Excerpts from Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church

Public Domain downloaded from http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1_04/npnf1_04_06.htm#P376_176549

Originally appeared in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Series I, Vol. IV

Chapter 15.-The Christian Definition of the Four Virtues.

25. As to virtue leading us to a happy life, I hold virtue to be nothing else than perfect love of God. For the fourfold division of virtue I regard as taken from four forms of love.For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it. The object of this love is not anything, but only God, the chief good, the highest wisdom, the perfect harmony. So we may express the definition thus: that temperance is love keeping itself entire and incorrupt for God; fortitude is love bearing everything readily for the sake of God; justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else, as subject to man; prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it. 19

Chapter 19.-Description of the Duties of Temperance, According to the Sacred Scriptures.

35. It is now time to return to the four virtues, and to draw out and prescribe a way of life in conformity with them, taking each separately. First, then, let us consider temperance, which promises us a kind of integrity and incorruption in the love by which we are united to God. The office of temperance is in restraining and quieting the passions which make us pant for those things which turn us away from the laws of God and from the enjoyment of His goodness, that is, in a word, from the happy life. For there is the abode of truth; and in enjoying its contemplation, and in cleaving closely to it, we are assuredly happy; but departing from this, men become entangled in great errors and sorrows. For, as the apostle says, "The root of all evils is covetousness; which some having followed, have made shipwreck of the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows."51 And this sin of the soul is quite plainly, to those rightly understanding, set forth in the Old Testament in the transgression of Adam in Paradise. Thus, as the apostle says, "In Adam we all die, and in Christ we shah all rise again."52 Oh, the depth of these mysteries! But I refrain; for I am now engaged not in teaching you the truth, but in making you unlearn your errors, if I can, that is, if God aid my purpose regarding you.

36. Paul then says that covetousness is the root of all evils; and by covetousness the old law also intimates that the first man fell. Paul tells us to put off the old man and put on the new. By the old man he means Adam who sinned, and by the new man him whom the Son of God took to Himself in consecration for our redemption. For he says in another place, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven, heavenly. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, let us also bear the image of the heavenly,"54 _that is, put off the old man, and put on the new. The whole duty of temperance, then, is to put off the old man, and to be renewed in God,_that is, to scorn all bodily delights, and the popular applause, and to turn the whole love to things divine and unseen. Hence that following passage which is so admirable: "Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day." Hear, too, the prophet singing, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." What can be said against such harmony except by blind barkers?

Chapter 22.-Fortitude Comes from the Love of God.

40. On fortitude we must be brief. The love, then, of which we speak, which ought with all sanctity to burn in desire for God, is called temperance, in not seeking for earthly things, and fortitude in bearing the loss of them. But among all things which are possessed in this life, the body is, by God's most righteous laws, for the sin of old, man's heaviest bond, which is well known as a fact but most incomprehensible in its mystery. Lest this bond should be shaken and disturbed, the soul is shaken with the fear of toil and pain; lest it should be lost and destroyed, the soul is shaken with the fear of death. For the soul loves it from the force of habit, not knowing that by using it well and wisely its resurrection and reformation will, by the divine help and decree, be without any trouble made subject to its authority. But when the soul turns to God wholly in this love, it knows these things, and so will not only disregard death, but will even desire it.

41. Then there is the great struggle with pain. But there is nothing, though of iron hardness, which the fire of love cannot subdue. And when the mind is carried up to God in this love, it will soar above all torture free and glorious, with wings beauteous and unhurt, on which chaste love rises to the embrace of God. Otherwise God must allow the lovers of gold, the lovers of praise, the lovers of women, to have more fortitude than the lovers of Himself, though love in those cases is rather to be called passion or lust. And yet even here we may see with what force the mind presses on with unflagging energy, in spite of all alarms, towards that it loves; and we learn that we should bear all things rather than forsake God, since those men bear so much in order to forsake Him.

Chapter 24.- Of Justice and Prudence.

