Early Church Fathers
Sermon XL. [XC. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Matt. xxii. 2, etc., About the marriage of the king's son; against the donatists, on charity. Delivered at Carthage in the Restituta.1
1. All the faithful2 know the marriage of the king's son, and his feast, and the spreading3 of the Lord's Table is open to them all4 who will.But it is of importance to each one to see how he approaches, even when he is not forbidden to approach It. For the Holy Scriptures teach us that there are two feasts of the Lord; one to which the good and evil come, the other to which the evil come not. So then the feast, of which we have just now heard when the Gospel was being read, has both good and evil guests. All who excused themselves from this feast are evil; but not all those who entered in are good. You therefore who are the good guests at this feast do I address, who have in your minds the words, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself."5 All you who are such do I address, that ye look not for the good without, that ye bear with the evil within.
2. I do not doubt that ye wish to hear, Beloved, who they are of whom I have spoken in my address, that they should not look for the good without, and should bear with the evil within.If all within are evil, whom do I address? If all within are good, whom did I advise them tobear with being evil? Let me first then with the Lord's assistance get out of this difficulty as best I can. If you consider good perfectly and strictly6 speaking, none is good but God Alone. Ye have the Lord saying most plainly, "Why callest thou Me good? there is none Good but One, that is, God."7 How then can that marriage feast have good and bad guests, if "none is good but God Alone"? In the first place ye ought to know, that after a certain sort we are all evil. Yes, doubtless after a certain sort are we all evil; but after no sort are we all good. For can we compare ourselves with the Apostles, to whom the Lord Himself said, "If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children?"8 If we consider the Scriptures, there was but one evil one among the twelve Apostles, with reference to whom the Lord said in a certain place, "And ye are clean, but not all."9 But yet in addressing them all together, He said, "If ye being evil." Peter heard this, John heard this, Andrew heard this, all the rest of the eleven Apostles heard it. What did they hear? "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?" When they heard that they were evil, they were in despair; but when they heard that God in heaven was their Father, they revived. "Ye being evil;" what then is due to the evil, but punishment? "How much more shall your Father which is in heaven?" What is due to children but reward. In the name of "evil" is the dread of punishment; in the name of "children" is the hope of heirs.
3. According to a certain respect then they were evil, who after another respect were good. For to them to whom it is said, "Ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children;" is added immediately, "How much more shall your Father which is in heaven?" He is then the Father of the evil, but not of those who are to be left so; because He is the Physician of them who are to be cured. According to a certain sort then they were evil. And yet those guests of the Householder at the King's marriage, were not I suppose of that number of whom it was said," they invited good and bad,"10 that they should be reckoned among the number of the bad, who we have heard were shut out in his person who was found not to have a wedding garment. According to a certain respect, I repeat they were bad, who yet were good; and according to a certain respect they were good, who yet were bad. Hear John according to what respect they were bad: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."11 Behold after what respect they were bad: because they had sin. According to what respect were they good? "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."12 If then we should say, on the principle of this interpretation which ye have now heard me bring, as I think, out of the sacred Scriptures, viz. that the same men are both after a certain manner, good, and after a certain manner bad; if we should wish to receive according to this sense the words, "they invited good and bad," the same persons, that is, at once good and bad; if we should wish so to receive them, we are not permitted so to do, by reason of that one who was found "not having a wedding garment," and who was not merely "cast forth," so as to be deprived of that feast, but so as to be condemned in the punishment of everlasting darkness.
