Augustine on Pastors

From today’s second reading of the Divine Office, Saint Augustine’s Sermon on Pastors:

We have talked about what it means for a shepherd to “drink the milk of his flock.” Now, then, what does it mean when he “clothes himself in its wool”?

To give milk is to give sustenance; to give wool is to give honour. These are the two things that pastors demand when they want to feed themselves rather than their sheep: the fulfilment of their bodily wants and the pleasure that comes from honour and praise.

Clothing is a good image of honour because clothing covers nakedness. Now every man is weak – and whoever is placed over you is a man just like you. He has a body; he is mortal. He eats, he goes to sleep, he wakes up. He has been born and he will die. If you consider him in himself, he is nothing but a man; but by giving him honour you give him, as it were, clothing to cover up his human nakedness.
See what kind of clothing Paul received from the good people of God: You welcomed me as an angel of God. I swear that you would even have gone so far as to pluck out your eyes and give them to me. But with all the honour that was given to him, did he spare the feelings of those who had gone astray, so that he could avoid being contradicted or being praised less than before? He did not. If he had withheld correction from those who needed it, he would have been one of those pastors who feed themselves and not their sheep. He would have been saying to himself, “What has that to do with me? Let them do as they like: my food is safe, my honour is safe – I have as much milk and wool as I want, so let everyone wander wherever he likes.” But then, if you think like that, are all your goods really safe if everyone goes wherever he wants? If you think like that, I refuse to make you a leader and you will be like every one of your own people: If one part of the body is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.

So when the Apostle Paul is recalling how the Galatians behaved towards him, he does it because he does not want to seem forgetful of the honour they gave him. He remembers that they received him as if he had been an angel of God, that if it had been possible they would have torn out their own eyes to give to him. But despite all this, he has come to the sick, the rotting sheep to lance its abscesses and cut away its rotting flesh. He is driven to say Is it telling the truth that has made me your enemy?

Paul received the sheep’s milk, as we heard before, and he received their wool to clothe him, but he did not neglect the care of his flock. He did not seek his own interests but those of Jesus Christ.

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