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

April 20, 2019

Our daily baptism

Several of Augustine’s sermons have survived in which he prepared people to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. A few of them were given for the ceremony at which the Creed was given and explained to them–the traditio Symboli)–as he went through the Creed phrase by phrase. Here “the forgiveness of sins” is related not only to their upcoming baptism but to their daily prayer afterwards.

“The forgiveness of sins.” If this did not exist in the Church, there would be no hope. If there were no forgiveness of sins in the Church, there would be no hope of a future life and an eternal liberation. Thanks be to God who gave his Church this gift. You are about to come to the holy fountain; you will be washed by baptism; you will be renewed by the bath of regeneration; and you will be without sin when you come up out of that bath. All those past things that were pursuing you will be destroyed there. Your sins were like the Egyptians following, pursuing, the Israelites, but only up to the Red Sea. What does that mean: up to the Red Sea? Up to the fountain of Christ consecrated by the cross and blood of Christ. What is red makes red…. If you see the cross, notice the blood, too. If you see what is hanging there, notice what is flowing. The side of Christ was pierced by a lance and our price flowed out. Baptism is marked with the mark of Christ, that is, the water by which you were dyed and as it were passed through the Red Sea. Your sins are your enemies. They follow you, but only up to the sea. When you will enter that sea, you will escape and those sins will be destroyed, just as while the Israelites were escaping on to dry land, water covered the Egyptians. And what does Scripture say? “Not one of them remained” (Ps 105[106]: 11). Whether you sinned many times or sinned few times, whether you sinned greatly or sinned slightly: not even the least of them remains.

But because our victory is in this world, where no one lives without sin, the forgiveness of sins does not consist only in the washing of sacred Baptism, but also in the daily Lord’s Prayer that you will receive in eight days. In that prayer you will find as it were your daily baptism, and you will give thanks to God who gave this gift to his Church, the one we confess in the Symbol when, after saying “holy Church,” we add: ‘the forgiveness of sins.” (Augustine, Sermon 215, 8, PL 38, 1065)

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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)

April 18, 2019

“I have given you an example”

To the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” Augustine often linked the statement in the First Epistle of St. John, “If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). If we are to say that prayer every day, then every day we must have something that needs to be forgiven. The same realistic assessment underlies the passage below where the second part of that petition (“as we forgive our debtors”) is here found to be part of the symbolic meaning of Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples, part of that of which Christ gave us an example at the Last Supper.

But besides this moral interpretation of the passage, we remember how we drew to your attention the greatness of this act of the Lord’s: we said that, in washing the feet of disciples who were already washed and clean, the Lord was instituting a sign. Because of the human feelings that occupy us on earth, however far we may have advanced in achieving righteousness, we might know that we are not exempt from sin, which He washes away by interceding for us when we pray the Father in heaven to forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.

What connection, then, can such an understanding of the passage have with the one he himself gave when he explained the reason for his act in the words, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you”? Can we say that even a brother may cleanse a brother from the contagion of his sin? Yes indeed; we know that the deep significance of this deed of the Lord also admonishes us to confess our faults to one another and to pray for one another, just as Christ also intercedes for us. Let us listen to the Apostle James, who states this precept with the greatest clearness when he says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another” (Jam 5:16). Of this also the Lord gave us the example. For if He who neither has, nor had, nor will have any sin, prays for our sins, how much more ought we to pray for one another’s in turn! And if He forgives us, whom we have nothing to forgive; how much more ought we, who are unable to live here without sin, to forgive one another! For what else does the Lord apparently intimate in the profound significance of this sacramental, when He says, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you,” but what the apostle states in very plain terms, “Forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against someone: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you” (Col 3:13)?

Let us therefore forgive one another’s faults, and pray for one another’s faults, and thus in a way we will be washing one another’s feet. Our part, by His grace, is to provide this ministry of love and humility; God’s part is to hear us, and to cleanse us from all the pollution of our sins through Christ, and in Christ; so that what we forgive to others, that is, what we loose on earth may be loosed in heaven (see Mt 18:18). (Tractate on John 58, 5)

April 17, 2019

Weeds everywhere

Augustine often spoke of the Church of this age as a corpus permixtum, a mixed body, and he made full use of parables and images from the Scriptures to illustrate and prove that it will only be in the next age that the Church will be “without stain or wrinkle.” The Church now is the harvesting floor where wheat and chaff lie together before the threshing begins; it is the net that is being hauled toward shore, in which good fish and bad swim alongside one another until they can be distinguished on land; and it is the field in which both wheat and weeds are growing until the harvesters will separate them (see Mt 13:24-30, 36-43). And there is no group in the Church that is without this mixture, something we have learned all too well in recent years.

Where has the enemy not sown weeds? Where has he not found wheat and not strewn it with weeds? Has he sown only among lay people and not among the clergy or among bishops? Has he sown only among married men and not among the chaste professed? Has he sown only among married women and not among nuns? Has he sown only in the homes of lay people, and not in congregations of monks? The enemy has strewn seed everywhere, sowed everywhere–where has he left seed not mixed with weeds?

