Sermon of St. Augustine on Epiphany

Source: District of Asia

The feast of Christ's Manifestation.


The Magi came from the East to adore the new-born Child of the Virgin. We celebrate this day to-day with all due solemnity and a sermon. That first day dawned upon them; it has returned to us on its yearly feast. They were the first fruits of the Gentiles; we are the people of the Gentiles. The mouth of the Apostles announced this to us; the star, as the mouth of the heavens, announced it to them. And the same Apostles, like the heavens, expounded to us the glory of God.  Why, indeed, may we not acknowledge them as heavens, seeing that they became the seat of God as it was written, the soul of the just is the seat of wisdom?

The Maker and Dweller of the heavens thundered through these heavens; the world trembled violently with this thunder, and, behold, it now believes. Here we have a great mystery. He was at that time lying in a manger, and yet was leading the Magi from the East. He lay hidden in a stable, yet He was acknowledged in the heavens, so that He, acknowledged in the heavens, might be made manifest in the stable, and this day might be called "Epiphany," which may be expressed in Latin as "Manifestatio." This day extols His loftiness and at the same time His humility: He who was shown by a star appearing as a sign in the open sky, was found in a tiny resting place when he was sought; He, weak in His infant limbs, wrapped in infant's swaddling clothes, was adored by the Magi, feared by the wicked.

Herod's fright.

Yes, King Herod feared Him when the same Magi, still seeking the Child who they knew from the evidence in the sky had already been born, brought the news to him. What will the tribunal of His judgment be when the cradle of His infancy terrified proud kings? How much more reasonable are kings to-day who are not, as was Herod, bent upon slaughter! But rather, like the Magi, they find delight in adoring Him Him above all who even for His enemies endured at the hands of His enemies that same death which His enemy desired then to inflict, and who, when He was slain in His own body, slew death itself. Let our kings to-day stand in pious fear of Him who is even now sitting at the right hand of His Father, Him whom that wicked king feared when He was still nursing at His mother's breasts. Let them heed what Scripture says: And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth. Serve ye the Lord with fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling.

That King, the Chastiser of wicked kings, the Ruler of pious kings, was not born in the same way that worldly kings are born; because He was also born that one whose kingdom is not of this world.  The nobility of the Child appeared in the virginity of His mother; and the nobility of the mother was made manifest in the divinity of her Child, Never, in fact, though so many kings of the Jews had already been born and had died, were there Magi who sought for any of them to adore them; because no voice of heaven had told them about any one of them.

The blindness of the Jews expressed in the enlightenment of the Magi. The Scriptures neglected among the Jews brought faith to the Gentiles.

But now, and this must not be left unmentioned, in this enlightening of the Magi there is eloquent testimony of the blindness of the Jews. The former were seeking in the land of the latter for Him whom the latter did not acknowledge in their own land. Among the Jews the Magi found the Infant whom the Jews were to deny when He was teaching among them. Here, in the same land in which these strangers coming from afar adored the Christ Child when He was not yet uttering words, His own countrymen crucified Him when He was a young man working miracles. The first recognized God in His tiny body; the others, when He was performing great deeds, did not spare Him even as a human being. Apparently, it was a greater prodigy to see a new star shining at His Nativity than to see the sun in mourning at His death!

Further, there is the fact that the star which guided the Magi to the place where the Divine Infant was with the Virgin Mother and which obviously could have led them straight to the city where He was born, disappeared. It was not seen again until they had made inquiry of these selfsame Jews regarding the city in which Christ was to be born: the Jews themselves were to name it to them on the authority of the Divine Scriptures, saying: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written: "And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel."  What else has Divine Providence signified here than that the Divine Scriptures alone would remain with the Jews for the instruction of the Gentiles, but for their own blinding? These Scriptures they were to carry with them, not to help them toward their own salvation, but to give witness to our salvation. To-day, for instance, when we cite the early prophecies concerning Christ which have been made clear in the light of things fulfilled, and pagans whom we wish to win over say that these prophecies were not made so long in advance, but only devised by us after the event in order to create the belief that what has happened had been prophesied, then we quote the volumes of the Jews to remove the doubts of the pagans. These latter were already foretokened by the Magi whom the Jews, quoting the Divine Scriptures, provided with information regarding the city in which Christ was born, without, however, making any inquiry about Him themselves or acknowledging Him.

Gentiles as well as Jews are united with Christ through love.

Now then, my beloved, children and heirs of grace, see your calling, and with a most enduring love cleave to Christ - to the Cornerstone, as it were, made manifest to the Jews and the Gentiles.

He was made manifest in the very cradle of His infancy to those close by and to those far away; to the Jews, in the shepherds near-by, to the Gentiles, in the Magi coming from afar. The former are believed to have come to Him on the very day He was born, the others, on this day. He was made manifest, then and not to learned people in the first instance, nor to just people in the second. For certainly ignorance is characteristic of shepherds in the field as irreligion marks the unholy practices of Magi.

That Cornerstone has fitted both to Himself; He, to be sure, came to choose the foolish things of the world that He might confound the wise, and to call not the just, but sinners, so that no man might pride himself on his greatness and no man despair because of his lowliness. And for this reason, the Scribes and Pharisees, preening themselves on their superior learning and justice, in their building rejected Him the city of whose birth they had pointed out by quoting from the sayings of the Prophets. But because He is become the head of the corner, and what he showed at His birth He fulfilled in His Passion, let us cling to Him with the other wall containing the remnant of Israel saved according to the election of grace.

The shepherds prefigured those to be joined to Him from close by, so that we, too, whose call from afar was signified by the coming of the Magi, may now be not strangers and tenants, but fellow citizens of the saints and with them members of the family of God, built side by side on the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets, with the cornerstone itself Christ Jesus, who has made both one. He has made us one that we may love unity and to inspire us with an untiring love for the task of gathering up the branches that were grafted on from even the wild olive, but were broken off because of pride and became heretics; for God is able to graft them in again.