Saturday, 18 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 6:19-34

Eugène Atget , Lilies

Verses 24-33 of St Matthew are the Gospel for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and urge us not to worry about earthly possessions, but rather to store up merit in heaven.  Few things would render our lives more counter-cultural than following this advice:

19 Nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in terra: ubi ærugo, et tinea demolitur: et ubi fures effodiunt, et furantur. 20 Thesaurizate autem vobis thesauros in cælo, ubi neque ærugo, neque tinea demolitur, et ubi fures non effodiunt, nec furantur. 21 Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi est et cor tuum. 22 Lucerna corporis tui est oculus tuus. Si oculus tuus fuerit simplex, totum corpus tuum lucidum erit. 23 Si autem oculus tuus fuerit nequam, totum corpus tuum tenebrosum erit. Si ergo lumen, quod in te est, tenebræ sunt: ipsæ tenebræ quantæ erunt? 24 Nemo potest duobus dominis servire: aut enim unum odio habebit, et alterum diliget: aut unum sustinebit, et alterum contemnet. Non potestis Deo servire et mammonæ.25 Ideo dico vobis, ne solliciti sitis animæ vestræ quid manducetis, neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca, et corpus plus quam vestimentum? 26 Respicite volatilia cæli, quoniam non serunt, neque metunt, neque congregant in horrea: et Pater vester cælestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis? 27 Quis autem vestrum cogitans potest adjicere ad staturam suam cubitum unum? 28 Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt: non laborant, neque nent. 29 Dico autem vobis, quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis. 30 Si autem fœnum agri, quod hodie est, et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos modicæ fidei? 31 Nolite ergo solliciti esse, dicentes: Quid manducabimus, aut quid bibemus, aut quo operiemur? 32 hæc enim omnia gentes inquirunt. Scit enim Pater vester, quia his omnibus indigetis. 33 Quærite ergo primum regnum Dei, et justitiam ejus: et hæc omnia adjicientur vobis. 34 Nolite ergo solliciti esse in crastinum. Crastinus enim dies sollicitus erit sibi ipsi: sufficit diei malitia sua.

And the Douay-Rheims:

[19] Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. [20] But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.[21] For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. [22] The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. [23] But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! [24] No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. [25] Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?[26] Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? [27] And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature by one cubit? [28] And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. [29] But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. [30] And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? [31] Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? [32] For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. [33] Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. [34] Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.


We live in a world driven by self-indulgent, narcissistic consumerism.  And even (especially?) within the Church itself - in the activities of our parishes and other ecclesial organisations - there is generally a built-in assumption of prosperity that can effectively exclude those who are poor due to unemployment, ill-health or other causes, or worst of all, choose voluntary poverty.  Indeed, so far from our roots are we that I've even see someone thrust a collection plate in front of a habit-wearing nun!

Yet Scripture and the example of the saints constantly urge us to take a different path, and their example is worth meditating on.  One of my favourite examples of this comes from St Gregory's Life of St Benedict:

"At another time, there was a great dearth in the same country of Campania: so that all kind of people tasted of the misery: and all the wheat of Benedict's monastery was spent, and likewise all the bread, so that there remained no more than five loaves for dinner. The venerable man, beholding the monks sad, both rebuked them modestly for their pusillanimity, and again comforted them with a promise. "Why," said he, "are you so grieved in your minds for lack of bread? Indeed, today there is some want, but tomorrow you shall have plenty."

And so it fell out, for the next day two hundred bushels of meal were found in sacks before his cell door, which almighty God sent them: but by whom, or what means, that is unknown to this very day: which miracle when the monks saw, they gave God thanks, and by this learned in want, not to make any doubt of plenty."

Not all of us can aspire to complete voluntary poverty, however, for we have families to provide for.  St John Chrysostom's commentary on this text therefore offers some practical advice on this subject.  He doesn't back away from the possibility of achieving the ideal:

"Let us not therefore suppose His injunctions are impossible: for there are many who duly perform them, even as it is. And if you know not of them, it is nothing marvellous, since Elias too supposed he was alone, but was told, I have left unto myself seven thousand men. Whence it is manifest that even now there are many who show forth the life; like as the three thousand then, and the five thousand. And if we believe not, it is not because there are none who do well, but because we are far from so doing. So that just as the drunkard would not easily believe, that there exists any man who does not taste even water (and yet this has been achieved by many solitaries in our time ); nor he who connects himself with numberless women, that it is easy to live in virginity; nor he that extorts other men's goods, that one shall readily give up even his own: so neither will those, who daily melt themselves down with innumerable anxieties, easily receive this thing.

Now as to the fact, that there are many who have attained unto this, we might show it even from those, who have practised this self-denial even in our generation.:

He also, though, suggests some steps along the way:

"But for you, just now, it is enough to learn not to covet, and that almsgiving is a good thing; and to know that you must impart of what you have. For these things if you will duly perform, beloved, you will speedily proceed to those others also.

