A MEDITATION ON THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST

Here beginneth a Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, according to the testimonies of Holy Writ

Here beginneth a Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, according to the testimonies of Holy Writ.

“Search the Scriptures,” saith the Lord. O most sweet Lord Jesus, grant me Thy unworthy servant devoutly to ponder the mystery of Thy incarnation; to search wisely, to understand sublimely; what is not understood to venerate humbly: and ever to give thanks to Thee for condescension so great, and love so inestimable. For to contemplate this mystery affords me the greatest delight; and amid all Thy other wonders brings me the sweetest savour, touches me most deeply: draws me most mightily, and ravishes my whole spirit within me. Grant me then often to dwell thereon: and carefully to consider how it was foreknown and foretold by the holy prophets. Open Thou my eyes: and I will consider the wondrous   p 4  things of Thy law. For Thou art the founder of the law, Thou the inspirer and teacher of the prophets: by whose utterances in wonderful and manifold ways Thou wast foretold and prefigured; now clearly, now darkly: as the whole sequence of the Old Testament when examined manifestly shows forth. For nothing therein is without mystery; but most faithful witness is there contained as well of Thy divine as of Thy human nature. And although the testimony of men is not necessary to Thee, Who art the Truth, and, at Thy pleasure, makest of men prophets; nevertheless, for our instruction and strengthening in the faith, Thou didst will these things to be foretold and written long before by Thy saints: and Thou didst will to clothe their words with such authority, that no man might dare to gainsay them in any point; so that also when Thou shouldst be present in the flesh, Thou couldst be recognized the King of Israel and Saviour of the World: Whom Holy Writ in so many places had declared to be coming. And this it is that in person Thou didst give as answer to the doctors of the law not believing: but closely watching and cunningly tempting Thee. “Search the scriptures: for you think in them to have life everlasting. And the same are they that give testimony of Me.”

The patriarchs give witness: the prophets and the other just give witness of Thy incarnation. For Abraham, first of the patriarchs by the merit of his faith and his act of perfect obedience: received this promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In which seed, to wit, Thou wert designated and prophesied: Who, born of the Virgin Mary, didst truly spring from the flesh of Adam, truly from the stock of   p 5  Abraham. Who also didst transmit this blessing to all the nations throughout the world, saying, “He that believeth and is baptized: shall be saved.” This blessing, I say, is not an earthly, but a heavenly promise: not transitory fruitfulness, but everlasting bliss; unending life with the angels: not temporal length of days. Which, as it was promised to faithful Abraham: so also through Thee was it given to him, and to all the followers of the true faith. For not those only, who were born of Abraham according to the flesh, are to be reckoned children of the promise: but they that follow in the footsteps of his faith are included in the blessing; whether sprung from him of the flesh: or born again of the spirit from the other nations. And therefore he is called the father of many nations, not of the Jews only: but of all them that believe in Thee throughout the universe of peoples.

A splendid witness also to Thee bears Isaac, the son of Abraham, in the things that befell him. For his birth, foretold by an angel, is a presage of Thy nativity: which however far surpasses the manner of birth of all that are born of women. He was brought forth of a barren mother through the promise of an angel: but Thou, promised from the beginning of the world, in a more ineffable fashion wast born of a virgin mother for our salvation. He in his conception gave joy to parents and friends: but Thou in Thy birth didst give great joy to angels and men. This very miracle wrought in the womb of old age makes easy of belief the child-bearing of maidenhood. Thou therefore, Who didst perform this in Thy servant, couldst certainly do more in Thyself. For seeing that Thou art the Author of   p 6  nature, Thou holdest all things under Thy power: and Thou art bound by the law or right of none.

