Document: Letter 35
Date: after 386
Addressee: Honorantius
English Translation: FC 26.277-283
Summary of Contents: On questions of the soul and other scriptural issues

My last letter answered your inquiry; this letter is a part of my answer which will not destroy but will fulfill the former. For, while I considered the matter further, I was disturbed, I admit, because he [Paul] added: “For we know that all creation groans,” although in an earlier verse he had said without any addition: “For creation was made subject to vanity.” He said not that “every creature” but “creation” has been made subject. And again, he says: “Since creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption.” And, in the third place, he adds: “every creature groans.”

What does he wish to imply by this addition except, perhaps, that not every creature is subject to vanity, and, since not everyone is subject to vanity, not everyone will be freed from slavery to corruption? Why should that be set free which is unacquainted with and free from subjection to vanity and from slavery to corruption? Let everyone groan, not over his own labor but over ours, and give birth, perchance, to that spirit of adoption of the sons of God that he may have a share in the joy and happiness over the redemption of the human race. Everyone groans over our labor because of love for himself or for the member of his own body, of which the head is Christ. But, whether he meant this as we have said, or that every creature in subjection groans and gives birth, this understand as you wish.

Let us now consider what he adds: “And not only it, but we ourselves also who have the first fruits of the spirit we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” What adoption of sons does the previous page teach? To explain the meaning we must go back to the previous page.

He says that one who puts to death the deeds of the flesh will live. It is not strange that he lives, since one who has the spirit of God becomes a son of God. It is for this reason that he is the Son of God so that he may receive not the spirit of slavery but the spirit of the adoption of sons, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit gives proof to our spirit that we are the sons of God. The proof of this comes from the Holy Spirit, because it is He Himself who cries out in our hearts: “Abba,Father,” as it was written to the Galatians. It is also a powerful proof that we are sons of God in that we are heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and He is co-heir of the one who glorifies Him, and He, too, glorifies him who by suffering for Him suffers with Him.

In order to encourage us to suffer, he adds that all our suffering is less than and not to be compared to the great reward of the future blessing which will be revealed to us in return for these hardships, and that, when we have been formed to the image of God, we will deserve to see His glory face to face.

To enhance the greatness of the future revelation he adds that creation also awaits this revelation of the sons of God, being now subject to vanity, not by its own will but in hope, for it hopes for gratitude from Christ for the service which it rendered Him, and because it will itself be freed from slavery to corruption, that it may be taken up into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God, so that there will be a single liberty of creation and of the sons of God when their glory is revealed. But now, while the revelation is postponed, every creature groans, awaiting the glory of our adoption and redemption, giving birth to that spirit of salvation, and wishing to be freed from slavery to vanity.

To this the Apostle joins the groaning of the saints who have the first fruits of the Spirit. Even they groan. Although they are saved by their merits, they are compassionate because the redemption of the world is yet to come. For, while the members of their body suffer, how can the other members, although superior ones, not feel compassion for the distressed members of the one body?

For this reason, I think, the Apostle said that at that time even the Son Himself will be made subject, the one who subjected all things to Himself. Those who still labor are not yet made subject, and in them, perhaps, Christ still thirsts, still hungers; in them He is naked because they still do not fulfill the word of God, they do not put on Christ, who is the garment of believers, the cloak of the faithful. But those in whom He is weak still need medicine, and they have not yet become His subjects. It is a subjection of strength, not of weakness. The Son of God is made subject in the strong and in those who do the will of God. He now works more in those who do not assist the laborers than He does in those who ask assistance for themselves. This is a holy and true interpretation of the subjection of the Lord Jesus, who will make Himself subject so that God may be all things to all men.

We are arriving at the Apostle’s meaning. Let us now consider who those are who have the first-fruits of the Spirit. Let us then ask the Old Law what it means by the word “first-fruits” or “firstlings.” It says: “You shall not hold back the first-fruits of the threshing floor and your water,” and further on: “You shall offer the first-fruits of your first products to the house of the Lord your God.” Some are first-fruits; others are tithes. First-fruits have greater favor and are held in very great reverence. Abel was very pleasing since without holding back he offered his gift, a firstling of his flock. Some may wish to distinguish between first-fruits and firstlings, that is, what is born first, because when the seed has been gathered it may be offered as the very first- fruits of the harvest; yet, what is taken first from the harvest is offered to the Lord, but that from the threshing floor [is offered] to others. Indeed, the whole harvest of grain seems to become holy when the first-fruits are given as a gift, but the first-fruits themselves are holier still.

