Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13 or 1 Corinthians 13:4–13
Gospel Luke 4:21–30

Tertullian uses Jer 1:5 to argue that the soul is received before birth:
Accordingly you read the word of God which was spoken to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.” (Jer 1:5) Since God forms us in the womb, He also breathes upon us, as He also did at the first creation, when “the Lord God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life.” (Gen 2:7) Nor could God have known man in the womb, except in his entire nature: “And before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.” (Jer 1:5) Well, was it then a dead body at that early stage? Certainly not. For “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Tert., De anima 26, ANF, vol. 3, pg. 207)

St. Jerome exhorts the monk to follow Jeremiah in being an iron pillar before the judgments of men:
It is a monk’s first virtue to despise the judgments of men and always to remember the apostle’s words:—“If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10) In the same sense the Lord says to the prophets that He has made their face a brazen city and a stone of adamant and an iron pillar, (cf. Jer 1:18; Ezek 3:8, 9) to the end that they shall not be afraid of the insults of the people but shall by the sternness of their looks discompose the effrontery of those who sneered at them. A finely strung mind is more readily overcome by contumely than by terror. And men whom no tortures can overawe are sometimes prevailed over by the fear of shame. (Jerome, Ep. 66, NPNF2, vol. 6, pg. 136)

John Cassian on how perfection is only found in charity:
And from this it clearly follows that perfection is not arrived at simply by self-denial, and the giving up of all our goods, and the casting away of honours, unless there is that charity, the details of which the Apostle describes, which consists in purity of heart alone. For “not to be envious,” “not to be puffed up, not to be angry, not to do any wrong, not to seek one’s own, not to rejoice in iniquity, not to think evil” etc. what is all this except ever to offer to God a perfect and clean heart, and to keep it free from all disturbances? (Cassian, Conf. 1.1.6, NPNF2, vol. 11, pg. 297)

St. John Chrysostom argues that to giving without love is not enough--love must join us in sympathy with the needy:
Either then we may say this, or that his meaning is for those who give to be also joined closely to those who retire, and not merely to give without sympathy, but in pity and condescension, bowing down and grieving with the needy. For therefore also hath almsgiving been enacted by God: since God might have nourished the poor as well without this, but that he might bind us together unto charity and that we might be thoroughly fervent toward each other, he commanded them to be nourished by us. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 32.9, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 190)

Chrysostom on how the virtues listed by St. Paul are each necessary, complementing and completing each other in love:
“Is not puffed up.” For so we see many who think highly of themselves on the score of these very excellencies; for example, on not being envious, nor grudging, nor mean-spirited, nor rash: these evils being incidental not to wealth and poverty only, but even to things naturally good. But love perfectly purges out all. And consider: he that is long-suffering is not of course also kind. But if he be not kind, the thing becomes a vice, and he is in danger of falling into malice. Therefore she supplies a medicine, I mean kindness, and preserves the virtue pure. Again, the kind person often becomes over-complaisant; but this also she corrects. For “love,” saith he, “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up:” the kind and long-suffering is often ostentatious; but she takes away this vice also. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 33.1, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 195)

St. Athanasius explains that our Lord walked away from those who would kill him because he knew that his hour had not yet come:
Our Lord therefore, although as God, and the Word of the Father, He both knew the time measured out by Him to all, and was conscious of the time for suffering, which He Himself had appointed also to His own body; yet since He was made man for our sakes, He hid Himself when He was sought after before that time came, as we do; when He was persecuted, He fled; and avoiding the designs of His enemies He passed by, and ‘so went through the midst of them.’ (Lk 4:30) But when He had brought on that time which He Himself had appointed, at which He desired to suffer in the body for all men, He announces it to the Father, saying, ‘Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son.’ (Jn 17:1) And then He no longer hid Himself from those who sought Him, but stood willing to be taken by them. (Athanasius, Defence of His Flight 15, NPNF2, vol 4, pg. 260)

Chrysostom on why our Lord would not perform miracles in Nazareth:
What then saith Christ unto them? “A prophet,” saith He, “is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house: and He did not,” it is said, “many mighty works, because of their unbelief.” (Mt 13:57, 58) But Luke saith, “And He did not there many miracles.” (cf. Mk 6:5) And yet it was to be expected He should have done them. For if the feeling of wonder towards Him was gaining ground (for indeed even there He was marvelled at), wherefore did He not do them? Because He looked not to the display of Himself, but to their profit. Therefore when this succeeded not, He overlooked what concerned Himself, in order not to aggravate their punishment. (Chrysostom, Hom. Mt. 48.1, NPNF1, vol. 10, pg. 297)

