Friday, August 5, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He chose as an inheritance for Himself.
The Lord looked attentively from heaven;
He saw all the sons of men.
From His prepared dwelling-place,
He looked upon all who dwell on the earth,
He who alone fashioned their hearts,
He who understands all their works.
A king is not saved by his large army,
And a giant shall not be saved by his immense strength;
A horse is a false hope for salvation,
And it shall not be saved by its enormous power.
Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
To deliver their souls from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul shall wait for the Lord;
He is our helper and protector;
For our heart shall be glad in Him,
And we hope in His holy name.
Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
As we hope in You. (Psalm 32:12–22 LXX)

Consider the lofty spectator; consider Him who is bending down regarding the affairs of mankind. Wherever you may go, whatever you may do, whether in the darkness or in the daytime, you have the eye of God watching. “From his habitation which he has prepared.” The gates are not being opened, the curtains are not being drawn together, the habitation of God is ready for viewing. He looks upon all the sons of men. No one escapes His sight; no darkness, no concealing walls, nothing is a hindrance to the eyes of God. He is so far from failing to look upon each individually, that He even looks into the hearts, which He Himself formed without any admixture of evil. God, the creator of men, made the heart simple according to His own saving image; but later we made it, by union with passions of the flesh, a complicated and manifold heart, destroying its likeness to God, its simplicity, and its integrity. Since He is the Maker of hearts, therefore, He understands all our works. But, we calf both words and thoughts and, in general, every movement of man, his works. With what feelings or for what purpose they are, whether to please men or to perform the duties of the commands given us by God, He alone knows, who understands all our works. Therefore, for every idle word we give an account. Even for a cup of cold water, we do not lose our reward, because the Lord understands all our works.

The humility of those who serve the Lord indicates how they hope in His mercy. He who does not trust in his own good deeds nor expects to be justified by his works has, as his only hope of salvation, the mercies of God. For, when he considers that the expression, “Behold the Lord and his reward,” refers to each according to his work, and when he ponders his own evil deeds, he fears the punishment and cowers beneath the threats. There is good hope which gazes steadfastly at the mercies and kindness of God lest it be swallowed up by grief. He hopes that his soul will be delivered from death and will be fed by Him in famine.…

And it seems to me that consistently with these words the Apostle said: “In all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us,” and “Not only this, but we exult in tribulations also.” For, the psalmist in saying; “Our soul waits for the Lord,” in order that he might show that it was not through force nor because he was oppressed by afflictions that he displayed patience, but that with all joy he accepts the ill-treatment for the name of the Lord, says, “Not only do we endure, but also ‘In him our heart shall rejoice, and in his holy name we have trusted.’” It is sufficient for us to be named Christians to escape all abuse from our adversaries. The name of God is said to be holy, not entirely because it has a certain sanctifying power in its syllables, but because the whole specific character of God and the thought contained in what is specially contemplated concerning Him is holy and pure.

Basil of Caesarea, Homilies on the Psalms 15.8, 10

Friday, July 29, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13–21)

What therefore does the rich man do, surrounded by a profusion of so many blessings beyond all numbering? In distress and anxiety he utters the words of poverty. “For what, he says, shall I do?” The man who is in want of necessaries constantly ejaculates this miserable language: but lo! one here of boundless wealth uses similar expressions. He determined then to build more spacious storehouses: he purposed to enjoy for himself alone those revenues that were sufficient for a populous city. He looks not to the future; he raises not his eyes to God; he does not count it worth his while to gain for the mind those treasures which are above in heaven: he docs not cherish love for the poor, nor desire the estimation to be gained thereby: he sympathizes not with suffering; it gives him no pain, nor awakens his pity. And what is still more irrational, he settles for himself the duration of his life, as if he would reap this too from the ground: for he says, “I will say to myself, Self, you have goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, enjoy yourself.” But, O rich, man, one may say, you have indeed storehouses for your fruits, but from where will you obtain your many years? for by the decree of God your life is shortened. For God, it tells us, said unto him, “Fool, this night they shall require of you your soul. But whose shall these things be that you have prepared?”

