Friday, December 1, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday in Advent

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven. Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:24–37)

The whole passage of this Gospel Scripture, from the inquiry of the disciples down to the parable of the fig tree you will find the sense in its connection suit in every point the Son of man, so that it consistently ascribes to Him both the sorrows and the joys, and the catastrophes and the promises; nor can you separate them from Him in either respect. For as much, then, as there is but one Son of man whose advent is placed between the two issues of catastrophe and promise, it must needs follow that to that one Son of man belong both the judgments upon the nations, and the prayers of the saints. He who thus comes in midway so as to be common to both issues, will terminate one of them by inflicting judgment on the nations at His coming; and will at the same time commence the other by fulfilling the prayers of His saints: so that if you grant that the coming of the Son of man is of my Christ, then, when you ascribe to Him the infliction of the judgments which precede His appearance, you are compelled also to assign to Him the blessings which issue from the same. If you will have it that it is the coming of your Christ, then, when you ascribe to him the blessings which are to be the result of his advent, you are obliged to impute to him likewise the infliction of the evils which precede his appearance. For the evils which precede, and the blessings which immediately follow, the coming of the Son of man, are both alike indissolubly connected with that event.… Reflect, in short, on the picture presented in the parable: “Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; when they produce their fruit, men know that summer is at hand. So likewise, when you see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is very near.” Now, if the fructification of the common trees be an antecedent sign of the approach of summer, so in like manner do the great conflicts of the world indicate the arrival of that kingdom which they precede. But every sign is His, to whom belong the thing of which it is the sign; and to everything is appointed its sign by Him to whom the thing belongs. If, therefore, these tribulations are the signs of the kingdom, just as the maturity of the trees is of the summer, it follows that the kingdom is the Creator’s to whom are ascribed the tribulations which are the signs of the kingdom. Since the beneficent Deity had premised that these things must needs come to pass, although so terrible and dreadful, as they had been predicted by the law and the prophets, therefore He did not destroy the law and the prophets, when He affirmed that what had been foretold therein must be certainly fulfilled.

Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.39

Friday, November 24, 2023

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. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31–46)

For as much as God differs from a human being, so a heavenly judgment differs from an earthly one. For the splendor of an earthly judge rests on his appearance, but the majesty of Christ the judge rests in truth, as the prophet attests: “Our God comes manifestly, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest.” He says, “manifestly,” no longer veiled in the body as before so that scarcely even the good people could recognize him, but he will come manifest in glory so that even the evil people will confess him against their will, so that whoever despised him in his humility may recognize him in his power. And those who did not want to know how sweet his mercy is will perceive how dire his wrath is. “Our God … does not keep silence.” He did not say, “And he will be silent,” showing that he will keep quiet about himself, but his very glory will speak about him.…

Because he granted the grace to know him to all nations, he will rightly judge in each instance, so that neither the good will lose the fruits of their goodness without the doctrine of truth nor the evil will escape the punishment for their evil because of the excuse of ignorance. For just as at night the full shape of items does not appear but even a gem seems like a rock and a rock is thought to be a gem, so also before the coming of Christ the difference between human hearts is not apparent but also the evil are endured as if they were good and the good are despised as if they were evil. And whenever the illumination of the gospel has been preached and come to all nations, then the quality of all their wills has been revealed and all the nations rendered without excuse. And so then all people will be gathered justly to judgment because whoever gives a commandment beforehand implicitly proclaims that there will be a future judgment.…

You gave what you could not always hold on to; receive those things you may possess forever. Quite rightly you who sowed one thing on earth will receive a hundredfold in heaven. For the righteousness of people cannot earn as much as the kingdom of heaven was created to be, but it is based on the power of God that was able to prepare it. For if he had wanted to create the kingdom of heaven according to the limits of human righteousness, he would have created it at any rate after the works of human beings had been done. But now because he established the reward of the saints not according to what human beings deserve but according to his bountifulness, so before he created the saints in this age, he prepared the kingdom of heaven in heaven. For this reason he burdens with such labors those whom he knows to be his before the foundation of the world, and he makes them labor so long until they are made worthy of the heavenly kingdom because the kingdom of God is not plundered in accordance with the moderate capacity of people, but people are elevated in accordance with the greatness of the kingdom.…

