Sermon 188

 St. Augustine

(1) It is not at all strange that human consideration and human speech are inadequate when we undertake to praise the Son of God, the Word of God and God Himself, the Life and Light of men, as He exists in the bosom of the Father, equal to and co-eternal with Him in whom all things visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth, were established. For how would our tongue be able to pay suitable tribute to Him whom our heart, destined by God to be the instrument by which He is to be seen, as yet cannot see, if iniquity would be purged, weakness be healed, and the clean, of heart become blessed because they will see God?[1] 1 It is not strange, I say, for us to fail to find words in which to speak of the Word by whom the word was spoken which gave being to us who would now say something about Him. For our mind brings words into existence after they have been thought over and formed, but our mind itself is formed by the Word. Nor does man fashion words in the same way in which man was made by the Word, because the Father Himself did not beget His only Word in the same way in which He made all things through the Word. For God begot God, but the Begettor and the Begotten are one and the same God. Moreover, God made the world but the world passes while God remains. Although these things which were made certainly did not make themselves, He by whom all things were made was made by no one. It is not strange, then, that man, one of those created things, does not know how to discuss the Word by whom all things were made.


( 2 ) Let us direct our ears and minds to this consideration for a little while to see if, by any chance, we can say something suitable and worthy, not by reason of the fact that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God,' but because 'the Word was made flesh'; to see if, by chance, something adequate may be expressed by us because He 'dwelt among us';[2] or if, perchance, He may be satisfactorily discussed there where He wished to be seen. For these reasons we celebrate this day on which He deigned to be born of a virgin, a generation which He Himself caused to be narrated by men. But 'who shall declare his generation'[3] in that eternity in which God was born of God? Such a day set apart for solemn celebration does not exist in eternity, for the day in eternity does not pass, destined to return with the revolving year; it remains without a setting because it began without a rising. Therefore, the only-begotten Word of God, the Life and Light of men, is indeed the Eternal Day, but this day on which, joined to human flesh, He became, as it were, a 'bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber'[4] 4 is our today and passes as tomorrow becomes yesterday. Nevertheless, our today commends the Eternal Day born of the Virgin because the Eternal Day born of the Virgin consecrated this day. What praises shall we voice, what thanks shall we give for the charity of God who so loved us that for us He by whom all time was made became Man in time; that He, in His eternity more ancient than the world, became inferior in age to many of His servants in the world; that He who made man became Man; that He was formed in the Mother whom He Himself formed, carried in the hands which He made, nourished at the breasts which He filled; that, in the manger in mute infancy, He the Word without whom all human eloquence is mute wailed?


(3) Consider, O man, what God became for your sake; understand this lesson of surpassing humility presented by a teacher who, as yet, says no word. Once, in paradise,[5] you were so eloquent that you named every living thing; for your sake, however, your Creator lay speechless and did not even call His Mother by her name. By disregarding obedience, you have lost yourself in the tractless reaches of fruitful groves; He, in obedience, came into the very narrow confines of mortality so that by dying He might seek you who were dead. Though you were man, you wished to be God, to your own destruction; though He was God, He wished to be man that He might find what He had lost. Human pride brought you to such a depth that only divine humility could raise you up again.


Therefore, let us celebrate with joy the day on which Mary brought forth the Saviour; on which the one joined in marriage brought forth the Creator of the union, and a virgin, the Prince of virgins; on which one given to a husband is a mother not by that husband, since she was a virgin before marriage and in marriage, a virgin when with child and when nursing her child. The birth of her omnipotent Son detracted in no way from the virginity of holy Mary, whom He Himself chose when He contemplated the assumption of human nature. Fertility is a blessing in marriage, but integrity in holiness is better. Therefore, the Man Christ who was able to furnish both prerogatives to His Mother (for He was God as well as Man) would never have granted to His Mother the blessing in which wives delight in such a way as to deprive her of the better gift for which virgins forego motherhood. And so, the holy Church, as a virgin, celebrates today the child-bearing of a virgin. For to the Church the Apostle says: 'I have betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ.'[6] Why, addressing so many persons of both sexes, including not only youths and maidens but also married men and women, does he say a chaste virgin'? Why is this, I repeat, unless he refers to the integrity of faith, hope, and charity? Hence, Christ, intending to establish virginity in the heart of the Church, preserved it first in the body of Mary, In human marriage, a woman is given to her husband so that she may no longer be a virgin; but the Church could not be a virgin, unless she had first found the Son of the Virgin as a spouse to whom she might be given.



[1] Cf. Matt. 5.8.

[2] John 1.1,14.

[3] Isa. 53.8.

[4] Ps. 18.6.

[5] Cf. Gen. 2.19-21; 3.

[6] 2 Cor. 11.2.



Adoration of the Shepherds


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