Sermon XXXIV. On the Feast of the Epiphany, IV.
I. The Yearly Observance of the Epiphany is Profitable to Christians.
It is the right and reasonable duty of true piety, dearly-beloved, on
the days which bear witness to the works of Divine mercy, to rejoice with
the whole heart and to celebrate with all honour the things which have
been wrought for our salvation: for the very law of recurring seasons calls
us to such devout observance, and has now brought before us the feast of
the Epiphany, consecrated by the Lord's appearance soon after the clay
on which the Son of God co-eternal with the Father was born of a Virgin.
And herein the providence. of God has established a great safeguard to
our faith, so that, whilst the worship of the Saviour's earliest infancy
is repeated year by year, the production of true man's nature in Him might
be proved by the original verifications themselves. For this it is that
justifies the ungodly, this it is that makes sinners saints, to wit the
belief in the true Godhead and the true Manhood of the one Jesus Christ,
our Lord: the Godhead, whereby being before all ages "in the form of God"
He is equal with the Father: the Manhood whereby in the last days He is
united to Man in the "form of a slave." For the confirmation therefore
of this Faith which was to be fore-armed against all errors, it was a wondrous
loving provision of the Divine plan that a nation which dwelt in the far-off
country of the East and was cunning in the art of reading the stars, should
receive the sign of the infant's birth who was to reign over all Israel.
For the unwonted splendour of a bright new star appeared to the wise men
and filled their mind with such wonder, as they gazed upon its brilliance,
that they could not think they ought to neglect what was announced to them
with such distinctness. And, as the event showed, the grace of God was
the disposing cause of this wondrous thing: who when the whole of Bethlehem
itself was still unaware of Christ's birth, brought it to the knowledge
of the nations who would believe, and declared that which human words could
not yet explain, through the preaching of the heavens.
II. Both Herod and the Wise Men Originally Had an Earthly Conception
of the Kingdom Signified; But the Latter Learnt the Truth, the Former Did
But although it was the office of the Divine condescension to make the
Saviour's Nativity recognizable to the nations, yet for the under standing
of the wondrous sign the wise men could have had intimation even from the
ancient prophecies of Balaam, knowing that it was predicted of old and
by constant repetition spread abroad: "A star shall rise out of Jacob,
and a man shall rise out of Israel, and shall rule the nations1 ." And
so the three men aroused by God through the shining of a strange star,
follow the guidance of its twinkling light, thinking they will find the
babe designated at Jerusalem in the royal city. But finding themselves
mistaken in this opinion, through the scribes and teachers of the Jews
they learnt what the Holy Scripture had foretold of the birth of Christ;
so that confirmed by a twofold witness, they sought with still more eager
faith Him whom both the brightness of the star and the sure word of prophecy
revealed. And when the Divine oracle was proclaimed through the chief priests'
answers and the Spirit's voice declared, which says: "And thou, Bethlehem,
the land of Judah, art not least among the princes of Judah; for out of
thee shall come a leader to rule My people Israel2 ," how easy and how
natural it was that the leading men among the Hebrews should believe what
they taught! But it appears that they held material notions with Herod,
and reckoned Christ's kingdom as on the same level as the powers of this
world: so that they hoped for a temporal leader while he dreaded an earthly
rival. The fear that racks thee, Herod, is wasted; in vain dost thou try
to vent thy rage on the infant thou suspectest. Thy realm cannot hold Christ;
the Lord of the world is not satisfied with the narrow limits of thy sway.
He, whom thou dost not wish to reign in Judaea, reigns everywhere: and
thou wouldst rule more happily thyself, if thou wert to submit to His command.
Why dost thou not do with sincerity what in treacherous falseness thou
dost promise? Come with the wise men, and in suppliant adoration worship
the true King. But thou, from too great fondness for Jewish blindness,
wilt not imitate the nations' faith, and directest thy stubborn heart to
cruel wiles, though thou art doomed neither to stay Him whom thou fearest
nor to harm them whom thou slayest.
