11 May 2013

Patristic Quote of the Day

But assuredly that which the sacred Psalm sings in our ears, is true; “Because my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord has taken me up.” Then if our parents have forsaken us, how take they part in our cares and affairs? But if parents do not, who else are there of the dead who should know what we are doing, or what we suffer? Isaiah the Prophet says, “For You are our Father: because Abraham has not known us, and Israel is not cognizant of us.” If so great Patriarchs were ignorant what was doing towards the People of them begotten, they to whom, believing God, the People itself to spring from their stock was promised; how are the dead mixed up with affairs and doings of the living, either for cognizance or help? How say we that those were favored who deceased ere the evils came which followed hard upon the decease, if also after death they feel whatever things befall in the calamitousness of human life? Or haply do we err in saying this, and in accounting them to be quietly at rest whom the unquiet life of the living makes solicitous? What then is that which to the most godly king Josias God promised as a great benefit, that he should first die, that he might not see the evils which He threatened should come to that place and People? Which words of God are these: “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: concerning My words which you have heard, and feared before My face when you heard what I have spoken concerning this place and them which dwell therein, that it should be forsaken and under a curse; and hast rent your garments, and wept before Me, and I have heard you, says the Lord of Sabaoth: not so; behold, I will add you unto your fathers, and you shall be added unto them in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the evils which I am bringing upon this place and upon them that dwell therein.” He, frightened by God's comminations, had wept, and rent his garments, and is made, by hastening on of his death, to be without care of all future evils, because he should so rest in peace, that all those things he should not see. There then are the spirits of the departed, where they see not whatever things are doing, or events happening, in this life to men. Then how do they see their own graves, or their own bodies, whether they lie cast away, or buried? How do they take part in the misery of the living, when they are either suffering their own evils, if they have contracted such merits; or do rest in peace, as was promised to this Josiah, where they undergo no evils, either by suffering themselves, or by compassionate suffering with others, freed from all evils which by suffering themselves or with others while they lived here they did undergo?—St. Augustine, Care of the Dead, par. 16


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks for this citation, Pr. Weedon, from a text I hadn't heard of before.

Reading on in the same work, Augustine adds: "So then we must confess that the dead indeed do not know what is doing here, but while it is in doing here: afterwards, however, they hear it from those who from hence go to them at their death; not indeed every thing, but what things those are allowed to make known who are suffered also to remember these things; and which it is meet for those to hear, whom they inform of the same. It may be also, that from the Angels, who are present in the things which are doing here, the dead do hear somewhat, which for each one of them to hear He judges right to Whom all things are subject. For were there not Angels, who could be present in places both of quick and dead, the Lord Jesus had not said, "It came to pass also that the poor man died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Therefore, now here, now there, were they able to be, who from hence bore there whom God willed. It may be also, that the spirits of the dead do learn some things which are doing here, what things it is necessary that they should know, and what persons it is necessary should know the same, not only things past or present, but even future, by the Spirit of God revealing them: like as not all men, but the Prophets while they lived here did know, nor even they all things, but only what things to be revealed to them the providence of God judged meet. Moreover, that some from the dead are sent to the living, as, on the other hand, Paul from the living was rapt into Paradise, divine Scripture does testify."

The delightful thing about Augustine himself, as opposed to mere excerpts from his works, is his openness to evidence, and his willingness to admit the situation is more complicated than might at first be thought.

William Weedon said...

Yes, Father Gregory, he certainly goes on to say this, and to admit that in what was to him a well known instance, a martyr had appeared and warned about an impending event. He is careful in his statements throughout this piece, and he especially warns of the danger of drawing a general conclusion from an exceptional event:

For it does not follow because water was, when it pleased the Lord, in a moment changed into wine, that we are not to regard the worth and efficacy of water in the proper order of the elements, as distinct from the rarity, or rather singularity, of that divine work: nor because Lazarus rose again, therefore that every dead man rises when he will; or that a lifeless man is raised up by a living, in the same way as a sleeping man by one who is awake. Other be the limits of human things, other the signs of divine virtues: other they be that are naturally, other that be miraculously done: albeit both unto nature God is present that it may be, and unto miracles nature is not lacking. We are not to think then, that to be interested in the affairs of the living is in the power of any departed who please, only because to some men's healing or help the Martyrs be present: but rather we are to understand that it must needs be by a Divine power that the Martyrs are interested in affairs of the living, from the very fact that for the departed to be by their proper nature interested in affairs of the living is impossible. (par. 19)