Translations – Homily 10 of St Severus of Antioch

1.  Once more it is the feast of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and once again it is the restoration of our race. He was born for the first time according to the flesh, and he shared in my manner of birth, that which is without seed and without sin, and the one who knows all things before they exist, and mothers were delivered from the first sentence which Eve had issued against her, in receiving the word: It is in sorrow that you shall give birth to sons, as a rebuke in response to the bitter taste and the disobedience. Indeed the angel announced this to the shepherds, in saying, I announce to you a great joy, which shall be for all the world: unto you is born today a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. But with the sorrow was also destroyed the curse of our first father Adam. Indeed the Mother of God, the Virgin, at the same time as these words: Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you, heard also: You are blessed among women, and the fruit of your womb is blessed ; now the blessing puts and end to the curse.

2. Moreover, Jesus advanced in age, in wisdom and in grace, he who is himself the Wisdom and gives to all wisdom and grace, so that in him as in the second beginning of our race, we rise up, once more towards grace and wisdom, from which we had fallen, after having been deceived by the serpent.

3. Towards what, indeed, was he to progress, the one who is far from all progress, ……., the one towards whom anyone converges  who progresses in perfection? But this which the evangelist calls a progress is the manifestation and revelation of his divinity which is made little by little and in relation with age and according to measure. For this reason he also joins age with wisdom and grace, exclaiming as it were that if, the one who is without old age and is ageless and without time had not been subjected to age and time after being himself made man for us, it would not be said that he progressed in wisdom and in grace. But because in truth it is in age that he progresses, for this reason he progresses also in wisdom and in grace, while appropriating to himself all our imperfection and paving a way towards his perfection. That it is thus, and that it is the divinity of the economy of Emmanuel, which, in its gradual appearance, is called a progress, here how it is known.

4. When his mother, indeed, – I speak of the mother of God, the Virgin Mary -, and Joseph, returned from Jerusalem after the feast of Passover and they searched for him on the way, after he had deliberately separated himself from his fellow travellers, and when they had gone back to Jerusalem and had found him, he said to them: Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father? He did not make known any other thing by this, if it is true that He and the Father are one only divinity and Lordship, and the one whom they sought as a small boy who could have taken the wrong way, is even the one who exerts his empire over all the works of the Father, just as over the city of Jerusalem, which in truth was called by the prophets the city of God.

5. After the evangelistic Luke had given this account, he adds afterwards these words: Jesus also progressed in wisdom, in age and in grace, so that we, we ourselves might learn that he calls the gradual revelation of the divinity of Jesus a progress. For the one who has in himself all that which is proper to the Father, which increase could he receive? And however he seems to progress in favour with God and in favour with men when an idea worthy of God progressed little by little on this subject among men, this which he manifested by the will of the Father, which he made to appear publically, at the same time both the passing of age and the appearance of his divinity.

6. In the same way he comes to the Jordan and to baptism, not that he had need himself of purification, but because, for me, beforehand, he purifies and sanctifies the waters and ranks himself at the same time with those who are baptised for repentance, he who must baptise in fire and in the Spirit, to purify from sin and to bestow the grace of adoption. That he did not have any need of it for himself, when he was baptised for us, John made this clear, when he cried out in addressing him: It is I who has need to be baptised by you, and yet it is you who comes to me. If therefore the Baptist had need of receiving a purification on the part of the one who was baptised it is therefore the case that he was without need, and that he had in himself that which gave him his fullness.

7. We see also the response of Jesus himself to these words: Let it be so for now. He stops the Baptist, who had begun to proclaim the sublimity and the inaccessibility of his divinity and he says: Let it be so for now. Now, he says, it is the time of the Economy, and not of the manifestation. As if he said: That which you say is undoubtedly true, but it is not a question of this present time. For thus it belongs to us to accomplish all righteousness. Now I have fulfilled the full measure of a voluntary humiliation, I have hidden my sublimity of nature and I have accomplished all righteousness. Now what is this: to accomplish all righteousness? It means to let the practice of the Law remain, not by destroying it, nor while legislating against it, but in causing it to fade and be eclipsed by the brightness of the commandments of the gospel. Indeed, whereas the Law says: You shall not kill, the gospel ordains: You shall not be angry, so that in truth, at the time that the anger is removed which gives birth to murder, the law which forbids murder is made superfluous. In the same way the words: You shall not commit adultery, is suppressed in advance by the following protection: You shall not look at a woman with lust.

8. Thus because he wanted to let the Law rest thanks to the evangelic commandments which are more perfect, so that nobody could say that he let it rest as if he could not achieve it, he kept all of the precepts: he takes upon himself the circumcision which is ordained there, he offers in sacrifice a pair of turtle-doves and two small of doves, and he achieves all that is in the Law. That is why, seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees going briskly to the baptism of John, he associated himself with them, without scorning this manner of humiliation either, but wishing to accomplish all righteousness. Now the one who accomplished all righteousness has no need of a baptism which is celebrated for the repentance of sins.