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire.’” It is as though he could not endure their presence or to look on them, so he says, “Depart from me.” For just as carnal people delight to see the carnal appearance of the world, but if we see some things broken or deformed in any way, it is as though our sight has been wounded, so also God, who delights in the holiness of souls, cannot bear to look at sinful souls, as though he were weighed down by them. It is as though he were to say to them, “You are like rottenness and filth, nor can I endure you as long as you are standing in my court.”

Incomplete Commentary on Matthew 54.33–34, 41

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Mass and the Unwashed Masses

Peter J. Scaer posted this on Facebook earlier today, 11/21/2023, and it is too good not to share.

Mass and the Unwashed Masses

Is the church's liturgy only for a few, for the educated, the cultured, and well read? Hardly. Though the liturgy, by its very nature and mystery invites education, catechesis, and teaching. In fact, the liturgy is great for little children who can't yet read, and for those who never learned. The liturgy is wonderful for those who eyesight has dimmed, whose capacity isn't what it used to be. The liturgical rhythm enters into the soul's deepest places, embeds itself within the mind and heart.

Why is it that the average Roman Catholic in the pew does not believe in the real presence? It's not because of what the church says, but by the casual way in which the supper is offered and distributed. The same I'm sure goes for us in the LCMS. Say that Christ's offers his true body and blood, but then, if the ministers are dressed as if they were sales people, if they treat the elements like fast food, if bodily reverence is nowhere to be found, people will get the message. It must not be all that special.

The American Evangelical world of course has no clue in such matters. If baptism is just a commitment ceremony, and if the supper is a reenactment, then a certain seriousness may be called for, but there's no reason for solemnity. For much of the Big Box church world, there is nothing approximating the Temple. (No wonder, they hope it's rebuilt.) Could we imagine the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies in street clothes, big smile on his face after an inspirational life lesson, music from the praise band? But we do have something holier still. If we believed in the priesthood of all believers, truly believed it, then we would encourage the awe and reverence appropriate to God's dwelling among us, Christ's giving of flesh and blood, a font from which springs forth life and forgiveness.

The church service has never been about, should never be about, defining a class of people as high class, but should be conducted in a way that is appropriate to the proceedings. Standing up for the gospel is an act of reverence, as when grandma enters the room. Kneelers offer an opportunity for bodily posture that matches spiritual reality. The judge, robed in black, approaches the bench, and the courtroom is hushed into silence. A pin dropped is noise too loud for the ceremony of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The church service is all about sacred space, the Lord of all speaking and working among us. The church is our home, but Christ is the head of that home, and being in the Father's house means something. Little Children rightly feel comfortable there, for it is their home, they are the baptized, and the Lord's arms are wide open in embrace, and his hand is given for them in blessing. But we should never grow so casual as to be disdainful, so that we might lose awe, and forget where we are. Indeed, it is said that Ronald Reagan never entered the Oval Office without jacket and tie. May seem a bit much. But it was his way of reminding himself of the sacred duty with which he had been entrusted. And so also the sacred liturgy does well to be in harmony with the sacred things that we confess are taking place.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14–30)

Who is the man who sets out for foreign parts but our Redeemer, who departed to heaven in the body he had taken on? Earth is the proper place for his body; it is transported to foreign parts, so to speak, when he establishes it in heaven. The man setting out for foreign parts entrusted his goods to his servants, for he granted his spiritual gifts to those who believed in him. To one he entrusted five talents, to another two, to another one. There are five bodily senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The five talents represent the gift of the five senses, that is, knowledge of externals; the two talents signify theory and practice; the one talent signifies theory alone. ...

