I came across partial translations of Augustine’s Letters 197, 198 and 199, which are cited as footnotes to verses in Matthew 24 in some older Catholic Douay Bible versions. Here’s a Synopsis of from a book called The Letters of St. Augustine followed by the text of the three Letters. Note: I have not tried to hyperlink, edit or rearrange the footnotes between the page breaks.~ Jay Rogers
One of Augustine’s correspondents [a bishop named Hesychius] wrote him a letter  concerning the end of the world. The writer maintained that while it was not possible to determine the day and the hour, there were, nevertheless, certain signs by which it would be possible to recognize when the end was near. The writer had been meditating on Jerusalem being trodden down by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles should be fulfilled. He had thought on the signs in the sun and the moon and the stars, and on the earth distress of nations, and men’s hearts failing them for fear. There had been some alarming incidents in the course of nature. He had been reading also Jerome’s exposition of the words in Daniel, and was perplexed by the abomination of desolation. So he confides in Augustine what he thinks, hoping to hear some instruction in reply. Augustine’s replies give the impression of a man already absorbed in studies, breaking off from his labors to answer an inquirer out of the fullness of his mind. And as he answers, thoughts crowd in upon him. Precedents, authorities, scripture expositions, one after another are poured out from an apparently inexhaustible treasury of resources, until the fountain became a river and the river became a sea. In the present case there issues a masterly treatise,  of more than fifty sections, on the end of the world.
Augustine begins by commending the zeal with which his correspondent writes on the Advent of Christ; dwells on the danger of reliance on the thought that the Lord delays His coming; points out the true religious attitude of desire to appear before the presence of God; and emphasizes our ignorance of the times, as an incentive to watchfulness. For the individual human being the end of the world is the day when he dies. If Christ said that it was not for His Apostles to know the date of the last day, it would be presumption on our part to define it. Augustine’s correspondent had referred to the passages in Daniel  about the Son of Man coming with the clouds of Heaven. Augustine requests him to explain in unambiguous language precisely what this means, and how it can be reconciled with our Lord’s own declaration that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons. Appeal is made to S. Paul’s discouragement  of expectations of a speedy return of Christ. The Gospel words, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man,” must not be understood to imply the possibility of knowing the year or the decade or the century, as Augustine imagined his correspondent to suppose.  A thousand years are to God as a single day.  The language of Daniel cannot contradict the warning of Christ about our ignorance of the final day.  It was disputed whether the words in Daniel refer to Christ’s first coming or to His second or to both.  Undoubtedly every day brings us nearer to His coming.  But what the interval is it is not for us to know.
St. Paul said the night is departing, the day is at hand. And yet how many years have elapsed! Nevertheless what he said is true. There is again much to reflect on in the expression “the last days.” “In the last days grievous times shall come” (2 Tim. iii. i). “In the last days I will pour forth of my Spirit” (Acts ii. 17). That phrase, “last days,” appears to haunt the writer. If the period of Whitsuntide was the “ last days “ what are we to say of the present? The novissima hora advances until the days come which will be novissimorum novissimi. There is the coming of Christ through the Church in which He never ceases coming until the end. Augustine is clear that much of the Evangelist’s description of the last days refers to the fall of Jerusalem and not to the end of the world. The abomination of desolation refers to the former not to the latter. The shortenings of the days refers to the calamities at Jerusalem.
1 Letter 198. 2 Letter 199.
1 Letter 199, 13. 2 Letter 199, 15. 3 Letter 199, 1 6. 4 Letter 199, 17. 5 Letter 199, 19. 6 Letter 199, 21. 7 Letter 199, 22.
At the end of 419 or the beginning of 420 Augustine wrote to Hesychius, the bishop of Salona, near Split, who was metropolitan of the church of Dalmatia. Augustine tells Hesychius that he thought it better to send him some writings of Jerome on the weeks in the prophecies of Daniel and tells him that he thinks that they refer to past events rather than to the future coming of Christ (paragraph 1). Scripture clearly states that no one can know the time of the end of the world (paragraph 2). To calculate the time of the end of the world is nothing else than to try to know what Christ said could not be known (paragraph 3). We can know that the gospel will be preached to all nations throughout the world before the end of the world, but we cannot know how soon the end will come after that (paragraph 4). Augustine asks Hesychius to share with him anything that the Lord may have revealed to him on these questions but claims for himself a cautious ignorance rather than a false knowledge (paragraph 5).
To his most blessed lord, Hesychius, Augustine sends greetings.
1. Since your son and our fellow priest Cornutus, from whom I received the letter of Your Reverence by which you were so kind as to visit my lowly self, is returning to Your Holiness, I am by my reply fulfilling my duty of greeting you in turn, while strongly commending myself to your prayers, which are most acceptable to the Lord, my lord and most blessed brother. Concerning the prophetic statements or predictions about which you wanted me to write some thing, I thought it better to send to Your Beatitude explanations of the same words by the holy Jerome, a most learned man, taken from his works, in case you do not have them. If you have them, however, and they do not satisfy your questions, I ask you not to hesitate to write back to me what you thinks of them and how you yourself understand those prophetic utterances. For I think that the one about the weeks of Daniel in particular should be understood in terms of time that is already past. For I do not dare to calculate the time of the coming of the savior that is expected in the end, nor do I think that any prophet has determined ahead of time the number of years before that event but rather that what the Lord said holds true, No one can know the times that the Father determined by his own authority (Acts 1: 7).
2. As for what he says in another passage, Concerning that day and hour, however, no one knows (Mt 4:36; Mk 13:32), there are some who interpret this so that they think that they can calculate the times; it is only the exact day and hour that no one can know. I omit here the way the scriptures are also accustomed to use “day” or “hour” in place of “time.” But surely what was said about not knowing the times was spoken with perfect clarity. For, when the Lord was questioned about this by his disciples, he said, No one can know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1:7). For he did not say “day” or “hour” but times, which usually does not refer to a short stretch, like “day” or “hour,” especially if we look at the Greek words. For we know that the same book in which this was written was translated into ours from that language, even though it could not be exactly expressed in Latin. For in Greek we read at this point, εποχές και καιρούς. Our books translate both εποχές and καιρούς as “times,” though these two words have a significant difference between them.
The Greeks call Καιποϖ certain times, not the times that pass in the course of events but the times in events that are felt to be auspicious or inauspicious for something, for example, the harvest, vintage, heat, cold, peace, war, and any like these. But they call stretches of time εποχές.
3. And the apostles certainly did not ask this in the sense that they wanted to know the one last day or hour, that is, a small part of the day, but whether it was now the auspicious time for the kingdom of Israel to be restored. At that point they heard, No one can know the times that the Father has determined by his own authority, that is, εποχές και καιρούς. But if in Latin we said “times and auspicious moments,” we would not express in that way what was said. For, whether the times are auspicious or inauspicious, they are called καιρούς, but to calculate the times, that is, εποχές, in order to know when the end of this world or the coming of Christ will be, seems to me to be nothing else than to want to know what he himself said that no one can know.
4. But the occasion for that time will certainly not occur before the gospel is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. For we read the perfectly clear statement of the savior on this matter, when he says, And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Mt 24:14). What does then the end will come mean but “it will not come before that”? When it will come after that is uncertain for us. But we certainly ought to have no doubt that it will not come before that. If, then, the servants of God undertook this labor so that they roamed the world and gathered as best they could what remained of the nations where the gospel was not yet preached, we could from this observe to some extent how far the present time is from the end of the world. If because of some inaccessible and inhospitable places it does not seem possible for the servants of God to roam the whole world and to provide reliable reports about the many great nations that are still without the gospel of Christ, still less do I think that we can grasp from the scriptures how much time there will be before the end, since we read in them, No one can know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1:7). Hence, if we already had absolutely certain reports that the gospel was being preached in all nations, we still could not say how much time remained before the end, but we would be correct to say that it is now coming closer and closer. Perhaps someone might reply that the Roman peoples and many barbarians came to hear the preaching of the gospel with such great speed and that some of them have been converted to the faith of Christ, not gradually but so suddenly, that it is not incredible that in a few years, even if not in the life of those of us who are already old, but surely in that of the young who will reach old age, all the remaining nations can have the gospel preached to them. But if it is to be so, it will be easier to prove it by experience after it has happened than to be able to show it from reading the scriptures before it happens.
5. The opinion of a certain person, whom the priest Jerome also accuses of rashness,1 forces me to say this, because he dared to explain the weeks of Daniel as referring to the future, not to the coming of Christ in the past. But if the Lord has revealed or will reveal something better to your holy and humble heart in accord with your greater merits, I beg you to be so good as to share it with us and to receive this reply of ours as that of a man who would prefer to have knowledge rather than ignorance regarding the questions that you asked me. But since I was not yet capable of it, I choose to admit cautious ignorance rather than to profess false knowledge.
1 . See Jerome, Commentary on Daniel (Commentarium in Danielem) 9, 24.
Shortly after receiving the previous letter, Hesychius, the bishop of Salona in Dalmatia, wrote to Augustine. Hesychius thanks Augustine for his letter and explains that he has taken Augustine up for his request to put his thoughts in writing (paragraph 1). He argues that it would be surprising if the prophets fore told what human beings could not come to know (paragraph 2). Furthermore, scripture repeatedly warns us about the need to know the times (paragraph 3) and teaches us that those who await the Lord’s coming are blessed (paragraph 4). Though no one can know the day or the hour of the Lord’s coming, signs bear witness that his coming is near at hand (paragraph 5). After the emperors became Christian, the gospel spread through the world rapidly in a short time (paragraph 6). What Jerome wrote about the prophecy of Daniel leaves his readers with problems. Hence, Hesychius asks Augustine for further help (paragraph 7).
To his most blessed lord Augustine, his brother who should be venerated with most sincere love and his fellow bishop, Hesychius sends greetings in the Lord.
