All things considered, she really looks quite good for her age

On Saturday mornings I try to meet with a group of men reading through the church fathers. This past week we read 2 Clement- an ancient Christian sermon. While not the thrust of the sermon, there is a bit of robust ecclesiology:

So then, brothers, if we do the will of God our Father we will belong to the first church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and the moon. . . the Books and the Apostles declare that the church not only exists now, but has been in existence from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as was also Jesus, but was revealed in the last days in order that she might save us.

In the mornings I read from the fathers just for myself. Currently I am working through Origen’s work on Song of Solomon. This week he too got to talking about my mom:

For you must please not think that she is called the Bride or the Church only from the time when the Savior came in the flesh: she is so called from the beginning of the human race and from the very beginning of the human race and from the very foundation of the world—indeed, if I may look for the origin of this high mystery under Paul’s guidance, even before the foundation of the world.

Clement goes on to say that no one can know the marvels God has prepared “for his chosen ones.” Origen immediately quotes from Paul’s overflowing sentence on election and predestination in Ephesians 1. This mixture of an eternal mother and predestination plays out in rather fascinating ways today.

The Orthodox Church believes in an eternal church, but not predestination—man must be free to choose. Plenty of evangelicals believe in predestination, but not an eternal church—Israel and the church must never meet. Speaking broadly, it is only orthodox Reformed congregations that would hold to the teachings of the fathers. Because God has eternally chosen all who will believe, that assembly has existed forever.

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Verse for Christmas: Augustine’s sermon 186

Word made flesh.
Before He was born
All power was his-
Power to remain in the heart of the Father;
Power to be made in the womb of his mother.
Not ceasing to be God
Not changed into flesh.
Word made flesh.
 
Son of God made Son of man.
Taking on something lesser
Not changing from something better
Taking what he was not
Not losing what he was.
 
He himself in form of God
Emptied himself in form of man.
Son of God made David’s son.
Sent by God
Born
Of a woman.
Son of God made son of man.
 
~~
Adapted from Augustine’s sermon 186

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 185

Truth is sprung from the earth.
Truth which enfolds the world
The hands of the Virgin now hold.
Truth which the heavens cannot contain
There in a manger lain.

Righteousness looks down from heaven.
Right, so absent from man.
By his own hand, no commendation.
Believing in Him who was born
The only escape from due damnation.

Righteous by faith,
We have peace with God.
In the kiss of righteous peace
The Son of God made man
That men be made sons of God.

~~~
In sermon 185 Augustine meditates on Psalm 85:11, “Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” This verse is used frequently in Augustine’s Christmas sermons. It vies with a portion of Isaiah 53:8, “Who shall declare his generation;” for place of prominence. In this sermon, Augustine ties Ps. 85:11 with Romans 5:1 using Psalm 85:10. Once made, the connection seems easy and obvious. But only a mind soaked in Scripture would seem likely to make it. It is one reason I marvel at reading the fathers: they had no concordance or computer; only their memory and the Spirit. And their grasp of Scripture shames me.

Verse for Christmas: from Augustine’s sermon 184

Wisdom, let us attend.
Mourn, o proud, seeking the lofty you spurn the lowly
Forgetting it is these that dwell with the Holy.

God of God remaining what He always was
Takes to Himself what we are
Leaving the Father, journeys to country far.

Heaven and angels chant, “He is born!”
Holding all things together by powerful word
His first cries are scarcely heard.

O wondrous humility,
The greatness of God made small.
Christ comes down to save from the fall.

 

 

Augustine Verse for Christmas: Sermon 140

Open our hearts!
Begotten of the Father without time
The Son is made of the Virgin in time
Begotten transcending time
Born filling time
Open our hearts to wonder!

Open our hearts!
Born of the Father, our Maker
Born of the Virgin, our re-Maker
Born of the Father that we might be
Born of Mary that we might not be lost
Open our hearts to praise!

Open our hearts!
God the Father never without the Son
Son born, not made, eternally begotten One
Source with the Father, equality with the Son
God my Father, I his Son, are One
Open our hearts to believe!

~~
From Sermon 140 of Augustine. There is uncertainty about whether this was actually a Christmas sermon-i.e. a sermon preached at Christmas; but the Incarnation is obviously addressed.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; sermon 196. A Christmas poem for daughters

Rejoice, daughter, God is born for you!
Marvel, daughter, God is born for you!
Eternally begotten without a beginning-
Bow in awe, daughter,
God is born for you!

Whether virgin, wedded, or widowed;
He who was in the beginning
Is born for you.

The angel announces
Mary believes
A virgin conceives
God is born for you.

Once barren bride
Carries the prophet
Hails the savior!
God is born for you.

With tears and fastings
A widow of four-score and four
Greets the groom of all the faithful
God is born for you.

He took to Himself what He was not
He remained what He was.
Born in a hovel
Wrapped in cloths
For who?

Word speaking from the Father
Cries wordlessly at His mother
Eternal wisdom grows in knowledge
To suffer
To die
To rise
For who?

Who shall declare His generation?
The Word in the beginning
Is born
Is born, my daughter,
For you.

