Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Augustine
Stay awake! You never know when the Lord will come. (Mk 13:33)
“Our God will come openly; our God will come and will not keep silent.” The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s Son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in sight of the whole world.
When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants; when he comes openly he will be known by both good people and bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when he comes openly it will be to judge. He was silent at his trial, as the prophet foretold: “He was like a sheep led to the slaughter, like a lamb before his shearers. He did not open his mouth.”
But, “Our God will come openly; our God will come and will not keep silence.” Silent when accused, he will not be silent as judge. And he is not silent now. By no means; when people of today recognize his voice and despise him, Scripture assures us that he will not be silent, he will not hold his hand.
Nowadays when the divine commands are spoken of, some people begin to jeer. They are not at present shown what God promises, they do not see what he threatens—so they laugh at his commands. After all, good people and bad enjoy this world’s so-called happiness; good people and bad suffer from what are deemed this world’s misfortunes.
Those whose lives are geared to the present rather than the future are impressed by the fact that this world’s blessings and sufferings fall to the lot of good and bad without distinction. If wealth is their ambition, they see it being enjoyed not only by decent folk, but also by people of the worst kind. If they are in dread of poverty and all the other miseries of this world, they also see that the good and the bad both suffer from them.
Therefore they say to themselves, “God does not care about human affairs, he exercises no control over them. On the contrary; he has sent us into the abyss of this world, and simply abandoned us to its sufferings. He shows no sign of his providence.” Consequently, seeing no evidence of anyone being called to account, such people hold God’s commands in derision.
Nevertheless, each person would do well to take thought even now, because when he wills to do so, God looks, and he judges; he will not tolerate an hour’s delay. When he wills to do so, he waits.
Why does he do this?
Surely if he never passed judgment in this present life, some people would think he does not exist. But if he always gave sentence here and now, there would be nothing reserved for the Day of Judgment. That is why much is kept for that day; but in order to put the fear of God into those whose cases are deferred, and so convert them, some judgments are made here and now.
For it is clear that God takes no pleasure in condemning. His desire is to save, and he bears patiently with evil people in order to make them good.
Yet we have the Apostle’s warning: “The wrath of God will be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and God will reward each one according to his deeds.”
The Apostle takes scoffers to task by asking them: “Do you think lightly of God’s abundant goodness and his forbearance?” Do you despise him and think his judgment a matter of no account because he is good to you, because he is long-suffering and bears with you patiently, because he delays the day of reckoning and does not destroy you out of hand?
“Do you not know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? By the hardness of your heart you are storing up wrath against yourself on that Day of Retribution,” when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed and he will give every one the reward his or her deeds deserve.
Sermon 18, 1-2: PL 38, 128-29
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: Manichaeisrn, 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