Two weeks before Easter, a special ritual was performed in Augustines Church when to the competentes, the people who had enrolled and petitioned for baptism at the great Vigil, Augustine handed over the symbol of faith and explained it (the traditio symboli). The catechumens would not have been familiar with the creed, which was not recited on Sundays during Mass, as it is today; but they were expected to commit it to memory in the following weeks and to recite it as their own as part of the baptismal rite (the redditio symboli). (You can find here most of the article on Catechumen and Catechumenate that William Harmless wrote for the encyclopedic Augustine through the Ages.) Some of the sermons Augustine preached on this occasion have survived, and one of these has this paragraph about Christs sacrificial death:

All of this--that God for human beings, the just one for sinners, the innocent one for the guilty, the king for captives, the Lord for servants took on human flesh and came, was seen upon the earth, and lived among human beingsall this may perhaps seem a slight thing when you hear what is said next, He was crucified, died, and was buried. You dont believe this? Perhaps you say, When did this happen? Heres when: under Pontius Pilate. The name even of his judge is given as a sign for you, so that youll have no doubt about the time. Believe, then, that the Son of God was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried.No one has greater love than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). No one? you wonder. No one indeed. Its true; Christ said it. Lets ask the Apostle and have him reply. Christ, he says, died for the wicked. And again he says, While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son. So then we do find a greater love, in Christ, because he handed over his life, not for friends, but for his enemies. How great Gods love for men, what tender affection, so to love sinners that he died out of love for them! He commends his love for usthese are the Apostles wordsbecause while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:6, 10, 8). Believe, then, you too; believe this and for the sake of your salvation dont blush to confess it. For with the heart we believe unto righteousness, but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom 10:10). Finally, lest you doubt, lest you blush, when you first came to believe, you received the sign of Christ on your forehead, the place where shame shows. Remember your forehead and you wont be afraid of what others say. Anyone, says the Lord himself, who is ashamed of me before men, the Son of man will be ashamed of him before the angels of God (Mk 8:38). So dont blush at the disgrace of the cross which God himself did not hesitate to take up for your sake. Say with the Apostle, God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14). And the same Apostle will respond to you: For I judged not myself to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). He who then was fixed to a cross by one people is now fixed in the hearts of all peoples. (Augustine, Sermon 215, 5; PL 38, 1075)

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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