Augustine on the Temptations of Jesus and the Three Major Lusts

Linking the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness with the three major lusts outlined in 1 John 2 has a long history in Christian preaching.  Here is an example from Augustine’s second homily on 1 John, with some bullet points for clarity:

These three (temptations) there are, and you can find nothing whereby human cupidity can be tempted, but either by the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. By these three was the Lord tempted of the devil. (Matthew 4:1-10)

  • By the lust of the flesh He was tempted when it was said to Him, “If you be the Son of God, speak to these stones that they become bread,” when He hungered after His fast. But in what way repelled He the tempter, and taught his soldier how to fight? Mark what He said to him: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word of God.”
  • He was tempted also by the lust of the eyes concerning a miracle, when he said to Him, “Cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.” He resisted the tempter, for to do the miracle, would only have been to seem either to have yielded, or to have done it from curiosity; for He wrought when He would, as God, howbeit as healing the weak. For if He had done it then, He might have been thought to wish only to do a miracle. But lest men should think this, mark what He answered; and when the like temptation shall happen to you, say also the same: “Get behind me, Satan; for it is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God:” that is, if I do this I shall tempt God. He said what He would have you to say. When the enemy suggests to you, “What sort of man, what sort of Christian, are you? As yet have you done one miracle, or by your prayers have the dead been raised, or have you healed the fevered? If you were truly of any moment, you would do some miracle:” answer and say: “It is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God:” therefore I will not tempt God, as if I should belong to God if I do a miracle, and not belong if I do none: and what becomes then of His words, “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven”?
  • By “pride of life” how was the Lord tempted? When he carried Him up to an high place, and said to Him, “All these will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” By the loftiness of an earthly kingdom he wished to tempt the King of all worlds: but the Lord who made heaven and earth trod the devil under foot. What great matter for the devil to be conquered by the Lord? Then what did He in the answer He made to the devil but teach you the answer He would have you to make? “It is, written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Holding these things fast, you shall not have the concupiscence of the world: by not having concupiscence of the world, neither shall the lust of the flesh, nor the lust of the eyes, nor the pride of life, subjugate you: and you shall make place for Charity when she comes, that you may love God. Because if love of the world be there, love of God will not be there.

Hold fast rather the love of God, that as God is for ever and ever, so you also may remain for ever and ever: because such is each one as is his love. Love earth, you shall be earth. Love God, what shall I say? You shall be a god? I darenot say it of myself, let us hear the Scriptures: “I have said, You are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.” If then you would be gods and sons of the Most High, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all the things that are in the world, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world:” (1 John 2:15-17) i.e. of men, lovers of the world. “And the world passes away, and the lusts thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever, even as God also abides for ever.”

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