4. But one will say, What of one man? what strange, what great matter is it, if one among the crowd "not having a wedding garment" crept in unperceived to the servants of the Householder? Could it be said because of that one, "they invited good and bad"? Attend therefore, my Brethren, and understand. That one man represented one class; for they were many. Here some diligent hearer may answer me, and say, "I have no wish for you to tell me your guesses; I wish to have it proved to me that that one represented many."13 By the Lord's present help, I will prove it clearly; nor will I search far, that I may be able to prove it. God will assist me in His own words in in this place, and will furnish you by my ministry with a plain proof of it. "The Master of the house came in to see the guests."14 See, my Brethren, the servants' business was only to invite and bring in the good and bad; see that it is not said, that the servants took notice of the guests, and found among them a man which had not on a wedding garment, and spoke to him. This is not written. The Master of the house saw him, the Master of the house discovered, the Master of the house inspected, the Master of the house separated him out. It was not right to pass over this. But I have undertaken to establish another point, how that that one signifies many. "The Master of the house" then "came in to see the guests, and He found there a man which had not on a wedding garment. And He saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless."15 For He who questioned him was One, to whom he could give no feigned reply. The garment that was looked for is in the heart, not on the body; for had it been put on externally, it could not have been concealed even from the servants. Where that wedding garment must be put on, hear in the words, "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness."16 Of that garment the Apostle speaks,17 "If so be that we shall be found clothed, and not naked."18 Therefore was he discovered by the Lord, who escaped the notice of the servants. Being questioned, he is speechless: he is bound, cast out, and condemned one by many. I have said, Lord, that Thou teachest us that in this Thou dost give warning to all. Recollect then with me, my Brethren, the words which ye have heard, and ye will at once discover, at once determine, that that one was many. True it was one man whom the Lord questioned, to one He said, "Friend, how camest thou in hither?" It was one who was speechless, and of that same one was it said, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."19 Why? "For many are called, but few chosen."20 How can any one gainsay this manifestation of the truth? "Cast him," He saith, "into outer darkness." "Him," that one man assuredly, of whom the Lord saith, "for many are called, but few chosen." So then it is the few who are not cast out. He was it is true but one man "who had not the wedding garment. Cast him out." But why is he cast out? "For many are called, but few chosen." Leave alone the few, cast out the many. It is true, that man was but one. Yet undoubtedly that one not only was many, but those many in numbers far surpassed the number of the good. For the good are many also; but in comparison of the bad, they are few. In the crop there is much wheat; compare it with the chaff, and the grains of corn are few. The same persons considered in themselves are many, in comparison with the bad are few. How do we prove that in themselves they are many? "Many shall come from the East and from the West." Whither shall they come? To that feast, into which both good and bad enter. But speaking of another feast, He subjoined, "and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."21 That is the feast to which the bad shall not approach. Be that feast which now is, received worthily, that we may attain to the other. The same then are many, who are also few; in themselves many; in comparison with the bad few. Therefore what saith the Lord? He found one, and said, "Let the many be cast out, the few remain." For to say, "many are called, but few chosen," is nothing else than to show plainly who in this present feast are accounted to be such, as to be brought to that other feast, where no bad men shall come.
5. What is it then? I would not that ye all who approach the Lord's Table which is in this life, should be with the many who are to be shut out, but with the few who are to be reserved. And how shall ye be able to attain to this? Take "the wedding garment." Ye will say, "Explain this `wedding garment' to us." Without a doubt, that is the garment which none but the good have, who are to be left at the feast, reserved unto that other feast to which no bad man approaches, who are to be brought safely thither by the grace of the Lord; these have "the wedding garment." Let us then, my Brethren, seek for those among the faithful who have something which bad men have not, and this will be "the wedding garment." If we speak of sacraments, ye see how that these are common to the bad and good. Is it Baptism? Without Baptism it is true no one attaineth to God; but not every one that hath Baptism attaineth to Him. I cannot therefore understand Baptism, the Sacrament itself that is, to be "the wedding garment;" for this garment I see in the good, I see in the bad. Peradventure it is the Altar, or That which is received at the Altar. But no; we see that many eat, and "eat and drink judgment to themselves." What is it then? Is it fasting? The wicked fast also. Is it running together to the Church? The wicked run thither also. Lastly, is it miracles? Not only do the good and bad perform them, but sometimes the good perform them not. See, among the ancient people Pharaoh's magicians wrought miracles, the Israelites did not; among the Israelites, Moses only and Aaron wrought them; the rest did not, but saw, and feared, and believed.22 Were the magicians of Pharaoh who did miracles, better men than the people of Israel who could not do them, and yet that people were the people of God. In the Church itself, hear the Apostle, "Are all prophets? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?"23