For the present therefore let us lay aside our excessive sumptuousness, and let us endure moderation, and learn to acquire by honest labor all that we are to have: since even the blessed John, when he was discoursing with those that were employed upon the tribute, and with the soldiery, enjoined them to be content with their wages. Luke 3:14 Anxious though he were to lead them on to another, and a higher self-command, yet since they were still unfit for this, he speaks of the lesser things. Because, if he had mentioned what are higher than these, they would have failed to apply themselves to them, and would have fallen from the others.

For this very reason we too are practising you in the inferior duties. Yes, because as yet, we know, the burden of voluntary poverty is too great for you, and the heaven is not more distant from the earth, than such self-denial from you. Let us then lay hold, if it be only of the lowest commandments, for even this is no small encouragement. And yet some among the heathens have achieved even this, though not in a proper spirit, and have stripped themselves of all their possessions. However, we are contented in your case, if alms are bestowed abundantly by you; for we shall soon arrive at those other duties too, if we advance in this way. But if we do not so much as this, of what favor shall we be worthy, who are bidden to surpass those under the old law, and yet show ourselves inferior to the philosophers among the heathens? What shall we say, who when we ought to be angels and sons of God, do not even quite maintain our being as men? For to spoil and to covet comes not of the gentleness of men, but of the fierceness of wild beasts; nay, worse than wild beasts are the assailers of their neighbor's goods. For to them this comes by nature, but we who are honored with reason, and yet are falling away unto that unnatural vileness, what indulgence shall we receive?

Let us then, considering the measures of that discipline which is set before us, press on at least to the middle station, that we may both be delivered from the punishment which is to come, and proceeding regularly, may arrive at the very summit of all good things; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

Friday, 17 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 6:1-18

Media release:
Papal Almoner said a funeral Mass for a homeless man

Today's Gospel will sound very familiar to many: verses 16 to 21 are used in the Mass for Ash Wednesday, while verses 9-13 set out the Our Father.

There is an interesting contrast in these injunctions compared to those of the previous chapter: in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount we are urged to show our good works to the world, so that others might be drawn to the light; here we are urged to do our prayer, fasting and almsgiving (so far as possible) in secret.  How do we resolve these conflicting instructions?  The answer goes to our motivations:

Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis: alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in cælis est. 2 Cum ergo facis eleemosynam, noli tuba canere ante te, sicut hypocritæ faciunt in synagogis, et in vicis, ut honorificentur ab hominibus. Amen dico vobis, receperunt mercedem suam. 3 Te autem faciente eleemosynam, nesciat sinistra tua quid faciat dextera tua: 4 ut sit eleemosyna tua in abscondito, et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi. 5 Et cum oratis, non eritis sicut hypocritæ qui amant in synagogis et in angulis platearum stantes orare, ut videantur ab hominibus: amen dico vobis, receperunt mercedem suam. 6 Tu autem cum oraveris, intra in cubiculum tuum, et clauso ostio, ora Patrem tuum in abscondito: et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi.7 Orantes autem, nolite multum loqui, sicut ethnici, putant enim quod in multiloquio suo exaudiantur. 8 Nolite ergo assimilari eis: scit enim Pater vester, quid opus sit vobis, antequam petatis eum. 9 Sic ergo vos orabitis:Pater noster, qui es in cælis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. 10 Adveniat regnum tuum; fiat voluntas tua, sicut in cælo et in terra. 11 Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie, 12 et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. 13 Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen. 14 Si enim dimiseritis hominibus peccata eorum: dimittet et vobis Pater vester cælestis delicta vestra. 15 Si autem non dimiseritis hominibus: nec Pater vester dimittet vobis peccata vestra.16 Cum autem jejunatis, nolite fieri sicut hypocritæ, tristes. Exterminant enim facies suas, ut appareant hominibus jejunantes. Amen dico vobis, quia receperunt mercedem suam. 17 Tu autem, cum jejunas, unge caput tuum, et faciem tuam lava, 18 ne videaris hominibus jejunans, sed Patri tuo, qui est in abscondito: et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi.

And in English:

[1] Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. [2] Therefore when thou dost an almsdeed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. [3] But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. [4] That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. [5] And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.[6] But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. [7] And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. [8] Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him. [9] Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. [10] Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.[11] Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. [12] And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. [13] And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen. [14] For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. [15] But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.[16] And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. [17] But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; [18] That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee.


The tension between showing forth our good works, as instructed in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and doing works in secret to earn a heavenly reward is dealt with in St Augustine's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.

