Saturday, 4 January 2014

The wise men from the East: notes on Matthew 2:1-3

We are coming up to the feast of the Epiphany, and one of the epiphanies we celebrate is the coming of the wise men to adore the infant Jesus, described in St Matthew 2.  These verses are used at the third Mass of Christmas (Matthew 2:1-12), as well as the Feast of the Epiphany.  Here is the Douay-Rheims version of St Matthew 2: 1-3:

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. [2] Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. [3] And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 

And the Latin:

Cum ergo natus esset Jesus in Bethlehem Juda in diebus Herodis regis, ecce magi ab oriente venerunt Jerosolymam, 2 dicentes: Ubi est qui natus est rex Judæorum? vidimus enim stellam ejus in oriente, et venimus adorare eum. 3 Audiens autem Herodes rex, turbatus est, et omnis Jerosolyma cum illo. 

Notes and commentary

The Haydock commentary provides some useful contextual information on King Herod:

King Herod the Great, surnamed Ascalonite, was a foreigner, but a proselyte to the Jewish religion. St. Jerome. --- This city is called Bethlehem of Juda, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zabulon. (Haydock) 

The wikipedia provides this summary of him:

"He has been described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis","the evil genius of the Judean nation", "prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition" and "the greatest builder in Jewish history". He is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod's Temple), the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada and Herodium. Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus."

Why then was all Jerusalem alarmed at the news of the birth of  new king?  Haydock explains:

"Through fear of losing his kingdom, he being a foreigner, and had obtained the sovereignty by violence. But why was all Jerusalem to be alarmed at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected? 1. Because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more galling slavery. 2. Through apprehension of riots, and of a revolution, which could not be effected without bloodshed, as the Romans had such strong hold. They had also been so worn down with perpetual wars, that the most miserable servitude, with peace, was to the Jews an object rather of envy than deprecation. (Haydock)"

On the wise men, Haydock suggests that:

"Both the Latin and Greek text may signify wise philosophers and astronomers, which is the common exposition. The same word is also many times taken for a magician or soothsayer, as it is applied to Simon, (Acts viii. 9,) and to Elymas, Acts xiii, ver. 6. and 8. Some ancient interpreters think these very men might have been magicians before their conversion...Some say from Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia. Divers interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of some small territories. See Baron. an. i. sect. 29. Tillemont, note 12. on Jesus Christ. The number of these wise men is uncertain. St. Leo, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they had been three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offerings..."

Western tradition has handed down names for the wise men, viz Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, and there are candidates for who they are amongst the kingdoms of Persia, India and Arabia of the time.  

There are any number of candidates proposed by modern science for astronomical events to explain the star's appearance.  Haydock continues of the star of Bethlehem:

We have seen his star. They knew it to be his star,either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation. This star was some lightsome body in the air, which at last seemed to point to them the very place where the world's Redeemer lay. We know not whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey form the East to Jerusalem. We read nothing more in the gospel, but that it appeared to them in the East, and that they saw it again, upon their leaving Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. (Witham) --- The wise men, in the Syrian tongue maguscha, are supposed to have come from Stony Arabia, near the Euphrates. They might have preserved in this country the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messias by the emblem of a star, (Numbers xxiv. 17.) which was to arise from Jacob. The star which appeared then, was the symbol of the star which Balaam had predicted. (Haydock)

Friday, 3 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 1:18-25

Toros Roslin, 1262

Chapter 1 of St Matthew's Gospel gives us the story of the incarnation from the perspective of St Joseph.  Verses 18-21 are used at the Mass of the Vigil of Christmas.

