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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Advent

Now, this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Make straight the way of the Lord,
as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:19–23)

[John] quite naturally, therefore, proceeds in the first place to remove any false impressions they might have taken up about him, and declares publicly the true state of the matter, “I am not the Christ.” Their second question, and also their third, show that they had conceived some such surmise about him. They supposed that he might be that second in honor to whom their hopes pointed, namely, Elijah, who held with them the next position after Christ; and so when John had answered, “I am not the Christ,” they asked, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” They wish to know, in the third place, if he is the prophet, and on his answer, “No,” they have no longer any name to give the personage whose advent they expected, and they say, “Who are you, then, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What do you say about yourself?” Their meaning is: “You are not, you say, any of those personages whose advent Israel hopes and expects, and who you are, to baptize as you do, we do not know. Tell us, therefore, so that we may report to those who sent us to get light concerning this point.” We add, as it has some bearing on the context, that the people were moved by the thought that the period of Christ’s advent was near. It was in a manner imminent in the years from the birth of Jesus and a little before, down to the publication of the preaching.… Thus the coming of the Messiah was more warmly expected and discussed, and it was natural enough for the Jews to send priests and Levites from Jerusalem to John, to ask him, “Who are you?” and learn if he professed to be the Christ.…

John came for a witness. He was a man sent from God to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. He was that voice, then, we are to understand, which alone was fitted worthily to announce the Logos. We shall understand this rightly if we call to mind what was adduced in our exposition of the texts: “That all might believe through Him,” and “This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare the way before you.” There is fitness, too, in his being said to be the voice, not of one saying in the wilderness, but of one crying in the wilderness. He who cries, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” also says it; but he might say it without crying it. But he cries and shouts it, that even those may hear who are at a distance from the speaker, and that even the deaf may understand the greatness of the tidings, since it is announced in a great voice; and he thus brings help, both to those who have departed from God and to those who have lost the acuteness of their hearing.

Origen, Commentary on John VI

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Girl Empress by Amy Mantravadi – Book Review

Mantravadi, Amy. The Girl Empress: The Chronicle of Maud - Volume I. 442 pp.

Somewhat recently, I stumbled across Amy Mantravadi’s blog, and based on the content would say she is Reformed Baptist. As a writer, she is no slouch: I may disagree with some of her conclusions, but nobody can say she is not careful and thorough, so when she announced earlier this year that her book would be released soon, I was intrigued and ordered a copy. You should do likewise.

This novel is the first-person narration of Mathilda (Maud) recounting life to her daughter beginning in early twelfth century England. She is promised by her father, King Henry I, to the German emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry V, in an arranged marriage to help unite England with the empire. Such an arrangement was commonplace, and as one might imagine, this period of history is fraught with intrigue as both pope and king vie for power and authority within their overlapping spheres of influence. Added to this is the need to maintain peaceful relations and cooperation between duchies within the empire. Any means possible to solidify the empire were welcome. Medieval royalty and ecclesiastical authority were also noted for maintaining propriety. This is brought out time and again throughout the novel within the royal court (the cover illustration is telling). While this helped maintain civility and order, there are sufficient opportunities for subterfuge and treachery, as well as disease and catastrophe with which the emperor must deal.

Many historical figures and locations are brought out in the book, and I noted one review that disapproved of using so much history. I thought it delightful. The author was able to accurately and interestingly bring together a great number of facts pertinent to the storyline. But then I like history. In addition, the author presents a fascinating tidbit in her introduction:
Empress Mathilda (1102–1167), commonly known by the name Maud, was a real person, the daughter of King Henry I of England and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. She is also my ancestor twenty-eight generations removed, through the Grey and Hungerford families. It is my sincere hope that her story will be told more fully in these novels than it has been before, and that the twelfth century will come alive for a new generation of readers.
Of course, she would want to make this work as accurate as possible with the number of political and geographical interactions. (As a sidebar, I have a feeling all or most these characters will play a part in future volumes.) In addition, because many language groups were governed by the empire, the author interweaved those into the narrative in an appropriate way according to the character whether Latin, German, Italian, or French. The reader need not fear these portions since the dialogue is written in order to allow the reader to understand their meaning; however, if you already have a grasp of them, so much the better.