In him also is resplendent a figure of Thy Passion: when he was bidden sacrifice himself by his Father, to whom a message from God to this effect had previously been brought by an angel. He carried the wood of the sacrifice: Thou didst bear the wood of the cross, unto the wiping out of the handwriting of original sin. He is bound and speedily placed upon the altar: Thou, after Thou hast been bound and cruelly scourged, art at length lifted up upon the cross, that Thou mayest draw all things to Thyself. He was obedient to his father Abraham: and Thou didst obey Thy Father God, even to the death of the cross. He is offered, but not slain: because he was the figure, Thou the truth: he the symbol, Thou the true sacrifice. He should not die, because he was not the redeemer of the world: but Thou shouldst die, still not of Thy own, but for our crime: because, true Redeemer of the world, Thou wert born unto this, and didst receive this commandment from the Father.

The patriarch Jacob likewise bears most true testimony to Thee. He, taught by the spirit of prophecy: foretold to his children many things to come. For he made known the tribe of which Thou wert to be born, and the time wherein Thou wert to come: when, blessing his son Juda, among other things he said: “The sceptre shall not be taken from Juda,” quoth he, “nor a ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent: and He shall be the expectation of nations.” Which testimony indeed rightly understood stands undoubtedly accomplished in Thee, Who didst   p 7  most worthily spring from the tribe of Juda: and didst enter this light of the world at that epoch, when a legitimate ruler had failed in Judea: and a king of foreign race, Herod, there held princely sway. Thou art not therefore awaited, as the Jew madly raves; but Thou art believed to have already come God in the flesh: as the Christian confesses, and the Catholic faith teaches. Certainly, there is no longer a ruler in Judea, the law has ceased therein; the priesthood is silent, the temple has fallen, the kingdom is destroyed, that nation is scattered through the world: that the whole world may know, that Thou, the Saviour of Israel, the expectation of the nations and the desired thereof, hast come. The ancient law then was due to cease, after the new grace and truth shone forth with Thy coming: for all that former dispensation was a minister to give witness to Thee. With this agree the voices of the prophets: who, foreknowing Thy coming, foretold the days of grace in which we abide.

For Moses, the lawgiver and teacher of Thy people Israel, utters a most trustworthy testimony: “The Lord Thy God will raise up to thee a prophet of thy nation and of thy brethren like unto me.” Moses called Thee simply a prophet addressing a rude people: who maybe was not yet found capable of grasping a more sublime title of Thee. Which also is sufficiently clear from the gospel, where, when Thou hadst worked the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, this was the saying repeated by the people: “This is of a truth the prophet, that is to come into the world.” But we, now endued with a more certain truth and a higher understanding of faith: truly confess and believe Thee not only a prophet, but   p 8  the Lord also of the prophets, and the true Son of God. Nor is it strange if Thou didst speak many things darkly to that people by Thy servant Moses, and to us more things more clearly in Thy own person: for thus it befitted the order of justice, thus the law in fine and grace. This Moses then, in the longing for Thy advent, prayed and said, “I beseech Thee, Lord: send Whom Thou wilt send.”