1. Our holy fellow priest Cornutus brought me the letter of Your Beatitude that I desired and awaited. It brought me joy because you were so good as to have a favorable memory of us, for you explained to me in a few words of your own in passing the thoughts of your holy mind on the matters that I asked about. But you added some things from the works of our holy fellow priest Jerome in order that I might be able to resolve my question by the reading of his work on the Holy Scriptures. And since you were so kind as to ask us to convey to Your Most Sincere Charity by letter what we think on these questions, I have written below what I learned about those points from the writings I read, insofar as my small mind with its middling ability could grasp or understand.
2. Since all things, both those that have been made and those that will be made, are governed by the will and power of almighty God, the creator of the whole world, we know those events that have occurred or even those that will occur from the words of the holy prophets who, by God’s will, foretold to human beings those things that were going to be before they came about. Hence it would be quite surprising if God decreed that the events that God wanted to be foretold could never enter the minds of human beings in accordance with the words that the Lord spoke to the blessed apostles when he said, No one can know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1:7). For, first of all, in the most ancient books of the churches it does not say, No one can, but, It is not for you to know the times or moments that the Father has established by his own authority. And this manner of expression is correctly complemented by the words that follow when he says, But you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and to the end of the world (Acts 1: 8). He did not therefore; want us to understand that the apostles were witnesses to the end of the world but to his name and resurrection.
3. For the Lord himself warns about knowledge of the times, Who is the faithful and prudent servant whom the master has set over his servants to give them food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom, when he comes, the Lord finds doing this. (Mt 24:45-46; Lk 12:45-46) The family of Christ is fed by the word of preaching, and a servant is found to be faithful who offers at the proper time the food that the faithful need to those who are waiting for the Lord. For a bad servant is criticized as follows, But if the bad servant says. My master is slow in coming, his master will come on a day he does not know and at an hour of which he is ignorant (Mt 24:48,50; Lk 12:45-46), and so on. Similarly, he blames them because they do not know the time when he says. You hypocrites, you know how to read the appearance of the sky. Why do you not recognize this time? (Lk 12:56) So, too, the apostle says, In the last days perilous times will come upon us (2 Tm 3:1), and so on. Similarly, the apostle says, But regarding times and moments we do not have to write to you, for you yourselves know quite well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, Peace and security, then sudden destruction will overtake them like the pains of a woman in childbirth, and they will not escape. (1 Thes 5:1-3) Likewise, the apostle says, Do you not recall that, when I was with you, I told you these things? And you now know what is holding him back in order that he may be revealed at his proper time. For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. Only let him who is holding it back hold it back now until he is removed from our midst, and then the man of iniquity will be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the Spirit of his lips. (2 Thes 2:5-8; Is 1 1:4) Likewise, the Lord chides the Jews in the gospel. And if you had known the time of your visitation, you would perhaps have remained, but now it has been hidden from your eyes (Lk 19:42,44). And the Lord preached to the Jews in this way, Do penance; the times are completed; believe the gospel (Mk 1:15). He was correct to tell the Jews that the times were completed, because their times came to an end thirty-five or forty years after he preached.1 And in Daniel we read, Until the beast has been slain and has perished and its body has been given to be burned and the reign of the other beasts has been ended, and they are given a duration of life up to a time and a time, which in Greek says: eox; xpovov xat Kaipov. And there follows, And behold with the clouds of heaven there comes one like the son of man (Dan 7:11-13). The mystery of the beast and of the other beasts is clear for those with understanding from the figurative meaning of scripture.
4. We should long for and await the coming of the Lord. For it is great happiness for those who long for his coming, as the blessed apostle Paul bears witness.
1. That is, with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.
He says, Henceforth there is stored up for me a crown of righteousness that the Lord, the just judge, will give to me on that day, but not to me alone but also to those who long for the coming of the Lord (2 Tm 4:8). And the Lord says in the gospel, Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43). Similarly, the prophet says, For, behold, darkness and clouds will cover the earth above the nations, but the Lord will appear in you, and his majesty will be seen in you (Is 60:2). Likewise, the prophet says. Those who wait for the Lord will exult with might; they will grow wings like eagles; they will run without effort; they will walk and not grow hungry (Is 40: 3 1). And we find many other such things that pertain to the happiness of those who long for the coming of the Lord.
5. But it is clear that no one can calculate the periods of times. The gospel certainly says, No one knows the day or the hour (Mt 24:36; Mk 13:32). But, taking into account the inability of my intellect, I say that neither the day nor the month nor the year of his coming can be known. But by seeing and believing signs of his coming it is right that I wait for it and distribute this food to believers so that they may await and long for his coming. For he said, When you see all these things, know that he is near the gates (Mt 24:33). Hence the signs in the gospel and in the prophets that have been fulfilled among us reveal the coming of the Lord. For in vain do either those who seek them or those who criticize them seek to calculate the days and the years, because scripture says. And if those days were not cut short, no flesh would be saved, but those days will be shortened on account of the elect (Mt 24:22; Mk 13: 20). It is certain that the time cannot be calculated that the Lord, who has established all times, will shorten, but it is certain his coming has drawn near. For we see from events that have occurred that some signs of his coming have been realized. And again, he says, But when these events begin to come about, you will take a breath and lift up your heads, because your redemption has drawn near (Lk 21:28). What signs he said that they would see are clear in the Gospel of Saint Luke, And Jerusalem will be trod upon by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles has been completed (Lk 21:24). This has been done, and no one doubts that it is being done. And there follows, And there will be signs in the sun and the moon and in the stars, and on earth the consternation of the nations (Lk 21:25). The sufferings and chastisement that we endure compels us to admit it, even if the will perhaps does not want to. For it is clear that at the same time people saw signs in the sky and endured the consternation of the nations on earth. And there follows, As human beings wither away out of fear and in expectation of what is coming upon the whole world (Lk 2 1: 26). It is certain that no country, no place is not afflicted and brought low in our times, as scripture says, out of fear and in expectation of what is coming upon the whole world, and all the signs that the gospel discloses above to its readers have been for the most part realized.
6. But it is said, And this gospel will be preached in all the world, and then the end will come (Mt 24: 14), first, because it was the promise of the Lord himself that the apostles would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and to the end of the world (Acts 1: 8), and the apostle teaches on the basis of this authority, But I say, Have they not heard? Their voice has gone out to the whole world, and their words to the ends of the earth. (Rom 10: 18; Ps 19:5) He likewise teaches. On account of the hope that has been stored up for you, of which you heard before in the word of the truth, that is, of the gospel that has come to you, bearing fruit and increasing, as it is in all the world (Col 1:5-6). But the faith preached among the nations by the apostles had many persecutors so that it was held back and grew strong slowly; thus the words of scripture were fulfilled, Before all these things, they will first lay hands upon you and persecute you and hand you over to their synagogues and prisons, taking you before kings and governors, on account of my name (Lk 21:12). Thus were these words also fulfilled, “And you will quickly be rebuilt by those who destroyed you.“2 For from the time when the most merciful emperors became Christian by God’s will, however slowly the faith grew in the world on account of persecution, once the emperors became Christian the gospel of Christ spread everywhere in a short time.
7. Though the saintly Jerome, our fellow priest, has explained the interpretation of blessed Daniel concerning the weeks,3 as the teachers of the Church have handed it down, it leaves the reader perplexed.4 For, if that most learned man, our fellow priest, says that “it is dangerous to pass judgment on the opinion of the teachers of the churches and to prefer one to another,“5 how much less is a reader able to do what a teacher has hesitated to do! But we believe that the Lord said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but not one iota or one little mark will disappear from the law until all of it has come about (Mt 5: 1 8). I wonder, therefore, how the mystery of the weeks has been fulfilled before the birth and passion of Christ, since in the middle of a week the prophet said this, In the middle of the week my sacrifice and supplication will be taken away, and the abomination of desolation will take the place of sacrifice (Dn 9:27). If this abomination had already been realized, then, how does the Lord warn us when he says. When you see the abomination of desolation, as was predicted by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, let the reader understand (Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14; Dn 9:27). But lest I be someone who scorns the request of Your Beatitude, I have written to Your Charity what I thought. But be so good as to teach us and bring us joy by writing back with the word of Your Grace.
2. The sentence is not found in scripture. 3. See Dn 9:24-27. 4. See Jerome, Commentary on Daniel the Prophet (Commentarium in Danielem prophetam) 9, 24. 5. Ibid.
Soon after receiving the previous letter, Augustine replied to Hesychius, the bishop of Salona, with this long letter, which Augustine mentions in The City of God 20, 5, 4, where he gave it the title The End of the World. Augustine begins his reply to Hesychius’ questions by indicating the disposition that a Christian ought to have in awaiting the second coming of the Lord. Those who long for his coming find delays difficult to bear (paragraph 1 ). Our good actions will prepare us for this event, and he will find us at his coming as he finds each of us at our death (paragraph 2). Hence, we must be watchful and ready (paragraph 3). Hesychius interpreted the Lord’s words to his disciples. It is not yours to know the times or moments that the Father established by his own authority (Acts 1:7) in the sense that the Lord did not want them to be witnesses to the end of the world but to his resurrection. Augustine express his uncertainty about how to interpret Hesychius’ statement and points out that the Lord spoke of what was not theirs to know, not of what was not theirs to preach (paragraph 4). God did not want the apostles to preach what he knew was not useful for them to know (paragraph 5). Christ did not admonish the Jews about their not knowing the times because they did not know the time of his second coming at the end of the world but because they did not recognize the time of his first coming (paragraph 6). It was long ago when John wrote that it is the last hour ( 1 Jn 2: 1 8), and the end is still not here (paragraph 7). Paul’s warning that the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night would seem to preclude the Lord’ s coming in these times, when no one is confident of peace and security (paragraph 8). Paul is warning us lest the coming of the Lord find us unprepared (paragraph 9). What Paul said about the mystery of iniquity does not indicate when this mystery will be revealed or when the Antichrist will appear (paragraphs 10 and 11).
Christ rebuked the people of Jerusalem about not knowing the time of their visitation because they did not recognize the time of his first coming (paragraph 12). Augustine asks Hesychius to explain how the passages of scripture that he cites have to do with knowing the time of the Savior’s second coming (paragraph 1 3). The coming of the Lord should certainly be loved (paragraph 14), but a true love of his coming does not entail a belief that he will come soon (paragraph 15).
