Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Augustine of Hippo
After eight days Jesus came in and stood among them.
My dear people, you, like myself, are well aware that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the one physician capable of bringing us eternal healing and salvation.
We know, too, that it was in order to accomplish this that he took upon himself the weakness of our human nature, otherwise that weakness would have remained with us for ever.
He equipped himself with a human body liable to death, so that in and through that body he might conquer death itself.
And though, as the apostle tells us, it was his human weakness that made it possible for him to be crucified, it was his divine power that enabled him to return to life.
The same apostle says: “He will never die again, neither will death
have any further her hold upon him.”
All this you already know and believe, and also the consequences flowing from it; we can be sure that the miracles he wrought while he lived among us were meant to encourage us to accept gifts from him that should never pass away nor have an end.
Thus he gave back sight to blind eyes that would shortly be closed again in death; he raised Lazarus from the dead only for him to die again. His bodily cures, indeed, were never meant to last for ever, even though at the end of time he is to give the body itself life everlasting.
But because “seeing is believing,” he used those visible wonders to build up people’s faith in even greater marvels that could not be seen.
Let no one then be found to say that since Christ Jesus our Lord no longer works such miracles among us, the Church was better off in its early days. On the contrary, in one recorded testament, the same Lord sets those who have never seen and yet believe before those who believe only because they see.
Indeed, so great was the disciples’ weakness at that time, that when they saw the Lord they found it necessary to touch him before they could believe he had really risen from the dead. They were unable to believe the testimony of their own eyes, until they had handled his body and explored his recent wounds with their fingers.
Only after this was done could that most hesitant of all his disciples exclaim: “My Lord and my God!” Thus it was by his wounds that Christ, who had so often healed the manifold wounds of others, came to be recognized himself.
Now we may ask: could not the Lord have risen with a body from which all marks of wounds had been erased? No doubt he could have; but he knew his disciples bore within their hearts a wound so deep that the only way to cure it was to retain the scars of his own wounds in his body.
And when that confession: “My Lord and my God!” was uttered, what was his answer to it? “You believe,” he said, “because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
And who, my brothers and sisters, are those if not ourselves and those who are to follow after us?
When, later on, the Lord had departed from human sight and faith had had time to strike roots into people’s hearts, those who believed in him made their act of faith without seeing him in whom they made it.
The faith of such believers is highly meritorious, for it springs from a devoted heart rather than from an exploring hand.
(Sermon 88, 1-2: PL 38, 539-540)
Augustine (354-430) was born at Thagaste in Africa and received a Christian education, although he was not baptized until 387. In 391 he was ordained priest and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396. Augustine’s theology was formulated in the course of his struggle with three heresies: Manicheism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings are voluminous and his influence on subsequent theology immense. He molded the thought of the Middle Ages down to the thirteenth century. Yet he was above all a pastor and a great spiritual writer.
**From Saint Louis University