Friday, February 3, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

“‘Why have we fasted, but You did not see it? Why have we humbled our souls, but You did not know it?’ Because in the days of your fasts, you seek your own wills, and mistreat those under your authority. If you fast for condemnations and quarrels, and strike a humble man with your fists, why do you fast to Me as you do today, so your voice may be heard in crying? I did not choose this fast, and such a day for a man to humble his soul; nor if you should bow your neck like a ring and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself, could you thus call such a fast acceptable. I did not choose such a fast,” says the Lord; “rather, loose every bond of wrongdoing; untie the knots of violent dealings; cancel the debts of the oppressed; and tear apart every unjust contract. Break your bread for the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house. If you see a naked man, clothe him, nor shall you disregard your offspring in your own household. Then your light shall break forth as the morning, and your healing shall spring forth quickly. Your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of God shall cover you. Then you shall cry out, and God will hear you. While you are still speaking, He will say, ‘Behold, I am here.’” (Isaiah 58:3–9a LXX)

After he has taught what sort of fasting he disapproves of, he shows what sort he gladly welcomes. He says, Loose the bands of impiety, undo the little bundles that oppress, or, as the Septuagint has translated more clearly, “the knots of hard securities,” which our own people, deceived by the ambiguity of the word, that is, συναλλαγματων, translated as “exchanges” instead of “handwritten documents.” But it means little bundles of papers in which are contained the false charges of moneylenders, and by which the poor are oppressed by debt. … The prophet is not instructing, therefore, that no one demand back what is owed, especially what he has given justly and demanded back justly; otherwise he would be proclaiming rebellion against the tribune. But when there is an unjust “security,” when a poor man is oppressed by a malicious charge, there the little bundles of “securities” and all the bonds of “iniquity” must be shattered.

Or at any rate, one should say this: that the discourse is about fasting, and fasting brings affliction and humiliation to the soul, but affliction of body is a prayer for pardon of one’s sins. Holy Scripture teaches that we should forgive our debtors, so that the heavenly Father may also forgive us our debts. Ancient history narrates that in the seventh, or fiftieth year of remission, which is the true jubilee, all property reverts to the owners, and the original liberty is given back to slaves, and all accounts, which they commonly call “securities,” become null and void. But if this is commanded under the law, how much more under the gospel, when all things that are good are doubled, and we are commanded not to gouge out an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, but to offer our cheek to the one who slaps. And what is more, in order that we may know that what we have said above, “You extort from all your debtors,” is written about creditors, and it is joined more clearly concerning debtors, Let those who are broken go free, that is: those who are broken by poverty, whom want has afflicted, leave them free to beg, and break asunder every burden by which they are oppressed.

But someone could possibly say, “I have no debtors. What should I do in order that my fasting is accepted?” It follows, Break your bread with the hungry. Not many loaves of bread, lest you should plead your poverty as an excuse, but one loaf of bread. Not even the whole thing, but a piece of bread that you would have eaten if you were not fasting, so that your fast does not fatten his wallet but satisfies his soul. And he has nicely added your, lest you should give your alms by stealing from others. “For the redemption of the soul is a man’s own wealth”; and in another place, “Honor the Lord out of your just labors.” Of course, if you do not have bread, and there is a very large number of hungry people, give from that which you will suffer no harm, in which there are no expenses.

St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 58.18

Friday, January 27, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

O Lord, who will dwell in Your tabernacle?
And who will dwell on Your holy mountain?
The one who walks blamelessly and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart,
Who does not deceive with his tongue,
Neither does evil to his neighbor;
And does not find fault with those nearest him.
He disdains those who do evil in his presence,
But he holds in honor those who fear the Lord;
He swears an oath to his neighbor and does not set it aside.
He does not lend his money at interest,
And he does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken. (Ps 14:1–5 LXX [Ps 15:1–5])

David sees fit to ask God who are those ever freed from the enemy and from every recurring difficulty, and who will enjoy uninterrupted possession of Jerusalem. Having asked this in his own person, he presents God replying on His own account that only those people devoted to virtue and piety like Hezekiah and all of his company.… Who else if not a person like this: whoever is interested in the way of life of the faultless and attends to righteousness as far as possible. Then by way of commentary on what truth is: whoever did harm neither to foreigner nor to family so as to be reproached for not even sparing kith or kin.

