Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
City of God: Chapter 4
Chapter 4.—About the Prefigured Change of the Israelitic Kingdom and Priesthood, and About the Things Hannah the Mother of Samuel Prophesied, Personating the Church.
Therefore the advance of the city of God, where it reached the times of the kings, yielded a figure, when, on the rejection of Saul, David first obtained the kingdom on such a footing that thenceforth his descendants should reign in the earthly Jerusalem in continual succession; for the course of affairs signified and foretold, what is not to be passed by in silence, concerning the change of things to come, what belongs to both Testaments, the Old and the New,—where the priesthood and kingdom are changed by one who is a priest, and at the same time a king, new and everlasting, even Christ Jesus. For both the substitution in the ministry of God, on Elis rejection as priest, of Samuel, who executed at once the office of priest and judge, and the establishment of David in the kingdom, when Saul was rejected, typified this of which I speak. And Hannah herself, the mother of Samuel, who formerly was barren, and afterwards was gladdened with fertility, does not seem to prophesy anything else, when she exultingly pours forth her thanksgiving to the Lord, on yielding up to God the same boy she had born and weaned with the same piety with which she had vowed him. For she says, “My heart is made strong in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; I am made glad in Thy salvation. Because there is none holy as the Lord; and none is righteous as our God: there is none holy save Thee. Do not glory so proudly, and do not speak lofty things, neither let vaunting talk come out of your mouth; for a God of knowledge is the Lord, and a God preparing His curious designs. The bow of the mighty hath He made weak, and the weak are girded with strength. They that were full of bread are diminished; and the hungry have passed beyond the earth: for the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. The Lord killeth and maketh alive: He bringeth down to hell, and bringeth up again. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich: He bringeth low and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, that He may set him among the mighty of [His] people, and maketh them inherit the throne of glory; giving the vow to him that voweth, and He hath blessed the years of the just: for man is not mighty in strength. The Lord shall p. 340 make His adversary weak: the Lord is holy. Let not the prudent glory in his prudence and let not the mighty glory in his might; and let not the rich glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, to understand and know the Lord, and to do judgment and justice in the midst of the earth. The Lord hath ascended into the heavens, and hath thundered: He shall judge the ends of the earth, for He is righteous: and He giveth strength to our kings, and shall exalt the horn of His Christ.” 985
Do you say that these are the words of a single weak woman giving thanks for the birth of a son? Can the mind of men be so much averse to the light of truth as not to perceive that the sayings this woman pours forth exceed her measure? Moreover, he who is suitably interested in these things which have already begun to be fulfilled even in this earthly pilgrimage also, does he not apply his mind, and perceive, and acknowledge, that through this woman—whose very name, which is Hannah, means “His grace”—the very Christian religion, the very city of God, whose king and founder is Christ, in fine, the very grace of God, hath thus spoken by the prophetic Spirit, whereby the proud are cut off so that they fall, and the humble are filled so that they rise, which that hymn chiefly celebrates? Unless perchance any one will say that this woman prophesied nothing, but only lauded God with exulting praise on account of the son whom she had obtained in answer to prayer. What then does she mean when she says, “The bow of the mighty hath He made weak, and the weak are girded with strength; they that were full of bread are diminished, and the hungry have gone beyond the earth; for the barren hath born seven, and she that hath many children is waxed feeble?” Had she herself born seven, although she had been barren? She had only one when she said that; neither did she bear seven afterwards, nor six, with whom Samuel himself might be the seventh, but three males and two females. And then, when as yet no one was king over that people, whence, if she did not prophesy, did she say what she puts at the end, “He giveth strength to our kings, and shall exalt the horn of His Christ?”
