Pious Jesus

The Christmas liturgy uses of Psalm 2 a lot. I suppose this is because of  verse 7: “The Lord said to me: you are my son, today I have begotten you.” But it is illuminating to read the rest of the Psalm in the light of the Christmas mystery (and visa versa). The introit of Midnight Mass uses verse 7 as the antiphon, but verse 1 as the verse: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” If one reads on, one sees that the nations rage because they do not want to serve God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his Christ, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.'” Their opposition to God stems from an unwillingness to serve Him, to submit to Him. This is seen as irksome because it seems to be contrary to liberty. As St. Thomas argues:

Every aversion towards God has the character of an end insofar as it is desired under the notion of liberty, as according to the words of Jeremiah (2:20): For a long time you have broken the yoke, you have broken bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’ (ST IIIa Q8, A7, r.)

This is a sin against what St. Thomas calls the virtue of “religion”– rendering to God His just due. St. Augustine calls this virtue “piety,” but points out that this word has various other meanings as well:

Piety, again, or, as the Greeks say, εὐσέβεια, is commonly understood as the proper designation of the worship of God. Yet this word also is used of dutifulness to parents. The common people, too, use it of works of mercy, which, I suppose, arises from the circumstance that God enjoins the performance of such works, and declares that He is pleased with them instead of, or in preference to sacrifices. From this usage it has also come to pass that God Himself is called pious… (Civ. Dei X,1)

Now, all of these senses of piety are involved in the Christmas mystery. Mankind having rebelled against through impious pride, God looks down on them with merciful pietas and decides to send them his son. And of course His Son gives comes not in power, but in weakness, a piteous baby. God woes man, conquering man’s pride with his humility. And then of course this baby gives an example of piety toward His human parents. My favorite Christmas sermon of all time is Bl. John Henry Newman’s Omnipotence in Bonds which is all about this point:

And so, like some inanimate image of wood or stone, the All-powerful lies in the manger, or on her bosom, doubly helpless, both because His infancy is feeble, and because His bonds are strong. It is in this wise He was shown to the shepherds; thus He was worshipped by the wise men; thus He was presented in the Temple, taken up in Simeon’s arms, hurried off to Egypt by night, His tender Mother adoring the while that abject captivity to which it was her awful duty to reduce Him. So His first months passed; and though, as time went on, He grew in stature, and burst His bonds, still through a slow and tedious advance did He enter on His adolescence. And then, when for a moment He anticipated His mission and sat down among the Doctors in the Temple, He was quickly recalled by His Mother’s chiding, and went back again to her and Joseph, and, in the emphatic words of the text, was “subject unto them.” […]  I glory in [this], for I see in it the most awful antagonism to the very idea and essence of sin, whether as existing in Angels or in men. For what was the sin of Lucifer, but the resolve to be his own master? What was the sin of Adam, but impatience of subjection, and a desire to be his own god? What is the sin of all his children, but the movement, not of passion merely, not of selfishness, not of unbelief, but of pride, of the heart rising against the law of God, and set on being emancipated from its trammels? What is the sin of Antichrist, but, as St. Paul says, that of being “the Lawless One,” of “opposing or being lifted up against all that is called God, or worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God”? If, then, the very principle of sin is insubordination, is there not a stupendous meaning in the fact, that He, the Eternal, who alone is sovereign and supreme, has given us an example in His own Person of that love of subjection, which in Him alone is simply voluntary, but in all creatures is an elementary duty? O my Brethren, let us blush at our own pride and self-will.

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