Augustine asks Hesychius to explain what he said about calculating the times of the Lord’s coming, since it may be that they are in agreement (paragraph 16). He turns to an explanation of the sense in which scripture speaks of years, days, and hours (paragraph 17). He suggests that in speaking of the present as the last hour John probably used “hour” for “time” and left the length of that time undetermined (paragraph 18).
Hesychius had cited the Lord’s promise about the shortening of the last days on account of the elect and tied it to the weeks of the prophet Daniel. Augustine
Christ’s second coming (paragraphs 19 and 20). Augustine indicates that the weeks of Daniel might refer to Christ’s first coming, to his second coming, or to both (paragraph 21).
Augustine turns to other signs indicative of the end of the world and points to scripture’s use of the present tense in describing them (paragraphs 22 and 23). Though the final days began at the time of the apostles, we do no know how long they will last (paragraph 24).
Augustine begins to examine the Lord’s eschatological discourse, in which he spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, of his coming in his members in the Church, and of his coming at the end of the world (paragraph 25). Hence, one has to consider carefully which signs refer to which events (paragraph 26). Luke’s account makes it clear that the Lord’s words about the shortening of the days refer to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (paragraph 27). Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke shows that the abomination of desolation predicted by Daniel was realized at the destruction of Jerusalem (paragraph 28). At the time of the city’s destruction there were some of the elect in it on whose account those days were shortened, however that shortening is to be understood (paragraphs 29 and 30). At any rate, there is no need to suppose that the shortening of the days disturbed the count of the weeks in Daniel or that those weeks have not already come but will come at the end of the world (paragraph 31). Augustine suggests a spiritual interpretation of the passage warning a person on the roof not to come down and a person in the field not to return to his house for his coat (paragraph 32). He also indicates some of the problems that arise if the weeks of Daniel are to be fulfilled at the end of the world (paragraph 33).
Regarding the signs in the heavens and on earth, Augustine notes that the eclipse of the sun that occurred at the crucifixion was unparalleled (paragraph 34). He suggests that the wars that were predicted should be interpreted in relation to the conflict between the people of Christ and the people of the devil (paragraph 35). Furthermore, he argues that, if the evils people are suffering at present are certain signs of the Lord’s coming, we are still left with Paul’s statement that people will be saying at his coming, “Peace and security,” which no one is now saying (paragraph 36). Such evils can be better interpreted as applicable to the Church (paragraph 37). Though Paul said that the time is short, he also described in the same letter how people should live in this world as they await the Lord’s coming (paragraph 38). Augustine warns that it is safer to interpret the signs in the sun and the moon as referring to the Church (paragraph 39). Luke’s words about the affliction of the nations should be interpreted as referring to the nations that will stand on Christ’s left (paragraph 40). Christ’s coming on the cloud can be interpreted either as his coming in the Church or as his coming in his own risen body at the last judgment (paragraph 41). When Christ appears, the kingdom of God will still not be here, though it will be near (paragraph 42). The parable of the fig tree also warns only that the end is near (paragraph 43). Matthew makes explicit that all the events mentioned refer to Christ’s coming (paragraph 44). But it still remains possible that all the signs found in the three evangelists refer to Christ’s coming in his members in the Church—except for those passages clearly refer ring to his coming for the last judgment (paragraph 45).
Before the end of the world the gospel must be preached to the whole world, and there are still many nations that have not heard the gospel (paragraph 46). The Lord promised that all the nations, not just the Romans, would be the offspring of Abraham (paragraph 47). Hence, the Church must spread to all the nations in order that such prophecies may be fulfilled (paragraph 48). When the Lord said that his disciples would be his witnesses to the ends of the world, he did not mean only those disciples to whom he was then speaking (paragraph 49). Both in the Old and in the New Testament the past tense is often used for events that lie in the future (paragraphs 50 and 51).
Augustine uses a parable of three good servants, one of whom believes that the Lord will come sooner, another that he will come later, while the third admits his ignorance of this. All of them are in harmony with the gospel (paragraph 52).
Augustine points out, however, that it is more dangerous to hold the view of the first servant, since, if the Lord comes later, those who believe otherwise may be subjected to insults and mockery (paragraph 53). The view of the second servant is not dangerous, but may be erroneous, while the view of the third servant avoids both danger and error (paragraph 54).
To his most blessed lord, his brother and fellow bishop to be embraced with reverence, Hesychius, Augustine sends greetings in the Lord.
1. I received the letter of Your Reverence by which you urge us in a very salutary way to long for and desire the coming of our savior. You do this as a good servant of the same master, eager for the gains of your Lord and wanting to have very many companions in the love with which you yourself are most of all and constantly aflame. Seeing, therefore, that you have recalled from the apostle that he said that the Lord would give a crown of righteousness not only to him but to all who long for his revelation,1 we accordingly live correctly and act like pilgrims in this world when our heart is stretched out more and more in this love, whether he whose manifestation we long for with faithful love and desire with pious affection comes more quickly or more slowly than we think. Certainly the servant who says, My master is slow in coming (Mt 24:48-49; Lk 1 2:45), strikes his fellow servants, eats and drinks with drunkards, does not at all long for his manifestation. For his frame of mind is apparent from his conduct. And so the good master took care to describe his conduct, though briefly, that is, his pride and dissoluteness, in such a way that his words, My master is slow in coming, would not be thought to be said out of a desire for his lord, the desire with which the psalmist was ablaze who said, My soul is thirsting for the living God. When shall 1 come and appear before the face of God? (Ps 42:3) For, by asking, When shall I come? he shows that he bears
1. See 2 Tm 4:8.
up under the delays with difficulty, because even what is speeded up in time seems slow for his desire. But how is his coming slow or how will it be far in the future if even the apostles at the time when they were still in the flesh said, // is the last hour (1 Jn 2: 18), though they heard from the Lord, It is not yours to know the times? They, then, did not know what we do not know either—I speak for myself and for those who with me do not know. And yet those to whom he said, It is not yours to know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1:7), longed for his revelation and gave their fellow servants food at the proper time, and they did not strike them by lording it over them, nor did they behave dissolutely with the lovers of this world, saying. My master is slow in coming.
2. Not knowing the times is one thing; quite another is the deterioration of morals and the love of sins. For, when the apostle Paul said, Do not readily change your mind, and do not be frightened whether by word or by a letter supposedly sent by us, as if the day of the Lord were upon us (2 Thes 2:2), he certainly did not want them to believe those who thought that the coming of the Lord was already approaching, and yet he did not want them to say like that servant, My master is slow in coming, and to give themselves to pride and dissoluteness for their destruction. Rather, he did not want them to listen to false rumors about the last day’s approach, and yet he wanted them to await the coming of the Lord with loins girded and lamps lit.2 For he said to them, But, brothers, you are not in the darkness so that that day may catch you like a thief.
For you are all children of the light and children of the day; we are not children of the night and of darkness. ( 1 Thes 5 :4-5) But that fellow who says, My master is slow in coming, so that he strikes his fellow servants and feasts with drunkards, is not a child of the light but of the darkness. And for this reason that day will catch him like a thief because each of us ought to fear for the last day of our lives. For, as the last day of each of us catches us, so the last day of the world will catch each of us. For, as each of us is at death on our last day, so each of us will be when we are judged on the last day of the world.
3. The words in the Gospel according to Mark are pertinent here, Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house may come, late, in the middle of the night, at the cock ‘s crow, or in the morning, so that, when he comes suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But I say to all what I say to you: Watch! (Mk 13:35-37) Who are the all to whom he says Watch! but his chosen and beloved ones who belong to his body, which is the Church?3 Hence he did not say this only to those who heard him when he was speaking but also to those who came after them before us and to us and to those who will come after us up to his last coming. But is that day going to find all in this life, or is anyone going to say that the words. Watch so that, when he comes suddenly, he does not find you
2. See Lk 12:35-36. 3. See Col 1:24.
sleeping, also apply to the dead? Why, then, does he say to all what pertains only to those who existed then except because it pertains to all in the way I said? For that day will come for each of us when the day comes for us to leave this life as we will be when we are judged on the last day. And for this reason every Christian ought to watch so that the coming of the Lord does not find him unprepared. But that day will find him unprepared whom the last day of this life of his finds unprepared. Certainly it was clear at least to the apostles that the Lord was not going to come in their time, when they were still living in the flesh. Yet who would doubt that they were most watchful and observed what he said to all so that he would not come suddenly and find them unprepared? 2
4. 1 do not yet understand how we ought to interpret what Your Holiness wrote, namely, that the Lord said to the apostles. It is not yours to know the times and moments that the Father has established by his own authority, because he went on to say, But you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and to the end of the earth (Act 1:7-8). You explain the meaning of the scripture by saying, “He did not, therefore, want us to understand that the apostles were witnesses to the end of the world but to his name and resurrection.“4 He certainly did not say, “It is not yours to preach the times,” but, It is not yours to know the times. But if you want us to understand his words, It is not yours to know, as if he had said, “It is not yours to make known,” that is, “It is not yours to teach this,” who of us would dare to teach or presume to know what that teacher, God, did not teach his disciples who questioned him when he was present and what such holy and great teachers could not teach the Church?
5. Or will someone reply that it was not the apostles but the prophets who taught this? For you said this, and it is true that “we know the events that will occur from the words of the holy prophets who, by God’s will, foretold to human beings those things that were going to be before they came about.“5 But if Your Reverence says that it is “quite surprising if God decreed that the events that God wanted to be foretold could never enter the mind of human beings,“6 how much more surprising it is that the apostles were kept from knowing or teaching what the prophets foretold to human beings! But how could the apostles fail to under stand the prophets whom we are discussing when they taught about the times if we understand them? Or, if the apostles understood them when they prophesied about this computation of time, how would they fail to teach what they under stood when their preaching made known the very prophets who taught these things in their books? And so, from the same writings from which they them selves learned those things others also could have learned them in the nations in which the apostles commended the authority of the prophets. Why, then, was it
4. Letter 198, 2. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid.
said to them, It is not yours to know—or if we should understand, “It is not yours to teach”—the times that the Father has established by his own authority? For they were teaching those things when they made known these prophets in whose writings they learned them. Hence it is more believable not that God did not want to be known what he wanted to be preached but that he did not want to be preached what he saw it would be useless to know.
