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Chapter 33.—Another Kind of Men Living Together in Cities.  Fasts of Three Days.

70.  Still I would not on this account cast a slight upon a praiseworthy class of Christians,—those, namely, who live together in cities, quite apart from common life.  I saw at Milan a lodging-house of saints, in number not a few, presided over by one presbyter, a man of great excellence and learning.  At Rome I knew several places where there was in each one eminent for weight of character, and prudence, and divine knowledge, presiding over all the rest who lived with him, in Christian charity, and sanctity, and liberty.  These, too, are not burdensome to any one; but, in the Eastern fashion, and on the authority of the Apostle Paul, they maintain themselves with their own hands.  I was told that many practised fasts of quite amazing severity, not merely taking only one meal daily towards night, which is everywhere quite common, but very often continuing for three days or more in succession without food or drink.  And this among not men only, but women, who also live together in great numbers as widows or virgins, gaining a livelihood by spinning and weaving, and presided over in each case by a woman of the greatest judgment and experience, skilled and accomplished not only in directing and forming moral conduct, but also in instructing the understanding. 142

71.  With all this, no one is pressed to endure hardships for which he is unfit; nothing is imposed on any one against his will; nor is he condemned by the rest because he conp. 61 fesses himself too feeble to imitate them:  for they bear in mind how strongly Scripture enjoins charity on all:  they bear in mind "To the pure all things are pure," 143 and "Not that which entereth into your mouth defileth you, but that which cometh out of it." 144   Accordingly, all their endeavors are concerned not about the rejection of kinds of food as polluted, but about the subjugation of inordinate desire and the maintenance of brotherly love.  They remember, "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God shall destroy both it and them;" 145 and again, "Neither if we eat shall we abound, nor if we refrain from eating shall we be in want;" 146 and, above all, this:  "It is good, my brethren, not to eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother is offended;" for this passage shows that love is the end to be aimed at in all these things.  "For one man," he says, "believes that he can eat all things:  another, who is weak, eateth herbs.  He that eateth, let him not despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth:  for God hath approved him.  Who art thou that thou shouldest judge another man’s servant?  To his own master he stands or fails; but he shall stand:  for God is able to make him to stand."  And a little after:  "He that eateth, to the Lord he eateth, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks."  And also in what follows:  "So every one of us shall give account of himself to God.  Let us not, then, any more judge one another:  but judge this rather, that ye place no stumbling-block, or cause of offence, in the way of a brother.  I know, and am confident in the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing common in itself:  but to him that thinketh anything to be common, to him it is common."  Could he have shown better that it is not in the things we eat, but in the mind, that there is a power able to pollute it, and therefore that even those who are fit to think lightly of these things, and know perfectly that they are not polluted if they take any food in mental superiority, without being gluttons, should still have regard to charity?  See what he adds:  "For if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably." 147

72.  Read the rest:  it is too long to quote all.  You will find that those able to think lightly of such things,—that is, those of greater strength and stability,—are told that they must nevertheless abstain, lest those should be offended who from their weakness are still in need of such abstinence.  The people I was describing know and observe these things; for they are Christians, not heretics.  They understand Scripture according to the apostolic teaching, not according to the presumptuous and fictitious name of apostle. 148   Him that eats not no one despises; him that eats no one judges; he who is weak eats herbs.  Many who are strong, however, do this for the sake of the weak; with many the reason for so doing is not this, but that they may have a cheaper diet, and may lead a life of the greatest tranquillity, with the least expensive provision for the support of the body.  "For all things are lawful for me," he says; "but I will not be brought under the power of any."  149   Thus many do not eat flesh, and yet do not superstitiously regard it as unclean.  And so the same people who abstain when in health take it when unwell without any fear, if it is required as a cure.  Many drink no wine; but they do not think that wine defiles them; for they cause it to be given with the greatest propriety and moderation to people of languid temperament, and, in short, to all who cannot have bodily health without it.  When some foolishly refuse it, they counsel them as brothers not to let a silly superstition make them weaker instead of making them holier.  They read to them the apostle’s precept to his disciple to "take a little wine for his many infirmities." 150   Then they diligently exercise piety; bodily exercise, they know, profiteth for a short time, as the same apostle says. 151

73.  Those, then who are able, and they are without number, abstain both from flesh and from wine for two reasons:  either for the weakness of their brethren, or for their own liberty.  Charity is principally attended to.  There is charity in their choice of diet, charity in their speech, charity in their dress, charity in their looks.  Charity is the point where they meet, and the plan by which they act.  To transgress against charity is thought criminal, like transgressing against God.  Whatever opposes this is attacked and expelled; whatever injures it is not allowed to continue for a single day.  They know that it has been so enjoined by Christ and the apostles; that without it all things are empty, with it all are fulfilled.



[Augustin ascribes a broadmindedness and charitableness to the ascetics of his time which was doubtless quite subjective.  The ascetics of that age with whose history we are acquainted were not of this type.  Jerome is an example.—A.H.N.]


Tit. i. 15.


Matt. xv. 11.


1 Cor. vi. 13.


1 Cor. viii. 8.


Rom. xiv. 2-21.


See title of the Epistle of Manichæus, Contra Faust. xiii. 4.


1 Cor. vi. 12.


1 Tim. v. 23.


1 Tim. iv. 8.

Next: Chapter 34