8 Christi autem generatio sic erat: cum esset desponsata mater ejus Maria Joseph, antequam convenirent inventa est in utero habens de Spiritu Sancto. 19 Joseph autem vir ejus cum esset justus, et nollet eam traducere, voluit occulte dimittere eam. 20 Hæc autem eo cogitante, ecce angelus Domini apparuit in somnis ei, dicens: Joseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam conjugem tuam: quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu Sancto est. 21 Pariet autem filium: et vocabis nomen ejus Jesum: ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum. 22 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem: 23 Ecce virgo in utero habebit, et pariet filium: et vocabunt nomen ejus Emmanuel, quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus. 24 Exsurgens autem Joseph a somno, fecit sicut præcepit ei angelus Domini, et accepit conjugem suam. 25 Et non cognoscebat eam donec peperit filium suum primogenitum: et vocavit nomen ejus Jesum.


[18] Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. [19] Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. [20] But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. [21] And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. [22] Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: [23] Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [24] And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. [25] And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Notes and commentary

Why is Mary engaged to marry Joseph?  An extract from St Jerome in the Catena Aurea summarises some of the key answers:

JEROME; But why is He conceived not of a Virgin merely, but of a Virgin espoused? First, that by the descent of Joseph, Mary's family might be made known; secondly, that she might not be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress; thirdly, that in her flight into Egypt she might have the comfort of a husband. The Martyr Ignatius adds yet a fourth reason, namely, that his birth might be hid from the Devil, looking for Him to be born of a wife and not of a virgin.

What a terrifying time it must have been for Our Lady, even though she trusted fully in the grace of God:

 PSEUDO-AUG. Joseph, understanding that Mary was with child, is perplexed that it should be thus with her whom he had received from the temple of the Lord, and had not yet known, and resolved within Himself saying, What shall I do? Shall I proclaim it, or shall I overlook it? If I proclaim it, I am indeed not consenting to the adultery; but I am sinning into the guilt of cruelty, for by Moses' law she must be stoned. If I overlook it, I am consenting to the crime, and take my portion with the adulterers. Since then it is an evil to overlook the thing, and worse to proclaim the adultery, I will put her away from being my wife.

How ought we to act, when confronted with apparent secret sin?

AMBROSE; St. Matthew has beautifully taught how a righteous man ought to act, who has detected his wife's disgrace; so as at once to keep himself guiltless of her blood, and yet pure from her defilements; therefore it is he says, Being a just man. Thus is preserved throughout in Joseph the gracious character of a righteous man, that his testimony may be the more approved; for, the tongue of the just speaks the judgment of truth.

JEROME; But how is Joseph thus called just, when he is ready to hide his wife's sin? For the law enacts, that not only the doers of evil, but they whom privy to any evil done, shall be held to be guilty.

CHRYSOST. But it should be known, that just here is used to denote one who is in all things virtuous. For there is a particular justice, namely, the being free from covetousness; and universal virtue, in which sense Scripture generally uses the word justice. Therefore being just, that is, merciful, he was minded to put away privately; her who according to the Law was liable not only to dismissal. For as the sun lightens up the world, before he shows his rays, so Christ before He was born caused many wonders to be seen.

AUG. Otherwise; if you alone have knowledge of a sin that any has committed against you, and desire to accuse him thereof before men, you do not herein correct, but rather betray him. But Joseph, being a just man, with great mercy spared his wife, in this great crime of which he suspected her. The seeming certainty of her unchastity tormented him, and yet because he alone knew of it, he was willing not to publish it, but to send her away privily; seeking rather the benefit than the punishment of the sinner.

JEROME; Or this may be considered a testimony to Mary, that Joseph, confident in her purity, and wondering at what had happened, covered in silence that mystery which he could not explain.

RABANUS; He beheld her to be with child, whom he knew to be chaste; and because he had read, There shall come a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, of which he knew that Mary was come; and had also read, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, he did not doubt that this prophecy should he fulfilled in her.

ORIGEN; But if he had no suspicion of her, how could he be a just man and yet seek to put her away, being immaculate? He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy.

GLOSS. Or, in seeking to put her away, he was just; in that he sought it privily, is shown his mercy, defending her from disgrace; Being a just man, he was minded to put her away; and being unwilling to expose her in public, and so to disgrace her, he sought to do it privily.

AMBROSE; But as no one puts away what he has not received; in that he was minded to put her away, he admits to have received her.

