This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
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Augustine of Hippo
The apostle speaks of a great mystery in the relation of Christ and the church. That which is great in respect of Christ and the church may seem less auspicious in the relation between husbands and wives. But in marriage it still represents the mystery of an inseparable bond.
We find frequently in the writings of the blessed Paul principles conducive to a higher (anagogic) interpretation. This is evident when he writes “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and his church.”
Any soul that cleaves faithfully to Christ is like a wife living faithfully with her husband. Even in chaste wedlock she may grieve the mind of her husband. But she preserves the faith of the marriage bed with chaste purity. Prudently and temperately she orders the husband’s household. Even while she falls short of meeting his needs she lives chastely and faithfully with him. Though human infirmity often causes her to transgress against him, conjugal chastity makes her cleave with pleasure to her husband.
This: sacrament, (or mystery) in Christ, and in the Church. This sacrament, in construction, must be referred to what immediately went before, i.e. to the conjunction of marriage beteeen husband and wife; and this is called a great sacrament, or mystery, as representing the union or spiritual nuptials of Christ with his spouse, the Church. (Witham) (Hom. xx.)
They declare also that Paul has referred to the conjunctions within the Pleroma, showing them forth by means of one; for, when writing of the conjugal union in this life, he expressed himself thus: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church."
Gregory of Nazianzus, a very eloquent man and outstandingly versed in the Scriptures, used to say while discussing this passage with me: See how great the promise in this passage is! The apostle, interpreting it as an analogy of Christ and the church, does not himself even profess to have expounded it as the dignity of the idea demanded. He is in effect saying: “I know that this analogy is full of ineffable promises. It requires a divine heart in its interpretation. But in the weakness of my understanding I can only say that in the meantime it should be interpreted as Christ in relation to the church. Nothing is greater than Christ and the church. Even all that is said of Adam and Eve is to be interpreted with reference to Christ and the church.” .
Why does he call it a great mystery? That it was something great and wonderful, the blessed Moses, or rather God, intimated. For the present, however, says he, I speak regarding Christ, that having left the Father, He came down, and came to the Bride, and became one Spirit. For he that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit. (1Corinthians 6:17) And well says he, it is a great mystery. And then as though he were saying, But still nevertheless the allegory does not destroy affection.
The apostle’s aim was not amiss when he compared the first condition of Adam with that of Christ. It is a perfectly accurate analogy: the church is generated from Adam’s bones and flesh. For her sake the Word left his Father in heaven. He came down to be bonded with this woman, the church. Then he fell into the sleep of his passion. He willingly died for her…. He did this to make her ready for the blessed seed which he himself sows secretly in her, which she cherishes in the depth of her soul. The seed is sown that the church might receive it and fashion it like a woman, to bring forth and foster excellence. .
Yet, while everything else seems rightly spoken, one thing, my friend, distresses and troubles me, considering that that wise and most spiritual man-I mean Paul-would not vainly refer to Christ and the Church the union of the first man and woman,
What had he that was spiritual? Is it because he prophetically declared "the great mystery of Christ and the church? ".
In the estimation of the apostle, although they are so vilely esteemed by the heretics. "But I am speaking "says he, "of Christ and the Church.".
However, even (Adam) himself at that time, reverting to the condition of a Psychic after the spiritual ecstasy in which he had prophetically interpreted that "great sacrament"
Small in the eyes of heretics but great in the eyes of the apostles are the Creator’s works. Of just such a great mystery the apostle speaks when he says: “But I speak of Christ and the church.” He says this to confirm the mystery, not to undermine it. He shows us that the mystery was prefigured beforehand by the One who is the author of the mystery. .