Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 16 [XV.]--Pelagius Corrupts a Passage of the Apostle James by Adding a Note of Interrogation.
Now that passage, in which the Apostle James says: |But the tongue can no man tame,| does not appear to me to be capable of the interpretation which he would put upon it, when he expounds it, |as if it were written by way of reproach; as much as to say: Can no man then, tame the tongue? As if in a reproachful tone, which would say: You are able to tame wild beasts; cannot you tame the tongue? As if it were an easier thing to tame the tongue than to subjugate wild beasts.| I do not think that this is the meaning of the passage. For, if he had meant such an opinion as this to be entertained of the facility of taming the tongue, there would have followed in the sequel of the passage a comparison of that member with the beasts. As it is, however, it simply goes on to say: |The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison,| -- such, of course, as is more noxious than that of beasts and creeping things. For while the one destroys the flesh, the other kills the soul. For, |The mouth that belieth slayeth the soul.| It is not, therefore, as if this is an easier achievement than the taming of beasts that St. James pronounced the statement before us, or would have others utter it; but he rather aims at showing what a great evil in man his tongue is -- so great, indeed, that it cannot be tamed by any man, although even beasts are tameable by human beings. And he said this, not with a view to our permitting, through our neglect, the continuance of so great an evil to ourselves, but in order that we might be induced to request the help of divine grace for the taming of the tongue. For he does not say: |None can tame the tongue;| but |No man;| in order that, when it is tamed, we may acknowledge it to be effected by the mercy of God, the help of God, the grace of God. The soul, therefore, should endeavour to tame the tongue, and while endeavouring should pray for assistance; the tongue, too, should beg for the taming of the tongue, -- He being the tamer who said to His disciples: |It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.| Thus, we are warned by the precept to do this, -- namely, to make the attempt, and, failing in our own strength, to pray for the help of God.