In all, this was a first-rate read and I cannot wait until the next volume comes out. Besides her blog mentioned earlier, you can find a website dedicated to the novel series – The Chronicle of Maud.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Advent

Behold, the Lord is coming with strength,
And His arm is with authority.
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
He will feed His flock like a shepherd
And gather the lambs with His arm;
And He will comfort those with young.

(Is 40:10–11 LXX)

These words are a glimpse of the second coming of the Savior. It is then that He will give the laborers their reward. “He will reward each according to his works,” according to the word of the apostle. “For the day,” he says, “will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” This is the proclamation that the Lord has ordained to the holy apostles to make in their turn. “Go,” He has said, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” One can, therefore, see that the oracles of the prophet are thus in agreement with the words of the Gospel.

Of this prophecy also let us observe the fulfillment in the exact way and in the truth of the holy Gospels. In the first place, the Lord has said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep and am known by My own … and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Moreover, He has likewise gathered the lambs with His arms—by the power of His teachings. For soon He said to the fishermen, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Presently, He called the publicans and ate with them. Again, another time, He allowed even a woman who had led an evil life to shed tears at His feet. He has likewise comforted pregnant women with the thought that they would give birth for salvation. As they learned of the destruction of death and the hope of the resurrection, they possessed sufficient solace for their pains in the expectation of the benefits that had been announced. Finally, while the holy Virgin still carried Him in her womb, He filled Elizabeth, who was with child, with joy.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Isaiah

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More on Psalm 107

While doing a bit of study for yesterday’s post from Psalm 107, I stumbled upon some interesting commentary. Apparently, the Eastern Orthodox church holds that 105-107 (104–106 in their numbering) are considered a unit because they each begin with the heading Alleluia or Praise the Lord.* I looked at these psalms but was confused by the comment: 105 and 107 do not begin with this heading. I checked multiple translations and still found nothing.

The solution to this puzzle can be found in the layout of the Septuagint. The Hebrew text used by the original translators had moved Praise the Lord from 104:35 to 105:1 and from 106:48 to 107:1, along with removing it from 105:45. The arrangement, therefore, gives a cohesive unit of theology as explained in The Orthodox Study Bible:
Psalm 104, 105, and 106 form a trilogy, each with the heading, Alleluia, which means “praise the Lord.” This heading emphasizes praising the Lord and giving Him thanks for His works of mercy (104:1–3; 105:1, 2; 106:1, 2). These works are traced in great detail from Abraham on, and are fulfilled in the coming of Christ to save mankind: He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their corruptions (106:20). The Father sent His Word, who crushed the gates of bronze and shattered the bars of iron (106:16). He trampled death by His death and Resurrection, bestowing life on those in the tombs (those sitting in the darkness and shadow of death, bound in poverty and fetters, 106:10; He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains to pieces, 106:14). The response of those who are wise and shall keep these things, and shall understand the mercies of the Lord (106:43) is “Alleluia.”
If one follows the theme of each psalm, there is a recognizable progression: God’s faithfulness to His people (105) demonstrated in His continual forgiveness of sin (106) resulting in the overflow of thanksgiving for His works (107).

Someone may retort that there is a problem with this unit because the book of Psalms is divided into five sub-books with a division between 106 and 107. I contend that this issue actually adds to the beauty of the progression because of the arc created within the triplet. Book Four ends with a description of His character and willingness to display it over and again, while Book Five begins a cascading chorus of praise to God carried through to the end.

Read and meditate on these three psalms. Follow the progression of His mighty promises, to our sin and desperate need for mercy, and His glorious work for which we respond with abundant thanks.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thanksgiving, and Then Some

