HOMILY BY ST. AUGUSTINE, BISHOP.
ON GOSPEL QUESTIONS, BOOK 11., CHAP. XL.
I. The ten lepers met by Jesus when going to Jerusalem lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Whom, when He saw, He said: Go, show yourselves to the priests.- And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean . Considering this fact, we ask: Why did the Lord send them to the priests, that they might be cleansed as they went? Lepers were the only class among those whose bodies were cured by Jesus, who were sent by Him to the priests. In another place it is written that our Lord said to a leper whom He had cleansed: Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing according as Moses commanded for a testimony to them (Luke v. 14). We ask, then, of what leprosy was a type, since those who were delivered were called, not healed, but cleansed. This disease first appears in the colour of the skin, but does not immediately destroy the health, nor the use of the feeling and the limbs. Lepers, we may not absurdly suppose, are the types of those who have not the knowledge of the true faith, but show forth various teachings of error. They do not hide their ignorance, but make use of all the wit they have to manifest and proclaim it in high-sounding words. There is no false doctrine, but has some truth mixed with it. A man’s discourse with some truths in it mingled with errors, and all confounded in one mass, is like to the body of one stricken with leprosy, whereon various foul colours appear in different places along with the true colour of the skin.
II. It follows that such men are to be avoided by the faithful, to the end that, standing afar off, they may lift up their voices and cry to the Lord, just as the ten lepers, standing outside the village, lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Notice that they called Him Master; and I know not that any of those who were cured by Him, ever called Him by this title. I think by this it is sufficiently shown that leprosy signifies false doctrines, whereof we are cleansed by the Good Master.
III. As to the priests, to whom the ten lepers were sent, it is known to every good Christian that they were a figure or type of the kingly priesthood that is, the Church, by whom the faithful, belonging to the body of Christ, are consecrated, He being the true High Priest. Now all the faithful are anointed, what among the Jews was the privilege only of kings and priests. St. Peter,
therefore, in his first Epistle (1 Pet 2:9) calls them a kingly priesthood, because in some manner the dignity of king and priest belongs to them by reason of their unction. There is no doubt that the diseases of our soul and the defects of our mind and senses are cured and corrected in our conscience by Jesus Himself. However, when our ignorance is to be enlightened by words suit able to our needs; when we are to receive the Sacraments, then we must have recourse to the ministers appointed by our Lord. These ministers are to pronounce on the colour of the leprosy, so as not to confound it with the true and sincere doctrine manifested by the good works brought forth. St. Paul was thus instructed. He heard the voice: Saul, Saul, why persecutest fhou Me? Who said: Who art Thou, Lord? And He: I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest (Acts 9:4, 5). Yet, he was sent to Ananias, who, by virtue of the power of the priesthood, was to instruct him in the doctrine of faith, and afterwards to pronounce on the genuineness of his colour that is, of his mission to the Gentiles.
IV. It does not follow from this that Jesus could not do all that by Himself, for who else does all these things in His Church? But if He wishes us to consult His ministers, and thus to be made sure of the doctrine and faith we profess, it is to unite all the members of His Church into one and the same society or fold, with the one and same doctrine, and thus to preserve the unity and soundness of colour that is, of faith, the one sure mark of the Church. This is confirmed by the words of St. Paul to the Galatians: Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. And I went up according to revelation, and conferred with them the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but apart with them who seemed to be something; lest perhaps I shoiild run or had run in vain (Gal 2:1). And soon after he adds: And when they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (2:9). This conference of St. Paul with the three Apostles clearly shows the necessity of knowing whether his doctrine agreed with the true doctrine of the Church of Christ. We hear him, therefore, beseeching the Corinthians to remain in the unity of doctrine: I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing (1 Cor 1:10).
V. Then the centurion Cornelius was told by an Angel of God that his prayers and almsgivings had ascended for a memorial in the sight of God (Acts 10:4); yet he was ordered to send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter, to receive from him the true doctrine and the unity of the Sacraments. Telling him and his whole house to send for Peter (seems as if our Lord had said: Go, show yourselves to the priests. And, as they went, they were made clean. Peter had already come to them; but since they had not received the Sacrament of Baptism, they had not been spiritually presented to the priests, though their cleansing had been declared by the Holy Ghost coming into them, and by the gift of tongues imparted to them.
VI. There is no doubt about this; yet it may happen that we are delivered from leprosy that is, from false doctrines after accepting the true faith and embracing the doctrine of the Church in all its points, so as to be able to distinguish between the things coming from the Creator and those proceeding from His creatures. But we still remain ungrateful towards God, by Whom we were cleansed from our spiritual leprosy. Our pride and our presumption, preventing us from humbly recognising the blessings of our Creator, are the cause of our ingratitude. We are like those spoken of by the Apostle: When they knew God, they have not glorified Him as God, or given thanks (Rom 1:21). Note these words of the Apostle. They mean that these people knew God, and were freed from the leprosy of error, yet were still afflicted with ingratitude towards their Creator Who had enlightened them. They must, therefore, be reckoned among the nine lepers of the Gospel. This number nine is imperfect, and must increase by one, and thus be made perfect, since nothing can be added to the number ten, perfect in itself. This tenth is the leper who came back, with a loud voice glorifying God and giving thanks. He represents the Church, in whom alone there is unity. He is praised by our Lord, whereas the nine others are rejected and condemned on account of their ingratitude. Consider also that these nine lepers were a type of the Jews, who, through their pride and ingratitude, lost the kingdom of heaven; whereas the one who came back giving thanks was a Samaritan, who, like a faithful keeper of entrusted goods, preserved this kingdom by his humility and thankfulness, and could say with the prophet: I will keep my strength to Thee, for Thou art my Protector (Ps 58:10).