Friday, January 19, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Epiphany

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. (Mark 1:16–20)

Reflect on the nature and grandeur of the one Almighty God who could associate Himself with the poor of the lowly fisherman’s class. To use them to carry out God’s mission baffles all rationality. For having conceived the intention, which no one ever before had done, of spreading His own commands and teachings to all nations, and of revealing Himself as the teacher of the religion of the one Almighty God to all humanity, He thought good to use the most rustic and common people as ministers of his own design, because maybe God just wanted to work in the most unlikely way. For how could inarticulate folk be made able to teach, even if they were appointed teachers to only one person, much less to a multitude? How should those who were themselves without education instruct the nations?

But this was surely the manifestation of the divine will and of the divine power working in them. For when He called them, the first thing He said to them was "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." And when He had thus acquired them as followers, He breathed into them His divine power, He filled them with strength and bravery, and like a true Word of God and as God Himself, the doer of such great wonders, He made them hunters of rational souls, adding power to His words: “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” With this empowerment God sent them forth to be workers and teachers of holiness to all the nations, declaring them heralds of His own teaching.

Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 3.7

Friday, January 12, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47–49)

He praises and approves the man because he had said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And yet, shouldn’t have Jesus rather found fault in him? Surely not; for the words are not those of an unbeliever or one deserving blame, but praise. How can you say that? Because Nathanael had considered the writings of the prophets more than Philip. For he had heard from the Scriptures that Christ must come from Bethlehem, and from the village in which David was. This belief at least prevailed among the Jews, and the prophet had proclaimed it of old.… And so when he heard that Jesus was “from Nazareth,” he was confounded and doubted, not finding the announcement of Philip to agree with the prediction of the prophet.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John

[Nathanael] knows that God alone searches the heart and gives to no other man the ability to know the mind. He is probably thinking of the passage in the Psalms, “O God, who tests the hearts and inward parts” [Ps 7:9; see also Ps 139:1–3]. The psalmist assigns this special quality too to the divine nature alone, taking the position that it does not belong to anyone else. Therefore, when he realizes that the Lord saw his suspicion while it was still turning around in his mind in voiceless whispers, he immediately calls Him “teacher.” Already entering eagerly into discipleship under Him, he confesses Him to be Son of God and king of Israel who has the properties of divinity. As one who is well-instructed, he maintains that this One is certainly God by nature.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cutting a Musical Covenant

Illustration of Asa destroying the idols, in the Bible Historiale, 1372.
 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around. (2 Chr 15:14–15)

Over the weekend, I read a piece by Peter Leithart entitled “Musical Oath.” The setting is Asa’s reforms in Judah after receiving a word from the Lord through the prophet Azariah, the son of Oded. Asa showed himself to be a good king—cleaning up the idolatry (removing altars, high places, altars, and images), rebuilding cities, and relying on the Lord to defeat the Ethiopians (2 Chronicles 14). The prophet came to Asa with the promise of God’s peace and favor if the king continued to follow faithfully. This he did by further cleaning up idolatry, restoring the altar to its rightful place, and calling the people before the Lord in Jerusalem.

With the background set, we turn to the gist of Leithart’s article. As a result of all the Lord had strengthened the people to do, they returned sacrifices and an oath as part of the worship. It is here that a connection is made concerning the oath and how it was offered. Per Leithart:
Verse 14 says that they made the oath “with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with horns.” Music expresses and enhances the joy of the occasion (v. 15), Judah’s joy in their own oath-taking and God-seeking, their joy in the fact that God allows Himself to be found.

But verse 14 indicates a more intimate link between music and the covenant oath. They swear to Yahweh with a fourfold sound – voice, shouting, trumpets, horns. It’s a musical covenant-making.
Let that sink in a minute. What the people of Judah offered in response to all the Lord’s goodness and provision was not a lighthearted musical ditty; neither was it a raucous, triumphalist fight song. What they offered up was an oath, a solemn declaration, “to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.” This was an intentional and determined desire by the people to follow the Lord according to His laws and commands with the result that “He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.” What is our goal for Sunday singing? Do we desire to simply set a proper atmosphere for the experience, or are we intent on holding fast to His revelation and expectation?

One cannot help but wonder whether or not we understand the serious nature of our Sunday morning music. To that end, I leave you with Peter Leithart’s closing remarks:
Think of that next time you open your mouth to sing at church. You’re not just expressing your joy in the Lord, though you are doing that. The music doesn’t exist only to enhance or elicit joy, though it does that.