GLOSS. Or, being unwilling to bring her home to his house to live with him forever, he was minded to put her away privately; that is, to change the time of their marriage. For that is true virtue, when neither mercy is observed without justice, nor justice without mercy; both which vanish when severed one from the other. Or he was just because of his faith, in that he believed that Christ should be born of a virgin; wherefore he wished to humble himself before so great a favor.

Divine revelation intervenes:

REMIG. Because Joseph was minded, as has been said, to put Mary away privily, which if he had done, there would have been few who would not rather have thought her a harlot than a virgin, therefore this purpose of Joseph was changed by Divine revelation, whence it is said, While he thought on these things.

GLOSS. In this is to be noted the wise soul that desires to undertake nothing rashly.

PSEUDO-CHRYS. By addressing him as son of David, he sought to recall to his memory the promise of God to David, that of his seed should Christ be born.

CHRYS. But by saying, Be not afraid, he shows him to be in fear that he had offended God, by having an adulteress; for only as such would he have ever thought of putting her away.

CHRYSOLOG. As her betrothed husband also he is admonished not to be afraid; for the mind that compassionates has most fear; as you he were to say, Here is no cause of death, but of life; she that brings forth life, does not deserve death.

PSEUDO-CHRYS. Also by the words, Fear not, he desired to show that he knew the heart; that by this he might have the more faith in those good things to come, which he was about to speak concerning Christ.

PSEUDO-CHRYS. There were three reasons why the Angel appeared to Joseph with this message. First, that a just man might not be led into an unjust action, with just intentions. Secondly, for the honor of the mother herself; for had she been put away, she could not have been free from evil suspicion among the unbelievers. Thirdly, that Joseph, understanding the holy conception, might keep himself from her with more care than before. He did not appear to Joseph before the conception, that he should not think those things that Zacharias thought, nor suffer what he suffered in falling into the sin of unbelief concerning the conception of his wife in her old age. For it was yet more incredible that a virgin should conceive, than that a woman past the age should conceive.

CHRYS. Or, The Angel appeared to Joseph when he was in this perplexity, that his wisdom might be apparent to Joseph, and that this might be a proof to him of those things that he spoke. For when he heard out of the mouth of the Angel those very things that he thought within himself, this was an undoubted proof, that he was a messenger from God, who alone knows the secrets of the heart. Also the account of the Evangelist is beyond suspicion, as he describes Joseph feeling all that a husband was likely to feel. The Virgin also by this was more removed from suspicion, in that her husband had felt jealousy, yet took her home, and kept her with him after her conception. She had not told Joseph the things that the Angel had said to her, because she did not suppose that she should be believed by her husband, especially as he had begun to have suspicions concerning her. But to the Virgin the Angel announced her conception before it took place, lest if he should defer it till afterwards she should be in straits. And it behoved that Mother who was to receive the Maker of all things to be kept free from all trouble. Not only does the Angel vindicate the Virgin from all impurity, but shows that the conception was supernatural, not removing his fears only, but adding matter of joy, saying, That which is born in her is of the Holy Spirit.

St Joseph's crucial role:

GLOSS. That Joseph should not suppose that he was no longer needed in this wedlock, seeing the conception had taken place without his intervention, the Angel declares to him, that though there had been no need of him in the conception, yet there was need of his guardianship; for the Virgin should bear a Son, and then he would be necessary both to the Mother and her Son: to the Mother to screen her from disgrace, to the Son to bring Him up and to circumcise Him. The circumcision is meant when he says, And you shall call His name Jesus; for it was usual to give the name in circumcision.

The virgin birth:

REMIG. It is the custom of the Evangelist to confirm what he says out of the Old Testament, for the sake of those Jews who believed on Christ, that they might recognize as fulfilled in the grace of the Gospel, the things that were foretold in the Old Testament; therefore he adds, Now all this was done. Here we must inquire why he should say all this was done, when above he has only related the conception. It should be known that he says this to show, that in the presence of God all this was done before it was done among men. Or, he says, all this was done, because he is relating past events; for when he wrote, it was all done.

