The Aquinas Institute would like to give our subscribers and supporters a Christmas gift: Aquinas’s Christmas sermon Ecce Rex Tuus in a fresh translation from the Leonine text by Madison Michieli. To see the Latin text in a parallel column and critical footnotes in the English, visit our online text viewer. Feel free to share.
The greatness of the Incarnation
Behold, your king comes to you, meek (Matt 21:5). Many are the wonders of the divine works, as the Psalmist says: wonderful are your works (Ps 137:14). Yet no work of God is as marvelous as the coming of Christ into the flesh, because, while in his other works God imprinted his likeness on the creature, in the work of the Incarnation he impressed his very self, and united himself to human nature through a unity of person (or united our nature to himself). And hence, while the other works of God are imperfectly knowable, this work (namely, the Incarnation), is entirely without reason. Job 5:9: you do great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. There is one work that I cannot see: if he should come to me, I would not see him (Job 9:11). And in Malachi: behold, the lord of hosts comes, and who can know the day of his coming? (Mal 3:1–2) As though to say: it exceeds the knowledge of man. But the Apostle teaches who would be able to know the day of his coming, saying: not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves: but all our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor 3:5). Therefore, in the beginning we will ask the Lord that he himself should give me something to say, etc.
The four comings of Christ the King
Behold, your king comes, meek (Matt 21:5). These words are taken from the Gospel which we read today, and are taken from Zechariah 9:9, although there it is said in slightly different words. In these words, Christ’s coming is clearly prophesied to us. And lest we proceed on the basis of an ambiguity, you should know that Christ’s coming is read in four ways. First is that by which he comes into the flesh. His second coming is that by which he comes into the soul. The third coming of Christ is that by which he comes in the death of the just. And the fourth coming of Christ is that by which he comes to judge.
First, I say that the coming of Christ is into the flesh. And it is not to be understood as though he came into the flesh by changing place, because he says in Jeremiah: I fill heaven and earth (Jer 23:24). In what way, then, did he come into the flesh? I say that he came into the flesh descending from heaven, not by leaving heaven behind, but by assuming human nature. Thus John says: he came unto his own (John 1:11). And how? I say that he was in the world, but he came in the world when the word became flesh (John 1:14).
And see how this coming leads to the other coming of Christ, which is into the soul. It would have profited us nothing if Christ had come into the flesh, unless he had also entered into the soul, that is, by sanctifying us. Hence John says: if anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him (John 14:23). In the first coming, the Son comes alone, but in the second, the Son comes with the Father to live within the soul. This coming, which is through justifying grace, frees the soul from fault, though not from all punishment, because it receives grace, although it does not yet receive glory.
And because of this the third coming of Christ is necessary, in which he comes in the death of the saints, when he receives these souls unto himself. Hence John says: if I should go, to the Passion, and prepare a place for you, by removing the obstacle, I shall come to you again, namely, in death, and I shall take you to myself, namely, in glory, that where I am, you also may be (John 14:3). And again he says: I came that they may have life, namely, my presence in your souls, and have it in abundance (John 10:10), namely, through participating in glory.
The fourth coming of Christ will be to judge, namely, when the Lord will come as Judge, and then the glory of the saints will overflow even into the body, and the dead will rise again. Hence John says: the hour is coming, and now is, when all who are in the tomb will hear the voice of the son of God and those who did well will enter into the resurrection of life (John 5:25).
And perhaps it is because of these four comings that the Church celebrates Christ’s coming over the four Sundays of Advent. It celebrates the first coming of Christ on this Sunday: and we can see four things in the words set down above. First, the coming of Christ is shown at: behold; second, the condition of the one coming, at: your king; third, the purpose of the coming: comes to you; fourth, the mode of the coming, at: meek.
First, I say that we can see that the coming of Christ is shown at: behold. We must note that we normally understand four things by ‘behold’. First, showing a thing to be certain: we say ‘behold’ of things which are evident to us. Second, we understand through ‘behold’ a determination of time; third, the manifestation of a thing; and fourth, men’s comfort.