This is the Moses, who is sent into Egypt to free the children of Israel: to whom also is likewise given the power of working signs and marvels. He wrought many things and strange, which, read or heard, excite no little wonder: but, understood mystically and duly referred to Thee: convey to pious and faithful minds a higher meaning and a more saving fruit. He led forth the children of Israel from the land of Egypt: Thou didst redeem Thine from the old life, from the slavery of the devil, from the confines of hell. He, having overwhelmed Pharaoh in the Red Sea, made them enter the land of promise: Thou, having destroyed original sin by the water of baptism, makest Thy faithful enter the kingdom of the dwelling above. He on Mount Sinai received the law of the decalogue written on tables of stone, and delivered it to the people to observe: Thou, having become the mediator of the New Testament, didst preach the law of grace to the disciples on the Mount: which also by the spirit of love Thou didst deeply impress upon their minds. He wandered forty years in the desert with the children of Israel: by many signs and wonders he was glorious in their midst; Thou, three and thirty years seen upon earth and conversing with men, didst show forth so many signs   p 9  of Thy divine power: that the world would scarcely be able to contain them, if they were all written. He acted as a faithful servant: Thou didst act as the Lord and the only Son of the Father: into Whose hands the Father gave all things. Therefore neither he can be compared with Thee: nor indeed any one of angels or men. For to all the spirit is given in measure; but to Thee remaineth power ever equal with the Father: there abideth also in Thee according to Thy human nature an excellence of singular dignity far above the other saints, communicable to no creature. “For to which of the angels hath it been said at any time, ‘Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten Thee’ ”? Or which of the saints has heard the Father saying to him, “Sit thou at my right hand”? It is a great thing for an angel to be a minister: it is a great thing for any of Thy saints, to sit at table in the kingdom of Thy Father: but to Thee is given all power in Heaven and on earth. And if Thou didst appear in the substance of our mortal flesh; Thou art nevertheless above all the unchangeable God: receiving what is ours, and not losing what is Thine own. Unwaveringly therefore and boldly we confess Thee the Christ, the only-begotten of God, the Saviour of the world, and the Holy of holies promised in the law; desired by the patriarchs; foreseen and foretold by the prophets. Whose witness if a man hesitate to believe, he deprives himself of the light of truth: not keeping the base on which to set the foot of faith: nor looking to the light shining in the darksome place. For the law is a flame, and prophecy a precious lantern, leading us on to Thee the true light of the soul: in Whom they that believe are saved by faith.   p 10  For without faith and the knowledge of Thy name, there is no hope of life: no gaining of salvation is possible. Thou indeed art our salvation, our hope and redemption: Whom the saints of old awaited, who had received this promise.

Moreover in many symbols, in numerous and wondrous visions also, this salvation promised of Thee existed long before and lay concealed; but, when the mystery of Thy Incarnation and Passion was fulfilled, all these hidden things were made known and accomplished. Thee therefore that paschal lamb: which was ordered to be sacrificed every year in memory of the ancient deliverance from Egypt, prefigured. Thee the offering of calves and goats, Thee the incense of sweet gums: Thee the various celebration of sacrifices, and frequent sprinkling of blood, prefigured. Thou art mystically symbolized in the golden candlestick adorned with seven lamps: Thou in the High Priest, who once a year enters the holy of holies. But all these sacrifices of the law: Thou hast fully completed by the one sacrifice of Thy body offered once upon the cross. Now therefore there is left no profit in the observance of the former things: for what they signified Thou the eternal Truth hast made manifest to us. But they are read and, discussed according to the spirit by faithful doctors, are profitably brought forth for our edification: and their mystic meaning affords delight: but their observance in the letter is not allowed. And if formerly such sacrifices pleased Thee, this was the work of faith in a hidden mystery, which was to be made known: but now those ancient rites are ended: because the true sacrifice has now come, which with faithful devotion holy Church repeats throughout the world.

  p 11  Thee also the rock springing fresh waters to the thirsty people: Thee the manna giving wondrous nourishment to the hungry: Thee the uplifted brazen serpent healing the poisoned of the bite: Thee the rod of Aaron the priest, flowering and producing nuts, beautifully foreshadowed.

Thee Joshua noble in deed and name: Thee Gideon the most victorious, Thee the most mighty Samson, Thee Samuel the most faithful prophet: Thee the illustrious virtue of each of the Nazarenes and judges wonderfully showed forth.

