[INCARNATIONAL SERIES part 9]
For Augustine, the discovery of the Incarnate God marked for him the beginning of a life that was to be defined daily by the rhythms of knowing a real God who became a real man. The in-breaking of Jesus into his soul meant moving from the tendency of inwardization towards an openness to God’s shaping desires. “Let me not be my own life!” Augustine prayed, “Teach and instruct me!”1 He also prayed, “Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known. Power of my soul, enter into it, and fit it for Thee.”2
In the Incarnation of Jesus, Augustine was surprised to have met God. The scandalous notion of the incarnation is apparent in Augustine’s First Homily on the Gospel of John. In comparing humanity to a decaying worm, Augustine was rattled by the implication of the Incarnation. The thought caused him to ask, “This is what He willed to become for you… Why did He become that for you?”3 It was a startling discovery for the former Platonist. At another point, in a prayerful admission to God, Augustine revealed his shocked hesitation to accept the almost abhorrent lowliness of Jesus as compared to his thirst for his own self-aggrandizement:
“Though humbled, I didn’t yet grasp the humble One, nor did I yet recognize what his weakness was designed to teach. For your Word, the eternal truth, who is exalted above your highest creatures, raises up those who are subject to himself. In this lower world, he built for himself a lowly habitation made from our clay, by which he intended to bring down from themselves those who would be subjected to him. He intended to bring them over to himself reducing their swollen pride and increasing their love, so that they might go on no further in self-confidence but rather consent to become weak, seeing the Deity before their feet, become weak by taking on our mortality. It was his intent that they seeing themselves to be worn out, might cast themselves down on him, so that rising again he might lift them up.”4
1 Augustine. The Confessions of Saint Augustine, trans. Rex Warner (New York: New American Library, 1963), 290 (2.10).
2 1 Corinthians 13:12, Confessions, 243.
3 Augustine, “First Homily on the Gospel of John,” Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, 276.
4 Ibid., YCM, 190