The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Augustine’s Homily on 1 John 1:1-4

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 24, 2011

This is part of a longer homily which encompasses 1 Jn 1:1-2:11. Text in red are my additions.

“That which was from the beginning. which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1).  Who is he that with hands doth handle the Word. except because “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us “? Now this Word which was made flesh that it might be handled, began to be flesh, of the Virgin Mary: but not then began the Word, for the Apostle saith, “That which was from the beginning.” See whether his epistle does not bear witness to his gospel, where ye lately heard, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (John 1:1).  Perchance, “Concerning the word of life” on may take as a sort of expression concerning Christ, not the very body of Christ which was handled with hands. See what follows: “And the Life was manifested.” Christ therefore is “the word of life.” And whereby manifested? For it was “from the beginning,” only not manifested to men: but it was manifested to angels, who saw it and fed on it as their bread. But what saith the Scripture “Man did eat angels’ bread” (Ps 78:25) Well then “the Life was manifested” in the flesh; because it exhibited in manifestation, that that which can be seen by the heart only, should be seen by the eyes also, that it might heal the hearts. For only by the heart is the Word seen: but the flesh is seen by the bodily eyes also. We had wherewith to see the flesh, but had not wherewith to see the Word: “the Word was made flesh,” which we might see, that so that in us might be healed wherewith we might see the Word.

“And we have seen and are witnesses” (1 Jn 1:2). Perhaps some of the brethren who are not acquainted with the Greek do not know what the word “witnesses” is in Greek: and yet it is a term much used by all, and had in religious reverence; for what in our tongue we call “witnesses,” in Greek are “martyrs.” Now where is the man that has not heard of martyrs, or where the Christian in whose mouth the name of martyrs dwelleth not every day and would that it so dwelt in the heart also, that we should imitate the sufferings of the martyrs, not persecute them with our cups! (see note at end of post) Well then, “We have seen and are witnesses,” is as much as to say, We have seen and are martyrs. For it was for bearing witness of that which they had seen, and bearing witness of that which they had heard from them who had seen, that, while their testimony itself displeased the men against whom it was delivered, the martyrs suffered all that they did suffer. The martyrs are God’s witnesses. It pleased God to have men for His witnesses, that men also may have God to be their witness. “We have seen,” saith he, “and are witnesses.” Where have they seen? In the manifestation. What meaneth, in the manifestation? In the sun, that is, in this light of day. And how should He be seen in the sun who made the sun, except as “in the sun He hath set His tabernacle; and Himself t as a bridegroom going forth out of his chamber, exulted as a giant to run His course?” (Ps 19:4-5).  He before the sun (see Ps 110:3) who made the sun, He before the day-star, before all the stars, beforeall angels, the true Creator, (“for all thingswere made by Him, and without Him was nothing made,”) that He might be seen by eyes of flesh which see the sun, set His very tabernacle in the sun, that is, showed His flesh in manifestation of this light of day: and that Bridegroom’s chamber was the Virgin’s womb, because in that virginal womb were joined the two, the Bridegroom and the bride, the Bridegroom the Word, and the bride the flesh; because it is written, “And they twain shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24); and the Lord saith in the Gospel, “Therefore they are no more twain but one flesh (Matt 19:6).  And Esaias (Isaiah) remembers right well that they are two: for speaking in the person of Christ he saith, “He hath set a mitre upon me as upon a bridegroom, and adorned me with an ornament as a bride” (Isa 61:10). One seems to speak, yet makes Himself at once Bridegroom and Bride; because “not two, but one flesh:” because “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us.” To that flesh the Church is joined, and so there is made the whole Christ, Head and body.

 “And we are witnesses, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us:” i.e., manifested among us: which might be more plainly expressed, manifested to us. “The things,” therefore, “which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you” (1 Jn 1:3). Those saw the Lord Himself present in the flesh, and heard words from the mouth of the Lord, and told them to us. Consequently we also have heard, but have not seen. Are we then less happy than those who saw and heard? And how does he add, “That ye also may have fellowship with us”? Those saw, we have not seen, and yet we are fellows; because we hold the faith in common. For there was one who did not believe even upon seeing, and would needs handle, and so believe, and said, “I will not believe except I thrust my fingers into the place of the nails, and touch His scars” (John 20:25-29).  And He did give Himself for a time to be handled by the hands of men, who always giveth Himself to be seen by the sight of the angels; and that disciple did handle, and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God!” Because he touched the Man, he confessed the God. And the Lord, to console us who, now that He sitteth in heaven, cannot touch Him with the hand, but only reach Him with faith, said to him, “Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe. We are here described, we designated. Then let the blessedness take place in us, of which the Lord predicted that it should take place; let us firmly hold that which we see not; because those tell us who have seen. “That ye also,” saith he, “may have fellowship with us.” And what great matter is it to have fellowship with men? Do not despise it; see what he adds: “and our fellowship may be with God the Father, and Jesus Christ His Son. And these things, “saith he, “we write unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1:4). Full joy he means in that fellowship, in that charity, in that unity.

NOTE:  we should imitate the sufferins of the Martyrs, not persecute them with our cups. A difficult Lain phrase is used here (Non calcibus persequamur) and translators have proposed different renderings. The phrasing used is similar to what is found in the last line of the Saint’s exposition of Psalm 60~Where are now the enemies of the Martyrs, except perchance that now drunken men with their cups do persecute (modò eos ebriosi calicibus persequuntur) those whom at that time frenzied men did use with stones to persecute? St Augustine, in saying we should imitate the sufferings of the Martyrs, not persecute them with out cups! seems to have in mind those Christians who were using the memorial day’s of the Martyrs to engage in “wantonness.” In his exposition of Psalm 70 he writes: There is then in this Psalm the voice of men troubled, and so indeed of Martyrs amid sufferings in peril, but relying on their own Head. Let us hear them, and speak with them out of sympathy of heart, though it be not with similarity of suffering. For they are already crowned, we are still in peril: not that such sort of persecutions do vex us as have vexed them, but worse perchance in the midsts of all kinds of so great scandals. For our own times do more abound in that woe, which the Lord cried: “Woe to the world because of scandals.” And, “Because iniquity hath abounded, the love of man shall wax cold.” For not even that holy Lot at Sodom suffered corporal persecution from any one, or had it been told him that he should not dwell there: the persecution of him were the evil doings of the Sodomites. Now then that Christ sitteth in Heaven, now that He is glorified, now that necks of kings are made subject to His yoke, and their brows placed beneath His sign, now that not any one remaineth to dare openly to trample upon Christians, still, however, we groan amid instruments and singers, still those enemies of the Martyrs, because with words and steel they have no power, with their own wantonness do persecute them. And O that we were sorrowing for Heathens alone: it would be some sort of comfort, to wait for those that not yet have been signed with the Cross of Christ; when they should be signed, and when, by His authority attached, they should cease to be mad. We see besides men wearing or their brow the sign of Him, at the same time on that same brow wearing the shamelessness of wantonness, and on the days and celebrations of the Martyrs not exulting but insulting. And amid these things we groan, and this is our persecution, if there is in us the love which saith, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I burn not?” Not any servant of God, then, is without persecution: and that is a true saying which the Apostle saith, “But even all men that will to live godly in Christ, shall suffer persecution.”  

 

One Response to “St Augustine’s Homily on 1 John 1:1-4”

  1. […] St Augustine’s Homily on Today’s First Reading (1 John 1:1-4). […]

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