6. Why, then, you ask, does the Lord himself warn us about knowledge of times when he says, Who is the faithful and prudent servants whom the master has set over his servants to give them food at the proper time?1 and so on? He truly does warn not that a good servant should know the end of time but that one should be watchful at every time and in every good work. He does not warn that we should know better than the apostles the times that the Father has established by his own authority, but he warns that, since we do not know when the Lord is coming, we should imitate the apostles in having our hearts ready. I have already said enough on this previously. But he blames the Jews for not recognizing the time, when he says, You hypocrites, you know how to interpret the appearance of the sky (Lk 12:56), and so on, because they did not recognize the time that he wanted them to recognize, that is, the time of his first coming so that they would believe in him and want to await his second coming vigilantly, whenever that would be. For one who does not know the first coming of the Lord will not be able to prepare for the second by believing in him and by watching faithfully so that it does not catch him like a thief in the darkness, whether he comes more slowly or more quickly than we hope. 3
7. The apostle Paul says, as you remind us,8 In the last days perilous times will come upon us (2 Tm 3: 1 ) and so on. But does he for this reason teach us the times that the Father established by his own authority (Acts 1:7)? Or does anyone for this reason know how long or short those same times will be that we must admit are the last? We, of course, ought to bear in mind how long ago it was said, My little children, it is the last hour ( 1 Jn 2: 1 8).
8. Again, you mention that the apostle said, But regarding the times and moments we do not have to write to you, for you yourselves know quite well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say. Peace and security, then sudden destruction will overtake them like the pains oaf woman in childbirth, and they will not escape. ( 1 Thes 5:1-3) Here too he did not say after how much time this would come about but only how it would come about. That is, he did not say how short or long the time would be but, however great the interval or stretch of time might be, this last evil would only overtake them when they said, Peace and security. By these words the apostle seems to remove either the hope or the fear of this last day from our own time. For we do not see those
7. See Letter 198, 3. 8. See Letter 198, 3.
lovers of this world, whom sudden destruction will overtake, now saying, Peace and security.
9. The apostle shows clearly enough, then, what it is sufficient to know when he says, Regarding the times and moments we do not have to write to you, or as other codices have, You do not need us to write to you. Nor did he go on to add: “For you yourselves well know how much time remains,” but, For you your selves well know that the hour of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thes 5:2). This, then, is what it is necessary to know so that they may take care to be children of the light and to watch with their hearts ready if they do not want to be caught by that hour as if by a thief in the night. For, if in order to avoid this evil, that is, in order that the hour of the Lord might not, like a thief, find them unprepared, it was necessary to know the lengths of the times, the apostle would not have said that there was no need for him to write this but rather that he should write this to them as a most provident teacher would judge. But now he showed that this was not necessary for them for whom it was enough to know that the Lord would come like a thief for those who were unprepared and sleeping and that, by knowing this, they would be vigilantly ready however much later he came.9 And in that way he would stay within his limits and would not, though an apostle, presume to teach others what he knew that the Lord told the apostles, It is not yours to know (Act 1:7).
10. You also quote the words of the same apostle, Do you not recall that, when I was with you, I told you this ? And you now know what is holding him back in order that he may be revealed at his proper time. For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. Only let him who is holding it back hold it back now until he is removed from our midst, and then the man of iniquity will be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the Spirit of his lips. (2 Thes 2:5-8) I wish that you had not merely quoted but also explained these words of the apostle. They are certainly obscure and uttered in a mystical sense, yet in such a way that it is clear that he said nothing about the times that have been set and that he did not disclose any interval or length of time. For he says, In order that he may be revealed at his proper time, nor did he say after how much time this would be. Next he added, For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. As much as this mystery of iniquity may be understood by one person in one way and by another in another way, it is hidden how long it will be at work. And the apostle did not express this as if he were someone from among those to whom it was said, It is not yours to know the times (Acts 1 :7). For, though he was not among those apostles when the Lord said this to them, we have no doubt that he also belonged to their community and company.
11. Likewise, the words that follow, Only let him who is now holding it back hold it back until he is removed from our midst, and then the man of iniquity will
9. See Lk 12:36-39; Jn 12:36.
be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will slay by the Spirit of his lips (2 Thes 2:7-8), teach us that the Antichrist will be revealed, since he seems to have emphasized with a somewhat clearer meaning that he will be slain by the Spirit of the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. But he did not say even obscurely after how much time this would be. For anyone can strain to understand or to get some inkling of who it is who is now holding back or what he is holding back or what the apostle meant by is removed from our midst, since, however one reads what is written, the text is completely silent about how long he is holding back and about the length of time after which he will be removed from our midst.4
12. You say, “Likewise, the Lord chides the Jews in the gospel when he says, And if you had known the time of your visitation, you would perhaps have remained, but now it has been hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42.44). 10 But this refers to the time of the Lord’s first coming, not to that of his second, which is now at issue. Regarding his second coming, not his first, he said, It is not yours to know the times. For his disciples were asking him about the coming that they were hoping for, not about the first coming that they already saw. For if the Jews recognized his first coming, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory ( 1 Cor 2:8). And for this reason they could have not been overthrown but could have remained. But his words to them, Do penance; the times are completed; believe the gospel (Mk 1:15), you yourself have maintained were said of the times of the Jews that were going to come to an end after a few years, and we now know that those times have passed, that is, when the city was destroyed in which their kingdom was established.
1 3. Next, you said that what Your Reverence quoted from Daniel concerning the beast that was slain and the kingdom of the other beasts and, between these, concerning the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven is evident for those who understand scripture. But if you would be so good as to explain how this pertains to knowing the length of time after which the Lord will come, so that we may discover this clearly and without any ambiguity, I myself would also admit with much gratefulness that the words of the Lord, It is not yours to know the times (Acts 1 :7), were said only to the apostles and not to their successors, who were going to know them.
5, 14. We ought to long for and await the coming of the Lord, then, as you exhort us to in a holy fashion, when you say that his coming is great happiness for those who long for it and when you use the testimony of the apostle whose words you quote as follows, Henceforth there is stored up for me a crown of righteousness that the Lord, the just judge, will give to me on that day, but not only to me, but also to those who long for the coming of the Lord (2 Tm 4:8). For then, as you mention from the gospel. The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43). And as the prophet says. For, behold, clouds and darkness will cover the earth above the nations, but the Lord will appear in you, and his majesty will be seen in you (Is 60:2). Likewise, scripture says, But those who await the Lord will exult with might; they will grow wings like eagles; they will run without effort; they will walk and not grow hungry (Is 40:31).
15. You say this clearly and with great piety and truth, commending the happiness of those who long for the coming of the Lord. But those to whom the apostle said, Do not be easily upset in your mind, as though the day of the Lord were upon us (2 Thes 2:2), were certainly longing for the day of the Lord, nor by saying this did the teacher of the nations tear them away from that longing with which he wanted them to be afire. And for this reason he did not want them to believe the people from whom they heard that the day of the Lord was upon them. Otherwise, when the time when they believed that he would come had passed and they saw that he had not come, they would think that other false promises had been made to them, and they would give up hope about the reward of faith. The person who longs for his coming, then, is not the person who claims that the coming of the Lord is drawing near or the person who claims that it is not drawing near. It is, rather, the person who awaits his coming, whether it is near or far off, with the sincerity of faith, the firmness of hope, and the ardor of love. For, if the Lord is love more to the extent that one believes more and preaches more that he will come more quickly, they loved him more who said that his coming was already upon them than did those whom the apostle forbade to believe it or than did the apostle himself who certainly did not believe it.
6, 16. But if my weakness is not burdensome to Your Holiness, I ask that you not hesitate to explain more clearly the sense in which you said, “No one can calculate the lengths of the times.”“ Otherwise I may have the same ideas that Your Charity does, and either of us may wait in vain to be taught by the other. For, after you had said this, you then went on to add, “The gospel certainly says, No one knows the day or the hour (Mt 24:36). But, taking into consideration the inability of my intellect, I say that neither the month nor the year of his coming can be known.” 12 For this sounds as though one cannot know in what year he will come, but one can know in what period of seven or ten years he will come, as if one can state definitely that he will come within this or that period of seven years or within this or that period often years. But if not even this can be grasped, I ask whether the time of his coming can at least be determined so that we may say that he will come within these fifty or one hundred years or within any number of years, however large or small, but that we do not know in which of them. If you have already grasped this, it is a great deal that you have been able to grasp. But this is what I ask that you kindly reveal to us, using suitable proofs by which you
11. Letter 198, 5. 12. Ibid.
were able to discover this. But if you are not confident that you have grasped even this, you hold what I do.
17. For all of us who believe them see from the appearance of many signs, which we read the Lord foretold, that these are the last times. But even the time of a thousand years, if their end would be the end of the world, could as a whole be called the last time, or even the last day, since scripture says, A thousand years are in your eyes like one day (Ps 90:4; 2 Pt 3:8). In that way whatever might be done during those same thousand years would be said to be done in the last time or on the last day. For I say again what in this area must be said often; let us consider how many years ago the blessed evangelist John said, It is the last hour (1 Jn 2:18). For, if we lived at that time and had heard this, would we have thought that so many years were going to pass afterwards, and would we not rather hope that the Lord would come while John himself was still living? Nor did he say, “It is the last time,” or, “the last year,” or, “month,” or, “day,” but, It is the last hour. And see how long this hour is! Still, he did not lie; rather, we must understand that he used hour in place of “time.” Some interpret this in the sense that six thousand years supposedly make up one day, so that they divide it into parts like the twelve hours of a day. In that way the last hour is seen to have the last five hundred years. And John, they say, was speaking of these years when he said that it was the last hour.
