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The faltering Church

"What does it mean that Peter dared to come to Jesus walking on the water? Peter often represents the Church. What else, then, could the text mean, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water?'except this: 'Lord, if you are true and never lie, let your Church be made manifest in this world, because this is what the prophecy about you predicted?' Let it walk on the water, then, and so come to you.... But because human praise does not tempt the Lord, but men in the Church are often disturbed by human praise and honors and are near to drowning from them, Peter grew fearful on the sea, terrified at the great force of the storm. Who does not fear that word, 'The rich among the people will entreat your countenance'(Ps 44[45], 13)? And because the mind struggles against the lust for human praise, it is good in such peril to turn to prayer and entreaty so that anyone who is being buffeted by praise not be undermined by criticism and drown. Let faltering Peter cry out on the waves and say, 'Lord, save me!' The Lord stretches out his hand and although he rebukes him'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?' Why did you not look straight ahead at the one you were moving towards, why did you not boast only in the Lord?still he snatches him from the waves and because Peter admits his weakness and begs his help, he does not allow him to perish. The Lord is then taken into the boat, the disciples faith is confirmed and all doubt removed, the storm subsides, and they reach the safety and firmness of the shore, and they all adore him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.' For this is eternal joy: truth manifest, and the Word of God, and the Wisdom through which all things were made, and his surpassing mercy are both known and loved." (Augustine, Sermon 75, 10; PL 38, 478)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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"men in the Church are often disturbed by human praise and honors"Where did that come from, out of the blue?The current pictures of large numbers of elderly men wearing outdated outfits bring out the behind-the-times, obsolete aspects of the church. The pompous ceremonials might look like human praise and honors, but those honors come from a tiny slice of humanity. For the rest of humanity, it looks merely strange, as irrelevant as the lost Ethiopian city in the rabbi's cat.

I wonder if "disturbed" here might have some alternate translation that would better express his thought. Praise and honors can have a dizzying effect. I think of the expressions "it went to his head" or "it turned his head" -- meaning that praise caused someone to lose a proper sense of grounding, causing that person to become vain or self-important -- could this be the sort of thing he means when he says human praise and honors "disturb" someone?[Joe, is "men" in this instance to be understood as all humans or as males?]An interesting thought: to be drowning in vanity!

men in the Church are often disturbed by human praise and honorsApparently this doesn't apply to elderly cosseted courtiers, i.e., the College of Cardinals.

Rita: The verb used is "perturbare which my dictionary defines as: "to throw into confusion or disorder." Several references suggest that it can be fear that has this effect. "Disturb" might be too mild a translation. I don't think that "men" here means only males, but I think he certainly has in mind leaders of the Church. I think that the point is that if the Church has reached a certain level of glory in the world, then the temptation will be even greater that its leaders will succomb to the desire to be praised and honored.

Thanks, Joe. I thought it might be perturbare. My dictionary also has agitate, arouse, stir up.It's a nice choice of words, because turbo can refer to stirring up the sea and the biblical scene is fearful because of the sea. I don't have the Vulgate at home, to see if turbo is used in the gospel text. I wonder if a play on words (turbare / perturbare) is what suggested this direction of thought to Augustine. Claire, I agree that the shift of subject seems abrupt; but if the link is verbal, it would have been caught by his hearers.

Back in 2010 we had another, longer, citation of this text, translated a little differently, and including a couple of references to the OT omitted here. They do help to clarify the nature of the temptation presented by "walking on the water" along the lines Fr. K suggests.

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