Friday, October 20, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Th 1:5)

Thus, the obedient and responsive soul gives itself over to the virtuous life. This life is freedom itself, on the one hand, from the chains of this life, separating itself from the slavery of base and empty pursuits. On the other hand, this soul devotes itself to faith and the life of God alone, because it sees clearly that where there is faith, reverence, and a blameless life, there is present the power of Christ, there is flight from all evil and from death which robs us of life. For shameful things do not have in themselves sufficient power to compete with the power of the Lord. It is their nature to develop from disobedience to His commands. This was experienced in ancient times by the first man, but now it is experienced by all of us when we imitate Adam’s disobedience through stubborn choice. However, those who approach the Spirit with honest intent, unfeigned faith, and an undefiled conscience are cleansed by the Spirit according to the one who says, “for our gospel was not delivered to you in word only, but in power also; and in the Holy Spirit and in much fullness, as you know.”

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Christian Mode of Life

Friday, October 13, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Then the Lord of hosts shall do this
    to all the nations on this mountain.
They shall drink in gladness; they shall drink wine;
    they shall anoint themselves with ointment on this mountain.
Deliver all these things to the nations,
    for this is the counsel for all the nations.
Death prevailed and swallowed them,
    but again God wiped away every tear from every face;
He took away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then it will be said in that day,
    “Behold, this is our God,
in whom we hoped and rejoiced exceedingly;
    and we shall be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6–9)


The Ancient of Days, 14th-century fresco
Remember the vision of Daniel, and how he brings the judgment before us: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool;… and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened,” clearly disclosing in the hearing of all, angels and men, things good and evil, things done openly and in secret, deeds, words, and thoughts all at once. What then must those men be who have lived wicked lives? Where then shall that soul hide which in the sight of all these spectators shall suddenly be revealed in its fullness of shame? With what kind of body shall it sustain those endless and unbearable pangs in the place of fire unquenched, and of the worm that perishes and never dies, and of depth of Hades, dark and horrible; bitter wailings, loud lamenting, weeping and gnashing of teeth and anguish without end? From all these woes there is no release after death; no device, no means of coming forth from the chastisement of pain.

We can escape now. While we can, let us lift ourselves from the fall: let us never despair of ourselves, if only we depart from evil. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. “O come, let us worship and fall down; let us weep before Him.” The Word Who invited us to repentance calls aloud, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is, then, a way of salvation, if we will. “Death in his might has swallowed up, but again the Lord hath wiped away tears from off all faces” of those who repent. The Lord is faithful in all His words. He does not lie when He says, “Though your sins be scarlet they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” The great Physician of souls, Who is the ready liberator, not of you alone, but of all who are enslaved by sin, is ready to heal your sickness. From Him come the words, it was His sweet and saving lips that said, “Those who are whole do not need a physician but those who are sick.…I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” What excuse have you, what excuse has anyone, when He speaks this way? The Lord wishes to cleanse you from the trouble of your sickness and to show you light after darkness. The good Shepherd, Who left those who had not wandered away, is seeking after you. If you give yourself to Him He will not hold back. He, in His love, will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, will enwrap you in embraces of love. He will clothe with the chief robe the soul that has put off the old man with all his works; He will put a ring on hands that have washed off the blood of death, and will put shoes on feet that have turned from the evil way to the path of the Gospel of peace. He will announce the day of joy and gladness to them that are His own, both angels and men, and will celebrate your salvation far and wide. For “truly I say unto you,” says He, “there is joy in heaven before God over one sinner who repents.” If any of those who think they stand find fault because of your quick reception, the good Father will Himself make answer for you in the words, “It was fitting that we should make merry and be glad for this” my daughter “was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.”

Friday, October 6, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine
And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted,
And the branch that You made strong for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Then we will not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved! (Ps 80:14–19)


Here he teaches the springing up of Christ the Lord: he begs that the vine be given care on account of the temple—clearly called Son of Man—to be assumed from it. This is the way the Lord also in the sacred Gospels, though being man and God at the same time, called himself Son of Man, bestowing the name from the visible nature. Consequently, the inspired Word teaches those taken captive to beseech the God of all to show some mercy to the vine on account of the saving root springing from it. The Lord, in fact, also calls himself this in the words, “I am the true vine, you the branches, and my Father is the farmer”: as man he is the vine, as God he is also the farmer, sowing good seed in his field. You see, though he sprang from this vine, which proved useless, bearing thorns instead of grapes for the farmer, he for his part became the true vine and put forth the biggest branches, the multitude of those who believed in him. The shadow from these truly covered the mountains, and the limbs the cedars. The vine for its part truly extended its branches to the sea, and its offshoots as far as the rivers. There is no place, no place under heaven, in which the divine vats from this vine are not established. For its sake they beg, in narrating all its manifold sufferings, that it too enjoy mercy.…