St. Ambrose on how Nazareth is an example to us that we ought not be jealous of blessings the Lord gives to others:
But this is given for an example, that in vain can you expect the aid of Divine mercy, if you grudge to others the fruits of their virtue. The Lord despises the envious, and withdraws the miracles of His power from them that are jealous of His divine blessings in others. For our Lord’s Incarnation is an evidence of His divinity, and His invisible things are proved to us by those which are visible. See then what evils envy produces. For envy a country is deemed unworthy of the works of its citizen, which was worthy of the conception of the Son of God. (Quoted in Cat. Aur. 3.2, 159-160)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:12–30 or 1 Corinthians 12:12–14, 27
Gospel Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21

St. Irenaeus speaks of the gift of the Spirit given to the Church:
For this gift of God [i.e. the Spirit of God] has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, for this purpose, that all the members receiving it may be vivified; and the [means of] communion with Christ has been distributed throughout it, that is, the Holy Spirit, the earnest of incorruption, the means of confirming our faith, and the ladder of ascent to God. “For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,” (1 Co 12:28) and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth. (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.24, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 458)

St. Jerome on the different members--simple and educated--in the Church, and the call of both to holiness:
In the church one is the eye, another is the tongue, another the hand, another the foot, others ears, belly, and so on. Read Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians and learn how the one body is made up of different members. (1 Co 12:12-27) The rude and simple brother must not suppose himself a saint just because he knows nothing; and he who is educated and eloquent must not measure his saintliness merely by his fluency. Of two imperfect things holy rusticity is better than sinful eloquence. (Jerome, Ep.52, NPNF2, vol. 6, pg. 94)

St. John Chrysostom notes that God has ordained the diversity of gifts to bring about love and harmony through mutual dependence:
For even as the great gifts God hath not vouchsafed all to all men, but to some this, and to others that, so also did He in respect of the less, not proposing these either to all. And this He did, procuring thereby abundant harmony and love, that each one standing in need of the other might be brought close to his brother. This economy He established also in the arts, this also in the elements, this also in the plants, and in our members, and absolutely in all things. (Chrysostom, Hom 1 Cor. 32.4, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 188)
St. Bede the Venerable (here echoing St. Ambrose's Expostion) explains that Luke addresses his gospel to all who love God:
Theophilus means, “loving God” or “being loved by God.” Whoever then loves God, or desires to be loved by Him, let him think this Gospel to have been written to him, and preserve it as a gift presented to him, a pledge entrusted to his care. The promise was not to explain the meaning of certain new and strange things to Theophilus, but to set forth the truth of those words in which he had been instructed; as it is added, That thou mightest know the truth of those words in which thou hast been instructed; that is, “that thou mightest be able to know in what order each thing was said or done by the Lord.” (Bede, in proem Lucae quoted in Cat. Aur. vol. 3 pt. 1, pg. 6)
St. Cyril of Alexandria explains that the anointing and sending spoken of in the prophecy of Isaiah read by Our Lord pertains to His human nature:
In like manner we confess Him to have been anointed, inasmuch as He took upon Him our flesh, as it follows, Because he hath anointed me. For the Divine nature is not anointed, but that which is cognate to us. So also when He says that He was sent, we must suppose Him speaking of His human nature. For it follows, He hath sent me to preach the gospel to the poor. (Cyril of Alexandria, quoted in Cat Aur. vol. 3, pt. 1, pg. 155)
St. John Chrysostom on kinds of captivity and what Christ liberates us from:
The word captivity has many meanings. There is a good captivity, which St. Paul speaks of when he says, Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. There is a bad captivity also, of which it is said, Leading captive silly women laden with sins. There is a captivity present to the senses, that is by our bodily enemies. But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free. (Chrys in Ps. 125 quoted in Cat Aur vol. 3, pt. 1, pg. 156)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ad Limina Apostolorum, Part X: Roman Forum 2

Rostrum (forground) & Temple of Saturn (background)

Arch of Septimius Severus

Temple of Saturn

Arch of Septimius Severus

Arch of Septimius Severus

Sunday, January 17, 2010


... to my brother Andrew for the improved looks.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gregory of Nyssa and the Theology of the Body

