by St. Augustine of Hippo
Our father among the saints, Augustine is one of the great Church Fathers of the fourth century. He was the eldest son of Saint Monica. At the end of his life (426-428) Augustine revisited his previous works in chronological order and suggested what he would have said differently in a work titled the Retractions, which gives us a remarkable picture of the development of a writer and his final thoughts.
The Lord Jesus, the Only begotten of the Father, Co-eternal with His Parent, like Him Invisible, like Him Omnipotent, as God Equal to Him, became Man for us, as you know, and have received, and hold fast in faith; and though He took to Himself a human form, He did not give up the divine. Omnipotence was veiled; infirmity made manifest. He was born, as you have come to know, that we might be reborn. He died, that we might not die for ever. And straightaway, that is, on the third day, He rose again from the dead; assuring us that we too shall rise on the last day.
He showed Himself to His Disciples: that they might see him with their eyes, and touch Him with their hands; showing them what He had become, and that He had not put off what He always was. For forty days He spoke with them, as you have heard, going in and coming out, eating and drinking together with them; not now from need, but wholly from power, and making plain to them the true nature of His Body: mortal upon the cross, immortal from the grave.
II. This day then we are celebrating the Lord’s Ascension.
Today there is also a festival proper to this church: the death of the founder of this Basilica of the holy Leontius. But it is fitting that the star be overshadowed by the sun. So let us, as we began, speak rather of the Lord. The good servant rejoices when his Lord is praised.
III. Belief in the Ascension and its Commemoration over all the earth.
On this day therefore, that is, the fortieth after His Resurrection, the Lord ascended into heaven. We have not seen, but we believe. They who beheld Him proclaimed what they saw, and they have filled the whole earth:
There are no speeches nor languages where their voices are not heard. Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world (Ps. xviii. 4, 5).
And so they have reached even unto us, and awakened us from sleep. And lo! this death is celebrated throughout the world.
IV. The Prophecy of Christ’s Ascension.
Remember the psalm. To whom was it said: Be thou exalted, O God? To whom was it said? Was Be thou exalted said to the Father, Who never was made lowly? Be Thou exalted: Thou Who wast enclosed in the womb of a mother. Thou Who wast formed in Her whom Thou made. Thou Who hast lain in a manger. Thou Who as a true Child in the flesh drank milk from the breast. Thou who while borne in Thy Mother’s arms sustained the world. Thou whom the venerable Simeon beheld a child, and extolled as Mighty. Thou Whom the Widow Anna saw at the breast, and knew Omnipotent. Thou Who hast hungered because of us, suffered thirst for us, grown weary on the way (but did the Bread of Life hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Way grow weary?). Thou Who hast borne all these things for us. Thou Who hast slept, yet unsleeping watches over Israel. And lastly, Thou Who wast seized, bound, scourged, crowned with thorns, hung upon the Tree, pierced with a lance, died, and was buried. Be Thou exalted, O God!
V. Be Thou exalted, he cries,
exalted above the heavens:
for thou art God. Take Thou Thy seat in heaven Who hung from the Cross. As Judge to come Thou art awaited Who awaited and received judgement. Who could believe this without His help Who raised the needy from the earth, and uplifted the poor from the dunghill? He has raised up His own needy flesh, and placed it with the Princes of His people (Ps. cxii. 7), with whom He shall judge the living and the dead. He has placed this needy flesh with those to whom He said:
You shall sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. xix. 28).
VI. The Church The Glory of Christ.
Be Thou therefore exalted above the heavens, O God! This has come to pass. It is now fulfilled. Yet we also say of that which was proclaimed of the future: Be thou exalted above the heavens, O God! We have not seen it, but we believe. For lo! Before our eyes is now fulfilled that which follows:
Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: and thy glory above all the earth.
He cannot believe the first who does not see this. For what does,
And thy glory above all the earth
mean but Thy Church which is spread over all the earth, Thy Spouse spread over all the earth, Thy Bride over all the earth? Thy Beloved, Thy Dove, Thy Consort! She is Thy glory. And the Apostle teaches us this.
The man indeed, he says, ought not to cover his head; because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of man (I Cor. xi. 7).
If the woman is the glory of man, then the Church is the glory of Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns unto ages of ages. Amen.