The word epiphany etymologically comes from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation” It has come to refer to the feast celebrating the visit of the “wise men from the East” to the Christ Child, recounted in Matthew’s Gospel.
And yet, what a mystery that the epiphany of God — his manifestation — is hidden behind the tiny fingers and toes of an infant, whose cries cause his mother’s milk to let down, just like any other infant in the world.
From the beginnings of Christianity, saints and scholars have considered the richness of this mystery.
Here are five such reflections from some of the Church’s great saints:
1. What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise.
— Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
2. Give me, therefore, I pray Thee, this gold, this incense, and this myrrh. Give me the gold of Thy holy love; give me the spirit of holy prayer, give me the desire and strength to mortify myself in everything that displeases Thee. I am resolved to obey Thee and to love Thee; but Thou knowest my weakness, oh, give me the grace to be faithful to Thee!
— St Alphonsus Liguori
3. For by gold the power of a king is signified, by frankincense the honor of God, by myrrh the burial of the body; and accordingly they offer Him gold as King, frankincense as God, myrrh as Man.
— St John Chrysostom
4. Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.
As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.
— Peter Chrysologus
5. Truth, by which the world is held together, has sprung from the earth, in order to be carried in a woman’s arms.
— St Augustine