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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI:
Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.: Chapter XXI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXI.

69. In the next place, He goes on to say, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which persecute you; 201 that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He commandeth 202 His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love 203 them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the very same? 204 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven 205 is perfect.” For without this love, wherewith we are commanded to love even our enemies and persecutors, who can fully carry out those things which are mentioned above? Moreover, the perfection of that mercy, wherewith most of all the soul that is in distress is cared for, cannot be stretched beyond the love of an enemy; and therefore the closing words are: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Yet in such a way that God is understood to be perfect as God, and the soul to be perfect as a soul.

70. That there is, however, a certain step [in advance] in the righteousness of the Pharisees, which belongs to the old law, is perceived from this consideration, that many men hate even those by whom they are loved; as, for instance, luxurious children hate their parents for restraining them in their luxury. That man therefore rises a certain step, who loves his neighbour, although as yet he hates his enemy. But in the kingdom of Him who came to fulfil the law, not to destroy it, he will bring benevolence and kindness to perfection, when he has carried it out so far as to love an enemy. For the former stage, although it is something, is yet so little that it may be reached even by the publicans as well. And as to what is said in the law, “Thou shalt hate thine enemy,” 206 it is not to be understood p. 30 as the voice of command addressed to a righteous man, but rather as the voice of permission to a weak man.

71. Here indeed arises a question in no way to be blinked, that to this precept of the Lord, wherein He exhorts us to love our enemies, and to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us, many other parts of Scripture seem to those who consider them less diligently and soberly to stand opposed; for in the prophets there are found many imprecations against enemies, which are thought to be curses: as, for instance, that one, “Let their table become a snare,” 207 and the other things which are said there; and that one, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow,” 208 and the other statements which are made either before or afterwards in the same Psalm by the prophet, as bearing on the case of Judas. Many other statements are found in all parts of Scripture, which may seem contrary both to this precept of the Lord, and to that apostolic one, where it is said, “Bless; and curse not;” 209 while it is both written of the Lord, that He cursed the cities which received not His word; 210 and the above-mentioned apostle thus spoke respecting a certain man, “The Lord will reward him according to his works.” 211

72. But these difficulties are easily solved, for the prophet predicted by means of imprecation what was about to happen, not as praying for what he wished, but in the spirit of one who saw it beforehand. So also the Lord, so also the apostle; although even in the words of these we do not find what they have wished, but what they have foretold. For when the Lord says, “Woe unto thee, Capernaum,” He does not utter anything else than that some evil will happen to her as a punishment of her unbelief; and that this would happen the Lord did not malevolently wish, but saw by means of His divinity. And the apostle does not say, May [the Lord] reward; but, “The Lord will reward him according to his work;” which is the word of one who foretells, not of one uttering an imprecation. Just as also, in regard to that hypocrisy of the Jews of which we have already spoken, whose destruction he saw to be impending, he said,” God shall smite thee, thou whited wall.”  212 But the prophets especially are accustomed to predict future events under the figure of one uttering an imprecation, just as they have often foretold those things which were to come under the figure of past time: as is the case, for example, in that passage, “Why have the nations raged, and the peoples imagined vain things?” 213 For he has not said, Why will the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? although he was not mentioning those things as if they were already past, but was looking forward to them as yet to come. Such also is that passage, “They have parted my garments among them, and have cast lots upon my vesture:” 214 for here also he has not said, They will part my garments among them, and will cast lots upon my vesture. And yet no one finds fault with these words, except the man who does not perceive that variety of figures in speaking in no degree lessens the truth of facts, and adds very much to the impressions on our minds.



Augustin, with the best Greek text, omits et calumniantibus vos (“and despitefully use you”) of the Vulgate.


Jubet; Vulgate, facit (with the Greek).


Dilexeritis; Vulgate, diligitis.


Hoc ipsum; Vulgate, hoc; Greek, τὸ αὐτό.


Qui est in cœlis; Vulgate, cœlestis (see Revised Version).


The first part of the Lord’s quotation is found in Lev. xix. 18; these words, whatever may be said about the sanction, real or apparent, of revenge and triumph over an enemy’s fall in the Old Testament, are not found there. Bengel well says “pessima glossa” (“wretched gloss”),—a gloss of the Pharisees, “bearing plainly enough the character of post-exilic Judaism in its exclusiveness toward all surrounding nations” (Weiss). Centuries after Christ spoke these words, Maimonides gives utterance to this narrow feeling of hate: “If a Jew see a Gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means take him out; for it is written, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour’s blood,’ but this is not thy neighbour.” The separation of the Jews, demanded by their theocratic position, was the explanation in part—not an excuse—for such feeling towards people of other nationalities. Heathen peoples had the same feeling towards enemies. “It was the celebrated felicity of Sulla; and this was the crown of Xenophon’s panegyric of Cyrus the Younger, that no one had done more good to his friends or more mischief to his enemies.” Plautus said, “Man is a wolf to the stranger” (“homo homini ignoto lupus est”). The term “stranger” in Greek means “enemy.” But common as this philosophy was to the pre-Christian world, the Jew was specially known for his hatred of all not of his own nationality (Juvenal, Sat. xiv. 104, etc.). The “enemy” referred to in the passage is not a national enemy ( Keim) but a personal one (Weiss, Meyer, etc.). Our Lord subsequently defined who was to be understood by the term “neighbour” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke x. 36).


Ps. lxix. 22.


Ps. cix. 9.


Rom. xii. 14.


Matt. 11:20, Luke 10:13.


2 Tim. iv. 14. Augustin here again follows the better text than the Textus Receptus; so also Vulgate, reddet. See Revised Version.


See above chap. xix. 58.


Ps. ii. 1. The English version employs the present tense.


Ps. xxii. 18.

Next: Chapter XXII

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