Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Second Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18
Second Reading Philippians 3:17–4:1 or Philippians 3:20–4:1
Gospel Luke 9:28b–36

St. Methodius of Olympus--the sacrifices of Abraham symbolize the offering to God of the soul, sense and mind (cf. 1 Thes 5:23):
Hence it is necessary that the perfect man offer up all, both the things of the soul and those of the flesh, so that he may be complete and not lacking. Therefore also God commands Abraham, (Ge 15:9) “Take Me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon;” which is admirably said; for remark, that concerning those things, He also gives this command, Bring them Me and keep them free from the yoke, even thy soul uninjured, like a heifer, and your flesh, and your reason; the last like a goat, since he traverses lofty and precipitous places, and the other like a ram, that he may in nowise skip away, and fall and slip off from the right way. For thus shalt thou be perfect and blameless, O Abraham, when thou hast offered to Me thy soul, and thy sense, and thy mind, which He mentioned under the symbol of the heifer, the goat, and the ram of three years old, as though they represented the pure knowledge of the Trinity. (Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, 5.2, ANF, vol. 6, pg. 325)
St. Augustine--the brazier and torch are figures of the judgment by fire:
When it is added, “And when the sun was now setting there was a flame, and lo, a smoking furnace, and lamps of fire, which passed through between those pieces,” this signifies that at the end of the world the carnal shall be judged by fire. For just as the affliction of the city of God, such as never was before, which is expected to take place under Antichrist, was signified by Abraham’s horror of great darkness about the going down of the sun, that is, when the end of the world draws nigh,—so at the going down of the sun, that is, at the very end of the world, there is signified by that fire the day of judgment, which separates the carnal who are to be saved by fire from those who are to be condemned in the fire. (Augustine, De civ. Dei 16.24, NPNF1, vol. 7, pg. 324)

St. Hilary of Poitiers--how Christ subjects our nature to himself:
The Apostle tells us also of the special reward attained by this subjection which is made perfect by the subjection of belief: Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the works of His power, whereby He is able to subject all things to Himself (Phil. 3:21). There is then another subjection, which consists in a transition from one nature to another, for our nature ceases, so far as its present character is concerned, and is subjected to Him, into Whose form it passes. But by ‘ceasing’ is implied not an end of being, but a promotion into something higher. Thus our nature by being merged into the image of the other nature which it receives, becomes subjected through the imposition of a new form. (Hilary, De Trin. 9.35, NPNF2, vol. 9, pg. 213)

St. John Chrysostom on those whose God is their belly:
These are they, whose god is their belly; for if they have no spiritual thoughts, but have all their possessions here, and mind these things, with reason have they their belly for their god, in saying, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” And about thy body, thou grievest, tell me, that it is of earth, though thus thou art not at all injured. But thy soul thou draggest down to the earth, when thou oughtest to render even thy body spiritual; for thou mayest, if thou wilt. Thou hast received a belly, that thou mayest feed, not distend it, that thou mayest have the mastery over it, not have it as mistress over thee: that it may minister to thee for the nourishment of the other parts, not that thou mayest minister to it, not that thou mayest exceed limits. (Chrysostom, Hom. Phil. 13, NPNF1, vol. 13, pg. 243)

St. Augustine on the brightness of the Transfigured Christ:
The Lord Jesus Himself shone bright as the sun; His raiment became white as the snow; and Moses and Elias talked with Him. (Mt 17:2, 3) Jesus Himself indeed shone as the sun, signifying that “He is the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (Jn 1:9) What this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is He to the eyes of the heart; and what that is to the flesh of men, that is He to their hearts. Now His raiment is His Church. For if the raiment be not held together by him who puts it on, it will fall off. Of this raiment, Paul was as it were a sort of last border. For he says himself, “I am the least of the Apostles.” (1 Co 15:9) And in another place, “I am the last of the Apostles.” Now in a garment the border is the last and least part. Wherefore as that woman which suffered from an issue of blood, when she had touched the Lord’s border was made whole, (Mk 5:34) so the Church which came from out of the Gentiles, was made whole by the preaching of Paul. (Augustine, Serm. 77.2, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 347)