Therefore let the Church of Christ, the city of the great King, 986 full of grace, prolific of offspring, let her say what the prophecy uttered about her so long before by the mouth of this pious mother confesses, “My heart is made strong in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God.” Her heart is truly made strong, and her horn is truly exalted, because not in herself, but in the Lord her God. “My mouth is enlarged over mine enemies;” because even in pressing straits the word of God is not bound, not even in preachers who are bound. 987 “I am made glad,” she says, “in Thy salvation.” This is Christ Jesus Himself, whom old Simeon, as we read in the Gospel, embracing as a little one, yet recognizing as great, said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” 988 Therefore may the Church say, “I am made glad in Thy salvation. For there is none holy as the Lord, and none is righteous as our God;” as holy and sanctifying, just and justifying. 989 “There is none holy beside Thee;” because no one becomes so except by reason of Thee. And then it follows, “Do not glory so proudly, and do not speak lofty things, neither let vaunting talk come out of your mouth. For a God of knowledge is the Lord.” He knows you even when no one knows; for “he who thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing deceiveth himself.” 990 These things are said to the adversaries of the city of God who belong to Babylon, who presume in their own strength, and glory in themselves, not in the Lord; of whom are also the carnal Israelites, the earth-born inhabitants of the earthly Jerusalem, who, as saith the apostle, “being ignorant of the righteousness of God,” 991 that is, which God, who alone is just, and the justifier, gives to man, “and wishing to establish their own,” that is, which is as it were procured by their own selves, not bestowed by Him, “are not subject to the righteousness of God,” just because they are proud, and think they are able to please God with their own, not with that which is of God, who is the God of knowledge, and therefore also takes the oversight of consciences, there beholding the thoughts of men that they are vain, 992 if they are of men, and are not from Him. “And preparing,” she says, “His curious designs.” What curious designs do we think these are, save that the proud must fall, and the humble rise? These curious designs she recounts, saying, “The bow of the mighty is made weak, and the weak are girded with strength.” The bow is made weak, that is, the intention of those who think themselves so powerful, that without the gift and help of God they are able by human sufficiency to fulfill the divine commandments; and those are girded with strength whose in p. 341 ward cry is, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.” 993
“They that were full of bread,” she says, “are diminished, and the hungry have gone beyond the earth.” Who are to be understood as full of bread except those same who were as if mighty, that is, the Israelites, to whom were committed the oracles of God? 994 But among that people the children of the bond maid were diminished,—by which word minus, although it is Latin, the idea is well expressed that from being greater they were made less,—because, even in the very bread, that is, the divine oracles, which the Israelites alone of all nations have received, they savor earthly things. But the nations to whom that law was not given, after they have come through the New Testament to these oracles, by thirsting much have gone beyond the earth, because in them they have savored not earthly, but heavenly things. And the reason why this is done is as it were sought; “for the barren,” she says, “hath born seven, and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.” Here all that had been prophesied hath shone forth to those who understood the number seven, which signifies the perfection of the universal Church. For which reason also the Apostle John writes to the seven churches, 995 showing in that way that he writes to the totality of the one Church; and in the Proverbs of Solomon it is said aforetime, prefiguring this, “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath strengthened her seven pillars.” 996 For the city of God was barren in all nations before that child arose whom we see. 997 We also see that the temporal Jerusalem, who had many children, is now waxed feeble. Because, whoever in her were sons of the free woman were her strength; but now, forasmuch as the letter is there, and not the spirit, having lost her strength, she is waxed feeble.
“The Lord killeth and maketh alive:” He has killed her who had many children, and made this barren one alive, so that she has born seven. Although it may be more suitably understood that He has made those same alive whom He has killed. For she, as it were, repeats that by adding, “He bringeth down to hell, and bringeth up.” To whom truly the apostle says, “If ye be dead with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” 998 Therefore they are killed by the Lord in a salutary way, so that he adds, “Savor things which are above, not things on the earth;” so that these are they who, hungering, have passed beyond the earth. “For ye are dead,” he says: behold how God savingly kills! Then there follows, “And your life is hid with Christ in God:” behold how God makes the same alive! But does He bring them down to hell and bring them up again? It is without controversy among believers that we best see both parts of this work fulfilled in Him, to wit our Head, with whom the apostle has said our life is hid in God. “For when He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” 999 in that way, certainly, He has killed Him. And forasmuch as He raised Him up again from the dead, He has made Him alive again. And since His voice is acknowledged in the prophecy, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” 1000 He has brought Him down to hell and brought Him up again. By this poverty of His we are made rich; 1001 for “the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich.” But that we may know what this is, let us hear what follows: “He bringeth low and lifteth up;” and truly He humbles the proud and exalts the humble. Which we also read elsewhere, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” 1002 This is the burden of the entire song of this woman whose name is interpreted “His grace.”
