Friday, January 24, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned. (Matt 4:12–16)
As history teaches, these tribes migrated to Babylon before all the rest. Most aptly, then, the mercy of the Lord visited first those whom the wrath of God had struck before all the rest, and those who were first to be led into bodily captivity were themselves led back earlier from their spiritual captivity.

The Jews were sitting in darkness, since they were under the Law, in which the righteousness of God had not been manifested; even though there was righteousness there, nonetheless it had been covered in certain figures and types of carnal matters. What sort of light of righteousness was there in the circumcision of the foreskin? They were largely shadows according to the Law, which had not been given to reveal the righteousness of God but to punish the hardness of their hearts, as the Lord says, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” It was given not to save them but to blind them so that, inebriated by the Law, they might not recognize the light, which they did not deserve to see in the shadows, that is, in their sins.

The great light is Christ. There were many lights among the Jews. Moses and Aaron and Joshua and the other judges and prophets were lights. Every teacher was a light of theirs, whom He illuminated by teaching, as it is written, “You are the light of the world.” But the great light is Christ. The Gentiles sat in the region and shadow of death either because they were doing deadly iniquities or because they worshiped idols and demons, whose worship led them to eternal death.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17)

That is, the blessing of the heavenly kingdom, which God has prepared for the faithful, is at hand. It is furthermore as if he should say, “Prepare yourselves through repentance and through patience to lay hold of the blessing of the heavenly kingdom, which will draw near the time of meting out a reward. You who fear calamities or desire good things, pay heed because the kingdom of heaven will draw near. If calamities do not terrify you, then let good things delight you; or if you do not long for the kingdom, at least fear the torments. Let the just rejoice because soon their troubles are ended and good things begin. Let sinners grieve because already their goods are passing away and their troubles are beginning. How does it harm just people to have suffered troubles when they have begun to be amid good things? For even a memory of past troubles not only does not harm but also furthermore greatly delights. As long as troubles are present, they seem grave, but when they have passed, their recollection is grounds for boasting. Or how does it help sinners that they have pursued good things when they have begun to be amid troubles? For the recollection of past goods not only does not help but further burdens one. As long as they are present, they seem delightful, but when they have passed, their memory rather afflicts. And what sort of fruit did Christ’s preaching of repentance bear him? He sowed a word of repentance and harvested undefiled preachers of repentance.

Anonymous, Incomplete Commentary on Matthew 6

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Are You Ready?

The Lord Jesus, near the end of His earthly ministry, was asked by his disciples about the end of the age. He gave general information about the world’s cultural climate and the certainty of His coming but refrained from offering details (Mt 24:3–44). Instead, He concentrated His instruction on the need to be prepared. How they would finish their collective ministry was more important than knowing the date for Messiah’s reign. To that end, He presented three clarifying scenarios comparing two different attitudes. Two of these scenarios dealt with household servants (Mt 24:45–51; 25:1–13) having similar characteristics. Each example began with the servants according to their abilities and positions going about regular duties in the service of the master: tending crops and engaging in commerce. These servants expected the certain return of their master at an undetermined date and conducted themselves accordingly for the master’s benefit. For their faithful service, the servants received a reward commensurate with the duties assigned. Following these examples, Jesus described the opposite attitude. Even though the servants knew the master returns eventually, they were derelict or negligent of their duties, even making excuses for their behavior. In the end, the master identified their true nature, evil and lazy, and delivered a just recompense. We can easily relate to the first and third scenarios, but the middle parable is a bit different. Stepping through the parable, similarities unfold.

Wise and Foolish Virgins
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

At weddings of the day, bridal attendants would wait for the coming of the bridegroom and accompany him and any others in an entourage to an evening wedding feast, ergo the lamps. The number of virgins would vary depending on the wealth of the bride’s family: Jesus used ten for ease of illustration, communicating of what sort these virgins were. The foolish took lamps but no precautionary spare oil, while the wise made sure they were amply prepared for the duration of their wait. Notice that all ten understood that the bridegroom was coming. They understood their welcome to join the wedding banquet. They understood their need for illumination in the impending darkness. The only unknown was the hour of arrival. Apparently, the bridegroom delayed his coming beyond what was customary so that the virgins fell asleep waiting, setting up the event triggering the emergency that eventually separated the two sets of virgins.

