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Archive E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Sacred Doctrine

“O manifesta infirmitas, et mira humilitas!”

I posted an excerpt from Augustine’s Sermon 184 a couple of days ago, and I now return to it again, because its conclusion is too good not to share. The Latin is especially beautiful (see the notes for just a few of its features), and its closing statement of desire (perficiat…filius), though brief, is profound.

Merito ergo Prophetae nuntiaverunt nasciturum, caeli vero atque Angeli natum. Iacebat in praesepio continens mundum: et infans erat et Verbum. Quem caeli non capiunt, unius feminae sinus ferebat. Illa regem nostrum regebat; in quo sumus, illa portabat; panem nostrum illa lactabat.1 O manifesta infirmitas, et mira humilitas, in qua sic latuit tota divinitas!2 Matrem cui subiacebat infantia, regebat potentia;3 et cuius uber sugebat, eam veritate pascebat. Perficiat in nobis sua munera, qui sumere4 non abhorruit etiam nostra primordia: et ipse faciat nos Dei filios, qui propter nos fieri voluit hominis filius.

Rightly5 therefore did the Prophets announce that he would be born, and [rightly], in fact, [did] the heavens and the angels [announce] that he had been born. He was lying in a manger holding together 6 the world; he was both a speechless baby and the Word.7 The bosom of one woman was supporting him whom the heavens do not contain. She was ruling our ruler;8 she was carrying the one in whom we exist; she was feeding our bread. O manifest weakness and wondrous lowliness, in which divinity whole lay hid! His power was ruling the mother to whom his infancy was subject; and he was feeding with the truth her at whose breast he was nursing. May he perfect in us his own gifts, who did not shrink from assuming even our very first beginnings [of life]; and may he himself make us sons of God, who because of us wished to become the Son of Man.

  1. One of many instances of homoioteleuton, similarity in sound at the ends of clauses: -ebat, -abat, -abat.
  2. More homoioteleuton: itas (x 3).
  3. And again: infantia/potentia. You get the idea.
  4. Note the soundplay in sua munera…sumere.
  5. The translation is my own.
  6. Or “preserving” or “enclosing.”
  7. As Thomas Comerford Lawler notes in his translation, Augustine plays with the etymological meaning of infans (“unspeaking”) in contrast to the Word. The subject of speechlessness and speechfulness (sic) is one that Augustine finds to be of perennial interest.
  8. I follow Walsh in expressing the wordplay regem…regebat.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

One reply on ““O manifesta infirmitas, et mira humilitas!””

Beautiful! Perhaps “on account of us” or, echoing the English translation of the Nicene Creed’s Qui propter nos, “for us” could also work in the last line?

JMS.

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