Thee David, the king and glorious prophet, chosen according to God’s heart, and exquisite psalmist evidently sings: devoutly prays, and ardently desires saying: “Lord bow down Thy heavens and descend. Stir up Thy might and come: to save us. Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy: and grant us Thy salvation. Lord, where are Thy ancient mercies: according to what Thou didst swear to David?” With these and like supplications in the psalms he often shows the desire of his bosom: but more sublime things also than these with the eyes of the heart unveiled he declares in witness to Thee. This is the holy David: to whom Thou didst make manifest the uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom: and promise that Thou wouldst be made flesh of his stock. This is the David comely of form, strong of hand, prudent in counsel: wise in word, mild under insults, lowly in his looks, observant of the holy law: precentor of the Gospel, true witness of Thy coming. He has most fully prophesied of Thy birth, passion, resurrection and ascension. Thou art therefore He of Whom he said: “He hath set His tabernacle in the sun: and He is as a bridegroom coming out of His bride chamber.   p 12  He hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of Heaven: and His circuit even to the end thereof.” Thou art the truth sprung out of the earth: Thou the justice looking down from Heaven: which, after the fall, reconciled us to God the Father. Thou art the beautiful above the sons of men: in Whose lips grace is poured abroad: yea from Whom mercy and grace have flowed to all. Thou art God our king before ages: Who hast wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou art the man born in Judea: Whose name abides before the ages. Thou as rain upon the fleece didst come down upon Mary: and as showers falling gently upon the earth, Thou didst sprinkle the saving doctrine of the gospel. Thou, begotten of the Father before the Day-star, and clothed in the garb of our mortality: remainest a priest for ever, appointed by God, according to the order of Melchisedech. Thou didst drink of the torrent in the way: suffering for us as a true wayfarer the unmerited passion of death. Therefore in the day of Thy resurrection Thou didst put on strength and beauty; nor after our fashion didst Thou see the corruption of the flesh: but the selfsame flesh in which Thou didst suffer, Thou didst raise to life immortal: wherewith amid rejoicing angels Thou didst ascend with jubilee: to return on the last day in the sound of the trumpet. And thus have been fulfilled the faithful songs of David: written in various passages of the psalms.

O Jesus, only desire of the prophets: Thou art the Emmanuel, Whom the virgin conceived, the virgin brought forth, after Whose birth she remained a virgin: of Whom Isaias prophesied with luminous discourse: “A child is born to us: and   p 13  a son is given to us. And the government is upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God, the Mighty, the Father of the world to come: the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied: and there shall be no end of peace.” Thou art the root of Jesse, Who standest for an ensign of peoples; Whom the gentiles shall beseech: Whose sepulchre is seen glorious even to this day. Thou art the flower rising up out of the root of Jesse; upon Whom rests the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness: and the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Thou art the lamb, the ruler of the earth: sent from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion. Thou art the mountain of the house of the Lord prepared on the top of the mountains, exalted above the hills; to Whom all the nations flow: that they may receive of Thy fullness. Thou art the light of Jerusalem, and the glory of Israel: Whose rising and brightness illumine the world. Thou art the tried stone, the precious corner stone: founded in the foundation of Sion. Thou art the bud of the Lord in magnificence, and the exalted fruit of the earth: now seated at the right hand of God the Father: with princes and powers all subject to Thee. Thus Isaias, who in his great spirit saw the future: and comforted all the mourners of Sion with Thy coming. Whence also he says: “Be comforted, be comforted my people, saith the Lord your God: for I myself that spoke, I am here.” O with what burning desire he longed for the fulfilment of the promise of Thy incarnation: when, full of the spirit of daring, he cried out. “O that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down:   p 14  the mountains would melt away at Thy presence.” Who, unable to cool the heat of his desire: but seeking to make it known to all, said again: “For Sion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest; till her Just One come forth as brightness: and her Saviour be lighted as a lamp.” And who can unfold all his mystic words: which he uttered concerning Thy glorious incarnation, Passion, triumph, and the expectation of the judgement, as also concerning the calling of the gentiles and the preaching of the holy Gospel? He relates the future as if it were present: he describes each detail: as if he had been an eyewitness of all. But in sooth he did see: yet with the eyes of the understanding, not of the flesh. For by spiritual eyes divine mysteries are beheld: which the animal man cannot perceive. Whence the Pharisees, who considered only outwardly the bodily presence in Thee: were unable to rise to the majesty of the divinity. But Isaias, enlightened from Heaven and uplifted: uttered truthful witness concerning both natures. For of the godhead he spoke thus: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and all the earth was full of His glory.” But of the human nature thus: “We have seen Him: and there was no sightliness. And we have thought Him as it were a leper: and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities: He was bruised for our sins.”

