Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sententiae Patristicae: First Sunday of Advent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary



First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14–16
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2
Gospel: Luke 21:25–28, 34–36

St. John Chrysostom on 1 Thess. 3:12, "may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you": the self-diffusivenss of divine love.
“Make you to increase and abound,” instead of cause you to grow. As if one should say, that with a kind of superabundance he desires to be loved by them. “Even as we do also toward you,” he says. Our part is already done, we pray that yours may be done. Do you see how he wishes love to be extended, not only toward one another, but everywhere? For this truly is the nature of godly love, that it embraces all. If you love indeed such an one, but do not love such an one, it is human love. But such is not ours. “Even as we do also toward you.” (Chrysostom, Homily IV on 1 Thess. in NPNF1, vol. 13, p. 341)

On "signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars" (Lk. 21:25), St. Thomas quotes Eusebius and Chrysostom both as seeing the darkening of the heavenly lights in the last days as their being drowned out by the light of Christ.
For at that time when the end of this perishing life shall be accomplished, and, as the Apostle says, The fashion of this world passeth away, then shall succeed a new world, in which instead of sensible light, Christ Himself shall shine as a sunbeam, and as the King of the new world, and so mighty and glorious will be His light, that the sun which now dazzles so brightly, and the moon and all the stars, shall be hidden by the coming of a far greater light. (Eusebius acc. to Cat. Aur. vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 684).

For as in this world the moon and the stars are soon dimmed by the rising of the sun, so at the glorious appearance of Christ shall the sun become dark, and the moon not shed her ray, and the stars shall fall from heaven, stripped of their former attire, that they may put on the robe of a better light. (Chrysostom acc. to Cat. Aur. loc. cit.)

St. Ambrose takes such signs in the heavens as a figure for divine light obscured by faithlessness and sin:
While many also fall away from religion, clear faith will be obscured by the cloud of unbelief, for to me that Sun of righteousness is either diminished or increased according to my faith ; and as the moon in its monthly wanings, or when it is opposite the sun by the interposition of the earth, suffers eclipse, so also the holy Church when the sins of the flesh oppose the heavenly light, cannot borrow the brightness of divine light from Christ’s rays. For in persecutions, the love of this world generally shuts out the light of the divine Sun ; the stars also fall, that is, men who shine in glory fall when the bitterness of persecution waxes sharp and prevails. And this must be until the multitude of the Church be gathered in, for thus are the good tried and the weak made manifest. (Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 10 in Cat. Aur. 3.2, 687)

On "the Son of Man coming in a cloud" (Lk. 21:27), St. Augustine sees a possible figure for Christ's coming in the Church or in His body (and, of course, the second sense doesn't exclude a literal reading).
But the words, coming in the clouds, may be taken in two ways. Either coming in His Church as it were in a cloud, as He now ceases not to come. But then it shall be with great power and majesty, for far greater will His power and might appear to His saints, to whom He will give great virtue, that they may not be overcome in such a fearful persecution. Or in His body in which He sits at His Father’s right hand He must rightly be supposed to come, and not only in His body, but also in a cloud, for He will come even as He went away, And a cloud received him out of their sight. (Augustine, Ep. 199 in Cat. Aur. 3.2, 687-688)

St. Methodius of Olympus uses Lk 21:34 in a reflection on the Nazirite vows and "two vines", Christ the true vine and the vine of Satan, which brings not just drunkenness, but the intoxication of the passions.
For we perceive from the Scriptures two kinds of vines which were separate from each other, and were unlike. For the one is productive of immortality and righteousness; but the other of madness and insanity. The sober and joy-producing vine, from whose instructions, as from branches, there joyfully hang down clusters of graces, distilling love, is our Lord Jesus, who says expressly to the apostles, (Jn 15:1, 5) “I am the true vine, ye are the branches; and my Father is the husbandman.” But the wild and death-bearing vine is the devil, who drops down fury and poison and wrath, as Moses relates, writing concerning him, (Dt 32:32, 33) “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” ... Hence, too, the heathen, becoming intoxicated, sharpen their passions for murderous battles; for man is not so much excited, nor goes so far astray through wine, as from anger and wrath. A man does not become intoxicated and go astray through wine, in the same way as he does from sorrow, or from love, or from incontinence. And therefore it is ordered that a virgin shall not taste of this vine, so that she may be sober and watchful from the cares of life, and may kindle the shining torch of the light of righteousness for the Word. “Take heed to yourselves,” says the Lord, “lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon yon unawares, as a snare.”  (Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins 5.5, in ANF, vol. 6, p. 327)

St. Gregory the Great uses Lk 21:34 in warning the pastor not to let the cares of this world distract him from tending his flock:
The ruler should not relax his care for the things that are within in his occupation among the things that are without, nor neglect to provide for the things that are without in his solicitude for the things that are within; lest either, given up to the things that are without, he fall away from his inmost concerns, or, occupied only with the things that are within bestow not on his neighbours outside himself what he owes them ... For when the head languishes, the members fail to thrive; and it is in vain for an army to follow swiftly in pursuit of enemies if the very leader of the march goes wrong. No exhortation sustains the minds of the subjects, and no reproof chastises their faults, because, while the office of an earthly judge is executed by the guardian of souls, the attention of the shepherd is diverted from custody of the flock; and the subjects are unable to apprehend the light of truth, because, while earthly pursuits occupy the pastor’s mind, dust, driven by the wind of temptation, blinds the Church’s eyes. To guard against this, the Redeemer of the human race, when He would restrain us from gluttony, saying, Take heed to yourselves that your hearts be not overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness (Luke 21:34), forthwith added, Or with cares of this life: and in the same place also, with design to add fearfulness to the warning, He straightway said, Lest perchance that day come upon you unawares (lbid.). (Gregory the Great, Reg. Past. 2.7. in NPNF2, vol. 12, p. 17)

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