GLOSS. Or, he says, all this was done, meaning, the Virgin was betrothed, she was kept chaste, she was found with child, the revelation was made by the Angel, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken. For that the Virgin should conceive and should bring forth would never have been fulfilled, had she not been espoused that she should not be stoned; and had not her secret been disclosed by the Angel, and so Joseph taken her to him, that she was not dismissed to disgrace and to perish by stoning. So had she perished before the birth, that prophecy would have been made void which says, She shall bring forth a Son.

St Joseph pray for us.

On to chapter 2.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 1: 1-17

St Matthew's Gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus, pointing us immediately to the continuity of the Old and New Testaments in the mystery of the Incarnation: Jesus does not come out of nowhere but rather is the result of the promises made by God to men and women whose stories we know.

St Matthew's Gospel Chapter 1

Vulgate Latin:

Liber generationis Jesu Christi filii David, filii Abraham. 2 Abraham genuit Isaac. Isaac autem genuit Jacob. Jacob autem genuit Judam, et fratres ejus. 3 Judas autem genuit Phares, et Zaram de Thamar. Phares autem genuit Esron. Esron autem genuit Aram. 4 Aram autem genuit Aminadab. Aminadab autem genuit Naasson. Naasson autem genuit Salmon. 5 Salmon autem genuit Booz de Rahab. Booz autem genuit Obed ex Ruth. Obed autem genuit Jesse. Jesse autem genuit David regem. 6 David autem rex genuit Salomonem ex ea quæ fuit Uriæ. 7 Salomon autem genuit Roboam. Roboam autem genuit Abiam. Abias autem genuit Asa. 8 Asa autem genuit Josophat. Josophat autem genuit Joram. Joram autem genuit Oziam. 9 Ozias autem genuit Joatham. Joatham autem genuit Achaz. Achaz autem genuit Ezechiam. 10 Ezechias autem genuit Manassen. Manasses autem genuit Amon. Amon autem genuit Josiam. 11 Josias autem genuit Jechoniam, et fratres ejus in transmigratione Babylonis. 12 Et post transmigrationem Babylonis: Jechonias genuit Salathiel. Salathiel autem genuit Zorobabel. 13 Zorobabel autem genuit Abiud. Abiud autem genuit Eliacim. Eliacim autem genuit Azor. 14 Azor autem genuit Sadoc. Sadoc autem genuit Achim. Achim autem genuit Eliud. 15 Eliud autem genuit Eleazar. Eleazar autem genuit Mathan. Mathan autem genuit Jacob. 16 Jacob autem genuit Joseph virum Mariæ, de qua natus est Jesus, qui vocatur Christus. 17 Omnes itaque generationes ab Abraham usque ad David, generationes quatuordecim: et a David usque ad transmigrationem Babylonis, generationes quatuordecim: et a transmigratione Babylonis usque ad Christum, generationes quatuordecim.

Or in English (Douay-Rheims):

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: [2] Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren. [3] And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram. [4] And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon. [5] And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse. [6] And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias. [7] And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa. [8] And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias. [9] And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias. [10] And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias. [11] And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon. [12] And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel. [13] And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor. [14] And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud. [15] And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob. [16] And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. [17] So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.


St Matthew's Gospel is often regarded as the one most targeted at a Jewish audience; indeed, some of the early Fathers believed it was originally written in Hebrew, though no Hebrew version has survived.  Unsurprisingly then, the genealogy provided here starts from Abraham rather than Adam as Luke's does.  And the family tree provided is for Joseph, not Mary as one would expect (and as many think the different one provided in Luke is).

Why start with his family tree? The Catena Aurea includes these comments amongst its selection:

 RABANUS; By this introduction he shows that it is the birth of Christ according to the flesh that he has undertaken to narrate.

 PSEUDO-CHRYS; Matthew wrote for the Jews, and in Hebrew; to them it was unnecessary to explain the divinity which they recognized; but in necessary to unfold the mystery of the Incarnation. John wrote in Greek for the Gentiles who knew nothing of a Son of God. They required therefore to be told first, that the Son of God was God, then that this Deity was incarnate.

