Friday, August 31, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Wondrous are Your testimonies;
For this reason my soul searches them out.
The revelation of Your words gives light,
And it causes children to understand.
I opened my mouth and drew in my breath,
For I longed for Your commandments.
Look upon me and have mercy on me,
According to the Your name.
Direct my steps according to Your teaching
And let no lawlessness rule over me.
Ransom me from the slander of men,
And I will keep Your commandments.
Make Your face shine upon Your servant
And teach me Your ordinances.
My eyes poured down streams of tears
Because they did not keep Your law. (Ps 119:129–136)

[David] showed that it was not without reason that he loved them: they are estimable, capable of enchanting and prompting love in those able to discern them. And from where did you come to learn their virtue? The explanation of your words sheds light and imparts understanding to infants. He is saying: Illuminated by Your light, I received this knowledge; Your law imparts understanding to all held in the grip of ignorance, resembling babies.

By mouth here he refers to the mind’s enthusiasm: it draws in the grace of the Spirit. He says elsewhere, “Open wide your mouth, and I shall fill it”; and the divine Apostle prayed that a word be given in the opening of the mouth; and the inspired author himself said in another psalm, “The Lord will give a word to those bringing the good news with great power.” He said this here, too, I opened my mouth, and sucked in breath, because I panted after your commandments: since You saw me longing for Your commandments, You accorded Your grace.… He asks to attain the divine benevolence, not simply but, he says, as You are in the habit of providing mercy to those who love You; this is the meaning of in the judgment of those loving Your name, that is, I beg to enjoy the same verdict as they do. With our prior movement of enthusiasm, and God’s provision of help and guidance in the journey, there is no room for the influence of sin.… Christ the Lord declared enviable and blessed those who are mocked and defamed, but also bade them pray not to enter into temptation. So the prayer of the inspired author accords with the evangelical laws.

The divine is incorporeal, simple, and without composition. Sacred Scripture, however, speaks about it in a rather corporeal and concrete fashion, adjusting its language to human nature. So the shining of the divine face is to be taken as the end to sorrows and the provision of good things. My eyes shed streams of water since I did not keep your Law. This is also the apostolic law, “If one member suffers,” it says, “all members suffer with it.” So the inspired author aims at the evangelical perfection, lamenting the others’ transgressions. By streams of water he referred to the abundance of tears, meaning: I shed tears like a spring on perceiving people’s transgressions.

You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments upright. The testimonies you enjoined are righteousness and truth pure and simple: You manage all things justly, O Lord, out of care for people and in Your wish to make them doers of righteousness. You gave a Law, You leave transgressors in no doubt what penalties they will pay, You promise good rewards to the observant, and You confirm your promises by actions.… The inspired author laments those living a life of lawlessness, and on seeing the lawgiver despised he is rightly angered. This zeal made Phinehas celebrated; this rendered the great Elijah famous; burning with this the triumphant Stephen accused the Jews of unbelief; exemplifying this in himself, the divinely inspired Paul cried aloud, “Who is weak and I am not weak? who is scandalized and I am not on fire?” And blessed Luke says of him that in Athens his spirit was afflicted within him seeing the city given over to idolatry.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 119

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Unus Pro Omnibus

One for all, all for one (Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno) is a phrase popularized by Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. The motto defined for the musketeers the loyalty that had been forged between equals: each would stand with the whole regardless of the adversity. As a confession, the motto reminds and spurs mission and camaraderie akin to that used by branches of the United States armed forces (e.g., the Marine Corps and Coast Guard use Semper Fidelis and Semper Paratus respectively).

While mottoes and slogans are useful as a rallying point of communal relationship among equals, the matter differs greatly in an unequal relationship, wherein the greater person has proportional resources or ability while the lesser has diminished. This is especially true of the human-divine context wherein we humans have nothing sufficient to bring for resources before an almighty God. Shortly before His ascension, Jesus made this abundantly clear as He left instructions for continuing the kingdom ministry.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Mt 28:18–20)
There are four occurrences of “all things” in the passage, showing us that Jesus establishes from whom all authority flows, where to go, what to do, and His level of involvement.

All authority (18)
Before the world was, the preincarnate Son existed with God as God (Jn 1:1), having equal glory (Jn 17:1) and equal involvement in creation (Pr 8:30; Jn 1:3; He 1:2). While for a time, Jesus humbled Himself and acted in submission to the Father (Pp 2:6–8), He completed the work of redemption and was exalted to the highest position (Pp 2:9–10; He 1:3–4) with full restoration of all commensurate rights and privileges of the Godhead. Only in accord with His name and authority are the apostles (and by extension the Church) allowed to act.

