As Augustine explained, Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh so that our sinful flesh might be cleansed and purified. This shows that it is not the flesh itself at fault, but the sin that corrupts it. That sin must die so that we might live. Thus, Augustine affirmed the created goodness of the body, and with it, the goodness of Creation. He also reminded his listeners that Jesus was born without sin so that we who have sin might be reborn through faith.
From the earliest days of the Church, Christian theologians have marveled at the paradoxes found in the incarnation. Among the earliest expressions of this marveling comes from St. Augustine, the most influential theologian in Western Christianity.
Augustine was born in 354 in Thagaste, a Roman city in modern Algeria. A brilliant thinker, he initially rejected Christianity as an intellectually empty faith, despite the faithfulness of his mother. After wandering through various pagan philosophies, the equally brilliant St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, showed him how Christianity was superior to pagan philosophies. Augustine became a Christian, and eventually returned to Hippo, where he was elected bishop.
Augustine was an expert orator. He had been a teacher of rhetoric in Milan when he met Ambrose. As a Christian, he used his intellectual abilities and communication skills to address both the pressing theological issues and conflicts facing the Church in the late fourth and early fifth centuries as well as the challenges brought by opponents of Christianity. He also employed his impressive skills in his preaching. In his many years as bishop at Hippo, Augustine preached many Christmas sermons that discussed various aspects of the incarnation. One of his most striking sermons addresses the many paradoxes involved in God taking on human flesh. For example, in what is known as Sermon 184, which Augustine delivered sometime before A.D. 396, he pointed out the paradox of God’s sovereignty with the vulnerability of becoming a child:
The one who holds the world in being was lying in a manger; he was simultaneously speechless infant and Word.