CHRYS. And do not consider this genealogy a small thing to hear; for truly it is a marvelous thing that God should descend to be born of a woman, and to have as His ancestors David and Abraham.

REMIGIUS; Though any affirm that the prophet (Isaiah) does speak of His human generation, we need not answer to his inquiry, Who shall declare it? "No man;" but," Very few;" because Matthew and Luke have.

GLOSS. Others denied the reality of Christ's human nature. Valentinus said, that Christ sent from the Father, carried about a spiritual or celestial body, and took nothing of the Virgin, but passed through her as through a channel, taking nothing of her flesh. But we do not therefore believe Him to have been born of the Virgin, because by no other means He could have truly lived in the flesh, and appeared among men; but because it is so written in the Scripture, which if we believe not we cannot either be Christians, or be saved. But even a body taken of spiritual, or ethereal, or clayey substance, had He willed to change into the true and very quality of human flesh, who will deny His power to do this? The Manichaeans said that the Lord Jesus Christ was a phantasm, and could not be born of the womb of a woman. But if the body of Christ was a phantasm, He was a deceiver , and if a deceiver, then He was not the truth. But Christ is the Truth; therefore His Body was not a phantasm.

GLOSS. And as the opening both of this Gospel, and of that according to Luke, manifestly proves Christ's birth of a woman, and hence His real humanity, they reject the beginning of both these Gospels.

Many of the Fathers also see this passage as refuting a number of common heresies that denied the nature of Jesus as true God and true man.  The Catena contains a number of comments on the individuals named which are worth reading.

But a particularly important question is, why provide Joseph's ancestry given the virgin birth?  The answer goes to the importance of adoption in Jewish tradition, and for the notion of our own adoption as God's children:

AUG. He is more properly called his son, by whom he was adopted, than had he been said to have been begotten or him of whose flesh he was not born. Wherefore Matthew, in saying Abraham begot Isaac, and continuing the same phrase throughout down to Jacob begot Joseph, sufficiently declared that he gives the father according to the order of nature, so as that we must hold Joseph to have been begotten, not adopted, by Jacob. Though even if Luke had used the word begotten, we need not have thought it any serious objection; for it is not absurd to say of an adopted son that he is begotten, not after the flesh, but by affection.

EUSEB. Neither does this lack good authority; nor has it been suddenly devised by us for this purpose. For the kinsmen of our Savior according to the flesh, either out of desire to show forth this their so great nobility of stock, or simply for the truth's sake, have delivered it to us.

CHRYSOST. Having gone through all the ancestry, and ended in Joseph, he adds, The husband of Mary, thereby declaring that it was for her sake that he was included in the genealogy.

JEROME; When you hear this word husband, do not straight think of wedlock, but remember the Scripture manner, which calls persons only betrothed husband and wife.

GENNADIUS; The Son of God was born of human flesh, that is of Mary, and not by man after the way of nature, as Ebion says; and accordingly it is significantly added, Of her Jesus was born.

AUG. This is said against Valentinus, who taught that Christ took nothing of the Virgin Mary, but passed through her as through a channel or pipe.

ID. Wherefore it pleased Him to take flesh of the womb of a woman, is known in His own secret counsels; so that He might confer honor on both sexes alike, by taking the form of a man, and being born of a woman, or from some other reason which I would not hastily pronounce on;

JEROME; The attentive reader may ask, Seeing Joseph was not the father of the Lord and Savior, how does his genealogy traced down to him in order pertain to the Lord? We will answer, first, that it is not the practice of Scripture to follow the female line in its genealogies; secondly, that Joseph and Mary were of the same tribe, and that he was thence compelled to take her to wife as, a kinsman, and they were enrolled together at Bethlehem, as being come of one stock.

