Foliage of Inspiration

Holy Scripture [is] an ‘an immeasurable forest of prophecy.’ This forest is nowhere bare: everywhere there is the same dense foliage of inspiration, and from all the tree-tops of it there rustles the one word, “Christ.”

Frederick van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop

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Foliage of Inspiration

Christmastide (3)

Other feasts than these [Easter, Pentecost] have an altogether different significance. Christmas is of comparatively recent origin. It does not, strictly speaking, commemorate a mystery, but a particularly unique natale, a birthday, and one falling on a specially suggestive day. Augustine knows that it replaces the birthday of Sol Invictus, although the pagan festival was only celebrated at a few places and was originally a particularity of the Roman city calendar. This fact, however, seems to have been widely known in Africa, since Augustine says in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by unbelievers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.” [Sermo 190] He also believes, however, that there is a reliable tradition which gives December 25 as the actual date of the birth of our Lord. According to this same tradition the birth of John the Baptist took place six months before the eighth day before the calends of January, that is, on the eighth day before the calends of July—which means, unfortunately, that it fell on the 24th, and not on the 25th, of June.

Broadly speaking, however, the feast of St. John coincides with the summer solstice and Christmas with the winter solstice. This fact does not particularly disturb the good bishop. He merely points out that as Christmas the days begin to grow longer and on the feast of St. John to grow shorter, a symbol to show that the one had of necessity to become greater, while the other had to grow less.

F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop (292-293)

Christmastide (3)

Christmastide (1)

So that man might eat the Bread of angels the Creator of the angels became man. The angels praise Him by living; we, by believing; they by enjoying, we by seeking; they by obtaining, we by striving to obtain; they by entering, we by knocking.

What human being could know all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ and concealed under the poverty of His humanity? For, “being rich, he became poor for our sake that by his poverty we might become rich.” When He assumed our mortality and overcame death, He manifested Himself in poverty, but He promised riches though they might be deferred; He did not lose them as if they were taken from Him. How great is the multitude of His sweetness which He hides from those who fear Him but which He reveals to those that hope in Him! For we understand only in part until that which is perfect comes to us. To make us worthy of this perfect gift, He, equal to the Father in the form of God, became like to us in the form of a servant, and refashions us into the likeness of God. The only Son of God, having become the Son of Man, makes many sons of men the sons of God; and on these men, reared as servants, with the visible form of servants, He bestows the freedom of beholding the form of God. For we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like to him, for we shall see him just as he is. What, then, are those treasures of wisdom and knowledge? What are those divine riches unless they be that which satisfies our longing? And what is that multitude of sweetness unless it be what fills us? “Show us the Father and it is enough for us.” Furthermore, in one of the psalms, one of our race, either in our name or for our sake, said to Him: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear. But He and the Father are one, and the person who sees Him sees the Father also; therefore, the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory. Turning to us, He will show us His face and “we shall be saved”; we shall be satisfied, and He will be sufficient for us.

Therefore, let our heart speak thus to Him; “I have sought thy countenance; thy face, O Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away thy face from me.” 

St. Augustine, Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity (Sermo 194)

Christmastide (1)