44. What of justice that pertains to God? As the Lord says, "Ye cannot serve two masters," and the apostle denounces those who serve the creature rather than the Creator, was it not said before in the Old Testament, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve?"74 I need say no more on this, for these books are full of such passages. The lover, then, whom we are describing, will get from justice this rule of life, that he must with perfect readiness serve the God whom he loves, the highest good, the highest wisdom, the highest peace;75 and as regards all other things, must either rule them as subject to himself, or treat them with a view to their subjection. This rule of life, is, as we have shown, confirmed by the authority of both Testaments.

45. With equal brevity we must treat of prudence, to which it belongs to discern between what is to be desired and what to be shunned. Without this, nothing can be done of what we have already spoken of. It is the part of prudence to keep watch with most anxious vigilance, lest any evil influence should stealthily creep in upon us. Thus the Lord often exclaims, "Watch;"76 and He says, "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you."77 And then it is said, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?"78 And no passage can be quoted from the Old Testament more expressly condemning this mental somnolence, which makes us insensible to destruction advancing on us step by step, than those words of the prophet, "He who despiseth small things shall fall by degrees."79 On this topic I might discourse at length did our haste allow of it. And did our present task demand it, we might perhaps prove the depth of these mysteries, by making a mock of which profane men in their perfect ignorance fall, not certainly by degrees, but with a headlong overthrow.

Chapter 25 - Four Moral Duties Regarding the Love of God, of Which Love the Reward is Eternal Life and the Knowledge of the Truth.

46. I need say no more about right conduct. For if God is man's chief good, which you cannot deny, it clearly follows, since to seek the chief good is to live well, that to live well is nothing else but to love God with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind; and, as arising from this, that this love must be preserved entire and incorrupt, which is the part of temperance; that it give way before no troubles, which is the part of fortitude; that it serve no other, which is the part of justice; that it be watchful in its inspection of things lest craft or fraud steal in, which is the part of prudence. This is the one perfection of man, by which alone he can succeed in attaining to the purity of truth. This both Testaments enjoin in concert; this is commended on both sides alike. Why do you continue to cast reproaches on Scriptures of which you are ignorant? Do you not see the folly of your attack upon books which only those who do not understand them find fault with, and which only those who find fault fail in understanding? For neither can an enemy know them, nor can one who knows them be Other than a friend to them.

47. Let us then, as many as have in view to reach eternal life, love God with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind. For eternal life contains the whole reward in the promise of which we rejoice; nor can the reward precede desert, nor be given to a man before he is worthy of it. What can be more unjust than this, and what is more just than God? We should not then demand the reward before we deserve to get it. Here, perhaps, it is not out of place to ask what is eternal life; or rather let us hear the Bestower of it: "This," He says, "is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."80 So eternal life is the knowledge of the truth. See, then, how perverse and preposterous is the character of those who think that their teaching of the knowledge of God will make us perfect, when this is the reward of those already perfect! What else, then, have we to do but first to love with full affection Him whom we desire to know?81 Hence arises that principle on which we have all along insisted, that there is nothing more wholesome in the Catholic Church than using authority82 before argument.

Chapter 26. - Love of Ourselves and of Our Neighbor.

48. To proceed to what remains. It may be thought that there is nothing here about man himself, the lover. But to think this, shows a want of clear perception. For it is impossible for one who loves God not to love himself. For he alone has a proper love for himself who aims diligently at the attainment of the chief and true good; and if this is nothing else but God, as has been shown. what is to prevent one who loves God from loving himself? And then, among men should there be no bond of mutual love? Yea, verily; so that we can think of no surer step towards the love of God than the love of man to man.

49. Let the Lord then supply us with the other precept in answer to the question about the precepts of life; for He was not satisfied with one as knowing that God is one thing and man another, and that the difference is nothing less than that between the Creator and the thing created in the likeness of its Creator. He says then that the second precept is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." [Matt. xxii. 39]. Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection. For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you are yourself pursuing. For this is the one good which has room for all to pursue it along with thee. From this precept proceed the duties of human society, in which it is hard to keep from error. But the first thing to aim at is, that we should be benevolent, that is, that we cherish no malice and no evil design against another. For man is the nearest neighbor of man.

