Monday, November 22, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: First Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 2:1–5
Second Reading Romans 13:11–14
Gospel Matthew 24:37–44

St. Augustine's conversion is prompted by the words of Rom. 13:13, 14:
‎‎I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” (Mt 19:21) And by such oracle was he forthwith converted unto Thee. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Rom 13:13, 14) No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended,—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart,—all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (Augustine, Conf. 8:12.29, NPNF1, vol. 1, pg. 127-128)

St. John Chrysostom on the armor of light:
‎‎“Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
‎‎Yes, for the day is calling us to battle-array, and to the fight. Yet fear not at hearing of array and arms. For in the case of the visible suit of armor, to put it on is a heavy and abhorred task. But here it is desirable, and worth being prayed for. For it is of Light the arms are! Hence they will set thee forth brighter than the sunbeam, and giving out a great glistening, and they place thee in security: for they are arms, and glittering do they make thee: for arms of light are they! What then, is there no necessity for thee to fight? yea, needful is it to fight, yet not to be distressed and toil. For it is not in fact war, but a solemn dance and feast-day, such is the nature of the arms, such the power of the Commander. And as the bridegroom goes forth with joyous looks from his chamber, so doth he too who is defended with these arms. For he is at once soldier and bridegroom. But when he says, “the day is at hand,” he does not even allow it to be but near, but puts it even now beside us. (Chrysostom, Hom. Rom. 24, NPNF1, vol. 11, pg. 517-518)

John Cassian clarifies that "make no provision for the flesh" does not imply that we should neglect the health of the body:
‎‎For even if one is weak in body, he can attain to a perfect virtue and one equal to that of those who are thoroughly strong and healthy, if with firmness of mind he keeps a check upon the desires and lusts which are not due to weakness of the flesh. For the Apostle says: “And take not care for the flesh in its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14) He does not forbid care for it in every respect: but says that care is not to be taken in regard to its desires and lusts. He cuts away the luxurious fondness for the flesh: he does not exclude the control necessary for life: he does the former, lest through pampering the flesh we should be involved in dangerous entanglements of the desires; the latter lest the body should be injured by our fault and unable to fulfil its spiritual and necessary duties. (John Cassian, De Instit. Coenob. 5.8-9, NPNF2, vol. 11, pg. 236)

St. John Chrysostom--Our Lord does not tell us when we will return so that we will strive to be ready always:
‎For this intent He tells them not, in order that they may watch, that they may be always ready; therefore He saith, When ye look not for it, then He will come, desiring that they should be anxiously waiting, and continually. in virtuous action.
‎But His meaning is like this: if the common sort of men knew when they were to die, they would surely strive earnestly at that hour.
In order therefore that they may strive, not at that hour only, therefore He tells them not either the common hour, or the hour of each, desiring them to be ever looking for this, that they may be always striving. Wherefore He made the end of each man’s life also uncertain. (Chrysostom, Hom. Mt. 77.2-3, NPNF1, vol. 10, pg. 465)

St. John Chyrsostom--the certainty of judgment should warn us against taking comfort in its delay:
‎When these things then are done, then also will be the voice of the Archangel shouting and commanding the Angels, and the trumpets, or rather the sound of the trumpet. What trembling then, what fear will possess those that remain upon the earth. For one woman is caught up and another is left behind, and one man is taken, and another is passed over. (Matt. 24:40, 41; Luke 27:34, 35) What will be the state of their souls, when they see some indeed taken up, but themselves left behind? Will not these things be able to shake their souls more terribly than any hell? Let us represent then in word that this is now present. For if sudden death, or earthquakes in cities, and threatenings thus terrify our souls; when we see the earth breaking up, and crowded with all these, when we hear the trumpets, and the voice of the Archangel louder than any trumpet, when we perceive the heaven shriveled up, and God the King of all himself coming nigh—what then will be our souls? Let us shudder, I beseech you, and be frightened as if these things were now taking place. Let us not comfort ourselves by the delay. For when it must certainly happen, the delay profits us nothing. (Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Thess. 8, NPNF1, vol. 13, pg. 356)

St. Hilary of Poitiers--ignorance of the hour of the coming of the Son of Man is an advantage:
‎‎He exhorts us to watch continually with unrelaxing faith, and withholds from us the security of certain knowledge, that our minds may be kept on the stretch by the uncertainty of suspense, and while they hasten towards and continually look for the day of His coming, may always watch in hope; and that, though we know the time must come, its very uncertainty may make us careful and vigilant. Thus the Lord says, Therefore be ye also ready, for ye know not what hour the Son of Man shall come; (Mt 24:44) and again, Blessed is that servant whom His lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing. (Mt 24:46) The ignorance is, therefore, a means not to delude, but to encourage in perseverance. It is no loss to be denied a knowledge which it is an advantage not to have, for the security of knowledge might breed negligence of the faith, which now is concealed, while the uncertainty of expectation keeps us continually prepared, even as the master of the house, with the fear of loss before his eyes, watches and guards against the dreaded com ing of the thief, who chooses the time of sleep for his work. (Hilary, De Trin. 9.67, NPNF2, vol. 9, pg. 178-179)

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