Trinity Sunday put me in mind of a small text I wrote a couple of years ago, and that after sharing it on occasion with friends, I might finally publicize on this blog. One of the purposes of this blog is precisely to showcase genres and texts that have no place in my career in the university, but which belong to my more encompassing vocation as a philosopher and as a Christian Platonist of some sort.
The text today presents an answer to a devotional problem I faced some three years ago, when a devotion to Christ as Bridegroom played a large part in my romoeroticism, to use Eve Tushnet’s coinage. The issue was how to pray to Christ as bridegroom at Mass, when most prayers are addressed to the Father, which I had not learned to equally think of as the soul’s beloved. After much prayer the answer came to me in an argument, as they often do for me, but this argument came in the form of an inspired sermon, that I just had to write down. It was on the feast of St. Agnes 2017, after I had already prayed Morning Prayer and the Office of Reading, so St. Ambrose’s homily from the Office is certainly in part to thank for this text.
This was the first text I wrote in this homiletic genre, of which I have only published one the “Sermon to the Sodomites”, and that in Hebrew translation, though I hope to publish it later on this blog in the original English. The fictional frame of these texts is important to me. I would feel above my station if I published them in my own name, and I also think it would not do justice to the fact that I usually can only write these texts under inspiration and after much prayer, so I cannot take full authorship for them. Of course, this is not to claim that they have divine co-authorship, far from it, but just that something at least far greater than my own ego is at work here. It is like the most intense moments before a canvas, when I feel led by what is happening on the canvas.
I could write more detailing the Platonic and Christian roots of the different tropes and images in the text, but I will save that for a future post. So without further ado:
A Sermon by Fr. John Tauler at the Church of St. Sebastian of Brideshead on the feast of St. Agnes, April 21st
Today we celebrate the heavenly birth of St. Agnes, a virgin, martyr and bride of Christ. The soul and the virgin are often said to be brides of Christ and Christ is called our Bridegroom. By this we indicate the mystery of the Incarnation, by which the Word took on our nature, joining in the unity of His Person the divine nature He receives from the Father with the human nature he took from His mother. In the holy vessel of the Virgin’s willing womb, opened by the Holy Spirit, the Father created through His Word a perfect human nature, like our own in all except sin, and that cleaved so perfectly to the Person of the Word that it did not stand in any way before Him amongst beings, but stood with Him and entirely subject to His divine nature. By this human nature did the Word take up the whole nature of humankind, becoming the head of the Church, one body with the living race of Adam’s children, all of which are called to union with Him. In joining Himself to us, the Word joined us as a husband does his wife, becoming one flesh and crying “bones of my bones, flesh of my flesh”. And the conversion and adherence of each Christian is accompanied by the same cries, the same delights, the same joy of our Savior, Who has chosen to use only the sweetest mode of union to join the members of His Body.
But unlike husband and wife, who are separate and long for each other as long as they have not met and as long as they are separated by the world, Christ does not wait to join us. We join Him in receiving His Living Body and Blood in the Eucharist, but when we join Him, we find that He has already been at work in His Union with us. He has entered into our nature and penetrated the secrets of our hearts, and is responding to every motion he finds there. He has been offering the Father thanks for our joys, and thanks for our discipline, tears for our griefs and tears for our sins. His heart has been dancing with our own, itself moved by the Holy Spirit to groans beyond understanding. When the Eucharist comes to us, in it God has long been at work, penetrating, entering, changing, fusing, transforming our nature. For the unity of divine and human nature is no static reality in the Word, but is rather always at work, ever infusing mankind with grace, through mystic and public, visible and invisible means. The Body of Christ is a burning furnace of passion, a flame whose beauty we see, whose warmth we crave and whose touch ignites. Such is the marriage of man and God in the Word: a burning, effective love.
But consider the following. Before we were joined to the Word we were already enlightened by the Holy Spirit and through the Word we are joined to Him who speaks it, to the Father and source of all divinity. This is the mystery I wish to bring to your attention. For it is one and the same love, with which the Father loves the Word and the Word loves us and the Word is but the organ and mediator of the Father’s love to our hearts.
