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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVII.

56. For in the case of those who are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, i.e. who are preferring this to all other things, so that for its sake they are seeking the other things, there ought not to remain behind the anxiety lest those things should fail which are necessary to this life for the sake of the kingdom of God. For He has said above, “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” And therefore, when He had said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He did not say, Then seek such things (although they are necessary), but He affirms “all these things shall be added unto you,” 406 i.e. will follow, if ye seek the former, without any hindrance on your part: lest while ye seek such things, ye should be turned away from the other; or lest ye should set up two things to be aimed at, so as to seek both the kingdom of God for its own sake, and such necessaries: but these rather for the sake of that other; so shall they not be wanting to you. For ye cannot serve two masters. But the man is attempting to serve two masters, who seeks both the kingdom of God as a great good, and these temporal things. He will not, however, be able to have a single eye, and to serve the Lord God alone, unless he take all other things, so far as they are necessary, for the sake of this one thing, i.e. for the sake of the kingdom of God. But as all who serve as soldiers receive provisions and pay, so all who preach the gospel receive food and clothing. But all do not serve as soldiers for the welfare of the republic, but some do so for what they get: so also all do not minister to God for the welfare of the Church, but some do so for the sake of these temporal things, which they are to obtain in the shape as it were of provisions and pay; or both for the one thing and for the other. But it has been already said above, “Ye cannot serve two masters.” Hence it is with a single heart and only for the sake of the kingdom of God that we ought to do good to all; and we ought not in doing so to think either of the temporal reward alone, or of that along with the kingdom of God: all which temporal things He has placed under the category of to-morrow, saying, “Take no thought for to-morrow.” 407 For to-morrow is not spoken of except in time, where the future succeeds the past. Therefore, when we do anything good, let us not think of what is temporal, but of what is eternal; then will that be a good and perfect work. “For the morrow,” says He, “will be anxious for the things of itself;” 408 i.e., so that, when you ought, you will take food, or drink, or clothing, that is to say, when necessity itself begins to urge you. For these things will be within reach, because our Father knoweth that we have need of all these things. For “sufficient unto the day,” says He, “is the evil thereof;” 409 i.e. it is sufficient that necessity itself will urge us to take such things. And for this reason, I suppose, it is called evil, because for us it is penal: for it belongs to this frailty and mortality which we have earned by sinning. Do not add, therefore, to this punishment of temporal necessity anything more burdensome, so that you should not only suffer the want of such things, but should also for the purpose of satisfying this want enlist as a soldier for God.

57. In the use of this passage, however, we must be very specially on our guard, lest perchance, when we see any servant of God making provision that such necessaries shall not be wanting either to himself or to those with whose care he has been entrusted, we should decide that he is acting contrary to the Lord’s precept, and is anxious for the morrow. 410 For the Lord Himself also, although angels ministered to Him, 411 yet for the sake of example, that no one might afterwards be scandalized when he observed any of His servants procuring such necessaries, condescended to have money bags, out of which whatever might be required for necessary uses might be provided; of which bags, as it is written, Judas, who betrayed Him, was the keeper and the thief. 412 In like manner, the Apostle Paul also may seem to have taken p. 53 thought for the morrow, when he said: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the saints of Galatia, even so do ye: upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store 413 what shall seem good unto him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come 414 whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I will come unto you when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I shall pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” 415 In the Acts of the Apostles also it is written, that such things as are necessary for food were provided for the future, on account of an impending famine. For we thus read: “And in these days came prophets down from Jerusalem to Antioch, 416 and there was great rejoicing. And when we were gathered together, 417 there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar. Then the disciples, every one according to his ability, determined to send relief to the elders for the brethren which dwelt in Judæa, which also they did by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” 418 And in the case of the necessaries presented to him, wherewith the same Apostle Paul when setting sail was laden, 419 food seems to have been furnished for more than a single day. And when the same apostle writes, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working 420 with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth;” 421 to those who misunderstand him he does not seem to keep the Lord’s precept, which runs, “Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns;” and, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;” while he enjoins the parties in question to labour, working with their hands, that they may have something which they may be able to give to others also. And in what he often says of himself, that he wrought with his hands that he might not be burdensome; 422 and in what is written of him, that he joined himself to Aquila on account of the similarity of their occupation, in order that they might work together at that from which they might make a living; 423 he does not seem to have imitated the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. From these and such like passages of Scripture, it is sufficiently apparent that our Lord does not disapprove of it, when one looks after such things in the ordinary way that men do; but only when one enlists as a soldier of God for the sake of such things, so that in what he does he fixes his eye not on the kingdom of God, but on the acquisition of such things.

