On the Feast of St. Matthew: Augustine on the Gospels

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Mt 9:9-13

Matthew himself demonstrates the essence of the gospel, as Pope Benedict XVI expressed it, “by humbly acknowledging their sins and accepting God’s mercy, even those who seem farthest from holiness can become first in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Augustine reflects on the authority of the Gospels (emphasis mine):

“He who sent the prophets before His own descent also despatched the apostles after His ascension. Moreover, in virtue of the man assumed by Him, He stands to all His disciples in the relation of the head to the members of His body. Therefore, when those disciples have written matters which He declared and spake to them, it ought not by any means to be said that He has written nothing Himself; since the truth is, that His members have accomplished only what they became acquainted with by the repeated statements of the Head. For all that He was minded to give for our perusal on the subject of His own doings and sayings, He commanded to be written by those disciples, whom He thus used as if they were His own hands. Whoever apprehends this correspondence of unity and this concordant service of the members, all in harmony in the discharge of diverse offices under the Head, will receive the account which he gets in the Gospel through the narratives constructed by the disciples, in the same kind of spirit in which he might look upon the actual hand of the Lord Himself, which He bore in that body which was made His own, were he to see it engaged in the act of writing.”
St. Augustine: The Harmony of the Gospels Chapter XXXV

Augustine was no stranger to the perils of translation, and had to offer reconsiderations (in his Retractationes, which are not “retractions,” ironically, despite the translation issue) in some cases where he based opinion on faulty translations of scripture or forced an analogy. What was important to Augustine, however, was sharing what the Holy Spirit revealed to him about the scriptures as he understood them after considering the available translations.

Augustine’s attitude towards the good news was perhaps as ours should be, and as Matthew’s certainly was:

“For him, the Bible was a treasure to be shared, which he always did generously. Scarcely has he understood a text than he burned with the desire to share his discovery with those around him.”
(From augnet commentary)

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