III. The Perseverance of the Magi Has Led to the Most Important Results.
Led then, dearly beloved, into Bethlehem by obeying the guidance of
the star, the wise men "rejoiced with very great joy," as the evangelist
has told us: "and entering the house, found the child with Mary, His mother;
and falling down they worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they
presented to Him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh3 ." What wondrous
faith of perfect knowledge, which was taught them not by earthly wisdom,
but by the instruction of the Holy Spirit! Whence came it that these men,
who had quitted their country without having seen Jesus, and had not noticed
anything in His looks to enforce such systematic adoration, observed this
method in offering their gifts? unless it were that besides the appearance
of the star, which attracted their bodily eyes, the more refulgent rays
of truth taught their hearts that before they started on their toilsome
road, they must understand that He was signified to Whom was owed in gold
royal honour, in incense Divine adoration, in myrrh the acknowledgment
of mortality. Such a belief and understanding no doubt, as far as the enlightenment
of their faith went, might have been sufficient in themselves and have
prevented their using their bodily eyes in inquiring into that which they
had beheld with their mind's fullest gaze. But their sagacious diligence,
persevering till they found the child, did good service for future peoples
and for the men of our own time: so that, as it profited us all that the
apostle Thomas, after the Lord's resurrection, handled the traces of the
wounds in His flesh, so it was of advantage to us that His infancy should
be attested by the visit of the wise men. And so the wise men saw and adored
the Child of the tribe of Judah, "of the seed of David according to the
flesh4 ," "made from a woman, made under the law5 ," which He had come
"not to destroy but to fulfil6 ." They saw and adored the Child, small
in size, powerless to help others7 , incapable of speech, and in nought
different to the generality of human children. Because, as the testimonies
were trustworthy which asserted in Him the majesty of invisible Godhead,
so it ought to be impossible to doubt that "the Word became flesh," and
the eter- nal essence of the Son of God took man's true nature: lest either
the inexpressible marvels of his acts which were to follow or the infliction
of sufferings which He had to bear should overthrow the mystery of our
Faith by their inconsistency: seeing that no one at all can be justified
save those who believe the Lord Jesus to be both true God and true Man.
IV. The Manichoean Heresy Corrupts the Scriptures in Order to Disprove
This peerless Faith, dearly-beloved, this Truth proclaimed throughout
all ages, is opposed by the devilish blasphemies of the Manichaeans: who
to murder the souls of the deceived have woven a deadly tissue of wicked
doctrine out of impious and forged lies, and over the ruins of their mad
opinions men have fallen headlong to such depths as to imagine a Christ
with a fictitious body, who presented nothing solid, nothing real to the
eyes and touch of men8 , but displayed an empty shape of fancy-flesh. For
they wish it to be thought unworthy of belief that God the Son of God placed
Himself within a woman's body and subjected His majesty to such a degradation
as to be joined to our fleshly nature and be born in the true body of human
substance although this is entirely the outcome of His power, not of His
ill-treatment, and it is His glorious condescension, not His being polluted
that should be believed in. For if yonder visible light is not marred by
any of the uncleannesses with which it is encompassed, and the brightness
of the sun's rays, which is doubtless a material creature, is not contaminated
by any of the dirty or muddy places to which it penetrates, is there anything
whatever its quality which could pollute the essence of that eternal and
immaterial Light? seeing that by allying Himself to that creature which
He had made after His own image He furnished it with purification and received
no stain, and healed the wounds of its weakness without suffering loss
of power. And because this great and unspeakable mystery of divine Godliness
was announced by all the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, those opponents
of the Truth of which we speak have rejected the law that was given through
Moses and the divinely inspired utterances9 of the prophets, and have tampered
with the very pages of the gospels and apostles, by removing or inserting
certain things: forging for themselves under the Apostles' names and under
the words of the Saviour Himself many volumes of falsehood, whereby to
fortify their lying errors and instil deadly poison into the minds of those
to be deceived. For they saw that everything contradicted and made against
them and that not only by the New but also by the Old Testament their blasphemous
and treacherous folly was confuted. And yet persisting in their mad lies
they cease not to disturb the Church of God with their deceits, persuading
those miserable creatures whom they can ensnare to deny that man's nature
was truly taken by the Lord Jesus Christ; to deny that He was truly crucified
for the world's salvation: to deny that from His side wounded by the spear
flowed the blood of Redemption and the water of baptism10 : to deny that
He was buried and raised again the third day: to deny that in sight of
the disciples He was lifted above all the heights of the skies to take
His seat on the right hand of the Father; and in order that when all the
truth of the Apostles' Creed was destroyed, there may be nothing to frighten
the wicked or inspire the saints with hope, to deny that the living and
the dead must be judged by Christ; so that those whom they have robbed
of the power of these great mysteries may learn to worship Christ in the
sun and moon, and under the name of the Holy Spirit to adore Manichaeus
himself, the inventor of all these blasphemies.