Likewise also the most holy prophet Jeremias bears witness to Thee: when he describes the great mystery of Thy generation thus: “For the Lord,” he saith, “hath created a new thing upon the earth: a woman shall compass a man.” What thing so new, Lord Jesus, as Thy conception of   p 15  the Holy Ghost, Thy birth of the virgin? This is the new thing unheard of from the ages: which has not seen its like before it, nor shall have another after it. O truly blessed novelty; by which the old wickedness was driven out: and the new holiness brought in.

Hail, new mother Mary, rejoice: thou art that blessed woman, of whom this prophecy speaks: who also hast merited to be made glad by the most happy bringing forth of this new thing. For Him, Whom all creation doth not contain: thou, raised higher than all creatures, hast compassed in thy spotless womb. And although thou didst bear Him long enclosed within thy virginal womb, small and clothed in fragile members: nevertheless Jesus was a man even while not yet born: but in virtue not in body; by perfection of wisdom, not by measure of age: yea, full of grace and truth as soon as He was conceived. Understanding it therefore thus, we are convinced that this was the great mystery: foretold from the mouth of Jeremias.

Hence also in Baruch that memorable testimony is set: “This is our God: and there shall be no other accounted of in comparison of Him. Afterwards He was seen upon earth: and conversed with men.” The prophet Ezechiel, who had witnessed many heavenly mysteries: this especially notes of Thee saying: “And upon the likeness of the throne, was a likeness as of the appearance of a man above upon it.” And again: “And there was one man in the midst of them clothed with linen: with a writer’s inkhorn at his reins.” He touches also upon the wondrous mystery of Thy most holy birth: when from the eastern gate, he merited to hear the divine answer: “This gate   p 16  shall be shut, it shall not be opened: and no man shall pass through it; because the God of Israel hath entered in by it: and it shall be shut for the prince.” Thou art that prince: Mary also the shut gate: who, in conceiving and bearing, remained ever a maiden untouched.

Daniel, the man of desires and seer of sublime secrets, when he wisely explained to king Nabuchodonosor his dream: assuredly foretells Thy coming faithfully: “Thus thou sawest,” saith he, “till a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands: and it struck the statue upon the feet thereof that were of iron and of clay: and it broke them in pieces. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain: and filled the whole earth.” Thou art symbolized by that stone: Who wast cut out of a mountain, to wit, out of the kingdom of the Jews, without hands: that is, formed of a virgin without the aid of a spouse. Who didst strike the statue in its feet: because even amid the wars of persecution Thou didst bow the state of worldly grandeur by words and signs to the obedience of faith. And thou hast become a great mountain and hast filled the whole earth: for Thou Who formerly wast known to but a few in Judea: afterwards by the bright light of the gospel grace hast revealed Thyself to the whole world.

Another testimony the same Daniel brings forward saying: “I beheld in the vision of the night: and lo one like the Son of man came with the clouds, and He came even to the Ancient of days: and they presented Him before Him. And He gave Him power and glory and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve Him. His power is an everlasting power that shall not   p 17  be taken away: and His kingdom, that shall not be destroyed.” What more evident than this testimony; in which both Thy advents, in the flesh, and to the judgement, are clearly declared?