The Lord who dispensed the talents returns to demand an account, because he who now generously bestows spiritual gifts may at the judgment inquire searchingly into what was achieved; he may take into account what everyone has received, and weigh up the gain we bring back from his gifts.

The servant who returned with two talents was praised by his master. He was led to his eternal reward when his master said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful about a few things, I shall put you in charge of many. Enter into the joy of your master. All the good deeds of our present life, however many they may appear to be, are few in comparison with our eternal recompense. The faithful servant is put in charge of many things after overcoming all the troubles brought him by perishable things. He glories in the eternal joys of his heavenly dwelling. He is brought completely into the joy of his master when he is taken into his eternal home and joined to the company of angels. His inner joy at his gift is such that there is no longer any external perishable thing that can cause him sorrow. …

The useless servant called his master hard, and yet he neglected to serve him for profit. He said that he was afraid to put out the talent for interest, when he should have been afraid only of bringing it back to his master without interest. For many people in the Church resemble that servant. They are afraid to attempt a better way of life, but not of resting in idleness. When they advert to the fact that they are sinners, the prospect of laying hold of ways of holiness alarms them, but they feel no fear at remaining in their wickedness. …

Consider then, dearly beloved, that you will pay interest on this money you have received, on these words. Take care to be eager to understand from what you hear also other things you do not hear. Make connections between one thing and another, and so learn for yourselves how to do other things than those you have already learned from the preacher’s words. …

We must be certain that no slothful person is safe from the consequences of receiving a talent. No one can truly say, ‘I have not received a talent, and there is no reason I should be compelled to give an account.’ Even the very little that any poor person has received will be counted as his talent. One person has received understanding, and owes the office of preaching to his talent. Another has received earthly possessions and is under obligation to distribute alms from his properties. Another has received neither understanding of inner things nor many possessions, but has learned a skill which sustains him; in his case his skill is counted as a talent. Another has acquired none of these things, but perhaps he has merited acquaintance with a rich person and has received the talent of acquaintance: if he tells him nothing on behalf of the poor, he is condemned for keeping back his talent. Therefore the one with understanding must take care not to remain silent, the one with an abundance of possessions must watch that he is not slow in showing mercy, the one with a skill must be especially zealous to share his craft and usefulness with his neighbor, the one with an opportunity to speak with a rich person should fear to be condemned for keeping back his talent if he does not intercede with him on behalf of the poor when he can.

In truth the Judge who is to come will exact from each of us as much as he gave. So that everyone may be free from anxiety about the account he must give for his talent when the Lord returns, let him consider daily, with trembling, what he has received. The time is now near when the one who set out for foreign parts will return. He who departed far from this earth where he was born went away, so to speak, into foreign parts; but he will truly return to demand an accounting for his talents. If we are listless in performing good deeds he will judge us more severely concerning those gifts he has bestowed on us.

Let us then bear in mind the things we have received, and be careful in trading with them. Let no earthly care deter us from our spiritual work, lest we provoke the talent’s master to anger by hiding our talent in the earth. As the judge is now weighing his sins, the lazy servant digs up his talent from the earth, since there are many who withdraw themselves from their earthly desires and works when they are dragged to eternal punishment by the chastisement of the judge. Let us be watchful, then, before we must render an account of our talent, so that when the Judge is already approaching to strike us, the profit we have made may plead for us.