First, I say that through ‘behold’ we normally mean to make a thing certain. When anyone wants to make a thing certain, he says, behold. Hence the Lord says in Genesis: behold, I will establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you. I shall set my bow between me and you (Gen 9:9, 13), namely, as a sign of peace. This bow signifies the Son of God, for, as the bow is generated from the reflection of the sun on the watery clouds, so is Christ generated from the Word of God and human nature, which is like the clouds. And as the soul and body are one man, so God and man are the one Christ; and it is said of Christ that he ascended on a light cloud (cf. Acts 1:9), that is, on human nature, by uniting it to himself. And Christ came to us as a sign of peace, and it was necessary that he should become such because of how some doubt Christ’s second coming. Hence the Apostle says: in the last days there shall come deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, “where is his promise or his coming?” (2 Pet 3:3-4). Such men will say that the soul will not endure after the body, and because of this, to show the certainty of Christ’s coming, the prophet says: behold. And it says in Habakkuk 2:3: the Lord will appear in the end, and will not lie. And Isaiah says: the Lord of hosts will come (Isa 3:14).
The second thing we usually understand through ‘behold’ is a determined time. In the coming of Christ to judge, we do not have a determined time; hence Job says: I know not how long I shall continue, and when my Maker may take me away (Job 32:22). And in Luke: the kingdom of God will not come with observation (Luke 17:20). Why was there not a time determined for us for that coming? Perhaps because the Lord wished us to be always watchful. But for the coming of Christ into the flesh we had a determined time; hence Isaiah says: behold, the days shall come, and I shall raise up to David a just seed, and he shall reign and be wise (Jer 23:5).
The third thing we normally understand by ‘behold’ is the manifestation of a thing. A certain coming of God to us is hidden, namely, the coming in which he enters into the soul, and cannot be known through showing it to be certain. Hence Job says: if he come to me, I shall not see him, and if he depart, I shall not understand (Job 9:11). But in this coming, which is into the flesh, Christ comes manifest and visible; hence Isaiah says: therefore my people shall understand my name, because I am myself who spoke; behold, I am here (Isa 52:6). And John points him out, saying as though in the present: behold, the Lamb of God (John 1:36). But Zechariah showed him through behold in reference to the future.
Fourth, by ‘behold’ we normally understand men’s comfort; and this in two ways. If a man suffers annoyance from his enemies, and his enemies submit to him, he says, behold. Thus Lamentations 2:16 says: my enemies have opened their mouth, and behold, the day comes which I have longed for. Similarly, when a man obtains some good which he has long desired, he says ‘behold’. As the Psalmist says: behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity (Ps 132:1). We obtained these two in the coming of Christ because man is freed from the insults of the devil and rejoices in hope obtained. As Isaiah says: say to the fainthearted, “take courage, and fear not: behold, your God will bring the revenge of recompense over your enemies; God himself will come and will save you” (Isa 35:4).
Now, let us consider the condition of the one coming. A person’s coming requires that he be expected or announced with solemnity because of the person’s greatness, if he is a king or papal legate, or because of friendship and affinity: and this one who comes is a king, our close relation, and a friend.
Because of this, we must await him with solemnity. You know that a king orders the authority of dominion, yet not just anyone who has authority of dominion is called a king, but four things are required for someone to be called a king; if anyone is absent, he is not called a king. A king must first have unity; second, fullness of power; third, wide jurisdiction; and fourth, equity of justice.
First, I say that a king must have unity, because if there are many lords in a kingdom and dominion is not proper to one, we do not say there is a king. Hence the kingdom is like a certain monarchy, and Christ has unity. Thus Ezekiel says: there will be one king of us all (Eze 37:22). He says one king to signify that our king will not be a foreigner, nor another lord, but the one Lord, Son with the Father. Thus Christ says: I and the Father are one (John 10:30), against Arius who said that the Father and Son are different. As the Apostle says: if there are many gods and many lords, we have one God and Lord (1 Cor 8:5-6).
