On the Criteria by Which We Shall Be Judged on the Last Day by Saint Caesarius of Arles

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AN ADMONITION EXPLAINING THAT THE GOOD AND MERCIFUL LORD

HAS PLACED IN OUR POWER THE CRITERIA BY WHICH WE WILL BE JUDGED ON THE LAST DAY;

THAT LOVE OF ENEMIES IS THE ONLY AND EXCLUSIVE REMEDY AGAINST THE WOUNDS OF ALL SINS;

THAT NO ONE CAN EVER TRUTHFULLY SAY HE IS UNABLE TO LOVE HIS ENEMIES

by Saint Caesarius of Arles (6th century)

st.Caesarius-of-Arles

(1) Knowing that the human race with its weaknesses cannot pass through this present life without sin, the good and merciful Lord deigned to provide such remedies as not only the rich, but also the poor, can apply to the wounds of their sins. What are these remedies? They are two, concerning which the Lord said: ‘Give, and it shall be given to you; forgive, and you shall be forgiven.’1 ‘Give, and it shall be given to you’ refers to the alms which are given to the hungry, the naked, and captives. ‘Forgive, and you shall be forgiven’ indicates the alms whereby we forgive all our enemies. Even if a poor man wanted to excuse himself because he cannot feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or free the captive, he could in no wise say in truth that he cannot forgive his enemies or adversaries. In order that he may say with a clear conscience in the Lord’s Prayer those petitions which the wise heavenly Judge dictated to us: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors,’ let him listen with fear to that sentence in the Gospel: ‘if you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your offenses. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offenses.’2 We are treated very kindly, for it is put in our power how we will be judged on the last day. If you forgive, you will be forgiven; if you do not, neither will you be pardoned.

(2) But someone will say: I cannot forgive my enemies. If you have no sin for God to forgive, then perhaps you might say you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor. However, if you have sinned against God incomparably more than any man has sinned against you, why do you not forgive the slight offense when the Lord commands it, in order that God may deign to forgive your many sins? God has not told you: Fast more than you can, abstain from wine or meat, weaken yourselves by more frequent vigils, sail to the east or the west under infinite trials and labors. None of these things is imposed upon us. However, we are commanded to search carefully the confines of our conscience and not have hatred for any man in the world, thus fulfilling what the Lord Himself said: ‘All things whatever you would that men should do to you, even so do you also to them.’3 Now, since there is no one who does not desire forgiveness for the wrongs he has committed against God or man, why do we not treat others as we would be treated, in order that what the Apostle says may come to pass: ‘The whole Law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’?4 Why should we deceive ourselves with a false security, thinking that even if we refuse to forgive our neighbor we can merit to receive pardon for our sins? With great fear we ought to consider that terrible and dreadful sentence of our Lord which the cruel servant deserved to hear: 5 ‘Wicked servant! I forgave thee all the debt, because thou didst entreat me. Shouldst not thou also have had pity on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?’ What happened then? ‘He handed him over,’ it says, ‘to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.’ In order to impress this upon those who came later, He added: ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not each forgive your brother from your hearts.’ Since by wholeheartedly forgiving our brothers we can without any physical labor merit the pardon of all our sins, what excuse will we have on judgment day if we neglect to perform what we could very easily do with God’s help? Doubtless, our Lord will carry out His sentence in our regard, so that with the same judgment whereby we have judged others He will also judge us, and in the measure in which we have forgiven our neighbors He will in turn pardon us. If anyone refuses to do so, he closes the gates of divine mercy upon himself.

(3) All the good works which a man has performed will be in vain if he does not possess a genuine charity which extends to his enemies as well as to his friends. The blessed Apostle Paul, in whose person Christ speaks, does not lie when he says: ‘If I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing.’6 Now, since ‘Covetousness is the root of all evils,’7 and charity is the root of all good, what does it profit a man if he possesses a thousand branches with flowers or the finest and most delicious fruits, if the root in him is not alive and true? Just as when the root of avarice is torn out all the branches immediately become dry and perish, so, if the root of charity in a man is destroyed by hatred or anger, nothing will remain in him to arrive at eternal life.