Gregory the Great, Gospel Homily 18

Friday, November 10, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matt 25:1–-13)

The wise virgins are those who, having taken an opportune moment for action while in the body, initially prepared themselves to meet the Lord. But the foolish virgins, who were careless and negligent, had concern only for the circumstances of the moment. Forgetful of God’s promises, they carry no hope of the resurrection in themselves. Because these foolish virgins could not go out to meet the bridegroom with lamps unlit, they implored the ones who were wise to share some of their oil. The latter responded that they could not give them any because perhaps there would not be enough for everyone. In other words, no one should be supported by another’s works and merits. It is necessary for each of us to purchase oil for his own lamp. The wise virgins urged the foolish to go back in order to buy oil, even if the latter would be late in obeying the commandments of God. They intended to make themselves worthy by having lamps lit for their meeting with the bridegroom. While they were waiting, the bridegroom made his entrance. Together with him the wise virgins, now ready with their lighted lamps and veiled, entered the wedding feast. In other words, the wise virgins entered into heavenly glory at the very moment of the coming of the Lord in his splendor. And because there is now no longer an opportunity for repentance, the foolish run, pleading that the door be opened to them. But the bridegroom answered them, “I do not know you.” For the foolish did not come to render service to the one arriving, nor did they present themselves at the sound of the blowing trumpet, nor did they remain with the wedding party as it entered. Rather, they procrastinated, and they lost the opportunity for entering the wedding feast.

Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on Matthew 27.5

The Lord indicates that the devil sows weeds among sleeping people, namely, among those who through negligence are overcome by their infidelity as by a kind of lethargy and fall asleep in respect to the divine commands. The apostle says concerning them, “For they who sleep, sleep at night, and they who are drunk, are drunk at night. But let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us be wakeful and sober.” Surely those foolish virgins about whom we read in the Gospel were weighed down by their lethargy and infidelity. Since they did not take oil for their vessels, they were unable to meet the bridegroom. Hence the devil, this enemy of the human race, is always extremely zealous to sow weeds among the wheat. But he who watches for the Lord constantly with a faithful mind, once the sleep of infidelity has been banished from him, will not be preoccupied by this nighttime sower.

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 51.1

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Responding to Error

In a prior post,* I brought forth Vincent of Lérins’ governing theme to hold fast to “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all” and to “follow the principles of universality, antiquity, and consent,” but what happens if a divergent instruction surfaces? What does a believer do? The proposed solution is given in Commonitories 3 via a series of questions leading to the proper conclusion.

What, therefore, will the Catholic Christian do if some members of the Church have broken away from the communion of universal faith? What else, but prefer the sanity of the body universal to the pestilence of the corrupt member?

Vincent begins with individuals in a local church or a church within a denomination/synod that goes rogue in teaching or practice. In such a situation the best course is to eschew the error, enticing though it may be, and cling to the safe harbor of certainty. This seems simple, but it leads to the next question which deals with systemic error.

What if a new contagion strives to infect not only a small part but the whole of the Church? Then, he will endeavor to adhere to the antiquity which is evidently beyond the danger of being seduced by the deceit of some novelty.

There have been aberrant teachings affecting swaths of believers including Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, and more recently, Pietism and Revivalism. What should be done if these contagions become epidemic, threatening the whole of Christ’s body? Flee novelty. For example. when Arius and Nestorius brought forth their ideas, they were compelling with both systems still being followed today in different sections of Christendom. The necessary treatment was someone like Irenaeus, Athanasius, or Cyril of Alexandria who would “Stand in the ways and see, and ask about the eternal pathways of the Lord. See what the good way is and walk in it." (Jer. 6:16 LXX) Since these teachings still inflict damage within Christendom and requires ongoing vigilance, we look to what should be done for an error that has become inbred.

What if in antiquity itself an error is detected, on the part of two or three men, or even on the part of a city or a province? Then, he will take care to prefer the decrees of a previous ecumenical council (if there was one) to the temerity and ignorance of a small group.

As mentioned by the lead-in, there have been and will be occasions when spiritual overseers are negligent or lax and allow error that becomes an embedded tenet for the next generation(s). When these are discovered, the proper approach should be to search out the correct doctrinal position set down in prior generations rather than continuing with the offshoot, then ask why the offshoot occurred. Church history is replete with examples of those who thought the church had become lax or negligent, left the established Church, and set out to form something new with examples from the second-century Montanus to the nineteenth-century John Nelson Darby, plus Thomas and Alexander Campbell. While these men recognized an indifference or disregard of piety, their solutions were to eschew what had been handed down and start afresh with new gatherings. Better would have been to re-examine the apostolic teaching as delivered from trusted, venerable sources recognized by the Church catholic, most notably the ancient ecumenical councils. But what if there is no official decision to fall back on?

