Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Augustine
Whomsoever you find
invite to the wedding. (Mt 22:9).
All believers are familiar with the story of the wedding of the king’s son and the banquet that followed it, and of how the Lord’s table was thrown open to all comers.
When everyone was seated “the master of the house came in to see his guests, and among them he noticed one without a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'My friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?'”
Now what precisely does this mean? Let us try to find out what it is that some believers have, but which the wicked lack, for that will be what the wedding garment is.
Can it be one of the sacraments? Hardly, for these, as we know, are common to good and bad alike. Take baptism for example. It is true that no one comes to God except through baptism, but not every baptized person comes to him.
We cannot take this sacrament as the wedding garment, then, for it is a robe worn not only by good people but also by wicked people. Perhaps, then, it is our altar that is meant, or at least what we receive from it. But we know that many who approach the altar eat and drink to their own damnation.
Well, then, maybe it is fasting? The wicked can fast too. What about going to church? Some bad people also go to church.
Whatever can this wedding garment be, then? For an answer we must go to the Apostle, who says: “The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.”
There is your wedding garment. It is not love of just any kind. Many people of bad conscience appear to love one another, but you will not find in them “the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” says the Apostle, “but have no love, I am nothing but a booming gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, if I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries, if I have faith strong enough to move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.”
In other words, even with all these gifts I am nothing without Christ. Does that mean that prophecy has no value and that knowledge of mysteries is worthless?
No, they are not worthless but I am, if I possess them but have no love. But can the lack of one good thing rob so many others of their value? Yes, without love my confession of the name of Christ even by shedding my blood or offering my body to be burnt will avail me nothing, for I may do this out of a desire for glory.
That such things can be endured for the sake of empty show without any real love for God the Apostle also declares. Listen to him: “If I give away all I have to the poor, if I hand over my body to be burnt, but have no love, it will avail me nothing.” So this is what the wedding garment is.
Examine yourselves to see whether you possess it. If you do, your place at the Lord’s table is secure.
Sermon 90,1. 5-6: PL 38, 559. 561-563
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