You do not renege on Your promises: once these firstfruits are received from us, the whole human race will recognize the true God and sing the praises of the lovingkindness demonstrated. In this manner the power of death will be overcome, and we shall gain eternal life, adoring You, God the Savior. So on account of all this and the salvation coming to all people through us, deliver us from this sadness and grant return: if You but appear, we shall gain salvation.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

Friday, September 29, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Engraving of Ezekiel by Gustav Doré
“I shall judge you, O house of Israel, each one according to his way,” says the Lord. “Return and turn away from all your ungodliness, and it shall not be to you as a punishment for wrongdoing. Cast away from yourself all your ungodliness you commit against Me, and make a new heart and a new spirit for yourselves. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I do not will the death of the one who dies,” says the Lord God. (Ez 18:30–32 LXX)

To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or will, the same God who has destined penalty by means of judgment, has withal engaged to grant pardon by means of repentance, saying to the people, “Repent, and I will save you.” And again, “I live, says the Lord, and I will (have) repentance rather than death.” Repentance, then, is “life,” since it is preferred to “death.” That repentance, O sinner, like myself (nay, rather, less than myself, for preëminence in sins I acknowledge to be mine), do you so hasten to, so embrace, as a shipwrecked man the protection of some plank. This will draw you forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the port of the divine clemency. Seize the opportunity of unexpected felicity: that you, who sometime were in God’s sight nothing but “a drop of a bucket,” and “dust of the threshing floor,” and “a potter’s vessel,” may thenceforward become that “tree which is sown beside the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own time,” and shall not see “fire,” nor “axe.” Having found “the truth,” repent of errors; repent of having loved what God does not loves: even we ourselves do not permit our slave-lads to not hate the things which are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary obedience consists in similarity of minds.

To reckon up the good, of repentance, the subject matter is copious, and therefore should be committed to great eloquence. Let us, however, in proportion to our narrow abilities, inculcate one point,—that what God enjoins is good and best. I hold it audacity to dispute about the “good” of a divine precept; for, indeed, it is not the fact that it is good which binds us to obey, but the fact that God has enjoined it. To exact the rendering of obedience the majesty of divine power has the prior right; the authority of Him who commands is prior to the utility of him who serves. “Is it good to repent, or no?” Why do you ponder? God enjoins; nay, He not merely enjoins, but likewise exhorts. He invites by (offering) reward—salvation, to wit; even by an oath, saying “I live,” He desires that credence may be given Him. Oh blessed we, for whose sake God swears! Oh most miserable, if we believe not the Lord even when He swears! What, therefore, God so highly commends, what He even attests on oath, we are bound of course to approach, and to guard with the utmost seriousness; that, abiding permanently in the solemn pledge of divine grace, we may be able also to persevere in like manner in its fruit and its benefit.

Tertullian, On Repentance 4

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We Glorify and Believe As We Are Baptized

We confess that the Lord’s teaching, which he gave to the disciples when he handed over to them the mystery of piety, is the foundation and root of the right and salutary faith, and we believe that nothing else is loftier or surer than that tradition. Now, the Lord’s teaching is this: Go, he says, teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the power which enlivens those who are born again from death to eternal life comes through the Holy Trinity to the faithful who are counted worthy of this grace. And likewise, the grace is incomplete if any single one of the names of the Holy Trinity is ever omitted in saving baptism. For the mystery of rebirth is not complete without the Father, in Son and Spirit alone. Nor, if the Son is passed over in silence, does complete life come through baptism in Father and Son. Nor is the grace of the resurrection brought to completion in Father and Son if the Spirit is set aside. For this reason, we place our entire hope and confidence for the salvation of our souls in the three hypostases recognized through these names. And we believe in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of life, and in the Only-begotten Son of the Father, who is the Author of life, just as the Apostle says, and in the Holy Spirit of God, about whom the Lord said that It is the Spirit that gives life.

And since, for us who have been redeemed from death, the grace of incorruptibility comes in saving baptism through faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as we have said), being led by these, we believe that nothing servile, created, or unworthy of the Father’s majesty is to be counted together with the Holy Trinity. For we have one life which comes to us through faith in the Holy Trinity. It takes its source from the God of the universe, proceeds through the Son, and is actualized in the Holy Spirit.