6. What is that "wedding garment" then? This is the wedding garment: "Now the end of the commandment," says the Apostle, "is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned."24 This is "the wedding garment." Not charity of any kind whatever; for very often they who are partakers together of an evil conscience seem to love one another. They who commit robberies together, who love the hurtful arts of sorceries, and the stage together, who join together in the shout of the chariot race, or the wild beast fight; these very often love one another; but in these there is no "charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. The wedding garment" is such charity as this. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal."25 Tongues have come in alone, and it is said to them, "How came ye in hither not having a wedding garment?" "Though," said he, "I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." See, these are the miracles of men who very often have not "the wedding garment." "Though," he says," I have all these, and have not Christ, I am nothing." Is then "the gift of prophecy" nothing? is then "the knowledge of mysteries"26 nothing? It is not that these are nothing; but" I," if I have them, "and have not charity, am nothing."How many good things profit nothing without this one good thing! If then I have not charity, though I bestow alms freely upon the poor, though I have come to the confession of Christ's Name even unto blood and fire, these things may be done even through the love of glory, and so are vain. Because then they may be done even from the love of glory, and so be vain, and not through the rich charity of a godly affection, he names them all also in express terms, and do thou give ear to them; "though I distribute all my goods for the use of the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."27 This then is "the wedding garment." Question yourselves; if ye have it, ye may be without fear in the Feast of the Lord. In one and the same man there exist two things, charity and desire. Let charity be born in thee, if it be yet unborn, and if it be born, be it nourished, fostered, increased. But as to that desire, though in this life it cannot be utterly extinguished; "for if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;"28 but in so far as desire is in us, so far we are not without sin: let charity increase, desire decrease; that the one, that is, charity, may one day be perfected, and desire be consumed. Put on "the wedding garment:" you I address, who as yet have it not. Ye are already within, already do ye approach to the Feast, and I still have ye not yet the garment to do honour to the Bridegroom; "Ye are yet seeking your own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ's."29 For "the wedding garment" is taken in honour of the union, the union, that is, of the Bridegroom to the Bride. Ye know the Bridegroom; it is Christ. Ye know the Bride; it is the Church. Pay honour30 to the Bride, pay honour to the Bridegroom. If ye pay due honour to them both, ye will be their children. Therefore in this make progress. Love the Lord, and so learn to love yourselves; that when by loving the Lord ye shall have loved yourselves, ye may securely love your neighbour as yourselves. For when I find a man that does not love himself, how shall I commit his neighbour whom he should love as himself to him? And who is there, you will say, who does not love himself? Who is there? See, "He that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul."31 Does he love himself, who loves his body, and hates his soul to his own hurt, to the hurt of both his body and soul? And who loves his own soul? He that loveth God with all his heart and with all his mind. To such an one I would at once entrust his neighbour. "Love your neighbour as yourselves."
7. One may say, "Who is my neighbour?" Every man is your neighbour. Had we not all the same two parents? Animals of every species are neighbours one to the other, the dove to the dove, the leopard to the leopard, the asp to the asp, the sheep to the sheep, and is not man neighbour to man? Call to mind the ordering of the creation. God spake, the waters brought forth swimming creatures, great whales, fish, birds, and such like things. Did all the birds come of one bird? Did all vultures come of one vulture? Did all doves come of one dove? Did all snakes come of one snake? or all gilt-heads of one gilt-head?32 or all sheep of one sheep? No, the earth assuredly brought forth all these kinds together. But when it came to man, the earth did not bring forth man. One father was made for us; not even two, father and mother: one father, I say, was made for us, not even two, father and mother; but out of the one father came the one mother; the one father came from none, but was made by God, and the one mother came out of him. Mark then the nature of our race: we flowed out of one fountain; and because that one was turned to bitterness, we all became from a good, a wild olive tree. And so grace came also. One begat us unto sin and death, yet as one race, yet as neighbours one to another, yet as not merely like, but related to each other. There came One against one; against the one who scattered, One who gathereth. Thus against the one who slayeth, is the One who maketh alive. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."33 Now as whosoever is born of the first, dieth; so whosoever believeth in Christ is made alive. Provided, that is, that he have "the wedding garment," and be invited as one who is to remain, and not to be cast out.
