Chapter 17.—How the Back Parts of God Were Seen. The Faith of the Resurrection of Christ. The Catholic Church Only is the Place from Whence the Back Parts of God are Seen. The Back Parts of God Were Seen by the Israelites. It is a Rash Opinion to Think that God the Father Only Was Never Seen by the Fathers.
Not unfitly is it commonly understood to be prefigured from the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, that His “back parts” are to be taken to be His flesh, in which He was p. 51 born of the Virgin, and died, and rose again; whether they are called back parts 312 on account of the posteriority of mortality, or because it was almost in the end of the world, that is, at a late period, 313 that He deigned to take it: but that His “face” was that form of God, in which He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” 314 which no one certainly can see and live; whether because after this life, in which we are absent from the Lord, 315 and where the corruptible body presseth down the soul, 316 we shall see “face to face,” 317 as the apostle says—(for it is said in the Psalms, of this life, “Verily every man living is altogether vanity;” 318 and again, “For in Thy sight shall no man living be justified;” 319 and in this life also, according to John, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know,” he says, “that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” 320 which he certainly intended to be understood as after this life, when we shall have paid the debt of death, and shall have received the promise of the resurrection);—or whether that even now, in whatever degree we spiritually understand the wisdom of God, by which all things were made, in that same degree we die to carnal affections, so that, considering this world dead to us, we also ourselves die to this world, and say what the apostle says, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” 321 For it was of this death that he also says, “Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ, why as though living in the world are ye subject to ordinances?” 322 Not therefore without cause will no one be able to see the “face,” that is, the manifestation itself of the wisdom of God, and live. For it is this very appearance, for the contemplation of which every one sighs who strives to love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind; to the contemplation of which, he who loves his neighbor, too, as himself builds up his neighbor also as far as he may; on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 323 And this is signified also in Moses himself. For when he had said, on account of the love of God with which he was specially inflamed, “If I have found grace in thy sight, show me now Thyself plainly, that I may find grace in Thy sight;” he immediately subjoined, on account of the love also of his neighbor, “And that I may know that this nation is Thy people.” It is therefore that “appearance” which hurries away every rational soul with the desire of it, and the more ardently the more pure that soul is; and it is the more pure the more it rises to spiritual things; and it rises the more to spiritual things the more it dies to carnal things. But whilst we are absent from the Lord, and walk by faith, not by sight, 324 we ought to see the “back parts” of Christ, that is His flesh, by that very faith, that is, standing on the solid foundation of faith, which the rock signifies, 325 and beholding it from such a safe watch-tower, namely in the Catholic Church, of which it is said, “And upon this rock I will build my Church.” 326 For so much the more certainly we love that face of Christ, which we earnestly desire to see, as we recognize in His back parts how much first Christ loved us.
29. But in the flesh itself, the faith in His resurrection saves and justifies us. For, “If thou shalt believe,” he says, “in thine heart, that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved;” 327 and again, “Who was delivered,” he says, “for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” 328 So that the reward of our faith is the resurrection of the body of our Lord. 329 For even His enemies believe that that flesh died on the cross of His passion, but they do not believe it to have risen again. Which we believing most firmly, gaze upon it as from the solidity of a rock: whence we wait with certain hope for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body; 330 because we hope for that in the members of Christ, that is, in ourselves, which by a sound faith we acknowledge to be perfect in Him as in our Head. Thence it is that He would not have His back parts seen, unless as He passed by, that His resurrection may be believed. For that which is Pascha in Hebrew, is translated Passover. 331 Whence John the Evangelist also says, “Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come, that He should pass out of this world unto the Father.” 332
30. But they who believe this, but believe it not in the Catholic Church, but in some schism or in heresy, do not see the back parts of the Lord from “the place that is by Him.” For what does that mean which the Lord says, “Behold, there is a place by me, and thou p. 52 shalt stand upon a rock?” What earthly place is “by” the Lord, unless that is “by Him” which touches Him spiritually? For what place is not “by” the Lord, who “reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth order all things,” 333 and of whom it is said, “Heaven is His throne, and earth is His footstool;” and who said, “Where is the house that ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? For has not my hand made all those things?” 334 But manifestly the Catholic Church itself is understood to be “the place by Him,” wherein one stands upon a rock, where he healthfully sees the “Pascha Domini,” that is, the “Passing by” 335 of the Lord, and His back parts, that is, His body, who believes in His resurrection. “And thou shalt stand,” He says, “upon a rock while my glory passeth by.” For in reality, immediately after the majesty of the Lord had passed by in the glorification of the Lord, in which He rose again and ascended to the Father, we stood firm upon the rock. And Peter himself then stood firm, so that he preached Him with confidence, whom, before he stood firm, he had thrice from fear denied; 336 although, indeed, already before placed in predestination upon the watch-tower of the rock, but with the hand of the Lord still held over him that he might not see. For he was to see His back parts, and the Lord had not yet “passed by,” namely, from death to life; He had not yet been glorified by the resurrection.
