Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine of Hippo

“But wait,” says the Lord, “do not jump to conclusions. I have given human beings the power to behave well, but they do so by my enabling, not from any goodness of their own. Of themselves, they are bad. When they act wrongly they are children of men; when well, they are my children.” This is what God brings about. He transforms children of men into the children of God because he made the Son of God become the Son of Man. Look what our participation in him means: we have been promised a share in his divinity, but he would be deceiving us if he had not first become a sharer in our mortality. The Son of God was made a sharer in our mortal nature so that mortals might become sharers in his godhead. Having promised to communicate his goodness to you he first communicated with you in your badness, he who promised you divinity first showed you charity.” Exposition of Psalm 52.6 (V3.36-37).

In this homiletically stirring passage, Augustine speaks to one of his favorite themes: the wonderous exchange; that God the Son became human so that we could become children of God.

A few observations: 

  1. Augustine grounds his understanding of virtuous human action in the person and work of Christ. Because the Son of God has become the Son of man, sharing our nature so that we could share in his Godhead, those who are Children of God grow in charity through and in Jesus Christ. 
  2. The motif of Children of men and Children of God seems to have Augustine’s two City idea in the background. When we become participators in Christ, being transferred to the City of God, we learn through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to live and behave well. We first see Christ’s Charity in his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and then receive the love of God in the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and in this humans are made Children of God and are brought into the school of Christ. 
  3. Several Scripture verses are in the background of this passage. Here are the ones I picked up on: 
    • John 1:12-13: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
    • John 1:14 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
    • 2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
  4. Augustine does not clarify what it means to ‘participate’ or ‘share in his godhead,’ but it seems that it is not some kind of absorption into the divine. Rather, he seems to mean that the power and love of God are communicated in Christ (and implicitly in through the Holy Spirit) so that the Children of God can be just that, Children of God. To be a child is to be other than the parent. Christian life and thus Christian behavior and belief are grounded in Christ, and united to Christ, but not absorbed into Christ We are children of God united to Jesus Christ as his body. To use one of Augustine’s favorite themes: Totus Christus (the Whole Christ). I will conclude with an example of this from the Exposition of the Psalms: 

“Christ is both head and body, we must not think ourselves alien to Christ since we are his members. Nor must we think of ourselves separate from him, because they will be two in one flesh. This is a great mystery, says the apostle, but I am referring to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32). Since then, the whole Christ Consists of head and body we must understand that we too are included in David… Christ’s members must have this understanding, and Christ must understand in the persons of his members, and the members of Christ must understand in Christ, because the head and members form one Christ. The head was in heaven when he insistently asked, Why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4). Through Hope, we are with him in heaven, and through Charity, he is with us on earth.” (3.54).

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