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we heard good teaching from Psalm 107 on God’s deliverance of sinners. The psalmist presents four main characteristics of sinners:
  • Wandering (4-9)
  • Rebellious (10-16)
  • Self-destructive (17-22)
  • Self-confident (23-32)
While each person reflects aspects of all these, we are shown how the Lord applies pressure in the neediest area so that the individual would come to an end of himself, cry out, and relish in divine goodness and mercy. It is the third group to which I draw your attention using the Septuagint.*
He helped them out of their lawless ways,
For they were humbled because of their transgressions.
Their soul abhorred all manner of food,
And they drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their afflictions,
And He saved them from their distresses.
Those described here willingly continued in their sin to their detriment knowing full well that they were hastening their demise. Some embraced their ignorance (Prov 1:22) while others were professing to be wise, yet became fools (Ro 1:22). Like a continual descent into a maelstrom, the sinner continues in a foolhardy, self-destructive life bound by their own passions, not comprehending the consequence of their choices nor seeking escape. Some foolish people will realize their complete inability to rescue themselves, and at this point, they will cry out for rescue.
He sent His Word and healed them,
And delivered them from their corruptions.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His mercies
And His wonders to the sons of men,
And let them offer a sacrifice of praise;
And let them proclaim His works with exceeding joy.
Notice here that the Lord heals by the sending of His Word. Foolishness and simple-mindedness are met with prudence and wisdom. And it is not as if there is just knowledge being passed from one to another as if receiving a lecture of wise or proverbial sayings, rather, the word shared has an active role.
You, O men, I exhort,
And I utter my voice to the sons of men;
Understand astuteness, O simple ones,
And put it in your hearts, O uninstructed ones.
Obey me, for I speak sacred things,
And from my lips I will bring forth things that are true. (Pr 8:6–8)
Wisdom is personified in this chapter, not just for rhetorical effect, but because the basis of wisdom is a person—one who was a witness to the very beginning of creation and took an active part in all that was made, even rejoicing in what was made (Pr 8:22–31). No individual fits this description save for Christ Himself who has been for all eternity both God and the Word (Jn 1:1–5) as explained by Tertullian:
In Him, at any rate, and with Him, did [Wisdom] construct the universe, He not being ignorant of what she was making. “Except Wisdom,” however, is a phrase of the same sense exactly as “except the Son,” who is Christ, “the Wisdom and Power of God,” according to the apostle, who only knows the mind of the Father.… And if I am not mistaken, there is also another passage in which it is written: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by His Spirit.” Now this Word, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, must be the very Son of God. So that, if [He did] all things by the Son, He must have stretched out the heavens by the Son, and so not have stretched them out alone, except in the sense in which He is “alone” from all other gods.… By thus attaching the Son to Himself, He becomes His own interpreter in what sense He stretched out the heavens alone, meaning alone with His Son, even as He is one with His Son. The utterance, therefore, will be in like manner the Son’s, “I have stretched out the heavens alone,” because by the Word were the heavens established. Inasmuch, then, as the heaven was prepared when Wisdom was present in the Word, and since all things were made by the Word, it is quite correct to say that even the Son stretched out the heaven alone, because He alone ministered to the Father’s work.

Against Praxeas 19
and Eusebius of Caesarea:
The divine and perfect essence existing before things begotten, the rational and firstborn image of the unbegotten nature, the true and only-begotten Son of the God of the universe, being one with many names, and one called God by many titles, is honored in this passage under the style and name of wisdom, and we have learned to call him Word of God, light, life, truth, and, to crown all, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Now, therefore, in the passage before us, he passes through the words of the wise Solomon, speaking of himself as the living wisdom of God and self-existent, saying, “I, wisdom, have dwelt with counsel and knowledge, and I have called upon understanding,” and that which follows. He also adds, as one who has undertaken the government and providence of the universe: “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes become great.” Then saying that he will record the things of ages past, he goes on to say, “The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways for his works, he established me before time was.” By which he teaches both that he himself is begotten, and not the same as the unbegotten, one called into being before all ages, set forth as a kind of foundation for all begotten things. And it is probable that the divine apostle started from this when he said of him: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, for all things were created in him, of things in heaven and things in earth.” For he is called “firstborn of every creature,” in accordance with the words “The Lord created me as the beginning of his road to his works.” And he would naturally be considered the image of God, as being that which was begotten of the nature of the unbegotten. And, therefore, the passage before us agrees when it says, “Before the mountains were established, and before all the hills, he begets me.” Hence we call him only-begotten Son, and the firstborn Word of God, who is the same as this wisdom.