Michaeas gave a testimony such: that even the Scribes and Pharisees when questioned could not pass it over in silence. For when Herod asked of them, where the Christ should be born: they replied according to the words of this prophet, in Bethlehem of Juda. For so said the same blessed prophet. “And thou Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be the ruler in Israel. And His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity.” In which words assuredly is interwoven the truth of Thy twofold birth: while one is declared an eternal going forth from the Father, the other a coming forth in time from a mother. Habacuc the prophet standeth upon the watch and fixeth his foot; that he may hear what is said to him concerning the future: and behold Thee upon the cross. “For as yet,” he saith, “the vision is far off: and it shall appear at the end, and shall not lie. If it make any delay, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and it shall not be slack.” And of Thy Passion thus: “His brightness shall be as the light: horns are in His hands. There is His strength hid: death shall go before His face. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people: for salvation with Thy Christ.” This one especially, more than the other prophets, expresses Thy most sweet name, which is above every name: speaking thus: “But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus.”

Sophonias weaves a prophecy of consolation:   p 18  and raises to spiritual joy the mind, wearied now with long waiting: “Give praise,” he saith, “O daughter of Sion, shout, O Israel: be glad and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in the midst of thee: He will save.”

Aggaeus also foretold: “Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth, and the sea and the dry land: and I will move all nations: and the desired of all nations shall come.”

Zacharias, with rejoicing heart and giving certain indications, bears witness, saying: “Sing, praise and rejoice, O daughter of Sion: for behold I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee.” And again: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion: shout for joy, O Jerusalem. Behold thy King cometh to thee, the just and Saviour: He is poor and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” This prophecy Thou didst then fulfil: when Thou didst approach Jerusalem seated upon the back of a lowly ass. And that no man may doubt that these things were foretold of Thee: words are added that leave no room for doubt: because the experience thereof is now possessed: “And He shall speak peace to the gentiles,” saith he: “and His power shall be from sea to sea.” The which it is clear was faithfully performed by the preachers of Thy holy gospel: who announced peace to them that were near, and to them that were afar. After this he turns to the Passion: showing that Thou wert to redeem the world by Thy blood: “Thou also by the blood of Thy testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit: wherein was no water.” And many other testimonies indeed the same prophet and the rest   p 19  of the prophets brought forth: of which not a few are inserted in the New Testament. Nor should it move the reader to unbelief: if he hears some testimonies rendered one way in the evangelists and another in the prophets. For the evangelists assert in brief and more clearly; as formed by a more free schooling of the Holy Ghost: that which the prophets often treated in a long discourse and obscurely.

Having heard then such great attestations of the truth: do not longer disbelieve, Jew or Gentile. Confess the incarnation of Christ; foretold by the mouth of the prophets, and fulfilled. And if thou dost not trust our writings: consult thy own books, and certainly thou shalt find it so. Only put away the understanding of the flesh, and strive not with senseless effort to defend the naked letter; seek the Spirit, and turn thy heart to the mysteries of Christ: if thou wilt have a right understanding in the holy writ. Otherwise if thou boastest in the law or the prophets outside of Christ; thy glorying is empty: and blind the understanding which thou followest. Nor shall Moses profit thee: if thou hearest not Christ, of Whom Moses wrote. Nor shall the prophets avail thee, if thou acceptest not the Lord of the prophets. In vain thou seekest to be justified by the law: since even before the giving of the law many fathers were found just. By faith Noah was called just: and Abraham believing God, even before the circumcision, received the praise of justice. Boast thee not therefore of nobility of race; nor of the virtues of thy fathers, nor of the divine words handed down to thee, full of heavenly promises: because God regards the hearts of the humble, and looks to the faith of them that rightly   p 20  believe; and therefore thou shalt be glorious, and acceptable to God: if, believing in Christ, thou follow the faith and life of the early fathers. Who assuredly hoped for merit, not from the observance of the law, nor from a multitude of victims, nor from their own deeds: but from the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ alone. For thus God promised by Isaias the prophet: “You were sold gratis: and you shall be redeemed without money.” Come back to thy senses, Jew, come back to thy senses: and be converted to the true light of the world, Jesus Christ. He is the Lord ruler and the angel of the testament: as saith Malachias. He has come to save all nations; sent especially to thee: but alack neither acknowledged nor received by many of thy children. For if thou believest that He has come, thou shalt be saved; if thou dost not believe, He shall come against thee, and thou shalt be condemned. For He saith: “If you believe not that I am He: you shall die in your sin.” What excuse wilt thou be able to offer in defence of thy error? Thou hast the law and the prophets; but as accusers rather than defenders: who shall stand in witness against thee, because thou wouldst not believe. Moses saith: “Hear ye, rebellious and incredulous. While I am yet living and going in with you, you have always been rebellious against the Lord; how much more when I shall be dead?” This obduracy abides even to this day in thee, and in thy seed. When thou art converted, God shall be propitious to thee again: even as to the other nations. Be converted, be converted to the Lord Jesus Christ, O Israel: and thou shalt no longer be a reproach among the Gentiles.

