Chapter VI.—Not the Lowliness of the Material, But the Dignity and Skill of the Maker, Must Be Remembered, in Gauging the Excellence of the Flesh. Christ Partook of Our Flesh.
Let me therefore pursue the subject before me—if I can but succeed in vindicating for the flesh as much as was conferred on it by Him who made it, glorying as it even then was, because that poor paltry material, clay, found its way into the hands of God, whatever these were, happy enough at merely being touched by them. But why this glorying? Was it that, 7325 without any further labour, the clay had instantly assumed its form at the touch of God? The truth is, 7326 a great matter was in progress, out of which the creature under consideration 7327 was being fashioned. So often then does it receive honour, as often as it experiences the hands of God, when it is touched by them, and pulled, and drawn out, and moulded into shape. Imagine God wholly employed and absorbed in it—in His hand, His eye, His labour, His purpose, His wisdom, His providence, and above all, in His love, which was dictating the lineaments (of this creature). For, whatever was the form and expression which was then given to the clay (by the Creator) Christ was in His thoughts as one day to become man, because the Word, too, was to be both clay and flesh, even as the earth was then. For so did the Father previously say to the Son: “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” 7328 And God made man, that is to say, the creature which He moulded and fashioned; after the image of God (in other words, of Christ) did He make him. And the Word was God also, who being 7329 in the image of God, “thought it not robbery to be equal to God.” 7330 Thus, that clay which was even then putting on the image of Christ, who was to come in the flesh, was not only the work, but also the pledge and surety, of God. To what purpose is it to bandy about the name earth, as that of a sordid and grovelling element, with the view of tarnishing the origin of the flesh, when, even if any other material had been available for forming man, it would be requisite that the dignity of the Maker should be taken into consideration, who even by His selection of His material deemed it, and by His management made it, worthy? The hand of Phidias forms the Olympian Jupiter of ivory; worship is given to the statue, and it is no longer regarded as a god formed out of a most silly animal, but as the worlds supreme Deity—p. 550 not because of the bulk of the elephant, but on account of the renown of Phidias. Could not therefore the living God, the true God, purge away by His own operation whatever vileness might have accrued to His material, and heal it of all infirmity? Or must this remain to show how much more nobly man could fabricate a god, than God could form a man? Now, although the clay is offensive (for its poorness), it is now something else. What I possess is flesh, not earth, even although of the flesh it is said: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” 7331 In these words there is the mention of the origin, not a recalling of the substance. The privilege has been granted to the flesh to be nobler than its origin, and to have happiness aggrandized by the change wrought in it. Now, even gold is earth, because of the earth; but it remains earth no longer after it becomes gold, but is a far different substance, more splendid and more noble, though coming from a source which is comparatively faded and obscure. In like manner, it was quite allowable for God that He should clear the gold of our flesh from all the taints, as you deem them, of its native clay, by purging the original substance of its dross.
Quid enim si.549:7326
Gen. i. 26.549:7329
Phil. ii. 6.550:7331
Gen. iii. 19. [“Earth thou art, etc.” in text.]