Monday, June 18, 2012

Sententiae Patristicae: Birth of John the Baptist

The Fathers of the Church on the Readings of the Lectionary

First Reading Isaiah 49:1–6
Second Reading Acts 13:22–26
Gospel Luke 1:57–66, 80


For the First Reading, see Ordinary Time 2, Year A.

St. John Chrysostom on the humility of John the Baptist:
‎Then John bears witness to this: “When John had first preached before His coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not He. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of His feet I am not worthy to loose.” (v. 24, 25.) And John too not merely bears witness (to the fact), but (does it in such sort that) when men were bringing the glory to him, he declines it: for it is one thing (not to affect) an honor which nobody thinks of offering; and another, to reject it when all men are ready to give it, and not only to reject it, but to do so with such humility. (Chrysostom, Hom. Ac. 29, NPNF1, vol. 11, pg. 182-183)

St. Ambrose on the naming of John the Baptist:
‎The holy Evangelist has especially remarked, that many thought the child should be called after his father Zacharias, in order that we might understand, not that any name of his kinsfolk was displeasing to his mother, but that the same word had been communicated to her by the Holy Spirit, which had been foretold by the Angel to Zacharias. And in truth, being dumb, Zacharias was unable to mention his son’s name to his wife, but Elisabeth obtained by prophecy what she had not learnt from her husband. Hence it follows, And she answered, &c. Marvel not that the woman pronounced the name which she had never heard, seeing the Holy Spirit who imparted it to the Angel revealed it to her; nor could she be ignorant of the forerunner of the Lord, who had prophesied of Christ. And it well follows, And they said unto her, &c. that you might consider that the name belongs not to the family, but to the Prophet. Zacharias also is questioned, and signs made to him, as it follows, And they made signs to the father, &c. But since unbelief had so bereft him of utterance and hearing, that he could not use his voice, he spoke by his hand-writing, as it follows, And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John; that is, we give no name to him who has received his name from God. (Ambrose, in Luc., Cat. Aur. 2.51-52)

St. Ambrose--the tongue of Zacariah is loosed by faith:
‎Rightly also, from that moment was his tongue loosed, for that which unbelief had bound, faith set free. Let us then also believe, in order that our tongue, which has been bound by the chains of unbelief, may be loosed by the voice of reason. Let us write mysteries by the Spirit if we wish to speak. Let us write the forerunner of Christ, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshly tablets of the heart. For he who names John, prophesies Christ. For it follows, And he spake, giving thanks. (Ambrose, in Luc., Cat. Aur. 2.52)

St. Bede--the celebration of John's birth symbolizes the beginning of the grace of the New Covenant:
‎Now in an allegory, the celebration of John’s birth was the beginning of the grace of the New Covenant. His neighbours and kinsfolk had rather give him the name of his father than that of John. For the Jews, who by the observance of the Law were united to him as it were by ties of kindred, chose rather to follow the righteousness which is of the Law, than receive the grace of faith. But the name of John, (i. e. the grace of God,) his mother in word, his father in writing, suffice to announce, for both the Law itself as well as the Psalms and the Prophecies, in the plainest language foretel the grace of Christ; and that ancient priesthood, by the foreshadowing of its ceremonies and sacrifices, bears testimony to the same. And well doth Zacharias speak on the eighth day of the birth of his child, for by the resurrection of the Lord, which took place on the eighth day, i. e. the day after the sabbath, (septimam sabbati.) the hidden secrets of the legal priesthood were revealed. (Bede, in Luc., Cat. Aur. 1.52-53)

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