Six Days to Build, One Moment to Tear Down, and (at least) 30 Years to Rebuild…

“As a matter of fact, I am trying to break your hearts with the sheer sense of ingratitude we express to God as we merrily continue to sin, offering figs to God as our only acknowledgement of his existence,” St. Bernard seems to be saying to his monks as he offers this reflection in Homily 11 on The Song of Songs. It amounts to what I’m calling “The Cisterican Argument for the Necessity of Godsbody” – which I’d promised previouslyto post. Put another way, it shows how essential the Incarnation is to our faith – and our salvation.

Now with regard to the manner, which if you remember, we defined as God’s self-emptying, I venture to offer three important points for your consideration. For that emptying was neither a simple gesture nor a limited one; but he emptied himself even to the assuming of human nature, even to accepting death, death on a cross. Who is there that can adequately gauge the greatness of the humility, gentleness, self-surrender, revealed by the Lord of majesty in assuming human nature, in accepting the punishment of death, the shame of the cross?

But somebody will say: “Surely the Creator could have restored his original plan without all that hardship?” Yes, he could, but he chose the way of personal suffering so that man would never again have a reason to display that worst and most hateful of all vices, ingratitude. If his decision did involve painful weariness for himself, it was meant also to involve man in a debt that only great love can pay.

Where the ease with which man was created sapped his spirit of devotion, the hardship with which he was redeemed should urge him on to gratitude. For how did man the ingrate regard his creation? “I was created freely indeed but with no trouble or labor on my Creator’s part; for at his command I was made, just like every other thing. What is big about that gift if not the great facility of the word that made it?” Thus does human impiety belittle the boon of creation, and turn that which of its nature is a source of love into an occasion for ingratitude. Those who live by these sentiments share the godlessness of evil-doers. But these lying mouths are silenced.

For, more obvious than the light of day is the immense sacrifice he has made for you, O man; he who was Lord became a slave, he who was rich became a pauper, the Word was made flesh, and the Son of God did not disdain to become the son of man. So may it please you to remember that, even if made out of nothing, you have not been redeemed out of nothing. In six days he created all things, and among them, you. On the other hand, for a period of thirty whole years he worked your salvation in the midst of the earth. What endurance was his in those labors! To his bodily needs and the molestations of his enemies did he not add the mightier burden of the ignominy of the cross, and crown it all with the horror of his death?

All this was indeed necessary. 

(Sermon 11:7)


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Great, great stuff Matthew. Thanks so much.

    • Jonathan,

      I’m flattered. I must be picking something up from the ol’ boy to be foolin’ you so!

      I KNEW that if I only hung out with Matthew Lickona long enough…

      A sort of Boswell to his Johnson, I suppose…


  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks, JOB. Gratitude can be a kind of Skeleton Key for many locked doors … something like that.

    • Of course, for a fitting anecdote out of Diogenes Laertius – when asked by a student what grows old the swiftest, he replied, “Gratitude.” So, even The Philosopher recognized that something weren’t quite right in the head with this featherless biped…

      Thanks, Quin.


  3. Jonathan Webb says

    A thankful heart is a happy heart.

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