9. Moreover it was also with the goal of beginning an adoption by the perfect and authentic baptism, that he might truly present to us; on the one hand the one who takes away the sin of the world descends into the waters and is baptised, and on the other hand, he breaks the power of the Accuser, he who has the primacy over the waters, and over the armies of evil which submit to him, and over the rebel princes, so that David in truth cries out beforehand: it is you who has broken the heads of the dragons on the waters, it is you who has crushed the heads of the dragon. Indeed it is in the humid places that the demons love to dwell, as well as the Accuser, the prince over them, they also rest upon those men who lead a humid and dissolute life.

10. This is why the one who spoke to Job also says on the subject of the Accuser: Under all the different trees he lies: close to the reeds, the papyrus and the rushes, plants which grow precisely in the water courses: It is on this subject that David the psalmist spoke in his prayer, while predicting beforehand the appearance of Christ, the almighty God: Lord, bring down the heavens and descend; touch the mountains and they smoke! The lightning flashes and you disperse them; send your arrows and you put them to flight; extend your hand from on high and deliver me, and save me from the great waters, from the hand of the sons of strangers.

11. Now the one who is ready with mercy and charity has heard: he has brought down the heavens and he has descended, namely when he put down his celestial and sublime glory, so that by his voluntary humiliation he would be approachable by those who are on the earth. And he touched the mountains, the principalities, the powers, the dominations of the world of shadows; and they are dispersed like smoke. He makes the lightning flash, the brightness of the preaching of the gospel, and he dispersed them. He sent his arrows: the prophecies of the prophets, to which are joined the teachings of the Apostles and he put them in disorder (his adversaries). However all these things would not agree, if from the beginning the hand itself had not been extended, this raised arm, the force of the invisible Father, the Only Son, the Word who was incarnate for us and who, after having been in the Jordan and having sanctified the waters there, submerged the torrent of sin and saved us and delivered us from the great waters, from the hand of foreign sons.

12. Indeed, it is to recapitulate its benefits that David the prophet placed it himself at the end, the one from whom all these benefits had sprung. It is because it is thus, and this is why Jesus descended into the Jordan, that, so from the time when he went into the waters, he opened the heavens, closed by the first Adam, and that he makes known that the virtue of baptism mounts up to heaven. Because it is for us that this celestial being worked all things, when, for our sanctification and our salvation, he became our first fruits.

13. The Spirit also descends upon him because of us. Now this Spirit is not one of the ministering spirits, but it is the Spirit of God, the consubstantial Spirit who reigns at the same time with him and with the Father. It is why, indeed, the evangelist himself said in a demonstrative manner: the Spirit of God, this Spirit who had abandoned the human race, on the subject of which the Lord God said: My Spirit will not remain eternally among men, because they are flesh. But this charitable being, who, by the generosity of his grace, as he himself willed to modify his own decree, abolishing for us this sentence, after also being made flesh without change himself, draws the Spirit upon the flesh, at the moment when he united his divinity with the creature who had been condemned and thus sends grace to all our race.

14. And he saw, says the evangelist, the Spirit of God who descended as a dove so as to show clearly that the God of the Old Testament and of the New is one, and to recall the memory of the flood which had taken place in the days of Noah. For, just as a dove had announced the appeasement of the anger of God, now in the same way the form of a dove makes known the deluge of sin and the reconciliation of the world.

15. What do you say to that, you who support the fantastical stupidity of Eutyches and the atheistic Manicheans? If the Word of God, indeed, has not been united hypostatically to the flesh which is of our race and which is consubstantial with us, in what way is the descent the Spirit upon him of any advantage to us, after having come upon the first-fruits of some other race, and not that of our own? And how did grace itself pass to us, this grace by which our Saviour worked all things, if the clay were foreign and not the same one as the rest of the work, than he wanted precisely to mould with him? How, on the other hand, does the sight of the dove not instruct you in the truth of the inhumanation? Indeed the evangelists have said, on the subject of the revelation of the Holy Spirit on the banks of the Jordan: He appeared like a dove. And Luke has added as well these words: Under the appearance. And, on the subject of the Incarnation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word and God, to show that it was in truth and not only in appearance, none of them said, “He appeared like a man”, but in all truth he was made man without change.

16. This is why it is also a question of the Mother, though a Virgin, and of the time of the conception which was predetermined, although it had taken place without seed; and also of the child birth, of the   swaddling clothes, of the nursing, of the circumcision, of the growth in height, of eating, of drinking, and of the other particulars of the voluntary humiliation; those however which are free from sin, which he took by his will, since he was of woman; he was under the Law.

17. But I turn to the voice of the Father which came from the heavens and which said: This is my well-beloved son in whom I place my best wishes, and which cut out the root of the Nestorian impiety, which, after the ineffable and indivisible union, divide Emmanuel himself into a duality of natures. It is indeed clear, as is pointed out, that he said: This is my Son, he who is seen by those who are gathered around him, and not, as Nestorius says, the one who is hidden in the one who is seen.

