Testimony of the Light

taken from the sermons of Saint Augustine of Hippo; readings at Matins on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Outside the most holy Birthday of the Lord, we find celebrated in the Gospel the birth of only one other, namely, that of the blessed Baptist, John. As regardeth all others among God’s holy and chosen ones we know that that day is observed whereon, with their work finished, and the world conquered and finally trampled down, they were born from this into a better life, even one of everlasting blessedness. In others is honoured the crowning of the struggle on their last day of dying life, but in John is honoured the first day; in him the very beginning is found hallowed. And the reason of this is, without doubt, because he was sent from God to bear witness to the coming of the Light, lest when It came It might take the darkness by surprise, and the darkness might not comprehend It. Now, John was a figure of the Old Testament, and showed in his own person a typical embodiment of the Law; and therefore John heralded beforehand the coming of the Saviour, even as the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to the grace of Christ (Galatians 3:24).

But as touching this, that he prophesied while yet in the hidden depths of his mother’s womb, and while himself lightless bore testimony to the Truth, we are to understand it as a figure how that while himself wrapped round with the veil and carnal ordinances of the letter, he by the spirit preached unto the world a Redeemer, and testified that Jesus is our Lord even while for himself, working under the Law, the birth of the new dispensation was still in the womb of the future, and not come today. The Jews were estranged from the womb, that is from the Law, that womb heavy with the Christ That was to be; they went astray from the belly, speaking lies (Psalms 57:4), and therefore John came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe (John 1:7).

‘He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light.’ (John 1:8)

But as for this, that when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples (Matthew 11:2). This is the Law sending to the Gospel; for John here was a figure of the Law, imprisoned in ignorance, lying in the dark, and in a hidden place, and he was fettered through Jewish misunderstanding within the bonds of the letter. But of him was it said, as is written in the Blessed Evangelist: ‘He was a burning and a shining light,’ that is to say, when the whole world was wrapt in the night of ignorance, this Saint was kindled by the fire of the Holy Ghost, to show before men the light of salvation, and at the hour of the thickest darkness of sin appeared like a bright morning star to herald the rising of that Sun so right gloriously radiant, the Son of righteousness, Christ our Lord. And this is why John said of himself: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord.’ (John 1:15)

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