V. Avoid All Dealings with the Heretics, But Intercede with God For
To confirm your hearts therefore, dearly-beloved, in the Faith and Truth,
let to-day's festival help you all, and let the catholic confession be
fortified by the testimony of the manifestation of the Saviour's infancy,
while we anathematize the blasphemy of those who deny the flesh of our
nature in Christ: about which the blessed Apostle John has forewarned us
in no doubtful utterance, saying, "every spirit which confesses Christ
Jesus to have come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit which destroys
Jesus is not of God, and this is Antichrist11 ." Consequently let no Christian
have aught in common with men of this kind, let him have no alliance or
intercourse with such. Let it advantage the whole Church that many of them
in the mercy of God have been discovered, and that their own confession
has disclosed how sacrilegious their lives were. Let no one be deceived
by their discriminations between food and food, by their soiled raiment,
by their pale faces. Fasts are not holy which proceed not on the principle
of abstinence but with deceitful de sign. Let this be the end of their
harming the unwary, and deluding the ignorant; henceforth no one's fall
shall be excusable: no longer must he be held simple but extremely worthless
and perverse who hereafter shall be found entangled in detestable error.
A practice countenanced by the Church and Divinely instituted, not only
do we not forbid, we even incite you to, that you should supplicate the
Lord even for such: since we also with tears and mourning feel pity for
the ruins of cheated souls, carrying out the Apostles' example of loving-kindness12
, so as to be weak with those that are weak and to "weep with those that
weep13 ." For we hope that God's mercy can be won by the many tears and
due amendment of the fallen: because so long as life remains in the body
no man's restoration must be despaired of, but the reform of all desired
with the Lord's help, "who raiseth up them that are crushed, looseth them
that are chained, giveth light to the blind14 :" to whom is honour and
glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Numb. xxiv. 17: cf. Serm. XXXI. chap 2, above.
2 Micah v. 2.
3 S. Matt. ii. 10,11.
4 Rom. i. 3.
5 Gal. iv.
6 S. Matt. v. 17.
7 Alienoe opis indignum.
8 Whatever may be the correct reading here, actionibus
with the better mss. or tactibus the conjecture of Quesnel from the reading
of some mss. actibus, the meaning must be such as is given in the translation.
9 Oracularepresenting the lo/gia of the New Testament
(viz. Acts vii. 38, Rom. iii. 2, &c.).
10 Cf. Ep. xxviii. (Tome) 5, aperto per militis lanceam
latere crucifixi intelligat unde sanguis et aqua fluxerit ut ecclesia Dei
et lavacro rigaretur et poculo, and almost immediately afterwards, where
he interprets the spirit, water and blood of 1 S. John v. 8, as spiritus
sanctificationis et sanguis redemptionis et aqua baptismatis.
11 1 John iv. 2, 3: see Letter XXVIII. (Tome) 5, n. 7,
on the various reading.
12 Exequentes apostolicoe pietatis exemplum.
13 2 Cor. xi. 29; Rom. xii. 15.
14 Ps. cxlvi. 7,8.