St Augustine of AfricaSometimes in the Scriptures Christ is presented as the Word equal to the Father.

Sometimes he is presented as the Mediator, since the Word became flesh to dwell amongst us, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross.

Sometimes, however, he is presented in such a way that you are to understand the head and the body together, as when the Apostle expounds what was said about husband and wife in Genesis: they shall be two in one flesh.

Notice his exposition, for I don’t want to give the impression of saying something I made up myself: for they shall be two in one flesh. And he adds, this is a great sacrament.

Now just in case anyone should still think this is about a husband and wife according to the natural joining of the sexes and their bodily coming together, he goes on, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.

And just as with bridegroom and bride, so also head and body, because the head of the woman is the man. So, whether I say head and body, or whether I say bridegroom and bride, you must understand the same thing.

And that’s why the same Apostle, while he was still Saul, heard the words, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?; because the body is joined to the head.

So present yourselves to such a head as a body worthy of him, to such a bridegroom as a worthy bride. To present himself, it says, with a glorious Church, without stain or wrinkle or any such thing.

This is the bride of Christ, without stain or wrinkle. Do you wish to have no stain? Do what is written, wash yourselves, be clean, remove the wicked schemes from your heart.

Do you wish to have no wrinkle? Stretch yourself on the cross. You see, you don’t only need to be washed, but also to be stretched, in order to be without stain or wrinkle; because by the washing sins are removed, while by the stretching a desire is created for the future life, which is what Christ was crucified for.

Listen to Paul himself, once he was washed: he has saved us by the washing of rebirth; and listen to him as he is stretched: forgetting what lies behind, and stretching forward to what lies ahead I press on towards the goal for the prize of God’s calling from above in Christ Jesus.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 341, 12-13; from The Works of Saint Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century: Sermons 341-400 (III/10) (on the Liturgical Seasons), translated by Edmund Hill, O.P. and the Monastic Office of Vigils, Wednesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

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