8. So then, my Brethren, have charity. I have explained it to be this garment, this "wedding garment." Faith is praised, it is plain, it is praised: but what kind of faith this is, the Apostle distinguishes. For certain who boasted of faith, and had not a good conversation, the Apostle James rebukes and says, "Thou believest there is one God, thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble."34 Call to mind with me whereupon Peter was praised, whereupon called blessed. Was it because he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God"?35 He who pronounced Him blessed, regarded not the sound of the words, but the affection of the heart. For would ye know that Peter's blessedness lay not in these words? The devils also said the same. "We know Thee who Thou art, the Son of God."36 Peter confessed Him to be "the Son of God;" the devils confessed Him to be "the Son of God." "Distinguish, my lord, distinguish between the two." I do make a plain distinction. Peter spake in love, the devils from fear. And again Peter says, "I am with Thee, even unto death."37 The devils say, "What have we to do with Thee?" So then thou who art come to the feast, glory not of faith only. Distinguish well the nature of this faith; and then in thee is recognised "the wedding garment." Let the Apostle make the distinction, let him teach us; "neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith."38 Tell us, what faith? do not even the devils believe and tremble? I will tell thee, he says, and listen, I will now draw the distinction," But faith which worketh by love." What faith, then, and of what kind? "That which worketh by love." "Though I haveall knowledge," he says, "and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Have faith with love; for love without faith ye cannot have. This I warn, this I exhort, this in the name of the Lord I teach you, Beloved, that ye have faith with love; for ye may possibly have faith without love. I do not exhort you to have faith, but love. For ye cannot have love without faith; the love I mean of God and your neighbour; whence can it come without faith? How doth he love God, who doth not believe on God? How doth the fool love God, "who saith in his heart, there is no God"?39 Possible it is that ye may believe that Christ hath come and not love Christ. But it is not possible that ye should love Christ, and yet say that Christ hath not come.
9. So then, have faith with love. This is the "wedding garment." Ye who love Christ, love one another, love your friends, love your enemies. Let not this be hard to you. What then do ye lose thereby, when ye gain so much? What? dost thou ask of God as some great favour, that thine enemy may die? This is not "the wedding garment." Turn thy thoughts to the Bridegroom Himself hanging upon the Cross for thee, and praying to His Father for His enemies; "Father," saith He, "forgive them, for they know not what they do."40 Thou hast seen the Bridegroom speaking thus; see too the friend of the Bridegroom, a guest "with the wedding garment." Look at the blessed Stephen, how he rebukes the Jews as though in rage and resentment, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye have resisted the Holy Ghost. Which of the Prophets have not your fathers killed?"41 Thou hast heard how severe he is with his tongue. And at42 once thou art prepared to speak against any one; and I would it were against him who offendeth God, and not who offendeth thee. One offendeth God, and thou dost not rebuke him; he offendeth thee, and thou criest out; where is that "wedding garment"? Ye have heard therefore how Stephen was severe; now hear how he loved. He offended those whom he was rebuking, and was stoned by them. And as he was being overwhelmed and bruised to death by the hands of his furious persecutors on every side,and the blows of the stones, he first said, "Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit."43 Then after he had prayed for himself standing, he bent the knee for them who were stoning him, and said,"Lord, lay not this sin to their charge; let me die in my body, but let not these die in their souls. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."44 After these words he added no more; he spake them and departed; his last prayer was for his enemies. Learn ye hereby to have "the wedding garment." So do thou too bend the knee, and beat thy forehead against the ground, and as thou art about to approach the Table of the Lord, the Feast of the Holy Scriptures, do not say, "O that mine enemymight die! Lord, if I have deserved ought of Thee, slay mine enemy." Because if so be that thou sayest so, dost thou not fear lest He should answer thee, "If I should choose to slay thine enemy, I should first slay thee. What! dost thou glory because thou hast now come invited hither? Think only what thou wast but a little while ago. Hast thou not blasphemed Me? hast thou not derided Me? didst thou not wish to wipe out My Name from