Proof of the Gospel 5.1
This same Word and Wisdom comes to the sinner with the promise of succor and rest of sins forgiven. Under the Mosaic covenant, the believer lived by faith under the promise that Messiah would suffer and die for His people; we now look back at Jesus giving His life on the cross. From neither end of the timeline does mortal understand the breadth and depth of God’s wondrous works to the children of men. It is ours but to praise and thank Him for those works and worship so great a God and Savior.

* For comparison, the first two lines in NKJV read: Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. This section, otherwise, is basically the same.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday in Advent

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Mark 13:24-31)

If you examine the whole passage of this Gospel Scripture, from the inquiry of the disciples down to the parable of the fig-tree you will find that it makes sense at every point in connection with the coming of the Son of man, so that it consistently ascribes to Him both the sorrows and the joys, and the catastrophes and the promises; nor can you separate them from Him in either respect. For as much, then, as there is but one Son of man whose advent is placed between the two issues of catastrophe and promise, it must necessarily follow that to that one Son of man belong both the judgments upon the nations and the prayers of the saints. He who thus comes in midway so as to be common to both issues, will terminate one of them by inflicting judgment on the nations at His coming; and will at the same time commence the other by fulfilling the longings of His saints.… Reflect, in short, on the picture presented in the parable: “Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; when they produce their fruit, men know that summer is at hand. So likewise when you see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is very near.” Now, if the fructification of the common trees is an antecedent sign of the approach of summer, so in like manner do the great conflicts of the world indicate the arrival of that kingdom which they precede. But every sign is His, to whom belong the thing of which it is the sign; and to everything is appointed its sign by Him to whom the thing belongs. If, therefore, these tribulations are the signs of the kingdom, just as the maturity of the trees is of the summer, it follows that the kingdom is the Creator’s to whom are ascribed the tribulations which are the signs of the kingdom. Since the beneficent Deity had premised that these things must necessarily come to pass, although so terrible and dreadful, as they had been predicted by the law and the prophets, therefore He did not destroy the law and the prophets, when He affirmed that what had been foretold must be certainly fulfilled. He further declares, “that heaven and earth shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled.”

Tertullian, Against Marcion IV.39

Friday, November 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Last Sunday of the Year

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. (Mt 25:31–32)

How can He be the Son of man when He is God and will come to judge all nations? He is the Son of man because He appeared on earth as a man and was persecuted as a man. Therefore this person who they said was a man will raise all nations from the dead and judge every person according to his works. Every race on earth will see Him, both those who rejected Him and those who despised Him as a man. They will see Him then, but not everyone in the same way: some will see Him in punishment and others in heavenly bliss. All nations will be gathered together by the angels from the foundation of the world, beginning first with Adam and Eve down to the last person on earth—whoever experienced human birth. “And He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He, our Lord, who knows our thoughts, who foresees all human works and knows how to judge righteously, will separate them according to the merits of each person, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Epiphanius the Latin, Interpretation of the Gospels 38

Friday, November 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Last Judgment, St Elias Church, Brampton, ON

“And it shall come to pass at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And punish the men
Who are settled in complacency,
Who say in their heart,
‘The Lord will not do good,
Nor will He do evil.’
Therefore their goods shall become booty,
And their houses a desolation;
They shall build houses, but not inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”

The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly.
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers. (Zeph 1:12–16)

Let the insincere hear what is written, He that walks in simplicity walks surely (Prov 10:9). For indeed simplicity of conduct is an assurance of great security. Let them hear what is said by the mouth of the wise man, The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit (Sirach 1:5). Let them hear what is again affirmed by the witness of Scripture, His communing is with the simple (Prov 3:32). For God’s communing is His revealing of secrets to human minds by the illumination of His presence. He is therefore said to commune with the simple, because He illuminates with the ray of His visitation concerning supernal mysteries the minds of those whom no shade of duplicity obscures. But it is a special evil of the double-minded, that, while they deceive others by their crooked and double conduct, they glory as though they were surpassingly prudent beyond others; and, since they do not consider the strictness of retribution, they exult, miserable men that they are, in their own losses. But let them hear how the prophet Zephaniah holds out over them the power of divine rebuke, saying,
Behold the day of the Lord comes, great and horrible, the day of wrath, that day; a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of cloud and whirlwind, a day of trumpet and clangor, upon all fenced cities, and upon all lofty corners.
For what is expressed by fenced cities but minds suspected, and surrounded ever with a fallacious defense; minds which, as often as their fault is attacked, suffer not the darts of truth to reach them? And what is signified by lofty corners (a wall being always double in corners) but insincere hearts; which, while they shun the simplicity of truth, are in a manner doubled back upon themselves in the crookedness of duplicity, and, what is worse, from their very fault of insincerity lift themselves in their thoughts with the pride of prudence? Therefore the day of the Lord comes full of vengeance and rebuke upon fenced cities and upon lofty corners, because the wrath of the last judgment both destroys human hearts that have been closed by defenses against the truth, and unfolds such as have been folded up in duplicities. For then the fenced cities fall, because souls which God has not penetrated will be damned. Then the lofty corners tumble, because hearts which erect themselves in the prudence of insincerity are prostrated by the sentence of righteousness.

Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care 11

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Feast, Not Fast

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Mk 2:18)

Fasting in Scripture was required on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:31-34) but was used during times of distress (2 Ch 20:3; Es 4:16), mourning (Zech 7:5), or repentance (Joel 2:15). By the time of Jesus, a regular routine was in place as manifest by the weekly fasting among the disciples of both John and the Pharisees.  This common practice, then, binds two groups of disciples together into an unlikely amalgam in order that they might ask Jesus why His disciples did not also fast.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Mk 2:19–20)

Jesus’ answer to their query would have delivered both warm delight and biting chill. On the one hand, His statement is a reference to His office and work as their Messiah. Psalm 45 prophetically tells of the marriage between Messiah and His bride. By describing Himself as the bridegroom, He announces that He is the prophesied Anointed One. As a result, the only sensible thing for the friends to be doing is rejoicing with the Bridegroom. On the other hand, He foretells, in veiled terms, His departure from them. This was unexpected because the people had a myopic view of what Messiah would accomplish. These words are hints to what would befall Him at the hands of wicked men when nailed to the cross for the sin of the world.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mk 2:21–22)

The visiting disciples needed to be educated of what Messiah’s ultimate purpose would be. Something glorious was impending, even already present. No longer would the high priest need to be replaced, because the great High Priest (He 4:14–16) would always live to make intercession for His people (He 7:25). No longer would there be a covenant with temporal measures, because the new covenant would be eternal in every aspect, changing even the heart and mind of each one who believes (He 8:10–12). No longer would a trek need to be made to an earthly sanctuary, because Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf (He 9:11–12). No longer would the blood of bulls and goats be required to cover sin, because the final sacrifice for all sin had been made (He 9:24–26).

The Lord gave to these visiting disciples not what they wanted, but what they needed. Both the repentant and self-righteous needed to know that their expectations and hopes were far less than what would come to fulfill the enormity and wonder of God’s redemption promised at the Fall. That group had yet to see the culmination of Good Friday through Easter, while we look back upon it, but the message is the same: Messiah has come to deliver the new covenant in His blood. Believe it. What else could His followers do but rejoice with Him?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Believers Need the Law

But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.

But as far as the old Adam is concerned, which still clings to them, he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law (1 Co 9:27; Ro 7:18–19).

So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God's Word and command, as it is written:
You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes…. Be careful to obey all these words that I command you,… [but] everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (De 12:8, 28, 32).
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VI, 18–20

Friday, November 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

May all who seek You greatly rejoice and be glad in You;
And let those who love Your salvation always say,
“Let God be magnified!”

But I am poor and needy;
O God, help me!
You are my helper and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay. (Ps 70:4–5 LXX)

Believe Him who is man and God; believe, O man. Believe, O man, the living God, who suffered and is adored. Believe, slaves, Him who died; believe, all you of human kind, Him who alone is God of all men. Believe, and receive salvation as your reward. Seek God, and your soul shall live. He who seeks God is busying himself about his own salvation. Have you found God? Then you have life. Let us then seek, in order that we may live. The reward of seeking is life with God. “Let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You; and let them say continually, God be magnified.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen X

“Fill with complete satisfaction,” David is saying, “those who love You so that they may celebrate in song Your kindnesses. I am bereft of such people’s righteousness and a victim of poverty I have no wealth of virtue. I have benefited from Your providence; come to my aid as quickly as possible, and do not put off my request.” It is in fact, not only David but also the whole choir of the saints who make this entreaty.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

