PURPOSES OF THE SERMON
Following Latin oratorical method, such as that of Cicero, Augustine saw three purposes in preaching: (1) to explain (instruct); (2) to edify, or to make more holy (hold the attention); and (3) to convert (convince). A cursory reading of Sermon 17 illustrates these approaches to preaching.
Sermon 17 was preached when Augustine was approximately seventy years of age. Therefore, it is a homily preached in his maturity both as a bishop and a Religious. It was preached on Psalm 49(50):3, "He is coming, our God, and he will not keep silent," which seems to have been the response to the first reading of the Mass.
In introducing his subject - the second coming of Christ in judgment - he enunciates the theme upon which he will build, "The Lord is no longer silent," coming to us in the word which is read and preached each day in the liturgy. He indicates that we must open our ears and listen to what he is saying to us. This prepares his listeners for what follows.
Edification, Building the Argument
He begins by drawing their attention to the reality of God's judgment on them, both at the end of their lives and at the end of time. He appeals to them to desire salvation just as he does. From this, he proceeds to implore them not to make light of sin in their lives.
When Christ comes, he will not be silent about their sinfulness, that about which they know full well, such as complaining, stealing, taking advantage of the weak people, violence against others or their property, false accusation, and so on.
Then begins the development proper of his argument in which he urges his listeners to know and to face themselves. To help them do this is the task of the preacher. Only when they are honest with themselves will they be able to beg for God's mercy.
In the final thrust of his "edification" of the assembly, he endeavours to arouse their sense of sin by saying that many refuse to admit that they are doing wrong, like people refusing medication when they are sick. He goes on to state that he gives to his listeners correction in public for their doing of evil. Would it be better for him to accuse them privately? He decides that it would not.
Augustine brings home his final point by asking his listeners as to when they think their own judgment will be. The general judgment might be a long way off, but how about their individual judgment at the moment of death?
"Many people have gone to sleep in good health and have been corpses in the morning….The living escort [the dead] to the grave, celebrate their funerals, and promise themselves life." Human life is short, he states.
Yet people do not reflect on the reality that death could take them tomorrow. His final sentence is a tour de force: ""I'm looking for the deeds [of your conversion]. Don't make me sad with your vicious habits, because the only pleasure I have in this life is your good life."
(Continued on the next page.)