Prayer and fasting, the text instructs, can always be done in private secretly.  Almsgiving is rather harder to conceal, but what matters is our purpose and approach to it.  Certainly a point to ponder in this difficult time when some in the Church seem intent on shouting their good works to the secular media, seemingly in the interests of improving the 'image' of the Church:

"Take heed, therefore, says He, that you do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: i.e., take heed that you do not live righteously with this intent, and that you do not place your happiness in this, that men may see you. Otherwise you have no reward of your Father who is in heaven: not if you should be seen by men; but if you should live righteously with the intent of being seen by men. For, [were it the former], what would become of the statement made in the beginning of this sermon, You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works? But He did not set up this as the end; for He has added, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. But here, because he is finding fault with this, if the end of our right actions is there, i.e. if we act rightly with this design, only of being seen of men; after He has said, Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men, He has added nothing. And hereby it is evident that He has said this, not to prevent us from acting rightly before men, but lest perchance we should act rightly before men for the purpose of being seen by them, i.e. should fix our eye on this, and make it the end of what we have set before us.

For the apostle also says, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ; while he says in another place, Please all men in all things, even as I also please all men in all things. And they who do not understand this think it a contradiction; while the explanation is, that he has said he does not please men, because he was accustomed to act rightly, not with the express design of pleasing men, but of pleasing God, to the love of whom he wished to turn men's hearts by that very thing in which he was pleasing men. Therefore he was both right in saying that he did not please men, because in that very thing he aimed at pleasing God: and right in authoritatively teaching that we ought to please men, not in order that this should be sought for as the reward of our good deeds; but because the man who would not offer himself for imitation to those whom he wished to be saved, could not please God; but no man possibly can imitate one who has not pleased him. As, therefore, that man would not speak absurdly who should say, In this work of seeking a ship, it is not a ship, but my native country, that I seek: so the apostle also might fitly say, In this work of pleasing men, it is not men, but God, that I please; because I do not aim at pleasing men, but have it as my object, that those whom I wish to be saved may imitate me. Just as he says of an offering that is made for the saints, Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit; i.e., In seeking your gift, I seek not it, but your fruit. For by this proof it could appear how far they had advanced Godward, when they offered that willingly which was sought from them not for the sake of his own joy over their gifts, but for the sake of the fellowship of love.

Although when He also goes on to say, Otherwise you have no reward of your Father who is in heaven, He points out nothing else but that we ought to be on our guard against seeking man's praise as the reward of our deeds, i.e. against thinking we thereby attain to blessedness.

Therefore, when you do your alms, says He, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men..."

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Should Catholics read Bible books systematically?***

A few weeks ago on Saints Will Arise I suggested a number of options on what to read by way of lectio divina, including looking at the psalms, taking the texts of the Sunday liturgical cycle, reading the Gospels systematically, and reading (the rest of) the Bible.

I've just come across a rather curious post by Father Mark over at Vultus Christi who, in a letter to Oblates of his monastery, argues that a systematic program of Bible reading , or reading the books of Scripture right through is downright uncatholic.

I have to say I find this a rather extreme position.

I'm not sure whether it was meant as a direct response to my post (or queries from his oblates generated by it); probably not.  But thought I would comment on it all the same.  Alas, wordpress won't, for some reason, allow me to post a comment on his blog, so I'm posting it over here instead.

Reading the Bible in order is Protestant?

Fr Mark points rightly to the privileged place Scripture has in the liturgy, and of Scripture as, in a certain sense, a product of the liturgy rather than something that should be viewed as entirely independent of it.  And he points out that Scripture is not a personal book, but something that can only be understood in the midst of the Church.  Thus far I agree.

But he then takes that view a step further than I think can really be sustained, arguing that as a general principle, as Catholics, we should only read the Bible in the context of the readings set at Mass and in the Office:

"Unlike Protestants who may open the Bible at random, or follow a personal reading plan, or use it to prepare a teaching or sermon, Catholic and Orthodox Christians submit to the Church’s use of the Bible in the liturgy...What should one read in lectio divina? In my long personal experience, it is best to focus on the very texts that will be chanted or read, and heard on a given day, in Holy Mass and in the Divine Office..."

He consigns the reading of Scripture in order to rare special occasions:

"There are also moments in life, notably during a retreat or on the occasion of a special anniversary, when one may want to read a particular book of the Bible continuously from start to finish..." 

St Benedict and the tradition on lectio divina

Now I'm all in favour of one option for lectio divina being to base it around the readings in the liturgy.
But to claim this is the only option we should ever adopt seems to me a step too far!

Here is why.

First, St Benedict himself in his Rule sets the precedent in favour of reading books in order, requiring his monks to read least one book a year consecutively (and this would normally have been a book of Scripture) during the season of Lent (RB 48).

Secondly the Fathers (including Benedictine monks like St Bede) and later theologians did not simply stick to the Sunday (or Sanctoral) readings, but produced many commentaries on complete books of Scripture, long viewed as essentially products of lectio divina.  Using them in anthology form obviously has value, but so too, surely, does treating them as complete works in their own right.

