David, Goliath, and the milk of charity


Caravaggio
David with the head of Goliath
Rome, Galleria Borghese

In the readings this week we are hearing about the Lord’s selection of David and David’s subsequent rise. Today’s first reading at Mass was the about David killing Goliath the Philistine.

St. Augustine of Hippo applied an allegorical interpretation to the stones David collected for the fight (En. Ps. 143, 2). In his commentary, which was a sermon preached in Carthage around 412 or after, Augustine first alerts his listeners to some parallels: the battle of David (who foreshadows Christ) and Goliath is like the battle of good and evil, of Christ and the Devil. Just as Christ used no arms and instead referred to the law, so too David used no arms and faced Goliath with five stones, symbolizing Moses’s five books of the law. David took useless stones from the river, a symbol of mortality and the transitory, that is, the People of Israel in the old Covenant. The stones (the law) were lying there in the river (the People of Israel) and David (Christ) made them useful with grace. How? Augustine explains (my trans.):

And what is the font of charity? Doesn’t it come from grace? He (the psalmist) says that grace is infused in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who was given to us. So, grace caused the law to be fulfilled, but grace is symbolized by the milk. For milk is in the body in a gratuitous way: a mother does not seek to receive it, but makes an effort to give it. A mother gives it freely, and she is sad if it is lacking to the one who takes it. So how does David show that the law, without grace, cannot function, except when he put into his shepherd’s bag, into which he usually milked his flock, those five stones, by which the law in five books is symbolized? Armed with these, armed with grace, and thus depending not upon himself but upon his Lord, he went out against the proud Goliath, who was boasting and presuming upon his own powers. (David) took one rock, threw it, and struck the enemy in the forehead; he felled him from that place of his body, where (Goliath) did not have the mark of Christ. But pay attention to this too: (David) put in five stones; he threw one. Five books (of the law) are read, but charity is victor. For the fullness of the law, as Paul reminds us, is charity.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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