A little late for Christmas, I just happened to stumble on this passage in chapter 28 of St. Gregory of Nyssa's Catechism, and it reminded me a bit of John Paul II's "Theology of the Body". Gregory and the other Fathers are often thought to have absorbed a rather low view of the human body from Greek philosophy, but this defense of Christ's human birth is a good reminder of the revolutionary nature of the dogma of the Incarnation.
BUT they deride our state of nature, and din into our ears the manner of our being born, supposing in this way to make the mystery ridiculous, as if it were unbecoming in God by such an entrance into the world as this to connect Himself with the fellowship of the human life. But we touched upon this point before, when we said that the only thing which is essentially degraded is moral evil or whatever has an affinity with such evil; whereas the orderly process of Nature, arranged as it has been by the Divine will and law, is beyond the reach of any misrepresentation on the score of wickedness: otherwise this accusation would reach up to the Author of Nature, if anything connected with Nature were to be found fault with as degraded and unseemly. If, then, the Deity is separate only from evil, and if there is no nature in evil, and if the mystery declares that God was born in man but not in evil; and if, for man, there is but one way of entrance upon life, namely that by which the embryo passes on to the stage of life, what other mode of entrance upon life would they prescribe for God? these people, I mean, who, while they judge it right and proper that the nature which evil had weakened should be visited by the Divine power, yet take offence at this special method of the visitation, not remembering that the whole organization of the body is of equal value throughout, and that nothing in it, of all the elements that contribute to the continuance of the animal life, is liable to the charge of being worthless or wicked. For the whole arrangement of the bodily organs and limbs has been constructed with one end in view, and that is, the continuance in life of humanity; and while the other organs of the body conserve the present actual vitality of men, each being apportioned to a different operation, and by their means the faculties of sense and action are exercised, the generative organs on the contrary involve a forecast of the future, introducing as they do, by themselves, their counteracting transmission for our race. Looking, therefore, to their utility, to which of those parts which are deemed more honourable are these inferior (1 Co 12:14-24)? Nay, than which must they not in all reason be deemed more worthy of honour? For not by the eye, or ear, or tongue, or any other sense, is the continuation of our race carried on. These, as has been remarked, pertain to the enjoyment of the present. But by those other organs the immortality of humanity is secured, so that death, though ever operating against us, thus in a certain measure becomes powerless and ineffectual, since Nature, to baffle him, is ever as it were throwing herself into the breach through those who come successively into being. What unseemliness, then, is contained in our revelation of God mingled with the life of humanity through those very means by which Nature carries on the combat against death? (Greg. Nyss. Cat. 28, NPNF2, vol. 5, pg. 497)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 62:1–5
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:4–11
Gospel John 2:1–11

Origen comments on the unity of work of the Trinity demonstrated in 1 Co 12:
This is most clearly pointed out by the Apostle Paul, when demonstrating that the power of the Trinity is one and the same, in the words, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit: withal.” (1 Co 12:4-7) From which it most clearly follows that there is no difference in the Trinity, but that which is called the gift of the Spirit is made known through the Son, and operated by God the Father. “But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every one severally as He will.” (1 Co 12:11) (Origen, De Principiis, 1.3.7, ANF, vol. 4, pg. 255)

St. John Chrysostom on how the diversity of gifts ought not to cause us to be envious:
Wherefore as [St. Paul] comforted them, when he said, that “there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord; and diversities of operations, but the same God;” so also when he said above, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit;” and after this again when he said, “But all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

“Let us not, I pray you, be at a loss,” saith he; “neither let us grieve, saying, ‘Why have I received this and not received that?’ neither let us demand an account of the Holy Spirit. For if thou knowest that he vouchsafed it from providential care, consider that from the same care he hath given also the measure of it, and be content and rejoice in what thou hast received: but murmur not at what thou hast not received; yea, rather confess God’s favor that thou hast not received things beyond thy power. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor 29.7, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 173)