Thirdly, many of the Fathers adopt a 'canonical' reading of Scripture, an approach that is regaining popularity today, that interprets sections of Scripture by reference to its placement in the particular book of the Bible.  In the case of the psalms, for example, the particular number of certain psalms is regarded as significant in and of itself.  And canonical interpretation becomes supremely important in the case of obviously carefully crafted orderings of the material such as occur in St John's Gospel in particular, which is structured around 'signs' and 'days'. If we only ever read the snippets of Scripture prescribed for a particular day in the Mass we will surely miss this rich layer of meaning that comes from context.

Fourthly, others have suggested that in fact the monastic tradition is to read the books of the Bible through over a year: in fact, as Dom Christopher Lazowski, in an inspiring post from a few years back on New Liturgical Movement states that:

"There is a monastic adage that states that a monk should pray the Psalter in a week, and should read the Bible in a year...The rest of the Bible is read in a systematic way at the night Office...But the reading of Sacred Scripture is not limited to the liturgy. It is the chief matter of lectio divina, the meditative and prayerful reading, sliding in and out of prayer, that is a vital element of monastic life."

Dom Christopher notes that novices in his own monastery are given a plan for reading the Bible in a year 'which is inspired by the way the different books are read at the Office, with the addition of the books that the Office omits, but without the psalms and the Gospels'.

Finally, there are practical reasons for reading the books straight through as well, not the least of which is that if we only read what occurs in the liturgy we will remain ignorant of large chunks of Scripture (yes even the Novus Ordo lectionary omits whole psalms, chapters and verses of the Bible from its cycle).  Yet the Church has always insisted that all of Scripture is provided for our instruction.

St Matthew continues!

There is certainly a good case for taking the texts of the Mass and/or Office as the basis for our lectio for at least once cycle.  But equally, I think, there is a case for appreciating that God inspired the Sacred authors to write complete books that should be treated as such.

Accordingly, I for one will be plowing on with my systematic reading of St Matthew this quarter!

**Just to note that Fr Mark has written a subsequent post rather modifying his position, and suggesting that reading through the Gospels systematically would be acceptable as a source of lectio.

Notes on Matthew 5:33-48

Sermon on the Mount, c6th,
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.

Today's section of St Matthew's Gospel continues to urge us to a higher standard of behaviour as a critical part of our role as conveyors of light to others.  The whole chapter is summarised in the closing verse, 'Be ye perfect...':

33 Iterum audistis quia dictum est antiquis: Non perjurabis: reddes autem Domino juramenta tua. 34 Ego autem dico vobis, non jurare omnino, neque per cælum, quia thronus Dei est: 35 neque per terram, quia scabellum est pedum ejus: neque per Jerosolymam, quia civitas est magni regis: 36 neque per caput tuum juraveris, quia non potes unum capillum album facere, aut nigrum. 37 Sit autem sermo vester, est, est: non, non: quod autem his abundantius est, a malo est. 38 Audistis quia dictum est: Oculum pro oculo, et dentem pro dente. 39 Ego autem dico vobis, non resistere malo: sed si quis te percusserit in dexteram maxillam tuam, præbe illi et alteram: 40 et ei, qui vult tecum judicio contendere, et tunicam tuam tollere, dimitte ei et pallium: 41 et quicumque te angariaverit mille passus, vade cum illo et alia duo. 42 Qui petit a te, da ei: et volenti mutuari a te, ne avertaris.43 Audistis quia dictum est: Diliges proximum tuum, et odio habebis inimicum tuum. 44 Ego autem dico vobis: diligite inimicos vestros, benefacite his qui oderunt vos, et orate pro persequentibus et calumniantibus vos: 45 ut sitis filii Patris vestri, qui in cælis est: qui solem suum oriri facit super bonos et malos: et pluit super justos et injustos. 46 Si enim diligitis eos qui vos diligunt, quam mercedem habebitis? nonne et publicani hoc faciunt? 47 Et si salutaveritis fratres vestros tantum, quid amplius facitis? nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt? 48 Estote ergo vos perfecti, sicut et Pater vester cælestis perfectus est.

And in the Douay-Rheims translation:

[33] Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. [34] But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God: [35] Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king:[36] Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. [37] But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil. [38] You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. [39] But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: [40] And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. [41] And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two, [42] Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. [43] You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: [45] That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.[46] For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? [47] And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? [48] Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.


The injunction to strive to be perfect, even as God is, is surely the hardest of all the Gospel teachings!  Most of us, I suspect, are hoping to just scrape it into heaven: we don't really strive to be great saints.  And most of us in our day to day lives struggle to resist the temptation to take revenge when the chance is offered; few of us really go the extra mile.

Yet if we are truly to call ourselves Christians, and truly to help others to likewise see the light, this is what we must strive for, as the Fathers explain in St Thomas' Catena Aurea anthology:

JEROME; Many measuring the commandments of God by their own weakness, not by the strength of the saints, hold these commands for impossible, and say that it is virtue enough not to hate our enemies; but to love them is a command beyond human nature to obey. But it must be understood that Christ enjoins not impossibilities but perfection. Such was the temper of David towards Saul and Absalom; the Martyr Stephen also prayed for his enemies while they stoned him, and Paul wished himself anathema for the sake of his persecutors. Jesus both taught and did the same, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. 