But, thank God, the one who has deigned to separate cannot err–your charity is not hidden from him. Weeds are found in the loftiest, most exalted harvest, even in the professed life weeds are found, and you say, “Even there wicked people are found, even in that congregation there are wicked people!” But the wicked will not reign forever with the good. Why are you surprised that you have found bad people in a holy place? Don’t you know that in paradise the first sin was disobedience, and an angel fell because of it? Did that stain heaven? Adam fell, and did that stain paradise? One of the sons of Noah fell, and did that stain the home of the just one? Judas fell, and did that stain the choir of Apostles?

Sometimes by human judgment some are thought to be wheat who in fact are weeds, and some are thought weeds who in fact are wheat. And because these things are hidden, the Apostle says: “Do not judge before the time, until the Lord comes and casts light on things hidden in darkness, and he will reveal the thoughts of the heart, and then there will be praise for each one from God” (1 Cor 4:5). Human praise passes: sometimes a person praises a bad man and doesn’t know it; sometimes he accuses a holy man, and doesn’t know it. May God forgive those who do not know, and come to the aid of those who are toiling. (Ser 73A, 1.5,3)

April 16, 2019

Seeking because found

His mercy saw you before you knew him, when you were still lying under sin. Did we first seek Christ, or did he seek us first? Did we in our illness go to the Physician, or did he come to the sick? Wasn’t that sheep lost, and didn’t the shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and seek and find it and joyfully carry it back on his shoulders? Wasn’t that coin lost, and didn’t the woman light a lamp and search through her house until she found it? And when she had found it, she said to her neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I lost.” In the same way we were lost like that sheep, lost like that coin…. We were sought so that we might be found, and it is because we were found that we are speaking. There is no pride in this because before we were found, we would have been lost if we had not been sought…. We are seeking you lest you be lost. We are seeking you because we were sought. We want to find you because we were found. (Tr. in Ioannis Evang., v, 12; PL 35, 1448)

A major theme in Augustine is that of seeking in order to find, finding in order to seek, but here it’s his (our) being sought and found that inspires the Christian imperative and motivates his ministry. “We seek you because we were found.” Another way of expressing that the imperatives that ought to drive our Christian hearts are immediate implications of the indicatives that state what we have received. How can those shown mercy not show mercy? How can those sought and found not seek in order to find?

Perhaps you know Pascal’s variation on the theme in the fragment in which he has Christ say: “You would not have sought me if you had not already found me.” I’m not sure that Augustine would have put it that way, but I would love to be a bug on the wall as Pascal and he talk with one another about it. I think they might have agreed that to begin to seek God is already the work of God’s grace. It’s somewhat like when Augustine says that to cry out from the depths–De profoundis–is already to begin to rise….

April 15, 2019

Love and labor

Filed under: Lent with St. Augustine — Tags: , , , — komonchak @ 9:43 am

Augustine has many places where he contrasts doing things out of love to doing them, or not doing them, out of fear, and he considers love and fear to be in inverse proportion: the more you fear the less you love; the more you love the less you fear. Here the contrast is between love and labor or toil, the more you love the less you feel it burdensome; and love can even bring you to the point that you love even the toil, the effort. Lovers, he said, find easy what those who do not love find difficult or burdensome. Notice, once again, that living the Christian life is supposed to be something one may, and should, delight in.

So far from being burdensome, the labors of lovers themselves give delight, as, for example, the labors of hunters or fowlers or fishermen or vintners or businessmen or people playing a game. For when it comes to something loved, either there is no labor or the labor itself is loved. And think how shameful and painful it would be if one were to delight in capturing a wild animal or in filling one’s cask or sack or in throwing a ball, but not delight in gaining God. (De bono viduitatis, 21, 26)

I wonder whether St. Thomas Aquinas had a text like this in mind when he gave very down-to-earth explanations of two statements of St. Paul: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 1:20), and, “For me, to live is Christ” (Ph 1:21). He noted that people use expressions like, “That’s his whole life” or “She lives for that,” referring to the primary motive and goal of all their activities, and he used the example of hunters living to hunt or of people living to study. Brought up on spiritual authors who found deep mystical significance in those two Pauline statements, so deep I could not discover it in myself, I found Aquinas’s explanation wonderfully concrete, illuminating, and comforting.

April 13, 2019

Our Physician’s art

A doctor’s care is to make people healthy, so this medical care is for the healing and restoration of sinners. Surgeons, when they bind up wounds, don’t do it carelessly but carefully, so that the bandages are trim as well as useful. In the same way, the healing art of Wisdom, in assuming our humanity, adapted himself to our wounds, curing some of them by their opposites, some of them by their likes. A doctor treating bodily wounds in some cases applies contraries, as cold to hot, moist to dry, etc., and in other cases applies likes, as a round bandage to a round wound, or an oblong one to an oblong wound, and does not fit the same bandage to all limbs, but puts like to like. In the same way the Wisdom of God in healing man has applied himself to his cure, being himself healer and healing art, both in one. Seeing, then, that man fell through pride, He restored him through humility. We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent: we are freed by the foolishness of God. Just as the former was called wisdom, but was in reality folly in those who despised God, so the latter is called folly but is true wisdom in those who overcome the devil. We used our immortality so badly as to incur the penalty of death: Christ used His mortality so well as to restore us to life. The disease was brought in through a woman’s corrupted soul: the remedy came through a woman’s virginal body. To the same class of opposite remedies it belongs, that our vices are cured by the example of His virtues.

