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?