AUG. These indeed are examples of the perfect sons of God; yet to this should every believer aim, and seek by prayer to God, and struggles with himself to raise his human spirit to this temper. Yet this so great blessing is not given to all those multitudes which we believe are heard when they pray, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 

CHRYS. Note through what steps we have now ascended here, and how he has set us on the very pinnacle of virtue. The first step is not to begin to do wrong to any; the second, that in avenging a wrong done to us we be content with retaliating equal; the third, to return nothing of what we have suffered; the fourth, to offer one's self to the endurance of evil; the fifth, to be ready to suffer even more evil than the oppressor desires to inflict; the sixth, not to hate him of whom we suffer such things; the seventh, to love him; the eighth, to do him good; the ninth, to pray for him. And because the command is great, the reward proposed is also great, namely, to be made like to God, You shall be the sons of your Father which is in heaven. 

JEROME; For whoever keeps the commandments of God is thereby made the son of God; he then of whom he here speaks is not by nature his son, but by his own will. 

AUG. After that rule we must here understand of which John speaks, He gave them power to be made the sons of God. One is His Son by nature; we are made sons by the power which we have received; that is, so far as we fulfill those things that we are commanded. So He says not, Do these things because you are sons, but, do these things that you may become sons. In calling us to this then, He calls us to His likeness, for He says, He makes His sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous. By the sun we may understand not this visible, but that of which it is said, To you that fear the name of the Lord, the Sun of righteousness shall arise

PSEUDO-CHRYS.For as our sons after the flesh resemble their fathers in some part of their bodily shape, so do spiritual sons resemble their father God, in holiness.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 5:17-32

Giotto: The Marriage at Cana

Today's section of St Matthew's Gospel, of which verses 20-24 are used in the Mass of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, starts from that crucial statement, that Christ has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  The text then explicates this by explaining that higher standard that is required of those who are gifted with grace, for it is not just our external actions that need to be conformed to the Spirit, but also our thoughts and dispositions.  The explanation gives several examples, leading up to the case of marriage:

17 Nolite putare quoniam veni solvere legem aut prophetas: non veni solvere, sed adimplere. 18 Amen quippe dico vobis, donec transeat cælum et terra, jota unum aut unus apex non præteribit a lege, donec omnia fiant. 19 Qui ergo solverit unum de mandatis istis minimis, et docuerit sic homines, minimus vocabitur in regno cælorum: qui autem fecerit et docuerit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno cælorum.20 Dico enim vobis, quia nisi abundaverit justitia vestra plus quam scribarum et pharisæorum, non intrabitis in regnum cælorum. 21 Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: Non occides: qui autem occiderit, reus erit judicio. 22 Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui irascitur fratri suo, reus erit judicio. Qui autem dixerit fratri suo, raca: reus erit concilio. Qui autem dixerit, fatue: reus erit gehennæ ignis. 23 Si ergo offers munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te: 24 relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo: et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum. 25 Esto consentiens adversario tuo cito dum es in via cum eo: ne forte tradat te adversarius judici, et judex tradat te ministro: et in carcerem mittaris. 26 Amen dico tibi, non exies inde, donec reddas novissimum quadrantem.27 Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: Non mœchaberis. 28 Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, jam mœchatus est eam in corde suo. 29 Quod si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum, et projice abs te: expedit enim tibi ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum mittatur in gehennam. 30 Et si dextra manus tua scandalizat te, abscide eam, et projice abs te: expedit enim tibi ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum eat in gehennam. 31 Dictum est autem: Quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, det ei libellum repudii. 32 Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui dimiserit uxorem suam, excepta fornicationis causa, facit eam mœchari: et qui dimissam duxerit, adulterat.

And in English:

[17] Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. [21] You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. [22] But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. [23] If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; [24] Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift. [25] Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.[26] Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing. [27] You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. [28] But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. [30] And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.[31] And it hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. [32] But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. 


A key issue here is what it means to fulfill the law, given that we are no longer required to obey the old purity and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.  St Thomas' Catena Aurea offers a number of helpful commentaries on this:

CHRYS. Christ then fulfilled the Prophets by accomplishing what was therein foretold concerning Himself - and the Law, first, by transgressing none of its precepts; secondly, by justifying by faith, which the Law could not do by the letter.