And at midnight a cry was heard: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Mt 25:1–13)

Finally, the bridegroom’s coming was announced, and the virgins trimmed their lamps. Those who failed to bring reserve oil discovered to their dismay that they had insufficient fuel and requested some from the others, but to no avail since the reserves were sufficient only for the intended lamps. This crisis forced the five to leave, seek out a merchant, and purchase more for the rest of the evening. To their horror, upon returning the door was shut and no amount of pleading succeeded to gain admittance: they were utterly rejected.

That Seems Rather Harsh
We understand the concepts of obedience with reward versus disobedience with punishment, but the middle one puzzles. The foolish virgins were admittedly unprepared, but why would this negligence prevent their entrance? Why punish them so harshly for seemingly coming late to the party? And though the servants in the first and last parables were showed themselves to be evil and lazy, these virgins were only unprepared. Should there not have been leniency?

Those who refuse to heed and obey the Word of God are depicted in Scripture as foolish because they follow their own mind. The foolish virgins identified as such because they lacked faith, not because they erred one time. The point of the three parables was to describe the final coming of the master/bridegroom to receive his own things. The virgins were ultimately rejected because they, as the aforementioned servants, had not been faithful, and this lack of faith manifested itself with the result of a just condemnation. Jesus used the parables to teach different ways that people display faith (or lack thereof) and how their actions are a clear determination for receiving their commensurate recompense.

Negligence Matters
At the final reckoning, all nations will be divided into two groups with each receiving punishment or reward based on life evidence (Mt 25:31–46). As relates to the virgins, we see that the simplest of deeds (in this case the reserved oil) served to demonstrate that the five wise understood that their duty was to be always prepared, showing the evidence of faith in that certainty. Conversely, the foolish virgins did not do their duty. It is not that they were actively impudent or rebellious toward the bridegroom, rather their lack of faith manifested itself in negligence. As a result, as one of the goats at the last judgment, they receive:
“Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do this to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment (Mt 25:45–46).
The foolish virgins were not and found themselves banned from entering the feast. There remains a final marriage supper when will take His bride. Only at that supper, there are no attendants. There will only be the Bridegroom, Christ, taking His bride, the Church, and she shall be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev 19:8). And how does one do righteous acts? By being made righteous. And how is one made righteous? But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Ro 4:5). Righteousness can only be gained when you understand that all your righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Is 65:1) and receive the righteousness of God by grace through faith on account of the cross.

The question, then, remains: the Bridegroom is coming; are you ready?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Epiphany

“Calling of Peter and Andrew”
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). (John 1:40–41)

Andrew, after having stayed with Jesus and after having learned what he did, did not keep the treasure to himself but hurries and races to his brother in order to let him know the good things Jesus has shared with him. But why hasn't John mentioned what they talked about? How do we know this is why they “stayed with him”?… Observe what Andrew says to his brother, “We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” You see how, in a short time, he demonstrates not only the persuasiveness of the wise teacher but also his own longing that he had from the beginning. For this word, “we have found,” is the expression of a soul that longs for his presence, looking for his coming from above, and is so ecstatic when what he is looking for happens that he hurries to tell others the good news. This is what brotherly affection, natural friendship, is all about when someone is eager to extend a hand to another when it comes to spiritual matters. Also see how he adds the article, for he does not say “Messiah” but “the Messiah.” They were expecting the Christ who would have nothing in common with the others.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 19.1

Friday, January 10, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:13-17)

Many raise the question, What in fact was the nature of this baptism with which the Lord was baptized? What did it amount to, the baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, for the sake of the salvation of all, became human? As such He was to show Himself to be the beginning of a certain paradoxical life on account of which He is called Adam, since for Adam's sake and for the rest of those who have arisen from Adam He becomes the beginning of everlasting life, in the same way that Adam was the original of this temporary and mortal life. This Jesus, I say, recapitulated in Himself everything that pertains to our salvation. For just as He both died and rose again, we also shall do so, in the same way. Since necessarily we were to be symbolically transferred from this present life by baptism and settled in that life which is to come, He saw to it that this baptism should be fulfilled first of all in Himself. In His providential dispensation of things, He had received, before all others, this baptism of adoption which is by water and the Spirit. He thereby showed this baptism to be great and honorable, in that He Himself, first of all, truly accepted it. Moreover, He himself identified Himself with that part of society outside the law of grace, in which we also take part. For it was fitting that the Lord, in humility of spirit, should become subject both to the prophet and Baptist, like a common person from among the people. He was baptized that He might hallow the waters and bestow upon us, through the basin, regeneration and adoption and remission of sins and all the other blessings that came to us through baptism, prefiguring them in Himself. As God, however, He is the One “who takes away the sin of the world,” and as such He has no need of baptism.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Fragment 14

Monday, January 6, 2020

Patristic Wisdom for Epiphany

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:9–11)

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after His birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in His very cradle they venerated Him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of His divinity is now made manifest. A boy He is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of His divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits Himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle that the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of His passion. Thus He is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi recognize. It is He who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To Him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders.”

