It’s been pointed out how frequently and insistently St. Augustine stressed the need for Christians to forgive. For example, he urged forgiveness as the chief almsgiving they should perform during Lent. Someone has remarked that he was deliberately setting himself against a kind of culture of revenge characteristic of certain Mediterranean cultures. Here are the paragraphs that immediately follow the one cited yesterday and that set out more dimensions of the reconciliation that Christ commands his disciples to pursue.
People are quick to inflict injuries, but reluctant to seek reconciliation. “Seek,” he says, “pardon from the one whom you’ve offended, from the one you’ve injured.” He replies, “I will not lower myself.” If you so despise your brother, at least listen to your God: “Whoever lowers himself will be lifted up” (Lk 14:11). You who have already fallen don’t want to lower yourself? There’s a big difference between lowering yourself and lying on the ground. You’re already lying on the ground and you don’t want to lower yourself? You could well say, “I won’t go down,” if you hadn’t already been willing to fall.
This is what the person who committed the injury ought to do. What should the person do who suffered the injury? What we’ve heard today: “If your brother sins against you, correct him between you and him alone.” If you neglect to do this, you are worse than he. He injured you and by doing so he gravely wounded himself. Do you not care about your brother’s wound? You see him perishing, or already dead, and you don’t care? You’re worse by your silence than he by his insults. When someone sins against us, then, let us take great care, but not for ourselves: it is a glorious thing to forget injuries. But forget your injury, not your brother’s wound. So “correct him between you and him alone,” intending his correction but sparing him shame. From shame he might begin to defend his sin, and you make him worse whom you want to correct. “Correct him,” then, “between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother,” because he would have perished if you had not done so. “But if he will not listen to you,” that is, if he tries to defend his sin as something right, “take two or three with you, because in the mouth of two or three every word is established. But if he won’t listen to them also, refer it to the Church, and if he won’t listen to the Church, let him be to you like a heathen and a publican” (Mt 18:16-17) Don’t consider him any longer in the number of your brothers but don’t neglect his salvation for that reason. For we don’t include heathens, that is, Gentiles and pagans, among our brothers, but we still are always seeking their salvation.
This, then, we have heard the Lord so advising and with such great care commanding that he added this immediately: “Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed also in heaven.” You begin to consider your brother as a publican, you are binding him on earth; but make sure you bind him justly, for justice bursts apart unjust bonds. But when you have corrected him, and been reconciled with your brother, you have loosed him on earth. When you loose him on earth, he will be loosed in heaven. You have done a great thing, not to yourself, but to him, because he had done great injury, not to you, but to himself. (Augustine, Sermon 82, 6-7; PL 38, 508509)