St Augustine of Hippo: Are You Living Beyond Human Praise?

Feast of St Macrina, Grandmother of St Basil the Great

Augustine_Square_3.jpgTHE CLEANSING of the heart is, as it were, a cleansing of the eye by which God is seen; and to keep it clear requires care commensurate with the worth of the object this eye sees. Once we have cleansed this eye in good part, it is difficult to prevent particles of dirt from finding their way in unnoticed—from the things that usually go with our good actions, as, for instance, human praise. If it is true that not to live well leads to ruin; but to live well and yet not wish to be praised—what is this but to be an enemy of human ways, which surely are the more to be pitied the less the good lives of men meet with approval? Therefore, if the people with whom you live do not praise you for your right living, they are at fault; but if they do praise you, you are in danger—unless you are so single-hearted and pure that what you do as you should, you do not do because of men’s praise; and that you give credit to those who praise what is right because they delight in good, rather than to yourself, because you would live uprightly even if no one praised you; and that you realize that praise accorded you redounds to the benefit of those who praise you if they honor not you for your good life, but God, whose most holy temple everyone is who leads a good life; so that what David said is fulfilled: “In the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and rejoice” (Ps. 33.3).

Therefore it belongs to the clean eye not to look for the praise of men in any right conduct nor to associate one’s good conduct with any idea of praise, that is, doing the right thing just to please men. For you will be disposed also to simulate good, if your only consideration is man’s praise, because he, unable to see the heart, may praise even what is false. And those who do this, that is, who simulate goodness, have duplicity in their hearts. The heart of simplicity, that is, the clean heart, belongs only to him who lives beyond human praise and in his right living looks only to Him and strives to please only Him who alone reads the conscience. And whatever proceeds from the purity of such a conscience is praise-deserving in proportion to its lack of desire for human praise.

—St Augustine of Hippo, The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount

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