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 5.1

Friday, January 3, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Christmas

And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. (Luke 2:40–50)

Learn where they who seek Him find Him. Then you too, when you seek Him along with Joseph and Mary, might be able to find Him. They sought Him and, Scripture says, “they found Him in the temple”: not in any other place, but “in the temple”; and not simply “in the temple,” but “in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” You too, therefore, seek Jesus “in the temple” of God. Seek Him in the Church. Seek Him among the teachers who are “in the temple” and do not leave it. For, if you seek Him in this way, you will find Him. But, if anyone says he is a teacher and does not possess Jesus, he is a teacher only in name and Jesus, who is God’s Word and Wisdom, cannot be found with him. He was found, Scripture says, “in the midst of the teachers.” You should understand the words, “in the midst of the teachers,” in the sense in which Scripture, in another passage, speaks about the prophets. It says, “If a revelation is given to another one who is sitting, let the first be silent.” They find Him “sitting in the midst of the teachers”—and not only sitting, but “asking them questions and listening to them.” Jesus is present now as well. He interrogates us and hears us speaking. Scripture says, “And all were astonished.” What were they astonished about? Not about His questions, even though they too were remarkable, but “about His answers.” For it is one thing to ask questions, another to answer them.

Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 18.3

Sometimes you read the Scriptures and in them seek their meaning with a certain anxiety, and even pain. This is not because you think the Scriptures erred, or contain something wrong. Rather, they contain within themselves an expression and account of the truth. You cannot discover what is true. In just this way His parents sought Jesus, lest perhaps He withdraw from them, or leave them and pass over to some other realm, or—what I consider more likely—lest He return to heaven to come down again when it pleased Him. Therefore, they sought the Son of God “anxiously.” When they sought Him, they did not find Him “among their relatives.” For, a human relationship could not contain the Son of God. They did not find Him “among their acquaintances,” because divine power is greater than mortal acquaintance and knowledge. Where, then, did they find Him? “In the temple.” For, it is there that the Son of God is found. If you ever seek the Son of God, look first in the temple; hasten there. There you will find Christ, the Word and Wisdom—that is, the Son of God.

Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 19.5

Friday, December 27, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday after Christmas

The works of His hands are truth and judgment;
Faithful are all His commandments,
Established unto ages of ages,
Made in truth and uprightness.
He sent redemption to His people;
He commanded His covenant forever;
Holy and fearful is His name.  Psalm 110 (111):7–9

The proposition is: He has sent redemption to His people, He has commanded his covenant forever. The anticipated conclusion ensues: Therefore holy and fearful is His name. Let us listen to the rest that follows. They have reached the beginning of the third section, in which they proclaim that the Lord Savior will come, and that He is worthy of fear, love, and praise in unremitting exultation. The words: He has sent redemption to His people, are aptly used, for as captives they were seen to be in need of this; but the price was not one which a tyrant could exact, but one which the person who was forgiven could obtain. The captive gained his redemption; he who had been held in subjection obtained the greater price for it. Next comes: He has commanded his eternal covenant. We speak of mandating when instructions are given to absent people through intermediaries; this clearly happened when He transmitted the New Testament through the apostles and evangelists to the Gentiles. The word eternal is rightly used, because it denotes that no other testament will succeed it in the way in which the Old Testament was seen to be supplanted. The New Testament was a universal consummation, for it rendered the fullness which had been previously promised. Hence it is rightly called eternal, because it is seen to require nothing in addition. They added: Holy and fearful is His name. Holy has reference to the incarnation; as He Himself says: Preserve my soul, for I am holy. Fearful indicates the omnipotence of the exalted Godhead; as another psalm has it: You are fearsome, and who shall stand against You? [Ps 75 (76):8] The two epithets have the purpose of making us love our Patron, and making us fear our Judge. The two are fittingly combined to ensure that love alone may not make us indifferent, and fear alone may not make us despair.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms 110.9

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Day

But I was appointed king by Him
in Mount Zion, His holy place,
announcing the ordinance of the Lord.
The Lord said to Me, “You are My Son;
today I have begotten You.
Ask from Me, and I will give to You the nations as Your inheritance,
and as Your possession the ends of the earth.
You will rule them with a steel rod.
Like a vessel of a potter You will break them.” (Ps 2:6–9 LXX)