18. But it is one thing to know something and another to suspect it. For, if one day is to be counted as six thousand years, why is a twelfth part and not a twenty-fourth part one hour, that is, not five hundred but two hundred and fifty years? For the whole revolution of the sun, not from the east to the west but from the east to the east, is more correctly called a whole day. In that way, when a whole day has passed, that is, twenty-four hours, it starts over again. And thus we find that the last hour from the time at which John was speaking already ended almost seventy years ago, at least, and the end of the world has not yet come. In addition, if we carefully examine the history of the Church, we find that the apostle John died long before five thousand five hundred years had passed from the beginning of the human race. And so it was not yet the last hour, if a twelfth part of six thousand years, that is, five hundred years, is counted as the length of even one hour. But if according to the scripture we make one day a thousand years,13 for much better reasons the last hour of so long a day already passed long ago. I do not mean if a twenty-fourth part of it, which amounts to a few more than forty years, but if a twelfth part of it is counted, which has twice that number of years. Hence it is better to believe that the apostle used hour for “time,” and we do not know how long that hour is because it is not ours to know the time that the Father established by his own authority (Acts 1:7). And yet that
13. See Ps 90:4 and 2 Pt 3:8.
it is the last hour we certainly know for much better reasons than those who lived before us from the time when it began to be or to be called the last hour. 7, 1 9. But I do not at all understand the idea of Your Reverence that we cannot grasp the lengths of the times in order to determine the year when the end will come because, according to the Lord’s promise, the days will be shortened. For, if they will be shortened in order to become fewer instead of more, I ask in what sense it is true that there were going to be more if they were not shortened. For the weeks of holy Daniel do not pertain to the first coming of the Lord, as many suppose, but rather to the second coming, as you think. Will those years, then, be shortened so that there will be one fewer of those weeks, and the prophecy will be false that took care to determine the number of weeks with such exactness that it said that a certain event would be accomplished in half of a week? I am stunned if the prophecy of Daniel is destroyed by the prophecy of Christ. Next, what sort of idea is it that Daniel, or rather the angel from whom he learned these things, did not know that the Lord was going to shorten those days and was mistaken when he said this or actually knew this but lied to the one whom he instructed? But if that is absurd, why do we not rather believe that the prophet Daniel fore told so many weeks in accord with the way the Lord was going to shorten those days, at least if that number of years refers to the second coming of the Lord, though I do not know how that can be proved?
20. Finally, it is much more certain and safe to say that the coming of the Lord will take place within seventy or at most one hundred years if those weeks fore tell it. For there are four hundred and ninety in seventy sevens. But today marks almost four hundred and twenty years from the birth of the Lord; from his resurrection or ascension, however, there are more or less three hundred and ninety. And for this reason, if we count from the time when he was born, seventy years remain; if we count from the time when he suffered, approximately one hundred remain, within which all the weeks of Daniel will be completed if they were a prophecy concerning Christ’s last coming. Someone, then, who says, “He will come within so many years,” says something false if he comes later. But because the years will be shortened, there can be fewer, not more. It will, then, be correct to say, “He will come within these years,” because, however much they are shortened, it will be true. For, if this shortening is to be understood so that there are fewer years, it does not permit the day of the Lord to come after them but always to come within those years, no matter how much they are shortened. This shortening, then, does not disturb the calculator who figured it out, so that he says that the day of the Lord will come within so many years, but rather helps him. For the more those days are reduced in number, the more the Lord’ s coming will fall within those fewer years and will not be able to come after them, and in that way what he figured out, so that he said, “He will come within so many years,” will be true, though he does not know in which year he will come.
21. Hence the whole question comes down to whether the prophecy about the weeks of Daniel was fulfilled at the first coming of the Lord or referred to the end of the world or refers to both. For there were some who also held this last view, saying that the prophecy was fulfilled at the time of the first coming of Christ and will be fulfilled all over again from then until the end of the world. I myself see that, if his first coming did not fulfill the prophecy, his second coming must fulfill it, because that prophecy cannot be false. If it was fulfilled at the time of the first coming, we do not have to understand that it will also be fulfilled regarding the end of the world. And for this reason it is uncertain, even if it is true. We certainly should not deny that it will be, but neither should we presume that it will be. The upshot is that one who wants to insist that we believe that this prophecy is about the end of the world should strive as well as he can and show, if he can, that it was not fulfilled by the first coming of the Lord in opposition to so many commentators on the words of God who show not only by the computation of the time but also by the events themselves that this prophecy was fulfilled, especially because it is written there, And the holy of holies will be anointed, or because of what the Hebrew manuscripts have more explicitly in the same prophecy, And the Christ will be killed, and he will not belong to it any more (Dn 9:24, 26), that is, he will not belong to that city, because he became a stranger to the Jews who did not believe that he was their savior and redeemer, since they could kill him. For Christ is not going to be anointed or killed at the end of the world so that we should expect this prophecy of Daniel to be fulfilled then and believe that it has not already been fulfilled.
8, 22. But who would deny that we should hope that the coming of the Lord is near because of the signs from the gospels and the prophets that we see are taking place? Every day his coming is closer and closer. But as to how close it is, it is said, It is not yours to know (Acts 1 :7). Notice when the apostle said, For our salvation is now closer than when we began to believe. The night has passed, but the day has drawn near. (Rom 13:11-12) And see how many years have passed! Nor is what he said false. With what better reason should we now say that the coming of the Lord is drawing near when we have advanced so far toward the end! The apostle certainly said, The Spirit clearly says that in the last times certain persons will withdraw from the faith (1 Tm 4:1). The times of heretics and of the sort of people he described had not yet come, but they have come now. And for this reason we seem to be warned in these last times even by those people about the end of the world. He likewise says elsewhere, But bear in mind that in the last days dreadful times will come upon us (2 Tm 3:1), or as other manuscripts have, perilous times. Then he describes the sort of times they will be, There will be people who love themselves, who love money, puffed up, proud, blasphemous, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, impious, without religion, without feeling, slanderers, without self-control, cruel, lacking kindness, traitors, rash, blind, loving pleasure more than God, having a semblance of piety, but denying its power (2 Tm 3:2-5). It would be surprising if such persons never existed. Finally, because they already did exist, he goes on to say, And avoid them. For there are some among them who work their way into homes. He does not say, “Who will work their way,” as if foretelling that this will take place, as he said above, Perilous times will come upon us; rather he says, They work their way into homes, and they captivate poor women. (2 Tm 3:5-6) He does not say, “They will captivate,” or, “They are going to captivate,” but, They captivate.
23. Nor should you think that in this passage he uses verbs in the present tense in place of verbs in the future tense, for he was warning the man to whom he wrote to avoid those people. And yet he did not say for no reason, In the last days perilous times will come upon us ( 1 Tm 3: 1). And in showing that there will be perilous times, he foretold that there would be such persons but that they will be more in number and more prevalent the nearer the end is. We see, then, that such persons even now abound. But what if they will be even more abundant after us and most abundant of all when at last the end is upon us, though no one knows how far off it will be? To be sure, the days were said to be the last even in the first days of the apostles, when the ascension of the Lord into heaven had just occurred, when on the day of Pentecost he sent the Holy Spirit he had promised and some people were astounded, amazed at them for speaking in languages that they had not learned, though others mocked them and said that they had too much wine.14 On that day, when speaking to those who reacted in different ways to this, Peter said, For these men are not drunk, as you suppose. For it is only the third hour of the day. Rather, pay attention because this is what the prophet foretold: In the last days it shall be, says the Lord, I shall pour out my Spirit over all flesh (Acts 2:15-17; Joel 3:1), and soon.
24. Even then those days were the last. How much more are they now, even if as many days remain up to the end as have passed from the ascension of the Lord until now or if there remains more or less time? This, of course, we do not know because it is not ours to know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1 :7), though we know, nonetheless, that we are living in the last times, in the last days, in the last hour, just as the apostles were. But those who lived after them and before us were living in the last times even more, and we ourselves are yet more, and still more than us will be those who will live after us up to those days that will be, if we can say this, the last of the last and until that very last day of all, which the Lord wants us to understand when he says. And I will raise him up on the last day (Jn 6:40), and how far off that day is cannot be known.
14. See Acts 2:1-14.
9, 25. The signs that were foretold in the Gospel according to Luke,15 as Your Holiness mentioned, are the same in the Gospels according to Matthew16 and according to Mark.17 For the three of them report what the Lord said when his disciples asked him when the things he had foretold about the destruction of the temple were going to take place and what would be the sign of his coming and of the end of the world. 18 For there is no discrepancy about events if one says some thing that another omits or expresses it in another way. But when they are compared, they help to guide the understanding of the reader. But it would take a long time to discuss them all. For the Lord gave those replies to the disciples who asked him what was going to follow after that time, whether about the destruction of Jerusalem, the topic that occasioned the questions, or about his coming through the Church, in which he does not cease to come until the end. For we recognize him as he comes in his own members when they are daily born. Of this coming he said, Soon you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds (Mt 26:64). Of these clouds the prophet said, I shall order my clouds to produce rain over the earth (Is 5:6). And they asked him about the end, when he will appear to judge the living and the dead (2 Tm 4: 1).
26. Since, then, he mentions signs that refer to these three, that is, to the destruction of that city, to his coming in his own body, which is the Church,19 and to his coming as head of the Church, which he is himself, we must distinguish through careful consideration which of those signs refers to which of those three events. Otherwise we might suppose that what pertains to the destruction of Jerusalem refers to the end of the world. Or just the opposite, we might state that what pertains to the end of the world refers to the destruction of that city. Or we might say that what pertains to his coming in his body, because he is the Church, refers to his last coming in his body, which is the head of the Church. Or again, we might claim that what pertains to his last coming by himself refers to his coming through the Church. In all these there are some points that are clear, but there are others so obscure that it is difficult to decide or rash to say something definite about them as long as we do not understand them.