58. Hence this whole precept is reduced to the following rule, that even in looking after such things we should think of the kingdom of God, but in the service of the kingdom of God we should not think of such things. For in this way, although they should sometimes be wanting (a thing which God often permits for the purpose of exercising us), they not only do not weaken our proposition, but even strengthen it, when it is examined and tested. For, says He, “we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” 424 Now, in the mention of his tribulations and labours, the same apostle mentions that he has had to endure not only prisons and shipwrecks and many such like annoyances, but also hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. 425 But when we read this, let us not imagine that the promises of God have wavered, so that the apostle suffered hunger and thirst and nakedness while seeking the kingdom and righteousness of God, although it is said to us, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you:” since that Physician to whom we have once for all entrusted ourselves wholly, and from whom we have the promise of life present and future, knows such things just as helps, when He sets them before us, when He takes them away, just as He judges it expedient for us; whom He rules and directs as parties who require both to be comforted and exercised in this life, and after this life to be established and confirmed in perpetual rest. For man also, when he frequently takes away the fodder from his beast of burden, is not depriving it of his care, but rather does what he is doing in the exercise of care.



Nor is it said, “Seek…in order that all these things may be added:” simply, “and all,” etc., yet largely inclusive,—sanctity and comfort. The comfort follows naturally. The passage is a rebuke to those who condemn the amenities of life and art, and a caution to those who place these things before themselves as a chief end. The passage justifies the statement that religion (or godliness) is profitable for the life that now is. The Psalmist never saw the righteous forsaken. A traditional saying of Jesus, quoted by Clement, Origen, and Eusebius, runs, “Ask great things, and little things shall be added; ask heavenly things, and earthly things shall be added.”


Cogitare in crastino; Vulgate, solliciti esse in crastinum. There is no uniformity in Augustin’s or the Vulgate’s translation of the Greek μεριμνάω (“take anxious thought”) in this passage.


The morrow will bring its own vexations and anxieties. The English version entirely misleads as to the meaning of the special clause, “will take care of itself.” The Revised Version is a literal translation, and at least gives the true sense by implication. But with each day’s temptations and troubles, it is implied, special enablement and deliverance will be provided.


Wiclif, following the Vulgate, translates malice; Tyndale, trouble; the Genevan Bible, grief.


Our Lord’s precept is not against provident forethought,—of which Augustin goes on to give examples,—but against anxious thought which implies distrust of God’s providence. Anxious, fretful, distrustful care for the future, unreliant upon God’s bounty, wisdom, and love (as implied in the address, your heavenly Father) is declared to be unnecessary (25, 26), foolish (27–30), and heathenish (32, “After these things do the Gentiles seek”). The passages teach trust in God, who is more interested in His children than in the fowls of the air, and will certainly take care of them.


Matt. iv. 11.


John xii. 6.


Thesaurizans; Vulgate, recondens.


Advenero; Vulgate, præsens fuero.


1 Cor. xvi. 1-8.


Not in the original Greek or Vulgate, but implied in the preceding context.


Not in the original Greek or Vulgate, but implied in the preceding context.


Acts xi. 27-30. The clause shows much divergence from the Vulgate in construction.


Acts xxviii. 10.


Operans; Vulgate, operando.


Eph. iv. 28. Unde tribuere cui opus est; Vulgate, unde tribuat necessitatem patienti.


1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:8.


Acts 18:2, 3.


Rom. v. 3-5.


2 Cor. xi. 23-27.

Next: Chapter XVIII

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