It is true therefore, that a man’s life is not from his possessions, by reason of his having a superfluity: but very blessed, and of glorious hope is he who is rich towards God. And who is he? Evidently one who loves not wealth, but virtue rather, and to whom few things are sufficient: and whose hand is open to the necessities of the indigent, comforting the sorrows of those in poverty, according to his means, and the utmost of his power. It is he who gathers in the storehouses that are above, and lays up treasures in heaven. Such a one shall find the usury of his virtue, and the recompense of his upright and blameless life; Christ shall bless him.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 89

Friday, July 22, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:1–4)

The Spirit of God, and the Word of God, and the Reason of God—Word of Reason, and Reason of Word, and Spirit of both—Jesus Christ our Lord has ordained for us, the disciples of the New Testament, a new form of Prayer. For it was meet that, in this kind also, new wine should be laid up in new bottles, and a new piece sewn to a new garment. But whatever had been in time past, has been either changed, as circumcision; or fulfilled, as the rest of the law; or accomplished, as prophecy; or perfected, as Faith itself. The new grace of God has fashioned anew all things from carnal to spiritual, in bringing in, over all, the Gospel, the abolisher of all the ancient bygone things. In which our Lord Jesus Christ has been approved as the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, and the Reason of God: the Spirit, by which He prevailed; the Word, by which He taught; the Reason, by which He came. Thus, therefore, the Prayer framed by Christ has been framed out of three things—the Word, by which it is expressed; the Spirit, by which alone it has power; the Reason, by which it is conceived.… For it has embraced not only the proper offices of Prayer, or reverence of God, or the petition of man, but almost every discourse of the Lord, every record of His rule of life, so that, in truth, there is comprehended in the Prayer a summary of the whole Gospel.

In the brief summary of a few words, how many sayings of the Prophets, Gospels, Apostles, discourses of the Lord, parables, examples, precepts, are touched upon! How many duties are at once discharged! The honoring of God in the Father, the testimony of Faith in the Name, the offering of obedience in the Will, the remembrance of hope in the Kingdom, the petition for life in the Bread, the confession of debts in the prayer to forgive, the anxious care about temptations in the call for defense. What wonder? God alone could teach how He would have Himself prayed to. The sacred duty therefore of Prayer, ordained by Himself, and animated by His own Spirit, even at the time when it proceeded from the Divine mouth, ascends, of its own right, unto Heaven, commending to the Father what the Son has taught.

Tertullian, On Prayer 1, 9

Friday, July 15, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, hear my voice, wherein I cry;
One thing I ask from the Lord; this I will seek,
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
And behold the delights of the Lord,
And visit His temple.

My heart speaks to You; my face seeks You;
Your face, O Lord, I will seek. (Ps 27:4, 8 LXX)

He says that he has asked one thing of the Lord, and he expounds it later. But let us examine if he has asked for one thing rather than for everything. It is indeed one in number, but numerous in the various objects for which it is useful. The request is restricted, but the reward extended. The plea is in few words, but the response is on a large scale. So it is the habit of good men to beg merely for the Lord’s house, because all good things are contained in it, whereas evil men are torn in their earthly wants, and in seeking health of body, in begging for riches, in demanding the destruction of enemies they weary in their pleading and sometimes seek things which will not endure.

This is the one request for which he begged earlier. Note that he who has walled himself in with such a defense must fear no camp, no battle; for what state is comparable to, what army is stronger than dwelling in the Lord’s house, where nothing human or devil-sent is clearly to be feared? And this is for no short period, but for all the days of his life. So when, I ask, is he to fear, when his entire life is safe? He who sees the will of the Lord understands His commands, for he has surrendered himself with all his mind to His purity. The prophet asks to be protected by the temple of Christ’s body, from which we obtain support for faith and invincible strength of protection, for through virtue of mind he had attained what he did not yet behold in appearance.