So then, having this assurance, we baptize as we have been commanded, we believe as we baptize, and we glorify as we believe, so that baptism, faith, and glorification resound in one voice in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa

Friday, September 22, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prophet Isaiah
Seek the Lord, and when you find Him,
    call upon Him when He draws near to you,
let the ungodly leave his ways,
    and the transgressor his counsels;
and let him return to the Lord, and he shall find mercy;
    for He shall abundantly pardon your sins.
“For My counsels are not as your counsels,
    nor are My ways as your ways,” says the Lord.
“But as the heaven is distant from the earth,
    so are My ways distant from your ways,
    and your thoughts from My mind.” (Is 55:6–9 LXX)


Seek Him while He can be found, while you are in the body and as long as an opportunity for repentance is provided, and seek Him not in any particular place but in faith. Just how God is to be sought we learn elsewhere.… “Taste of the Lord in goodness, and in simplicity of heart seek Him” [Wis. 1:1].… For it is not enough to seek the Lord and while there is a time of repentance to find Him and call on Him while He is near—unless the ungodly also leave their former ways and leave the old ways of thinking for the Lord.

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah

“For my counsels” we read “are not as your counsels nor my ways as your ways; but far as is the Heaven from the earth, so far are my thoughts from your mind, and my counsels from your counsels.” Now if we admit to our favor household slaves when they have often offended against us, on their promising to become better, and place them again in their former portion, and sometimes even grant them greater freedom of speech than before; much more does God act thus. For if God had made us in order to punish us, you might well have despaired, and questioned the possibility of your own salvation. But if He created us for no reason than His own good will, and with a view to our enjoying everlasting blessings, and if He does and contrives everything for this end, from the first day until the present time, what is there which can ever cause you to doubt? Have we provoked Him severely, so as no other man ever did? this is just the reason why we ought especially to abstain from our present deeds and to repent for the past, and exhibit a great change. For the evils we have once perpetrated cannot provoke Him so much as our being unwilling to make any change in the future. For to sin may be a merely human failing, but to continue in the same sin ceases to be human, and becomes altogether devilish.

John Chrysostom, Letter to the Fallen Theodore

Friday, September 15, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost


So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Mt 18:31–34)

Do you see the master’s mercy? Do you see the servant’s cruelty? Listen, all who do these things for money: one should not act like this because it is sin. Much worse to act like this for money. How then does he plead? “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” But he did not regard even the words by which he had been saved (for he himself on saying this was delivered from the ten thousand talents). And he did not recognize so much as the harbor by which he escaped shipwreck. Even the gesture of supplication did not remind him of his master’s kindness, but he put away from his mind all these things—covetousness and cruelty and revenge—and was more fierce than any wild beast, seizing his fellow servant by the throat.

What are you doing, O man? Do you not see that you are making such a demand upon yourself? You are deceiving yourself. You are thrusting a sword into yourself, revoking both the sentence and the gift. But none of these things did he consider, neither did he remember his own case, neither did he yield at all, though the entreaty was not on the same order. For the one besought for ten thousand talents, the other for a hundred denarii; the one his fellow-servant, the other his lord. The one received entire forgiveness, the other asked for delay, and not so much as this did he give him, for “he cast him into prison.” Not even to men is this well-pleasing, much less to God. They therefore who did not owe, partook of the grief.

What then did their master say? “O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you petitioned me; should you not also have had compassion, even as I had pity on you?” See again the master’s gentleness. He pleads with him, and excuses himself, being on the point of revoking his gift; or rather, it was not he that revoked it, but the one who had received it. For even if the thing does seem difficult to you, yet you should have looked to the gain, which has been, which is to be. Even if the injunction be galling, you ought to consider the reward; neither that he has grieved you, but that you have provoked God, whom by mere prayer you have reconciled. But if even so it be a galling thing to you to become friends with him who has grieved you, to fall into hell is far more grievous. And if you had set this against that, then you would have known that to forgive is a much lighter thing. And furthermore, when he owed ten thousand talents, he called him not wicked, neither reproached him, but showed mercy on him; when he had become harsh to his fellow servant, then he says, “O you wicked servant.”

Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless, and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves. When then you are minded to be revengeful, consider that against yourself are you revengeful, not against another; that you are binding up your own sins, not your neighbors. For as to you, whatever you may do to this man, you do as a man and in the present life, but God not so, but more mightily will He take vengeance on you, and with the vengeance hereafter.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 61.4

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building a Heritage

Psalm 127 is interesting because, on a surface reading, it is divided evenly between two separate themes. The first section addresses the building of houses and cities.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep. (Ps 127:1–2)
The second addresses the blessing of children.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127:3–5)
At least this is the typical division of the psalm with the intent to bolster arguments for either building projects or large families. However, this misses the overall thrust—building a lasting heritage through the Lord’s enablement.

