Monday, March 21, 2011

Sententiae Patristicae: First Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Genesis 2:7–9, 3:1–7
Second Reading Romans 5:12–19 or Romans 5:12, 17–19
Gospel Matthew 4:1–11

Tertullian--the commandment to not eat from the tree contained the entirety of the law in embryo:
‎[I]f they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves —they would not have believed the persuasion of the serpent, and thus would not have committed murder upon themselves, by falling from immortality, by contravening God’s precept; from theft also they would have abstained, if they had not stealthily tasted of the fruit of the tree, nor had been anxious to skulk beneath a tree to escape the view of the Lord their God; nor would they have been made partners with the falsehood-asseverating devil, by believing him that they would be “like God;”and thus they would not have offended God either, as their Father, who had fashioned them from clay of the earth, as out of the womb of a mother; if they had not coveted another’s, they would not have tasted of the unlawful fruit. Therefore, in this general and primordial law of God, the observance of which, in the case of the tree’s fruit, He had sanctioned, we recognise enclosed all the precepts specially of the posterior Law, which germinated when disclosed at their proper times. (Tertullian, Answer to the Jews 2, ANF, vol. 3, pg. 152)

Origen--sin opened the eyes of sense, but closed the eyes of the mind that delighted in beholding God:
Moses, in his account of the creation of the world, introduces man before his transgression as both seeing and not seeing: seeing, when it is said of the woman, "The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise; " (Ge 3:6) and again not seeing, as when he introduces the serpent saying to the woman, as if she and her husband had been blind, "God knows that on the day that ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened; " (Ge 3:5) and also when it is said, "They did eat, and the eyes of both of them were opened." (Ge 3:7) The eyes of sense were then opened, which they had done well to keep shut, that they might not be distracted, and hindered from seeing with the eyes of the mind; and it was those eyes of the mind which in consequence of sin, as I imagine, were then closed, with which they had up to that time enjoyed the delight of beholding God and His paradise. (Origen, Cont. Cels. 7.39, ANF, vol. 4, pg. 626)

St. Augustine--the sin of disobedience was preceded by the sin of pride:
‎‎The devil, then, would not have ensnared man in the open and manifest sin of doing what God had forbidden, had man not already begun to live for himself. It was this that made him listen with pleasure to the words, “Ye shall be as gods,” (Gen 3:5) which they would much more readily have accomplished by obediently adhering to their supreme and true end than by proudly living to themselves. For created gods are gods not by virtue of what is in themselves, but by a participation of the true God. By craving to be more, man becomes less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficing, he fell away from Him who truly suffices him. Accordingly, this wicked desire which prompts man to please himself as if he were himself light, and which thus turns him away from that light by which, had he followed it, he would himself have become light,—this wicked desire, I say, already secretly existed in him, and the open sin was but its consequence. For that is true which is written, “Pride goeth before destruction, and before honor is humility;” (Pr 18:12) that is to say, secret ruin precedes open ruin, while the former is not counted ruin. (Augustine, De civ. Dei 14.13.2, NPNF1, vol. 2, pg. 274)

 St. Augustine on the kind of knowledge Adam and Eve gained:
‎“The eyes of them both were opened,” not to see. for already they saw, but to discern between the good they had lost and the evil into which they had fallen. And therefore also the tree itself which they were forbidden to touch was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from this circumstance, that if they ate of it it would impart to them this knowledge. For the discomfort of sickness reveals the pleasure of health. “They knew,” therefore, “that they were naked,”—naked of that grace which prevented them from being ashamed of bodily nakedness while the law of sin offered no resistance to their mind. And thus they obtained a knowledge which they would have lived in blissful ignorance of, had they, in trustful obedience to God, declined to commit that offence which involved them in the experience of the hurtful effects of unfaithfulness and disobedience. (Augustine, De civ. Dei 14.17.1, NPNF1, vol. 2, pg. 276)