St. Irenaeus argues from Christ's use of earthly materials in his miracles against Gnostics who deny the goodness of creation and hold that the God of the New Testament is not the same as the Creator revealed in the Old:
That wine, which was produced by God in a vineyard, and which was first consumed, was good. None (Jn 2:3) of those who drank of it found fault with it; and the Lord partook of it also. But that wine was better which the Word made from water, on the moment, and simply for the use of those who had been called to the marriage. For although the Lord had the power to supply wine to those feasting, independently of any created substance, and to fill with food those who were hungry, He did not adopt this course; but, taking the loaves which the earth had produced, and giving thanks, (Jn 6:11) and on the other occasion making water wine, He satisfied those who were reclining [at table], and gave drink to those who had been invited to the marriage; showing that the God who made the earth, and commanded it to bring forth fruit, who established the waters, and brought forth the fountains, was He who in these last times bestowed upon mankind, by His Son, the blessing of food and the favour of drink: the Incomprehensible [acting thus] by means of the comprehensible, and the Invisible by the visible; since there is none beyond Him, but He exists in the bosom of the Father. (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 3.11.5, ANF, vol. 1 pg. 427)

St. Augustine observes that God's work in creation is, to the believer, as marvelous as Our Lord's miracles:
The miracle indeed of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby He made the water into wine, is not marvellous to those who know that it was God’s doing. For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water-pots, which He commanded to be filled with water, the self-same does this every year in vines. For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence. And yet it suggests a greater consideration than that which was done in the water-pots. For who is there that considers the works of God, whereby this whole world is governed and regulated, who is not amazed and overwhelmed with miracles? (Augustine, Tract. in ev. Joan 8.1, NPNF1, vol. 7, pg. 57)

St. John Chrysostom on Our Lord's "hour":
Christ did not say, “Mine hour is not yet come,” as being subject to the necessity of seasons, or the observance of an “hour”; how can He be so, who is Maker of seasons, and Creator of the times and the ages? To what else then did He allude? He desires to show this; that He works all things at their convenient season, not doing all at once; because a kind of confusion and disorder would have ensued, if, instead of working all at their proper seasons, He had mixed all together, His Birth, His Resurrection, and His coming to Judgment. (Chrysostom, Hom. Jn. 22.1, NPNF1, vol. 14, pg. 76)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Birn: Crisis, Absolutism, Revolution: Europe 1648-1789

Birn, Raymond. Crisis, Absolutism, Revolution: Europe 1648-1789. 2nd ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992. 403 pp.

Birn covers the 150 years leading up to the French Revolution across Europe. I was surprised by how much is crammed into the slender-looking volume and learned quite a bit about an era that I had only rough notions of before. The details and understanding of religious matters aren't always quite right (start from the typically modern limited notion of reason and proceed from there), and, at times I found myself wishing for a little more light on reasons for resistance to modern ideas and practices held to be self-evidently good today. Surely forms of thought, ways of life and systems of government that persisted so long and, in some cases, died so hard, had something in their favor other than just intransigence and self-interest? For instance, attributing Montesquieu's dislike of democracy to "aristocratic prejudices" (249) is just a bit too easy. I can't claim much familiarity with Montesquieu's writings, but with the long, long history of philosophical criticism of democracy stretching back to Plato, he probably had some pretty good reasons for that dislike.

That criticism aside, it made for worthwhile reading, not just provoking my reactionary temperament, but stimulating more general thoughts about the sources of political power and the balance that makes for stable government. Here in the United States, we tend to see the shape of political power as something that comes right out of a written constitution, as if creating a good government is as simple as getting the blueprint right, but in practice, it's not that simple. The past several hundred years is replete with examples of written constitutions that weren't worth the paper they were printed on, and not necessarily because they were all poorly designed, but because, for whatever reasons, that balance, where working within the system seemed more promising or less risky than slaughtering the other side or getting the army behind you and doing whatever you want, was never acheived.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Baptism of the Lord, Year C

The Fathers on the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7 or Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11
Second Reading Acts 10:34–38 or Titus 2:11–14, 3:4–7
Gospel Luke 3:15–16, 21–22

Augustine shows the fulfillment of Is 42 in Christ, commenting on the variant reading of the LXX:The Hebrew has not “Jacob” and “Israel;” but the Septuagint translators, wishing to show the significance of the expression “my servant,” and that it refers to the form of a servant in which the Most High humbled Himself, inserted the name of that man from whose stock He took the form of a servant. The Holy Spirit was given to Him, and was manifested, as the evangelist testifies, in the form of a dove. (Jn 1:32) He brought forth judgment to the Gentiles, because He predicted what was hidden from them. In His meekness He did not cry, nor did He cease to proclaim the truth. But His voice was not heard, nor is it heard, without, because He is not obeyed by those who are outside of His body. And the Jews themselves, who persecuted Him, He did not break, though as a bruised reed they had lost their integrity, and as smoking flax their light was quenched; for He spared them, having come to be judged and not yet to judge. He brought forth judgment in truth, declaring that they should be punished did they persist in their wickedness. His face shone on the Mount, (Mt 17:1-2) His fame in the world. He is not broken nor over come, because neither in Himself nor in His Church has persecution prevailed to annihilate Him. And therefore that has not, and shall not, be brought about which His enemies said or say, “When shall He die, and His name perish?” (Ps 41:5) “until He set judgment in the earth.” (Augustine, De civ. Dei 20.30, NPNF1, vol. 2, pg. 450)

