Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 28, 2008

Augustine on Galatians 6:1, part 1

Augustine is well worth reading on Galatians 6:1.  The following translation is taken from Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians: Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes, ed. and trans. by Eric Plumer, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 223.

Now nothing proves that a man is spiritual like his handling of another’s sin: Does he consider how he can liberate rather than insult the other person? How can he help rather than verbally abuse him? Does he undertake to do so to the best of his ability? That is why the Apostle says: Brethren, even if someone is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should instruct that person (Gal. 6:1).

Then, lest they imagine they are instructing when in fact they are insolently berating and ridiculing the one sinning, or even arrogantly scorning him as incurable, the Apostle says, in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. For nothing makes people more inclined to be merciful than the thought of their own danger. So while he did not want them to be neglectful of fraternal correction, neither did he want them to be eager for a fight. For many people want to quarrel when they are woken up, and if they are prevented from quarrelling, they would rather go back to sleep. Let peace and love, then, be preserved in our hearts by the thought of the common danger.

Now, whether to use more severity or more charm in speaking should be determined by what seems necessary for the salvation of the person being corrected. For the Apostle says in another passage: A servant of the Lord should not be quarrelsome but gentle towards everyone, a good teacher, patient (2 Tim 2:24). And in case anyone concludes from this that he should refrain from correcting another’s error, look at what the Apostle adds: mildly correcting those who think differently (2 Tim. 2:25). How can it be mildly, how can it be correcting unless we both remain kind-hearted and add a dash of bitter medicine to our word of correction?

For many, reflecting afterwards on what they were told [in correction/admonition] and how they deserved it, have in fact criticized themselves even more sternly and severely, and though they appeared to go away from the ‘physician’ quite upset, they were gradually healed as the force of the word penetrated their hearts. This would not happen if we always waited for the patient with gangrene to ask for treatment, when cautery or surgery would save him. Not even physicians of the body, who treat patients for an earthly reward, wait for that to happen. How rare is the patient who has undergone the knife or fire without being bound, while the patient bound willingly is rarer still! In many cases the patient’s entire body is tied down, so that even his tongue is barely left free, while he resists and screams that he would rather die than be cured in this way. This is not what those who tie the patient down want or what the patient who is struggling wants, but what the art itself requires. Yet the mind of the healer is not troubled by the uproar patients make as they feel the pain, nor is his hand still. Those, on the other hand, who administer heavenly medicine wish either to perceive the speck in their brother’s eye through a beam of hatreds, or to see the death of the one sinning rather than hear a word of indigation from him. Such things would not happen if the mind we used in treating the mind of another were as healthy as the hands those physicians use in dealing with another’s body.

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  1. […] on Galatians 6:1, part 2 (continued from the previous post here) So we should never undertake the task of rebuking another’s sin without first examining our […]


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