Your singing is an oath-by-sacrifice, a commitment of body and soul to seek the Lord with everything you’ve got.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Ro 6:9-11)

And stretching forth slowly his right hand, which seemed both to tremble and to rejoice, John baptized the Lord. Then his detractors who were present, with those in the vicinity and those from a distance, connived together, and spoke among themselves asking: “Was John then superior to Jesus? Was it without cause that we thought John greater, and does not his very baptism attest this? Is not he who baptizes presented as the greater, and he who is baptized as the less important?” But just as they, in their ignorance of the mystery of the divine economy, babbled about with each other, the Holy One who alone is Lord spoke. He who by nature is the Father of the only begotten (who alone was begotten in unblemished fashion) instantly rectified their blunted imaginations. He opened the gates of the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing him out right there as the new Noah, even the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck. And he himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son,”—Jesus, not John: the One baptized, and not the one baptizing; the One who was begotten of me before all time, and not the one who was begotten of Zechariah; the One who was born of Mary after the flesh, and not the one who was brought forth by Elizabeth beyond all expectation; the One who was the fruit of the virginity which he yet preserved intact, not the one who was the shoot from a sterility removed; the One who had his encounter with you, and not the one brought up in the wilderness. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of the same essence with me according to what is unseen, and of the same essence with you according to what is seen, yet without sin.

Gregory Thaumaturgus, On the Holy Theophany, or Of Christ’s Baptism

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Need a Role Model? Consider Boaz

Most know of the wonton sexual predation occurring on multiple levels by those in power against the weak—generally, though not exclusively, men against women—coming to light in the exposure of public figures and the #MeToo of social media. While many have rightly decried the actions perpetrated on victims, Amy Mantravadi has given a response that does not examine the severity of the act so much as offered a biblical solution in Boaz is a Hero for our Time. Consider just this portion:
Boaz went out of his way to help Ruth. He spent the rest of the day coming up with ways to give her more food, inviting her to join them at lunch and commanding his men to purposefully drop extra grain for her to reap. Even the way that he gave her food was designed to uphold her dignity, and he forbid his men from rebuking her. (2:14-16) Moreover, he spoke encouraging words to Ruth and honored her faith rather than judging her based on appearance or background. (Again, whether or not he personally appreciated her appearance is a matter for debate, but he didn’t say anything about it.)
The piece is well worth the read. While most want heroes with capes, lightsabers, and superhuman abilities, real heroes are known by their divinely-enabled character. Men, be that hero.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday after Christmas

Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel. (Lu 2:29–32)

Rembrandt, Simeon in the Temple
    The Son came to the servant not to be presented by the servant, but so that, through the Son, the servant might present to his Lord the priesthood and prophecy that had been entrusted to his keeping. Prophecy and priesthood, which had been given through Moses, were both passed down and came to rest on Simeon. He was a pure vessel who consecrated himself, so that, like Moses, he too could contain them both. These were feeble vessels that accommodated great gifts—gifts that one might contain because of their goodness but that many cannot accept, because of their greatness. Simeon presented our Lord, and in him he presented the two gifts he had so that what had been given Moses in the desert was passed on by Simeon in the temple. Because our Lord is the vessel in which all fullness dwells, when Simeon presented him to God, he poured out both of these upon him: the priesthood from his hands and prophecy from his lips. The priesthood had always been on Simeon’s hands, because of ritual purifications. Prophecy, in fact, dwelt on his lips because of revelations. When both of these saw the Lord of both of these, they were combined and were poured into the vessel that could accommodate them both, in order to contain priesthood, kingship, and prophecy.
    That infant who was wrapped in swaddling clothes by virtue of his goodness was also dressed in priesthood and prophecy by virtue of his majesty. Simeon dressed him in these and presented him to the one who had dressed him in swaddling clothes. Then, as the old man returned him to his mother, he returned the priesthood with him. And when he prophesied to her about him: “This child is destined for the downfall and rising,” he gave her prophecy with him as well.
    So Mary took her firstborn and left. Although he was visibly wrapped in swaddling clothes, he was invisibly clothed with prophecy and priesthood. Thus, what Moses had been given was received from Simeon, and it remained and continued with the Lord of these two gifts. The former steward and the final treasurer handed over the keys of priesthood and prophecy to the one in authority over the treasury of both of these. This is why his Father gave him the Spirit without measure because all measures of the Spirit are under his hand. And to indicate that he received the keys from the former stewards, our Lord said to Simon, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Now how could he give them to someone unless he had received them from someone else? So the keys he had received from Simeon the priest, he gave to another Simeon, the apostle. So even though the Jewish nation did not listen to the first Simeon, the Gentile nations would listen to the other Simeon.

Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord

Monday, December 25, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: The Nativity of Our Lord

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Lk 2:15–20)

As men who were truly watching, they said not, Let us see the child; but the word which has come to pass, i.e. the Word which was from the beginning, let us see how it has been made flesh for us, since this very Word is the Lord. For it follows, Which the Lord has made, and has shown to us; i.e. Let us see how the Lord has made Himself, and has shown His flesh to us.

It seems to succeed in due order, that after having rightly celebrated the incarnation of the Word, we should at length come to behold the actual glory of that Word. Hence it follows: But when they saw it, they made known the word which had been spoken to them. That is to say, from the Angels, and had seen, i.e. in Bethlehem, as it was told them, i.e. they glory in this, that when they came they found it even as it was told them, or as it was told them they give praise and glory to God. For this they were told by the Angels to do, not in very word commanding them, but setting before them the form of devotion when they sung glory to God in the highest.

To speak in a mystery, let the shepherds of spiritual flocks, (nay, all the faithful,) after the example of, these shepherds, go in thought even to Bethlehem, and celebrate the incarnation of Christ with due honors. Let us go indeed casting aside all fleshly lusts, with the whole desire of the mind even to the heavenly Bethlehem, (i.e. the house of the living bread,) that He whom they saw crying in the manger we may deserve to see reigning on the throne of His Father. And such bliss as this is not to be sought for with sloth and idleness, but with eagerness must we follow the footsteps of Christ. When they saw Him they knew Him; and let us haste to embrace in the fullness of our love those things which were spoken of our Savior, that when the time shall come that we shall see with perfect knowledge we may be able to comprehend them.

Venerable Bede, Homilies on the Gospels

Friday, December 22, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Advent

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)

We should carefully note the order of the words here, and the more firmly they are engrafted in our heart, the more evident it will be that the sum total of our redemption consists in them. For they proclaim with perfect clarity that the Lord Jesus, that is, our Savior, was both the true Son of God the Father and the true Son of a mother who was a human being. “Behold,” he says, “you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son”—acknowledge that this true human being assumed the true substance of flesh from the flesh of the Virgin! “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”—confess too that this same Son is true God of true God, co-eternal Son forever of the eternal Father!

Venerable Bede, Homilies on the Gospels

And hear again how Isaiah in express words foretold that He should be born of a virgin; for he spoke thus: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son, and they shall say for His name, ‘God with us.’” For things which were incredible and seemed impossible with men, these God predicted by the Spirit of prophecy as about to come to pass, in order that, when they came to pass, there might be no unbelief, but faith, because of their prediction. But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now cited, should charge us with the very things we have been laying to the charge of the poets who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust, let us try to explain the words. This, then, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” signifies that a virgin should conceive without intercourse. For if she had had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet a virgin to conceive. And the angel of God who was sent to the same virgin at that time brought her good news, saying, “Behold, you shall conceive of the Holy Ghost, and shall bear a Son, and He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and you shall call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins,”—as they who have recorded all that concerns our Savior Jesus Christ have taught, whom we believed, since by Isaiah also, whom we have now adduced, the Spirit of prophecy declared that He should be born as we intimated before. It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the firstborn of God, as the prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power. And the name Jesus in the Hebrew language means Σωτήρ (Savior) in the Greek tongue. Therefore, too, the angel said to the virgin, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”

Justin Martyr, First Apology XXXIII

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Music Deserves the Highest Praise

And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. But now bring me a musician.” Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. (2 Ki 3:14–15)

Here it must suffice to discuss the benefit of this great art. But even that transcends the greatest eloquence of the most eloquent, because of the infinite variety of its forms and benefits. We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions—to pass over the animals—which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found—at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find? The Holy Ghost himself honors her as an instrument for his proper work when in his Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her his gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha [2 Ki 3:15]. On the other hand, she serves to cast out Satan, the instigator of all sins, as is shown in Saul, the king of Israel [1 Sa 16:23].

Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener’s soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words. After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.

Martin Luther, Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae

The Promised One Has Come

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds
Then You spoke to Your holy ones in a vision,
And You said, “I established help for a mighty one;
I raised up a chosen one from My people;
I found David My servant;
I anointed him with My holy oil.
For My hand shall support him,
And My arm shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall have no advantage against him,
And the son of lawlessness shall not continue doing evil to him;
I will cut his enemies to pieces before his face,
And I shall put to flight those who hate him.
My truth and My mercy are with him,
And in My name shall his horn be exalted;
I will put his hand in the sea
And his right hand in the rivers.
He shall call upon Me, saying, ‘You are my Father,
My God, and the protector of my salvation’;
I shall make him, my firstborn,
Higher than the kings of the earth.
I shall keep My mercy for him forever,
And My covenant shall be trustworthy with him.
I shall establish his seed unto ages of ages
And his throne as the days of heaven.”    Psalm 89:19–29 LXX