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Chapter 14.—Three Good Reasons for Abstaining from Certain Kinds of Food.

31.  But, you reply, the apostle says, "It is good, brethren, neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine."172172     Rom. xiv. 21.   No one denies that this is good, provided that it is for the end already mentioned, of which it is said, "Make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof;"173173     Rom. xiii. 14. or for the ends pointed out by the apostle, namely, either to check the appetite, which is apt to go to a more wild and uncontrollable excess in these things than in others, or lest a brother should be offended, or lest the weak should hold fellowship with an idol.  For at the time when the apostle wrote, the flesh of sacrifices was often sold in the market.  And because wine, too, was used in libations to the gods of the Gentiles, many weaker brethren, accustomed to purchase such things, preferred to abstain entirely from flesh and wine rather than run the risk of having fellowship, as they considered it, with idols, even ignorantly.  And, for their sakes, even those who were stronger, and had faith enough to see the insignificance of these things, knowing that nothing is unclean except from an evil conscience, and holding by the saying of the Lord, "Not that which entereth into your mouth defileth you, but that which cometh out of it," 174174     Matt. xv. 2. still, lest these weaker brethren should stumble, were bound to abstain from these things.  And this is not a mere theory, but is clearly taught in the epistles of the apostle himself.  For you are in the habit of quoting only the words, "It is good, brethren, neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine," without adding what follows, "nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended or is made weak."  These words show the intention of the apostle in giving the admonition.

32.  This is evident from the preceding and succeeding context.  The passage is a long one to quote, but, for the sake of those who are indolent in reading and searching the sacred Scriptures, we must give the whole of it.  "Him that is weak in the faith," says the apostle, "receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.  For one believeth that he may eat 78all things:  another, who is weak, eateth herbs.  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth, for God hath received him.  Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up:  for God is able to make him stand.  One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike.  Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord.  He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.  For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord:  whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both lived, and died and rose again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.  But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God.  For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.175175     Isa. xlv. 23, 24.   So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.  Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more:  but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or occasion to fall, in his brother’s way.  I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing common of itself:  but to him that esteemeth anything to be common, to him it is common.  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably.  Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then our good be evil spoken of.  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  For he who in this serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things whereby one may edify another.  For meat destroys not the work of God.  All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God.  Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that distinguishes is damned if he eats, because he eateth not of faith:  for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.  We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.  For even Christ pleased not Himself."176176     Rom. xiv. and xv. 1-3.

33.  Is it not clear that what the apostle required was, that the stronger should not eat flesh nor drink wine, because they gave offense to the weak by not going along with them, and made them think that those who in faith judged all things to be pure, did homage to idols in not abstaining from that kind of food and drink?  This is also set forth in the following passage of the Epistle to the Corinthians:  "As concerning, therefore, the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.  For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.  Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge:  for some, with conscience of the idol unto this hour, eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.  But meat commendeth us not to God:  for neither, if we eat, shall we abound; neither, if we eat not, shall we suffer want.  But take heed, lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak.  For if any man see one who has knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not his conscience being weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh forever, lest I make my brother to offend."177177     1 Cor. viii. 4, etc.

34.  Again, in another place:  "What say I then? that the idol is anything? or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything?  But the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God:  and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.  Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils:  ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils.  Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He?  All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient:  all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.  Let no man seek his own, but every man what is another’s.  Whatso79ever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake.  But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shows it, and for conscience sake:  conscience, I say, not thine own, but another’s:  for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?  For if I be a partaker with thanksgiving, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?  Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God:  even as I please all men in all things not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved.  Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." 178178     1 Cor. x. 19-25 and 28, xi. 1.

35.  It is clear, then, I think, for what end we should abstain from flesh and wine.  The end is threefold:  to check indulgence, which is mostly practised in this sort of food, and in this kind of drink goes the length of intoxication; to protect weakness, on account of the things which are sacrificed and offered in libation; and, what is most praiseworthy of all, from love, not to offend the weakness of those more feeble than ourselves, who abstain from these things.  You, again, consider a morsel of meat unclean; whereas the apostle says that all things are clean, but that it is evil to him that eateth with offence.  And no doubt you are defiled by such food, simply because you think it unclean.  For the apostle says, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing common of itself:  but to him that esteemeth anything common, to him it is common."  And every one can see that by common he means unclean and defiled.  But it is folly to discuss passages of Scripture with you; for you both mislead people by promising to prove your doctrines, and those books which possess authority to demand our homage you affirm to be corrupted by spurious interpolations.  Prove then to me your doctrine that flesh defiles the eater, when it is taken without offending any one, without any weak notions, and without any excess.179179     [Augustin’s comparison of Manichæan with Christian asceticism is thoroughly just and admirable.—A.H.N.]


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