St. John Damascene--the knowledge imparted by the tree would have been a good thing for the mature, but Adam and Eve's appetites were still too strong:
The tree of knowledge was for trial, and proof, and exercise of man’s obedience and disobedience: and hence it was named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else it was because to those who partook of it was given power to know their own nature. Now this is a good thing for those who are mature, but an evil thing for the immature and those whose appetites are too strong, being like solid food to tender babes still in need of milk. For our Creator, God, did not intend us to be burdened with care and troubled about many things, nor to take thought about, or make provision for, our own life. (John Damascene, De Fide Orth. 2.11, NPNF2, vol. 9, pg. 29)

John Cassian--the temptation of Adam and the temptation of Christ:
‎‎For it was right that He who was in possession of the perfect image and likeness of God should be Himself tempted through those passions, through which Adam also was tempted while he still retained the image of God unbroken, that is, through gluttony, vainglory, pride; and not through those in which he was by his own fault entangled and involved after the transgression of the commandment, when the image and likeness of God was marred. For it was gluttony through which he took the fruit of the forbidden tree, vainglory through which it was said “Your eyes shall be opened,” and pride through which it was said “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Ge 3:5) With these three sins then we read that the Lord our Saviour was also tempted; with gluttony when the devil said to Him: “Command these stones that they be made bread:” with vainglory: “If Thou art the Son of God cast Thyself down:”with pride, when he showed him all the kingdoms of the worldand the glory of them and said: “All this will I give to Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me:” in order that He might by His example teach us how we ought to vanquish the tempter when we are attacked on the same lines of temptation as He was. And so both the former and the latter are spoken of as Adam; the one being the first for destruction and death, and the other the first for resurrection and life. Through the one the whole race of mankind is brought into condemnation, through the other the whole race of mankind is set free. (Cassian, Collat. 1.5.6, NPNF2, vol. 11, pg. 341)

St. Augustine--grace justifies man from Original Sin and personal sins:
[T]he first man brought one sin into the world, but this man took away not only that one sin, but all that He found added to it. Hence the apostle says: “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.” (Rom 5:16) For it is evident that the one sin which we bring with us by nature would, even if it stood alone, bring us under condemnation; but the free gift justifies man from many offenses: for each man, in addition to the one sin which, in common with all his kind, he brings with him by nature, has committed many sins that are strictly his own. (Augustine, Enchir. 50, NPNF1, vol. 3, pg. 253-254)

St. Augustine on "the reign of death":
‎‎“Nevertheless,” says he, “death reigned from Adam even unto Moses, (Rom 5:14) —that is to say, from the first man even to the very law which was promulged by the divine authority, because even it was unable to abolish the reign of death. Now death must be understood “to reign,” whenever the guilt of sin so dominates in men that it prevents their attainment of that eternal life which is the only true life, and drags them down even to the second death which is penally eternal. This reign of death is only destroyed in any man by the Saviour’s grace, which wrought even in the saints of the olden time, all of whom, though previous to the coming of Christ in the flesh, yet lived in relation to His assisting grace, not to the letter of the law, which only knew how to command, but not to help them. In the Old Testament, indeed, that was hidden (conformably to the perfectly just dispensation of the times) which is now revealed in the New Testament. Therefore “death reigned from Adam unto Moses,” in all who were not assisted by the grace of Christ, that in them the kingdom of death might be destroyed, “even in those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,” (Rom 5:14) that is, who had not yet sinned of their own individual will, as Adam did, but had drawn from him original sin, “who is the figure of him that was to come,” (Rom 5:14) because in him was constituted the form of condemnation to his future progeny, who should spring from him by natural descent; so that from one all men were born to a condemnation, from which there is no deliverance but in the Saviour’s grace. (Augustine, De pecc. merit. et. remiss. 1.11.13, NPN1, vol. 5, pg. 19)