Why groups of fourteen?  The number should not be interpreted over literally:

CHRYS. Or he divided the whole genealogy into three parts, to show that not even by the change of their government were they made better, but under Judges, Kings, High Priests, and Priests, held the same evil course. For which cause also he mentions the captivity in Babylon, showing that neither by this were they corrected. But the going down into Egypt is not mentioned, because they were not still in terror of the Egyptians as they were of the Assyrians or Parthians; and because that was a remote, but this a recent event; and because they had not been carried thither for sin as they had to Babylon.

AMBROSE; Let us not think this is to be overlooked, that though there were seventeen Kings of Judaea between David and Jeconiah, Matthew only recounts fourteen. We must observe that there might be many more successions to the throne than generations of men; for some may live longer and beget children later; or might be altogether without seed; thence the number of Kings and of generations would not coincide.

REMIG. He made fourteen generations, because the ten denotes the decalogue, and the four, the four books of the Gospel; whence this shows the agreement of the Law and the Gospel. And He put the fourteen three times over, that he might show that the perfection of Law, prophecy, and grace, consists in the faith of the Holy Trinity.

GLOSS. Or in this number is signified the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit. The number is made up of seven, doubled, to show that the grace of the Holy Spirit is needed both for soul and body to salvation. Also the genealogy is divided into three portions of fourteen thus. The first from Abraham to David, so as that David is included in it; the second from David to the carrying away, in which David is not included, but the carrying away is included; the third is from the carrying away to Christ, in which if we say that Jeconiah is included, then the carrying away is included. In the first are denoted the men before the Law, in which you will find some of the men of the Law of nature, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all as far as Solomon. In the second are denoted the men under the Law; for all who are included in it were under the Law. In the third are found the men of grace; for it is finished in Christ, who was the giver of grace; and because in it was the deliverance from Babylon, signifying the deliverance from captivity that was made by Christ.

AUG. After having divided the whole into three periods of fourteen generations, he does not sum them all up and say, The sum of the whole is forty and two; because one of those fathers, that is Jeconiah, is reckoned twice; so that they do not amount to forty-two, as three times fourteen does, but because one is reckoned twice over, there are only forty-one generations. Matthew therefore, whose purpose was to draw out Christ's kingly character, counts forty successions in the genealogy exclusive of Christ. This number denotes the time for which we must be governed by Christ in this world, according to that painful discipline which is signified by the iron rod of which it is written in the Psalms, you shalt rule them with a rod of iron. That this number should denote this our temporal life, a reason offers at hand, in this, that the seaisons of the year are four, and that the world itself is bounded by four sides, the east, and west, the north, and the south. But forty contains ten four times. Moreover, ten itself is made up by a number proceeding from one to four.


Our families and their history are important, integrally connected with our faith, for we are not 'people of the book' but rather are part of a community, that cloud of witnesses stretching down the millennia and across the nations.

Let us pray then for the conversion of all our friends and family - those who have lapsed from the faith, never been catechised, or who have not yet truly heard the full truth - that their hearts might yet come to rest in God.

On to Notes on Matthew 1:18-25.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Possible lectio programs reading the Gospel of St Matthew

Lindisfarne Gospel

Doing at least some lectio divina each day should surely be a key part of our daily spiritual regime.

But what should we take as our text?  Let me suggest a few options for consideration.

Option 1: Study the psalms

For followers of St Benedict, knowing the psalms is surely the first priority.  St Benedict enjoins the study of the psalms twice in his Rule - once as a use for the gap between Matins and Lauds, and a second time in his discussion of the daily horarium.


The psalms are of course the backbone of his Office, their repetition each each week so crucial that the lessons are to be dropped if necessary, rather than the psalms be omitted or Lauds started late!  Yet the saint never actually explains why they are so important; rather  he just assumes we know that the psalms are the most quoted book of the Old Testament in the New, and long considered to contain the entire Bible in summary, poetic form.

My blog Psallam Domino is devoted to notes to assist those wishing to use the psalms for lectio divina, or to pray them with greater intensity, particularly in the context of the Benedictine form of the Divine Office.

