Friday, February 22, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Elevation of the Cross, Peter Paul Rubens
But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:27–31, 35–36)

“An eye for an eye” is the perfection of justice. “Whoever strikes you on the cheek, turn the other to him” is the consummation of grace. While both continually have their criteria, He proposed them to us through the two successive Testaments. The first Testament had the killing of animals for compensation, because justice did not permit that one should die in place of another. The second Testament was established through the blood of a man, who through His grace gave Himself on behalf of all. One therefore was the beginning, and the other the completion. He in whom are both the end and the beginning is perfect. In the case of those who do not understand, the beginning and end are estranged one from the other. In the study of them, however, they are one.

Therefore this principle of a blow for a blow has indeed been transformed. If you strive for perfection, whoever strikes you, turn to him the other.

Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron 6.11–12

Friday, February 15, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20–26)

Let us see how St. Luke encompassed the eight blessings in the four. We know that there are four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, prudence and fortitude. One who is poor in spirit is not greedy. One who weeps is not proud but is submissive and tranquil. One who mourns is humble. One who is just does not deny what he knows is given jointly to all for us. One who is merciful gives away his own goods. One who bestows his own goods does not seek another's, nor does he contrive a trap for his neighbor. These virtues are interwoven and interlinked, so that one who has one may be seen to have several, and a single virtue befits the saints. Where virtue abounds, the reward too abounds.… Thus temperance has purity of heart and spirit, justice has compassion, patience has peace, and endurance has gentleness.

Although there are many charms of delights in riches, yet there are more incentives to practice virtues. Although virtue does not require assistance and the contribution of the poor person is more commended than the generosity of the rich, yet with the authority of the heavenly saying, he condemns not those who have riches but those who do not know how to use them. The pauper is more praiseworthy who gives with eager compassion and is not restrained by the bolts of looming scarcity. He thinks that he who has enough for nature does not lack. So the rich person is the more guilty who does not give thanks to God for what he has received, but vainly hides wealth given for the common use and conceals it in buried treasures. Then the offense consists not in the wealth but in the attitude.

Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 5.62–63, 68–69

Friday, February 8, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. (Luke 5:4–11)

He told Simon and his companions to sail off a little from the land and to let down the net for a draught. But they replied that they had been toiling the whole night and had caught nothing. However, in the name of Christ, they let down the net, and immediately it was full of fish. By a visible sign and by a miraculous type and representation, they were fully convinced that their labor would be rewarded, and the zeal displayed in spreading out the net of the gospel teaching would be fruitful. Within this net they should most certainly catch the shoals of the heathen. But note that neither Simon nor his companions could draw the net to land. Speechless from fright and astonishment—for their wonder had made them mute—they beckoned to their partners, to those who shared their labors in fishing, to come and help them in securing their prey. For many have taken part with the holy apostles in their labors, and still do so, especially those who inquire into the meaning of what is written in the holy Gospels. Yet besides them there are also others: the pastors and teachers and rulers of the people, who are skilled in the doctrines of truth. For the net is still being drawn, while Christ fills it, and calls to conversion those who, according to the Scripture phrase, are in the depths of the sea, that is to say, those who live in the surge and waves of worldly things.

For this reason also Peter, carried back to the memory of sins, trembles and is afraid. As an impure man, he dares not to receive the One who is pure. His fear was praiseworthy, because he had been taught by the Law to distinguish between the holy and the profane.

Cyril of Alexandia, Commentary on Luke, Homily 12

Friday, February 1, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

O God, in You I hope; may I never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and set me free;
Incline Your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a God for protection
And a strong place for salvation,
For You are my foundation and my refuge.
O my God, deliver me from the hand of the sinner,
From the hand of those who transgress the law and act unjustly;
For You are my patience, O Lord;
The Lord is my hope from my youth.
By You I have been supported from birth;
From my mother’s womb You have been my protector;
My song shall be always of You. (Ps 71:1-6)

Unless the passage is carefully considered it can affront some, because it is seen to have added to God’s protection a fortified place, as if a place could defend a person when heavenly power does not protect him. But the first statement begs that his soul be protected from spiritual enemies, and then he asks also for physical safety, which is defended from the darts and swords of enemies by a well-fortified place. The metaphor is drawn from fortresses, because we escape opponents when we are defended by well-fortified places. But the divine protection is this place; as the psalmist says in another psalm: Protect me under the shadow of your wings. When we are with Christ, we fear none of the devil’s ambushes, for when divine protection is at hand, that most wicked of creatures is cheated of his aspiration. Observe how beautifully each term is accorded its proper description; firmament is associated with protector, refuge with place of strength. He rightly believed that both come to him from the Lord, for he achieved nothing by his own powers. I reckon that there is a further distinction here; the Lord is said to be a firmament in this world, where patience too is sought, whereas He is a refuge in that eternal blessedness where by then no danger is feared.

 He spoke of my hope from my youth. How could he put his strength in God when he grew in his mother’s womb without the resource of reason, especially as we read in Scripture: For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother conceive me? But we must interpret womb here as the womb of holy mother Church, in which we are first conceived with the basic teaching of the faith, and then born of water and the Holy Spirit. The Lord can be our strength when we come to Him with the gift of faith. He added: You are my protector; precisely so, since He protects and defends us against the wicked deeds of the devil, and in this world affords us escape from possible death under the weight of sins. Next follows our repayment of these rewards, so that just as the kindnesses are never-ending, so the singing of psalms ought to be unceasing; for if no time is empty of gifts, why should anyone interrupt praise of the Lord? Continually signifies both the present and the future age. In this world we sing to Him to win deliverance; in the next we give thanks for our eternal reward. So the Lord ought always to be praised, for all His gifts are unceasing.

Cassiodorus, Exposition on the Psalms 70.3, 6