On the other hand, the following are, as it were, bandages made in the same shape as the limbs and wounds to which they are applied: He was born of a woman to deliver us who fell through a woman. He came as a man to save men, as a mortal to save mortals, by death to save the dead. And those who can follow out the matter more fully … will find many other points of instruction in considering the remedies, whether opposites or likes, employed in the healing art of Christianity. (De doctrina christiana, I, 13; PL 34, 24)

My great-great-grandfather Charles Partridge was a Spiritualist, so fervent a believer that the dead communicate with the living that he founded a weekly newspaper, The Spiritual Telegraph, to spread the news about the new dispensation he believed was dawning in the mid-1850’s. He was also a very successful businessman, running the largest match-factory in New York City and intensely interested in the latest scientific and technological advances of his day, while also championing most of the humanitarian causes then stirring society. His spiritualist leanings also led him to give a hearing to proponents and practitioners of homeopathic medicine. I thought of him while reading this passage from Augustine where both allopathic and homeopathic remedies are evoked in order to explain the healing art of the great Physician of souls. Edmond Hill’s translation of the De doctrina christiana even uses “homeopathic” in his version of these paragraphs.

April 12, 2019

Giving and not losing

Filed under: Lent with St. Augustine — Tags: , , , — komonchak @ 8:40 am

Augustine commented often on the goods that are not diminished when they are shared. We could think of the spontaneity with which we might, on seeing something beautiful, exclaim to others, “Look! How beautiful!”–and our delight is even increased when it is shared. I once visited the Taj Mahal all alone, and yearned for someone with whom to share the extraordinary experience.

There are things that do not decrease when they are given away, and when they are possessed and not given away, they are not possessed in the way they should be. The Lord said, “To the one who has more will be given” (Mt 13:12). He will give to those who have, then, and if they use with generosity what they have received, he will fill them and heap up what he has given. There were only five or seven loaves before they began to be given to the hungry; but when that began to happen, the disciples filled bushels enough to satisfy thousands of people. (De doctrina christiana, I, 1; PL 34, 20)

April 11, 2019

Another inner sense

As we’ve seen before, Augustine was one of the originators of the idea that there are spiritual senses analogous to those of the body. Here he brings in the sense of taste.

“How great and multiple is your sweetness, Lord!” (Ps 30[31] If a wicked man asks, “Where is this multiple sweetness?” I will reply, “How am I to show this multiple sweetness to you who by the fever of wickedness have lost a palate for it? If you didn’t know honey, you wouldn’t know how sweet it is unless you had tasted it. You don’t have the palate of the heart to taste these good things.” (EnPs 30/2, 6)

Perhaps we’ve all had the experience of losing our sense of taste or smell because of a bad cold or fever. Augustine is once again closely associating the objective and the subjective, but insisting that one cannot sense what really, objectively, is sweet unless one has a healthy, sensitive palate. Bernard Lonergan used to say that “objectivity is self-transcending subjectivity,” and something like that is what is at stake here.

April 10, 2019

Love as the great dividing line

“In this are manifested the children of God and the children of the devil: Whoever is not righteous is not from God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). Now it is clear what he is saying: “And he who does not love his brother.” Only love distinguishes God’s children from the devil’s. They may all sign themselves with the sign of Christ’s cross; they may all answer, “Amen”; they may all sing, “Alleluia!” ; they may all be baptized they may all enter the Church’ they may all build the walls of churches, but God’s children are distinguished from the devil’s only by charity. Those who have charity are born of God; those who don’t have it are not born of God. A great proof, a great dividing line! Have whatever you want, but if you lack this one thing, it’s no use to you; if you don’t have other things, have this thing and you have fulfilled the law. “Anyone who loves another, fulfills the law,” the Apostle says, “and love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rm 12:8, 10). I think this is that precious pearl that the Gospel describes a merchant as seeking; he finds a single pearl and sells everything he has and buys it (Mt 13:46). This is the precious pearl: charity, without which whatever you have is no use to you, but if you have only it, it is enough for you. Now you see by faith; then you will see by sight. If we love while we do not see him, how much more shall we embrace him when we see him! But where must we exercise ourselves? In fraternal love. You can say to me, “I don’t see God,” but can you ever tell me, “I don’t see other human beings”? Love your brother or sister. And if you love the brother whom you see, you will see God at the same time, because you will see charity itself, and God dwells within. (Sermons on I John, 5, 7; PL 35, 2016)

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