~~~
Sermon 196 is Augustine’s second Christmas sermon particularly suited to the women in the congregation: the first, being sermon 191.

As a dad with 5 daughters, I appreciate this. As someone who has preached a few sermons, I am admonished by it. Aside from Mother’s Day, there seems to be little direct address to women in most sermons. Augustine, of course, mentions Mary in nearly every Christmas sermon. But merely talking about a woman, even the Virgin, is not enough. Augustine speaks to women: he addresses the birth of Christ to women. However you understand Paul’s command that women are to be silent in the church, it is not a command that they are to be forgotten.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 195

Who shall declare his generation?
Which generation to declare?
The generation of One never not born,
Eternal with the Father?
The generation of One born,
Who made His mother?
How is God born of God
With no increase of Gods?
How is God born of woman
With no aid of man?

Born of the Father,
He creates His mother.
Born of a mother,
He glorifies His Father.
Never born by woman- the eternal Son;
Without embrace from man- born by woman.

Who shall declare His generation?
Maker of the world, comes into the world.
Never absent in power, present in flesh.
Coming in the flesh to cleanse our flesh.
Creator come to heal the world.
Who shall declare his generation?

Giant in strength
Terrible in love
Serene in severity
Remaining at the Father’s side,
Filling His mother’s womb.

Who shall declare his generation?
Eternal One. Born in time.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 189

Day of Day. Light of Light.
Day who shines upon the angels
Light who brightens shore of heaven
Covered in darkness; putting on flesh.

Born of the Virgin:
From whence this wonder?
Mary from Adam
Adam from earth
Adam from earth
Mary from Adam
Truth. Sprung from the earth.
Born of the Virgin.

Truth. Sprung from the earth.
You were sleeping;
It came to you.
You were snoring;
It shook you.
That you would not be lost
Truth made Way to Life.

Truth. Sprung from the earth
He who brought all things into existence;
Brought into existence in the midst of all things is he.
He who made the day-
Coming into the light of day.
Forever, without beginning, with the Father
He has a birthday!
Truth. Sprung from the earth.
Man. Born from heaven.

~~~

Poetic adaptation of Augustine’s sermon 189. From the translation by Thomas Comerford Lawler in vol. 15 of the Ancient Christian Writers series.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas (187b)

O Word of God renewing all things
Neither hemmed in by space
Nor extended by time
                Varied by pause
                Composed of sound
                Ended by silence.

 O Word of God making fruitful
The womb of the mother you chose
Going forth
                Revealing to the eyes of men
                Illumining the mind of angels
                Glorying your Father
                Appearing on earth
                Transcending the heavens.

 O Word of God taking flesh in time
Eternity is thine
O Word of God taking on our form
Emmanuel is born.

~~~

This is the second poem adapted from sermon 187.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas

Adam created. God born.

In innocence you named all creatures
In infancy you cannot speak
You who made time; made in time.

In boundless bliss you plunged us into darkness
Born in night to seek life for him who died
Older by eternity than the world; younger than all who marvel.

Man wishing to be God lost
God wishing to be man found
You who made man; made man.

Pressed down by pride
Exalted in humility
Giving existence to all; given life by the Virgin.

Adam created, God born.

~~~~

The first (and because I am much better at starting than finishing, possibly last) in a series of poetic interpretations of Augustine’s Christmas sermons. For those keeping score at home: this is based on sermon 188 of the Benedictine/Maurist edition; English translation by Thomas Lawler in volume 15 of the Ancient Christian Writers series.