Augustine on enemies

Listening to some folks crow about the demise of the monstrous Al-Zarqawi made me think.  What can be our attitude about enemies?  Can we enjoy the death or defeat of an enemy?   Must we pray for them?  Can we pray against them?  To get at this, I looked at some texts of St. Augustine.

Moving fast into this, for the sake of getting at the point I find fascinating, I can say that Augustine contrasts Old Testament passages about malevolence toward enemies with New Testament passage about compassion and not judging them unjustly.  In discussing 1 John 5:16 he would hold that one need not pray for those who commit sins that lead to death.   Augustine also reflects on the Judas’s sin and Peter’s denial of Christ.  Moreover, he thinks one should not pray for sinners who sin against the Holy Spirit. In his De sermone Domini in monte 76 (On the Lord’s sermon on the mount), Augustine he makes the point that we cannot hate enemies.

Bringing together the texts, for Augustine the moral obligation we have to love enemies also implies praying for them.  We should pray even for sinners and even sinful enemies, even enemies of the Church, in order that they convert and become friends.  Christ, after all, while on the Cross prayed for those who crucified Him.  Augustine thought that prayers of Christians led, for example, to the conversion of Saul.  Stephan prayed for Saul while he was being killed.

Augustine points out, however, and this is really interesting, that prayer for enemies does not exclude the hope that enemies be punished by God, just as God punished the devil (qu. eu. 2.45.2)!  Augustine does not foresee the eventual conversion of the devil, of course.

Here is the text in its raw form.  Patristibloggers ("All Hail!") will, I am sure, delight in this and those of you who have some Latin can take a stab at it.  The last part is especially good.  This is from Quaestionum Evangeliorum libri duo… Questions on the Gospels.

Augustine2,45,2 hic ergo iniquus iudex non ex similitudine sed ex dissimilitudine
adhibitus est, ut ostenderet dominus quanto certiores esse
debeant qui deum perseueranter rogant, fontem iustitiae atque
misericordiae uel si quid excellentius dici aut audiri potest, cum
apud iniquissimum iudicem usque ad effectum implendi desiderii
ualuerit perseuerantia deprecantis. ipsa uero uidua potest habere
similitudinem ecclesiae, quod desolata uidetur donec ueniat
dominus, qui tamen in secreto etiam nunc curam eius gerit. si
autem mouet, cur electi dei se uindicari deprecentur, quod
etiam in Apocalypsi Iohannis de martyribus dicitur, cum apertissime
moneamur ut pro nostris inimicis et persecutoribus oremus,
intellegendum est eam uindictam esse iustorum ut omnes mali
pereant. pereunt autem duobus modis: aut conuersione ad iustitiam
aut amissa per supplicium potestate qua nunc aduersus
bonos, quamdiu hoc ipsum bonis expedit, uel temporaliter aliquid
ualent. itaque etiamsi omnes homines conuerterentur ad deum,
inter quos sunt etiam inimici pro quibus iubemur orare, diabolus
tamen, qui operatur in filiis diffidentiae, remaneret in saeculi fine
damnandus. quem finem iusti cum uenire desiderant, quamuis pro
inimicis suis orent, tamen non absurde uindictam desiderare


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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