Monday, December 13, 2010

Sententiae Patristicae: Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 7:10–14
Second Reading Romans 1:1–7
Gospel Matthew 1:18–24

St. Justin Martyr on prophecy preparing for faith and on the difference between the virgin birth and pagan myths:
‎‎And hear again how Isaiah in express words foretold that He should be born of a virgin; for he spoke thus: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son, and they shall say for His name, ‘God with us.’ ” (Is 7:14) For things which were incredible and seemed impossible with men, these God predicted by the Spirit of prophecy as about to come to pass, in order that, when they came to pass, there might be no unbelief, but faith, because of their prediction. But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now cited, should charge us with the very things we have been laying to the charge of the poets who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust, let us try to explain the words. This, then, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” signifies that a virgin should conceive without intercourse. For if she had had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet a virgin to conceive. (Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 33, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 174)

St. Irenaeus on the translation of Is. 7:14:
‎‎God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, [thus: ] “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,” (Is 7:14) as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes. The Ebionites, following these, assert that He was begotten by Joseph; thus destroying, as far as in them lies, such a marvellous dispensation of God, and setting aside the testimony of the prophets which proceeded from God. For truly this prediction was uttered before the removal of the people to Babylon; that is, anterior to the supremacy acquired by the Medes and Persians. But it was interpreted into Greek by the Jews themselves, much before the period of our Lord’s advent, that there might remain no suspicion that perchance the Jews, complying with our humour, did put this interpretation upon these words. (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.21.1, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 451)

St. Jerome--Death came through Eve, but life came through Mary. Through Christ's birth of a virgin, the gift of continence has been bestwowed richly on women:
‎‎In those days, as I have said, the virtue of continence was found only in men: Eve still continued to travail with children. But now that a virgin has conceived (Is 7:14) in the womb and has borne to us a child of which the prophet says that “Government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father,” (Is 9:6) now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. And thus the gift of virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women, seeing that it has had its beginning from a woman. As soon as the Son of God set foot upon the earth, He formed for Himself a new household there; that, as He was adored by angels in heaven, angels might serve Him also on earth. (Jerome, Ep. 22.21, NPNF2, vol. 6, pg. 30)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem--Christ's birth from a woman without a man pays a debt of gratitude for Eve's creation from a man without a woman:
‎This debt of gratitude was due to men from womankind: for Eve was begotten of Adam, and not conceived of a mother, but as it were brought forth of man alone. Mary, therefore, paid the debt, of gratitude, when not by man but of herself alone in an immaculate way she conceived of the Holy Ghost by the power of God. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. Lect. 12.29, NPNF2, vol. 7, pg. 80)

Tertullian uses Rom. 1:3, 4 in explaining the Incarnation:
‎‎Thus does the apostle also teach respecting His two substances, saying, “who was made of the seed of David; ” (Rom 1:3) in which words He will be Man and Son of Man. “Who was declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit; ” (Rom 1:4) in which words He will be God, and the Word—the Son of God. We see plainly the twofold state, which is not confounded, but conjoined in One Person—Jesus, God and Man. (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 27, ANF, vol. 3, pg. 624)

St. Paul mentions Christ's generation according to the flesh not because it preceded his divinity but to lead his hearer from understanding his humanity to understanding his divinity:
‎For our discourse is not, saith he, of any bare man. Such was my reason for adding, “according to the flesh;” as hinting that there is also a Generation of the Same after the Spirit. And why did he begin from that and not from this the higher? It is because that was what Matthew, and Luke, and Mark, began from. For he who would lead men by the hand to Heaven, must needs lead them upwards from below. So too was the actual dispensation ordered. First, that is, they saw Him a man upon earth, and then they understood Him to be God. In the same direction then, as He Himself had framed His teaching, did His disciple also shape out the way which leadeth thither. Therefore the generation according to the flesh is in his language placed first in order, not because it was first, but because he was for leading the hearer from this up to that. (Chrysostom, Hom. Rom. 1, NPNF1, vol. 11, pg. 340)

St. Augustine on St. Joseph, the "just man":
‎‎“When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with Child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily;” (Mt. 1:19) for because he knew that she was not with child by him, he thought that she was so to say necessarily an adulteress. “Being a just man,” as the Scripture saith,” and not willing to make her a public example,” (that is, to divulge the matter, for so it is in many copies), “he was minded to put her away privily.” The husband indeed was in trouble, but as being a just man he deals not severely; for so great justice is ascribed to this man, as that he neither wished to keep an adulterous wife, nor could bring himself to punish and expose her. “He was minded to put her away privily,” because he was not only unwilling to punish, but even to betray her; and mark his genuine justice; for he did not wish to spare her, because he had a desire to keep her; for many spare their adulterous wives through a carnal love, choosing to keep them even though adulterous, that they may enjoy them through a carnal desire. But this just man has no wish to keep her, and so does not love in any carnal sort; and yet he does not wish to punish her; and so in his mercy he spares her. How truly just a man is this! He would neither keep an adulteress, lest he should seem to spare her because of an impure affection, and yet he would not punish or betray her. Deservedly indeed was he chosen for the witness of his wife’s virginity: and so he who was in trouble through human infirmity, was assured by Divine authority. (Augustine, Serm. 51.6.9, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 248-249)

St. John Chrysostom on why Christ was not concieved before Mary and Joseph's espousal:
‎And wherefore did she not conceive before her espousal? It was, as I said at first, that what had been done might be concealed awhile, and that the Virgin might escape every evil suspicion. For when he, who had most right of all to feel jealousy, so far from making her a show, or degrading her, is found even receiving and cherishing her after her conception; it was quite clear that, unless he had fully persuaded himself that what was done was of the operation of the Holy Spirit, he would not have kept her with him, and ministered to her in all other things. And most properly hath he said, that “she was ‘found’ with child,” the sort of expression that is wont to be used with respect to things strange, and such as happen beyond all expectation, and are unlooked for. (Chrysostom, Hom. Mt. 4.5, NPNF1, vol. 10, pg. 22)

See also Christmas Vigil for more on Mt 1:18-25.

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