By Longing Thou Art Made Capable

From Homily IV on I John, 6. (ca. 416).

“What then shall ‘we’ be, when we shall see this? What is promised to us? ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ The tongue hath done what it could, hath sounded the words: let the rest be thought by the heart…

Because ye cannot at present see, let your part and duty be in desire. The whole life of a good Christian is an holy desire. Now what thou longest for, thou dost not yet see: howbeit by longing, thou art made capable, so that when that is come which thou mayest see, thou shall be filled. For just as, if thou wouldest fill a bag, and knowest how great the thing is that shall be given, thou stretchest the opening of the sack or the skin, or whatever else it be; thou knowest how much thou wouldest put in, and seest that the bag is narrow; by stretching thou makest it capable of holding more: so God, by deferring our hope, stretches our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious. Let us desire therefore, my brethren, for we shall be filled.

See Paul widening, as it were, his bosom, that it may be able to receive that which is to come. He saith, namely, ‘Not that I have already received, or am already perfect: brethren, I deem not myself to have apprehended.’ Then what art thou doing in this life, if thou have not yet apprehended? ‘But this one thing [I do]; forgetting the things that are behind, reaching forth to the things that are before, upon the strain I follow on unto the prize of the high calling.’ He says he reaches forth, or stretches himself, and says that he follows ‘upon the strain.’ He felt himself too little to take in that ‘which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man.’

This is our life, that by longing we should be exercised. But holy longing exercises us just so much as we prune off our longings from the love of the world. We have already said, ‘Empty out that which is to be filled.’ With good thou art to be filled: pour out the bad. Suppose that God would fill thee with honey: if thou art full of vinegar, where wilt thou put the honey? That which the vessel bore in it must be poured out: the vessel itself must be cleansed; must be cleansed, albeit with labor, albeit with hard rubbing, that it may become fit for that thing, whatever it be. Let us say honey, say gold, say wine; whatever we say it is, being that which cannot be said, whatever we would fain say, it is called God.

And when we say ‘God,’ what have we said? Is that one syllable the whole of that we look for? So then, whatever we have had power to say is beneath Him: let us stretch ourselves unto Him, that when He shall come, He may fill us. For ‘we shall be like Him; because we shall see Him as He is.’”

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His sermons on the First Epistle of John were preached in Hippo’s Cathedral, beginning around 416. St. Augustine is commemorated on August 28.


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