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.)

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