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

April 19, 2019

Redefining ugliness and beauty

People occasionally ask me why this Friday is called “Good”. The answer lies in the simple, quiet liturgy of this day which does not give way to grief much less indulge in morose lingering over the pains Christ endured, but instead celebrates the fruit the tree of the Cross produced, as in the antiphon that may be sung while the Cross is being venerated: “We adore your Cross, O Lord, and we bless and praise your holy resurrection, for, behold, because of this tree joy has come to the whole world!” To know this joy, of course, requires that one find wisdom and power where others see only folly and weakness (1 Cor 1:22-25). In the two passages below, Augustine echoes the Apostle’s theme in terms of beauty and ugliness.

That “the Word was made flesh” is very beautiful to people who understand. “Far be it from me to glory,” said one of the friends of the Bridegroom,” except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14) It’s not enough that you are not ashamed by the cross; you must glory in it.

Why, then, is the Bridegroom said not to have any beauty or fairness (see Is 53:2-3)? Because Christ was crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But why did he have beauty on the cross? Because the folly of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God is stronger than men.

May the Bridegroom who is beauty wherever he is come to meet us who have come to believe. Beautiful as God, as the Word who is with God; beautiful in the womb of the Virgin, where he did not lose his divinity but assumed our humanity; beautiful when born, a Word who could not speak, because while he was still unable to speak, while he was being held and suckled, the heavens spoke, the Angels sang his praises, a star guided the Magi, he was adored in the manger, he who is food for the meek.

Beautiful, then, in heaven, beautiful on earth, beautiful in the womb, beautiful in the arms of his parents, beautiful when performing miracles; beautiful when being scourged; beautiful in his invitation to life; beautiful in his scorn of death; beautiful in surrendering his life and in taking it up again; beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. (Augustine, En. in Ps. 44, 3)

 

Whoever loves me keeps my commandments, and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him.” And what will he give him? “And I will show myself to him” (Jn 14:21). This is what will be seen when he does what he said: “And I will show myself to him.” There you will see Gods justice; there, without a book, you will read it in the Word. When you will see him as he is, our wandering will be over, and we will rejoice with the joy of the angels.

And what is the way there? It is faith. For the sake of your faith, Christ became ugly, though Christ remains beautiful. The one more beautiful than the children of men will be seen after our wandering. But how is he seen now by faith? And we have seen him, and he had no beauty or comeliness; his face was abject, and his position ugly (that is, his power), despised and ugly was his position, a man considered a leper, and knowing how to bear infirmities (Is 53:2-3). Christ’s ugliness makes you beautiful. [Deformitas Christi te format]. For if he had not been willing to be ugly, you would not have regained the beauty which you had lost. He hung ugly on the cross, but his ugliness was our beauty. [deformitas illius pulchritudo nostra erat]

In this life, then, let us hold on to the ugly Christ. What does “ugly Christ” mean? “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This is Christ’s ugliness…. This is the way: to believe in the one crucified. We bear the sign of this ugliness on our foreheads; let us not be ashamed at Christ’s ugliness. (Augustine, Sermon 27, 5-6; PL 38, 181)

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you, Father Komanchak, for this walk through Lent with St. Autustine.

    Comment by Tom Blackburn — April 20, 2019 @ 5:57 am


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