27. For who can fail to see that the words, But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by an army, know that its desolation has then drawn near (Lk 2 1 :20), pertain to that city? Likewise, who can fail to see that the words, When you see these events take place, know that the kingdom of God is near (Lk 21:31), pertain to the last coming of the Lord? But his words, Woe to those who are pregnant or nursing in those days. But pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation such as there has not been from
15. See Lk 21:7-33. 16. See Mt 24:4-33. 17. See Mk 13:5-29. 18. See Mt 24:1-3, Mk 13:1-4; Lk 21:5-7. 19. See Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:24.18.
the beginning of the world and will not be afterwards (Mt 24: 1 9-2 1 ), are written in such a way in Matthew and in Mark that it is uncertain whether they ought to be understood of the destruction of the city or of the end of the world. For we read this in Mark as follows, But woe to those who are pregnant or nursing in those days. Pray that they do not come about in winter. For those days will be days of tribulation such as there have not been from the beginning of the creation, which God made, up to now, and such as there will not be afterwards. And if God had not shortened those days, no flesh would have survived. But on account of the elect, whom he has chosen, he shortened those days. (Mk 13:17-20) Matthew said it similarly. But Luke expressed this so that it is clear that it pertains to the destruction of the city. For in him we read as follows, But woe to those who are pregnant and nursing in those days. For there will be great difficulty on the earth and wrath for this people, and they will fall at the point of the sword and will be led captive into all the nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled upon by the nations until the time of the nations is completed. (Lk 21:23-24)
28. But in coming to this point, Matthew writes this way, Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation, which was predicted by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, let the reader understand. Then those who are in Judea should flee to the mountains, and he who is on the roof should not come down to take something from his house. And one is in the field should not return to take a coat. But woe to those who are pregnant and nursing in those days (Mt 24: 15-19), and so on. But Mark puts it this way, But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be, let the reader understand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and him who is on the roof not come down to the house and enter to take something from his house. And let him who is in the field not return to take his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant or nursing in those days (Mk 13:14-17), and so on. But in order to show that the abomination of desolation, which was predicted by Daniel, came about when Jerusalem was stormed, Luke mentions in the same passage the words of the Lord, But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by an army, know that its desolation has then drawn near (Lk 2 1 :20). It is clear, there fore, that the abomination of desolation, of which those two evangelists spoke, was at that time established there. Then this evangelist likewise continues, Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Lk 21:21). And instead of what the others said, And let him who is on the roof not come down to the house and enter to take something from his house (Mt 24: 17), he says, And let those who are in its midst leave (Lk 2 1 :2 1 ), in order to show that those words quoted by the other evangelists commanded haste in flight. And instead of what they had, And let him who is in the field not return to take his garment (Mt 24: 1 8), Luke says more clearly, And let those who are in the surrounding regions should not enter it because these are days of punishment, in order that all the things that have been written may be fulfilled (Lk 21:21 -22). Then he continues in similar fashion in order to make it very clear that this passage of the gospel is about this one event of all three, But woe to those who are pregnant and nursing in those days (Lk 21:23), and the other things that pertain to this, which I have already mentioned above.
29. Luke, then, makes it clear that what might have been uncertain, namely, the statement about the abomination of desolation and the statement about the shortening of days for the sake of the elect, refers not to the end of the world but to the storming of Jerusalem. For, though he himself did not speak of those events, he nonetheless said more clearly other things concerning this by which he showed that these referred to it. For we ought not to have any doubt that, when Jerusalem was destroyed, there were in that people God’s chosen ones who came to believe from the circumcision or were going to come to believe, people chosen before the creation of the world, for whose sake those days were shortened so that the evils might be more tolerable. For it seems to me that some people did better in understanding that those evils were themselves signified by the term days, just as other passages of the divine scripture speak of evil days.20 For days themselves are not evil, but the things that happen on them. They are said to be shortened, then, in the sense that, because God granted people endurance, they felt them less, and in that way evils that were lengthy became short. 30. But whether that shortening of the days should be understood in this way either because they were reduced to a few or because they were shortened by a quicker revolution of the sun—for there are some who also have this idea, namely, that it was said that the days would be shorter just as the day was longer when Joshua the son of Nun prayed21—Luke the evangelist nonetheless taught that this shortening of the days and the abomination of desolation pertain to the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke did not mention these two events himself, though Matthew and Mark did, but along with them he said more clearly other things concerning the same topic that they expressed more obscurely. For Josephus who wrote the history of the Jews, says that such evils befell that people at that time that they scarcely seemed credible.22 Hence, it was not said without reason that there had not been such tribulation from the beginning of creation and that there would not be afterwards. But even if there is such tribulation or worse at the time of the Antichrist, we should understand that it was said of that people that they will not have such tribulation any more. For, if they first of all and most of all welcomed the Antichrist, the same people will then cause rather than suffer tribulation.
31. There is, therefore, no reason why we should think that the weeks of the prophet Daniel were either disrupted on account of the shortening of the days or
20. See Ps 41:2; 49:6; Eph5:16. 21. See Jos 10:12-14. 22. See Flavius Josephus, The War of the Jews (De bello Judaico) 6, 3, 3.
were not completed at that time but are going to be completed at the end of the world. For they were not completed before the passion of the Lord, and those who think that they were are most correctly refuted by your statement, in which you said, “If this abomination had already been realized, then, how does the Lord warn us when he says. When you see the abomination of desolation, as was predicted by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, let the reader under stand’‘ (Mt 24: 15).23 It is right that these words of Your Beatitude should correct those who say that, though the Lord said this, that abomination took place even before his passion and resurrection. But those who say, as Luke the evangelist also most clearly testifies, that it took place when Jerusalem was destroyed ought to see what answer they might give to those who think that these events will happen at the end of the world or near the end of the world, although on account of the obscurity of the expression this abomination of desolation need not be understood by everyone in one way.
32. And the words. Let him who is on the roof not come down to take some thing from his house, and let him who is in the field not return to take his cloak (Mt 24:17-18; Mk 13:15-16), can be better understood in a spiritual sense, because in all tribulations we must beware lest anyone be conquered and descend to the life of the flesh from a spiritual height or lest one who has made progress, reaching out to what is ahead, look backwards by giving up. But if this is true in every tribulation, how much more ought we to be commanded to beware of it in the tribulation that was predicted for that city, which would be such as there has not been from the beginning and will not be afterwards (Mt 24:21; Mk 13: 19). And if it is true of this day, how much more will it be true of the day that will be the last for the whole world, that is, for the Church spread throughout the whole world! For Luke himself, not in fact when the Lord was asked by his disciples about his coming, where Matthew and Mark mention this,2’1 but in another passage where the Pharisees asked him when the kingdom of God would come,25 reports that he said something of the sort. He said, In that hour let him who is on the roof and whose possessions are in the house not come down to take them, and likewise let him who is in the field not come back (Lk 17:31).
33. But now we are dealing with the weeks of Daniel because of the calculation of the times, and if they were not completed around the time of the first coming of the Lord and are to be completed in the end, who would believe that the apostles did not know this or that they in fact knew it but were forbidden to teach it? And yet, if this is the case, it is useful for the nations not to know what the Lord forbade those men, whom he wanted to be teachers of the nations, to 23. Letter 198,7. 24. See Mt 24:3; Mk 13:3. 25. See Lk 17:20.
teach. But if they have been completed, because the Holy of Holies has already been anointed,26 Christ has already been slain so that he does not belong to that city, sacrifice has already been removed from that temple, and the anointing has already been abolished, it was right that this response was made to the apostles when they asked about the end, It is not yours to know the times that the Father has established by his own authority (Acts 1:7). For the times that they were able to know by means of the prophet Daniel did not pertain to the end of the world, about which they were asking.
10, 34. But as for the signs in heaven and on earth, have we seen greater ones than they saw who lived before us? If we read the history of the nations, do we not find that such great wonders were produced in heaven and on earth that some of them are not even believed? But to omit many examples, which it would take long to pursue, when have we seen two suns? Those who lived at that time, before the Lord had come in the flesh, set down in writing that they saw two suns. When have we seen the sun darkened as it was darkened when the light of the world hung upon the cross?27 Or perhaps we will count the eclipses of the sun and the moon, which astronomers frequently observe and predict, among the miracles in the heavens, because we have seen the full moon fairly often in eclipse, but the sun only rarely, though we have seen it in eclipse in the final phase of the moon according to their calculations. The eclipse of the sun when Christ was crucified was not of that sort, and for this reason it was truly miraculous and wondrous. It was, of course, the Passover of the Jews, which is celebrated only at the full moon. According to the calculations of the astronomers it is certain that the sun cannot be in eclipse when the moon is full, but according to those calculations it is in eclipse when the moon is in its final phase—not always, but never at other times. From the time the Lord foretold them, what does anyone remember to have appeared in the heavens of the sort that appeared when he suffered? Hence, if such prodigies will appear—if we should not rather under stand them in a spiritual sense—they will appear at the point when the end will draw near so that they ought to appear.
35. When, however, has the earth not been devastated by wars at different times and in different places? For, to pass over the most ancient wars, under the emperor Gallienus,28 when the barbarians spread everywhere through the Roman provinces, how many of our brothers living in the flesh at that time do we suppose could have believed that the end was near, because that occurred long after the ascension of the Lord! And for this reason we do not know what sorts of wars there will be when the end is immediately imminent, unless they were fore told in such a way that we ought to understand them of the Church. There are, of
26. See Dn 9:24.26-27. 27. See Mk 13:8; Mt 24:7; Lk 21:10. 28. Gallienus was Roman emperor from 253 to 268.
course, two peoples and two kingdoms, that is, one of Christ, the other of the devil, of which it could have been said, People will rise up against people, and kingdom against kingdom (Mk 13:8; Mt 24:7; Lk 21:10). This does not cease happening since the Lord said, Do penance; for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (Mt 3:2; 4: 17). See when he said this, and see how many years have passed since then, and yet he spoke the absolute truth. For in the last days the Lord was born of a Virgin, nor would this be called the last hour29 unless the kingdom of heaven were drawing near, and during the course of this whole hour there are taking place the events that the Lord foretold would take place at the approach of his kingdom. But if in regard to how long this hour will last the apostles were told, It is not yours to know the times (Acts 1 :7) how much more should an ordinary human being, such as I am, recognize his limits so that he does not think more of himself than he ought! 30
36. “But,” you say, “our punishment compels us to admit that the end is already here since there is being realized what was foretold, Human beings wither away out of fear and in expectation of what is coming upon the whole world (Lk 21:26). It is certain,” you say, “that no country, no place is not afflicted and brought low in our times, as scripture says, out of fear and in expectation of what is coming upon the whole world.“3] If, then, the evils that the human race is now suffering are certain indications that the Lord will come, what do the words of the apostle mean, When they say, Peace and security ( 1 Thes 5:3)? For, when the gospel said, Human beings wither away out of fear and expectation, it immediately added, For the powers of the heavens will be disturbed, and then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and majesty (Lk 21 :26-27).