All nations (19)
From the beginning, God had selected one people to be His conduit to bless all ethnic groups (Ge 12:1–3) and draw them to Himself (Ge 12:1–3; Is 11:10; 42:6–7; 49:6). Before ascending, Jesus gave beginning instructions where to begin and the extent of their journeys (Ac 1:8). Those first apostles were encumbered by the physical limitations of time and distance, however, the work of Christ was and is passed from one generation to the next in ever-widening spheres.

All things (20)
Christians have a singular message for all nations. We carry with us the warning of certain future judgment and the blessing of atonement made by the Lord Jesus. While many have had a tendency to be simplistic by sharing a bare-bones gospel, asking for a decision, then calling it a day; the actual work is more involved. Notice that the work of making disciples (the active verb phrase in this command) is two-part: baptizing and teaching. To be a believer in Jesus is to be a disciple; to be a disciple of Jesus is to be both baptized and taught. Both are required from the very beginning: there is no such thing as a believer who willingly avoids baptism or teaching.

More to the point here, we need to address the amount of teaching intended for the disciple: enough to observe all things Christ taught. Certainly, this does not mean that a disciple receives the firehouse approach that one would get from a Bible college or seminary, but it does mean that instruction and learning is lifelong. From the earliest opportunity, doctrine is to be inculcated on the novice with the intent of being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1Pe 4:10).

All days (20)
Jesus promises to be intimately involved in the work from beginning to end without fail. The word always in the above translation is literally translated all the days or all the times. Instead of assigning a date to which we might look for all things would come to an end, He sets our attention on Himself. He goes with us as He did faithfully in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex 23:20–23) lighting our way, guiding our path, and providing the true bread and true drink to refresh and strengthen on the journey (Jn 6:32–33, 53–58).

One for All
We owe our daily existence to God’s providential hand, and every thing that we gain in this world comes from His good hand (Jm 1:17). As a result, any thought that we might offer something needful or of substance is absurd. The kingdom of heaven is not our design, but we enter into the work when we remember first Whose work it is.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Ro 11:33–36)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Spoils of the Temple, Jean-Guillaume Moitte

So the Lord said, “These people draw near to Me and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and they worship Me in vain, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men. Therefore behold, I will proceed to remove this people, and I shall remove them. I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and hide the understanding of the intelligent.” (Isaiah 29:13–14)

But if we are impure and unfaithful, all things are profane to us, either due to heresy inhabiting our hearts or to a sinful conscience. Moreover, if our conscience does not accuse us and if we have pious trust in the Lord, “we will pray with the spirit and we will pray with the mind; we will sing with the spirit and sing with the mind,” and we will be far removed from those about whom it is here written: “their minds and consciences are polluted.”

“They claim to know God, but they deny him with their deeds. They are accursed, disobedient and repelled by every good deed.” It is about these persons whose minds and consciences are polluted, who claim to know God but deny him with their deeds, that it is said in Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” See how they honor God with their lips while fleeing from him in their heart; professing belief in God with words, their works deny him.

Jerome, Commentary on Titus 1.15-16

First, then, I assert that none other than the Creator and Sustainer of both man and the universe can be acknowledged as Father and Lord; next, that to the Father also the title of Lord accrues by reason of His power, and that the Son too receives the same through the Father; then that “grace and peace” are not only His who had them published, but His likewise to whom offense had been given. For neither does grace exist, except after offense; nor peace, except after war. Now, both the people by their transgression of His laws, and the whole race of mankind by their neglect of natural duty, had both sinned and rebelled against the Creator. Marcion’s god, however, could not have been offended, both because he was unknown to everybody, and because he is incapable of being irritated. What grace, therefore, can be had of a god who has not been offended? What peace from one who has never experienced rebellion? “The cross of Christ,” he says, “is to them that perish foolishness; but unto such as shall obtain salvation, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And then, that we may know from where this comes, he adds: “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’”

Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.5

Friday, August 17, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58)

Long-suffering truly and of great mercy is Christ, as one may see from the words now before us. For in no wise reproaching the littleness of soul of the unbelievers, He again richly gives them the life-giving knowledge of the Mystery, and having overcome, as God, the arrogance of those who grieve Him, He tells them those things whereby they shall mount up to endless life. And how He will give them His Flesh to eat, He does not yet tell them, for He knew that they were in darkness, and could never avail to understand the ineffable: but how great good will result from the eating He shows to their profit, that perhaps inciting them to a desire of living in greater preparation for unfading pleasures, He may teach them faith. For to them that have now believed there follows suitably the power too of learning. For so says the prophet Isaiah, If you will not believe neither yet shall you understand. It was therefore right, that faith having been first rooted in them, there should next be brought in understanding of those things whereof they are ignorant, and that the investigation should not precede faith.… For this cause did the Lord with reason refrain from telling them how He would give them His Flesh to eat, and calls them to the duty of believing before seeking. For to those who had at length believed He broke bread, and gave to them, saying, Take, eat, This is My Body. Likewise handing round the Cup to them all, He says, Drink of it all of you, for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is being shed for many for the remission of sins. Do you see how to those who were yet senseless and thrust from them faith without investigation, He does not explain the mode of the Mystery, but to those who had now believed, He is found to declare it most clearly? Let them then, who of their folly have not yet admitted the faith in Christ, hear, Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John 4.2

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Seeking Approval or Seeking the Lost?