Option 2: The texts of the Sunday cycle

One obvious option is to use the lectionary and propers used at the Mass.  If you normally attend the 1970 Missal Mass, there is so much material provided in the lectionary that you will have to select what to look at  - one obvious option being the epistles for each day.

In the traditional Mass the obvious option is to look at all the proper texts for the Sunday (and perhaps the texts of the other major feasts and seasons) - that is the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Epistle, Gospel, Offertory and Communio - over a week.  The Church has, for centuries, selected out these texts as crucial to our instruction, repeating them year after year so that we can have them practically memorised, so exploring them in more depth for ourselves makes a great deal of sense.

The Sunday Gospels of course can easily take up two or three days in this regime, if one studies them with the aid of patristic sources such as using the excellent Sunday Sermons of the Fathers volumes.  And if the psalm verses or other text in the propers are too sparse or repetitive, it is no great problem to consider the whole psalm or chapter from which the text is taken.

Option 3: Systematic reading of the Gospels

A second option is to spread the reading of the Gospels over a year, taking one for each quarter.  The Gospels are obviously the most important books of the bible for a Catholic to be familiar with, so well worth the effort.  And there are any number of commentaries available to assist this task.  A good starting point is the Catena Aurea of St Thomas, providing an anthology of patristic commentaries for our consideration.

This is the approach I plan to take here, looking at St Matthew's Gospel this quarter on this blog.

Option 4: (Rest of the) Bible in a year

Another option worth considering is systematically reading the rest of the Bible.

If you are feeling ambitious, a while back, a monk posted a suggested two possible reading plans for the Bible in a year over at New Liturgical Movement.  But if you are not a monk with several hours a day to devote to the task, you could devise a plan to spread your reading over two  or three years!

All the same, I will post in a sidebar the books suggested by reading plan 1, which broadly mirrors the Matins readings.

How to do (real) lectio divina

One of Pope Benedict XVI's important contributions to the rehabilitation of Scripture in the lives of Catholics is his instruction on how to do lectio divina

Lectio divina, or holy reading, has been popularised in recent years by assorted monks and others. 

Unfortunately, much of the guidance around amounts to nothing much more than, read the text aloud a few times, seize on whatever part of it gives you a good vibe, and tell everyone about your emotional response to it.

It's the kind of approach that might work well if you are a trained theologian with a good knowledge of the whole of Scripture. But which is extremely dangerous for the typical under-catechized cafeteria Catholic whose acquaintance with Scripture is at best superficial.  Contrast that with the Pope's instructions on how to do real lectio divina, which reflect the real monastic tradition, not the pop version often propagated today under its name.

The stages of lectio divina

Pope Benedict XVI suggests, in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini, that there are five stages to the process:

1. Lectio (a terms that literally means reading, but in late antiquity and medieval usage also encompassed translating, thinking about and studying the text): The Pope suggests that the fundamental question to be answered at this stage is, 'what does the text mean'?

2. Meditatio (meditation): 'what does the biblical text say to us'?

3. Oratio (prayer): 'what do we say to the Lord in response to his word'?

4. Contemplatio (contemplation): 'what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us'?

5. Actio (action; sometimes the term 'work' is used for this stage in medieval schemas for lectio): Putting it into practice.

Using all of the tools at our disposal to get at meaning

It is at the 'lectio' stage that the Pope proposes the integration of the tools offered by exegesis and theology into the process.

He makes the point that Scriptural interpretation is not just a purely individual matter: we must read it in the light of the faith, and in accordance with the principles the Church as set out.
In particular he points to the importance of:  
  • the way the New Testament definitively interprets the Old;
  • the witness of tradition: we must read "in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium";
  • drawing on the tools of exegesis;
  • with attention to both the literal and spiritual senses of the text (noting that the spiritual is subdivided into three senses which deal with the contents of the faith, with the moral life and with our eschatological aspirations).
The lectio stage, in other words, is not just a matter of reading the text through a few times, but requires serious study.

Meditation through to action

And this intellectual orientation carries through into the other stages of the process. At the meditation stage, for example, he suggests that "we must open ourselves to what God wants to say to us, ‘overcoming our deafness to those words that do not fit our own opinions or prejudices’. The theological implications of the text, in other words, should inform and be the subject of our meditations, prayers and consideration for action.