37. Let us see, then, whether it is not perhaps better to understand that the events that were foretold by those words are not now being fulfilled but will rather come when the whole world has tribulation, so that it pertains to the Church, which suffers tribulation in the whole world, and not to those who cause it tribulation. For the latter are going to say, Peace and security ( 1 Thes 5:3), so that sudden destruction will overtake them and the coming of the Lord will catch them like a thief in the night, while they, on the contrary, will rejoice and exult who long for the revelation of the Lord.32 But now we see that the evils that people believe to be the greatest and the last are common to both peoples and to both kingdoms, that is, to Christ’s and to the devil’s. Both the good and the evil are without any doubt equally afflicted by these. Nor is there anyone who says. Peace and security, wherever they occur or there is fear that they may not occur.
29. See 1 Jn 2:18. 30. See Rom 12:3. 31. Letter 198, 5. 32. See 2 Tm 4:8. 346 Letter 199
Yet amid these evils people everywhere throng to luxurious banquets; drunken ness is widespread; greed thrives; there is the sound of salacious singing, organs, flutes, lyres, harps, dice, and many and various kinds of music and games. Is this to wither away because of fear or rather to be soaked in lust?33 But the children of darkness will have and enjoy these in greater abundance when they say, Peace and security.
38. What about the children of the light and the children of the day who are not in darkness so that that day will catch them like a thief (I Thes 5:4-5)? Do they not still use this world as if they were not using it ( 1 Cor 7:31)? For, though it was said many years ago at the time of the apostles, they still weigh with care the words, The time is short (I Cor 7:29). Do not the greater part of them still plant, build, buy, own, pursue careers, and take wives? I am speaking of those who, though waiting for their master when he will come back from the wedding (Lk 12:36), yet do not refrain from carnal marriage but hear with most obedient love the apostle commanding how wives ought to live with their husbands and husbands with their wives, children with their parents and parents with their children, servants with their masters and masters with their servants.34 Do not all these use this world in all these ways? They plow, sail, do business, beget children, and act as soldiers and administrators. I think that they will not be like that when there will be, as the gospel predicted, signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars, and on earth the anguish of peoples because of confusion over the sound of the sea and its waves. Human beings will wither away out of that fear and in expectation of what is coming upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven will be thrown into confusion (Lk 21:25-26).
39. 1 think that it is better to understand these predictions as applying to the Church, lest the Lord Jesus seem to have foretold as something important, as his second coming approaches, events that have often happened in this world even before his first coming. And then we would be mocked by those who have read in the history of the nations more and much greater events than those that we dread as the last and greatest of all. For the Church is the sun and the moon and the stars, to which it was said, Beautiful as the moon, chosen as the sun (Sg 6:9). This moon prostrated herself before our Joseph in this world, as if in Egypt, where he had been raised up to power from the lowest position. For Joseph’s mother certainly could not prostrate herself before him, for she had already died before Jacob had come to his son35 so that the truth of the prophetic dream that was to be realized by Christ the Lord might be preserved.36 For, when the sun is darkened, and the moon does not give its light, and the stars fall from heaven,
33. See Lk 21:26. 34. See Eph 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-22. 35. See Gn 35:19; 46:1-7. 36. See Gn 37:9-11.
and the powers of the heavens are thrown into confusion (Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24-25), as this passage is expressed by the other two evangelists, the Church will not be seen. At that time, when the wicked persecutors rage beyond all limit and without any fear, as if the happiness of the world were smiling upon them, they say, Peace and security (1 Thes 5:3), stars will fall from the heavens, and the powers of the heavens will be thrown into confusion, because many who seemed to be resplendent with grace will yield to the persecutors and fall, and some very firm believers will be thrown into confusion. For this reason, however, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark it is said that this will occur after the tribulation of those days (Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24-25), not because these things will happen after that whole persecution has passed, but because tribulation will come first so that the apostasy of some may follow, and because it will happen in that way through all those days. And for this reason it will happen after the tribulation of those days, but it will still happen in those same days.
40. The statement in Luke, and on earth the affliction of the nations (Lk 21:25), meant for us to understand the nations which do not belong to the offspring of Abraham, in whom all the nations will be blessed,37 but the nations that will stand on the left when all the nations will be gathered before the judge of the living and the dead.38 For both groups will be found in all the nations, the one that persecutes, the other that suffers persecution, the one that says, Peace and security (I Thes 5:3), the other in which the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, from which the stars will fall, and in which the powers of the heavens will be thrown into confusion.39
4 1 . And then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and majesty (Lk21:27; Mt 24:30; Mk 13:26). I see that this can be interpreted in two ways. In one way it will be understood of the Church coming, as it were, on the cloud, just as even now it does not cease to come in accordance with the words, Now you will see that Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of the sky, but then with great power and majesty (Mt 26:64), because his greater power and majesty will be seen by the saints to whom he will give great courage so that they are not overcome by such a great persecution. Or in another way it will be understood of his body, in which he sits at the right hand of the Father, in which he also died, rose, and ascended into heaven,40 in accordance with what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, When he had said this, a cloud carried him off, and he was taken up from them. And because the angels also said there, He will come as you saw him going into heaven (Acts 1:9,1 1 ), it is right to believe that he will not only come in the same body but also
37. See Gn 22: 18; 26:4. 38. See Mt 25:33.32; Acts 10:42. 39. See Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24-25. 40. See Rom 8:34; Mk 16:19; Col 3:1. on a cloud, because he will come just as he went away, and a cloud received him as he went away.
42. But it is difficult to judge which of these two it is better to choose. The more obvious sense, of course, is that, when someone hears or reads. And then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and majesty (Lk 2 1 :27), he will interpret this precisely as his coming not through the Church but by himself, when he comes to judge the living and the dead.41 But the scriptures need to be examined carefully, and we ought not to be content with their surface meaning, since they were composed to exercise our minds and hence demand to be penetrated more deeply. For this reason we must carefully study what follows. For, after he had said, And then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and majesty, he went on to say, But when these things begin to happen, look up, and raise up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near. And he told them a parable. Look at the fig tree and all the other trees. When they are already producing their fruit, you know that summer is near. So too, when you see these things happen, know that the kingdom of God is near (Lk 2 1 :28-3 1). When, there fore, he says, When you see these things happen, what events can we understand save those that were mentioned above? Among these words, however, is the statement, And then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and majesty (Lk 21:27). Hence, even when this is seen, the kingdom of God will not be already here, but it will be near.
43. We see that the other two evangelists keep this same order. For, in Mark, after it had been said, And the powers that are in the heavens will be thrown into confusion, he says, and then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with much power and glory. Then he adds what Luke did not say, And then he will send his angels, and he will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mk 13:25-26) Then what Luke said about the fig tree and the other trees Mark says about the fig tree alone. He says, Learn a parable from the fig tree. When its branch is already supple and its leaves have sprouted, you know that summer is at hand. So too, when you see these things happen, know that he is at hand, right at the door. (Mk 13:27-29) What does. When you see these things happen, refer to but to those events he already mentioned? Among them there is also the one where he says. And then they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with much power and glory, and then he will send his angels, and then he will gather his chosen ones (Mk 13:27). The end, therefore, will not be then, but then it will be near.
44. Or should we say that we are not to understand all the events that were mentioned when he says, When you see these things happen (Mk 13:29; Lk 2 1 :3 1 ), but only some of them, that is, with the exclusion of this event that was mentioned, And then they will see the Son of Man coming (Mk 1 3:26; Lk 2 1 :27),
41. See 2 Tm 4:1.
and so on? That will certainly be the end; then it will not be near. But Matthew shows that the words, When you see these things happen, are to be taken without any exceptions; for in him it was said, And the powers of the heavens will be thrown into confusion, and then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in heaven and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty, and he will send his angels with a trumpet and a loud cry, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. But learn a parable from the fig tree. When its branch is already supple and its leaves have sprouted, you know that summer is near. So too, when you see these things happen, know that he is near, right at the door (Mt 24:29-33).
45. We know that he is near, then, when we see not some of those signs but all of them, among which there is also this sign: the Son of Man will be seen coming, and he will send his angels, and from the four corners of the world, that is, from the whole world, he will gather his chosen ones. He does this in the whole last hour,42 coming in his members43 as if on the clouds, or in the whole Church, which is his body,44 as if on a great cloud bearing fruit and increasing in the whole world,45 from the time he began to preach and say, Repent; for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near (Mt 3:2; 4:17). In that way perhaps, if all the statements of the three evangelists about this coming are gathered together and more carefully examined, they might be found to have to do with the fact that he comes daily in his body, which is the Church. Regarding this coming of his he said, Now you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mt 26:6; Mk 14:62). From this interpretation are excluded the passages in which he promises his last coming in himself to judge the living and the dead (2 Tm 4: 1 ) so that he is said to draw near, as well as the last part of the discourse in Matthew where there is expressed in a perfectly obvious way the coming whose nearness is shown above to be understood from certain signs. In Matthew the discourse, to be sure, concludes with a reference to this; he says, But when the Son of Man comes in his majesty and all the angels with him, he will be seated upon the throne of majesty, and all the nations will be gathered before him (Mt 25:3 1-32) and the rest until where he says. And these will enter into eternal punishment, but the righteous will enter into eternal life (Mt 25:46). For no one has any doubt that this was foretold concerning the last coming of Christ and the end of the world. For there were some people who wanted to teach by a respectable line of argument that even those two pairs of five virgins 46 pertain to this coming of Christ that is now taking place through the
42. See 1 Jn 2:18. 43. See 1 Cor 6: 15. 44. See Col 1:24. 45. See Col 1:6. 46. See Mt 25:1-12.
Church. But such statements should not be rashly made for fear that something may turn up that flatly contradicts them, especially since in such obscurities of the divine scriptures, by which God has chosen to exercise our minds, of those who comment on the scriptures in a manner that is not unintelligent, not only is one person more keenly inspired than another, but also any given one of them understands less well at one time and better at another.