Here on earth, the Word was more than a man, He was the sacrifice of a man to the Most High. He began to suffer for our sins and to offer human sufferings to His Father on the eighth day of his His human life, when His innocent, pure flesh, devoid of all taint and shame, was circumcised according to the law. And of the countless sacrifices of His life certainly the following was not a minor one: that He, the second Adam, renounced all earthly fatherhood. For as Adam was called to be the father of all humans, Adam was certainly also given the potency to be such, and a seed capable of generating any one of us in the womb of our first mother, Eve. If Adam had such paternal powers, what of Christ with his divinized human nature? But it was not in the Lord’s plan to form a new race and a new people from His Son, and to wash the earth of Adam’s children. No, Christ died for our sins without any posterity in order to wash the sin from the descendants of Adam and He has received each Christian in place of the earthly children he did not have. The Seed of the Word is greater than the seed of Adam’s flesh and it comes to us through the preaching of the Gospel and every sacrament. Yes, indeed, the very Eucharist through which we enter into His Union is His very Seed, which can be seen in two ways: firstly, through the Eucharist, Christ is born again in the Soul, and what begets in another is seed; second, the Eucharist is not a dead body, but a living, active body, that contains the whole of Christ’s Body within itself and does not enter to be consumed, but rather to form, change and transform; But this is plainly a seed – the seeds of men are incomplete and the seed of the husband must be completed by the wife’s egg, but the Seed of God is complete, powerful and active as through it as Christ is begotten in us as He is begotten by the Father.
But what is this? Can this be right? Can the Father beget in us? It cannot be otherwise: the Son is only begotten by the Father. Then, oh, what joy! Oh, what cunning! Through His flesh did the Savior woo and seduce us, but in our union with Him we find that He has given us to His Father, Whom we would not even had dared approach, even after the forgiveness of our sins! Through His Son the Father has entered us, sowing in us the one eternal Word, with a single love of union and generation. Rejoice, my souls, for you are a child and the beloved of God. You are begotten by God’s love and loved as God’s child. His caresses form you as the mother bear was once thought to form her offspring by tender licking. He is making you and making love to you, for your substance shall be love. Do not be afraid! What is abhorrent in human affairs need not be in divine ones, what is mosntrous amongst bodies is not so amongst spirits. Just as you, soul, confuse the body by being equally in the eyes and the toes, one substance in two places saying “I am beneath me, I am above me”, so does God make us dizzy, whispering our ear: “I am your Father, I am your Lover, I am your Teacher, I am your Spouse, I am your Master, I am your Sweetheart, I am your Lord, I am your Friend, I am your King, I am your Prince.”
What answer can you make, oh soul? How can you repay such great and otherworldly love? Shall you say to Him “I am your sn, I Your beloved, I am Your pupil, I am Your betrothed, I am Your servant, I am Your treasure, I am Your subject, I am Your bride”? Return to Him all He gives you: for you have nothing to keep it in that was not itself given by Him. Every thought of yours leads back to Him, every desire of yours turns to Him, every identity of yours establishes in Him. As He gave his very Son for the salvation of the world, do not spare yourself in joining him in the same project.
Is such proper thanks impossible? For us, certainly, for Him, not in the least. And here we should remember that God takes us to the bridal chamber not once, but three times: in the incarnation of the Son, in the begetting by the Father, but also in the breath of the Holy Spirit. For before the union of the flesh and the begetting of a child, there is the kiss that unites lips, mouths, throats and thus too breaths, and through which we breathe in the very Breath of God and before the reception of the Eucharist and our transformation, there is the eye of faith through which we see Christ in the sacrament. Draw deeply then, inhale at this well of inspiration, which taught you to say “yes”, “I am ready” and “come in” to the Son and that you need now more than ever to give Him thanks and praise. The kisses and delights of faith led you to Him and made all earthly delight pale in comparison. They may even have made you unfit for success in earthly pursuits, being distracted by the scent of Your True Love. Now that You have have found Him, do not forget the time when you met in the dark, before His light shone clearly in your sky. When He would seek you out in the dark corners you frequented and there you knew for a moment a spark of love. Remember the nights, the stars and the warmth. The excitement that drew you to Him. How all the rest of the world seemed to be worth nothing compared to those precious hours. Think of all the clever devices, the contrivances and plots of your mysterious lover for you to have time together. He would spin the stars and shake the ground to arrange a single kiss. He still does so! Do You believe You are now alone in pursuing His love? No! He still weaves His web of contingency to catch you. He pursues you now as ever, but in the daylight, being able to act publicly and clearly! He shouts through the prophets and apostles, He shines in His saints, He is present in the sacraments! In the sight of all He will take you and possess you, imbuing you with a spirit of good words, thoughts and deeds, Rejoice, oh Soul, rejoice, oh Christian, Rejoice, oh Virign, for your three spouses:
The Holy Spirit, who shares with you His breath,
The Son, who gives you His Body.
The Father, who begets in you His Son.
That each of us may always be true brides to our three bridegrooms, let us pray.
Header image credit: The Rape of Ganymede (detail), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)