Solomon begins this psalm with an allusion from the building trades (possibly during the temple construction), wherein all the planning and craftsmanship come to naught if God is not the impetus. Without Him, every effort to establish a dwelling or fortified community will collapse regardless of the effort put forth to ensure longevity: it cannot hope to endure. With this basis, he turns to his main thrust: in the same manner that the Lord is necessary for building structures to create community, He is a vital ingredient for raising children.

Parents want their children to do well in justice, mercy, and walking before God when they are sent into the world to make their own way, therefore fathers and mothers, and grandparents secondarily, instill their experience and His Word into following generations. Children are arrows sent into the world: their effectiveness depends on how they are formed, notched, and aimed. Every step of the process has as a final goal to hit the mark, whether an animal for food or an adversary in war.

In order to build the next generation, we have the responsibility to provide for the family, to be engaged in productive work so that the family might have both food and shelter. While much (or most) of American society sees this as drudgery or a necessary evil, the Christian understands that work provides for a heritage. Solomon made this plain.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ec 5:18–20)
Work is a God-given gift bestowed at Creation (Ge 2:15) later made laborious because of Adam’s sin (Ge 3:17). As a result of its source, work retains the intrinsic quality of goodness, so that the final product or service becomes a reward for a job well done, especially so when the product or service might be exchanged or bartered to increase wealth in order to properly provide and leave an inheritance (Pr 13:22).

A heritage is received and sustained when the family is built on Scripture, raising children to fear Him, and putting one’s hand to the plow, distaff, workbench, keyboard, lesson plan, etc. fulfilling your vocation as spouse, parent, neighbor, or citizen. This is especially true when we consider that the most long-lasting inheritance is a spiritual one. Material goods and wealth will rust or rot despite our best efforts, but the spiritual component will abide long after our children’s children no longer walk this earth. It behooves us to remember that our family and possessions are gifts from the Lord. Let us build our heritage with Christ as the foundation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Léonard Gaultier (c.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in their midst. He then said, “Amen, I tell you that unless you change and become as little children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. But whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:1–4)

The Lord teaches that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of the Lord's humility.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew

Just as this child whose example I show you does not persist in anger, does not long remember injury suffered, is not enamored inordinately by the sight of a beautiful woman, does not think one thing and say another, so you too, unless you have similar innocence and purity of mind, will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or it might be taken in another way: “Whoever therefore humiliates himself like this child is greater in the kingdom of heaven,” so as to imply that anyone who imitates Me and humiliates himself following My example, so that he abases himself as much as I abased Myself in accepting the form of a servant, will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Man Up! by Jeffrey Hemmer – Book Review

Hemmer, Jeffrey.  Man Up!: A Quest for Masculinity.  St. Louis, MO.  Concordia Publishing House, 2017.  224 pp.

Let me begin by saying that I want books that address manhood to succeed—I really do. My hopes are too often dashed by authors who do not understand biblical manhood, give advice based on cultural norms, or address personality caricatures and clichés. Thankfully, Pastor Jeff Hemmer avoids these pitfalls in a marvelous attempt to spur men to be genuinely masculine, rather than effeminate or hyper-macho—both being aberrations of the standard laid out from the sixth day of creation: provide, protect, and procreate.

Part 1 of the book addresses who and what man is in relation to God and woman, including his roles and responsibilities. This may seem elementary, but I was surprised by the amount of information found there from which I had never received instruction: a case in point is the meaning of malakoi (μαλακοὶ) in 1 Corinthians 6:9. There the word is translated in the NKJV as a sodomite, but Hemmer tells us the better translation is effeminate, or in other words, the opposite of masculine. He then addresses the work accomplished by Christ’s incarnation and death to deal with sin and Satan.

Part 2, then, seeks to define what God reclaimed for man by examining who Jesus was as the sole model of godly masculinity and God as the sole perfect Father. With these Hemmer effectively demonstrates what we are to be as husbands and fathers acknowledging both our shortcomings and His provision. He ends with suggestions for ordering our walk:
  • Pray (and sing) like a man
  • Love like a man
  • Give like a man
  • Fight like a man
  • Grow as a man
These cover the last two chapters and provide several practical ideas for properly ordering our lives.

I can say without reservation that this is the best work I have read on this subject. Buy and read this book.