Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Augustine

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body. (Matthew 10:28

Thanks be to that grain of wheat who freely chose to die and so be multiplied! Thanks be to God’s only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for whom the enduring of our human death dwas not a thing to be scorned if it would make us worthy of his life!

Mark how alone he was before his passing: his is the voice of the psalmist who said, “I am all alone until I depart from this place”—a solitary grain that nevertheless contained an immense fruitfulness, a capacity to be multiplied beyond measure. (Gospel)

How many other grains of wheat imitating the Lord’s passion do we find to gladden our hearts when we celebrate the anniversaries of the martyrs!

Many members have that one grain, all united by bonds of peace and charity under their one head, our Savior himself, and, as you know from having heard it so often, all of them form one single body.

Their many voices can often be heard praying in the psalms through the voice of a single speaker calling on God as if all were calling together, because all are one in him.

Let us listen to their cry. In it we can hear the words of the martyrs who found themselves hard pressed, beset by danger from violent storms of hatred in this world, a danger not so much to their bodies which, after all, they would have to part with sometime, but rather to their faith.

If they were to give way, if they should succumb either to the harsh tortures of their persecutors or to love of this present life, they would forfeit the reward promised them by the God who had taken away all ground for fear. Not only had he said: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; he had also left them his own example.

The precept he had enjoined on them he personally carried out, without attempting to evade the hands of those who scourged him, the blows of those who struck him, or the spittle of those who spat on him. Neither the crown of thorns pressed into his head nor the cross to which the soldiers nailed him encountered any resistance from him.

None of these torments did he try to avoid.

Though he himself was under no obligation to suffer them, he endured them for those who were, making his own person a remedy for the sick. And so the martyrs suffered, but they would certainly have failed the test without the presence of him who said: “Know that I am with you always, until the end of time. ” (Gospel)

(Expositions of the Psalms 69, 1: CCL 39:930-931)

Augustine (354-430) was born at Thagaste in Africa and received a Christian education, although he was not baptized until 387. In 391 he was ordained priest and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396.

Augustine’s theology was formulated in the course of his struggle with three heresies: Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings are voluminous and his influence on subsequent theology immense. He molded the thought of the Middle Ages down to the thirteenth century.

Yet he was above all a pastor and a great spiritual writer.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson