A Very Augustinian Christmas

Since my quarter has wrapped up (and with it all my assignments), I wanted to blog about Augustine. He is a figure whom I will be studying extensively over the coming months in preparation for my comprehensive exams. As a result, I wanted to find a passage in the Augustinian corpus which discusses the incarnation/ Christmas narrative. My gift to you comes from Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Charity (the version I have is a translation by Bruce Harbert of New City Press from 1999 titled The Augustine Catechism). The following quotes come from Chapter 38 of the Enchiridion (pp. 71-72 in my version). I have listed 3 separate quotes from this chapter which discuss how the Holy Spirit is not Christ’s father.

“But are we to say that the Holy Spirit is the father of Christ the man in such a way that, while God the Father begot the Word, the Holy Spirit begot the man, and that the one Christ is from the these two substances, both Son of God the Father according to his nature as Word and Son of the Holy Spirit according to his humanity, since the Holy Spirit begot him of the virgin mother like a father? Who will dare to say this?”

“Our question concerns how it is that we say that he was born of the Holy Spirit when he is in no way the son of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the fact that God made this world does not justify our calling it God’s Son, or saying that it was born of God, but we can rightly speak of it as made or created or established or instituted by him, or other similar and suitable expressions.”

“While we acknowledge that he was born of the Holy Spirit and of the virgin Mary, it is hard to explain how he is not the son of the Holy Spirit and is the son of the virgin Mary; without doubt the Holy Spirit’s relationship to him is not that of a father, while the virgin’s relationship to him is that of a mother.” (emphasis present)

Augustine shows us here that the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit becomes complicated in view of the incarnation. As Christ is born into this world to a virgin through the Holy Spirit, Augustine sees the potential problem of someone ascribing a Father/ Son relationship to the Holy Spirit. Christ is begotten of the “almighty Father, from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds.” (Ench. 38; p.71)

For Augustine, the Holy Spirit takes a part in creating or establishing the Son on earth as a man, but this does not make the Holy Spirit the Father of the Son. In the same way, the earth is not “born of God” just because it is made by God (see first quote above). So what does this mean for us this Christmas season?

Many people like the Christmas story and often a pastor will recount the narratives found in Matthew or Luke during Advent. As we seek to understand the incarnation and what it means for our lives, Augustine illustrates the complexity of the relationships within the Trinity. As one who studies many different theological controversies of the early church (Augustine appears to grab hold of several theological issues at once in the quotes above), I find solace in the fact that God came to earth to save humanity. Such reasoning sounds more appropriate to Easter, but I love thinking about the implications of the Word putting on flesh to save humanity. The salvific implications of Good Friday/ Easter cannot have taken place without the incarnation. Christ came to earth to save humanity.

Merry Christmas

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