For there are two things that chiefly keep thee   p 21  back in thy perfidy: love of temporal goods, and a carnal sense in the scriptures. However, lift up thy eyes round about, O Jerusalem: and see, O Israel, the number of Christ’s faithful widely spread through the whole world; and blush to be found ever in error: who by believing canst gain everlasting salvation. Let not be a stumbling block to thee the multitude of them that live carelessly, who can speedily amend by doing penance: but look rather to the example of good Christians: of whom thousands, even if hidden from the eyes of men: shall never be wanting in the Church.

But now leaving aside the crowd of the Jews, turn to Christ, O my soul: for He is thy salvation and redemption. If the Jew will not believe, do thou stand in the faith: that Jesus is the Son of God, to Whom bear witness all the prophets divinely instructed and inspired. Whom if the Jews believed, they would believe also the gospel of Christ: as He said to them: “For if you did believe Moses: you would perhaps believe Me also. For he wrote of Me.” But it is not wonderful if they fail to believe Him, carnal men, going after visible things only: since the law is spiritual: and admits none but a spiritual man to its understanding. But because the Lord Jesus Christ came humble, He was not known by them: although also they read of Him in the prophets coming thus. But the wretched men struck their foot against the stumbling stone and the rock of scandal: despising the lowly, and blaspheming Him that wrought things divine. Hearing this, my soul, be thou as a most prudent bee, avoiding the evil pride of the perfidious: and ever following with lowly steps the faith of the pious. Nor   p 22  let it affright thee that wickedness is of many, and piety of few: since it is the sentence of the Lord, that many are called, but few chosen. Nor is that question thy concern: for to God alone belongs this distinguishing. Turn thine eyes to thyself; and see what great things have been bestowed on thee by God: and be instant in what thanksgivings thou canst render for thy calling and enlightenment. Rejoice and exult with thy whole heart in God thy Saviour: Who, the Orient from on high, has deigned to visit thee. For it was all of grace, and a proof of extreme love: that He, Who could succour, willed to come thus. And if He had made Himself a debtor in promising; He did not thereby deprive Himself of the favour of liberality: for His gifts came without any preceding merits.

O truly great and venerable mystery hidden from the ages: promised by many foregoing witnesses, long expected, burningly desired: and at length shown to the world and faithfully bestowed. Few of the common people had understood this great sacrament of the incarnation; and almost only the prophets seem to have penetrated its inner meaning: to whom by the gift of a special revelation it was granted to know beforehand and write. For they as the chosen friends of God were allowed to enter the secret of so heavenly a design: so that they understood that the human race on account of the guilt of the first offence, had fallen into a misery such as could not otherwise be taken away except by the grace of a Mediator: by Whose incarnation and suffering man should receive redemption. This the ears of the people, to whom all things happened in figure: could not clearly perceive. To them it was a great   p 23  thing, if they received any gift of earthly promise; to the prophets nothing seemed great and joyous: except what savoured of the sweetness of eternal happiness. Whence one of the most sublime prophets, rising above all earthly things: showed what he loved more especially saying, “What have I in Heaven; and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth? Thou art the God of my heart: and the God that is my portion for ever.” But this love of heavenly and hope of future things all did not possess: and where the shadow and the truth differed, many did not know; until Thou, the true peace, camest down from Heaven: and didst enter, good Jesus, into the valley of this world to enlighten men. And so it was not till after it is recorded that Thou the Word wast made flesh, and not till after Thou the Creator of man didst deign to appear among men; that what long lay secretly enclosed, began to be made clear through Thee: and what was difficult of understanding, became comprehensible; and what to many seemed incredible, by Thy saving presence Thou didst make visible: and in a certain manner, if I may so speak, palpable to the hands.