Friday, November 3, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to All Saints' Sunday

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Re 7:9–12)

Whatever this multitude might be, by expressing these names he indicates the universal church.… Through the naming of these seven virtues, we are exhorted to inquire after the reason why he named those things here in which God desires His Church to participate. It is for this reason that when these are given to God in praise, they might confess that they have received each of them from Him. For we ought not consider that God alone is capable of the virtues named here, but that He has found them worthy also to give to the faithful. We rejoice that the Church of Christ is allowed to participate in all of these good things: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. It does not mention omnipotence or majesty or eternity, for God alone always rightly possesses these things. But in these seven we recognize all those virtues that could be granted to the faithful from Him who gave them power to become the sons of God. And so, if we have acquired any of those good things, we shall know with certainty that we have them by the generosity of God.

Primasius of Hadrumetum, Commentary on the Apocalypse

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Put Away the Evil

In Deuteronomy 12 and 13, Moses elaborates on the first commandment by reminding the nation of Israel that worship would occur in prescribed place and manner before a prescribed Person. Any deviancy was considered evil (De 13:5, 11, 17) inviting condemnation and judgment enforced by the nation. In order to drive home the seriousness of the situation and the necessity to eradicate evil, three scenarios were presented as examples.
  • Prophet or seer arises (De 13:1–5)
  • Family member entices (De 13:6–11)
  • Lawless group seduces (De 13:12–18)
While the source of enticement varies, the situation remains basically the same: someone wants to worship other gods and lead others to do the same. The punishment is also the same—eradicate the evil by killing the instigator(s) and those who have been turned. Sadly, a punishment was not always meted out, so that those who led astray became stronger and more brazen in conduct until God enacted His own punishment through captivity at the hands of pagan nations. The children of Israel were God’s chosen, precious possession. Whoever came between the Lord and His people guaranteed their own destruction.

Is there a correlation to the Church today? Scripture does not condone the death penalty within the Church, but measures are to be taken when people try to turn believers to other gods. Now you might say, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that Muslims, Wiccans, and the like would try to infiltrate the local assembly and lead some to Allah, Gaya, or some other deity du jour?” No, I am saying that people will rise among the assemblies and lead some to a deity having many worthwhile qualities, even the name Jesus, having form but no substance—a phantasm. There have been many over the centuries who have tried peddling their own Jesus. Some have even gained a sizable following, and many are in operation today with gods that promise wealth, fulfillment, and purpose for a ministry donation to unlock or free whatever is currently binding your life. Or they promise power, authority, and wonderworking abilities if you only believe with enough faith. Whether huckster or false teacher, these individuals and groups are offering other gods.

We should stop at this point to acknowledge that a difference should be made between the one leading astray out of ignorance versus those out to deliberately swindle or manipulate. The former is like an unbroken equine, running freely and powerfully yet lacking purpose and direction. Such a one needs to be corraled and taught how to harness that energy for the best effect much as Apollos was taught the ways of God more accurately Aquila and Priscilla (Ac 18:26). The latter is self-serving hoping to gain authority by paying off the right people (Ac 8:18–19) or else come in as a savage wolf or perverse teacher (Ac 20:29–30). It is this person or group that St. Paul warned must be avoided:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Ro 16:17–18)
So, too, did the Church Fathers who followed:
Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father.… Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks according to a strange [i.e., heretical] opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ].
Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians

Let no one, beloved brethren, make you to err from the ways of the Lord; let no one snatch you, Christians, from the Gospel of Christ; let no one take sons of the Church away from the Church; let them perish alone for themselves who have wished to perish; let them remain outside the Church alone who have departed from the Church; let them alone be without bishops who have rebelled against bishops; let them alone undergo the penalties of their conspiracies who formerly, according to your votes, and now according to God’s judgment, have deserved to undergo the sentence of their own conspiracy and malignity.
Cyprian, Epistle to the People Concerning Five Schismatic Presbyters
Why do we take such care to avoid heretics and schismatics? Why do we warn others to do the same in Christ’s Church? It is to demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord and His ways in preserving the unity of the Church by holding fast to God’s Word. We do well to heed the explanation of Vincent of Lérins as he rightly applies Moses’ warning to the Church:
But someone will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics? A proper question, certainly, and one which ought to be very carefully and fully dealt with, but answered at the same time, not in reliance upon one’s own ability, but by the authority of the divine Law, and by appeal to the Church’s determination.

