July 5, 2009

Augustine (354–430) on Christ Begging

10. So from what sin did he condemn sin? Some people, trying to understand, have arrived at a sense that is certainly not to be rejected out of hand. And yet, as far as I can see, they have not really been able to fathom what the apostle had said. However, they have said something that is not bad in itself. I'll tell you this first, and then what I think myself, and what the divine scripture itself shows to be the truest explanation.

When they were pestered with the question, "From what sin did he condemn sin? Did he have any sin?"–this is what they said: "From sin he condemned sin, from sin that was not his own; all the same, from sin he condemned sin."

"So if not from his own, from whose?"

"From the sin of Judas, from the sin of the Jews. After all, how did he come to shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins? Because he was crucified. Who was he crucified by? The Jews. Who betrayed him to them? Judas. When the Jews killed him, Judas betrayed him, did they do good, or did they sin? They sinned. There you have the sin from which he condemned sin."

It's a good answer, and it's quite true that from, or by means of, the sin of the Jews Christ condemned every sin, because it was in consequence of their persecution that he shed his blood, with which he canceled all sin. Nonetheless, notice what the apostle says somewhere else: On Christ's behalf, he says, we are acting as ambassadors, as though God were exhorting you through us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, that is, as though Christ were begging you, we beg you on his behalf, be reconciled to God. And he continues, Him who knew no sin, God to whom we are begging you to be reconciled made into sin for us, made him who knew no sin, made him into sin for us, that we might be the justice of God in him (2 Cor 5:20–21). Can sin here be understood as the sin of Judas, the sin of the Jews the sin of any other human being, when you hear Him who knew no sin, he made into sin for us? Who made whom? God made Christ, God made Christ into sin for us. He didn't say "made him a sinner for us," but made him into sin. If it's abominable, impious, to say Christ sinned, who can tolerate Christ's being sin? And yet we can't contradict the apostle. We can't say to him, "What on earth are you saying?" I mean, if we say this to the apostle, we are saying it to Christ. You see, he says somewhere else, Or do you want proof of Christ speaking in me? (2 Cor 13:3).
The Works of Saint Augustine: Sermons on the New Testament Part 3, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rotelle (Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, c1990–), 5:53–54.
13. Be reconciled with us, brothers; we love you; we want for you what we want for ourselves. If you hate us more deeply because we do not allow you to go astray and to be lost, tell this to God whom we fear, when he threatens bad shepherds and says, You have not called back what has gone astray, and you have not sought what was lost (34:4). God himself does this to you through us by begging, by threatening or by rebuking, by fines or by penalties, through his hidden warning or chastisements or through the laws of temporal authorities. Understand what he is doing with you; God does not want you to be lost, separated from your Catholic mother in your sacrilegious discord.
Augustine, “Letters (100–155),” in The Works of Saint Augustine, trans. Roland J. Teske (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), 60–61.

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