The heart reveals its silent longing, to which the Godhead listens more than to the most thundering voices of nations. He said to Moses: Why do you cry out to me? although we do not read that Moses had said anything. So the faithful man said that his heart was speaking to the Lord, since he seemed to offer his thoughts by this means. The man who lives a holy life seeks the face of the Lord; of such men Scripture says: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. He duplicates his statement with the words: Your face, O Lord, will I seek. The content is the same but the prayer is repeated, for he knew how precious was the fact of his praying so many times with fervent zeal.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms 26.4, 8

Friday, July 8, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”(Luke 10:25–37)

Then the robbers, who had stripped and wounded him, do not help the naked man, but they strike him again with blows and leave him. Hence, Scripture says, “They robbed him and inflicted wounds on him; and they went away and left him”—not dead, but “half-dead.” But it happened that first a priest, and then a Levite, were going down on the same road. Perhaps they had done some good to other men, but not to this man, who had gone down “from Jerusalem to Jericho.” For, the priest saw him—I think this means the Law. And the Levite saw him—that is, in my view, the prophetic word. When they had seen him, they passed by and left him. Providence was saving the half-dead man for him who was stronger than the Law and the prophets, namely for the Samaritan. The name means “guardian.” He is the one who “neither grows drowsy nor sleeps as he guards Israel.” On account of the half-dead man, this Samaritan set out not “from Jerusalem into Jericho,” like the priest and the Levite who went down. Or, if he did go down, he went down to rescue and care for the dying man. The Jews had said to him, “You are a Samaritan and you have a demon.” Though he denied having a demon, he was unwilling to deny that he was a Samaritan, for he knew that he was a guardian.

So, when he had come to the half-dead man and seen him rolling about in his own blood, he had pity on him. He drew near to him, in order to become his neighbor. “He bound his wounds, poured in oil mixed with wine,” and did not say what the prophet records: “There is no poultice to put on, neither oil nor bandages.” The Samaritan is that man whose care and help all who are badly off need. The man who was going down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves, who was wounded and left by them half-alive, needed the help of this Samaritan most of all. You should know that, according to God’s providence, this Samaritan was going down to care for the man who had fallen among thieves. You learn that clearly from the fact that he had bandages, oil, and wine with him. I do not think that the Samaritan carried these things with him only on behalf of that one, half-dead man, but also on behalf of others who, for various reasons, had been wounded and needed bandages, oil, and wine.

He had oil. Scripture says of it, “to gladden one’s face with oil”—without doubt, it means the face of him who was healed. He cleans the wounds with oil, to reduce the swelling of the wounds, but also with wine, adding in something that stings. And the man who had been wounded “he placed on his own beast,” that is, on his own body, since he deigned to assume a man. This Samaritan “bears our sins” and grieves for us. He carries the half-dead man, and brings him to the pandochium—that is, the Church, which accepts everyone and denies its help to no one. Jesus calls everyone to the Church when he says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I shall refresh you.”

The Samaritan, “who took pity on the man who had fallen among thieves,” is truly a “guardian,” and a closer neighbor than the Law and the prophets. He showed that he was the man’s neighbor more by deed than by word. According to the passage that says, “Be imitators of me, as I too am of Christ,” it is possible for us to imitate Christ and to pity those who “have fallen among thieves.” We can go to them, bind their wounds, pour in oil and wine, put them on our own beasts, and bear their burdens. The Son of God encourages us to do things like this. He is speaking not so much to the teacher of the Law as to us and to all men when he says, “Go and do likewise.” If we do, we shall obtain eternal life in Christ Jesus, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages.

Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 34.5–7, 9

Friday, July 1, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.… He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me. (Luke 10:1–3, 16)

For consider how great was the authority He gave the holy apostles, and in what manner He declared them to be praiseworthy, and adorned with the highest honors. For let us search the sacred Scripture, even the treasure of the written words of the Gospel: let us there see the greatness of the authority given unto them. “He who hears you,” He says, “hears Me: and he who rejects you, rejects Me: and he who rejects Me, rejects Him who sent Me.” O what great honor! What incomparable dignities! O what a gift worthy of God! Though but men, the children of earth, He clothes them with a godlike glory; He entrusts to them His words, that they may be condemned who in ought resist, or venture to reject them: for when they are rejected He assures them that He it is Who suffers this; and then again He shows that the guilt of this wickedness, as being committed against Him, mounts up to God the Father. See, therefore, see with the eyes of the mind, to how vast a height He raises the sin committed by men in rejecting the saints! What a wall He builds around them! How great security He contrives for them! He makes them such as must be feared, and in every way plainly provides for their being uninjured.

And there is yet another way in which you may attain to the meaning of what is said by Christ. “For he,” He says, “who hears you, hears Me.” He gives those who love instruction the assurance, that whatsoever is said respecting Him by the holy apostles or evangelists, is to be received necessarily without any doubt, and to be crowned with the words of truth. For he who hears them, hears Christ. For the blessed Paul also said; “Or seek proof of Christ Who speaks in Me!” And moreover Christ Himself somewhere said to the holy disciples; “For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaks in you.” For Christ speaks in them by the consubstantial Spirit. And if it be true, and plainly it is true, that they speak by Christ, how can that man err from what is fitting who affirms, that he who does not hear them, does not hear Christ, and that he who rejects them rejects Christ, and with Him the Father.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 63

Monday, June 27, 2022

An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Johann Gerhard – Book Review

This is short because I want to get something out in order to prompt others to read the book.

Gerhard, Johann. An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 2019. 340 pp.

There are books that I read because they are classics or considered “must read.” The latter are a mixed lot: they are more modern and vary in usefulness depending on the viewpoint of the recommending person. More than once I have finished a book lamenting the loss of good time on a poor book. The former are usually enjoyable since they have stood the test of time and continue to be worthwhile: the current book falls squarely in this category.

Gerhard divides the gospel accounts into five sections covering the events of Jesus’ suffering and death:

  • Arrest
  • Jewish trials
  • Roman trials
  • Crucifixion
  • Burial
While a commentary or harmony of the gospels can bring together the texts in a way that allows a reader to understand the flow, Gerhard examines the events via a series of sermons. As an example, the first act covers Christ going out to the Mt. Olivet, Christ’s garden prayer, the arrest, and the disciples forsaking Him. This format allows him to move beyond a dry or technical explanation to present in a pastoral fashion an understanding of the events, coinciding Old Testament prophecies, and later New Testament outcomes where applicable. Gerhard is masterful in winding through the scriptural material interleaved with appropriate commentary.

Can someone be better off after reading a 17th-centur author? I was better off for reading this book. Even though already understanding the material and much of how it fulfilled prophecy, I was encouraged by the recognition of God’s providential hand in bring the plan of redemption to fruition.

My recommendation? Buy it. Or you can borrow mine after my sister reads it.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (Luke 9:51–56)

What, then, was the purpose of this occurrence? He was going up to Jerusalem, as the time of His passion was already drawing near. He was about to endure the contumelies of the Jews; He was about to be set at nought by the scribes and Pharisees; and to suffer those things which they inflicted upon Him when they proceeded to the accomplishment of all violence and wicked audacity. In order, therefore, that they might not be offended when they saw Him suffering, as understanding that He would have them also to be patient, and not to murmur greatly, even though men treat them with contumely, He, so to speak, made the contempt they met with from the Samaritans a preparatory exercise in the matter. They had not received the messengers. It was the duty of the disciples, treading in the footsteps of their Lord, to bear it patiently as becomes saints, and not to say anything of them wrathfully. But they were not yet so disposed; but being seized with too hot indignation, they would have called down fire upon them from heaven, as far as their will went. But Christ rebuked them for so speaking.

