Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Third Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Exodus 3:1–8a, 13–15
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, 10–12
Gospel Luke 13:1–9

St. Athanasius--we know that God is, though we cannot comprehend His essence:
For though to comprehend what the essence of God is be impossible, yet if we only understand that God is, and if Scripture indicates Him by means of these titles, we, with the intention of indicating Him and none else, call Him God and Father and Lord. When then He says, ‘I am that I am,’ and ‘I am the Lord God,’ (Ex 3:14, 15) or when Scripture says, ‘God,’ we understand nothing else by it but the intimation of His incomprehensible essence Itself, and that He Is, who is spoken of. (Athanasius, De decretis 5, NPNF2, vol.4, pg. 165)

St. Hilary of Poitiers--existence God's most characteristic property:
While my mind was dwelling on these and on many like thoughts, I chanced upon the books which, according to the tradition of the Hebrew faith, were written by Moses and the prophets, and found in these words spoken by God the Creator testifying of Himself ‘I Am that I Am, and again, He that is hath sent me unto you.’ (Ex. 3:14) I confess that I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God’s eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity. (Hilary, De Trin. 1.5, NPNF2, vol. 9, pg. 41)

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the crossing of the Red Sea as prefiguring Baptism:
Again, according to the view of the inspired Paul (cf. 1 Co 10:1, 2) , the people itself, by passing through the Red Sea, proclaimed the good tidings of salvation by water. The people passed over, and the Egyptian king with his host was engulfed, and by these actions this Sacrament was foretold. For even now, whensoever the people is in the water of regeneration, fleeing from Egypt, from the burden of sin, it is set free and saved; but the devil with his own servants (I mean, of course, the spirits of evil), is choked with grief, and perishes, deeming the salvation of men to be his own misfortune. (Greg. Nyss., On the Baptism of Christ, NPNF2, vol. 5, pg. 522)

St. John Chrysostom--the punishment of the Israelites who displeased God after passing through the Red Sea and eating the manna is a warning to Christians who recieve the Sacraments unworthily:
 For as the gifts are figures, even so are the punishments figures: and as Baptism and the Table were sketched out prophetically, so also by what ensued, the certainty of punishment coming on those who are unworthy of this gift was proclaimed beforehand for our sake that we by these examples might learn soberness. Wherefore also he adds,
“To the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” For as in the benefits the types went before and the substance followed, such shall be the order also in the punishments. Seest thou how he signifies not only the fact that these shall be punished, but also the degree, more severely than those ancients? For if the one be type, and the other substance, it must needs be that the punishments should as far exceed as the gifts. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 23.4, NPNF1, vol. 12, pg. 134)

St. Augustine on the parable of the fig tree:
With this ax does the Householder in the Gospel threaten, saying, “Behold these three years I come to this tree, and find no fruit on it.” Now I must clear the ground; wherefore let it be cut down. And the husbandman intercedes, saying, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then Thou shalt come and cut it down.” (Lk 13:7, etc) So the Lord hath visited mankind as it were three years, that is, at three several times. The first time was before the Law; the second under the Law; the third is now, which is the time of grace. For if He did not visit mankind before the Law, whence was Abel, and Enoch, and Noe, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, whose Lord He was pleased to be called? And He to whom all nations belonged, as though He were the God of three men only, said, “I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.” (Ex 3:15) But if He did not visit under the Law, He would not have given the Law itself. After the Law, came the very Master of the house in person; He suffered, and died, and rose again; He gave the Holy Spirit, He made the Gospel to be preached throughout all the world, and yet a certain tree remained unfruitful. Still is there a certain portion of mankind, which doth not yet amend itself. The husbandman intercedes; the Apostle prays for the people; “I bow my knees,” he saith, “unto the Father for you, that being rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”12 By bowing the knees, he intercedes with the Master of the house for us, that we be not rooted up. Therefore since He must necessarily come, let us take care that He find us fruitful. The digging about the tree is the lowliness of the penitent. For every ditch is low. The dunging it, is the filthy robe of repentance. For what is more filthy than dung; yet if well used, what more profitable?
Let each one then be a good tree; let him not suppose that he can bear good fruit, if he remain a corrupt tree. There will be no good fruit, but from the good tree. Change the heart, and the work will be changed. Root out desire, plant in charity. “For as desire is the root of all evil,” (1 Ti 6:10) so is charity the root of all good. (Augustine, Serm. 62.2, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 332)

St. John Chrysostom on why God chastens some and not others:
On this account some he chastens, and others he does not chasten, profiting both those who are chastened, and those who are not chastened. For he separates their wickedness from those, and he makes the others by their punishment, more self-restrained. And this is manifest from what Christ himself said. For when they announced to him that a tower had been brought to the ground, and had buried certain men, he saith to them “What think ye? that these men were sinners only? I say to you nay, but if ye do not repent ye also shall suffer the same thing.” (Lk 13:4)
Dost thou see how those perished on account of their sin, and the rest did not escape on account of their righteousness, but in order that they might become better by the punishment of the others? (Chrysostom, De diab. 1.7, NPNF1, vol. 9, pg. 184-185)

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