Farther, what is added, “He raiseth up the poor from the earth,” I understand of none better than of Him who, as was said a little ago, “was made poor for us, when He was rich, that by His poverty we might be made rich.” For He raised Him from the earth so quickly that His flesh did not see corruption. Nor shall I divert from Him what is added, “And raiseth up the poor from the dunghill.” For indeed he who is the poor man is also the beggar. 1003 But by the dunghill from which he is lifted up we are with the greatest reason to understand the persecuting Jews, of whom the apostle says, when telling that when he belonged to them he persecuted the Church, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ; and I have counted them not only loss, but even dung, that I might win Christ.” 1004 Therefore that poor one is raised up from the earth above all the rich, and that beggar is lifted up from that dunghill above all the wealthy, “that he may sit among the mighty of the people,” to whom He says, “Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones,” 1005 “and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” For these mighty ones p. 342 had said, “Lo, we have forsaken all and followed Thee.” They had most mightily vowed this vow.
But whence do they receive this, except from Him of whom it is here immediately said, “Giving the vow to him that voweth?” Otherwise they would be of those mighty ones whose bow is weakened. “Giving,” she saith, “the vow to him that voweth.” For no one could vow anything acceptable to God, unless he received from Him that which he might vow. There follows, “And He hath blessed the years of the just,” to wit, that he may live for ever with Him to whom it is said, “And Thy years shall have no end.” For there the years abide; but here they pass away, yea, they perish: for before they come they are not, and when they shall have come they shall not be, because they bring their own end with them. Now of these two, that is, “giving the vow to him that voweth,” and “He hath blessed the years of the just,” the one is what we do, the other what we receive. But this other is not received from God, the liberal giver, until He, the helper, Himself has enabled us for the former; “for man is not mighty in strength.” “The Lord shall make his adversary weak,” to wit, him who envies the man that vows, and resists him, lest he should fulfill what he has vowed. Owing to the ambiguity of the Greek, it may also be understood “his own adversary.” For when God has begun to possess us, immediately he who had been our adversary becomes His, and is conquered by us; but not by our own strength, “for man is not mighty in strength.” Therefore “the Lord shall make His own adversary weak, the Lord is holy,” that he may be conquered by the saints, whom the Lord, the Holy of holies, hath made saints. For this reason, “let not the prudent glory in his prudence, and let not the mighty glory in his might, and let not the rich glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this,—to understand and know the Lord, and to do judgment and justice in the midst of the earth.” He in no small measure understands and knows the Lord who understands and knows that even this, that he can understand and know the Lord, is given to him by the Lord. “For what hast thou,” saith the apostle, “that thou hast not received? But if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” 1006 That is, as if thou hadst of thine own self whereof thou mightest glory. Now, he does judgment and justice who lives aright. But he lives aright who yields obedience to God when He commands. “The end of the commandment,” that is, to which the commandment has reference, “is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” Moreover, this “charity,” as the Apostle John testifies, “is of God.” 1007 Therefore to do justice and judgment is of God. But what is “in the midst of the earth?” For ought those who dwell in the ends of the earth not to do judgment and justice? Who would say so? Why, then, is it added, “In the midst of the earth?” For if this had not been added, and it had only been said, “To do judgment and justice,” this commandment would rather have pertained to both kinds of men,—both those dwelling inland and those on the sea-coast. But lest any one should think that, after the end of the life led in this body, there remains a time for doing judgment and justice which he has not done while he was in the flesh, and that the divine judgment can thus be escaped, “in the midst of the earth” appears to me to be said of the time when every one lives in the body; for in this life every one carries about his own earth, which, on a mans dying, the common earth takes back, to be surely returned to him on his rising again. Therefore “in the midst of the earth,” that is, while our soul is shut up in this earthly body, judgment and justice are to be done, which shall be profitable for us hereafter, when “every one shall receive according to that he hath done in the body, whether good or bad.” 1008 For when the apostle there says “in the body,” he means in the time he has lived in the body. Yet if any one blaspheme with malicious mind and impious thought, without any member of his body being employed in it, he shall not therefore be guiltless because he has not done it with bodily motion, for he will have done it in that time which he has spent in the body. In the same way we may suitably understand what we read in the psalm, “But God, our King before the worlds, hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth;” 1009 so that the Lord Jesus may be understood to be our God who is before the worlds, because by Him the worlds were made, working our salvation in the midst of the earth, for the Word was made flesh and dwelt in an earthly body.