50. Hear also what Paul says: "The love of our neighbor," he says, "worketh no ill."84 The testimonies here made use of are very short, but, if I mistake not, they are to the point, and sufficient for the purpose. And every one knows how many and how weighty are the words to be found everywhere in these books on the love of our neighbor. But as a man may sin against another in two ways, either by injuring him or by not helping him when it is in his power, and as it is for these things which no loving man would do that men are called wicked, all that is required is, I think, proved by these words, "The love of our neighbor worketh no ill." And if we cannot attain to good unless we first desist from working evil, our love of our neighbor is a sort of cradle of our love to God, so that, as it is said, "the love of our neighbor worketh no ill," we may rise from this to these other words, "We know that all things issue in good to them that love God."85

51. But there is a sense in which these either rise together to fullness and perfection, or, while the love of God is first in beginning, the love of our neighbor is first in coming to perfection. For perhaps divine love takes hold on us more rapidly at the outset, but we reach perfection more easily in lower things. However that may be, the main point is this, that no one should think that while he despises his neighbor he will come to happiness and to the God whom he loves. And would that it were as easy to seek the good of our neighbor, or to avoid hurting him, as it is for one well trained and kind_hearted to love his neighbor! These things require more than mere good_will, and can be done only by a high degree of thoughtfulness and prudence, which belongs only to those to whom it is given by God, the source of all good. On this topic_which is one, I think, of great difficulty_I will try to say a few words such as my plan admits of, resting all my hope in Him whose gifts these are.

Footnotes

19 [It would be difficult to find in Christian literature a more beautiful and satisfactory exposition of love to God. The Neo_Platonic influence is manifest, but it is

Neo_Platonism thoroughly Christianized._A. H. N.].

20 Ps. lxxiii. 28.

21 John i. 3, 4.

22 [Augustine seems to make no distinction between Apocryphal and Canonical books. The book of Wisdom was evidently a favorite with him, doubtless on account of its decided Platonic quality._A. H. N.].

23 Wisd. viii. 1, 4, 7.

24 Retract. i. 7, 3:_"The quotation from the book of Wisdom is from my manuscript, where the reading is, `Wisdom teaches sobriety, justice, and virtue. 0' From these words I have made some remarks true in themselves, but occasioned by a false reading. It is perfectly true that wisdom teaches truth of contemplation, as I have

explained sobriety; and excellence of action, which is the meaning I give to justice and virtue. And the reading in better manuscripts has the same meaning: `It teaches sobriety, and wisdom, and justice, and virtue. 0' These are the names given by the Latin translator to the four virtues which philosophers usually speak about. Sobriety is for temperance, wisdom for prudence, virtue for fortitude, and justice only has its own name. It was long after that we found these virtues called by their proper names in the Greek text of this book of Wisdom.".

25 Wisd. viii. 3.

26 1 Cor. i. 24.

27 Matt. xi. 27.

28 Wisd. ix. 9.

29 Heb. i. 3.

30 Ps. lxxxix. 8.

31 John xiv. 6.

32 Wisd. ix. 17_19.

33 Rom. v. 5.

34 Wisd. i. 5.

52 1 Cor. xv. 22.

53 Col. iii. 9, 10.

54 1 Cor. xv. 47_49.

55 2 Cor. iv. 16.

56 Ps. li. 10.

57 2 Cor. iv. 18.

58 Gal. i. 10.

59 Coll. ii. 8.

60 1 John ii. 15.

61 Rom. xii. 2.

62 Eccles. i. 2, 3.

63 Retract. i. 7, 3: _"I found in many manuscripts the reading, `Vanity of the vain. 0' But this is not in the Greek, which has `Vanity of vanities. 0' This I saw afterwards. And I found that the best Latin manuscripts had vanities and not vain. But the truths I have drawn from this false reading are self_evident.".

