Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in Uncertain | translated by R. G. Macmullen; Ed. Philip Schaff
1. THE advice, Brethren, which ye have just heard Scripture give, when it tells us to watch for the last day, every one should think of as concerning his own last day; lest haply when ye judge or think the last day of the world to be far distant, ye slumber with respect to your own last day. Ye have heard what Jesus said concerning the last day of this world, "That neither the Angels of heaven, nor the Son knew it, but the Father." Where indeed there is a great difficulty, lest understanding this in a carnal way, we think that the Father knoweth anything which the Son knoweth not. For indeed when He said, "the Father knoweth it;" He said this because in the Father the Son also knoweth it. For what is there in a day which was not made by the Word, by whom the day was made? Let no one then search out for the last Day, when it is to be; but let us watch all by our good lives, lest the last day of any one of us find us unprepared, and such as any one shall depart hence on his last day, such he be found in the last day of the world. Nothing will then assist thee which thou shalt not have done here. His own works will succour, or his own works will overwhelm every one.
2. And how have we in the Psalm sung unto the Lord, "Lord, have mercy on me, for man hath trodden me down"? He is called a man who lives after the manner of men. For it is said to them who live after God, "Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High." But to the reprobate, who were called to be the sons of God, and who wished rather to be men, that is, to live after the manner of men, he says, "But ye shall die like men, and fall as one of the princes." For that man is mortal, ought to avail for his instruction, not for boasting. Whereupon does a worm that is to die on the morrow boast himself? I speak to your love, Brethren; proud mortals ought to be made blush by the devil. For he, though proud, is yet immortal; he is a spirit, though a malignant one. The last day is kept in store for him at the end as his punishment; nevertheless he is not subject to the death to which we are subject. But man heard the sentence, "Thou shalt surely die." Let him make a good use of his punishment. What is that I have said, "Let him make a good use of his punishment"? Let him not by that from which he received his punishment fall into pride; let him acknowledge that he is mortal, and let it break down his elation. Let him hear it said to him, "Why is earth and ashes proud?" Even if the devil is proud, he is not "earth and ashes." Therefore was it said, "But ye shall die like men, and shall fall l as one of the princes." Ye do not consider that ye are mortals, and ye are proud as the devil. Let man then make a good use of his punishment, Brethren; let him make a good use of his evil, that he may make advancement to his good. Who does not know, that the necessity of our dying is a punishment; and the more grievous, that we know not when? The punishment is certain, the hour uncertain; and of that punishment alone are we certain in the ordinary course of human affairs.
3. All else of ours, both good and evil, is uncertain; death alone is certain. What is this that I say? A child is conceived, perhaps it will be born, perhaps it will be an untimely birth. So it is uncertain: Perhaps he will grow up, perhaps he will not grow up; perhaps he will grow old, perhaps he will not grow old; perhaps he will be rich, perhaps poor; perhaps he will be distinguished, perhaps abased; perhaps he will have children, perhaps he will not; perhaps he will marry, perhaps not; and so on, whatever else among good things you may name. Now look too at the evils of life: Perhaps he will have sickness, perhaps he will have not; perhaps he will be stung by a serpent, perhaps not; perhaps he will be devoured by a wild beast, perhaps he will not. And so look at all evils; everywhere is there a "perhaps it will be," and "perhaps it will not." But canst thou say, "Perhaps he will die," and "perhaps he will not die"? As when medical men examine an illness, and ascertain that it is fatal, they make this announcement; "He will die, he will not get over this." So from the moment of a man's birth, it may be said, "He will not get over this." When he is born he begins to be ailing. When he dies, he ends indeed this ailment: but he knows not whether he does not fall into a worse. The rich man in the Gospel had ended his voluptuous ailment, he came to a tormenting one. But the poor man ended his ailment, and arrived at perfect health. But he made choice in this life of what he was to have hereafter; and what he reaped there, he sowed here. Therefore while we live we ought to watch, and to make choice of that which we may possess in the world to come.
4. Let us not love the world. It overwhelms its lovers, it conducts them to no good. We must rather labour in it that it seduce us not, than fear lest it should fall. Lo, the world falleth; the Christian standeth firm; because Christ doth not fall. For wherefore saith the Lord, "Rejoice, for that I have overcome the world"? We might answer Him if we pleased, "'Rejoice,' yes do Thou rejoice. If Thou 'hast overcome,' do thou rejoice. Why should we?" Why doth He say to us, "Rejoice;" but because it is for us that He hath overcome, for us hath fought? For wherein fought He? In that He took man's nature upon Him. Take away His birth of a virgin, take away that He emptied Himself, "taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man;" take away this, and where is the combat, where the contest? where the trial? where the victory, which no battle has preceded? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." Could the Jews have crucified this Word? Could those impious men have mocked this Word? Could this Word have been buffeted? Could this Word have been crowned with thorns? But that He might suffer all this, "the Word was made flesh;" and after He had suffered all this, by rising again He "overcame." So then He hath "overcome" for us, to whom He hath shown the assurance of His resurrection. Thou sayest then to God, "Have mercy upon the, O Lord, for man hath trodden me down." Do not "tread down" thyself, and man will not overcome thee. For, lo, some powerful man alarms thee. By what does he alarm thee? "I will spoil thee, will condemn, will torture, will kill thee." And thou criest, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for man hath trodden me down." If thou say the truth, and mark thyself well, one dead "treads thee down," because thou art afraid of the threats of a man; and man "treads thee down," because thou wouldest not be afraid, unless thou wert a man. What is the remedy then? O man, cleave to God, by whom thou wast made a man; cleave fast to Him, put thy affiance in Him, call upon Him, let Him be thy strength. Say to Him, "In Thee, O Lord, is my strength." And then thou shalt sing at the threatenings of men; and what thou shalt sing hereafter, the Lord Himself telleth thee, "I will hope in God, I will not fear what man can do unto me."
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.