AUG; The Catholics are not in any difficulty on account of this chapter as though they did not observe the Law and the Prophets; for they do cherish love to God and their neighbor, on which hang all the Law and the Prophets. And whatever in the Law and the Prophets was foreshown, whether in things done, in the celebration of sacramental rites, or in forms of speech, all these they know to be fulfilled in Christ and the Church. Wherefore we neither submit to a false superstition, nor reject the chapter, nor deny ourselves to be Christ's disciples. He then who says, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, the Mosaic rites would have continued along with the Christian ordinances, may further affirm, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, he would yet be only professional as to be honor, to suffer, to rise again. But inasmuch as He did not destroy, but rather fulfill them, His birth, passion, and resurrection, are now no more promised as things future, which were signified by the Sacraments of the Law; but he is preached as already born, crucified, and risen, which are signified by the Sacraments now celebrated by Christians. It is clear then how great is the error of those who suppose, that when the signs or sacraments are changed, the things themselves are different, whereas the same things which the Prophetic ordinance had held forth as promises, the Evangelic ordinance points to as completed. Faustus; Supposing these to be Christ's genuine words, we should inquire what was His motive for speaking thus, whether to soften the blind hostility of the Jews, who when they saw their Holy things trodden under foot by Him, would not have so much as given Him a hearing; or whether he really said them to instruct us, who of the Gentiles should believe, to submit to the yoke of the Law. If this last were not His design, then the first must have been; nor was there any deceit or fraud in such purpose. For of laws there be three sorts. The first that of the Hebrews, called the law of sin and death, by Paul; the second that of the Gentiles, which he calls the law of nature, saying, By nature the Gentiles do the deeds of the law; the third, the law of truth, which he names, The law of the Spirit of life. Also there are Prophets some of the Jews, such as are, well-known; others of the Gentiles as Paul speaks, A prophet of their own had said; and others of the truth, of whom Jesus speaks, I send to you wise men and prophets. Now had Jesus in the following part of this sermon brought forward any of the Hebrew observances to show how he had fulfilled that, no one would have doubted that it was of the Jewish Law and Prophets that he was now speaking; but when he brings forward in this way only those more ancient precepts, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, which were promulgated of old to Enoch, Seth, and the other righteous men, who does not see that he is here speaking of the Law and Prophets of truth? Wherever He has occasion to speak of anything merely Jewish, He plucks it up by the very roots, giving precepts directly the contrary; for example, in the case of that precept, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 

 AUG; Which was the Law and which the Prophets, that Christ came not to subvert but to fulfill, is manifest, to wit, the Law given by Moses. And the distinction which Faustus draws between the precepts of the righteous men before Moses, and the Mosaic Law, arming that Christ fulfilled the one but annulled the other, is not so. We affirm that the Law of Moses was both well suited to its temporary purpose, and was now not subverted, but fulfilled by Christ, as will be seen in each particular. This was not understood by those who continued in such obstinate error, that they compelled the Gentiles to Judaize - those heretics, I mean, who were called Nazarenes.

 RABAN. He fitly mentions the Greek iota, and not the Hebrew jot, because the iota stands in Greek for the number ten, and so there is an allusion to the Decalogue of which the Gospel is the point and perfection. 

This passage also comes with a tough warning, mentioning the possibility of hell for the first time in this Gospel:

CHRYS. But as none is empty who has the Holy Spirit, so none is a fool who has the knowledge of Christ; and if Racha signifies 'empty,' it is one and the same thing, as far as the meaning of the, word goes, to say Racha, or 'thou fool.' But there is a difference in the meaning of the speaker; for Racha was a word in common use among the Jews, not expressing wrath or hate, but rather in a light careless way expressing confident familiarity, not anger. But you will perhaps say, if Racha is not an expression of wrath, how is it then a sin? Because it is said for contention, not for edification; and if we ought not to speak even good words but for the sake of edification, how much more not such as are in themselves bad? 

AUG .Here we have three arraignments: the judgment, the council, and hell-fire, being different stages ascending from the lesser to the greater. For in the judgment there is yet opportunity for defense; to the council belongs the respite of the sentence, what time the judges confer among themselves what sentence ought to be inflicted; in the third, hell-fire, condemnation is certain, and the punishment fixed. Hence is seen what a difference is between the righteousness of the Pharisees and Christ; in the first, murder subjects at man to judgment; in the second, anger alone, which is the least of the three degrees of sin. 

RABAN. The Savior here names the torments of hell, Gehenna, a name thought to be derived from a valley consecrated to idols near Jerusalem, and filled of old with dead bodies, and defiled by Josiah, as we read in the Book of Kings. 

CHRYS. This is the first mention of hell, though the kingdom of Heaven had been mentioned some time before, which shows that the gifts of the one comes of His love, the condemnation of the other of our sloth. Many thinking this a punishment too severe for a mere word, say that this was said figuratively. But I fear that if we thus cheat ourselves with words here, we shall suffer punishment in deed there. Think not then this too heavy a punishment, when so many sufferings and sins have their beginning in a word; a little word has often begotten a murder, and overturned whole cities. And yet it is not to be thought a little word that denies a brother reason and understanding by which we are men, and differ from the brutes. 

HILARY; Or, he who reproaches with emptiness one full of the Holy Spirit, will be arraigned in the assembly of the Saints, and by their sentence will be punished for an affront against that Holy Spirit Himself. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Notes on Matthew 5:1-16

Chapter 5 of St Matthew's Gospel takes us to the start of three crucial chapters of Our Lord's teaching, set out in the Sermon on the Mount.