Likewise, the saints are the first-fruits of the Lord, particularly the Apostles. God first placed Apostles in the Church who prophesied many things and preached the Lord Jesus, for they first received Him. Simeon the Prophet first received Him; Zachary the Prophet received Him, and so did his son John; and Nathaniel in whom there was no guile, who was reclining under a fig tree; and Joseph, who was called just, who buried Him. These are the first-fruits of our faith, although the same nature but less grace may be in some first-fruits as in some seeds: “God is able out of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

Lo, you have an example from the Lord Jesus Himself. In the resurrection of the dead He is called the first-born from the dead. Yet, the Apostle has shown that the same one is the first-fruit, in the words: “In Christ all are made to live, but each in his own turn. Christ is the first-fruits; then, they who are Christ’s, who have believed in His coming.” The same reality of body is in Him as in us, but still He is called the first-born of the dead because He arose first, and He is called the first-fruits because He is holier than all fruits, since He sanctified the other fruits of His union. He is also the firstling of those who are in His image, just as He is the image of the invisible God, in whom, in accord with the divinity, there is nothing corporeal, nothing temporal, for He is the splendor of the Father’s glory, and the image of His substance. Our letter has run to the length of a sermon while we are endeavoring to show what are first-fruits.

Our first-fruits are the Apostles, who were chosen out of all the fruits of that time, to whom it was said: “And greater than these you will do,” since the grace of God poured itself out upon them. They, I say, groaned while they awaited the redemption of the whole body, and they still groan, because of the toil of many who still waver. If a man reaches the shore but is still buffeted by waves around his waist, he groans and travails until he emerges entirely. In the same way he groans who is still saying to us: “Who is weak, and I am not weak?”

Let us not be disturbed because it has been so written: “We who have the first-fruits of the spirit we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” The meaning is clear why those who have the first-fruits of the spirit groan while they await the adoption as sons. This adoption as sons is the redemption of the whole body. When it is face to face as a son of God it will see that divine and eternal good. The adoption as sons is in the Church of the Lord when the Spirit cries: “Abba, Father,” as you have it said to the Galatians. But it [the adoption] will be perfect when all will rise in incorruption, in honor, and in glory, worthy to see the face of God. Then will humanity know that it is truly redeemed. So the Apostle boasts in the words: “For in hope were we saved.” Hope saves, as does faith, also, of which it is said: “Your faith has saved you.”

Thus the creature which is subject to vanity, not by its own will but in hope, is saved by hope, as was also Paul, for, although he knew that it was gain to die so that, freed from the body, he might be with Christ, he remained in the flesh for the sake of those whom he was gaining for Christ. What is hope, if not the awaiting of things to come? So he says: “Hope that is seen is not hope.” Not things seen, but things unseen, are eternal. Does anyone hope for what he sees? We seem to have what we see; how, then, do we hope for what we have? So, none of the thingswhich are hoped for are seen, for: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

If the unseen cannot be hoped for, they do not say rightly: “What one sees, that he also hopes,” unless they say: “What one sees, why should he also hope for,” or what does he wait for? It is true that we hope for what we do not see, and, although it seems far removed from us, we hope for it in patience: “Hoping I hoped in the Lord, and he looked down on me.” For this reason we hope patiently, because “The Lord is good to those who wait for him.” This seems to mean that he returned by reason of our patience. We expect what we hope for and do not see. He does much who hopes and expects things which are not seen. And because he turns his attention to that which is everything, he continues steadfast.

It is aptly said, therefore, regarding the power and riches of this world: “But hope that is seen is not hope.” You see that, when one is renowned for power and chariots, he has no hope of chariots which he sees. We do not put our hope in the element of heaven, but in the Lord of heaven. A Chaldean astronomer has no hope in the stars which he studies, nor does the rich man in his possessions, nor the miser in his gain. But he has hope who puts his hope in Him whom he does not see, that is, in the Lord Jesus, who stands in our midst and is not seen. Finally, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him.”

Translation from FC 26.277-283, adapted by SMT

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