St Augustine is writing about the Scripture passage, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and thus you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6.2)
4. A second thought follows the first, that he took on humanity, whereas we just are human. We ought then to bear in mind that the weakness of soul or body that we see in another human being we also could or can have ourselves. Let us therefore show the person whose weakness we are willing to bear what we would like him to show us, supposing that we were in that state and he was not. Relevant to this are St Paul’s words, ‘I became all things to all people, to benefit everyone’ (I Corinthians 9.22), that is, by remembering that he himself could have had the vice from which he is eager to free someone else.
He was acting out of compassion, not dishonesty (as some people suspect, who are trying to shelter under the example of a great man as a defence of their own lies, which they cannot deny).
5. Next we should reflect that there is nobody who might not have some good that you do not have, even if it is not obvious, and who might be undoubtedly better than you in that respect. This is an effective thought for beating down and taming your pride, to stop you thinking, because your good qualities are striking and obvious, that someone else has not got any less obvious good qualities, and perhaps ones worth much more, which make him better than you even though you don’t realise it.
St Paul tells us not to be fooled, or to succumb to flattery, when he says, ‘Do nothing competitively or for empty glory, but in humility of mind let each one think the other superior to him’ (Philippians 2.3). We should not think this in such a way that we don’t really think it, but only pretend to. We should truly think that there might be some hidden quality in someone else that makes her better than us, even if our good qualities, which seem to make us better than her, are not hidden. Thoughts of this sort keep pride in check and sharpen our charity, and make us bear each other’s burdens not only with good temper but even willingly.
We should never pass judgement on someone we do not know, and no one can be known except through friendship. That is why we are strongly supportive of our friends’ problems, because their good qualities give us pleasure and bind us to them. © Margaret Atkins 2004
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For further reading
Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. ISBN: 0-8028-3843-X Published in 1999, by Eerdmans, 880 pages. Edited by Allan Fitzgerald O.S.A. (This publication is now out of print, but second-hand copies of it may be available for purchase online from Amazon.com)
The encyclopedia is the product of more than 140 leading scholars throughout the world. This comprehensive publication contains over 400 articles that cover every aspect of the life and writings of Augustine of Hippo (354-430). It traces his profound influence on the church and the development of Western thought through the past two millennia…."