Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Augustine of Hippo

If you had faith!

Reading the Holy Gospel nourishes in us the habit of prayer, builds up our faith, and disposes us to trust in the Lord rather than in ourselves. What more powerful incentive to prayer could be proposed to us than the parable of the unjust judge?

An unprincipled man, without fear of God or regard for other people, that judge nevertheless ended by granting the widow’s petition. No kindly sentiment moved him to do so; he was rather worn down by her pestering.

Now if a man can grant a request even when it is odious to him to be asked, how can we be refused by the one who urges us to ask?

Having persuaded us, therefore, by a comparison of opposites that “we ought always to pray and never lose heart,” the Lord goes on to put the question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, do you think he will find faith on earth?”


Where there is no faith, there is no prayer. Who would pray for something he did not believe in?

So when the blessed apostle exhorts us to pray he begins by declaring: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;” but to show that faith is the source of prayer and the stream will not flow if its springs are dried up, he continues: “But how can people call on him in whom they do not believe?”

We must believe, then, in order to pray; and we must ask God that the faith enabling us to pray may not fail. Faith gives rise to prayer, and this prayer obtains an increase of faith. Faith, I say, gives rise to prayer, and is in turn strengthened by prayer. It was to guard against their faith failing in times of temptation that the Lord told his disciples: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. ”

   “Watch,” he says; “and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” What does it mean to enter into temptation? It means to turn one’s back on faith. Temptation grows stronger in proportion as faith weakens, and becomes weaker in proportion as faith grows strong.
To convince you, beloved, that he was speaking of the weakening and loss of faith when he told his disciples to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation, the Lord said in this same passage of the Gospel: “This night Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail.” Is the protector to pray, while the person in danger has no need to do so?

But in asking whether the Son of Man would find faith on earth at his coming, the Lord was speaking of perfect faith. That kind of faith is indeed hardly to be found on earth. Look at God’s Church: it is full of people. Who would come here if faith were non-existent? But who would not move mountains if that faith were present in full measure?

Mark the apostles: they would never have left everything they possessed and spurned worldly ambition to follow the Lord unless their faith had been great; and yet that faith of theirs could not have been perfect, otherwise they would hot have asked the Lord to increase it.

(Sermon 115: PL 38, 655)

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: Manicheism, 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.

Chrysostom stressed the divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians, but he had no speculative bent.

He was above all a pastor of souls, and was one of the most attractive personalities of the early Church.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson