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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter VII. The washing away of sins is indicated by the white robes of the catechumens, whence the Church speaks of herself as black and comely. Angels marvel at her brightness as at that of the flesh of the Lord. Moreover, Christ Himself commended His beauty to His Spouse under many figures. The mutual affection of the one for the other is described.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VII.

The washing away of sins is indicated by the white robes of the catechumens, whence the Church speaks of herself as black and comely. Angels marvel at her brightness as at that of the flesh of the Lord. Moreover, Christ Himself commended His beauty to His Spouse under many figures. The mutual affection of the one for the other is described.

34. After this white robes were given to you as a sign that you were putting off the covering of sins, and putting on the chaste veil of innocence, of which the prophet said: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed, Thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.” 2869 For he who is baptized is seen to be purified both according to the Law and according to the Gospel: according to the Law, because Moses sprinkled the blood of the lamb with a bunch of hyssop; 2870 according to the Gospel, because Christ’s garments were white as snow, when in the Gospel He showed forth the glory of His Resurrection. He, then, whose guilt is remitted is made whiter than snow. So that God said by Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.” 2871

35. The Church, having put on these garments through the laver of regeneration, says in the Song of Songs: “I am black p. 322 and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem.” 2872 Black through the frailty of her human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. And the daughters of Jerusalem beholding these garments say in amazement: “Who is this that cometh up made white?” 2873 She was black, how is she now suddenly made white?

36. The angels, too, were in doubt when Christ arose; the powers of heaven were in doubt when they saw that flesh was ascending into heaven. Then they said: “Who is this King of glory?” And whilst some said “Lift up your gates, O princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” 2874 In Isaiah, too, we find that the powers of heaven doubted and said: “Who is this that cometh up from Edom, the redness of His garments is from Bosor, He who is glorious in white apparel?” 2875

37. But Christ, beholding His Church, for whom He Himself, as you find in the book of the prophet Zechariah, had put on filthy garments, now clothed in white raiment, seeing, that is, a soul pure and washed in the laver of regeneration, says: “Behold, thou art fair, My love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are like a dove’s,” 2876 in the likeness of which the Holy Spirit descended from heaven. The eyes are beautiful like those of a dove, because in the likeness of a dove the Holy Spirit descended from heaven.

38. And farther on: “Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are shorn, which are come up from the pool, which all bear twins, and none is barren among them, thy lips are as a cord of scarlet.” 2877 This is no slight praise. First by the pleasing comparison to those that are shorn; for we know that goats both feed in high places without risk, and securely find their food in rugged places, and then when shorn are freed from what is superfluous. The Church is likened to a flock of these, having in itself the many virtues of those souls which through the laver lay aside the superfluity of sins, and offer to Christ the mystic faith and the grace of good living, which speak of the cross of the Lord Jesus.

39. The Church is beautiful in them. So that God the Word says to her: “Thou art all fair, My love, and there is no blemish in thee,” for guilt has been washed away. “Come hither from Lebanon, My spouse, come hither from Lebanon, from the beginning of faith wilt thou pass through and pass on,” 2878 because, renouncing the world, she passed through things temporal and passed on to Christ. And again, God the Word says to her: “How beautiful and sweet art thou made, O love, in thy delights! Thy stature is become like that of a palm-tree, and thy breasts like bunches of grapes.” 2879

40. And the Church answers Him, “Who will give Thee to me, my Brother, that didst suck the breasts of my mother? If I find Thee without, I will kiss Thee, and indeed they will not despise me. I will take Thee, and bring Thee into the house of my mother; and into the secret chamber of her that conceived me. Thou shalt teach me.” 2880 You see how, delighted with the gifts of grace, she longs to attain to the innermost mysteries, and to consecrate all her affections to Christ. She still seeks, she still stirs up His love, and asks of the daughters of Jerusalem to stir it up for her, and desires that by their beauty, which is that of faithful souls, her spouse may be incited to ever richer love for her.

41. So that the Lord Jesus Himself, invited by such eager love and by the beauty of comeliness and grace, since now no offences pollute the baptized, says to the Church: “Place Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a signet upon thine arm;” 2881 that is, thou art comely, My beloved, thou art all fair, nothing is wanting to thee. Place Me as a seal upon thine heart, that thy faith may shine forth in the fulness of the sacrament. Let thy works also shine and set forth the image of God in the Whose image thou wast made. Let no persecution lessen thy love, which many waters cannot quench, nor many rivers drown.

42. And then remember that you received the seal of the Spirit; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and the spirit of holy fear, 2882 and preserved what you received. God the Father sealed you, Christ the Lord strengthened you, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in your heart, 2883 as you have learned in the lesson from the Apostle. 2884


Footnotes

321:2869

Psa. 51.9.

321:2870

Ex. xii. 22.

321:2871

Isa. i. 18.

322:2872

Song of Sol. 1.4.

322:2873

Song of Sol. 8.5.

322:2874

Ps. 24:8, 9.

322:2875

Isa. lxiii. 1.

322:2876

Song of Sol. 4.1.

322:2877

Cant. 4:2, 3.

322:2878

Cant. 4:7, 8.

322:2879

Cant. 7:6, 7.

322:2880

Cant. 8:1, 2.

322:2881

Song of Sol. 8.6.

322:2882

Isa. xi. 2.

322:2883

2 Cor. v. 5.

322:2884

This passage evidently refers to confirmation, and to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit received therein. In the Early Church as in the Eastern Church to the present day, confirmation was administered immediately after baptism.


Next: Chapter VIII. Of the mystical feast of the altar of the Lord. Lest any should think lightly of it, St. Ambrose shows that it is of higher antiquity than the sacred rites of the Jews, since it was foreshadowed in the sacrifice of Melchisedech, and far better than the manna, as being the Body of Christ.

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