... and on the Lord's answer to Peter's three tents:
“If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” To this the Lord made no answer; but notwithstanding Peter was answered. “For while he yet spake, a bright cloud came, and overshadowed them.” (Mt 17:5) He desired three tabernacles; the heavenly answer showed him that we have One, which human judgment desired to divide. Christ, the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word in the Prophets. Why, Peter, dost thou seek to divide them? It were more fitting for thee to join them. Thou seekest three; understand that they are but One. (Ibid.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: First Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Deuteronomy 26:4–10
Second Reading Romans 10:8–13
Gospel Luke 4:1–13

Origen--the Word is near inasmuch as all things participate in God's existence:
Now, in Him who truly exists, and who said by Moses, “I Am Who I Am,” (Ex 3:14) all things, whatever they are, participate; which participation in God the Father is shared both by just men and sinners, by rational and irrational beings, and by all things universally which exist. The Apostle Paul also shows truly that all have a share in Christ, when he says, “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (i.e., to bring Christ down from above;) or who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith the Scripture? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart.” (Rom 10:6-8) By which he means that Christ is in the heart of all, in respect of His being the word or reason, by participating in which they are rational beings. (Origen, De princ. 1.3, ANF, vol. 4, pg. 253)

St. Augustine on the insufficiency of belief without confession:
Is it not so that almost all who have denied Christ before the persecutors, held in their heart what they believed of Him? And yet, by not confessing with the mouth unto salvation, they perished, save they which through penitence have lived again? Who can be so vain, as to think that the Apostle Peter had that in his heart which he had on his lips when he denied Christ? Surely in that denial he held the truth within and uttered the lie without. Why then did he wash away with tears the denial which he uttered with his mouth, if that sufficed for salvation that with the heart he believed? Why, speaking the truth in his heart, did he punish with so bitter weeping the lie which he brought forth with his mouth, unless because he saw it to be a great and deadly evil, that while with his heart he believed unto righteousness, with his mouth he made not confession unto salvation? (Augustine, Contra mendac. 6.13, NPNF1, vol. 3, pg. 486)

... and that confession without belief is not confession at all:
Hear the apostle: “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” And what follows? “And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom 10:10) That confession springs from the root of the heart. Sometimes thou hearest a man confessing, and knowest not whether he believes. But thou oughtest not to call him one confessing, if thou shouldest judge him to be one not believing. For to confess is this, to utter the thing that thou hast in thy heart: if thou hast one thing in thy heart, and another thing on thy tongue, thou art speaking, not confessing. (Augustine, Tract. en ev. Joan. 26.2, NPNF1, vol. 7, pg. 168)

St. John Chrysostom on the nearness of salvation:
And what meaneth the phrase, “The Word is nigh thee?” That is, It is easy. For in thy mind and in thy tongue is thy salvation. There is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to get saved. But if you be not minded to cross so much as the threshold, you may even while you sit at home be saved. For “in thy mouth and in thy heart” is the source of salvation. (Chrysostom, Hom. Rom. 17, NPNF1, vol. 11, pg. 474)

St. Ambrose on why Our Lord underwent temptation:
He was led therefore into the wilderness, to the intent that He might provoke the devil, for if the one had not contended, the other it seems had not conquered. In a mystery, it was to deliver that Adam from exile who was cast out of Paradise into the wilderness. By way of example, it was to shew us that the devil envies us, whenever we strive after better things; and that then we must use caution, lest the weakness of our minds should lose us the grace of the mystery. Hence it follows: And he was tempted of the devil. (Ambrose in Cat. Aur. 3.1, 143)

St. Augustine on the significance of forty days:
Now that number is a sacrament of our time which under Christ’s discipline we contend against the devil, for it signifies our temporal life. For the periods of years run in courses of four, but forty contains four tens. Again, those ten are completed by the number one successively advancing on to four more. This plainly shews that the fast of forty days, i. e. the humiliation of the soul, the Law and the Prophets have consecrated by Moses and Elias, the Gospel by the fast of our Lord Himself. (Augustine in Cat. Aur. 3.1, 144-145)

