Ineffabiliter sapiens, sapienter infans

Yesterday I wrote my column for the Christmas issue of The WandererInter alia I delved into what St. Augustine said about the eternal Word becoming an infans, "incapable of speech", as the Lord’s way of teaching humility.  Augustine explores this mystery quite a few times in his sermons for Christmas.  I drill into some examples.

I did, however, want to share this one in particular.  A good example of this "speechless Word" images comes at the very beginning of s. 187, preached perhaps before 411.  We can get a sense of how Augustine sounded even in translation:

“He is the One through whom all things have been made and, on Christmas, Who has been made in the midst of all things. He is the Revealer of His Father and the Creator of His mother, the Son of God through His Father without a mother and the Son of Man through His mother without a father. He is great in the eternal day of the angels but small in the time-conditioned day of men. He is the Word of God before all time and the Word made Flesh in the fullness of time. Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. Disposer of all ages in the bosom of His Father, He consecrates Christmas Day in the womb of His mother. In Him He remains while from her He goes forth. Creator of the heavens and the earth, He is born on earth under the heavens. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless (Ineffabiliter sapiens, sapienter infans). Filling the universe, He lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God and small in the form of a servant, but His greatness is not diminished by His smallness nor His smallness overwhelmed by His greatness.”

You might be interested to know that I did a search of Augustine’s works using one of my tools and found some 397 instances of a form of ineffabilis (ineffabil*).

I am not sure what that indicates about Augustine’s opinion of his congregation…. but there it is.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TNCath says:

    Apparently St. Augustine didn’t think that “ineffabiliter” was TOOO HAAARD for his congregation.

  2. FrCharles says:

    From the De Doctrina Christiana: “The fusion of obscurity with such eloquence in the salutary words of God was necessary in order that our minds could develop not just by making discoveries but also by undergoing exertion.” Now there’s a challenging notion of preaching, and says something about “Augustine’s opinion of his congregation.”(From R.P.H. Green’s translation.)

    Just for fun I looked up the forms of ineffabilitas in the Cathechism, and found two: in paragraph 42 quoting the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, and in paragraph 202, quoting Lateran IV.

  3. FrCharles: You will note how Augustine skillfully uses the contrasts to help even the simpler folk in his congregation grasp something of the mystery they are encountering for Christmas.

  4. Laurinda1230 says:

    I found his sermon beautiful and I sent it to many friends and family hoping to pass along some of that joy.

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    Fr. Charles: I looked up the forms of ineffabilitas in the Cathechism, and found two [as compared with 397 in Augustine].

    Evidence of an ineffable decline from the time of Augustine to ours?

  6. FrCharles says:

    Henry: Shall we also count citations from Ineffabilis Deus?

  7. q7swallows says:

    Fr. Z,

    I am not sure that Augustine is bending low to the simple (who tend to appreciate intensely the mysteries of the natural world because they dwell closest to them; after all, the shepherds did arrive before the wise men…)  I bet that he was rather trying to bring the sophisticates back to their incarnational senses.  At any rate, the theological seesaw does tip both ways and there’s no fulcrum like a saint…  

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