Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXIX. [CXIX. Ben.]
On the same words, John i. "In the beginning was the word," etc.
1. That our Lord Jesus Christ in seeking lost man was made Man, our preaching has never withholden, and your faith has ever retained; and moreover, that this our Lord, who for our sakes was made Man, was always God with the Father, and always will be, yea rather always Is; for where there is no succession of thee, there is no "hath been" and "will be." For that of which it is said, "it hath been," is now no more; that of which it is said, "it will be," is not yet; but He always is, because He truly "is," that is, is unchangeable. For the Gospel lesson has just now taught us a high and divine mystery. For this beginning of the Gospel St. John poured forth1 for that he drank it in from the Lord's Breast. For ye remember, that it has been very lately read to you, how that this St. John the Evangelist lay in the Lord's Bosom.2 And wishing to explain this clearly, he says, "On the Lord's Breast;"3 that we might understand what he meant, by "in the Lord's bosom." For what, think we, did he drink in who was lying on the Lord's Breast? Nay, let us not think, but drink;4 for we too have just now heard what we may drink in.
2. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."5 O glorious preaching! O6 the result of the full feast of the Lord's Breast! "In the beginning was the Word." Why seekest thou for what was before It? "In the beginning was the Word." If the Word had been made (for made indeed that was not by which all things were made); if the Word had been made, the Scripture would have said, "In the beginning God made the Word;" as it is said in Genesis, "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth."7 God then did not in the beginning make the Word; because, "In the beginning was the Word." This Word which was in the beginning, where was It? Follow on, "And the Word was with God." But from our daily hearing the words of men we are wont to think lightly of this name of "Word." In this case do not think lightly of the Name of "Word;" "The Word was God. The same," that is the Word, "was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made."
3. Extend your hearts, help the poverty of my words. What I shall be able to express, give ear to; on what I shall not be able to express, meditate. Who can comprehend the abiding Word? All our words sound, and pass away. Who can comprehend the abiding Word, save He who abideth in Him? Wouldest thou comprehend the abiding Word? Do not follow the current of the flesh. For this flesh is indeed a current; for it has none abiding. As it were from a kind of secret fount of nature men are born, they live, they die; or whence they come, or whither they go, we know not. It is a hidden water, till it issue from its source; it flows on, and is seen in its course; and again it is hidden in the sea. Let us despise this stream flowing on, running, disappearing, let us despise it. "All flesh is grass, and all the glory of flesh is as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, the flower falleth away." Wouldest thou endure? "But the word of the Lord endureth for ever."8
4. But in order to succour us, "The Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us."9 What is, "The Word was made Flesh "? The gold became grass. It became grass for to be burned; the grass was burned, but the gold remained; in the grass It perisheth not, yea, It changed the grass. How did It change it? It raised it up, quickened it, lifted it up to heaven, and placed it at the right Hand of the Father. But that it might be said, "And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us," let us recollect awhile what went before. "He came unto His Own, and His Own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God." "To become," for they "were" not; but He "was" Himself in the beginning. "He gave them" then "power to become the sons of God, to them that believe in His Name; who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."10 Lo, born they are, in whatever age of the flesh they may be; ye see infants; see and rejoice. Lo, they are born; but they are born of God.Their mother's womb is the water of baptism.
5. Let no man in poorness of soul entertain this conceit, and turn over such most beggarly thoughts in his mind, and say to himself, "How `in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: all things were made by Him;' and lo, `the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us?'" Hear why it was done. "To those" we know "who believed on Him He hath given power to become the sons of God." Let not those then to whom He hath given power to become the sons of God, think it impossible to become the sons of God. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Do not imagine that it is too great a thing for you to become the sons of God; for your sakes He became the Son of man, who was the Son of God. If He was made, that He might be less, who was more; can He not bring it to pass, that of that less which we were, we may be something more? He descended to us, and shall not we ascend to Him? For us He accepted our death, and shall He not give us His Life? For thee He suffered thy evil things, and shall He not give thee His good things?
6. "But how," one will say, "can it be, that the Word of God, by whom the world is governed, by whom all things both were, and are created, should contract Himself into the womb of a Virgin; should abandon the world, and leave the Angels, and be shut up in one woman's womb?" Thou skillest not to conceive of things divine. The Word of God (I am speaking to thee, O man, I am speaking to thee of the omnipotence of the Word of God) could surely do all, seeing that the Word of God is omnipotent, at once remain with the Father, and come to us; at once in the flesh come forth to us, and lay concealed in Him. For He would not the less have been, if He had not been born of flesh. He "was" before His own flesh; He created His Own mother. He chose her in whom He should be conceived, He created her of whom He should be created. Why marvellest thou? It is God of whom I am speaking to thee: "The Word was God."
7. I am treating of the Word, and perchance the word of men may furnish somewhat like; though very unequal, far distant, in no comparable, yet something which may convey a hint to you by way of resemblance. Lo, the word which I am speaking to you, I have had previously in my heart: it came forth to thee, yet it has not departed from me; that began to be in thee, which was not in thee; it continued with me when it went forth to thee. As then my word was brought forth to thy sense, yet did not depart from my heart; so That Word came forth to our senses, yet departed not from His Father. My word was with me, and it came forth into a voice: the Word of God was with the Father, and came forth into Flesh. But can I do with my voice that which He could do with His Flesh? For I am not master11 of my voice as it flies; He is not only master of His Flesh, that It should be born, live, act; but even when dead He raised It up, and exalted unto the Father the Vehicle as it were in which He came forth to us. You may call the Flesh of Christ a Garment, you may call It a Vehicle, and as perchance Himself vouchsafed to teach us, you may call It His Beast; for on this beast He raised him who had been wounded by robbers;12 lastly, as He said Himself more expressly, you may call It a Temple; This Temple knows death no more, Its seat is at the right Hand of the Father: in This Temple shall He come to judge the quick and dead. What He hath by precept taught, He hath by example manifested. What He hath in His own Flesh shown, that oughtest thou to hope for in thy flesh. This is faith; hold fast what as yet thou seest not. Need there is, that by believing thou abide firm in that thou seest not; lest when thou shalt see, thou be put to shame.