Origen on the second temptation:
Or, to view the whole in another light. Two kings are earnestly contending for a kingdom; The king of sin who reigneth over sinners, that is, the devil ; The king of righteousness who ruleth the righteous, that is, Christ. The devil, knowing that Christ had come to take away his kingdom, shews Him all the kingdoms of the world; not the kingdoms of the Persians and of the Medes, but his own kingdom whereby he reigned in the world, whereby some are under the dominion of fornication, others of covetousness. And he shews Him them in a moment of time, that is, in the present course of time, which is but a moment in comparison of eternity. For the Saviour needed not to be shewn for any longer time the affairs of this world, but as soon as He turned His eyes to look, He beheld sins reigning, and men made slaves to vice. The devil therefore says unto Him, Camest Thou to contend with me for dominion ? Worship me, and behold I give Thee the kingdom I hold. Now the Lord would indeed reign, but being Righteousness itself, would reign without sin ; and would have all nations subject to Him, that they might obey the truth, but would not so reign over others as that He Himself should be subject to the devil. Hence it follows, And Jesus answering said unto him, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God. (Ambrose in Cat. Aur. 3.1, 148)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Muir: Ritual in Early Modern Europe

Muir, Edward. Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

This book grew on me as I read it. In the first part, on rites of passage and the ritual conception of time,
I found myself less impressed with Muir's analysis and more distracted by errors and disagreements. For instance, he credits Constantine with moving Christian worship to Sunday and makes the odd observation that the "Three Kings" were known as "Magi" in the Middle Ages (as if they weren't known as such today for the simple reason that this is what they're called in the New Testament).

The second part, which is mainly concerned with ritual as related to the body in Carnival and the development of manners, is stronger. I found much that is fascinating about both topics, though I sometimes found myself wondering what the participants in Early Modern Carnival and charivari would think if they knew that some day books would be devoted to airy speculations about the "social function" of their public inebriation.

The third part, which studies the Reformation as a controversy over ritual (rather than primarily over doctrine) is especially good, and, here, unlike the first part, I was impressed with the subtlety of Muir's understanding of Catholic ritual, and his insights into the evolution of the understanding of ritual and (ritual) process by which the Reformation overturned the Catholic ritual system.

The conclusion, which looks ahead to the continuation of the story in the Enlightenment and French Revolution, was also quite good and left me wanting a sequel. However, Muir ends the book with what seemed to me to be a giant non sequitur, saying that ritual revolution occurred because of a shift of attention from the emotive power of rituals to questions about their meaning. The statement is, to me, simply baffling. The Middle Ages (and all of Christian history for that matter) are full of controversy over the meaning of rituals, and, assuming that it's even possible to consider emotive power apart from meaning, it is hard to see how it could be considered the driving force in the pre-modern development of the ritual system.

Perhaps what has really changed is the meaning of "meaning". In the modern understanding, "meaning" can only have reference to utility or to emotional impact. To pull in Charles Taylor, it is taken for granted that meaning is contained entirely within minds and that the only minds that exist are human minds. Thus, something can only be meaningful (objectively) if it is ordered toward human purposes or (subjectively) if it affects a human being emotionally.

Pre-modern ritual is driven primarily by neither of these concerns, because it's presuppositions are completely different. If the universe is created by God, and, more precisely, created and governed by his Logos, then meaning does not just reside only in human minds but can reside in each thing and moment in history, which has its place in the divine order. Far from being focused on "emotive power", pre-modern ritual is concerned with the exemplification of this order, and finds its meaning therein. Consequently, we will only get so far when we limit ourselves to examining it as serving some social purpose or psychologizing it as filling some emotional need.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan

Fr. Jerabek has posted some lenten reading plans, including an intriguing looking Church Fathers one with selections from ten different Fathers.

(via: NLM)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Jeremiah 17:5–8
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20
Gospel Luke 6:17, 20–26

The Pseudo-Ignatian letter to the Antiochians argues that Jeremiah's curse applies to those who deny Christ's divinity:
And he that rejects the incarnation, and is ashamed of the cross for which I am in bonds, this man is antichrist. (cf. 1 Jn 2:22, 4:3; 2 Jn 7) Moreover, he who affirms Christ to be a mere man is accursed, according to the [declaration of the] prophet, (Jer 17:5) since he puts not his trust in God, but in man. Wherefore also he is unfruitful, like the wild myrtle-tree. (Ps-Ignatius to the Antiochians 5, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 111)

St. John Chrysostom argues that, even though the soul is immortal, we are pitiable without the hope of resurrection:
What sayest thou, O Paul? How “in this life only have we hope,” if our bodies be not raised, the soul abiding and being immortal? Because even if the soul abide, even if it be infinitely immortal, as indeed it is, without the flesh it shall not receive those hidden good things, as neither truly shall it be punished. For all things shall be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ, “that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Co 5:10) Therefore he saith, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.” For if the body rise not again, the soul abides uncrowned without that blessedness which is in heaven. And if this be so, we shall enjoy nothing then at all: and if nothing then, in the present life is our recompense. “What then in this respect can be more wretched than we?” saith he. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 39.4, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 235)