Finally some things Thou hast humbly fulfilled to the very letter: showing that they were written of Thee. But some things Thou hast not accomplished literally, but hast referred rather to the mystic sense; teaching that all the oracles of the prophets are not to be taken according to the letter: although they are always whole and entire according to the spiritual understanding. For instance, as the evangelist attests, literally that scripture was fulfilled in Thee of the paschal lamb: “You shall not break a bone thereof.” But spiritually that which says, “It shall be a   p 24  lamb without blemish: a male of one year.” For the lamb without blemish: symbolises Thee, innocent and free from all guilt. With the plain prophecies then Thou instructest the simple unto faith: but with darker sayings Thou drawest the more acute to search deep mysteries. A plain prophecy is, “They have dug My hands and feet, they have numbered all My bones.” A hidden: “I am a worm and no man.” An open prophecy is, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” A mysterious is, “Upon one stone there are seven eyes.” In this way also many other testimonies are found most truly foretold of Thee: which the fallacy of the Jews shall never be able to make void. For they strove to bring false witness against Thee: and their witness was not agreeing. Woe to thee, perfidious: who choosest rather to perish than to believe. Give assent to the words of truth: lest it be said to thee, which was said to the Sadducees carnally groping in the law and the prophets: “You err, not knowing the scriptures: nor the power of God.” For all prophecy tends to Christ: and in Christ receives fulfilment.

Nevertheless, Lord Jesus present in the flesh, Thou didst not think of the salvation only of the Jews; but also of all who were to believe in Thee, by the holy preaching of the apostles: whom Thou didst especially choose for this work. Who, although at first they were simple and unlettered men; still by Thy daily converse, and afterwards by the more generous inpouring of the Holy Ghost, as Thou didst promise them, were led into all truth: so as to grasp the fullness of the whole scripture. And their preaching is to be so much the more admired and to be given the more undoubting credit: the more truly evident it is, that they   p 25  could never have wrought such wonders of themselves: unless Thy most omnipotent hand had strengthened them; seeing that it is an extremely difficult and truly divine work: to have subdued the whole world to the holy laws of the faith.

O Wisdom of God, which camest forth from the mouth of the Most High; what great things Thou hast wrought for our salvation: that Thou mightest recall us thither, whence we fell. Thou didst send before the patriarchs and prophets: to foretell us Thy coming. Then Thou didst appoint the apostles and evangelists: to teach that all things had been accomplished. O ineffable is Thy mercy, O Lord: which has been shown forth above all that can be conceived. For Thou didst diligently seek them that knew Thee not: them that forsook Thee Thou didst not forsake; them that sinned against Thee Thou didst most lovingly forgive: to them that were turned away far from Thee, Thou didst show the way of eternal salvation. If Thou hast been so kind to Thine enemies; what wilt Thou be to Thy friends? Assuredly all in all, that nothing may be wanting to them that feast with Thee and rejoice in the kingdom of Thy Father. Amen.

 Thomas à Kempis. (1907). Here beginneth a Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, according to the testimonies of Holy Writ. In D. V. Scully (Trans.), A Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, Sermons on the Life and Passion of Our Lord and Of Hearing and Speaking Good Words (pp. 3–25). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.

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