St. John Chrysostom--Adam is a type of Christ:
‎‎How did [death] reign? “After the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come.” Now this is why Adam is a type of Christ. How a type? it will be said. Why in that, as the former became to those who were sprung from him, although they had not eaten of the tree, the cause of that death which by his eating was introduced; thus also did Christ become to those sprung from Him, even though they had not wrought righteousness, the Provider of that righteousness which through His Cross He graciously bestowed on us all. For this reason, at every turn he keeps to the “one,” and is continually bringing it before us, when he says, “As by one man sin entered into the world”—and, “If through the offence of one many be dead:” and, “Not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift;” and, “The judgment was by one to condemnation:” and again, “If by one (or, the one) man’s offence death reigned by one;” and “Therefore as by the offence of one.” And again, “As by one man’s disobedience many (or, the many) were made sinners.” And so he letteth not go of the one, that when the Jew says to thee, How came it, that by the well-doing of this one Person, Christ, the world was saved? thou mightest be able to say to him, How by the disobedience of this one person, Adam, came it to be condemned? And yet sin and grace are not equivalents, death and life are not equivalents, the Devil and God are not equivalents, but there is a boundless space between them. When then as well from the nature of the thing as from the power of Him that transacteth it, and from the very suitableness thereof (for it suiteth much better with God to save than to punish), the preëminence and victory is upon this side, what one word have you to say for unbelief, tell me? (Chrysostom, Hom. Rom. 10, NPNF1, vol. 11, pg. 402)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem--we were cast out from paradise because of the tree of food, but allowed now because of the Tree of Jesus:
‎‎And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. Moreover one man’s sin, even Adam’s, had power to bring death to the world; but if by the trespass of the one death reigned over the world, how shall not life much rather reign by the righteousness of the One? (Rom 5:17, 18) And if because of the tree of food they were then east out of paradise, shall not believers now more easily enter into paradise because of the Tree of Jesus? If the first man formed out of the earth brought in universal death, shall not He who formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, being Himself the Life? (Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. Lect. 13.2, NPNF2, vol. 2, pg. 82)

St. Irenaeus on Christ's fast:
‎Fasting forty days, like Moses and Elias, He afterwards hungered, first, in order that we may perceive that He was a real and substantial man—for it belongs to a man to suffer hunger when fasting; and secondly, that His opponent might have an opportunity of attacking Him. For as at the beginning it was by means of food that [the enemy] persuaded man, although not suffering hunger, to transgress God’s commandments, so in the end he did not succeed in persuading Him that was an hungered to take that food which proceeded from God. (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 5.21.2, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 549)

St. Augustine--Christ taught us to overcome the tempter by despising his will:
‎‎For ye know that when the Lord Christ was tempted, the devil suggested this to Him. For He was an hungred, since this too He vouchsafed to be, since this too made part of His Humiliation. The Bread was hungry, as the Way fainted, as saving Health was wounded, as the Life died. When then He was an hungred as ye know, the tempter said to Him, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” (Mt 6:3) And He made answer to the tempter, teaching thee to answer the tempter. For to this end does the general fight, that the soldiers may learn. What answer did He make? “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Mt 4:4) And He did not make bread of the stones, who of course could as easily have done it, as He made of water wine. For it is an exercise of the same power to make bread of stone; but He did it not, that He might despise the tempter’s will. For no otherwise is the tempter overcome, but by being despised. And when He had overcome the devil’s temptation, “Angels came and ministered to Him.” (Mt 4:11) (Augustine, Serm. 123.2, NPNF1, vol. 6, pg. 473)

St. John Chrysostom--the devil is most likely to attack us when we are alone:
‎And see whither the Spirit led Him up, when He had taken Him; not into a city and forum, but into a wilderness. That is, He being minded to attract the devil, gives him a handle not only by His hunger, but also by the place. For then most especially doth the devil assail, when he sees men left alone, and by themselves. Thus did he also set upon the woman in the beginning, having caught her alone, and found her apart from her husband. Just as when he sees us with others and banded together, he is not equally confident, and makes no attack. Wherefore we have the greatest need on this very account to be flocking together continually, that we may not be open to the devil’s attacks. (Chrysostom, Hom. Mt. 13.1, NPNF1, vol. 10, pg. 80)

St. Ambrose on the power of fasting:
‎‎Wherefore also the Lord Jesus, wishing to make us more strong against the temptations of the devil, fasted when about to contend with him, that we might know that we can in no other way overcome the enticements of evil. Further, the devil himself hurled the first dart of his temptations from the quiver of pleasure, saying: “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Mt 4:3) After which the Lord said: “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word of God;” (Mt 4:4) and would not do it, although He could, in order to teach us by a salutary precept to attend rather to the pursuit of reading than to pleasure. (Ambrose, Ep. 63.15, NPNF2, vol. 10, pg. 459)

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