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Observations on the words of John the Baptist (John i. 30), which may be referred to divine fore-ordinance, but at any rate, as explained by the foregoing considerations, must be understood of the Incarnation. The precedence of Christ is mystically expounded, with reference to the history of Ruth.
63. But [say they] it is written: “After me cometh a Man, Who is made before me, because He was before me;”22272227 S. John i. 30. and so they 252argue: “See, He Who was aforetime is ‘made.’” Let us take the words by themselves. “After me cometh a Man.” He, then, Who came is a Man, and this is the Man Who “was made.” But the word “man” connotes sex, and sex is attributed to human nature, but never to the Godhead.
64. I might argue: The Man [Christ Jesus] was in pre-existence so far as His body was foreknown, though His power is from everlasting—for both the Church and the Saints were foreordained before the worlds began. But here I lay aside this argument, and urge that the being made concerns not the Godhead, but the nature of the Incarnation, even as John himself said: “This is He of Whom I said: After me cometh a Man, Who was made before me.”
65. The Scripture, then, having, as I showed above, discovered the twofold nature in Christ, that you might understand the presence of both Godhead and Manhood, here begins with the flesh; for it is the custom of Holy Writ to begin without fixed rule sometimes with the Godhead of Christ, and descend to the visible tokens of Incarnation; sometimes, on the other hand, to start from its humility, and rise to the glory of the Godhead, as oftentimes in the Prophets and Evangelists, and in St. Paul. Here, then, after this use, the writer begins with the Incarnation of our Lord, and then proclaims His Divinity, not to confound, but to distinguish, the human and the divine. But Arians, like Jew vintners,22282228 Cf. Athanasius, Third Oration Against the Arians, § 35—“But should any man, noticing the divinity revealed in the action of the Word, deny the reality of the body, or marking the things peculiar to the body, deny the presence of the Word in flesh or judging from His human experiences and behaviour, conceive a low esteem of the Word, such a person, like the Jew vintner, mixing water with his wine, will hold the Cross a scandal, and, like a heathen philosopher, regard the preaching as folly—which is just the state of the ungodly followers of Arius.” Horace, Sat. I. v. 3, 4—“inde Forum Appî, Differtum nautis, cauponibus atque malignis.” mix water with the wine, confounding the divine generation with the human, and ascribing to the majesty of God what is properly said only of the lowliness of the flesh.
66. I have no fears of a certain objection they are likely to put forward, namely, that in the words cited we have “a man”—for some have, “Who cometh after me.” But here, too, let them observe what precedes. “The Word,” it is said, “was made flesh.”22292229 S. John i. 14. Having said that the Word was made flesh, the Evangelist added no mention of man. We understand “man” there in the mention of “flesh,” and “flesh” by the mention of “man.” After the statement made, then, that “the Word was made flesh,” there was no need here to particularly mention “man,” whom he already intended by using the name “flesh.”
67. Later on, St. John uses the lamb, that “taketh away the sins of the world,” as an example; and to teach you plainly the Incarnation of Him, of Whom he had spoken before, he says: “This is He of Whom I said before: After me cometh a Man, Who is made before me,” to wit, of Whom I said that He was “made” as being man, not as being God. However, to show that it was He Who was before the worlds, and none other, that became flesh, lest we should suppose two Sons of God, he adds: “because He was before me.” If the words “was made” had referred to the divine generation, what need was there that the writer should add this, and repeat himself? But, having first said, with regard to the Incarnation only, “After me cometh a Man, Who is made before me,” he added: “because He was before me,” because it was needful to teach the eternity of [Christ’s] Godhead; and this is the reason why St. John acknowledged Christ’s priority, that He, Who is His own Father’s eternal Power, may be presented as on that account duly preferred.22302230 The explanation of St. John Baptist’s words in the Fourth Gospel is to be found, indeed, in the same Gospel (i. 27) and in the other three Gospels. See Matt. iii. 11; S. Mark i. 7; S. Luke iii. 16. In S. John i. 30, the Baptist says of Jesus Christ not merely “πρότερός μου ἦν” but “πρῶτός μου ἦν”—i.e. “first in relation to me” (and every other human being), “the principle of my very being.” The Arians understood the phrase as if the ordinary comparative, suitable for expressing the ordinary priority of human beings to each other, had been used.