Tertullian on suffering curses with patience:
If the tongue’s bitterness break out in malediction or reproach, look back at the saying, “When they curse you, rejoice.” (Mt 5:11; Lk 6:22-23) The Lord Himself was “cursed” in the eye of the law; (Dt 21:23; Gal 3:13) and yet is He the only Blessed One. Let us servants, therefore, follow our Lord closely; and be cursed patiently, that we may be able to be blessed. If I hear with too little equanimity some wanton or wicked word uttered against me, I must of necessity either myself retaliate the bitterness, or else I shall be racked with mute impatience. When, then, on being cursed, I smite (with my tongue,) how shall I be found to have followed the doctrine of the Lord, in which it has been delivered that “a man is defiled, not by the defilements of vessels, but of the things which are sent forth out of his mouth.” Again, it is said that “impeachment awaits us for every vain and needless word.” (Mt 12:36) It follows that, from whatever the Lord keeps us, the same He admonishes us to bear patiently from another. (Tertullian, De pat. 8, ANF, vol. 3, pg. 712)

St. Ambrose compares the Lukan Beatitudes to the four cardinal virtues:
In that He says, Blessed are the poor, thou hast temperance; which abstains from sin, tramples upon the world, seeks not vain delights. In Blessed are they that hunger, thou hast righteousness; for he who hungers suffers together with the hungry, and by suffering together with him gives to him, by giving becomes righteous, and his righteousness abideth for ever. In Blessed are they that weep now, thou hast prudence; which is to weep for the things of time, and to seek those which are eternal. In Blessed are ye when men hate you, thou hast fortitude ; not that which deserves hatred for crime, but which suffers persecution for faith. For so thou wilt attain to the crown of suffering, if thou slightest the favour of men, and seekest that which is from God.
Temperance therefore brings with it a pure heart ; righteousness, mercy ; prudence, peace ; fortitude, meekness. The virtues are so joined and linked to one another, that he who has one seems to have many ; and the Saints have each one especial virtue, but the more abundant virtue has the richer reward. What hospitality in Abraham, what humility, but because he excelled in faith, he gained the preeminence above all others. To every one there are many rewards because many incentives to virtue, but that which is most abundant in a good action, has the most exceeding reward. (Exposition of Luke, quoted in Cat Aur. 3.1, 212)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 6:1–2a, 3–8
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1–11 or 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 11
Gospel Luke 5:1–11

St. John Damascene--the purifying coal as a figure for the Eucharist:
Wherefore with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near and it will assuredly be to us as we believe, doubting nothing. Let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body: for it is twofold. Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal. (Is 6:6) But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two. (John Damascene, De fide Orth. 4.13, NPNF2, vol. 9, pg. 83)

St. Ambrose understands the fire of the coal as symbolizing the grace of the Spirit or the passion of Christ, which take away sins:
But perhaps some one will say that the Seraph said to Isaiah: “Behold, this hath touched thy lips, and shall take away thine iniquities, and purge away thy sins.” (Is 6:7) Shall take away, he says, and shall purge, not I will take away, but that fire from the altar of God, that is, the grace of the Spirit. For what else can we piously understand to be on the altar of God but the grace of the Spirit? Certainly not the wood of the forests, nor the soot and coals. Or what is so in accordance with piety as to understand according to the mystery that it was revealed by the mouth of Isaiah that all men should be cleansed by the passion of Christ, Who as a coal according to the flesh burnt up our sins, as you read in Zechariah: “Is not this a brand cast forth from the fire? And that was Joshua clothed in filthy garments.” (Zech 3:2, 3) (Ambrose, De Spir. Sanct 1.10.108, NPNF2, vol. 10, pg. 108)

