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Chapter 27.—On Doing Good to the Body of Our Neighbor.

52.  Man, then, as viewed by his fellow-man, is a rational soul with a mortal and earthly body in its service.  Therefore he who loves his neighbor does good partly to the man’s body, and partly to his soul.  What benefits the body is called medicine; what benefits the soul, discipline.  Medicine here includes everything that either preserves or restores bodily health.  It includes, therefore, not only what belongs to the art of medical men, properly so called, but also food and drink, clothing and shelter, and every means of covering and protection to guard our bodies against injuries and mishaps from without as well as from within.  For hunger and thirst, and cold and heat, and all violence from without, produce loss of that health which is the point to be considered.

53.  Hence those who seasonably and wisely supply all the things required for warding off 56these evils and distresses are called compassionate, although they may have been so wise that no painful feeling disturbed their mind in the exercise of compassion.131131     Retract. i. 7. § 4:—"This does not mean that there are actually in this life wise men such as are here spoken of.  My words are not, ‘although they are so wise,’ but ‘although they were so wise.’"  [Augustin’s ideal wise man was evidently the "Gnostic" of Clement of Alexandria.  The conception is Stoical and Neo-Platonic.—A.H.N.]   No doubt the word compassionate implies suffering in the heart of the man who feels for the sorrow of another.  And it is equally true that a wise man ought to be free from all painful emotion when he assists the needy, when he gives food to the hungry and water to the thirsty, when he clothes the naked, when he takes the stranger into his house, when he sets free the oppressed, when, lastly, he extends his charity to the dead in giving them burial.  Still the epithet compassionate is a proper one, although he acts with tranquillity of mind, not from the stimulus of painful feeling, but from motives of benevolence.  There is no harm in the word compassionate when there is no passion in the case.

54.  Fools, again, who avoid the exercise of compassion as a vice, because they are not sufficiently moved by a sense of duty without feeling also distressful emotion, are frozen into hard insensibility, which is very different from the calm of a rational serenity.  God, on the other hand, is properly called compassionate; and the sense in which He is so will be understood by those whom piety and diligence have made fit to understand.  There is a danger lest, in using the words of the learned, we harden the souls of the unlearned by leading them away from compassion instead of softening them with the desire of a charitable disposition.  As compassion, then, requires us to ward off these distresses from others, so harmlessness forbids the infliction of them.


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