“If you love God you will have power to walk upon the waters, and all the world’s swell and turmoil will remain beneath your feet”

The gospel tells us how Christ the Lord walked upon the waters of the sea, and how the apostle Peter did the same until fear made him falter and lose confidence. Then he began to sink and emerged from the water only after calling on the Lord with renewed faith.

Now we must regard the sea as a symbol of the present world, and the apostle Peter as a symbol of the one and only Church. For Peter, who ranked first among the apostles and was always the most ready to declare his love for Christ, often acted as spokesman for them all. For instance, when the Lord Jesus Christ asked who people thought he was and the other disciples had cited various opinions, it was Peter who responded to the Lord’s further question, “But who do you say I am?” with the affirmation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” One replied for all because all were united.

When we consider Peter as a representative member of the Church we should distinguish between what was due to God’s action in him and what was attributable to himself. Then we ourselves shall not falter; then we shall be founded upon rock and remain firm and unmoved in the face of the wind, rain, and floods, which are the trials and temptations of this present world. Look at Peter, who in this episode is an image of ourselves; at one moment he is all confidence, at the next all uncertainty and doubt; now he professes faith in the immortal One, now he fears for his life.

“Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you upon the water.” When the Lord said “Come” Peter climbed out of the boat and began to walk on the water. This is what he could do through the power of the Lord; what by himself? “Realizing how violently the wind was blowing, he lost his nerve, and as he began to sink he called out, ‘Lord, I am drowning, save me!'”

When he counted on the Lord’s help it enabled him to walk on the water; when human frailty made him falter he turned once more to the Lord, who immediately stretched out his hand to help him, raised him up as he was sinking, and rebuked him for his lack of faith.

Think, then, of this world as a sea, whipped up to tempestuous heights by violent winds. A person’s own private tempest will be his or her unruly desires. If you love God you will have power to walk upon the waters, and all the world’s swell and turmoil will remain beneath your feet. But if you love the world it will surely engulf you, for it always devours its lovers, never sustains them. If you feel your foot slipping beneath you, if you become a prey to doubt or realize that you are losing control, if, in a word, you begin to sink, say: “Lord, I am drowning, save me!”

Only he who for your sake died in your fallen nature can save you from the death inherent in that fallen nature.

St Augustine of Hippo

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19 Responses to “If you love God you will have power to walk upon the waters, and all the world’s swell and turmoil will remain beneath your feet”

  1. Dan O'Brian says:

    That last sentence got me. After reading all the debates, I’m surprised to find this in Augustine.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      You persuaded me that the last line needed to be made its own paragraph. Change made. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Perhaps the concluding sentence will push someone to check out the Latin original to see if the translation is right. If anyone wants to do so, it’s from Sermon 76.

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      • solus enim a morte carnis liberat te, qui mortuus est in carne pro te. conuersi ad dominum.
        solus enim a morte carnis liberat te — indeed, only he who by death frees you
        qui mortuus est in carne pro te — was he who was dead in the flesh on behalf of [for] you.
        conuersi ad dominum — of that [he?–conversi could be a masculine or a neuter participle] cleared away from the Lord.
        Indeed, only he who by death frees you of that cleared away from the Lord, was he who was dead in the flesh for you.

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        • Jonathan says:

          Just for the record, because I’m a pedant: conversi ad dominum = [let us be] turned toward the lord. Latin frequently elides parts of verbal constructions, or even entire verbs, when they’re implied.

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        • Jonathan says:

          Alas, the pedantry continues. . .

          The internet apparently wants conversi ad dominum to mean “Turn toward the Lord.” That would be an imperative. The understood sense is not imperative but hortatory, i.e. urging, not a command. Subtle difference of tone, but a feeble heart can depend on so little as that.

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          • I am not as familiar with the subjunctive at this point in my Latin studies. Thanks for the help.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Now I feel like I’ve been a bad pedant. “Convertite…” would be “[Y’all] turn toward the Lord”. “Convertamus…” would be the hortatory subjunctive “Let us turn…” Whereas “conversi” is just the plural past participle. The phrase literally means no more than “turned toward the Lord.” Obviously the implication is that we all, speaker included, ought to *be turned* toward the Lord. It is not an imperative, though it easily could be, that’s the only point I was making. Even if one wants to construe it as imperatively as possible, it would still come out “Be ye turned toward the Lord,” which remains a passive construction. Without the rest of the verbal phrase, you can fill it in either way. Augustine’s is late Latin, and frequently unusual. But for all I know, this was a usual conclusion to a sermon long before our man from Thagaste heard the words “Tolle, lege.” I just figure given Augustine’s theology and all, “Turn toward the Lord!” sounds a bit. . . voluntaristic.

            Translating is tricky, even with something as seemingly trivial as a stock valedictory phrase.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            As I recall, conversi ad dominum was a set formula used by Augustine at the conclusion of his homilies. It has led at least one liturgist, Klaus Gamber, to speculate that in Augustine’s cathedral church, the altar was set in the west end of the church, with the bishop sitting behind it, facing the congregation. When it was time to pray, the congregation would then turn toward the east–hence the exhortation conversi ad dominum.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Ah, so there is a literal basis. This makes so much more sense than purely grammatical speculation. There is nearly always a literal or material reason for language being the way it is, and it’s good whenever possible to know what that reason is. Much obliged, Father.

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  2. Jonathan says:

    The Latin says:

    Only he liberates you from carnal death [literally, from the death of the flesh — a morte carnis], who has died carnally [in carne] for you.

    That’s the best I can get it keeping “carnal” in there, which is the Latin word that is here apparently translated as “fallen nature.” Nothing about “fallen nature” in Latin, but I think carnis, in a Christian context, is always understood to be fallen, right?

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    • Jonathan says:

      What I mean is I think in the NT you get a transition sarx –> soma / carnis –> corpus in Greek/Latin when you go from fallen nature to risen or eschatological reality. Here we are flesh, hereafter a body (obviously some relationship, some sort of ontological analogy subsists between the two). Point is, while the translation is wordier than Augustin’s actual Latin, the sense seems to be right.

      This concludes my clumsy impersonation of a theologian.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thanks for the research. As far as impersonating a theologian, I’ve been doing that for years. Fortunately, no one has ever been fooled that I am one. 🙂

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    • Tony says:

      That’s excellent! Thank you!

      Father Aidan, is it possible to correct the translation to better match what St. Augustine wrote? It seems like Jonathan has a more accurate translation of the Latin.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I finally found an older English translation of the sermon from which the posted passage is taken. Curiously, it is listed as Sermon 26. Here is how the translator renders the sentence in question:

    “For He only can deliver you from the death of the body, who died in the body for you.”

    This rendering would seem to confirm Jonathan’s translation effort. It would appear that the unnamed translator of the posted citation took a few liberties with the text.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Indeed, that’s better. Although I still think “body” is not as good as “carnal” or “flesh” because Latin has a different, more versatile word for body – corpus – whereas carnis has specific connotation in Christian discourse.

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