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

March 26, 2019

Night, light, and delight

Augustine is commenting on Psalm 138[139], a wonderful prayer about God’s presence and providence in the Psalmist’s life. Several themes of the Psalm are audible in Augustine’s reflection.

Considering the length of his life, what does the Psalmist say to himself? “And I said, ‘Perhaps darkness will trample me’” (Ps 138:11). See, he says, I’ve come to believe in Christ; I’ve already been lifted on the two wings of charity, and yet this world abounds in wickedness, and because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold. That’s what the Lord said, “Because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). In this life, amid such great scandals, amid so many sins, amid such great turmoil of daily temptations, of evil suggestions every day, he says, What do I do? How can I reach “the uttermost parts of the sea”? (Ps 137[138]:9) I hear the terrible words from the Lord: “Because wickedness will abound, the charity of many will grow cold.” But then he adds, “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).

Considering the length of my life, I say to myself, “Perhaps darkness will trample me. And night will become light to my delight.” Night has become light for me, because in the night I had despaired of being able to cross so great a sea and survive so great a journey and come to the uttermost end, persevering until the end. Thanks be to God who sought me when I was fleeing from him, who struck my back with a blow of the whip, who called me, called me back from destruction, who made my night bright with light. This life is one long night. How was this night made bright? Because Christ descended into this night. Christ accepted flesh from this world and he illumined the night for us. Remember that woman who had lost that little coin, the drachma? She lit a lamp (Lk 15:8). God’s wisdom had lost a little coin, a drachma. What is a drachma? It’s a coin bearing the image of our Emperor himself, because man was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and was lost. And what did that wise woman do? She lit a lamp. A lamp is made of clay, but it gave enough light that the drachma could be found. The lamp of wisdom, then, the flesh of Christ, is made of clay, but it shines with its Word, and it finds the lost.

“And night will be my light to my delight.” Night has become light in my delight. Our delight is Christ. See how we are now rejoicing in this. Your shouts, your joys, what are these but delight? And where does that delight come from if not because our night has become bright because Christ the Lord is being preached to us? Because he sought you before you sought him, and he found you so that you could find him. “And night has become bright to my delight.” (EnPs 138, 14; PL 37, 1792-93)

Augustine’s sermons were taken down by stenographers as he was preaching them, and we see an indication of this in the final paragraph where the shouts of appreciation for his explanation as well as his response to them are noted. Maybe it was something like the “Amens” that you hear from a congregation in a black Church.

Notice also the reference to the delight of the Psalmist. Augustine is often presented as a Gloomy Gus, but, as I hope to show in a future post, he spoke often of the delights that ought to make and mark a Christian’s life, and not just in heaven.

Here is another place in which Augustine repeats the image of the Incarnation given in the little parable about the woman lighting a lamp and searching for her lost little coin.

How great are your works, O Lord! You have made all things in wisdom!” (Ps 102[104]:24). Where is that wisdom in which you have made all things? What sense can reach it? What eye can see it? How can it be sought? How can it be possessed? Only by grace! By his gift it is that we live, by his gift that we are good. He gives this to those who convert, but before they were converted and while they turned from him and gone off in their own ways, did he not seek them? Did he not come down? Was not the Word made flesh and did it not dwell among us? (Jn 1:14) Did he not light the lamp of his flesh, while he hung upon the cross, and search for his lost drachma? (Lk 15:8) He sought it and found it, and all his neighbors rejoiced with him, that is, every spiritual creature close to God. The drachma was found and the neighbors rejoiced; a human soul was found, and the angels rejoice. It was found and so it rejoices and says, “How great are your works, O Lord! You have done all things in wisdom!” (EnPs 103/4, 2; PL 37, 1378-79)

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: