Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Augustine on the Wedding at Cana, and Miracles in General

If you're preaching Sunday, you might take a look at Augustine's treatment of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11, obviously) in his Tractate 8, available here in the usual wretched NPNF translation.

Among other things, Augustine joins other Church Fathers, such as Tertullian, in reading the story as a refutation of the Docetics.  Jesus is not the semblance of a man, not a disembodied spirit who looks like a man.  He is a man, as fleshy and bloody and any other.  As for the heretics, "their faith is corrupted who prefer a lie to the truth. For these men, who appear to honor Christ in such wise as to deny that He had flesh, do nothing short of proclaiming Him a liar."

There's a lot of good Church-as-Bride-of-Christ stuff here, if (inspired by the Isaiah passage) that's the way you are leaning.  For instance:
Who will make such offerings [as his own life] to his bride? Men may offer to a bride every sort of earthly ornament,—gold, silver, precious stones, houses, slaves, estates, farms,—but will any give his own blood? For if one should give his own blood to his bride, he would not live to take her for his wife. 
But the Lord, dying without fear, gave His own blood for her, whom rising again He was to have, whom He had already united to Himself in the Virgin’s womb. For the Word was the Bridegroom, and human flesh the bride; and both one, the Son of God, the same also being Son of man. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which He became head of the Church, was His bridal chamber: thence He came forth, as a bridegroom from his chamber, 
Augustine also wrestles with the Lord's brusque treatment of his own mother:

What is this?  Did He come to the marriage for the purpose of teaching men to treat their mothers with contempt?

It is, frankly, good to know that the ancients worried about that sort of thing.

It takes Augustine a long time to deal with this question, which is a bad sign in any writer.  He finally concludes that Jesus does not seem to acknowledge Mary in this scene as a way of raising the question of when "his hour" would come, and emphasizing his acknowledgment of her at the Crucifixion:
For then did He recognize her, when that to which she gave birth was a-dying. That by which Mary was made did not die, but that which was made of Mary; not the eternity of the divine nature, but the weakness of the flesh, was dying. .... 
 For while He was God and the Lord of heaven and earth, He came by a mother who was a woman. In that He was Lord of the world, Lord of heaven and earth, He was, of course, the Lord of Mary also; but in that wherein it is said, “Made of a woman, made under the law,” He was Mary’s son. The same both the Lord of Mary and the son of Mary; the same both the Creator of Mary and created from Mary. 
But our favorite part, by far, comes right at the beginning, when he talks about miracles:

The "miracle" indeed of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby He made the water into wine, is not marvellous to those who know that it was God’s doing. 
For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water-pots, which He commanded to be filled with water, the self-same does this every year in vines. For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. 
But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence. And yet it suggests a greater consideration than that which was done in the water-pots. For who is there that considers the works of God, whereby this whole world is governed and regulated, who is not amazed and overwhelmed with miracles? 
If he considers the vigorous power of a single grain of any seed whatever, it is a mighty thing, it inspires him with awe. But since men, intent on a different matter, have lost the consideration of the works of God, by which they should daily praise Him as the Creator, God has, as it were, reserved to Himself the doing of certain extraordinary actions, that, by striking them with wonder, He might rouse men as from sleep to worship Him. 
A dead man has risen again; men marvel: so many are born daily, and none marvels. If we reflect more considerately, it is a matter of greater wonder for one to be who was not before, than for one who was to come to life again. Yet the same God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, doeth by His word all these things; and it is He who created that governs also.
In other words:  we are surrounded by miracles.  The pity is that, because there are so many and they take place so often, we do not recognize them.  So God occasionally works another one, one that we cannot miss, just to inspire our faith.  But, really, seeds are miracles, the rain is a miracle, babies are miracles, all just as much as the hocus-pocus with the water or that business with Lazarus.

1 comment:

mark said...

Check out pp. 11-12 of the story "The
Widow's Mite" by Ferrol Sams, where the
narrator feels his folksy hermeneutics are
given insufficient credit by his pastor (with
a wonderful example of turning water into
grape juice at Cana). "Every time I would . . .
go by his office, which he called it his study
(that comes from going to the Seminary, too,
in my opinion) to discuss the way I personally
was interpreting something I'd read in the
Bible, he'd wind up rolling his eyes extra patient
like and saying, "Whatever" . . .