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Homily of Augustine on Psalm CXLIII
Home for Lent IV

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Source: Sacramentary of Gregory, Bishop of Rome [600 AD]. This Sunday was sometimes known as "Refreshment Sunday" for "be relieved" from the Latin resperimus and the Gospel where Jesus relieved the multitude of their hunger. Sometimes known as "Mothering Sunday" as Paul says in the Gospel, "the Jerusalem above is the mother of us all"

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Sam xv. 30 Psalm 142, 143 119:105–144 Galatians iv. 21. St. John vi. 1.
Homily of Augustine on Psalm CXLIII

And enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

Lent 4 commentary

Today we will examine Psalm 143. It is the last of the penitential psalms. It is of significance in this season of general penitence. I suggest 2 Sam xv. 30 as the OT lesson to accompany this psalm.

David wrote

Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

This verse is a key Old Testament confession of the state of man and his need for God's gracious mercy. Consider this verse in relation the collect of Gregory that we feature for this week. This message has been constant throughout the ages, and has been spoken by the great prophets and fathers of the church to include Augustine who wrote of this verse:

"And enter not into judgment with Thy servant" (ver. 2). Who are willing to enter into judgment with Him, save they who, "being ignorant of the righteousness of God, go about to establish their own?" "Wherefore have we fasted, and Thou hast not seen; wherefore have we afflicted our souls, and Thou takest no knowledge?" As though they would say, "We have done what Thou hast commanded, wherefore dost Thou not render to us what Thou hast promised?" God answereth thee: I will give to thee to receive what I have promised: I have given thee that thou shouldest do that whereby thou mayest receive. Finally, to such proud ones the Prophet speaketh; "Wherefore will ye plead with Me? ye have all transgressed against Me, saith the Lord." Why will ye enter into judgment with Me, and recount your own righteousnesses?..."For before Thee every one living shall not be justified." "Every one living;" living, that is, here, living in the flesh, living in expectation of death; born a man; deriving his life of man; sprung from Adam, a living Adam; every one thus living may perhaps be justified before himself, but not before Thee. How before himself? By pleasing himself, displeasing Thee. Enter not then into judgment with me, O Lord my God. How straight soever I seem to myself, Thou bringest forth a standard from Thy store-house, Thou fittest me to it, and I am found crooked. Well is it said, "with Thy servant." It is unworthy of Thee to enter into judgment with Thy servant, or even with Thy friend. ...What of the Apostles themselves?...That ye may perceive it at once, they learnt to pray what we pray: to them was given the pattern of prayer by the heavenly Counsellor. "After this manner," saith He, "pray ye." And having set down certain things first, He laid down this too to be said by the leaders of the sheep, the chief members of the Shepherd and Gatherer of the one flock; even they learnt to say, "Forgive us our debts." They said not, "Thanks be to Thee, who hast forgiven us our debts, as we too forgive our debtors," but, "Forgive, as we forgive." But surely the faithful prayed then, surely the Apostles prayed then, for this Lord's Prayer was given rather to the faithful. If those debts only were meant which are forgiven by Baptism, it would befit catechumens rather to say, "Forgive us our debts." Let the Apostles then say, yea let them say, "Forgive us our debts." And when it is said to them, "Wherefore say ye this? what are your debts?" let them answer, "for in Thy sight every one living shall not be justified."

Augustine, more than any other doctor of the Early Church, was the champion in preaching God's grace. His insight and understanding guided the Church of the West and still does. It was a theology emphasized by the Reformers-especially Luther. It remains a pillar of the catholic faith. There is no one who is not in need of God's grace from birth [Ps 51:5]. No one may count his personal work as meriting justification before God [Eccl 7:20 & Is 64:6] God's elect are not capable of keeping the law perfectly, and those who claim they have no sin are deceived [1 Jn 1:8] The good that we would do, we do not [Rom 7:23] for all our works are tainted [Is. 64:6]
Perhaps Augustine's great motivation in developing this understanding was to fight against the challenge of the monk and presbyter Pelagius who taught in Rome that there was no Original Sin. He also taught that all men were capable of keeping the law perfectly, and able to be justified before God by their own work-hence Christ's salvific work wasn't required for all men. The Church effectively codified Augustine's arguments and those of others against a resurgence of this heresy in the canons of the Council of Orange.
Is this struggle for the truth important today? Most certainly - especially given the drift of many in the church. Pelagianism, and its daughter semi-Pelagianism are alive and well.
In this penitential season of Lent may we be mindful of our nature, our inability to perfectly satisfy the law, our need for God's forgiveness and mercy, and our ultimate destiny in Christ.

Anselm... You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin.

Released by Primus Pilus
Legio Christi-Ecclesia Militans
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" [St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 14:19]


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