'The Weakness of God Is Stronger than Men'

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

In his long work against Faustus the Manichean, Augustine replied to his opponents’ mockery by finding in Old Testament figures and events types or figures of Christ or the Church. A good number of them are rather extravagant, including his interpretation of these verses in Gen 9:20-23:

Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of the wine, he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside about it. Shem and Japheth, however, took a robe, and holding it on their backs, they walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness; since their faces were turned the other way, they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Augustine’s exegesis will not convince, but it is worth knowing if only for the one brilliant phrase:

Who does not see that Noah’s becoming drunk with wine from the vineyard he planted and his being uncovered in his tent (Gen 9:20-23) clearly denoted the sufferings of Christ in His own nation? For it was then that the mortality of Christ's flesh was uncovered, to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, both Shem and Japhet, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:23-25)....

Go on, then, Manichees, with your objections to the Old Testament Scriptures! Go on, ye servants of Ham! You have despised the uncovered flesh from which you were born. For you could not have called yourselves Christians unless Christ, as foretold by the prophets, had come into the world and had drunk of His own vineyard that cup which could not pass from Him, unless he had slept in His passion, as in the drunkenness of the folly [in ebrietate stultitiae] that is wiser than men, and unless in this way, in God’s hidden counsel, had been uncovered the weakness of mortal flesh that is stronger than men. For unless the Word of God had taken this infirmity on himself, the name of Christian, in which you also glory, would not exist in the earth. (Contra Faustum, 12, 23, 24; PL 42, 266, 267)

About the Author

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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I appreciate this series.  A lot to think about.  Thanks.

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