A Stone was Anointed

From Tractate 7, Tractates on John (ca. 416)

When Andrew found his brother Simon, he said, “We have found the Messiah.”  This means anointed one; Christ is the anointed one… Later Christ went into Galilee, and finding Philip, Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” … And Philip then went and found Nathaniel, and Phillip said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph.”…

What sort of a man was Nathaniel? Nathaniel said to Phillip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” And when Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, the Lord said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.” What a great testimony! Jesus does not say this of Andrew, nor of Peter, nor of Philip. Should Nathaniel then be ranked the first among the apostles?  No.… We must understand that Nathaniel was learned and skilled in the law and for that reason the Lord was unwilling to place Nathaniel among his twelve disciples.  Our Lord chose unlearned persons, that he might by them confound the world… As Paul writes, God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, 1 Cor 1:20-28.  If a learned man had been chosen, perhaps he would have said that he was chosen because his learning made him worthy of the choice.

Our Lord, wishing to break the necks of the proud, did not seek out the orator, but instead by the fisherman Christ gained the emperor. Cyprian was a great orator. But before Cyprian, there was Peter the fisherman. And by means of the fisherman not only the orator came to believe in Christ, but also the emperor too. No noble was chosen in the first place, no learned man, because God chose the weak things of the world that he might confound the strong…

And Christ said to Nathaniel, “you will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of man.” … When have we seen angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man? On a former occasion I have spoken of these ascending and descending angels; but in case you have forgotten, I shall remind you…

Jacob saw a ladder in a dream; and on this ladder he saw angels ascending and descending. And Jacob anointed the stone which he had placed at his head, Gen 28:12-18.  You have heard that the Messiah is Christ; you have heard that Christ is the anointed one. For Jacob did not place the stone, the anointed stone, that he might come and adore it. That would have been idolatry, not a sign or figure pointing to Christ.

What was done there by Jacob was a pointing out of Christ, so far as it behooved such a pointing out to be made, and it was Christ that was pointed out. A stone was anointed, but not as an idol. Why a stone? Behold, I lay in Zion a stone, elect, precious: and any who believe in him shall not be confounded. Why anointed?  Because “Christ” comes from “chrisma.” And what did Jacob see then on the ladder?  Ascending and descending angels.  Dear brothers and sisters, this is the church!  The angels of God are good preachers, preaching Christ; this is the meaning of, they ascend and descend upon the Son of Man.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His Tractates on John were a series of expositional sermons preached that he preached in his cathedral at Hippo during the Donatist Controversy, and many focus on the questions about God’s grace and the nature of the Church at the heart of that conflict. His feast day is August 26.


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