Finally, what if such an error arises and nothing like a council can be found? Then, he will take pains to consult and interrogate the opinions of his predecessors, comparing them with (one another only as regards the opinions of) those who, though they lived in various periods and at different periods and at different places, nevertheless remained in the communion and faith of the One Catholic Church, and who therefore have become reliable authorities.

As he will discover, he must also believe without hesitation whatever not only one or two but all equally and with one and the same consent, openly, frequently, and persistently have held, written, and taught.

As one would expect, ecumenical councils did not address all the issues that might arise in a church body, nor were they intended to do so, leaving room for local or regional councils to further determine what was necessary. For those errors not previously covered, the writings of faithful men across diverse periods and locales would be researched to determine a solution. One would expect a certain harmony of teaching when comparing Clement of Rome to John Chrysostom, Basil the Great to Ambrose of Milan, Ephrem the Syrian to Bede. Out of this comparative work, one should find agreement or sufficient rapport to adduce a correction.

After the above reading, I can expect some to be thinking, “He sure sounds Roman Catholic.” No, it sounds like the Reformation era. While it is true that the church of Rome has relied on history and tradition to build their body of doctrine, they have no mechanism for correcting bad doctrine: what has been decreed or directed must be true because decisions from the papal see cannot err—even when they obviously do. The corrective principles outlined by Vincent are more in line with what Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, et al strove to provide in the “Augsburg Confession” with the follow-up “Apology of the Augsburg Confession” and then in the assembled works that make up the entire Book of Concord. Reformed and Presbyterian picked up on this, recognizing its wisdom under the slogan “The Church must always be reformed” (Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, often shortened to Semper Reformanda), not that the Church must always be remaking itself, rather there needs to be a regular examination and assess if we have strayed from catholic, apostolic teaching.

* This second entry is long overdue.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to All Saints' Sunday

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:1–12)

Not without cause did the Lord mention higher up hungering and thirsting for justice. He instructs us so to thirst in our desire for justice that for its sake we should despise the world’s persecutions, the punishments of the body, and death itself. He is proclaiming the martyrs above all, those who for the justice of faith and the name of Christ endure persecutions in this world. To them a great hope is promised, namely, the possession of the kingdom of heaven. The apostles were chief examples of this blessedness, and all the just people who for the sake of the justice of the law were afflicted with various forms of persecution. By the merit of their faith they have reached the heavenly kingdom. … Not only should we patiently endure all the criminal treachery of the persecutors that can be contrived in a time of persecution for Christ’s name against the just, and the various reproaches that can be heaped upon us, and the punishments that can be applied to the body, but we should even welcome them with the joy of exultation in view of the coming glory. For He says this: “Rejoice in that day and exult; I tell you that your reward in heaven is great.” How glorious is the endurance of this persecution, the reward for which the Lord says is laid up in heaven! And so, taking into consideration the reward of the proposed glory, we should be ready with devout faith for every endurance of suffering, so that we may deserve to be made sharers in the glory of the prophets and apostles, through Christ our Lord, who is blessed in the ages of ages. Amen.

