Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sententiae Patristicae: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary



First Reading Baruch 5:1–9
Second Reading Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11
Gospel Luke 3:1–6

Not surprisingly, St. Augustine makes use of Php 1:6 in articulating his understanding of grace against the Pelagian position:
Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:6) He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. (Augustine, De grat. et lib. arb. 17.33, NPNF1, vol. 5, p. 458)
 
Chrysostom emphasizes, however, that God's working in us does not reduce us to passive objects:
And indeed it is no small praise, that God should work in one. For if He is “no respecter of persons,” as indeed He is none, but is looking to our purpose when He aids us in good deeds, it is evident that we are agents in drawing Him to us; so that even in this view he did not rob them of their praise. Since if His in working were indiscriminate, there would have been nothing to hinder but that even Heathens and all men might have Him working in them, that is, if He moved us like logs and stones, and required not our part. (Chrysostom, Hom Phil. 1, NPNF1, vol. 13, p. 186)
 
St. Gregory the Great sees significance in the historical context given in Lk 3:1-2:
For because John came to preach Him who was to redeem some from among the Jews, and many among the Gentiles, therefore the time of his preaching is marked out by making mention of the king of the Gentiles and the rulers of the Jews. But because all nations were to be gathered together in one, one man is described as ruling over the Roman state, as it is said, reign of Tiberius Caesar. ... Because John preached Him who was to be at the same time both King and Priest, Luke the Evangelist has marked the time of that preaching by the mention not only of Kings, but also of Priests. (Gregory the Great, Hom. 20 in Ev. in Cat. Aur. 3.1, 106-107. Also ACC NT 3, 58)
 
Origen comments on John, the Voice of the Lord:
And one who cries in the desert has need of a voice, that the soul which is deprived of God and deserted of truth—and what more dreadful desert is there than a soul deserted of God and of all virtue, since it still goes crookedly and needs instruction—may be exhorted to make straight the way of the Lord. And that way is made straight by the man who, far from copying the serpent’s crooked journey: while he who is of the contrary disposition perverts his way. Hence the rebuke directed to a man of this kind and to all who resemble him, “Why pervert ye the right ways of the Lord? ” (Ac 13:10) (Origen, Comm. on Jn, 6.10, ANF vol. 10, p. 359)
 
St. Augustine uses the imagery of Luke's quotation from Isaiah in reflecting on God's work within his soul:
For my memory calls upon me, and pleasant it is to me, O Lord, to confess unto Thee, by what inward goads Thou didst subdue me, and how Thou didst make me low, bringing down the mountains and hills of my imaginations, and didst straighten my crookedness, and smooth my rough ways (Lk 3:5) (Augustine, Confessions 9.3.6, NPNF1, vol. 1, p. 131)
 
Chrysostom on Lk 3:4-6:
Dost thou perceive how the prophet hath anticipated all by his words; the concourse of the people. Thus, when he saith, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;” he is signifying the exaltation of the lowly, the humiliation of the self-willed, the hardness of the law changed into easiness of faith. For it is no longer toils and labors, saith he, but grace, and forgiveness of sins, affording great facility of salvation. Next he states the cause of these things, saying, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God;” no longer Jews and proselytes only, but also all earth and sea, and the whole race of men. Because by “the crooked things” he signified our whole corrupt life, publicans, harlots, robbers, magicians, as many as having been perverted before afterwards walked in the right way: much as He Himself likewise said, “publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you,” (Mt 21:31) because they believed. And in other words also again the prophet declared the self-same thing, thus saying, “Then wolves and lambs shall feed together” (Is 11:6) For like as here by the hills and valleys, he meant that incongruities of character are blended into one and the same evenness of self-restraint, so also there, by the characters of the brute animals indicating the different dispositions of men, he again spoke of their being linked in one and the same harmony of godliness. Here also, as before, stating the cause. That cause is, “There shall be He that riseth to reign over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles trust:” (Is 11:10, Rom 15:12) much the same as here too he said, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” everywhere declaring that the power and knowledge of these our Gospels would be poured out to the ends of the world, converting the human race, from a brutish disposition and a fierce temper to something very gentle and mild. (Chrysostom, Hom. on Mt. 10.3, NPNF1, vol. 10, p. 64)

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