Friday, June 7, 2024

The difficulty of loving and forgiving our enemies.

St. Augustine’s focus on the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness. The difficulty of loving and forgiving our enemies.


From Sermon 6 on the New Testament, to catechumens preparing for Baptism. 


And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Touching this petition again we need no explanation, that it is for ourselves that we pray. For we beg that our debts may be forgiven us. For debtors are we, not in money, but in sin. You are saying perchance at this moment, And you too. We answer, Yes, we too. What, you Holy Bishops, are you debtors? Yes, we are debtors too. (St. Augustine was at that time Bishop of Hippo.) What you! Be it far from you, do not yourself this wrong. I do myself no wrong, but I say the truth; we are debtors: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.


We have been baptized, and yet are we debtors. Not that anything then remained, which was not remitted to us in Baptism, but because in our lives we are contracting ever what needs daily forgiveness. They who are baptized, and immediately depart out of this life, come up from the font without any debt; without any debt they leave the world. But they who are baptized and are still kept in this life, contract defilements by reason of their mortal frailty, by which though the ship be not sunk, yet have they need of recourse to the pump. For otherwise little by little will that enter in by which the whole ship will be sunk. And to offer this prayer, is to have recourse to the pump. 


But we ought not only to pray, but to do alms also, because when the pump is used to prevent the ship from sinking, both the voices and hands are at work. Now we are at work with our voices, when we say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And we are at work with our hands when we do this, break your bread to the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house. Shut up alms in the heart of a poor man, and it shall intercede for you unto the Lord. 


Although therefore all our sins were forgiven in the laver of regeneration, we should be driven into great straits, if there were not given to us the daily cleansing of the Holy Prayer. Alms and prayers purge away sins; only let not such sins be committed, for which we must necessarily be separated from our daily Bread; avoid we all such debts to which a severe and certain condemnation is due. Call not yourselves righteous, as though ye had no cause to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Though you abstain from idolatry, from the consolations of astrologers, from the cures of enchanters, though ye abstain from the seductions of heretics, from the divisions of schismatics; though ye abstain from murders, from adulteries and fornications, from thefts and plunderings, from false witnessings, and all such other sins which I do not name, as have a ruinous consequence [….]; yet after all these are excepted, still there is no want of occasions whereby a man may sin. 


A man sins in seeing with pleasure what he ought not to see. Yet who can hold in the quickness of the eye? For from this the eye is said to have received its very name, from its quickness. Who can restrain the ear or eye? The eyes may be shut when you will, and are shut in a moment, but the ears you can only with an effort close: you must raise the hand and reach them, and if any one hold your hand, they are kept open, nor can you close them against reviling, impure, or flattering, and seducing words. And when you hear any things you ought not to hear, though you do it not, do you not sin with the ear? For you hear something that is bad with pleasure? How great sins does the deadly tongue commit! Yea, sometimes sins of such a nature, that a man is separated from the altar for them. To the tongue pertains the whole matter of blasphemies, and many idle words again are spoken, which are not convenient.


But let the hand do nothing wrong, let the feet run not to any evil, nor the eye be directed to immodesty; let not the ear be open with pleasure to filthy talk; nor the tongue move to indecent speech; yet tell me, who can restrain the thoughts? How often do we pray, my brethren, and our thoughts are elsewhere, as though we forgot before whom we are standing, or before whom we are prostrating ourselves! If all these things be collected together against us, will they not therefore not overwhelm us, because they are small faults? What matter is it whether lead or sand overwhelm us? The lead is all one mass, the sand is small grains, but by their great number they overwhelm you. So your sins are small. Do you see not how the rivers are filled, and the lands are wasted by small drops? They are small, but they are many.


Let us therefore say every day; and say it in sincerity of heart, and do what we say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. It is an engagement, a covenant, an agreement that we make with God. The Lord your God says to you, Forgive, and I will forgive. You have not forgiven; you retain your sins against yourself, not I. I pray you, my dearly beloved children, since I know what is expedient for you in the Lord's Prayer, and most of all in that sentence of it, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; hear me. You are about to be baptized, forgive everything; whatsoever any man have in his heart against any other, let him from his heart forgive it. So enter in, and be sure, that all your sins which you have contracted, whether from your birth of your parents after Adam with original sin, for which sins’ sake ye run with babes to the Savior's grace, or whatever after sins you have contracted in your lives, by word, or deed, or thought, all are forgiven; and you will go out of the water as from before the presence of your Lord, with the sure discharge of all debts.


Now because by reason of those daily sins of which I have spoken, it is necessary for you to say, in that daily prayer of cleansing as it were, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; what will you do? You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves, love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not. For he may injure your estate, or flocks, or house, or your man-servant, or your maid-servant, or your son, or your wife; or at most, if such power be given him, your body. But can he injure your soul, as you can yourself? Reach forward, dearly beloved, I beseech you, to this perfection. But have I given you this power? He only has given it to whom you say, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. Yet let it not seem impossible to you. 