18. Indeed if that were so he would have said: “In this one is my Son”, and not: This is my Son. But when he said in a demonstrative manner: This is my Son, he showed that the one who is seen, because he was incarnate, the same is also the invisible Word according to his nature, and the true Son of the Father. For the word: “He is” shows the truth and the equality according to nature so as to eliminate equally the abomination of Arius who said: “There was a time when the Son was not”. Indeed he is constantly, as the voice testified when it cried out in the name of the Father: This is my Son. For, on the one hand, it is about creatures that come into existence in time that we understand ‘he was’ and ‘he will’, but God, on the other hand, perpetually is, neither being limited by the time that is past, nor by that which is future. But all time is present to him, and he is without end and he is the same, perpetually, and without change in anything.

19. These words, well-beloved, in whom I place my best wishes, apply to the Economy which we see, showing again the greatness of the mercy. Indeed, while we were under the dominion of sin, we were opposed to God as enemies, we had become strangers to his affection, we were by nature children of wrath, without hope and without God in the world, worthy of hatred and hating one another, and for this reason justly hated by God. It was in abolishing this hatred and this loveless combat that he said, well-beloved, in whom I place my best wishes, in establishing in the first place upon Emmanuel the affection that he has for us. Indeed it is well known that he had no need of such a word, since he is truly the Son who s loved by the Father, and who loves the Father, or rather, since he is of the same one essence and will.

20. As for these words: In whom I have placed my favour, “I called him beloved, he said, casting the seed of affection for the race of men that I have been hating. And if I have a reason to come here, it is not for any reason, but because it seems to me excellent to save by your hands those who had perished, and had no hope of being saved”. It is indeed principally due to his good will which is the first and voluntary thought, not, it seems, for some reason, but because of his goodness. For God, as much as anyone, there is nothing so good and so pleasing as to help and to save.

21. But I see that the time taken for my discourse is gone, and you are tired, not by satiety, but because the assembly was too difficult to hear. And I myself see the need to pass over in silence John, the voice which came and ran ahead of the Word, the son of the barren one before that of the Virgin, the one who was hidden in the desert and who, coming as if from the inaccessible place of secrets, appeared before him who came from the heavens and was begotten of the Father in an ineffable manner before the ages, and is born on the other hand in an inexplicable manner of a Virgin Mother according to the flesh, who was raised for us and teaches us this feast of lights. We call indeed ‘lights’ this present solemnity, because in truth the three lights of the three hypostases, in producing only one illumination which comes from only one essence, namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, were revealed to us by the waves of the Jordan on this present day, to us who, having been baptised in them, were illuminated.

22. Who was the one who celebrated this mystery of piety? John, who was great among the children of women, the last of the prophets, the one who surpassed all, in that he had seen the one of whom they prophesied, and whom he showed to all and he ended the prophesies that concerned him. Who lived without nourishment, and who ate neither bread nor drank wine, and who by the manner of his life resembled the angels.

But what am I proving? Pressed by time, what will I achieve by this homily? I am captivated by the perfection of the Baptist, and I am drawn to speak. However I will be silent, lest in saying little because of the time, I mistreat one we should praise, or rather it is you I would be doing wrong in treating miserably that which promises a good reward.

23. Be in awe because on the one hand John exhibits such a kind of life prophesying what we experience, and on the other hand, we who have been made the objects of such remarkable graces, we indulge in pleasures, such that, while we celebrate the feast of lights, we do the works of darkness. He touched the head of Christ, when he was baptised, after having descended with so much humility and having spoken humanly with men, because in truth the Economy demanded it. But you, every day you touch him with your hands, you know the rest, you who have been initiated, even if I cannot speak because of the ears of the uninitiated. And when is it that you touch him? After the victory of the cross, after the destruction of death, after the resurrection from the dead, after the ascension to the heavens, when he comes in a manner entirely worthy of God, that he might shine his light in our spirits, and that it is not in a human manner that he remains in virtue of the Economy.

24. Prepare him then your hostelry with magnificence, wash your hands in innocency, as the Psalmist has said, in leading you far from any works of impurity or iniquity. Envy the abstinence of John and his renouncing of food, Lucien equally, whose memory we celebrate, was adorned, after having competed with him, the crown of martyrdom, and now, it is through the intermediary of many of these beggars that feed abundantly on Christ, provided you, in honouring his memory, but into their hands a few obols of copper. It is for this reason, indeed, that the poor flock to the solemnities of the martyrs, to offer the sufferings of the athletes by way of prayer and incline you to mercy.

25. It is through these that Christ cries, proclaiming on high, I was hungry, and did you not feed me? And, I was naked, and did you not clothe me? Have you forgotten all the sufferings which are mine, which in truth I have endured for you. The birth in the flesh, the descent into the Jordan, the cross, the life-giving tomb, the resurrection, the blessed promise, the hope immortal. Therefore blush at the thought of the combat of the martyrs, and the supplications of these poor by which they adjure you, and console their poverty in the measure of what is possible. Christ says to you, do not neglect these, my brothers. It is by these that we render to Christ that which belongs to him, and that we obtain the blessed future by his grace and by his charity. To whom be the glory and the honour and the worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and in the ages of ages. Amen.

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