Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sententia Patristicae: Third Sunday of Advent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Zephaniah 3:14–18a
Second Reading Philippians 4:4–7
Gospel Luke 3:10–18

St. John Chrysostom's comments on this week's second reading in his 14th Homily on Philippians are worth reading in their entirety. Here are a couple of excerpts:
“Blessed they that mourn,” and “woe unto them that laugh” (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:25), saith Christ. How then saith Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord alway”? “Woe to them that laugh,” said Christ, the laughter of this world which ariseth from the things which are present. He blessed also those that mourn, not simply for the loss of relatives, but those who are pricked at heart, who mourn their own faults, and take count of their own sins, or even those of others. This joy is not contrary to that grief, but from that grief it too is born. For he who grieveth for his own faults, and confesseth them, rejoiceth. (Chrysostom, Hom. Phil. 14. NPNF1, vol. 13, p. 246)

“The peace of God” which He hath wrought toward men, surpasseth all understanding. For who could have expected, who could have hoped, that such good things would have come? They exceed all man’s understanding, not his speech alone. For His enemies, for those who hated Him, for those who determined to turn themselves away, for these, he refused not to deliver up His Only Begotten Son, that He might make peace with us. This peace then, i.e. the reconciliation, the love of God, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts. (Ibid., p. 247)

St. Augustine takes "the peace of God" in a different direction, speculating about the peace which God himself enjoys, and in which we shall share in heaven.
 And if I should speak of my mind or understanding, what is our understanding in comparison of its excellence? For then shall be that “peace of God which,” as the apostle says, “passeth all understanding,” (Php 4:7)—that is to say, all human, and perhaps all angelic understanding, but certainly not the divine. That it passeth ours there is no doubt; but if it passeth that of the angels,—and he who says “all understanding” seems to make no exception in their favor, then we must understand him to mean that neither we nor the angels can understand, as God understands, the peace which God Himself enjoys. Doubtless this passeth all understanding but His own. But as we shall one day be made to participate, according to our slender capacity, in His peace, both in ourselves, and with our neighbor, and with God our chief good, in this respect the angels understand the peace of God in their own measure, and men too, though now far behind them, whatever spiritual advance they have made. (Augustine, De civ. Dei 22.29, NPNF1, vol. 2, pg. 507. cf. )

Clement of Alexandria draws a few figures out of the latchet of the shoe (Lk 3:16). (The obscurity of this translation might require reading through a few times.)
This, then, is the type of “the law and the prophets which were until John;” (Mt 11:13; Lk 16:16) while he, though speaking more perspicuously as no longer prophesying, but pointing out as now present, Him, who was proclaimed symbolically from the beginning, nevertheless said, “I am not worthy to loose the latchet of the Lord’s shoe.” (Mk 1:7; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:27) For he confesses that he is not worthy to baptize so great a Power; for it behooves those, who purify others, to free the soul from the body and its sins, as the foot from the thong. Perhaps also this signified the final exertion of the Saviour’s power toward us—the immediate, I mean—that by His presence, concealed in the enigma of prophecy, in as much as he, by pointing out to sight Him that had been prophesied of, and indicating the Presence which had come, walking forth into the light, loosed the latchet of the oracles of the [old] economy, by unveiling the meaning of the symbols. (Clem. Alex. Strom. 5.8, ANF, vol. 3, p. 457)

Tertullian on Lk 3:11:
Who fears not to lose, finds it not irksome to give. Else how will one, when he has two coats, give the one of them to the naked, (Lk 3:11) unless he be a man likewise to offer to one who takes away his coat his cloak as well? (Mt 5:40; Lk 6:29) How shall we fashion to us friends from mammon, (Lk 16:9) if we love it so much as not to put up with its loss? We shall perish together with the lost mammon. (Tert. De patientia, 7, ANF, vol. 8, p. 712)
St. Augustine uses Lk 3:14 to argue that Christianity does not condemn all wars. (Cf. also Ep. 184.4, Contra Faustum 22.74)
For if the Christian religion condemned wars of every kind, the command given in the gospel to soldiers asking counsel as to salvation would rather be to cast away their arms, and withdraw themselves wholly from military service; whereas the word spoken to such was, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages,” (Lk 3:14)—the command to be content with their wages manifestly implying no prohibition to continue in the service. (Aug. Ep. 138.2.15, NPNF1, vol. 6, p. 486)
Origen (acc. to Cat. Aur.) comments on the wheat and chaff:
Or, because without the wind the wheat and chaff cannot be separated, therefore He has the fan in His hand, which shews some to be chaff, some wheat; for when you were as the light chaff, (i. e. unbelieving,) temptation shewed you to be what you knew not ; but when you shall bravely endure temptation, the temptation will not make you faithful and enduring, but it will bring to light the virtue which was hid in you. (Origen acc. to Cat. Aur. 124)

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