Now, the verse, I have been established as king by Him, is expressed in human fashion: as God He possesses His kingship by nature, as human being He receives it by election. The fact that as God He possesses power without beginning the same inspired author teaches in the words, Your throne, O God, is for all ages, the scepter of your kingship a scepter of equity. Now, this psalm blessed Paul says refers to the Son; all the same, as God He possesses kingship and as human being He receives it. Likewise, as God He is called Most High, as human being He is raised on high. David for his part proclaims the divine highness in his cry, Let them know that your name is Lord, you alone are the Most High over all the earth. Zechariah, too, says to John, You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. Blessed Paul it is, on the other hand, who teaches us the human highness in his words, Accordingly, God also raised Him on high, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name. To be sure, God the Word had the name “only-begotten Son” before the ages as connatural with His condition, yet while still possessing the title of the Son as God, He also receives it as human being. Hence in the present psalm he added the words, The Lord said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” Now, no one who believes the teaching of the divine Spirit would apply this verse to the divinity of Christ the Lord. In fact, let us listen in this regard to the God of all speaking through David, From the womb before the morning star I begot you. So as man He both receives this verse, and as man hears what follows.

As God, you see, He is maker of all things: Through Him everything was made, and without Him nothing was made, and through Him all things were created, things visible and invisible. If He is Lord and Creator of all things, He is Lord and Master of what He created; yet while Lord by nature insofar as He is God, as man He also receives the lordship of all things. Since in former times particular care seemed to be lavished only on the Jews—The people of Jacob, Scripture says, became the Lord’s portion, Israel his allotted inheritance—and yet were rejected for gaining no advantage from the special care, properly He transfers his care to the nations, without having been uncaring towards them in former times. Thus he fulfilled the oracle of Moses, whose words were, remember, Rejoice, nations, with His people.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 2.7–8

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Eve

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

And so, God the Son of God, equal to and of the same nature as the Father (from the Father and with the Father), Creator and Lord of the universe, wholly present everywhere and wholly surpassing all things, Himself chose this day in the passage of time (which moves according to his own arrangement) to be born for the salvation of the world from blessed Mary, who keeps her honor unsullied through all the stages of procreation. As her virginity was not violated in giving birth, so it had not been defiled in conception. As the Evangelist said, “To fulfill what was said by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Behold a virgin will conceive in her womb and will give birth to a son, and his name will be called Emmanuel, which means “God-with-us.” ’ ”… It is, therefore, with an unmistakable tenderness that so great a wealth of divine goodness has been poured out on us, dearly beloved. Not only has the usefulness of foregoing examples served for calling us to eternity, but the Truth himself has even “appeared” in a visible body. We ought, then, to celebrate this day of the Lord’s Birth with no listless and no worldly joy.

Leo the Great, Sermon 23.1, 5

Friday, December 20, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Matt 1:18–25)

For blessed Matthew, after enumerating the genealogy of Christ, added the following regarding hope for our salvation: “After Mary, mother of Jesus, had been betrothed to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit before they were married.” This is the heavenly mystery, this sacrament obscured and hidden by the Holy Spirit. Luke describes in greater detail the manner of the Lord's incarnation, for he recounts how an angel came to Mary and greeted her saying, “Hail woman full of grace,” and the rest that follows. And when Mary asked him how what he had been proclaiming to her could take place—because she had never had relations with a man—he said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. And thus what is born from you will be called the Son of God.” It was right that holy Mary, who was about to conceive the Lord of glory in her womb, be informed about the Holy Spirit and the excellence of the Most High when she received into her blessed womb the Creator of the world. Indeed, both Matthew and Luke began their narratives with the corporeal birth of the Lord. John, however, addresses the issue of Jesus’ divine birth in the preface to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. This was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made.” The Evangelists help us to recognize both the divine and corporeal birth of the Lord, which they describe as a twofold mystery and a kind of double path. Indeed, both the divine and the bodily birth of the Lord are indescribable, but that from the Father vastly exceeds every means of description and wonder. The bodily birth of Christ was in time; His divine birth was before time. The one in this age, the other before the ages. The one from a virgin mother, the other from God the Father. Angels and men stood as witnesses at the corporeal birth of the Lord, yet at His divine birth there was no witness except the Father and the Son, because nothing existed before the Father and the Son. But because the Word could not be seen as God in the glory of His own divinity, He assumed visible flesh to demonstrate His invisible divinity. He took from us what is ours in order to give generously what is His.

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 2.1