Sermon 191

 St. Augustine


Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, the true Sun of Justice, so shone upon the earth as not to leave the heavens, remaining there eternally, but coming hither for a time; there determining the everlasting day, here enduring the day of humanity; there living perpetually without the passage of time, here dying in time without the inroads of sin; there remaining in life without end, here freeing our life from the destruction of death. There He enkindles the minds of angels with the fiery splendor of His majesty; here He determines the lives and characters of men. There light is received which no one extinguishes by sin; here Man is born who clearly defines all sin. There God is with God; here He is God and Man. There He is Light of Light; here, the Light which enlightens every man. There by a word He spreads out the heavens; here He shows a way of reaching the heavens. There with His Father He confirmed the mystery of His nativity; here He formed His human members in His Mother. There sitting at the right hand of the Father, here lying in a manger; there feeding the angels, here on earth a hungry Child; there unfailing Bread with perfect powers, here, along with speechless children, needing the nourishment of milk; there doing good, here suffering evil; there never dying, here rising after death and bestowing eternal life on mortals. God became man so that man might become God. The Lord took the form of a servant so that man might be turned to God. The Founder and Inhabitant of heaven dwelt upon earth so that man might rise from earth to heaven.[1]


(1) The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born In time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day [set aside] for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father, He existed before all the cycles of ages; bora of an earthly Mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day. The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Grape,[2] might be crowned with thorns; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die. To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who 'existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits. Begotten by the Father, He was not made by the Father; He was made Man in the Mother whom He Himself had made, so that He might exist here for a while, sprung from her who could never and nowhere have existed except through His power.


Thus the prediction of the Psalmist was fulfilled: Truth is sprung out of the earth.'[3] Mary, a virgin before conception, remained a virgin after childbirth. Far be it that in this earth, that is, in the flesh out of which Truth has sprung, integrity should be marred. Indeed, after His Resurrection, when He was thought to be merely a spirit and not actually corporeal, He said: 'Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.'[4] Nevertheless, the substance of His mature body passed through closed doors to His disciples.[5] Why, then, could He, who as a grown man was able to enter through closed portals, not pass through incorrupt members as an infant? To neither the one nor the other of these marvels do unbelievers wish to give their assent. Therefore, faith believes both, because infidelity believes neither. In truth, this is that type of unbelief which sees no divinity in Christ. Furthermore, if faith believes that God was born in the flesh, it does not doubt that the two miracles are possible to God, namely, that though the doors of the house were closed, He manifested His mature body to those within the house, and that as an infant He came forth, a spouse from His bride-chamber, that is, from the virginal womb, leaving His Mother's integrity inviolate.[6]


(2) The only-begotten Son of God deigned to take upon Himself a human nature drawn from a virgin so that He might thus link a spotless Church to Himself, its spotless Founder. In doing so He not only thought of virgins undefiled in body, but He also desired that, in that Church which the Apostle Paul calls a virgin, the minds of all should be undefiled. Tor I betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ.'[7] The Church, therefore, imitating the Mother of her Lord in mind, though not in body, is both mother and virgin. Since the virginity of His Mother was in no way violated in the birth of Christ, He likewise made His Church a virgin by ransoming her from the fornication of demons. You holy virgins, born of her undefiled virginity, who, scorning earthly nuptials, have chosen to be virgins in the flesh, rejoice now and celebrate with all solemnity the fecundity of the Virgin on this day. The Lord was, indeed, born of a woman, but He was conceived in her without man's co-operation. He who has offered to you this blessing of virginity to cherish did not deprive His Mother of that gift. Far be it that He who repairs in you the harm wrought by Eve should even in the slightest degree mar in His Mother Mary that virginity which you have prized.


(3) She in whose footsteps you are following had no human intercourse when she conceived; she remained a virgin when she brought forth her child. Imitate her as far as you can, not in her fecundity, because this is not in your power, but in the preservation of your virginity. She alone enjoyed both prerogatives; you have chosen one of them and you lose this one if you desire to possess both. She alone could be both virgin and mother because she brought forth the omnipotent Lord by whose power she thus miraculously conceived. It was fitting that the only-begotten Son of God alone should become the Son of Man in this way. Nevertheless, the fact that Christ is the Son of only one virgin does not preclude any relation between you and Him. Indeed, you have gained as the spouse of your heart Him whom you could not bring forth as your child in the flesh. He is a spouse whom your joy so cherishes as a redeemer that your virginity does not shrink from Him in fear of violation. For He who did not deprive His Mother of virginity by actual child-bearing preserves that virginity in you to a much greater degree in His spiritual embrace. Do not consider yourselves sterile because you remain virgins, for that holy integrity of the flesh conduces to fertility of the soul. Do as the Apostle directs. Since you do not ponder over the things of the world, wondering how you may please husbands, think about the things of the Lord and consider how you can please Him in all respects,[8] so that you may have offspring, not of the flesh, but of the soul, that is, of virtues. Finally, I address all here present; I speak to all; I include in my exhortations the whole Church, that chaste virgin whom the Apostle speaks of as espoused to Christ.[9] 9 Do, in the inner chambers of your soul, what you view with amazement in the flesh of Mary. He who believes in his heart unto justice conceives Christ; he who with his mouth makes profession of faith unto salvation brings forth Christ.[10] 10 Thus, in your souls, let fertility abound and virginity be preserved.

[1] This extended exordium is prefixed to this sermon in several manu-

scripts. Although its rather monotonous succession of balanced phrases

seems to indicate the work of an assiduous disciple of St. Augustine,

the content, vocabulary, and style resemble the other sermons so

closely that it has been included here on the supposition that it may

have been an unfinished preliminary sketch by St. Augustine.

[2] This metaphor by which Christ is represented under the imagery of the grape is developed at greater length in a previous sermon (137.13) , wherein St. Augustine says that the grapes referred to in 'Numquid colligunt de spinis uvas' (Matt, 7.16.) are the words of truth issuing from the Pharisees in spite of the obstacles arising from their perverse deeds. In the present passage St. Augustine applies the same figure to the Word of God who was thwarted and opposed by the Pharisees.


[3] Ps. 84.12.

[4] Luke 24.39.

[5] Cf. John 20.19.

[6] Cf. Ps. 18.6.

[7] 2 Cor. 11.2.

[8] Cf. 1 Cor, 7.32-35.

[9] Cf. 2 Cor. 11.2.

[10] Cf. Rom. 10.10.


Adoration of the Shepherds


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