“‘God knows my heart’; alright, but your brother does not know it.”

The best thing I read today was from a sermon given by Saint Augustine of Hippo, the late 4th/early 5th century bishop of Hippo Regius (“Port Royal”: the first word being ancient Punic and the second being Latin) in North Africa, which used to be a wealthy and important province of the Roman Empire.

In fact, when Rome was sacked by an exasperated Alaric and his Gothic army in 410, Africa proconsularis, as it was called, became a haven for refugee Romans. Unfortunately for them, it was only safe a little longer, as the Vandals, another barbarian host pouring out of the Rhineland-Danube frontier, came sweeping through Spain, across the Pillars of Hercules (now called the Straits of Gibraltar), across the Mauritanian and Numidian wilderness and into Augustine’s homeland.

Thus even this relatively remote place was no longer safe, and Augustine himself died during the siege of his city by the Vandal host.

The passage is from Sermon 62 of the Patrologia Latina edition, the translation that of Robert Markus in his The End of Ancient Christianity.

[You say] ‘we know he [that is, the local tutelary deity of Carthage] is no god’—would that they [the pagans] knew it too; but for the sake of the infirm who do not know this, you must not trouble their consciences…. How do you think you can avoid people being taken in by idols whom they assume to have been honoured by Christians? You may say ‘God knows my heart’; alright, but your brother does not know it. If you are infirm, beware of falling into more serious illness; if you are healthy, beware of causing your brother to fall ill. Seeing you [taking part in the civic banquet] they may be inspired not only to share in the banquet, but to sacrifice to idols.

Here Augustine offers a cogent rebuttal to anyone who excuses himself from exerting himself to his full capabilities to live according to the principles he professes. And for the lazy Christian, the claim  “I need not stress about formalities: the best thing I can do is still, in God’s eyes, nothing more than the clumsy crayon-picture of a small child,”—

—will meet Augustine’s firm, “Indeed. And have you ever seen what the proud father does when his son presents him with the awkward result of the child’s best efforts? He puts it on the refrigerator, in a high and prominent place.”

Thanks, dear reader, for being the gadfly of my discipline.

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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