Whoever abhors the wicked, even if they are very rich, will live in honor and respect. There is therefore need to consider how in the apparent reply of God complete instruction in virtue emerges, the intention being for a person firstly to attend to piety and righteousness, then to keep one’s distance from all wicked behavior, and after this not to admire the deportment of the rich if piety does not accompany wealth. On the other hand, one should have especial regard for the poor provided they did not have a change of heart for the worse as a result of poverty and instead continued to be devoted to a godly way of life. He wants such a person to not to have recourse to oaths, but if at some time forced to take one, not to swear falsely; he goes on, in fact He swears an oath to his neighbor and does not set it aside. He next teaches that such a person should not be greedy or given to usury. His further wish is that such a person should also be careful about upright behavior in giving judgment and should not be partial to bribes: he did not accept bribes to give an adverse verdict against the innocent and condemn him. His comment on all this as though coming equally from God: He who does these things will never be shaken.

Diodore of Tarsus, Commentary on Psalms

Friday, January 20, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12–17)

For this is what the evangelist recorded in the present passage out of the prophet’s words: “Beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” In what darkness? Surely in the profound error of ignorance. What great light did they see? Surely the light concerning which it is written, “He was the true light that illumines every man who comes into this world.” In the gospel, the just man Simeon testified of him and said, “A light you have prepared for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory for your people Israel.” And David had predicted that this light in the darkness would arise at some time, when he said, “A light has arisen in the darkness to the upright of heart.” Also, Isaiah makes clear that this light will come for the illumination of the church, when he says, “Shine, shine, Jerusalem; for your light is near, and the majesty of the Lord has risen in you.” Concerning that light also Daniel related the following: “He reveals the profound and hidden things, knowing those things that are in darkness and the light is with him,” that is, the Son with the Father, for even as the Father is light, so too is the Son light. Hence David also says in the psalm, “In your light shall we see light,” for the Father is seen in the Son, as the Lord himself says in the gospel: “He who sees me, sees also the Father.” For from the true light, the true light proceeded, and from the invisible the visible. For “he is the image of the invisible God,” as the apostle has related.

Concerning this light, then, it is related in the present passage, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” They see not with bodily observation—for the light is invisible—but with the eyes of faith and with the mind’s vision. This then is what he is saying: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region of the shadow of death, light has dawned.” Therefore not only to those who were in darkness did this light appear, but he says that a light has arisen for those sitting in the region of the shadow of death. This shows that there are some who were sitting in darkness, others who sit established in the region of the shadow of death. And what is this region of the shadow of death, if not the region of the infernal abode? David speaks of it and says, “For even if I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evils, for you are with me.” Surely he shall not fear evils, that is, the punishments of hell. Therefore a saving light is arising even for those who are sitting in the region of the shadow of death, that is, Christ the Son of God, who says in the gospel, “I am the true light. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness.” After that venerable passion that saves all, he penetrates the region of the infernal abode. Suddenly he introduced the light of his majesty to those stunned souls of the lower world, to free those who were being held among the dead in expectation of his arrival, just as the Lord himself in the person of Wisdom says through Solomon: “I will penetrate all the way to the lower parts of the earth and gaze upon all those who are asleep, and I shall enlighten those who hope in God.”

