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“Augustine on the nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist”
Sermon 272, Latin text with English translation
Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is from the NPNF series.
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What you see on God's altar, you've already observed during the night that
has now ended. But you've heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it
might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see
is simply bread and a cup - this is the information your eyes report. But your
faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ's body, the cup is
Christ's blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it
hungers for a fuller account of the matter. As the prophet says, "Unless you
believe, you will not understand." [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me,
"You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand." Inside each of
you, thoughts like these are rising: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source
of his flesh; he took it from the virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed
and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own
people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body
was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended
bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There
he dwells even now, seated at God's right. So how can bread be his body? And
what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?" My friends,
these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while
another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped
bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ,
listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: "You are the body of
Christ, member for member." [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ's body
and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is
your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are:
your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear "The
body of Christ", you reply "Amen." Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that
your "Amen" may ring true! But what role does the bread play? We have no theory
of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this
sacrament: "The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body." [1 Cor. 10.17]
Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. "One bread," he says.
What is this one bread? Is it not the "one body," formed from many? Remember:
bread doesn't come from a single grain, but from many. When you received
exorcism, you were "ground." When you were baptized, you were "leavened." When
you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were "baked." Be what you see;
receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what
we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation.
In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the
faithful (so Scripture says) form "a single heart and mind in God" [Acts 4.32].
And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual
grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to
become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how,
at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated.
All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a
sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them. So let us
give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will
permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us
seek God's singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our
prayers. God's power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will
deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us,
finally, to share the divine happiness through God's own son Jesus Christ. Amen!
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original Latin text
The Body of Christ
The Blood of Christ
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
quia in eis aliud videtur, aliud intelligitur. Quod videtur, speciem habet corporalem, quod intelligitur, fructum habet spiritualem.
My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in
them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is
a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit.
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