Second, ‘king’ conveys fullness of power. Whoever reigned without fullness of power, but according to imposed laws, would not be called ‘king’ but ‘consul’ or ‘magistrate.’ Now, it was going to be that, by Christ’s coming, the law was changed by God with regard to the ceremonial laws. Thus Christ himself is the one who can establish the law. Hence he says: it was said to the ancients, “do not kill,” but I say (Matt 5:21), as though to say: I have power, and I can make the laws. Thus Isaiah says: our Lord, our judge, our law-maker, he himself shall come and save us (Isa 33:22). We read that the Father gave all judgement to the Son (John 5:22), and the Son is our law-maker and consequently, our king. Thus Esther says: Lord, all-powerful king, all are placed in your power (Est 13:9); and thus the Son says: all power in heaven and on earth is given to me (Matt 28:18).
Third, ‘king’ conveys breadth of jurisdiction. The head of a household has fullness of power in his own home, yet he is not called a king. Similarly, someone who has one estate is not called a king because of this, but he who has dominion over many lands and over a large city is called a king. We see this in he who came to us, for all creatures are under him, because God is king of all the earth (Ps 46:8). And it was necessary that the sort of man should come who had such power, because the law once was given only to the Jews (and the Jews were called the chosen people of God): but all had to be brought to salvation, and hence there had to be a king of all who could save all. Such was the one who came to us. Hence the Psalmist says: ask of me, and I will give you the Gentiles for your inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for your possession (Ps 2:8).
Fourth, it is necessary that a king have equity, because otherwise he would be a tyrant: for the tyrant turns everything within the kingdom to his own use, but a king orders his kingdom to the common good. Thus Proverbs says: a just king sets up the land; a covetuous man destroys it (Prov 29:4). But he came not seeking his own use, but yours, because the Son of Man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister (Matt 20:28). And who comes to minister? Surely the one who comes to give his soul for the redemption of many (Matt 20:28), and so that he might lead the redeemed to eternal glory, to which may he lead us, etc.
The love and meekness of Christ the King
Behold, your king comes, etc. It was said that in these words we could see the coming shown when it says: behold; second, the condition of the one coming, at: your king; third, the usefulness of the coming, at: comes to you; and fourth, the manner of the coming, at: meek. It was also said that through ‘behold’ we normally understand four things: first, making a thing certain; second, the determination of a time; third, the manifestation of a thing; and fourth, comfort.
Now, we said about the condition of the one coming (which is noted when it says your king) that a person’s coming requires that he be expected or announced with solemnity because of his greatness (if he is a king or a legate), or because of a person’s friendship and affinity: and these were in he who came.
We then must consider that he himself is the king of all creation. Hence Judith 9:17 says: creator of the waters and king of all creation. But he is specifically called your king, namely, of man, because of four things: first, because of the likeness of his image; second, because of special love; third, because of special care and solicitude; and fourth, because of the society of human nature.
First, I say that Christ is called your king, that is, of man, because of the likeness of his image. You know that things are especially said to pertain to a king which bear his insignia, like his image; and while every creature is God’s, yet there is a special way in which a creature is God’s that bears his image: and this is man. Thus Genesis says: let us make man toward our image and likeness (Gen 1:26). In what does this likeness consist? I say that it is not according to a bodily likeness, but according to the intelligible light of the mind. Now, the fount of intelligible light is in God, and we have a sign of this light. Thus Psalm 4:7 says: the light of your countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us. Man has a seal of this light: thus this image is created in man; but it is blackened and obscured through sin. Psalm 71(72):20: you will bring their image to nothing. Because of this, God sent his Son to reform that image which was deformed through sin. Therefore, let us strive to be reformed, following the Apostle who says: putting off the old man, and put on the new man, who is created after the likeness of God, and who is renewed in the image of he who created him (Eph 4:24). And how are we renewed? Surely insofar as we imitate Christ. For that same image which is deformed in us is perfect in Christ. Therefore we ought to bear the image of Christ. Hence the Apostle says to the Corinthians: as we have borne the image of the earthly, thus let us bear also the image of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:49); and in today’s epistle: let us put on Christ (Rom 13:14), that is, let us imitate Christ. The perfection of the Christian life consists in this.
