"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

December 23, 2017

And the Word became…

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , — komonchak @ 9:39 am

St. Augustine taught rhetoric–the art of persuasion–and his own mastery of the art is never displayed more convincingly than in his sermons. He delighted in exploring the paradoxes that lie at the heart of the Christian claim: that the Word became flesh; that he who was rich became poor so that we might be enriched by his poverty; that the instrument of death became the tree of life; etc. Here, in preparation for Christmas are four ways in which he sang variations on the theme of the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel.

And the Word was made syllables

There is a single message [sermo] of God spread throughout all the Scriptures, a single Word [Verbum] sounding through the many mouths of the holy. Although this Word was in the beginning, God with God, it was not expressed in syllables then because it did not exist in time. And since it descended and took on the weakness of our bodies, it should be no surprise that for the sake of our weakness it also made use of our tiny sounds. (EnPs 103[104]/4, 1; PL 37, 1378)

And the Word was made grass

“Man’s days are as grass” (Ps 102[103]:15). Let a man note what he is, let him not be proud: “Man’s days are like grass.” Why is grass proud that flourishes now but in a little while dries up? How is grass proud that is green for a while, for a little while, until the sun grows hot? It is good for us, then, that God’s mercy be upon us and make gold from grass. For “man’s days are like the grass of the field,” that’s how it will flourish. All of the splendor of the human race–honors, power, wealth, vanity, money–is the flower of grass. This house is flourishing, and that big house is flourishing, that family is flourishing; but how many are flourishing and how many years do they live? They’re many years to you, but a short while for God. God doesn’t count the way you count. By comparison to the long and long-lived ages, all the flowers of any house are as the flower of the field. … “All flesh is grass, and all its glory is as the flower of the field. The grass has withered and the flower fallen, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (Is 40:7-8). The Father knew how we were made, that we are grass and can flourish only for a while, and so he sent us his Word and that Word which remains forever he made a brother to the grass that does not remain forever; he made the only-begotten one, the only one born of his substance a brother to so many adopted brothers and sisters. Don’t wonder that you will share in his eternity: he first became a sharer in your grass. …

“For the wind will pass over him, and he shall not be, and he shall know his place no more” (v. 16). It’s like a loss, like ruin. Those who inflate themselves, those who puff themselves up, those who extol themselves: “The wind will pass over him, and he will not be, and he will no longer know his place.” See them dying every day: that will be all, that will be the end. But he is not talking simply to grass, but to the grass for whose sake the Word was made grass. You’re a human being, and it was for your sake that the Word became a human being; you are flesh, and for your sake the Word became flesh. “All flesh is grass” and the Word became flesh. How great must the hope of grass be if the Word became flesh. The Word that remains forever did not disdain to take grass to himself so that grass would not despair of itself (EnPs 102[103], 22-23; PL 27, 1333)

And the Word became milk

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made” (Jn 1:1-3). Grasp this if you can. Take it in: it’s food. But, you may say to me, “Yes, it’s food, but I’m just an infant, I have to drink milk before I can eat food.” That’s why–because you have to drink milk and he is solid food–that’s why this food itself became flesh in order to reach your mouth. A mother eats food so that in her flesh she can transform it into milk for her infant. In the same way, the Lord, food of angels, became flesh, became milk. (EnPs 119[120], 2; PL 37, 1598)

And the Word became my neighbor

“Behold,” the Psalmist says, “I have greatly desired your commandments: in your righteousness give me life” (Ps 118[119]:40). With all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind I have desired to love you and my neighbor as myself: give me life, not in my righteousness but in yours, that is, fill me with that love which I have desired. Help me to do what you propose, give me what you command. “In your righteousness give me life” because if in myself I have had the power to die, the power to live I find only in you. Your righteousness is Christ “who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” so that “whoever boasts may boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 39, 31). And in Christ I find the commandments I have desired, so that in your righteousness, that is, in Christ, you might give me life. For he is the Word who is God, and the Word became flesh in order to be my neighbor (EnPs 118[119], 5; PL 37, 1535).

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