Let us listen, then, to Holy Moses, and let him teach us why learned men, and such as because of their knowledge are even called Prophets by the apostle, are sometimes permitted to put forth novel doctrines, which the Old Testament is wont, by way of allegory, to call “strange gods,” forasmuch as heretics pay the same sort of reverence to their notions that the Gentiles do to their gods.

Blessed Moses, then, writes thus in Deuteronomy: “If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams,” that is, one holding office as a Doctor in the Church, who is believed by his disciples or auditors to teach by revelation: well,—what follows? “and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke comes to pass,”—he is pointing to some eminent doctor, whose learning is such that his followers believe him not only to know things human, but, moreover, to foreknow things superhuman, such as, their disciples commonly boast, were Valentinus, Donatus, Photinus, Apollinaris, and the rest of that sort! What next? “And shall say to you, Let us go after other gods, whom you do not know, and serve them.” What are those other gods but strange errors which you do not know, that is, new and such as were never heard of before? “And let us serve them;” that is, “Let us believe them, follow them.” What last? “You shall not hearken to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams.” And why, I pray, does not God forbid to be taught what God forbids to be heard? “For the Lord, your God, tests you, to know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may test you;” he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for thine old master.
The Commonitory X
God continues to test His people. Do we pass?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Another 95 Theses

Just in from Jonathan Aigner – 95 More for the Modern Church’s Door: Sparking a Reformation in the Entertainment Church.  As usual, he offers excellent thoughts on worship in the modern church.  Here are just a few (emphasis his):
31. Corporate worship that is either contemporary or traditional is toxic to the church.
32. All worship should be historic because it recalls the creative and redemptive acts of God.
33. All worship is contemporary, because we’re doing it now.
34. All worship should be future, because it foretells the coming victory when the curse will be broken and all will be set aright.
He offers a version of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief):
47. Bad worship begets bad theology. Bad theology begets a bloated, unhealthy church.
And for all those craving intimacy with God:
64. Worship that seeks God through word and sacrament is an act of intimacy.
As a warning, some of the points are PG in nature, but they are well worth reading.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Reformation Sunday

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:21–26)

It is clear that the righteousness of God has now appeared apart from the law, but this means apart from the law of the sabbath, the circumcision, the new moon and revenge, not apart from the sacrament of God’s divinity, because the righteousness of God is all about God’s divinity. For when the law held them guilty, the righteousness of God forgave them and did so apart from the law so that until the law was brought to bear God forgave them their sin. And lest someone think that this was done against the law, Paul added that the righteousness of God had a witness in the Law and the Prophets, which means that the law itself had said that in the future someone would come who would save mankind. But it was not allowed for the law to forgive sin.

Therefore, what is called the righteousness of God appears to be mercy because it has its origin in the promise, and when God’s promise is fulfilled it is called “the righteousness of God.” For it is righteousness when what is promised has been delivered. And when God accepts those who flee to him for refuge, this is called righteousness, because wickedness would not accept such people.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I have not offered up miscellanea for quite some time. Here are a few items for perusal.

G. Shane Morris tells us the problem with the Sinner’s Prayer.

Do you have a hankering to see signs and wonders? Michael Horton tells us where to find them. (Hint: it’s not in a so-called healing service.)

Pastor Larry Peters offers his opinion that nurseries and children’s church are not such a good idea.

Jonathan Aigner again warns of Hillsongization and the Insidious Nature of Commercial Worship Music.

And noting that birds of a feather fly together, be wary of “Bethelification.” Note the issues in this piece from

Think pop music and CCM are good for the church? Peter Leithart asks us to think again.

And on the topic of music in general, Casey Chalk makes a case for listening to classic music more often. (As an aside, his reasoning applies equally to classic literature.)

And finally, we have some all-too-true humor recently shared by Glenn Chatfield.

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