Friday, 5 May 2017

St Augustine on the call to conversion

These are dark times, and the key question that confronts each of us is how to deal with them.  The answer, of course, starts not with others, but with ourselves.

St Augustine on Easter

And on this topic, I came across, today, a rather good meditation on the Easter season and the call to conversion, in the form of a letter of St Augustine (No 55) so I thought I would post it (or at least selected extracts from it) in parts over the next few days, with a few comments.

The letter starts as a response to a question about why Easter is celebrated on a different date each year, rather than being a fixed date like Christmas:
You ask, Wherefore does the anniversary on which we celebrate the Passion of the Lord not fall, like the day which tradition has handed down as the day of His birth, on the same day every year? and you add, If the reason of this is connected with the week and the month, what have we to do with the day of the week or the state of the moon in this solemnity? 
The Life of Christ and the institution of the sacraments

The difference, St Augustine replies, is that Christmas is not connected with the sacraments:
The first thing which you must know and remember here is, that the observance of the Lord's natal day is not sacramental, but only commemorative of His birth, and that therefore no more was in this case necessary, than that the return of the day on which the event took place should be marked by an annual religious festival. 
The celebration of an event becomes sacramental in its nature, only when the commemoration of the event is so ordered that it is understood to be significant of something which is to be received with reverence as sacred. 
Therefore we observe Easter in such a manner as not only to recall the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ to remembrance, but also to find a place for all the other things which, in connection with these events, give evidence as to the import of the sacrament
 Transition from death to life

The theme we should dwell on, he argues, is not the Passion, but rather the transition from death to life signified by these events:
For since, as the apostle wrote, He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, a certain transition from death to life has been consecrated in that Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. 
For the word Pascha itself is not, as is commonly thought, a Greek word: those who are acquainted with both languages affirm it to be a Hebrew word. It is not derived, therefore, from the Passion, because of the Greek word πάσχειν, signifying to suffer, but it takes its name from the transition, of which I have spoken, from death to life; the meaning of the Hebrew word Pascha being, as those who are acquainted with it assure us, a passing over or transition. To this the Lord Himself designed to allude, when He said, He that believes in Me is passed from death to life. (John 5:24) And the same evangelist who records that saying is to be understood as desiring to give emphatic testimony to this, when, speaking of the Lord as about to celebrate with His disciples the passover, at which He instituted the sacramental supper, he says, When Jesus knew that His hour had come, that He should depart from this world unto the Father (John 13:1) This passing over from this mortal life to the other, the immortal life, that is, from death to life, is set forth in the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.

No comments: