The Odor of Christ’s Name

From City of God xvi.37 (426)

Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob, grew up together. The primacy of the elder was transferred to the younger by a bargain and agreement between them, when the elder immoderately yearned after the lentils the younger had prepared for food, and for that price sold his birthright to him, confirming it with an oath. We learn from this that a person is to be blamed, not for the kind of food he eats, but for immoderate greed.

Isaac grew old, and old age deprived him of his eyesight.  He wished to bless the elder son, and instead of the elder, who was hairy, unwittingly blessed the younger, who put himself under his father’s hands, having covered himself with kid-skins, as if bearing the sins of others. Lest we should think this guile of Jacob’s was fraudulent guile, instead of seeking in it the mystery of a great thing, the Scripture has predicted in the words just before, “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a simple man, dwelling at home.”

Some of our writers have interpreted this, “without guile.” But whether the Greek means “without guile,” or “simple,” or rather “without reigning,” in the receiving of that blessing what is the guile of the man without guile? What is the guile of the simple, what the fiction of the man who does not lie, but a profound mystery of the truth? But what is the blessing itself? “See,” he says, “the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord hath blessed: therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: let nations serve you, princes adore you, and may you be lord of your brothers, and let your father’s sons adore you; cursed be the one who curses you, and blessed be the one who blesses you.”

The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations. It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled. Isaac is the law and the prophecy: even by the mouth of the Jews, Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood. The world, like a field, is filled with the odor of Christ’s name: his is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples. His is the plenty of corn and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of his body and blood. Him the nations serve, him princes adore… him his Father’s sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for he himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh. He is cursed who curses him, and he that blesses him is blessed.

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. City of God was his masterwork, a sprawling treatise of philosophical theology analyzing human history and the problem of evil in the light of the sweep of Holy Scripture. His feast day is August 26. 


Online Archives