"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). In a famous letter, Saint Augustine pondered the meaning of this commandment from Jesus. Augustine wondered at first if Jesus meant what he said literally. So he searched the gospels and discovered that Jesus Himself did not obey the commandment literally. After Jesus was arrested and brought to the house of the high priest, when He was struck by a Jewish officer while being interrogated, Jesus did not turn his other cheek. Instead, he said, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" (John 18:23). Moreover, Augustine, after the Apostle Paul was arrested and struck on the mouth at the command of the high priest, he did not obey Jesus command to turn the cheek literally. Instead, Paul said, " God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?" (Acts 23:3).

Augustine returned to the words of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel and pondered them more intensely. He noticed that, in his command, Jesus specified that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other. If by the example of Saint Paul as well as that of Jesus Himself it is clear that the command is not to be taken literally, what is the reason for Jesus' specifying the right cheek?

Augustine examined the possibility that Jesus' words, including His reference to the right cheek, pointed to something deeper. Augustine noted that, assuming that the assailant is right-handed, it would be much more difficult for him to strike his victim's right cheek and much easier to strike him on the left cheek. Augustine then speculated: the right cheek is symbolic of those things that cannot be taken away against our will while the left cheek represents temporal things or all those things in this world that can be taken away against our will. If that be the case, Augustine thought, then the meaning of Christ's command becomes clear: if someone strives to take the ultimate Good -the Holy Spirit- away from you against your will, fear not! No one, nothing in this world can do that. Moreover, if someone strives to do that, do not react by seeking security in temporal things -or in hiding the left cheek- from your assailant. If you have the ultimate Good or the Holy Spirit, clinging to temporal goods for security would be less than Christian and would betray the ultimate Good or the Holy Spirit.

Augustine finally unveiled the fuller meaning of Christ's command to turn the cheek. The command certainly includes prohibiting revenge: you should not imitate the behavior of your assailant. However, the command includes more: not only should you forgive your assailant, but also, out of joy, out of Love, out of Holy Spirit, and without fear of any kind or for any reason, seek to make your assailant good. Seek to draw him into repentance and into receiving the ultimate Good, the Holy Spirit.

According to Saint Augustine, Jesus' command to turn the cheek points to the uniquely Christian motive: charity. Charity is the most important of the theological virtues. "So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Faith, hope, and charity are the theological virtues. Like faith and hope, charity is the form that Holy Spirit takes in us. Like faith and hope, charity is a gift. If charity is the form that the Holy Spirit takes in us, this means that charity is the virtue that empowers us to love with the Love (Holy Spirit) with which God loves. Charity empowers us to "translate" Holy Spirit into human terms, just as Jesus did in his suffering and death. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit not only restores our free will but also transforms them into IRON WILLS aflame with resolving to want what God wants, and to be moved by what God is moved, namely, Holy Spirit. Charity impels us outward, in joy and in Love, to seek the good for others, especially for those who have offended us. Charity frees us from everything and everyone in this world to become ever more truly united to Christ our Head as members of His Body. Charity opens the way for Christ to continue his "human story" in our "human stories." Charity is the "resurrection power" that frees us to follow Christ on the way of the cross without fear of anyone or anything in this world. This way of life is far away from living the life of a door mat. Together, faith, hope, and charity give us ecclesial consciousness: we are most deeply members of the Body of Christ. Faith gives us a new goal: the Kingdom of God. Hope gives us a new power by which to seek this goal. And, as noted, charity gives us a new motive, namely Holy Spirit, for seeking this goal. These virtues enable us to participate in the Personhood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Head of His Body, the Church. The theological virtues not only make possible the attainment of the cardinal virtues but also transform or Trinify the cardinal virtues. The theological virtues radically redefine the cardinal virtues by rooting them in the uniquely Christian motive: being in Love with God. As Saint Augustine puts it, the cardinal virtues become four ways of loving God, or, as I put it, of "translating" Holy Spirit into human terms. 


Source: EWTN