Second, Christ is called your king, that is, of man, because of special love. It is the custom in groups of clerics that when a bishop loves certain ones in a more special way than others, that he is called their bishop. God loves all that there is, but he loves men in a special way. Thus Isaiah says: where is your zeal, and your strength, the multitude of your bowels over me? (Is 63:15) Observe that God specially loves human nature. For we find diverse levels of nature, but we do not find that God lifts up a lower level of nature to a higher level of nature, such as the level of a star to the level of the sun, or the level of the inferior angels to the level of the higher angels. But God raised man to the level of and equality with the angels. Hence in Luke: the sons of the Resurrection, the saints, will be equal with the angels (Luke 20:36). Thus God especially loves men. Therefore, we ought not to be ungrateful for such great love, but we ought to wholly transfer our love to him. If the king should love some poor man, that poor man would consider himself wretched if he should not repay the king his love as much as he could. Out of immense love, God said to man: my delights are to be with the sons of men (Pro 8:31). Therefore, we ought to return him this love.
Third, Christ is called your king, that is, of man, because of his singular care and solicitude. It is true that God has care of all things; thus Wisdom 12:13 says, the care of all things is his. There is no thing so small as to be taken away from divine providence: for as a thing is from God, so is its order from God, and providence is the same as that order. Yet men are under divine providence in a special way. Thus the Psalmist says: men and beasts you will preserve, O Lord, namely, by bodily health, but the children of men will hope in the covert of your wings (Ps 35:7-8). And how do they hope? I say that not only spiritual goods, but also eternal ones are prepared by God for those he leads to eternal life, and in regard to this God’s care is not for others. Thus the Apostle says: God’s care is not for oxen (1 Cor 9:9). God does not allow the act of man to be untried. Thus Wisdom 12:18 says: but you, the master, judge sin with great tranquillity.
Fourth, Christ is called your king, that is, of man, because of the society of human nature. Thus Deuteronomy 17:15 says: you may not make a man of another nation king who is not your brother. In this is a prophecy about Christ. The Lord was ordaining that he should establish the king for men; he did not want that he should be of another nation, that is, of a different nature, who would not be our brother. Thus the Apostle says of Christ: never does he take hold of the angels, but of the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16), in which it appears that man has a privilege over the angels. Christ is the king of angels, and is a man, not an angel. The angels also serve man. Thus the Apostle says: all are ministering spirits (Heb 1:14). Now it was necessary that Christ be man for this, that he might save, for the Apostle says to the Hebrews: he who sanctifies and he who is sanctified are one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare my name to my brethren” (Heb 2:11-12). Now the demonstration of the coming and the condition of the one coming are clear.
Next, we should consider the usefulness of the coming, which is noted when he says: comes to you, namely, not compelled by his own usefulness, but by ours. Now, he came because of four things:
First, he came to make manifest the divine majesty; second, to reconcile us to God; third, to free us from sin; and fourth, to give us eternal life.
First, I say that Christ came to manifest to us the divine majesty. Man had ardently desired to have knowledge of the truth, and the truth principally to be considered is about God. But men were in such ignorance that they did not know what God is. Some were saying that he was a body, others said that he did not have care for individuals: and hence the Son of God came to teach us the truth. Thus he says: for this was I born, and for this came I into the world: that I should give testimony to the truth (John 18:37). And in John: no one has seen God (John 1:18), and because of this the Son of God came so that you might know the truth. Our parents were in such great error that they did not know the divine truth. But we, through the coming of the Son of God, are brought back to the truth of faith.
