, if he is in conflict with an enemy; and in the Name of Christ he asketh all, and what he asketh is nothing. What then must be asked for? "Ask in My Name." And He said not what, but by the very words we understand what we ought to ask. "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. Ask, and ye shall receive, in My Name." But what? Not nothing; but what? "That your joy may be full;" that is, ask what may suffice you. For when thou askest for temporal things, thou askest for nothing. "Whoso shall drink of this water, shall thirst again." He letteth down the watering pot of desire into the well, he taketh up whereof to drink, only that he may thirst again. "Ask, that your joy may be full;" that is, that ye may be satisfied, not feel delight only for a time. Ask what may suffice you; speak Philip's language, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." The Lord saith to you, "Have I been so long time with you, and have ye not known Me? Philip, he that seeth Me, seeth the Father also." Render then thanks to Christ, made weak for you that are weak, and make ready your desires for Christ's Divinity, to be satisfied therewith. Turn we to the Lord, etc.

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.

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