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 17.8–9

Friday, October 27, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Reformation Sunday

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:31–36)

Obscure as yet and not wholly clear is the word, none the less it is replete with force akin to those before it, and though after other fashion wrought will go through the same reflections. For it too persuades those who have once believed gladly to depart and remove from the worship according to the law, instructing that the shadow is our guide to the knowledge of Him, and that leaving the types and figures, we should go resolutely forward to the Truth Itself, i. e., Christ the Giver of true freedom and the Redeemer. Ye shall know therefore (He says) the Truth, if ye abide in My Words, and from knowing the Truth ye shall find the profit that is therefrom. Take then our Lord as saying some such thing as this to the Jews (for we ought I think to enlarge our meditation on what is now before us, for the profit’s sake of the readers): A bitter bondage in Egypt, (He says) ye endured, and lengthened toil consumed you who had come into bitter serfdom under Pharaoh, but ye cried then to God, and ye have moved Him to mercy towards you, bewailing the misfortunes which were upon you ye were seeking a Redeemer from Heaven: forthwith I visited you even then, and brought you forth from a strange land, liberating you from most savage oppression I was inviting you unto freedom. But that ye might learn who is your aider and Redeemer, I was limning for you the mystery of Myself in the sacrifice of the sheep, and bidding it then to prefigure the salvation through blood: for ye were saved by anointing both yourselves and the doorposts with the blood of the lamb. Hence by advancing a little forth from the types, when ye learn the Truth, ye shall be wholly and truly free. And let none (He says) doubt about this. For if the type was then to you the bestower of so great goods, how does not the Truth rather give you richer grace?

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 5.5.32

This is what he means: The subject of what I am talking about is not corporeal bondage. I want to talk to you about real freedom. In one instance a master, at his discretion, drives away from the house a servant in whom he sees an evil will and subjects him to any punishment he considers to be appropriate. But… no master drives away his son from the house. So, one who is a slave to sin, since he is far removed from all divine goodness, is given a perpetual punishment. But the one who has been made worthy of freedom and has been given the status of son always enjoys divine goodness and can never be removed from it. If you, he says, are freed through me and are made worthy of the title of sons, then you will possess real freedom.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on John 3.8.34–36

Friday, October 20, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. (Matthew 22:15–22)

Where did [the Pharisees] go? To the Herodians. For he did not say, “they advised” but “they took counsel.” And from the time when they came together with the Herodians, it appears that they mulled over with them a counsel of entrapment of this kind. A farmer does not need the help of that person whose land he possesses. Whoever has righteousness needs the support of nobody except God. He who walks in the iniquities of the devil needs the help of the devil. For a farmer of God does not seek after the aid of the devil, but a farmer of the devil does not find the aid of God, even if he asks for it. Did you ever see a thief ask of God that he succeed in his thievery? Or did one going to fornication place the sign of the cross in his forehead so that he would not be arrested for his crime? But if he did it, not only is he not helped, but he still further is betrayed because the righteousness of God does not know how to give support to misdeeds. So also those who desired to assault Christ quite appropriately did not hasten to the servants of God (that is, religious people) but to the Gentiles (that is, to the Herodians).

The conspiracy matched the conspirators. But who could give counsel against Christ except for the devil, who was the adversary of Christ? For the priests thought to themselves, “If we alone went and asked Christ, even if Christ said that it is not right to pay tribute to Caesar, nonetheless nobody will believe us when we speak against him, for already everybody knows that we are his enemy. But the testimony of enemies is rejected at a trial as suspect, even if it is true.” But they did not want to ask Christ by themselves because they were greatly suspected of hostility against Christ, lest by chance they be suspected of laying a trap for him and not be able to do so. For a manifest enemy is better than a pretend friend. As long as the enemy is feared, he is easily avoided, but as long as the pretend friend is not recognized, he prevails. Therefore, they sent their disciples to him,since they were less well known and less suspected, so that they might easily deceive him in a hidden manner or, if they were caught, they might be less embarrassed in front of him.…

But Jesus, aware of their malice, did not answer calmly in line with their speech but spoke harshly in line with their cruel conscience because God speaks more to the soul than to the body and replies to wills, not words. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. He said to them, “hypocrites,” so that they could find in their heart among themselves what they heard in the ear so that they would consider that he knew the human heart and so they would not dare to complete what they were contemplating to do. Therefore, see that the Pharisees indeed flattered him in order to destroy him, but Jesus routed them in order to save them, because an angry God is more useful for a human being than an appeased human being is.

