Friday, March 22, 2013

"Catch hold of God’s Lowliness", excerpt of St. Augustine's Sermon 117

This excerpt comes from St. Augustine’s Sermon 117, which is an anti-Arian sermon thought to have been written somewhere between 418 and 420 AD. The sermon in its entirety is an attempt to give a sermon on the relation between the Father and the Son so as to show that the Son is both divine and human. St. Augustine strives in the sermon to explain and come to a deeper understanding of what it means for Christ to be human and divine, and what sort of distinctions will be helpful to make in order to further penetrate into this divine mystery. Near the end of the sermon, St. Augustine strives to make clear that humility is the key to entering into God’s mystery, and humility as an entrance into love, which as always is humility to enter into Love Himself.

Lord and Savior of all mankind, come grant us Your Holy Spirit to guide us in the perfection of holy charity.


“What does He say Himself, after all, to the weak and infirm, so that they may recover that kind of sight and to some extent at least to or brush against the Word through which all things were made? ‘Come to Me, all you who toil and are overburdened, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me; because I am meek and humble of heart’ (Matthew 11:28-29). What is this harangue that the master, the Son of God, the Wisdom of God through whom all things were made, is addressing to us? He is calling the human race, and saying, Come to Me, all you who toil, and learn of Me. You were thinking, no doubt, that the Wisdom of God was going to say, “Learn how I made the heavens and the stars; also, since in me all things, even before they were made, had been numbered how in virtue of their unchangeable ideas even the hairs of your head have been numbered. Is that the sort of thing you were thinking she would say? No; but first this: that I am meek and humble of heart.

“There is what you have got to get hold of, brothers and sisters, and it’s certainly little enough. We are striving for great things; let us lay hold of little things, and we shall be great. Do you wish to lay hold of the loftiness of God? First catch hold of God’s lowliness. Deign to be lowly, to be humble, because God has deigned to be lowly and humble on the same account, yours, not His own. So catch hold of Christ’s humility, learn to be humble, don’t be proud. Confess your infirmity, lie there patiently in the presence of the doctor. When you have caught hold of His humility, you start rising up with Him. Not as though He has to rise, insofar as He is the Word; but it’s you, rather, who do so, so that He may be grasped by you more and more.”

“At first your understanding was very shaky and hesitant; later you come to understand with greater certainty and clarity. It’s not He that is growing, but you that are making progress, and it’s as though He seems to be rising up with you. That’s how it is, brothers and sisters. Trust God’s instructions, and carry them out, and He will give muscle to your understanding. Don’t be presumptuous, and as it were give knowledge priority over God’s instruction, or you will remain full of hot air, instead of solid understanding. Think of a tree; it first seeks out the lowest level, in order to grow up ward; it fixes its roots in the lowly soil, in order to stretch out its topmost branches to the sky. Can it reach upward from anywhere except its humble roots? You, though, wish to comprehend the heights without charity; you are challenging the winds without roots. That’s the way to come crashing down, not to grow. With Christ dwelling in your hearts through faith, be rooted and grounded in love, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”


Theology is primarily a manner of being with God. It is primarily the relational conversation between one’s soul and God. This does not preclude the object of natural reason and natural reflection to which our soul is helped along by the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Nor does this mean that science nor philosophy nor any skill or experience stands apart from our conversation with God, but rather all of these things augment and help our understanding of God.

However, conversation with God is very different from any sort of knowledge we might aspire to attain through intensive study. St. Augustine in trying to explain the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of the Hypostatic Union tells us first. Do you wish to know God? Learn first what Christ has said to us of Himself, I am meek and humble of heart and to take My yoke upon yourselves and learn of Me. We must remember God has revealed His nature in the face and person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that He has revealed Himself as Love. Jesus’ character is meek and humble. If we should ever aspire to know God we are told by Jesus that we must first take upon ourselves His own yoke and character, to become meek and humble, and to rely entirely upon Him.

It is as if Christ were telling us, be patient, let all of your being rest on Me and be refreshed for I am made entirely for you. What comfort is it to mankind that God made Himself according to our need. But so it might be said, “That is impious! We would rather say God made us for Himself, that He constructed the very fabric of humanity so as to find a home in His love!” So it might be said, but the opposite side of this is that Jesus became incarnate for our need, God came down from Heaven to dwell among men for the sake of man. We might add not for His own sake, but in some respect His love is what compelled Him freely to join Himself to our lives at the very heart of every man, woman and child.

He came to show us the way home. That humanity finds itself most human when it turns humbly to its source, God Himself, and learns to live in charity. The situations of live toss us astray, and it is very clear that we have very little control in our lives. Do not be shaken, but rather come to the Physician, lay yourself on the table for Him to examine, and allow Him to lift your burdens by relying on Him with faith and trust.

As we grow in faith and trust and as we speak more with God, we will see ourselves change. Christ will become more and more to us, not as if Christ’s humanity or divinity were changing or becoming ever more glorious, but God’s grace is lifting us upwards so that we might have Christ fully live in our hearts. To expect to come to know God without first acknowledging our sinfulness, our faults, our imperfections, and the overwhelming need with which even the most unknown parts of our soul and mind needs God’s presence is to expect that a tall tree with shallow roots can survive a terrible storm. Even a very small tree with deep roots can survive the storm, much more then let us dedicate ourselves to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in all of our trials to become more humble.

That in humility we might come to know God greater in our hearts, and as we apply our minds to know Him and His creation that we might be inspired with wisdom and understanding.

Let everything have its proper place and time, and let us fully know that Christ always comes first, no matter where we are in our lives. God invites us, saying come to Me, and in Me, you shall have all in all.

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