Saint Augustine: ‘Enter in by the Door’

For today, day three of the Octave of Pentecost, the Roman office of Matins has us read Saint Augustine’s commentary for the daily Gospel (John 10:1-10). Concerning the necessity of Christ and His Church for salvation, this is what the Doctor of Grace wrote:

In the words of the Gospel which are this day read, the Lord has spoken unto us in similitudes, touching His flock, and the Door whereby entry is made into their fold. The Pagans therefore may say, “We have good lives,” but if they enter not in the Door, what doth that profit them whereof they make their boast? Good life is profitable to a man if it lead unto life everlasting, but if he does not have life everlasting, what shall his good life profit him? Neither indeed can it be truly said that they live good lives, who are either so blinded as not to know, or so puffed up as to despise, the end of a good life. And no man can have a true and certain hope of life everlasting, unless he know the true Life, Which is Christ, and enter in by that Door into the sheepfold.

There are many such, who try to persuade men to live good lives but not to be Christians. These are they who would fain “climb up some other way,” “for to kill and to destroy,” and are not as the Good Shepherd, Who is come to keep and to save. There have been philosophers who have treated many subtle questions of right and wrong, who have been the authors of many distinctions and definitions, who have completed many exceedingly clever arguments, who have filled many books, and have proclaimed their own wisdom with braying trumpets. These dared to say to men: “Follow us embrace our school of thought, and you will find therein the secret of an happy life.” But these were not of them who enter in by the Door; they came not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.

Touching these, what shall I say? Behold, the Pharisees themselves read of Christ, and therefore talked of Christ they looked for His coming, and when He came, they knew Him not. They boasted that they themselves were among the Seers, that is, of the wise ones, and they denied Christ, and entered not in by the Door. Therefore they, if they led away any, led them away only to kill and to destroy, not to free them. So much for them. Now let us see if all they who boast the name of Christian enter in by the Door. Some there are, and their number cannot be reckoned, who not only boast that they themselves are among the Seers, but would fain appear as though their hearts were enlightened by Christ but they are heretics.

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Thus far the Roman office. Saint Augustine continues his Tractate 45 on Saint John:

Have even they [the heretics mentioned above] somehow entered by the gate? Surely not. Sabellius says, He who is the Son is Himself the Father; but if the Son, then is there no Father. He enters not by the door, who asserts that the Son is the Father. Arius says, The Father is one thing, the Son is another thing. He would say rightly if he said, Another person; but not another thing. For when he says, Another thing, he contradicts Him who says in his hearing, I and my Father are One. Neither does he therefore enter by the door; for he preaches a Christ such as he fabricates for himself, not such as the truth declares Him. You have the name, you have not the reality. Christ is the name of something; keep hold of the thing itself, if you would benefit by the name. Another, I know not from whence, says with Photinus, Christ is mere man; He is not God. He enters not in by the door, for Christ is both man and God. But why need I make many references, and enumerate the many vanities of heretics? Keep hold of this, that Christ’s sheepfold is the Catholic Church. Whoever would enter the sheepfold, let him enter by the door, let him preach the true Christ. Not only let him preach the true Christ, but seek Christ’s glory, not his own; for many, by seeking their own glory, have scattered Christ’s sheep, instead of gathering them. For Christ the Lord is a low gateway: he who enters by this gateway must humble himself, that he may be able to enter with head unharmed. But he that humbles not, but exalts himself, wishes to climb over the wall; and he that climbs over the wall, is exalted only to fall.

But what is this, He shall go in and out, and find pasture? To enter indeed into the Church by Christ the door, is eminently good; but to go out of the Church, as this same John the evangelist says in his epistle, They went out from us, but they were not of us, 1 John 2:19 is certainly otherwise than good. Such a going out could not then be commended by the good Shepherd, when He said, And he shall go in and out, and find pasture. There is therefore not only some sort of entrance, but some outgoing also that is good, by the good door, which is Christ. But what is that praiseworthy and blessed outgoing? I might say, indeed, that we enter when we engage in some inward exercise of thought; and go out, when we take to some active work without: and since, as the apostle says, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, Ephesians 3:17 to enter by Christ is to give ourselves to thought in accordance with that faith; but to go out by Christ is, in accordance also with that same faith, to take to outside works, that is to say, in the presence of others. Hence, also, we read in a psalm, Man goes forth to his work; and the Lord Himself says, Let your works shine before men. Matthew 5:16 But I am better pleased that the Truth Himself, like a good Shepherd, and therefore a good Teacher, has in a certain measure reminded us how we ought to understand His words, He shall go in and out, and find pasture, when He added in the sequel, The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. For He seems to me to have meant, That they may have life in coming in, and have it more abundantly at their departure. For no one can pass out by the door— that is, by Christ— to that eternal life which shall be open to the sight, unless by the same door— that is, by the same Christ— he has entered His church, which is His fold, to the temporal life, which is lived in faith. Therefore, He says, I have come that they may have life, that is, faith, which works by love; Galatians 5:6by which faith they enter the fold that they may live, for the just lives by faith: Romans 1:17 and that they may have it more abundantly, who, enduring unto the end, pass out by this same door, that is, by the faith of Christ; for as true believers they die, and will have life more abundantly when they come whither the Shepherd has preceded them, where they shall die no more. Although, therefore, there is no want of pasture even here in the fold—for we may understand the words and shall find pasture as referring to both, that is, both to their going in and their going out—yet there only will they find the true pasture. where they shall be filled who hunger and thirst after righteousness, Matthew 5:6 — such pasture as was found by him to whom it was said, Today shall you be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 But how He Himself is the door, and Himself the Shepherd, so that He also may in a certain respect be understood as going in and out by Himself, and who is the porter, it would be too long to inquire today, and, according to the grace given us by Himself, to unfold in the way of dissertation.