The text

Here is the opening section, setting out the beatitudes:

Videns autem Jesus turbas, ascendit in montem, et cum sedisset, accesserunt ad eum discipuli ejus, 2 et aperiens os suum docebat eos dicens: 3 Beati pauperes spiritu: quoniam ipsorum est regnum cælorum. 4 Beati mites: quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram. 5 Beati qui lugent: quoniam ipsi consolabuntur. 6 Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt justitiam: quoniam ipsi saturabuntur. 7 Beati misericordes: quoniam ipsi misericordiam consequentur. 8 Beati mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. 9 Beati pacifici: quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur. 10 Beati qui persecutionem patiuntur propter justitiam: quoniam ipsorum est regnum cælorum. 11 Beati estis cum maledixerint vobis, et persecuti vos fuerint, et dixerint omne malum adversum vos mentientes, propter me.12 gaudete, et exsultate, quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in cælis. Sic enim persecuti sunt prophetas, qui fuerunt ante vos. 13 Vos estis sal terræ. Quod si sal evanuerit, in quo salietur? ad nihilum valet ultra, nisi ut mittatur foras, et conculcetur ab hominibus. 14 Vos estis lux mundi. Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita, 15 neque accendunt lucernam, et ponunt eam sub modio, sed super candelabrum, ut luceat omnibus qui in domo sunt. 16 Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus: ut videant opera vestra bona, et glorificent Patrem vestrum, qui in cælis est.

The Douay-Rheims translates this as:

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. [2] And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: [3] Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [4] Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. [5] Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.[6] Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. [7] Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. [8] Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. [9] Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. [10] Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: [12] Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. [13] You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.[14] You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. [15] Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.[16] So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 


The Sermon on the Mount constantly moves backwards and forwards between our interior dispositions, and the image of the Christian that we must present to the world.  These are densely packed verses, on which many books have been written.  In my view, perhaps the best commentary of all on this text remains that of St Augustine.  But since we can only skim the surface here, it is perhaps worth just refreshing the memory on the traditional interpretations of these verses given by Haydock, to lay a foundation for any further reading, and as a protection against the many modernist-reductionist versions of them propagated these days:

Ver. 3. The poor in spirit;which, according to the common exposition, signifies the humble of mind and heart. Yet some understand it of such as are truly in poverty and want, and who bear their indigent condition with patience and resignation. (Witham) --- That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. (Challoner) --- It is not without reason that the beatitudes are disposed of in this order. Each preceding one prepares the way for what immediately follows, furnishing us in particular with spiritual arms of such graces as are necessary for obtaining the virtue of the subsequent beatitude. Thus the poor in spirit, i.e. the truly humble, will mourn for their transgressions, and whoever is filled with sorrow and confusion for his own sins, cannot but be just, and behave to others with meekness and clemency; when possessed of these virtues, he then becomes pure and clean of heart. Peace of conscience reigns in this assemblage of virtues, and cannot be expelled the soul by any tribulations, persecutions, or injustices of men. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.) What is this poverty of spirit, but humility and contrition? This virtue of humility is placed in the first place, because it is the parent of every other virtue, as pride is the mother of every vice. Pride deprived our first parents of their original innocence, and nothing but humility can restore us to our former purity. We may pray and fast, we may be possessed of mercy, chastity, or any virtues, if humility do not accompany them, they will be like the virtue of the Pharisee, without foundation, without fruit. (Hom. xv.)

Ver. 4. The land of the living, or the kingdom of heaven. The evangelist prefers calling it the land of the living in this place, to shew that the meek, the humble, and the oppressed, who are spoiled of the possession of this earth by the powerful and the proud, shall obtain the inheritance of a better land. (Menochius) "They shall possess the land," is the reward annexed by our Saviour to meekness, that he might not differ in any point from the old law, so well known to the persons he was addressing. David, in psalm xxxvi, had made the same promise to the meek. If temporal blessings are promised to some of the virtues in the beatitudes, it is that temporal blessings might always accompany the more solid rewards of grace. But spiritual rewards are always the principal, always ranked in the first place, all who practice these virtues are pronounced blessed. (Hom. xv.)

Ver. 5. Not those that mourn for worldly motives, but such as mourn for their sins, are blessed. The sorrow that is according to God, says St. Paul, worketh penance steadfast unto salvation, but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians vii. 10.) The same is promised in St. John; (xvi. 20,) you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (Menochius)

Ver. 6. Hunger and thirst; i.e. spiritually, with an earnest desire of being just and holy. But others again understand such as endure with patience the hardships of hunger and thirst. (Witham) --- Rupertus understands those to whom justice is denied, such as poor widows and orphans. Maldonatus those who from poverty really suffer hunger and thirst, because justice is not done them. (Menochius) --- They shall be filled with every kind of good in their heavenly country. I shall be filled when thy glory shall appear. (Psalm xvi.)

