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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 29

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 29.—Of the Three Men or Angels, in Whom the Lord is Related to Have Appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.

God appeared again to Abraham at the oak of Mamre in three men, who it is not to be doubted were angels, although some think that one of them was Christ, and assert that He was visible before He put on flesh.  Now it belongs to the divine power, and invisible, incorporeal, and incommutable nature, without changing itself at all, to appear even to mortal men, not by what it is, but by what is subject to it.  And what is not subject to it?  Yet if they try to establish that one of these three was Christ by the fact that, although he saw three, he addressed the Lord in the singular, as it is written, “And, lo, three men stood by him:  and, when he saw them, he ran p. 328 to meet them from the tent-door, and worshipped toward the ground, and said, Lord, if I have found favor before thee,” 931 etc.; why do they not advert to this also, that when two of them came to destroy the Sodomites, while Abraham still spoke to one, calling him Lord, and interceding that he would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked in Sodom, Lot received these two in such a way that he too in his conversation with them addressed the Lord in the singular?  For after saying to them in the plural, “Behold, my lords, turn aside into your servant’s house,” 932 etc., yet it is afterwards said, “And the angels laid hold upon his hand, and the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters, because the Lord was merciful unto him.  And it came to pass, whenever they had led him forth abroad, that they said, Save thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all this region:  save thyself in the mountain, lest thou be caught.  And Lot said unto them, I pray thee, Lord, since thy servant hath found grace in thy sight,” 933 etc.  And then after these words the Lord also answered him in the singular, although He was in two angels, saying, “See, I have accepted thy face,” 934 etc.  This makes it much more credible that both Abraham in the three men and Lot in the two recognized the Lord, addressing Him in the singular number, even when they were addressing men; for they received them as they did for no other reason than that they might minister human refection to them as men who needed it.  Yet there was about them something so excellent, that those who showed them hospitality as men could not doubt that God was in them as He was wont to be in the prophets, and therefore sometimes addressed them in the plural, and sometimes God in them in the singular.  But that they were angels the Scripture testifies, not only in this book of Genesis, in which these transactions are related, but also in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where in praising hospitality it is said, “For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” 935   By these three men, then, when a son Isaac was again promised to Abraham by Sarah, such a divine oracle was also given that it was said, “Abraham shall become a great and numerous nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” 936   And here these two things, are promised with the utmost brevity and fullness,—the nation of Israel according to the flesh, and all nations according to faith.


Footnotes

328:931

Gen. 18:2, 3.

328:932

Gen. 19.2.

328:933

Gen. 19.16-19.

328:934

Gen. 19.21.

328:935

Heb. 13.2.

328:936

Gen. 18.18.


Next: Chapter 30

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