(4) If anyone keeps the above-mentioned evils in his heart and thinks he can redeem his sins by abundant almsgiving, he should listen to the Lord saying in the Gospel:4 ‘If thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.’8 This statement shows clearly that the offering of sacrifice or almsgiving is of no avail unless reconciliation with an enemy shall have preceded. God Himself has told us in the Gospel that He will not hear our prayer if wish to keep hatred in our heart. ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me,’ and ‘what does it profit that you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not practise the things that I say?’9 What are the things that the Lord claims to have mentioned in particular? Surely, those which pertain to peace and harmony. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’; moreover: ‘peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you’; and: ‘by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’10 Now, if we give alms generously but according to Christ’s precepts do not forgive our enemies, we offer our earthly substance to God but subject our soul to the Adversary. Consider whether this division is just and pleasing to God. He does not want our goods so much as our selves, but, because He knows that we love our earthly wealth very much, He desires the offering of what we love. Thus, in accord with His teaching may our heart follow where our treasure has gone ahead. Then, when the priest says: ‘Lift up your hearts,’ we can with a clear conscience say that we have lifted them up to the Lord.

(5) Who would not tremble at that sentence11 of the blessed Apostle John which we have frequently mentioned and should constantly repeat? ‘Everyone who hates his brother,’ he says, ‘is a murderer.’ ‘He who says that he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in the darkness still’; and: ‘He who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and he does not know whither he goes; because the darkness has blinded his eyes’; and this: The paths of those who retain the injury of those who have wronged them are in death.’12 Since, according to the facts we mentioned above, no shadow of any excuse remains for us, let us with God’s help strive with all our might to fulfill His commands, in order to merit His promises. Moreover, that we may not lose the other good works which we perform under God’s inspiration, let us faithfully practice charity as the mother of all good works. In order that you might understand more fully and clearly what we suggested above, I thought of adding a little something pertinent to the subject from the works of St. Augustine. Thus, it will be proved very clearly that no one can merit God’s mercy if he despises the two precepts of charity, and neglects to forgive his enemies with all his heart.

(6) When the holy Bishop Augustine was discussing the paralytic who had been sick for thirty-eight years, he said: By the number forty, dearly beloved, the course and tenor of our life is mystically designated in sacred Scripture. Before Easter, which signifies the present life, we observe a forty-day fast so that we may be able to celebrate joyfully the Easter which represents eternal life. Moses fasted thus for forty days and so did Elias, while our Lord and Saviour consecrated a fast of forty days. Moreover, the Jewish people remained in the desert for forty years after they deserved to be freed from Egypt. Therefore, as you see, dearly beloved, that number forty seems to represent a figure of good Christians and of all the saints. That weak man, however, of whom we read in the Gospel that he was lying down, seems to prefigure the human race. Since he lay sick for thirty-eight years, two less than that number forty we mentioned above, let us consider the nature of those two which were lacking to the consecrated number. What are they, brethren, except the two precepts of charity: love of God and of neighbor? They are such that without them everything else is worthless. If a man practices any good works including virginity and even martyrdom, but does not have those two upon which ‘depend the whole Law and the Prophets,’13 he lies weak and paralyzed. Then Christ came and by the grace of the Holy Spirit taught us two things : that we should love God and that we should love a neighbor. Finally, He gave the two denarii for the man who had fallen among robbers, and He spent two days among Samaritans, to strengthen them in love of God and their neighbor. Moreover, as a type of the Church that widow threw two coins into the treasury, and the Lord chose to preach charity to two disciples. As we said, the human race did not deserve to have them before the coming of Christ. Notice, brethren, that the Lord mentioned two things, evidently those which seemed to be lacking. ‘Rise, take up thy pallet.’14 That sick man lacked two things. What does ‘rise’ mean, except love the Lord? For, if a man loves God, he lifts up his heart. Furthermore, what is it to ‘take up thy pallet,’ unless to love your neighbor? Thus, love of neighbor is designated in taking up the pallet. The Apostle says: ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.’15 If, then, your brother has been overtaken in something, let him be carried by you; if you are overcome, let him sustain you. Therefore ‘rise’ and love God; ‘take up thy pallet’ and love your neighbor, that is, bear his burden in order that you may find rest. These two elements were necessary for the human race, but men could not possess them alone. Therefore, ‘The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts,’ not by ourselves, but ‘by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’;16 with the help of Him who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

NOTES

1) Luke 6.38,37.

2) Matt. 6.12,14,15.

3) Matt. 7.12.

4) Gal. 5.14.

5) Matt. 18.32-35.

6) 1 Cor. 13.3.

7) 1 Tim. 6.10.

8) Matt. 5.23,24.

9) John 14.21; Luke 6.46.

10) Matt. 5.44; John 14.27; 13.35.

11) 1 John 3.15; 2.9,11.

12) Prov. 12.28 (Septuagint).

13) Matt. 22.40.

14) John 5.8.

15) Gal. 6.2.

16) Rom. 5.5.