I know, I have known by experience, that there are Christian men who do love their enemies. If it seem to you impossible, you will not do it. Believe then first that it can be done, and pray that the will of God may be done in you. For what good can your neighbor's ill do you? If he had no ill, he would not even be your enemy. Wish him well then, that he may end his ill, and he will be your enemy no longer. For it is not the human nature in him that is at enmity with you, but his sin. Is he therefore your enemy, because he has a soul and body? In this he is as you are: you have a soul, and so has he: you have a body, and so has he. He is of the same substance as you are; you were made both out of the same earth, and quickened by the same Lord. In all this he is as you are. Acknowledge in him then your brother. The first pair, Adam and Eve, were our parents; the one our father, the other our mother; and therefore we are brethren. 


But let us leave the consideration of our first origin. God is our Father, the Church our Mother, and therefore are we brethren. But you will say, my enemy is a heathen, a Jew, a heretic, of whom I spoke some time ago on the words, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. O Church, your enemy is the heathen, the Jew, the heretic; he is the earth. If you are heaven, call on your Father which is in heaven, and pray for your enemies: for so was Saul an enemy of the Church; thus was prayer made for him, and he became her friend. He not only ceased from being her persecutor, but he labored to be her helper. And yet, to say the truth, prayer was made against him; but against his malice, not against his nature. So let your prayer be against the malice of your enemy, that it may die, and he may live. For if your enemy were dead, you have lost it might seem an enemy, yet have you not found a friend. But if his malice die, you have at once lost an enemy and found a friend.


But still you are saying, Who can do, who has ever done this? May God bring it to effect in your hearts! I know as well as you, there are but few who do it; great men are they and spiritual who do so. Are all the faithful in the Church who approach the altar, and take the Body and Blood of Christ, are they all such? And yet they all say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. What, if God should answer them, Why do ye ask me to do what I have promised, when you do not what I have commanded? What have I promised? To forgive your debts. What have I commanded? That ye also forgive your debtors. How can you do this, if you do not love your enemies? 


What then must we do, brethren? Is the flock of Christ reduced to such a scanty number? If they only ought to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors, who love their enemies; I know not what to do, I know not what to say. For must I say to you, If you do not love your enemies, do not pray? I dare not say so; yea, pray rather that you may love them. But must I say to you, If you do not love your enemies, say not in the Lord's Prayer, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors? Suppose that I were to say, Do not use these words. If you do not, your debts are not forgiven; and if you do use them, and do not act thereafter, they are not forgiven. In order therefore that they may be forgiven, you must both use the prayer, and do thereafter.


I see some ground on which I may comfort not some few only, but the multitude of Christians: and I know that you are longing to hear it. Christ has said, Forgive, that you may be forgiven. And what do ye say in the Prayer which we have now been discussing? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. So, Lord, forgive, as we forgive. This you say, O Father, which art in heaven, so forgive our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. For this ye ought to do, and if you do it not, you will perish. 


When your enemy asks pardon, at once forgive him. And is this much for you to do? Though it were much for you to love your enemy when violent against you, is it much to love a man who is a supplicant before you? What have you to say? He was before violent, and then you hated him. I had rather you had not hated him even then: I had rather then when you were suffering from his violence, you had remembered the Lord, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. I would have then much wished that even at that time when your enemy was violent against you, you had had regard to the Lord your God speaking thus.


But perhaps you will say, He did it, but then He did it as being the Lord, as the Christ, as the Son of God, as the Only-Begotten, as the Word made flesh. But what can I, an infirm and sinful man, do? If your Lord be too high an example for you, turn your thoughts upon your fellow-servant. The holy Stephen was being stoned, and as they stoned him, on bended knees did he pray for his enemies, and say, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. They were casting stones, not asking pardon, yet did he pray for them. I would you were like him; reach forth. Why are you for ever trailing your heart along the earth? Hear, Lift up your heart, reach forward, love your enemies. If you can not love him in his violence, love him at least when he asks pardon. Love the man who says to you, Brother, I have sinned, forgive me. If you then forgive him not, I say not merely, that you dost blot this prayer out of your heart, but you shall be blotted yourself out of the book of God.


But if you then at least forgive him, or let go hatred from your heart, it is hatred from the heart I bid you forego, and not proper discipline. What if one who asks my pardon, be one who ought to be chastised by me! Do what you will, for I suppose that you love your child even when you chastise him. Thou regardest not his cries under the rod, because you are reserving for him his inheritance. This I say then, that you forego from your heart all hatred, when your enemy asks pardon of you.


But perhaps you will say, he is playing false, he is pretending. O you judge of another's heart, tell me your own father's thoughts, tell me your own thoughts yesterday. He asks and petitions for pardon; forgive, by all means forgive him. If you will not forgive him, it is yourself you hurt, not him, for he knows what he has to do. You are not willing to forgive your own fellow-servant; he will go then to your Lord, and say to Him, Lord, I have prayer my fellow-servant to forgive me, and he would not; do Thou forgive me. Hath not the Lord power to release his servant's debts? So he, having obtained pardon from his Lord, returns loosed, while you remain bound. How bound? The time of prayer will come, the time must come for you to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; and the Lord will answer you, Thou wicked servant, when you owed Me so great a debt, you asked Me, and I forgave you; should not you also have had compassion on your fellow-servant, even as I had pity on you? These words are out of the Gospel, not of my own heart. But if on being asked, you shall forgive him who begs for pardon, then you can say this prayer. And if you have not as yet the strength to love him in his violence, still you may offer this prayer, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.




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