Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 10
Chapter 10.—In How Many Ways the Creature is to Be Taken by Way of Sign. The Eucharist.
Excepting, therefore, all these things as I just now said, there are some also of another kind; which, although from the same corporeal substance, are yet brought within reach of our senses in order to announce something from God, and these are properly called miracles and signs; yet is not the person of God Himself assumed in all things which are announced to us by the Lord God. When, however, that person is assumed, it is sometimes made manifest as an angel; sometimes in that form which is not an angel in his own proper being, although it is ordered and ministered by an angel. Again, when it is assumed in that form which is not an angel in his own proper being; sometimes in this case it is a body itself already existing, assumed after some kind of change, in order to make that message manifest; sometimes it is one that comes into being for the purpose, and that being accomplished, is discarded. Just as, also, when men are the messengers, sometimes they speak the words of God in their own person, as when it is premised, “The Lord said,” or, “Thus saith the Lord,” 393 or any other such phrase, but sometimes without any such prefix, they take upon themselves the very person of God, as e.g.: “I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go:” 394 so, not only in word, but also in act, the signifying of the person of God is imposed upon the prophet, in order that he may bear that person in the ministering of the prophecy; just as he, for instance, bore that person who divided his garment into twelve parts, and gave ten of them to the servant of King Solomon, to the future king of Israel. 395 Sometimes, also, a thing which was not a prophet in his own proper self, and which existed already among earthly things, was assumed in order to signify this; as Jacob, when he had seen the dream, upon waking up did with the stone, which when asleep he had under his head. 396 Sometimes a thing is made in the same kind, for the mere purpose; so as either to continue a little while in existence, as that brazen serpent was able to do which was lifted up in the wilderness, 397 and as written records are able to do likewise; or so as to pass away after having accomplished its ministry, as the bread made for the purpose is consumed in the receiving of the sacrament.
20. But because these things are known to men, in that they are done by men, they may well meet with reverence as being holy things, but they cannot cause wonder as being miracles. And therefore those things which are done by angels are the more wonderful to us, in that they are more difficult and more known; but they are known and easy to them as being their own actions. An angel speaks in the person of God to man, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, p. 64 and the God of Jacob;” the Scripture having said just before, “The angel of the Lord appeared to him.” 398 And a man also speaks in the person of God, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee, O Israel: I am the Lord thy God.” 399 A rod was taken to serve as a sign, and was changed into a serpent by angelical power; 400 but although that power is wanting to man, yet a stone was taken also by man for a similar sign. 401 There is a wide difference between the deed of the angel and the deed of the man. The former is both to be wondered at and to be understood, the latter only to be understood. That which is understood from both, is perhaps one and the same; but those things from which it is understood, are different. Just as if the name of God were written both in gold and in ink; the former would be the more precious, the latter the more worthless; yet that which is signified in both is one and the same. And although the serpent that came from Moses rod signified the same thing as Jacobs stone, yet Jacobs stone signified something better than did the serpents of the magicians. For as the anointing of the stone signified Christ in the flesh, in which He was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows; 402 so the rod of Moses, turned into a serpent, signified Christ Himself made obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 403 Whence it is said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life;” 404 just as by gazing on that serpent which was lifted up in the wilderness, they did not perish by the bites of the serpents. For “our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.” 405 For by the serpent death is understood, which was wrought by the serpent in paradise, 406 the mode of speech expressing the effect by the efficient. Therefore the rod passed into the serpent, Christ into death; and the serpent again into the rod, whole Christ with His body into the resurrection; which body is the Church; 407 and this shall be in the end of time, signified by the tail, which Moses held, in order that it might return into a rod. 408 But the serpents of the magicians, like those who are dead in the world, unless by believing in Christ they shall have been as it were swallowed up by, 409 and have entered into, His body, will not be able to rise again in Him. Jacobs stone, therefore, as I said, signified something better than did the serpents of the magicians; yet the deed of the magicians was much more wonderful. But these things in this way are no hindrance to the understanding of the matter; just as if the name of a man were written in gold, and that of God in ink.
21. What man, again, knows how the angels made or took those clouds and fires in order to signify the message they were bearing, even if we supposed that the Lord or the Holy Spirit was manifested in those corporeal forms? Just as infants do not know of that which is placed upon the altar and consumed after the performance of the holy celebration, whence or in what manner it is made, or whence it is taken for religious use. And if they were never to learn from their own experience or that of others, and never to see that species of thing except during the celebration of the sacrament, when it is being offered and given; and if it were told them by the most weighty authority whose body and blood it is; they will believe nothing else, except that the Lord absolutely appeared in this form to the eyes of mortals, and that that liquid actually flowed from the piercing of a side 410 which resembled this. But it is certainly a useful caution to myself, that I should remember what my own powers are, and admonish my brethren that they also remember what theirs are, lest human infirmity pass on beyond what is safe. For how the angels do these things, or rather, how God does these things by His angels, and how far He wills them to be done even by the bad angels, whether by permitting, or commanding, or compelling, from the hidden seat of His own supreme power; this I can neither penetrate by the sight of the eyes, nor make clear by assurance of reason, nor be carried on to comprehend it by reach of intellect, so as to speak thereupon to all questions that may be asked respecting these matters, as certainly as if I were an angel, or a prophet, or an apostle. “For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain. For the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind, that museth upon many things. And hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon earth, and with labor do we find the things that are before us; but the things that are in heaven, who hath searched out?” But because it goes on to say, “And Thy counsel who hath known, except Thou give wisdom, and send Thy Holy Spirit from above;” 411 therefore we refrain indeed from searching out the things which are in heaven, under which kind are contained both angelical bodies according to their proper p. 65 dignity, and any corporeal action of those bodies; yet, according to the Spirit of God sent to us from above, and to His grace imparted to our minds, I dare to say confidently, that neither God the Father, nor His Word, nor His Spirit, which is the one God, is in any way changeable in regard to that which He is, and whereby He is that which He is; and much less is in this regard visible. Since there are no doubt some things changeable, yet not visible, as are our thoughts, and memories, and wills, and the whole incorporeal creature; but there is nothing that is visible that is not also changeable.
Jer. 31:1, 2Jer. 31:1, 263:394
Ps. 32.8Ps. xxxii. 863:395
1 Kings 11:30, 311 Kings 11:30, 3163:396
Gen. 28.18Gen. xxviii. 1863:397
Num. 21.9Num. xxi. 964:398
Exod. 3:6, 2Exod. 3:6, 264:399
Ps. 81:8, 10Ps. 81:8, 1064:400
Ex. 7.10Ex. vii. 1064:401
Gen. 28.18Gen. xxviii. 1864:402
Ps. 45.7Ps. xlv. 764:403
Phil. 2.9Phil. ii. 964:404
John 3:14, 15John 3:14, 1564:405
Rom. 6.6Rom. vi. 664:406
Col. 1.24Col. i. 2464:408
Ex. 4.4Ex. iv. 464:409
Ex. 7.12Ex. vii. 1264:410
John 19.34John xix. 3464:411
Wisdom 9.14-17Wisd. ix. 14-17
Next: Chapter 11
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at