12, 46. 1 do not know yet whether in regard to this present question we could discern something more certain, if we were able to use reason or ability, than what I already quoted in the earlier letter about when the whole world will have the gospel preached to it.47 For I have established by certain proofs that what Your Reverence thinks was already accomplished by the apostles is not the case. For there are among us, that is, in Africa, countless barbarian nations where the gospel has not yet been preached; it is easy for us to learn this every day from those who are taken captive from them and are now among the slaves of the Romans. Yet it was only a few years ago that certain of them, very exceptional ones and few in number, were pacified and became part of the Roman territories, so that they do not have their own kings but have governors set over them by the Roman empire, and they and their governors began to be Christian. But those who are further inland and are not under Roman power have no contact with the Christian religion in any of their people, and yet it is by no means correct to say that God’s promise does not pertain to them.
47. For by means of an oath the Lord also promised not the Romans but all nations to the offspring of Abraham.48 Because of that promise it has already come about that some nations that are not subject to Roman rule have received the gospel and have been united to the Church, which is bearing fruit and increasing in the whole world.49 For it still has room to increase until it becomes what was foretold of Christ through Solomon, who symbolized him, He will have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth (Ps 72:8)—from the river, that is, where he was baptized because he began to preach the gospel from there,50 but from sea to sea there is spread out the whole world with all the nations, because the world is girded by the sea called Ocean. But how will that prophecy otherwise be fulfilled, All the nations whom you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord (Ps 86:9)? For they will not come by migrating from their own places but by believing in their own places. The Lord, to be sure, said of believers, No one can come to me unless it has been given him by my Father (Jn 6:66). The prophet, however, says, And they will worship him, each from his own place, all the islands of the nations (Zep 2:11 ). He said all the
47. See Mt 24:14. 48. See Gn 22:16-18; 26:3-4. 49. See Col 1:6. 50. Set Mt 3:13-16; Mk 1:9; Lk3:21.
islands as if to say “even all the islands,” showing from this that there will be no land left where the Church does not exist, since no island will be left. Some of them are located even in Ocean, and we have learned that some of them have already received the gospel. And so even in each individual island there are being fulfilled the words, He will have dominion from sea to sea (Ps 72:8), the sea by which each island is girt. It is the same way in the whole world, which is in a sense like the largest island of all because Ocean girds it. And we know that the Church has arrived in the East at its shores, and to whatever shores of it she has not come, she will come as she bears fruit and increases.51
48. If, then, since the prophecy coming from the truth cannot lie, all the nations that God has made must worship him,52 how will they worship him if they do not call upon him? But how will they call upon him in whom they have not believed? Or how will they believe in him of whom they have not heard? But how will they hear without someone to preach ? Or how will they preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14-15) For he sends his angels and gathers his chosen ones from the four winds,53 that is, from the whole world. In the nations in which the Church does not yet exist it must come to be—not in order that all who live there may believe, for God promised all the nations, but not all the human beings of all the nations. For not all have the faith (2 Thes 3:2). Every nation, therefore, believes in all those that were chosen before the creation of the world,5* and every nation does not believe in the others but hates those who believe. For how will that prophecy also be fulfilled, You will be hated by all nations on account of my name (Mt 24:9; 10:22; Mkl3:13; Lk 21: 17), if there are not in all the nations both those who hate and those whom they hate?
49. How, then, was this preaching completed by the apostles since there are still nations—and this is completely certain for us—in which it is now beginning and in which it has not yet begun to be completed? And so it was not said to the apostles, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8), as if they alone to whom he was then speaking were going to complete so great a task. Rather, who can fail to under stand that, just as he seems to have said to them alone, See, I am with you up to the end of the world (Mt 28:20), he nonetheless promised it to the whole Church, which, as some die and others are born, will last here until the end of the world. In the same way he said to them what does not at all pertain to them, and yet it was said to them as if it even pertained to them alone, When you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door (Mt 24:33; Mk 1 3:29). For to whom does this pertain but to those who will be living in the body when all these things will
51. See Col 1:6. 52. See Ps 86:9. 53. See Mt 24:31; Mk 13:27. 54. See Eph l:4.
be accomplished? How much more does that hold for what was largely to be done by them, though the same action was continued also by their successors? 50. The apostle said, Have they not heard? Their voice has gone out through the whole earth, and their words have reached the ends of the world. (Rom 10: 1 8; Ps 19:5) Though he used verbs in the past tense, yet he said what was going to be, not what was already done and completed. In the same way the prophet, whom he used as a witness, did not say, “It will go out through the whole earth,” but, Their voice has gone out, though of course this had not yet happened. In the same way scripture said, They have pierced my hands and feet (Ps 22: 17), which we know happened long afterward. But so that we do not suppose that these ways of speaking are found only in the prophets and not also in the apostles, did not the same apostle say, It is the Church of the living God, a pillar and foundation of the truth. And undoubtedly it is a great sacrament of piety that has been revealed in the flesh, has been justified in the spirit, was seen by the angels, preached to the nations, believed throughout the world, and assumed into glory (1 Tm 3:15-16)? It is evident, of course, that what he put in the last place has not yet been realized. How much less was that the case when he said these things? The Church will indeed be assumed into glory when it will be said, Come, blessed ones of my Father, receive the kingdom (Mt 25:34), and yet the apostle spoke as if what he certainly knew lay in the future had already been done.
51 . Much less should we be surprised that he also used verbs of the present tense in the statement, which you likewise mentioned that he made, On account of the hope that has been stored away for us, of which you have heard before in the word of the truth, that is, of the gospel that has come among you, as it is also bearing fruit and increasing in all the world (Col 1 :5-6), although the gospel had not yet taken hold of the whole world. But he said that it was bearing fruit and increasing in the whole world in order to signify how far it would go by bearing fruit and increasing. If, then, we do not know when, as the Church bears fruit and increases, the whole world will be absolutely filled from sea to sea,55 we undoubtedly do not know when the end will be; it will, of course, not be before that.
1 3, 52. But in order to disclose to you as a holy man of God and a most sincere brother what I hold on this question, we must avoid error in both respects, as far as it is possible for a human being to avoid it —by believing, in other words, that the Lord will come either more quickly or more slowly than is going to be the case. But a person does not seem to me to be in error when he knows that he does not know something, but when he thinks that he knows what he does not know. Let us, there fore, get rid of that bad servant who says in his heart. The master is slow in coming (Mt 24:48-49; Lk 12:45), lords it over his fellow servants, and associates with drunkards in carousing. He certainly and without a doubt hates the coming of his master. With that bad servant out of the way, let us set before our eyes the three
55. See Ps 72:8; Sir 44:23; Amos 8:12.
good servants who carefully and soberly manage their master’s household, desiring ardently the coming of their master, awaiting him with vigilance, and loving him faithfully, even if one of them thinks that the master will come sooner and another that he will come later, while the third admits his ignorance about this. And though they are all in accord with the gospel, because they all long for the coming of the Lord, desire it, and vigilantly await it,56 let us still see which of them is more fully in accord with the gospel.
53. One says, “Let us watch and pray because the Lord is going to come sooner.” The second says, “Let us watch and pray because this life is both short and uncertain, though the Lord is going to come later.” The third says, “Let us watch and pray, because this life is both short and uncertain, and we do not know the time when the Lord will come.” The gospel says, Pay attention; watch and pray, for you do not know when the time may be (Mt 1 3:3). I ask you, what else do we hear this third person say but what we hear the gospel say? All, in fact, because of their desire for the kingdom of God, want what the first one said to be true, but the second denies this, while the third does not deny either of them but admits that he does not know which of them is speaking the truth. Hence, if what the first one predicted comes about, the second and third will rejoice with him. For all of them long for the coming of the Lord.57 And so they will exult because what they long for has come sooner. But if this does not happen and what the second said instead begins to appear to be true, we would have to fear that, amid these delays, those who believed what the first one said may be disturbed and begin to think that the coming of the Lord will not be late but will not be at all.
And you see what great harm that is for souls. But if they are people of such great faith that they change their views to the predictions of the second person and faithfully and patiently await the Lord, even though he is slow in coming, there will nonetheless be an abundance of reproaches, insults, and scorn from their enemies, who will turn many weak persons away from the Christian faith, saying that the promise of the kingdom is as false as the promise that it was going to come quickly. But if those who believe what the second one says, namely, that the Lord is going to come more slowly, find out that this is false when the Lord comes sooner, those who believed him will by no means be disturbed in their faith but will rejoice over their unexpected joy.
54. Hence, one who says that the Lord will come sooner says what is more desirable but is in danger if mistaken. Would, then, that it be true, because it will cause trouble if it is not. But the one who says that the Lord will come later, and yet believes, hopes, and loves his coming, even if he is mistaken about his slow ness, is of course mistaken, though happily so. For he will have greater patience if this is the case and greater joy if it is not. And for this reason the first one is
56. See 2 Tm 4:8.
57. See 2 Tm 4:8.
listened to with more pleasure by those who long for the coming of the Lord 58 but the second one is listened to with greater safety. But the one who admits that he does not know which of these is true hopes for the former, endures the latter, and is mistaken in nothing, because he does not either affirm or deny any of them. I beg you not to look down on me for being such a person, because I love you for affirming what I want to be true, and the more I desire what you promise, the more I want you not to be mistaken, and the more I see danger if you are mistaken. Pardon me if I have been a burden to your holy eyes and ears. For the more rarely it comes about, the more it has delighted me to converse at greater length with you at least by letter.
58. See 2 Tm 4:8.