 It is not, of course, all a matter of intellect. The Pope stresses that lectio divina must be a dialogue with God, involving prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, so that "the word transforms us".

Dialogue though, involves listening, and listening not just to what we feel personally here and now, but also to what God has said to us through his Church down the ages. Sound advice indeed.

**Reposted from Australia Incognita and Psallam Domino

Monday, 30 December 2013

Why do lectio: St John Chrysostom's take on the subject

Homily on Matthew 1:

"It were indeed meet for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course.

For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since unto Noah, and unto Abraham, and unto his offspring, and unto Job, and unto Moses too, He discoursed not by writings, but Himself by Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tables, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For neither to the apostles did God give anything in writing, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit: for He, says our Lord, shall bring all things to your remembrance. John 14:26 And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He says by the Prophet: I will make a new covenant with you, putting my laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them, and, they shall be all taught of God. And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and have come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be a blame to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance, but rather treating what is written with neglect, as if it were cast forth without purpose, and at random, and so bringing down upon ourselves our punishment with increase.

But that no such effect may ensue, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written; and let us learn how the Old Law was given on the one hand, how on the other the New Covenant.... is now proposed for us to speak thereof, let us give careful heed to Matthew, discoursing plainly concerning this: for what he says is not his own, but all Christ's, who has made the laws of this city. Let us give heed, I say, that we may be capable of enrolment therein, and of shining forth among those that have already become citizens thereof, and are awaiting those incorruptible crowns. To many, however, this discourse seems to be easy, while the prophetic writings are difficult. But this again is the view of men who know not the depth of the thoughts laid up therein. Wherefore I entreat you to follow us with much diligence, so as to enter into the very ocean of the things written, with Christ for our guide at this our entering in....

Why, he that is grown old, and has travelled over much country, reports to us with all exactness the number of stadia, and the situations of cities, their plans, and their harbors and markets; but we ourselves know not even how far we are from the city that is in Heaven. For surely we should have endeavored to shorten the space, had we known the distance. That city being not only as far from us as Heaven is from the earth, but even much farther, if we be negligent; like as, on the other hand, if we do our best, even in one instant we shall come to the gates thereof. For not by local space, but by moral disposition, are these distances defined.

...Yea, for we are on the point of entering into a city (if God permit) of gold, and more precious than any gold.

Let us then mark her foundations, her gates consisting of sapphires and pearls; for indeed we have in Matthew an excellent guide. For through his gate we shall now enter in, and much diligence is required on our part. For should He see any one not attentive, He casts him out of the city.

Yes, for the city is most kingly and glorious; not as the cities with us, divided into a market-place, and the royal courts; for there all is the court of the King. Let us open therefore the gates of our mind, let us open our ears, and with great trembling, when on the point of setting foot on the threshold, let us worship the King that is therein. For indeed the first approach has power straightway to confound the beholder.

For the present we find the gates closed; but when we see them thrown open (for this is the solution of the difficulties), then we shall perceive the greatness of the splendor within. For there also, leading you with the eyes of the Spirit, is one who offers to show you all, even this Publican; where the King sits, and who of His host stand by Him; where are the angels, where the archangels; and what place is set apart for the new citizens in this city, and what kind of way it is that leads there, and what manner of portion they have received, who first were citizens therein, and those next after them, and such as followed these. And how many are the orders of these tribes, how many those of the senate, how many the distinctions of dignity.

Let us not therefore with noise or tumult enter in, but with a mystical silence.

For if in a theatre, when a great silence has been made, then the letters of the king are read, much more in this city must all be composed, and stand with soul and ear erect. For it is not the letters of any earthly master, but of the Lord of angels, which are on the point of being read.

If we would order ourselves on this wise, the grace itself of the Spirit will lead us in great perfection, and we shall arrive at the very royal throne, and attain to all the good things, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and always, even for ever and ever. Amen.