68. But the abounding activity of the spiritual understanding makes it a pleasing exercise to sally forth and drive into a corner the Arians, who will understand the term “made” in this passage, not of the manhood, but of the Godhead [of Christ]. What ground, indeed, is left for them to take their stand upon, when the Baptist has declared that “after me cometh One Who is made before me,” that is, Who, though in the course of earthly life He comes after me, yet is placed above the degree of my worth and grace, and Who has title to be worshipped as God. For the words “cometh after me” belong to an event in time, but “was before me” signify Christ’s eternity; and “is made before me” refer to His pre-eminence, forasmuch as, indeed, the mystery of the Incarnation is above human deserving.22312231 Or the meaning may be understood by reference to the fact that in the Man Christ Jesus there was seen, and felt, grace, authority, and power such as was more than earthly, more than human. “Full of grace are Thy lips, because God hath blessed thee for ever.” So it was that He spake as never man spake, teaching with authority, and not as the scribes.
25369. Again, St. John Baptist also taught in less weighty language what ideas they were he had combined, saying: “After me cometh a Man, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear,” setting forth at least the more excellent dignity [of Christ], though not the eternity of His Divine Generation. Now these words are so fully intended of the Incarnation, that Scripture hath given us, in an earlier book, a human counterpart of the mystic sandal. For, by the Law, when a man died, the marriage bond with his wife was passed on to his brother, or other man next of kin, in order that the seed of the brother or next of kin might renew the life of the house, and thus it was that Ruth, though she was foreign-born, but yet had possessed a husband of the Jewish people, who had left a kinsman of near relation, being seen and loved of Boaz whilst gleaning and maintaining herself and her mother-in-law with that she gleaned, was yet not taken of Boaz to wife, until she had first loosed the shoe from [the foot of] him whose wife she ought, by the Law, to have become.22322232 Deut. xxv. 5–10; Ruth iv. 5–7.
70. The story is a simple one, but deep are its hidden meanings, for that which was done was the outward betokening of somewhat further. If indeed we should rack the sense so as to fit the letter exactly, we should almost find the words an occasion of a certain shame and horror, that we should regard them as intending and conveying the thought of common bodily intercourse; but it was the foreshadowing of One Who was to arise from Jewry—whence Christ was, after the flesh—Who should, with the seed of heavenly teaching, revive the seed of his dead kinsman, that is to say, the people, and to Whom the precepts of the Law, in their spiritual significance, assigned the sandal of marriage, for the espousals of the Church.
71. Moses was not the Bridegroom, for to him cometh the word, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot,”22332233 Ex. iii. 5. that he might give place to his Lord. Nor was Joshua, the son of Nun, the Bridegroom, for to him also it was told, saying, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot,”22342234 Josh. v. 16. lest, by reason of the likeness of his name, he should be thought the spouse of the Church. None other is the Bridegroom but Christ alone, of Whom St. John said: “He Who hath the bride is the Bridegroom.”22352235 S. John iii. 29. They, therefore, loose their shoes, but His shoe cannot be loosed, even as St. John said: “I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe.”22362236 S. John i. 27.
72. Christ alone, then, is the Bridegroom to Whom the Church, His bride, comes from the nations, and gives herself in wedlock; aforetime poor and starving, but now rich with Christ’s harvest; gathering in the hidden bosom of her mind handfuls of the rich crop and gleanings of the Word, that so she may nourish with fresh food her who is worn out, bereaved by the death of her son, and starving, even the mother of the dead people,—leaving not the widow and destitute, whilst she seeks new children.
73. Christ, then, alone is the Bridegroom, grudging not even to the synagogue the sheaves of His harvest. Would that the synagogue had not of her own will shut herself out! She had sheaves that she might herself have gathered, but, her people being dead, she, like one bereaved by the death of her son, began to gather sheaves, whereby she might live, by the hand of the Church—the which sheaves they who come in joyfulness shall carry, even as it is written: “Yet surely shall they come with joy, bringing their sheaves with them.”22372237 Ps. cxxvi. 7.
74. Who, indeed, but Christ could dare to claim the Church as His bride, whom He alone, and none other, hath called from Libanus, saying: “Come hither from Libanus, my bride; come hither from Libanus”?22382238 Song of Solomon iv. 8. Or of Whom else could the Church have said: “His throat is sweetness, and He is altogether desirable”?22392239 Song of Solomon v. 26. And seeing that we entered upon this discussion from speaking of the shoes of His feet,—to Whom else but the Word of God incarnate can those words apply? “His legs are pillars of marble, set upon bases of gold.”22402240 Song of Solomon v. 15. For Christ alone walks in the souls and makes His path in the minds of His saints, in which, as upon bases of gold and foundations of precious stone the heavenly Word has left His footprints ineffaceably impressed.
75. Clearly we see, then, that both the man and the type point to the mystery of the Incarnation.
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