64 Rom. v. 3, 4.

65 Job. i. 2.

66 [It is interesting to observe how remote Augustin was from attaching superior merit to voluntary poverty, or to other forms of asceticism as ends in themselves. What he prized was the ability to use without abusing, to have without cleaving to the good things which God provides._A. H. N.].

67 2 Mac. vii.

68 Ps. cxvi. 15.

69 Prov. xvi. 32.

70 Ecclus. ii. 4, 5.

71 Ecclus. xxvii. 6.

72 Matt. vi. 24.

73 Rom. i. 25.

74 Deut vi. 13.

75 A name given by Augustine to the Holy Spirit, v. xxx.

76 Matt. xxiv. 42.

77 John xii. 35.

78 I Cor. v. 6.

79 Ecclus. xix. 1.

80 John xvii. 3.

81 Retract. i. 7. 4:-"I should have said sincere affection rather than full; or it might be thought that the love of God will be no greater when we shall see Him face to face. Full, then, must be here understood as meaning that it cannot be greater while we walk by faith. There will be greater, yea, perfect fullness, but only by sight.".

82 [By authority Augustine does not mean the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but he refers to the loving recognition of the authority of God as the condition of true discipleship._A. H. N.]

83 Matt. xxii. 39.

84 Rom. xiii. 10.

85 Rom. viii. 28.

86 Retract. i. 7. 4:_"This does not mean that there are actually in this life wise men such as are here spoken of. My words are not, `although they are so wise, 0' but `although they were so wise. 0' " [Augustin's ideal wise man was evidently the "Gnostic" of Clement of Alexandria. The conception is Stoical and Neo_Platonic._A. H. N.]

84 The testimonies here made use of are very short, but, if I mistake not, they are to the point, and sufficient for the purpose. And every one knows how many and how weighty are the words to be found everywhere in these books on the love of our neighbor. But as a man may sin against another in two ways, either by injuring him or by not helping him when it is in his power, and as it is for these things which no loving man would do that men are called wicked, all that is required is, I think, proved by these words, "The love of our neighbor worketh no ill." And if we cannot attain to good unless we first desist from working evil, our love of our neighbor is a sort of cradle of our love to God, so that, as it is said, "the love of our neighbor worketh no ill," we may rise from this to these other words, "We know that all things issue in good to them that love God."

51. But there is a sense in which these either rise together to fullness and perfection, or, while the love of God is first in beginning, the love of our neighbor is first in coming to perfection. For perhaps divine love takes hold on us more rapidly at the outset, but we reach perfection more easily in lower things. However that may be, the main point is this, that no one should think that while he despises his neighbor he will come to happiness and to the God whom he loves. And would that it were as easy to seek the good of our neighbor, or to avoid hurting him, as it is for one well trained and kind_hearted to love his neighbor! These things require more than mere good_will, and can be done only by a high degree of thoughtfulness and prudence, which belongs only to those to whom it is given by God, the source of all good. On this topic_which is one, I think, of great difficulty_I will try to say a few words such as my plan admits of, resting all my hope in Him whose gifts these are.

51 1 Tim. vi. 10.

52 1 Cor. xv. 22.

53 Col. iii. 9, 10.

54 1 Cor. xv. 47_49.

55 2 Cor. iv. 16.

56 Ps. li. 10.

57 2 Cor. iv. 18.

58 Gal. i. 10.

59 Coll. ii. 8.

60 1 John ii. 15.

61 Rom. xii. 2.

62 Eccles. i. 2, 3.

63 Retract. i. 7, 3: _"I found in many manuscripts the reading, `Vanity of the vain. 0' But this is not in the Greek, which has `Vanity of vanities. 0' This I saw afterwards. And I found that the best Latin manuscripts had vanities and not vain. But the truths I have drawn from this false reading are self_evident.".