Then after Hannah has prophesied in these words, that he who glorieth ought to glory not in himself at all, but in the Lord, she says, on account of the retribution which is to come on the day of judgment, “The Lord hath ascended into the heavens, and hath p. 343 thundered: He shall judge the ends of the earth, for He is righteous.” Throughout she holds to the order of the creed of Christians: For the Lord Christ has ascended into heaven, and is to come thence to judge the quick and dead. 1010 For, as saith the apostle, “Who hath ascended but He who hath also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up above all heavens, that He might fill all things.” 1011 Therefore He hath thundered through His clouds, which He hath filled with His Holy Spirit when He ascended up. Concerning which the bond maid Jerusalem—that is, the unfruitful vineyard—is threatened in Isaiah the prophet that they shall rain no showers upon her. But “He shall judge the ends of the earth” is spoken as if it had been said, “even the extremes of the earth.” For it does not mean that He shall not judge the other parts of the earth, who, without doubt, shall judge all men. But it is better to understand by the extremes of the earth the extremes of man, since those things shall not be judged which, in the middle time, are changed for the better or the worse, but the ending in which he shall be found who is judged. For which reason it is said, “He that shall persevere even unto the end, the same shall be saved.” 1012 He, therefore, who perseveringly does judgment and justice in the midst of the earth shall not be condemned when the extremes of the earth shall be judged. “And giveth,” she saith, “strength to our kings,” that He may not condemn them in judging. He giveth them strength whereby as kings they rule the flesh, and conquer the world in Him who hath poured out His blood for them. “And shall exalt the horn of His Christ.” How shall Christ exalt the horn of His Christ? For He of whom it was said above, “The Lord hath ascended into the heavens,” meaning the Lord Christ, Himself, as it is said here, “shall exalt the horn of His Christ.” Who, therefore, is the Christ of His Christ? Does it mean that He shall exalt the horn of each one of His believing people, as she says in the beginning of this hymn, “Mine horn is exalted in my God?” For we can rightly call all those christs who are anointed with His chrism, forasmuch as the whole body with its head is one Christ. 1013 These things hath Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the holy and much-praised man, prophesied, in which, indeed, the change of the ancient priesthood was then figured and is now fulfilled, since she that had many children is waxed feeble, that the barren who hath born seven might have the new priesthood in Christ.
1 Sam. 2.1-10.340:986
2 Tim. 2:9, Eph. 6:20.340:988
Ps. 94:11, 1 Cor. 3:20.341:993
By whom we see her made fruitful.341:998
Ps. 16:10, Acts 2:27, 31.341:1001
2 Cor. 8.9.341:1002
Jas. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5.341:1003
For the poor man is the same as the beggar.341:1004
Phil. 3:7, 8.341:1005
Matt. 19:27, 28.342:1006
1 Cor. 4.7.342:1007
1 John 4.7.342:1008
2 Cor. 5.10.342:1009
Eph. 4:9, 10.343:1012
1 Cor. 12.12.
Next: Chapter 5
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