See here, I pray, how great is the difference between us and God: for the distance is immeasurable. For He is slow to anger, and long-suffering, and of incomparable gentleness and love to mankind: but we children of earth are quick unto anger, hasty unto impatience, and refuse with indignation to be judged by others when we are found out in committing any wrong act; while we are most ready to find fault with others. And therefore God the Lord of all affirms, saying; “For My thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor your ways as My ways; but as the heaven is far from the earth, so are My ways from your ways, and My thoughts from your thoughts.”… For their benefit, therefore, He rebuked the disciples, gently restraining the sharpness of their wrath, and not permitting them to murmur violently against those who sinned, but persuading them rather to be long-suffering, and to cherish a mind immovable by ought of this.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 9

Friday, June 17, 2022

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Pentecost

A psalm of David when he escaped from before his son, Absalom.
Lord, why are the ones afflicting me increased?
        Many rise up against me.
Many say to my soul,
        “There is no salvation with his God.” (Pause)
But You, O Lord, are my helper,
        my glory, even raising my head up high.
With my voice I cried aloud to the Lord,
        and He heard me from His holy mountain. (Pause)
I went to bed and fell asleep.
        I awoke, because the Lord will help me.
I will not be frightened by the myriads of people
        who surround me.
Stand up, O Lord!
        Save me, O my God,
because You struck down all those hating me without ground.
        You broke the teeth of the sinners.
Salvation is the Lord’s,
        and Your blessing is upon Your people. (Ps 3:1–9 LXX)

The stability that is demonstrated in particular against opposition is to be regarded as that of an unflinching mind in that, even amidst intense trials, it in no way withdraws the commitment of its hopes. They say such things, he means, to mock me and add to my suffering, whereas once I have placed my trust, I shall not cease hoping, since You, Lord, help me in my hardships, snatch me from the evil of impending danger, and restore me to the position of esteem and honor.

What is this blessing of the Lord? Without a doubt it is peace, just as Scripture says in many places: “Peace be over Israel.” Through these words he wishes to show that in the place of blessing peace is conferred on the people.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Psalms 3.4, 9

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Live Dangerously: Sing Psalms

Recently, I ran across an article written by Chris Hume entitled Five Reasons Pastors Should Not Allow the Psalms to Be Sung. The satirical approach drove home the great need we have for singing Psalms in worship. His points are:
  1. You Will Make People Uncomfortable
  2. You Will Offend People
  3. You Will Have to Adjust Your Presentation of Christianity
  4. You Will Have to Deal with the Really Difficult Aspects of the Christian Life
  5. You Will Be Playing a Part in the Downfall of Modern Worship Music
I admit that the last was my favorite; however, each reveal that Christians do not understand Christianity. Admittedly, that statement is an over-generalization, but we must face the truth that most churches are more concerned with being culturally relevant than being Christian. Psalms provide inconvenient truths, providing a needed corrective concerning God and His work within a doctrinally perfect songbook. Why not use it in worship?

The benefits of knowing and using the Psalms became recognized as so important in the early church that the entire Psalter was to be memorized in order to be a bishop. From the Second Council of Nicaea (787 A.D.), Canon II states in part:

When we recite the Psalter, we promise God: "I will meditate upon thy statutes, and will not forget thy words." It is a salutary thing for all Christians to observe this, but it is especially incumbent upon those who have received the sacerdotal dignity. Therefore we decree, that every one who is raised to the rank of the episcopate shall know the Psalter by heart, so that from it he may admonish and instruct all the clergy who are subject to him.
While this directed toward the office of bishop, I would apply the requirement to the local priest or pastor. Is this too much? Might I offer the following notes from the above canon?
The Synod teaches in this canon that "all Christians" will find it most profitable to meditate upon God's justifyings and to keep His words in remembrance, and especially is this the ease with bishops.

And it should be noted that formerly not only the clergy, but also the lay people, learned the Psalms, that is the whole Psalter, by heart, and made a most sweet sound by chanting them while about their work.
This seems an overwhelming task, but how many hymns or worship songs do you have memorized right now? You learned these by hearing them on a regular basis and singing along. I dare say that consistent use of the Psalter in Sunday worship would implant such sound, beneficial knowledge that we could not but be transformed, personally and corporately, into the image of Christ.

When can we start?