Second, Christ came to reconcile us to God. You were able to say: God was my enemy because of sin; therefore it was better for me to not know than to know him. Because of this, Christ came not only to manifest the divine majesty to us, but to reconcile us to God. Thus the Apostle says to the Ephesians: and coming, he will preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near (Eph 2:17). And elsewhere the Apostle says: we were reconciled to God through the death of his son (Rom 5:10); and because of this at the birth of Christ the angels sang: glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14); and after the Resurrection the Lord brought peace to his disciples, saying: peace to you (John 20:21).
Third, he came to free us from the slavery of sin. Thus the Apostle says: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15). He who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34); therefore, he must be freed. It is said: if the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). And: the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
Fourth, Christ came to give us the life of grace in the present and the life of glory in the future. Thus John 10:10 says: I came that you might have life, namely, the life of grace in the present, and since the just man lives from faith (Gal 3:11); and have it in abundance, that is, the life of glory in the future through charity. Thus John says: we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren (1 John 3:14): and let us live through good works. Again in John: this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). Now the usefulness of the one coming is clear.
But how did he come? I say that he comes meek. This is important. Thus in Proverbs: as the roaring of a lion, so also is the anger of a king: and his cheerfulness as the dew upon the grass (Pro 19:12). Meekness is mitigated wrath. Now God comes with meekness, but in the future he will come with wrath. Thus Isaiah says: behold, the name of the Lord shall come from afar; his wrath like burning fire (Isa 30:27). And Job: he does not now bring on his fury, neither does he revenge wickedness exceedingly (Job 35:15). For now Christ comes with meekness, and we ought to receive him with meekness. Thus blessed James says: with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls (Jam 1:21).
Notice that we can consider Christ’s meekness in four things: first, in his way of life; second, in his correction; third, in his gracious reception of men; and fourth, in his Passion.
First, I say we can see the meekness of Christ in his way of life, for his entire life was peaceful. He did not seek matters of dispute, but wholly avoided everything which could lead him to quarrel. Thus he said: learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart (Matt 11:29). And we ought to imitate him in this. Christ ascending to Jerusalem sat upon a donkey, which is a meek animal (not on a horse), and which was a son of one under the yoke (Matt 21:5). Therefore we ought to be meek. Hence Sirach says: my son, do your works in meekness, and you shall be beloved above the glory of men (Sir 3:19).
Moreover, the meekness of Christ appears in his correction. He bore many taunts from his persecutors, yet nevertheless he did not respond to them with wrath or strife. About this, Psalm 44:5 says: because of truth and meekness, etc. In expounding this, Augustine says that when Christ spoke, he acknowledged the truth; when he patiently answered his enemies, his meekness was praised. As the Psalmist says: meekness is come upon us, and we shall be corrected (Ps 89:10). And Isaiah: he neither contended nor cried out (Isa 42:2).
Third, the meekness of Christ appears in his gracious reception of men. Some men do not know to receive others with meekness. But Christ kindly received sinners, and even ate with them and admitted them to his banquet, or went to their banquets: thus the Pharisees were amazed, saying: why does your master eat with publicans? (Matt 9:11) Therefore, he was meek. Hence it can be said about the Church in 2 Samuel 22:36: your meekness multiplied me. Therefore, those who rule over others ought to be meek.
Fourth, the meekness of Christ is apparent in his Passion, because he went like a lamb to the slaughter (Acts 8:32), and when he was cursed, he did not curse (1 Pet 2:23); nevertheless, he could have handed over everyone to death. Hence he says in Jeremiah: I am like a lamb that is carried to the sacrifice (Jer 11:19).
Saint Andrew imitated his meekness well, for when he was placed on the cross and the people wished him to come down from the cross, urged and begged by prayers that they should not take him down from the cross, but that they themselves might follow him through the passion. Thus it is fulfilled in him: this man appears the most meek among the people (Num 12:3). The meek will inherit the blessed land. Thus in Matthew: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land (Matt 5:4); which may he deign to grant us, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, etc.