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 15.1–2

Friday, January 13, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Epiphany

And now this is what the Lord—who formed me from the belly as his bondservant in order to gather Jacob and Israel to himself—says: “I will be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and God will be strength for me.” And he said to me, “It is a great thing for you to be called my child, to establish the tribes of Jacob and to return the dispersion of Israel. Look! I have given you as a covenant for a nation, as a light for the nations so that you may become salvation as far as the end of the earth.” This is what the Lord who rescues you, the God of Israel, says: “Sanctify the one who despises his life, who is abhorred by the nations, the servants of rulers. Kings will see him and arise; rulers also will worship him for the sake of the Lord, because the Holy One of Israel is faithful, and I have chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:5–7 LXX)

On becoming man, in fact, God, the Only-begotten Word of God, laid down His life for us, and chose to suffer for us death in the flesh, though experiencing nothing in His own nature; after all, as God He is beyond suffering, but for the sake of sinners He forfeited that privilege.… So He gave His life for us, for we were healed by His bruising,

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah 49

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29–34)

No longer has prepare the way fit place, since He at length is seen and is before the eyes for Whom the preparation is made: the nature of the thing began to need other words. It needed to explain, Who He is Who is come, and to whom He makes His descent Who hath come to us from Heaven. Behold, therefore, he says, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, Whom the Prophet Isaiah did signify to us, saying, He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb: Whom of old, too, he says, the law of Moses typified, but then it saved in part, not extending mercy to all (for it was a type and shadow): but now He Who of old was dimly pictured, the very Lamb, the spotless Sacrifice, is led to the slaughter for all, that He might drive away the sin of the world, that He might overturn the destroyer of the earth, that dying for all He might bring to nought death, that He might undo the curse that is upon us, that He might at length end Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return, that He might become the second Adam, not of the earth, but from heaven, and might be the beginning of all good to the nature of man, deliverance from the imported corruption, Bestower of eternal life, foundation of our reconciliation to God, beginning of godliness and righteousness, way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 2.1

Friday, January 6, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15–22)

The divine Word became man, even “He Who was in the form of God the Father, and thought it not robbery to be equal unto God,” as most wise Paul says, “but took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and humbling Himself to poverty.” Inquire therefore Who He was that was first in the likeness of God the Father, and could be regarded as on an equality with Him, but took the form of a slave, and became then a man, and besides this made Himself poor. Was it He of the seed of David, as they argue, Whom they specially regard separately and by Himself as the other Son, distinct from the Word of God the Father? If so, let them show that He ever was on an equality with the Father. Let them show how He assumed the form of a slave. Or what shall we say was that form of a slave? And how did He empty Himself? For what is poorer than human nature? He therefore Who is the exact image of God the Father, the likeness, and visible expression of His person, Who shines resplendent in equality unto Him, Who by right of nature is free, and the yoke of Whose kingdom is put upon all creation,—He it is Who took the form of a slave, that is, became a man, and made Himself poor by consenting to endure these human things, sin only excepted.

But how then, they object, was He baptized, and received also the Spirit? To which we reply, that He had no need of holy baptism, being wholly pure and spotless, and holy of the holy. Nor had He need of the Holy Ghost: for the Spirit That proceeds from God the Father is of Him, and equal to Him in substance. We must now therefore at length hear what is the explanation of the economy. God in his love to man provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and making this confession before many witnesses, we wash away all the filth of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and made partakers of the divine nature, and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary therefore that the Word of the Father, when He humbled Himself unto emptiness, and deigned to assume our likeness, should become for our sakes the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows, that He Who in everything is first, must in this also set the example.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke 11

Monday, January 2, 2023

Of the Mystical Feast of the Altar of the Lord

In very truth it is a marvelous thing that God rained manna on the fathers, and fed them with daily food from heaven; so that it is said, “So man did eat angels’ food.” But yet all those who ate that food died in the wilderness, but that food which you receive, that living Bread which came down from heaven, furnishes the substance of eternal life; and whosoever shall eat of this Bread shall never die, and it is the Body of Christ.

Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it holily shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth.

If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at. See now what happened in the case of the fathers was shadow: “They drank, it is said, of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were done in a figure concerning us.” You recognize now which are the more excellent, for light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven.