St. Gregory the Great sees in Is 40:9 an admonition to the preacher to live a life that forsakes earthly works:
For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer’s heart, which the speaker’s life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing of by shewing. Hence it is said through the prophet, Get thee up into the high mountain, thou that bringest good tidings to Sion (Isai. 40:9): which means that he who is engaged in heavenly preaching should already have forsaken the low level of earthly works, and appear as standing on the summit of things, and by so much the more easily should draw those who are under him to better things as by the merit of his life he cries aloud from heights above. (Gregory the Great, Reg. Past. 2.3, NPNF2, vol. 12, pg. 10)

St. Augustine explains the relationship between the remission of sin in the washing of baptism and the hope of salvation:
Have we not been regenerated, adopted, and redeemed by the holy washing? And yet there remains a regeneration, an adoption, a redemption, which we ought now patiently to be waiting for as to come in the end, that we may then be in no degree any longer children of this world. Whosoever, then, takes away from baptism that which we only receive by its means, corrupts the faith; but whosoever attributes to it now that which we shall receive by its means indeed, but yet hereafter, cuts off hope. For if any one should ask of me whether we have been saved by baptism, I shall not be able to deny it, since the apostle says, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit 3:5) But if he should ask whether by the same washing He has already absolutely In every way saved us, I shall answer: It is not so. Because the same apostle also says, “For we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, we with patience wait for it.” (Rom 8:24, 25) Therefore the salvation of man is effected in baptism, because whatever sin he has derived from his parents is remitted, or whatever, moreover, he himself has sinned on his own account before baptism; but his salvation will hereafter be such that he cannot sin at all. (Augustine, Contra duas epist. Pelag., 3.3.5, NPNF1, vol. 5, pg. 404)

St. John Chrysostom comments on the need for new birth:
Strange! How were we drowned in wickedness, so that we could not be purified, but needed a new birth? For this is implied by “Regeneration.” For as when a house is in a ruinous state no one places props under it, nor makes any addition to the old building, but pulls it down to its foundations, and rebuilds it anew; so in our case, God has not repaired us, but has made us anew. For this is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” He has made us new men. How? “By His Spirit” (Chrysostom, Hom. Tit. 5, NPNF1, vol. 13, pg. 538)

(See also Chrysostom's comments on Tit 2:11-13 under the readings for Christmas Midnight Mass.)

Tertullian comments on the fittingness of the dove as an image of the Spirit, and the parallel between dove of the Spirit at Christ's baptism and ours and the dove that announced the end of the flood, which prefigured baptism.
He reposes: (He who) glided down on the Lord “in the shape of a dove,” (Mt 3:16; Lk 3:22) in order that the nature of the Holy Spirit might be declared by means of the creature (the emblem) of simplicity and innocence, because even in her bodily structure the dove is without literal gall. And accordingly He says, “Be ye simple as doves.” (Mt 10:16) Even this is not without the supporting evidence of a preceding figure. For just as, after the waters of the deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged—after the baptism, so to say, of the world—a dove was the herald which announced to the earth the assuagement of celestial wrath, when she had been sent her way out of the ark, and had returned with the olive-branch, a sign which even among the nations is the fore-token of peace; so by the self-same law of heavenly effect, to earth—that is, to our flesh —as it emerges from the font, after its old sins flies the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens where is the Church, the typified ark. But the world returned unto sin; in which point baptism would ill be compared to the deluge. And so it is destined to fire; just as the man too is, who after baptism renews his sins: (cf. 2 Pet 1:9; Heb 10:26, 27, 29) so that this also ought to be accepted as a sign for our admonition. (Tertullian, On Baptism 8, ANF vol. 3, pg. 673)