off the earth? Yet now thou dost applaud thyself because thou hast come invited hither! If I had slain thee when thou wast Mine enemy, how could I have made thee My friend? Why, by thy wicked prayers dost thou teach Me to do, what I did not in thine own case?" Yea rather God saith to thee, "Let me teach thee to imitate Me. When I was hanging on the Cross, I said, `Forgive them, for they know not what they do.'45 This lesson I taught My brave soldier. Be thou My recruit against the devil. In no other way wilt thou fight at all unconquerably, unless thou dost pray for thine enemies. Yet by all means ask this, yea ask this very thing, ask that thou mayest persecute thine enemy; but ask it with discernment; distinguish well what thou askest. See, a man is thine enemy; answer me, what is it in him which is at enmity with thee? Is it in this, that he is a man, that he is at enmity with thee? No. What then? That he is evil. In that he is a man, in that he is that I made him, he is not at enmity with thee." He saith to thee, "I did not make man evil; he became evil by disobedience, who obeyed the devil46 rather than God. What he has made himself, is at enmity with thee; in that he is evil, he is thine enemy; not in that he is a man. For I hear the word "man," and "evil;" the one is the name of nature the other of sin; the sin I cure; and the nature I preserve." And so thy God saith to thee," See, I do avenge thee, I do slay thine enemy; I take away that which makes him evil, I preserve that which constitutes him a man: now if I shall have made him a good man, have I not slain thine enemy, and made him thy friend?" So ask on what thou art asking, not that the men may perish, but that these their enmities may perish. For if thou pray for this, that the man may die; it is the prayer of one wicked man against another; and when thou dost say, "Slay the wicked one," God answereth thee, "Which of you?"
10. Extend your love then, and limit it not to your wives and children. Such love is found even in beasts and sparrows. Ye know the sparrows and the swallows how they love their mates, how together they hatch their eggs, and nourish their young together, by a sort of free47 and natural kindliness, and with no thought of a return. For the sparrow does not say, "I will nourish my young, that when I am grown old, they may feed me." He has no such thought; he loves and feeds them, for the love of them; displays the affection of a parent, and looks for no return. And so, I know, I am sure, do ye love your children. "For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children."48 Yea upon this plea it is that many of you excuse your covetousness, that ye are getting for your children, and are laying by for them.49 But I say, extend your love, let this love grow; for to love wives and children, is not yet that "wedding garment." Have faith to Godward. First love God. Extend yourselves out to God; and whomsoever ye shall be able, draw on to God. There is thine enemy: let him be drawn to God. There is a son, a wife, a servant; let them be all drawn to God. There is a stranger; let him be drawn to God. There is an enemy; let him be drawn to God. Draw, draw on thine enemy; by drawing him on he shall cease to be thine enemy. So let charity be advanced, so be it nourished, that being nourished it may be perfected; so be "the wedding garment" put on; so be the image of God, after which we were created, by this our advancing, engraven anew in us. For by sin was it bruised, and worn away. How is it bruised? how worn away? When it is rubbed against the earth? And what is, "When it is rubbed against the earth "? When it is worn by earthly lusts. For "though man50 walketh in this image, yet is he disquieted in vain."51 Truth is looked for in God's image, not vanity.By the love of the truth then be that image, afterwhich we were created, engraven anew, and His Own tribute rendered to our Caesar. For so ye have heard from the Lord's answer, when the Jews tempted Him, as He said, "Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites; show Me the tribute money,"52 that is, the impress and superscription of the image. Show me what ye pay, what ye get ready, what is exacted of you. And "they showed Him a denarius;" and "He asked whose image and superscription it had." They answered, "Caesar's." So Caesar looks for his own image. It is not Caesar's will that what he ordered to be made should be lost to him, and it is not surely God's will that what He hath made should be lost to Him. Caesar, my Brethren, did not make the money; the masters of the mint53 make it; the workmen have their orders, he issues his commands to his ministers. His image was stamped upon the money; on the money was Caesar's image. And yet he requires what others have stamped; he puts it in his treasures; he will not have it refused him. Christ's coin is man. In him is Christ's image, in him Christ's Name, Christ's gifts, Christ's rules of duty.54