Pastor Larry Peters has a post calling for the Church to attend to gospel proclamation, not cultural appropriation. I was particularly struck by the following:
The Church and Christians have become so pathetically needy in their quest for attention that they will put whatever words they can into the mouth of God so that the people will like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. The Church and Christians crave the approval of the masses so deeply that they will surrender every doctrine and dogma to the altar of public affection. Christianity has given up on the approval of God and so all that is left is to follow like desperate puppies behind an indifferent and uncaring world that has already decided the god of desire is better than any God of the Cross.
May we be found following Christ and all He has commanded, not inventing or chasing after appealing doctrine.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. (John 6:47–51)

Faith therefore is the door and way unto life, and return from corruption to incorruption. But herein no less is the economy a marvel to the learners: for when He perceived that they understood nothing at all, and saw that they did not suppose they ought to give any credence even to the words of the Prophets, He cuts off, as far as possible, their weakness unto faith by human arguments, by an oath to its truth. For setting before them which believe prizes much to be envied, with their longing desire for these as with traces, He all but constrains them against their will, and persuades them to come to what is proclaimed to them. For what would be more precious than eternal life, to those to whom death and the sufferings from decay are bitter? And this too, a wise teacher will appropriately re-instruct to the better by every way that invites unto life those who have chosen to think foolishly. But He, being Eternal Life, promises to give Himself to those who believe: that is, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.…

He says, “I die for all, that I may may give life to all by Myself, and I made My Flesh a Ransom for the flesh of all. For death shall die in My Death, and with Me shall rise again the fallen nature of man. For this reason I became like you, Man and of the seed of Abraham, that I might be made like in all things unto My brethren.” The blessed Paul himself also, well understanding what Christ just now said to us says, For as much then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. For no otherwise was it possible that he that has the power of death should be destroyed, and death itself also, had not Christ given Himself for us, a Ransom, One for all, for He was in behalf of all. Therefore He says in the Psalms too, offering Himself as a spotless Sacrifice to God the Father,
“Sacrifice and offering You did not will;
But a body You prepared for me;
A whole burnt offering and a sin offering You did not require.”
Then I said, “Behold, I come
(it is written of me in the volume of the book);
I willed to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law in the midst of my heart.”
For since the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sufficed not unto the purging away of sin, nor yet would the slaughter of brute beasts ever have destroyed the power of death, Christ Himself came in, in some way to undergo punishment for all.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John 4.1–2

Friday, August 3, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:30–35)

It was needful not only to remove Moses from God-befitting authority, according to their conception, and to show that he was a minister of that miraculous working, rather than the bestower of it, but also to lessen the wonder though miraculously wrought, and to show that it was nothing at all in comparison with the greater. For imagine Christ calling out something like this,
The great things, sirs, you consider among the most insignificant and petty, and the generosity of the Lord of all you have rationed out with most petty limits. For with no slight folly do you suppose that the manna is the Bread from heaven, although it fed the race alone of the Jews in the wilderness, while there are other nations besides without number throughout the world. And you supposed that God willed to show forth lovingkindness so narrowly, as to give food to one people only…. But when the time of the Truth was at our doors, My Father gives you the Bread from heaven, which was of old foreshadowed to them in the gift of the manna.
For let no one think (He says) that that was in truth the Bread from heaven, but rather let him give his judgment in favor of That, which is clearly able to feed the whole earth, and to give in full life unto the world.

He accuses, therefore, the Jew of cleaving to the typical observances, and refusing to examine into the beauty of the Truth. For that was not, properly speaking, the manna, but the Only-Begotten Word of God Himself, who proceeds from the Essence of the Father, since He is by Nature Life, and gives life to all things. For since He sprang of the Living Father, He also is by Nature Life, and since the work of that which is by Nature Life is to enliven, Christ enlivens all things. For as our earthly bread which is gotten of the earth does not permit the frail nature of flesh to waste away: so He too, through the operation of the Spirit gives life to our spirit, and not only so, but also holds together our very body unto incorruption.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John 3.6