St. Ambrose explains why Christ recieved baptism:
In a matter which has been related by others, Luke has rightly given us only a summary, and has left more to be understood than expressed in the fact, that our Lord was baptized by John. As it is said, Now when all were baptized, it came to pass. Our Lord was baptized not that He might be cleansed by the waters but to cleanse them, that being purified by the flesh of Christ who knew no sin, they might possess the power of baptism. (Ambrose in Cat. Aur. 127)

(See also Clement of Alexandria on Lk 3:16 under the readings for Third Sunday of Advent, Year C.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ad Limina Apostolorum, Part IX: Roman Forum

Via Sacra

Arch of Titus

Basilica of Constantine

Grave of Julius Caesar




Sententiae Patristicae: Epiphany

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 60:1–6
Second Reading Ephesians 3:2–3a, 5–6
Gospel Matthew 2:1–12

St. Methodius of Olympus interprets Is. 60:1-4 as referring to the Church:
It is the Church whose children shall come to her with all speed after the resurrection, running to her from all quarters. She rejoices receiving the light which never goes down, and clothed with the brightness of the Word as with a robe. For with what other more precious or honourable ornament was it becoming that the queen should be adorned, to be led as a Bride to the Lord, when she had received a garment of light, and therefore was called by the Father? (Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, 8.5, ANF, vol. 6, pg. 336)

St. John Chrysostom on how the Spirit revealed to the Apostles the calling of the Gentiles:
For reflect. Peter, had he not been instructed by the Spirit, never would have gone to the Gentiles. For hear what he says, “Then hath God given unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as unto us.” (Acts 10:47.) That it was by the Spirit that God chose that they should receive the grace. The Prophets then spoke, yet they knew it not thus perfectly; so far from it, that not even did the Apostles, after they had heard it. So far did it surpass all human calculation, and the common expectation. (Chrysostom, Hom. Eph. 6, NPNF1, vol. 13, pg. 77)

St. Irenaeus explains the signficance of the gifts of the Magi. (This explanation is echoed by several other fathers)
Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the east, exclaimed “For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him;” (Mt 2:2) and that, having been led by the star into the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by these gifts which they offered, who it was that was worshipped; myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human met; gold, because He was a King, “of whose kingdom is no end;” (Lk 1:33) and frankincense, because He was God, who also “was made known in Judea,” (Ps 76:1) and was “declared to those who sought Him not.” (Is 65:1) (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.9, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 423)

St. Leo the Great on the faith of the Magi:
And so the wise men saw and adored the Child of the tribe of Judah, “of the seed of David according to the flesh,” (Rom 1:3) “made from a woman, made under the law,” (Gal 4) which He had come “not to destroy but to fulfil.” (Mt 5:17) They saw and adored the Child, small in size, powerless to help others, incapable of speech, and in nought different to the generality of human children. Because, as the testimonies were trustworthy which asserted in Him the majesty of invisible Godhead, so it ought to be impossible to doubt that “the Word became flesh,” and the eternal essence of the Son of God took man’s true nature: lest either the inexpressible marvels of his acts which were to follow or the infliction of sufferings which He had to bear should overthrow the mystery of our Faith by their inconsistency: seeing that no one at all can be justified save those who believe the Lord Jesus to be both true God and true Man. (Leo the Great, Serm. 34 (Epiphany 4).3, NPNF2, vol. 12, pg. 148)

St. John Chrysostom exorts us to follow the example of the Magi:
Let us then also follow the magi, let us separate ourselves from our barbarian customs, and make our distance therefrom great, that we may see Christ, since they too, had they not been far from their own country, would have missed seeing Him. Let us depart from the things of earth. For so the wise men, while they were in Persia, saw but the star, but after they had departed from Persia, they beheld the Sun of Righteousness. Or rather, they would not have seen so much as the star, unless they had readily risen up from thence. Let us then also rise up; though all men be troubled, let us run to the house of the young Child; though kings, though nations, though tyrants interrupt this our path, let not our desire pass away. For so shall we thoroughly repel all the dangers that beset us. Since these too, except they had seen the young Child, would not have escaped their danger from the king. Before seeing the young Child, fears and dangers and troubles pressed upon them from every side; but after the adoration, it is calm and security; and no longer a star but an angel receives them, having become priests from the act of adoration; for we see that they offered gifts also. (Chrysostom, Hom. Mt. 7.6, NPNF1, vol. 10, pg. 47)