Ambrose of Milan, On the Mysteries 8.47–49

Friday, December 30, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

The word “Jesus” is glorious, and worthy of all adoration and worship. It is “the name above every name.” It was not fitting that this name should first be given by men or brought into the world by them, but by some more excellent and greater nature. The evangelist indicated this when he added, “His name was called ‘Jesus,’ which He had been called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Origen, Homilies on Luke 14.1

He therefore received in the flesh the circumcision decreed by the law, although he appeared in the flesh absolutely without any blemish of pollution. He who came in the likeness of sinful flesh—not in sinful flesh—did not turn away from the remedy by which sinful flesh was ordinarily made clean. Similarly, not because of necessity but for the sake of example, he also submitted to the water of baptism, by which he wanted the people of the new law of grace to be washed from the stain of sins.…

The reason “the child who was born to us, the son who was given to us,” received the name Jesus (that is, “Savior”) does not need explanation in order to be understood by us, but we need eager and vigilant zeal so that we too may be saved by sharing in his name. Indeed, we read how the angel interprets the name of Jesus: “He will save his people from their sins.” And without a doubt we believe and hope that the one who saves us from sins is not failing to save us also from the corruptions which happen because of sins, and from death itself, as the psalmist testifies when he says, “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” Indeed, with the pardoning of all of our iniquities, all our diseases will be completely healed when, with the appearance of the glory of the resurrection, our last enemy, death, will be destroyed.

Bede, Homilies on the Gospels 1.11

Friday, December 23, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Christmas Day

Because of this, my people will know my name in that day, that I myself am the one who speaks. I am present as an hour upon the mountains, as the feet of one who brings the good news of peace, as the one who brings the good news of good things, for I will make your salvation heard, saying, “O Zion, your God will reign!” For the voice of those who guard you will be lifted up, and with their voice they will be cheerful together, for eyes will look to eyes, when the Lord shows mercy to Zion. Let the deserted places of Jerusalem break forth together with cheer, because the Lord has shown mercy to her and has rescued Jerusalem. The Lord will reveal his holy arm before all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation that is from our God. (Isaiah 52:6–10)

When the Jewish people were led into captivity and the city was burned, an inhabitant of Jerusalem was either rare or nonexistent. But after the one who spoke first in the prophets and was in the beginning with God, God the Word, dwelt among us and became flesh, the deserts of Jerusalem were refreshed, and he came, of whom it is written, “He shall build my city and lead back the captivity of my people.” Thus Jeremiah does not lament for her: “How does the city that was filled with people sit solitary! She has become as a widow, she who was magnified among the nations.” Instead she hears David singing, “When the Lord converted the captivity of Zion, we became as comforted ones,” and a little later, “We were made to rejoice.”.

And that we may know that these things are not being said about the Jewish people, but about all who will come to believe in the Lord through the apostles, he records and says, He who has comforted her, or “has had mercy upon her,” and he who “has delivered” or redeemed her, has himself prepared or “revealed his holy arm in the sight of all the Gentiles, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” From this it is clear that the arm of the Lord is being revealed to all nations, and all the ends of the earth are seeing his salvation, when the spiritual Jerusalem, that is, the church, which had been forsaken by the Jews, is built by the apostles.

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 14

Friday, December 16, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Advent

And the Lord continued to speak to Ahaz, saying, “Ask for yourself a sign from the Lord your God, up to a depth or up to a height.” And Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not test the Lord.” And he said, “Hear now, house of David! Is it not a small thing for you to put up a fight with human? And how do you put up a fight with the Lord? Because of this, the Lord himself will give you a sign: Look, the virgin will conceive in the womb and will bear a son, and you will call his name Immanuel. He will eat butter and honey before he knows either to prefer evil or choose the good.” Because before the child knows good or bad, he resists wickedness to choose good; and the land that you fear because of the face of the two kings will be forsaken. But God will bring upon you and upon your people and upon the house of your father days that have not yet come since the day when Ephraim took away the king of the Assyrians from Judah. (Isaiah 7:10–17 LXX)

When will you stop contending with the men of God? For I say that the prophets of God are surrounded by filth and hardship and strife for the sake of your salvation. But then you even vex and provoke a fight with my God, whom you do not know and whose promises you refuse to believe. For indeed, because of his abounding benevolence, God commands you to ask for a sign of salvation from him, through which it is to be proved that you will be saved and delivered from the two kings who are waging war against you. And you remain in your wickedness and provoke a fight with him and likewise cause trouble for his prophets as well as for him, and in your disbelief you repeatedly contrived schemes against them.