... and the "Holy, Holy, Holy" of the Seraphim as proclaiming the holiness of the three persons of the Trinity:
111. So, then, the Father is holy, the Son is holy, and the Spirit is holy, but they are not three Holies; for there is one Holy God, one Lord. For the true holiness is one, as the true Godhead is one, as that true holiness belonging to the Divine Nature is one.
112. So everything which we esteem holy proclaims that Sole Holiness. Cherubim and Seraphim with unwearied voices praise Him and say: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Sabaoth.” (Is 6:3) They say it, not once, lest you should believe that there is but one; not twice, lest you should exclude the Spirit; they say not holies[in the plural], lest you should imagine that there is plurality, but they repeat thrice and say the same word, that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and the oneness of the Godhead and while they say this they proclaim God. (Ambrose, De Spir. Sanct. 3.16.111-112, NPNF2, vol. 10, pg. 150. cf. also Greg. Nyss. Cont. Eun. 1.23, NPNF2, vol. 5, pg. 64)

St. Augustine--St. Paul, little in himself and great in the Lord:
See Paul a small portion of this inheritance, see him in weakness, who said, “I am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” Why then art thou an Apostle? “By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not meet, but by the grace of God I am what I am.” Paul was “weak,” but Thou hast “perfected” him. But now because by “the grace of God he is what he is,” look what follows; “And His grace in me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all.” (1 Co 15:9 etc.) Take heed lest thou lose by presumption what thou hast attained (meruisti) through weakness. This is well, very well; that “I am not meet to be called an Apostle. By His grace I am what I am, and His grace in me was not in vain:” all most excellent. But, “I laboured more abundantly than they all;” thou hast begun, it would seem, to ascribe to thyself what a little before thou hadst given to God. Attend and follow on; “Yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Well! thou weak one; thou shalt be exalted in exceeding strength, seeing thou art not unthankful. Thou art the very same Paul, little in thyself; and great in the Lord. (Augustine, Serm. 76.5.7, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 341)

St. John Chrysostom on how St. Paul passes on what he recieved:
Neither here doth he say, “I said unto you,” nor, “I taught you,” but uses the same expression gain, saying, “I delivered unto you that which also I received:” nor again here doth he say, “I was taught,” but, “I received:” establishing these two things; first, that one ought to introduce nothing from one’s self; next, that by demonstration from his deeds they were fully persuaded, not by bare words: and by degrees while he is rendering his argument credible, he refers the whole to Christ, and signifies that nothing was of man in these doctrines. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 38.2, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 227)

St. Augustine sees the two boats as symbolizing the one Church called from two peoples, Jews & gentiles:
Therefore there were two ships (Lk 5:2) out of which He had called His disciples. They figured these two people, when they let down their nets, and took up so great a draught and so large a number of fishes, that the nets were almost broken. “And they laded,” it is said, “both the ships.” The two ships figured the One Church, but made out of two peoples, joined together in Christ, though coming from different parts. (Augustine, Serm. 137.6, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 519. cf. also Cat. Aur. for further elaborations on this by St. Ambrose and St. Bede)

... and the boat weighted down by the enormous catch as the Church weighed down by the subversion of discipline by the multitude that seek to enter without reforming their lives:
There the multitude of fishes caught was so great, that the two vessels were filled and began to sink, (Lk 5:3-7) that is, were weighed down to the point of sinking; for they did not actually sink, but were in extreme jeopardy. For whence exist in the Church the great evils under which we groan, save from the impossibility of withstanding the enormous multitude that, almost to the entire subversion of discipline, gain an entrance, with their morals so utterly at variance with the pathway of the saints? (Augustine, Tract. in ev. Joan. 122.7, NPNF1, vol. 7, pg. 441)

St. Gregory Nazianzen on Christ the Fisherman:
Jesus Who Chose The Fishermen, Himself also useth a net, and changeth place for place. Why? Not only that He may gain more of those who love God by His visitation; but also, as it seems to me, that He may hallow more places. To the Jews He becomes as a Jew that He may gain the Jews; to them that are under the Law as under the Law, that He may redeem them that are under the Law; to the weak as weak, that He may save the weak. He is made all things to all men that He may gain all. Why do I say, All things to all men? For even that which Paul could not endure to say of himself I find that the Saviour suffered. For He is made not only a Jew, and not only doth He take to Himself all monstrous and vile names, but even that which is most monstrous of all, even very sin and very curse; not that He it such, but He is called so. For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law? (Gal 3:10, 13) But it is in order that He may carry His display of humility even to this extent, and form us to that humility which is the producer of exaltation. As I said then, He is made a Fisherman; He condescendeth to all; He casteth the net; He endureth all things, that He may draw up the fish from the depths, that is, Man who is swimming in the unsettled and bitter waves of life. (Greg. Naz., Orat 37.1, NPNF2, vol. 7, pg. 338)