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St. Augustine: ‘Beware of the One Who Flatters You’
In this Sermon, St. Augustine of Hippo reminds us to love the one who takes you to task, and to beware of the one who flatters you. It is timely advice, for today the syncophants and bootlickers are legion, while those who have the courage to speak the truth a rarity.

St. Augustine

Among the other divine utterances, which we heard when the Psalm was being sung, I would like, with the Lord's help, to deal with and discuss this one in particular, where it says, The just man will correct me with mercy and rebuke me; but let not the oil of the sinner fatten my head (Ps 141:5). …

However, let's see the real meaning of Scripture; it may have some advice for us, perhaps, which will become clear to a better understanding. The just man, he [the Psalmist] says, will correct me out of mercy. Even if he beats me, he loves me; the one who rebukes me respects me; the flatterer takes me in. The first is showing compassion, the second getting round me. The rod of the one who beats me is hard, the oil of the one who fawns on me soft. In fact all flatterers anoint the head, failing to heal the heart.

Love the one who rebukes you, beware of the one who flatters you. After all, if you love the one who rebukes you with the truth, and beware of the one who flatters you with deceit, you can say what was sung: The just man will correct me out of mercy, but let the oil of the sinner, that is the compliments of the flatterer, not fatten my head (Ps 141:5).

A fat head is a big head; a big head is a proud head. Better a healthy heart than a big head. But a heart is made healthy by the rod of rebuke; a head made big by the oil of the sinner, that is, by the agreement of the flatterer. If you have made your head big, beware of your head becoming top-heavy, and toppling you over the precipice.


Blason de Charlemagne
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The Works of St. Augustine: v.1 Sermons on the Old Testament, 20-50,
Sermon 266, “New City Press, 1990, p 272

Posted on August 19, 2023

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