But although you are such sinners, God again proves himself to be so merciful and does not let you fall to the side and perish, and even though you do not wish it, he will offer you a sign of salvation. And what is this sign? A certain paradoxical wonder will appear among humanity, such a sign as never before has been heard of from the beginning of time. A virgin will conceive, apart from relations with a man, and she will give birth to God, the Savior of the human race. Therefore, God is about to allow himself to undergo such a birth, and this is the sign of salvation that he offers you. Then what was in the depths will reach even to the heights. He says in the depths because he will go down to Hades, and to the heights because he will ascend to heaven.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah 7

Friday, December 9, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Advent

Rejoice, thirsty deserted land! Let a deserted land be cheerful, and let it blossom like a lily. And the desolate places of the Jordan will blossom and rejoice. The glory of Lebanon was given to it, and the honor of Carmel. And my people will see the glory of the Lord and the exaltation of God. Be strong, hands at ease and feeble knees! Give comfort, fainthearted in mind! Be strong; do not be frightened! Look, our God is repaying judgment, and he will repay! He himself will come and save us! Then blind people’s eyes will be opened, and dumb people’s ears will hear. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the stammerer’s tongue will be clear, because water has broken forth in the desert, and a ravine in a thirsting land. And the waterless place will turn into marshes, and there will be a spring of water in the thirsty land; there birds’ cheerfulness will be a dwelling of reed and marshes. A pure path will be there, and it will be called a holy path, and certainly no impure person will pass by there, nor will there be an impure path there, but those who are scattered abroad will walk on it; they will certainly not be misguided. And there will be no lion there, and certainly none of the evil beasts will come up to it or be found there, but rather a people will walk in it that are redeemed and gathered because of the Lord; and they will return and come into Zion with cheerfulness, and eternal cheerfulness will be over their head. There will be praise and rejoicing, and cheerfulness will overtake them; pangs and sorrow and groaning have fled away! (Isaiah 35:1–10 LXX)

Now the reason the eyes will be opened, the ears will hear, the blind will leap and the tongue of the mute will be free, is because the waters of the baptism of the Savior have broken out or “burst forth” in the onetime desert of the church, and streams or torrents in the wilderness, namely, the various spiritual graces; and that which was dry land has been turned into a pool and swamp, so that not only has burning thirst ended, but it has become passable by boat and well watered, and it has very many springs, for which the deer longs. The one who drinks from them is able to bless the Lord, as it is written: “Bless the Lord from the springs of Israel.” In the dens of the souls of the Gentiles, in which dragons dwelt before, there will be reeds and bulrushes, on which is written the faith of the Lord, and on which formerly weary limbs may rest; or “there will be a joy of birds and a sheepfold for flocks,” that the doves might receive wings, and the lowly ones who remain may hurry to the heights and be able to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want; he makes me lie down in the place of pasture, he has led me out to the waters of refreshment”.

There will be there a path and a most clean way, which shall be called holy, and which itself says of itself, “I am the way,” through which he who is polluted shall not be able to pass. This is also why it is said in the psalm: “Blessed are the blameless in the way.” And this way, that is our God, will be for us so straight and level and flat that it shall hold no error, and the foolish and the senseless are able to walk on it, to whom wisdom speaks in Proverbs, “If anyone is a little one, let him come to me, and to the foolish she said: ‘Come and eat my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mixed for you, leave infancy, and live, and walk by the ways of prudence.’”

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 10