Incomplete Commentary on Matthew, Homily 42

Friday, October 13, 2023

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1–14)

And so he sent his servants to invite his friends to the marriage feast. He sent once, and he sent again, because first he made the prophets, and later the apostles, preachers of the Lord’s incarnation. He sent his servants twice with the invitation, because he said through the prophets that his only Son’s incarnation would come about, and he proclaimed through the apostles that it had. Because those who were first invited to the marriage banquet refused to come, he said in his second invitation: See, I have prepared my meal; my oxen and fatlings have been slain, and everything is ready. What do we take the oxen and fatlings to be but the fathers of the Old and New Testaments? Since I am speaking to everyone, I must also explain these words of the gospel reading. We call animals fatlings when they are well fed; fatlings have been fattened up.

It was written in the Law, You shall love your friend and hate your enemy. At that time permission was granted to the righteous to put down the enemies of God and their own with as much strength as they had, and to strike them down with the power of life and death. There is no doubt that this is forbidden in the New Testament: Truth himself tells us, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. What then do the oxen represent but the fathers of the Old Testament? When the Law consented to their killing their adversaries in return for their hatred, if I may say so, what else were they but oxen striking down their enemies with the horn of their physical strength? And what do the fatlings signify but the fathers of the New Testament? When they receive the gift of inner fatness, they flee their earthly desires and are raised to the heights on the wings of their contemplation. What else is having your thoughts on low things but a kind of mental leanness? But there are those who through their understanding of heavenly things are now being nourished by their holy desire for the things of heaven. Receiving the food of inner delight, they are being fattened, so to speak, with a more abundant sustenance. The psalmist was longing to be well-fed with this fatness when he said: May my soul be filled as with marrow and fat!

Because the preachers sent to proclaim the Lord’s incarnation, first the prophets and later the holy apostles, endured the persecution of unbelievers, it was said to those who were invited but refused to come, My oxen and fatlings have been slain, and everything is ready, meaning, ‘Reflect on the deaths of the fathers who went before you, and think about correcting your lives.’ We should note that in the first invitation nothing was said about oxen and fatlings, but in the second they are said to be already slaughtered. When we refuse to listen to his words, almighty God adds examples, so that we may more easily hope for everything we believe to be impossible, the more that we hear that others have already accomplished it.

But since you have already come into the house of the marriage feast, our holy Church, as a result of God’s generosity, be careful, my friends, lest when the King enters he find fault with some aspect of your heart’s clothing. We must consider what comes next with great fear in our hearts: But the king came in to look at the guests, and saw there a person not clothed in a wedding garment.

What do we think is meant by the wedding garment, dearly beloved? For if we say it is baptism or faith, is there anyone who has entered this marriage feast without them? A person is outside because he has not yet come to believe. What then must we understand by the wedding garment but love? That person enters the marriage feast, but without wearing a wedding garment, who is present in the holy Church, and has faith, but does not have love. We are correct when we say that love is the wedding garment because this is what our Creator himself possessed when he came to the marriage feast to join the Church to himself. Only God’s love brought it about that his only-begotten Son united the hearts of his chosen to himself. John says that God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for us.

And so the One who came to us out of love made known that this love is the wedding garment. Every one of you who belongs to the Church, who has believed in God, has already come in to the marriage feast; but he has not come in a wedding garment unless he preserves the gift of love. And surely, my friends, if any one of you was invited to a marriage feast, he would change his clothing and show by his dress how he rejoices with the bridegroom and bride; he would be ashamed to appear in contemptible clothing among those rejoicing and celebrating the festive occasion. We come to God’s marriage feast and do not care to change the clothing our hearts wear. The angels rejoice, the chosen are taken up to heaven! In what frame of mind do we look upon this spiritual feast if we do not possess the wedding garment, love, that is alone becoming?

Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies 38