64 Rom. v. 3, 4.

65 Job. i. 2.

66 [It is interesting to observe how remote Augustin was from attaching superior merit to voluntary poverty, or to other forms of asceticism as ends in themselves. What he prized was the ability to use without abusing, to have without cleaving to the good things which God provides._A. H. N.].

67 2 Mac. vii.

68 Ps. cxvi. 15.

69 Prov. xvi. 32.

70 Ecclus. ii. 4, 5.

71 Ecclus. xxvii. 6.

72 Matt. vi. 24.

73 Rom. i. 25.

74 Deut vi. 13.

75 A name given by Augustine to the Holy Spirit, v. xxx.

76 Matt. xxiv. 42.

77 John xii. 35.

78 I Cor. v. 6.

79 Ecclus. xix. 1.

80 John xvii. 3.

81 Retract. i. 7. 4:_"I should have said sincere affection rather than full; or it might be thought that the love of God will be no greater when we shall see Him face to

face. Full, then, must be here understood as meaning that it cannot be greater while we walk by faith. There will be greater, yea, perfect fullness, but only by sight.".

82 [By authority Augustine does not mean the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but he refers to the loving recognition of the authority of God as the condition of true discipleship._A. H. N.]

83 Matt. xxii. 39.

51 1 Tim. vi. 10.

52 1 Cor. xv. 22.

53 Col. iii. 9, 10.

54 1 Cor. xv. 47_49.

55 2 Cor. iv. 16.

56 Ps. li. 10.

57 2 Cor. iv. 18.

58 Gal. i. 10.

59 Coll. ii. 8.

60 1 John ii. 15.

61 Rom. xii. 2.

62 Eccles. i. 2, 3.

63 Retract. i. 7, 3: _"I found in many manuscripts the reading, `Vanity of the vain. 0' But this is not in the Greek, which has `Vanity of vanities. 0' This I saw afterwards. And I found that the best Latin manuscripts had vanities and not vain. But the truths I have drawn from this false reading are self_evident.".

64 Rom. v. 3, 4.

65 Job. i. 2.

66 [It is interesting to observe how remote Augustin was from attaching superior merit to voluntary poverty, or to other forms of asceticism as ends in themselves. What he prized was the ability to use without abusing, to have without cleaving to the good things which God provides._A. H. N.].

67 2 Mac. vii.

68 Ps. cxvi. 15.

69 Prov. xvi. 32.

70 Ecclus. ii. 4, 5.

71 Ecclus. xxvii. 6.

72 Matt. vi. 24.

73 Rom. i. 25.

74 Deut vi. 13.

75 A name given by Augustin to the Holy Spirit, v. xxx.

76 Matt. xxiv. 42.

77 John xii. 35.

78 I Cor. v. 6.

79 Ecclus. xix. 1.

80 John xvii. 3.

81 Retract. i. 7. 4:_"I should have said sincere affection rather than full; or it might be thought that the love of God will be no greater when we shall see Him face to face. Full, then, must be here understood as meaning that it cannot be greater while we walk by faith. There will be greater, yea, perfect fullness, but only by sight.".

82 [By authority Augustin does not mean the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but he refers to the loving recognition of the authority of God as the condition of true discipleship._A. H. N.]

83 Matt. xxii. 39.

84 Rom. xiii. 10.

85 Rom. viii. 28.

86 Retract. i. 7. 4:_"This does not mean that there are actually in this life wise men such as are here spoken of. My words are not, `although they are so wise, 0' but `although they were so wise. 0' " [Augustin's ideal wise man was  evidently the "Gnostic" of Clement of Alexandria. The conception is Stoical and Neo_Platonic._A. H. N.]

85 Rom. viii. 28.

86 Retract. i. 7. 4:_"This does not mean that there are actually in this life wise men such as are here spoken of. My words are not, `although they are so wise, 0' but `although they were so wise. 0' " [Augustin's ideal wise man was evidently the "Gnostic" of Clement of Alexandria. The conception is Stoical and Neo_Platonic._A. H. N.]