St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
1. In this Psalm, the humility of one that is a servant of God and faithful is commended unto us, by whose voice it is sung; which is the whole body of Christ.5576 For we have often warned you, beloved, that it ought not to be received as the voice of one man singing, but of all who are in Christ’s Body. And since all are in His Body, as it were one man speaketh: and he is one who also is many.…Now he prayeth in the temple of God, who prayeth in the peace of the Church, in the unity of Christ’s Body; which Body of Christ consisteth of many who believe in the whole world: and therefore he who prayeth in the temple, is heard. For he prayeth in the spirit and in truth,5577 who prayeth in the peace of the Church; not in that temple, wherein was the figure.…
2. “Lord, my heart is not lifted up” (ver. 1). He hath offered a sacrifice. Whence do we
prove that he hath offered a sacrifice? Because humility of heart is a sacrifice.…If there is no sacrifice, there is no Priest. But if we have a High Priest in Heaven, who intercedeth with the Father for us (for He hath entered into the Holy of Holies, within the veil),…we are safe, for we have a Priest; let us offer our sacrifice there. Let us consider what sacrifice we ought to offer; for God is not pleased with burnt-offerings, as ye have heard in the Psalm. But in that place he next showeth what he offereth: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.5578
3. “Lord, my heart was not lifted up, neither were mine eyes raised on high” (ver. 1); “I have not exercised myself in great matters, nor in wonderful things which are too high for me” (ver. 2). Let this be more plainly spoken and heard. I have not been proud: I have not wished to be known among men as for wondrous powers; nor have I sought anything beyond my strength, whereby I might boast myself among the ignorant. As that Simon the sorcerer wished to advance into wonders above himself, on that account the power of the Apostles more pleased him, than the righteousness of Christians.…What is above my strength, he saith, I have not sought; I have not stretched myself out there, I have not chosen to be magnified there. How deeply this self-exaltation in the abundance of graces is to be feared, that no man may pride himself in the gift of God, but may rather preserve humility, and may do what is written: “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself, and thou shalt find favour before the Lord:”5579 how deeply pride in God’s gift should be feared, we must again and again impress upon you.…
4. “If I had not lowly thoughts, but have lifted up my soul, as one taken from his mother’s breast, such the reward for my soul” (ver. 2). He seemeth as it were to have bound himself by a curse:…as though he had been going to say, Let it so happen to me. “As one taken away from his mother’s breast, may be my soul’s reward.” Ye know that the Apostle saith to some weak brethren, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”5580 There are weak persons who are not fit for strong meat; they wish to grasp at that which they cannot receive: and if they ever do receive, or seem to themselves to receive what they have not received, they are puffed up thereby, and become proud thereupon; they seem to themselves wise men. Now this happeneth to all heretics; who since they were animal and carnal, by defending their depraved opinions, which they could not see to be false, were shut out of the Catholic Church.…
5. Another opinion indeed hath been entertained, and another sense in these words.…It has been evidently explained, my brethren, where God would have us to be humble, where lofty. Humble, in order to provide against pride; lofty, to take in wisdom. Feed upon milk, that thou mayest be nourished; be nourished, so that thou mayest grow; grow, so that thou mayest eat bread. But when thou hast begun to eat bread, thou wilt be weaned, that is, thou wilt no longer have need of milk, but of solid food. This he seemeth to have meant: “If I had not lowly thoughts, but have lifted up my soul:” that is, if I was not an infant in mind, I was in wickedness. In this sense, he said before, “Lord, my heart was not lifted up, nor mine eyes raised on high: I do not exercise myself in great matters, nor in wonderful things above me.” Behold, in wickedness I am an infant. But since I am not an infant in understanding, “If I had not lowly thoughts, but have lifted up my soul,” may that reward be mine which is given unto the infant that is weaned from his mother, that I may at length be able to eat bread.
6. This interpretation, also, brethren, displeaseth me not, since it doth not militate against the faith. Yet I cannot but remark that it is not only said, “As one taken away from milk, such may be my soul’s reward;” but with this addition, “As one taken away from milk when upon his mother’s breast, such may be my soul’s reward.” Here there is somewhat that induces me to consider it a curse. For it is not an infant, but a grown child that is taken away from milk; he who is weak in his earliest infancy, which is his true infancy, is upon his mother’s breast: if perchance he hath been taken away from the milk, he perisheth. It is not without a reason then that it is added, “Upon his mother’s breast.” For all may be weaned by growing. He who groweth, and is thus taken away from milk, it is good for him; but hurtful for him who is still upon his mother’s breast. We must therefore beware, my brethren, and be fearful, lest any one be taken away from milk before his time.…Let him not therefore wish to lift up his soul, when perchance he is not fit to take meat, but let him fulfil the commandments of humility. He hath wherein he may exercise himself: let him believe in Christ, that he may understand Christ. He cannot see the Word, he cannot understand the equality of the Word with the Father, he cannot as yet see the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Word; let him believe this, and suck it. He is safe, because, when he hath grown, he will eat, which he could not do before he grew by suck
ing: and he hath a point to stretch towards. Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, and search not the things that are above thy strength; that is, things which thou art not as yet fit to understand. And what am I to do? thou repliest. Shall I remain thus? “But what things the Lord hath commanded thee, think thereupon always.” 5581 What hath the Lord commanded thee? Do works of mercy, part not with the peace of the Church, place not thy trust in man, tempt not God by longing for miracles.…
7. For if ye be not exalted, if ye raise not your heart on high, if ye tread not in great matters that are too high for you, but preserve humility, God will reveal unto you what ye are otherwise minded in.5582 But if ye choose to defend this very thing, which ye are otherwise minded about, and with pertinacity assert it, and against the peace of the Church; this curse which he hath described is entailed upon you; when ye are upon your mother’s breast, and are removed away from the milk, ye shall die of hunger apart from your mother’s breast. But if ye continue in Catholic peace, if perchance ye are in anything otherwise minded than ye ought to be, God will reveal it to you, if ye be humble. Wherefore? Because “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble.”5583
8. This Psalm therefore concludeth to this purpose: “O Israel, trust in the Lord, from this time forth and even unto eternity”5584 (ver. 3). But the word seculum doth not always mean this world, but sometimes eternity; since eternity is understood in two ways; until eternity, that is, either evermore without end, or until we arrive at eternity. How then is it to be understood here? Until we arrive at eternity, let us trust in the Lord God; because when we have reached eternity, there will be no longer hope, but the thing itself will be ours.