Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Augustine of Hippo
Young man, I say to you, arise.
All believers are moved when they hear the accounts of the miracles wrought by Jesus, our Lord and Savior, though they are affected by them in different ways. Some are astounded at his wonderful physical cures, but have not yet learned to discern the greater miracles that lie beyond the world of sense. Others marvel that the miracles that they hear of our Lord working on people's bodies are now being accomplished more wonderfully in their souls.
No Christian should doubt that even today the dead are being raised to life. Yet, while everyone has eyes capable of seeing the dead rise in the way the widow's son rose, as we have just heard in the Gospel, the ability to see the spiritually dead arise is possessed only by those who have themselves experienced a spiritual resurrection.
It is a greater thing to raise what will live for ever than to raise what must die again. When the young man in the Gospel was raised, his widowed mother rejoiced; when souls are daily raised from spiritual death, mother Church rejoices. The young man was dead in body, these latter are dead in spirit. Those who witnessed the lad's visible death mourned openly and visibly, but the invisible death of the dead in spirit was neither seen nor thought about.
The Lord Jesus sought out those he knew to be dead; he alone knew they were dead, and he alone could make them live again. Unless he had come to raise the dead the apostle would not have said: “Rise up. Sleeper,” of course, makes you think of someone slumbering, but when the apostle goes on to say “rise from the dead,” you realize that he really means a dead person. The visibly dead are often said to be sleeping and indeed for one who has power to wake them they really are only sleeping. A person is dead as far as you are concerned if he does not waken no matter how much you slap or pinch or even wound him. But for Christ, the young man he commanded to rise was only sleeping, because he immediately got up. Christ raises the dead from their graves more easily than another can rouse a sleeper from his bed.
Our Lord Jesus Christ wished us to understand that what he did for people's bodies he also did for their souls. He did not work miracles merely for miracles' sake; his object was that his deeds might arouse wonder in the beholders and reveal the truth to those capable of understanding.
A person who sees the letters in a beautifully written book without being able to read them will praise the skill of the copyist because he admires the graceful shape of the letters, but the purpose and meaning of these letters he does not grasp. What he sees with his eyes prompts him to praise, but his mind is not enriched with knowledge. Another, praising the artistry, will also grasp the meaning; one, that is, who is able not only to see what everyone else sees but also to read it, which is a skill that has to be learned. So too, those who observed Christ's miracles without grasping their purpose and the meaning they had for those able to understand, simply admired the deeds. Others went further: they admired the deeds and also grasped the meaning. As pupils in the school of Christ, we must be such as these.
(Sermon 98, 1-3: PL 38, 591-592)
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