31. For as to that, too, which follows in Exodus, “I will cover thee with mine hand while I pass by, and I will take away my hand and thou shalt see my back parts;” many Israelites, of whom Moses was then a figure, believed in the Lord after His resurrection, as if His hand had been taken off from their eyes, and they now saw His back parts. And hence the evangelist also mentions that prophesy of Isaiah, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” 337 Lastly, in the Psalm, that is not unreasonably understood to be said in their person, “For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.” “By day,” perhaps, when He performed manifest miracles, yet was not acknowledged by them; but “by night,” when He died in suffering, when they thought still more certainly that, like any one among men, He was cut off and brought to an end. But since, when He had already passed by, so that His back parts were seen, upon the preaching to them by the Apostle Peter that it behoved Christ to suffer and rise again, they were pricked in their hearts with the grief of repentance, 338 that that might come to pass among the baptized which is said in the beginning of that Psalm, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;” therefore, after it had been said, “Thy hand is heavy upon me,” the Lord, as it were, passing by, so that now He removed His hand, and His back parts were seen, there follows the voice of one who grieves and confesses and receives remission of sins by faith in the resurrection of the Lord: “My moisture,” he says, “is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” 339 For we ought not to be so wrapped up in the darkness of the flesh, as to think the face indeed of God to be invisible, but His back visible, since both appeared visibly in the form of a servant; but far be it from us to think anything of the kind in the form of God; far be it from us to think that the Word of God and the Wisdom of God has a face on one side, and on the other a back, as a human body has, or is at all changed either in place or time by any appearance or motion. 340
32. Wherefore, if in those words which were spoken in Exodus, and in all those corporeal appearances, the Lord Jesus Christ was manifested; or if in some cases Christ was manifested, as the consideration of this passage persuades us, in others the Holy Spirit, as that which we have said above admonishes us; at any rate no such result follows, as that God the Father never appeared in any such form to the Fathers. For many such appearances happened in those times, without either the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit being expressly named and designated in them; but yet with some intimations given through certain very probable interpretations, so that it would be too rash to say that God the Father never appeared by any visible forms to the fathers or the prophets. For they gave birth to this opinion who were not able to understand in respect to the unity of the Trinity such texts as, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God;” 341 and, “Whom no man hath seen, nor p. 53 can see.” 342 Which texts are understood by a sound faith in that substance itself, the highest, and in the highest degree divine and unchangeable, whereby both the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is the one and only God. But those visions were wrought through the changeable creature, made subject to the unchangeable God, and did not manifest God properly as He is, but by intimations such as suited the causes and times of the several circumstances.
[This explanation of the “back parts” of Christ to mean his resurrection, and of “the place that is by him,” to mean the church, is an example of the fanciful exegesis into which Augustin, with the fathers generally, sometimes falls. The reasoning, here, unlike that in the preceding chapter, is not from the immediate context, and hence extraneous matter is read into the text.—W.G.T.S.]52:341 53:342
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