Musings on Augustine’s “deepest wound”

One of the more famous Christian inspirational quotes which has become popular on the internet is attributed to Augustine and runs as follows (with slight variants): “In my deepest wound, I saw Your glory, and it dazzled me”.

It is certainly beautiful and totally redolent of Augustine’s magnificent style, but it seems that we cannot positively affirm that the great Doctor composed it. It’s in first person, which might indicate that the Confessions might yield this wonderful quote, but a meticulous search of the autobiography comes up empty. Even a search through the Latin text of Augustine’s opera omnia for the terms vulnus, plaga, gloriam tuam, and various permutations/declensions of them failed to locate our quote. It appears, in fact, that the quote falls into the company of the many pseudo-Augustinian compositions, written perhaps by anonymous disciples or admirers of the saint.

I do remain curious as to the actual origin of the quote, and if a Latin original exists, I really want to know what is the Latin term behind the translation of “dazzled”. If anybody can shed some light, it would be greatly appreciated.

Nevertheless: does this lack of a positive link to the saint diminish its wisdom?

Of course not! The quote beautifully captures the essence of both the Incarnation and the Paschal mystery in so few words, and it’s no wonder that people suggest Augustine as a possible author. As we have mentioned before, “the crib, not the cross, gives the first splinters of the Passion“; at both ends of Christ’s terrestrial sojourn lies a painful kenosis. The poetic text of Philippians 2 already traces Christ’s double abasement, first saying that Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” in the Incarnation; then, “he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, even death of the cross”.

First, in the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity descended from the heights of divinity and deigned to be encumbered by our mortality. By taking our flesh, he divested himself of the unrestricted freedom and power which, prior to the Incarnation, he enjoyed, coming to the earth as the most helpless of beings– first as an embryo, passing through all the natural stages of development until his birth in Bethlehem. By doing so, he proved himself radically different than the ancient gods: Jesus Christ was not a deus ex machina who entered the world by interrupting the created order. On the contrary, by totally immersing himself in the natural human experience from the instant of conception onward, the Lord proves himself fully human, manifesting a power that the old deities never possessed.

The fullness of his humanity reaches its logical conclusion as he dies the death of a mortal man. But this death is far from peaceful. Instead, Christ is the suffering servant of Isaiah 52-53 who endures unspeakable horrors for the sake of redeeming his people. On the Via Dolorosa and upon Calvary, Jesus becomes the Paschal Victim, the Spotless Lamb who, through his wounds and his stripes, reconciles sinners to the Father, thus inaugurating, as Joseph Ratzinger reminded us a decade ago, “the day of vengeance for our God”.

God himself, in the person of Christ Jesus, suffered and died. Thus, our God is not some aloof ideal trapped in the Platonic world of forms, for he has truly become one of us. Our experiences in this mortal coil have become his own, and through them, we are opened to unity with Him. It is thus an infinite consolation and an unfathomable mercy to look upon the Crucified and recognize that, through the victory won on the Place of the Skull, all our sufferings and torments– no matter how profound and painful– are forever relativized. Thus, when the trials of life threaten to crush us into the dirt, we know that Christ is already there in the abyss, waiting to raise us. In our own scarred and bruised souls we glimpse the ultimate reason for hope.

“In my deepest wound, I saw Your glory, and it dazzled me.”

This sentiment, in fact, has older biblical roots. Who else but Job, the just man, the Old Testament figure of great suffering, could grasp the very essence of the Augustinian quote, centuries before the Incarnation? For although his livelihood is destroyed, his progeny extinguished, and his body torn asunder, he finds a divine faith that flies in the face of every human tendency toward despondency and despair.

As for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last, He will take His stand on the earth. After my skin is destroyed, in my flesh I shall yet see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (19:26-27)

The Roman liturgy adopted a more explicitly Christological form of this passage for the Office for the Dead as a versicle-response during Matins (Extraordinary Form), as well as in the Missa pro defunctis in the Ordinary Form.

R:  Credo quod redemptor meus vivit, et in novissimo die de terra surrecturus sum. Et in carne mea videbo Deum salvatorem meum.
V:  Quem visurus sum ego ipse, et non alius, et oculi mei conspecturi sunt. Et in carne mea videbo Deum salvatorem meum.

R.  I believe that my redeemer lives: and on the last day of the earth, I shall be raised. And in my flesh, I shall see God, my savior.
V.  He is the one I shall see, truly Him, and not another, and my eyes will behold him. And in my flesh, I shall see God, my savior.

That the Church applies this passage to the context of death once again affirms the idea that Christ’s “dazzling” glory comes through the greatest of sufferings, and that even when our humanity is made complete at the end of life, Christ is ever present, for he took upon himself the total human experience and made of it a path to glory. All the incarnations of this same sentiment– whether in scripture, or in the liturgy, or in a poorly-attributed Patristic quote– all share the fundamental belief that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus constitute the invincible source of hope for a Christian. Whether or not Augustine wrote that magnificent phrase is far less important than the truth which it expresses– a truth made manifest in both scripture and liturgy, and thus worthy of our pious contemplation.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply