The Shepherd, September 2009
FROM THE FATHERS
“EXCEPT THE LORD build the house, in vain do they labour that build it (Ps. 126:1). The Lord, therefore, builds the house. The Lord Jesus Christ builds His own house. Many toil in building; but except He build, in vain do they labour that build it. Who are they who toil in building it? All who preach the word of God in the Church, the ministers of God’s mysteries. We are all running, we are all toiling, we are all building now; and before us others have run, toiled and built; but except the Lord build in vain do they labour. Thus the Apostles, seeing some fall, bewailed these men, in that they had laboured in vain for them (see Gal. 4:9-11). We, then, speak without, He builds within. We can observe with what attention you hear us; He alone knows your thoughts, what you think. He Himself builds. He Himself admonishes. He Himself opens the understanding unto faith; nevertheless we also toil like workmen, but except the Lord build the house, in vain do they labour that build it. But that which is the house of God is also a city. For the house of God is the people of God; for the house of God is the temple of God. This is Jerusalem; she has guards. As she has builders, labouring at her building up, so also she has guards. To this guardianship these words of the Apostle relate: I fear, lest by any means your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity which is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). He was guarding the Church. He kept watch, to the utmost of his power, over those over whom he was set. The Bishops also do this. For a higher place was for this reason given to the Bishops, that they might themselves be the superintendents and, as it were, guardians of the people. For the Greek word Episcopos, and the vernacular Superintendent, are the same; for the Bishop superintends, in that he looks over. As a higher place is assigned to the vine dresser in charge of the vineyard, so also to the Bishops a more exalted station is allotted. And a perilous account is rendered of this high station, except we stand here with a heart that causes us to stand beneath your feet with humility, and pray for you, that He who knows your minds may Himself be your keeper. Since we can see you both coming in and going out, but we are so unable to see what the thoughts of your hearts are, since we cannot even see what you do in your houses, how can we guard you? As men, as far as we are able, as far as we have received power. And because we guard you like men, and cannot guard you perfectly, shall we therefore remain without a keeper? Far be it! For where is He of Whom it is said, Except the Lord guard the city, in vain doth he watch that guardeth her (Ps. 126:2). We are watchful on our guard, but vain is our watchfulness, except He Who sees your thoughts guard you. He keeps guard while you are awake; He keeps guard while you are asleep. For He has once slept on the Cross, and has risen again. He no longer sleeps. Let you be Israel; for He shall not slumber nor shall He sleep, He that keepeth Israel (Ps. 120:4). Yes, brethren, if we wish to be kept beneath the shadow of God's wings, let us be Israel. For we [the Bishops] guard you in our office as stewards; but we wish to be guarded together with you. We are, as it were, shepherds unto you; but beneath that Shepherd we are fellow sheep with you. We are, as it were, your teachers from this station; but beneath Him, the One Master, we are schoolfellows with you in this school."
Blessed Augustine of Hippo, + 430 A.D.