Ver. 7. Not only the giving of alms, but the practice of all works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, are recommended here, and the reward will be given on that day when God will repay every one according to his works, and will do by us, as we have done by our brethren. (Haydock)

Ver. 8. The clean of heart are either those who give themselves to the practice of every virtue, and are conscious to themselves of no evil, or those who are adorned with the virtue of chastity. For nothing is so necessary as this purity in such as desire to see God. Keep peace with all and chastity, says St. Paul, for without this none can see God. Many are merciful to the poor and just in their dealings, but abstain not from luxury and lust. Therefore our Saviour, wishing to shew that mercy was not sufficient, adds, that if we would see God, we must also be possessed of the virtue of purity. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.) By this, we shall have our heart exempt from all disordinate love of creatures, and shall be exclusively attached to God. (Haydock) --- The clean of heart, i.e. they who are clean from sin: who are pure in body and mind, says St. Chrysostom. It seems to be a particular admonition to the Jews, who were mostly solicitous about an outward and legal cleanness. (Witham)

Ver. 9. To be peaceful ourselves and with others, and to bring such as are at variance together, will entitle us to be children of God. Thus we shall be raised to a participation in the honour of the only begotten Son of God, who descended from heaven to bring peace to man, and to reconcile him with his offended Creator. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.)

Ver. 10. Heretics and malefactors suffer occasionally, but they are not on this account blessed, because they suffer not for justice. For, says St. Augustine they cannot suffer for justice, who have divided the Church; and where sound faith or charity is wanting, there cannot be justice. (Cont. epis. Parm. lib. i. chap. 9. ep. 50. ps. 4. conc. 2.) (Bristow) --- By justice here we understand virtue, piety, and the defence of our neighbour. To all who suffer on this account, he promises a seat in his heavenly kingdom. We must not think that suffering persecution only, will suffice to entitle us to the greatest promises. The persecutions we suffer must be inflicted on us on his account, and the evils spoken of us must be false and contradicted by our lives. If these are not the causes of our sufferings, so far from being happy, we shall be truly miserable, because then our irregular lives would be the occasion of the persecutions we suffer. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.)...

Ver. 15. This light of the world, city on a mountain, and candle upon a candlestick, signify the Catholic Church, so built upon Christ, the mountain, that it must be visible, and cannot be hidden or unknown. (St. Augustine, cont. Fulg.) Therefore the Church being a candle not under a bushel, but shining to all in the house, i.e. in the world, what shall I say more, saith St. Augustine than that all are blind, who shut their eyes against the candle which is set on the candlestick? (Tract ii. in ep. Jo.)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord: Matthew 3:13-17

The Gospel for today's feast, which marks the end of the formal Christmas season (though as my FSSP Missal notes, 'the period which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany is an extension of Christmastide...'), is actually St John's account of the Baptism of Our Lord, from 1: 29-34.  I want, however, to look here at the equivalent section of St Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 3:13-17.

The text

Here is the Latin:

13 Tunc venit Jesus a Galilæa in Jordanem ad Joannem, ut baptizaretur ab eo. 14 Joannes autem prohibebat eum, dicens: Ego a te debeo baptizari, et tu venis ad me? 15 Respondens autem Jesus, dixit ei: Sine modo: sic enim decet nos implere omnem justitiam. Tunc dimisit eum. 16 Baptizatus autem Jesus, confestim ascendit de aqua, et ecce aperti sunt ei cæli: et vidit Spiritum Dei descendentem sicut columbam, et venientem super se. 17 Et ecce vox de cælis dicens: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.

And the Douay-Rheims translation:

[13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him. [14] But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? [15] And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him. [16] And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. [17] And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.


St John Chrysostom's homily on this section of the text starts by considering the irony, alluded to by St John, of Jesus asking to be baptised:

"With the servants the Lord, with the criminals the Judge, comes to be baptized. But be not troubled; for in these humiliations His exaltation does most shine forth. For He who vouchsafed to be borne so long in a Virgin's womb, and to come forth thence with our nature, and to be smitten with rods, and crucified, and to suffer all the rest which He suffered—why do you marvel if He vouchsafed also to be baptized, and to come with the rest to His servant. For the amazement lay in that one thing, that being God, He would be made Man; but the rest after this all follows in course of reason.

For this cause, let me add, John also by way of anticipation said all that he had said before, that he was not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoe; and all the rest, as for instance, that He is Judge, and rewards every man according to his desert, and that He will bestow His Spirit abundantly on all; in order that when you should see Him coming to the baptism, you might not suspect anything mean. Therefore he forbids Him, even when He had come, saying,

I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me. Matthew 3:14 For, because the baptism was of repentance, and led men to accuse themselves for their offenses, lest any one should suppose that He too comes to Jordan in this sort of mind, John sets it right beforehand, by calling Him both Lamb, and Redeemer from all the sin that is in the world. Since He that was able to take away the sins of the whole race of men, much more was He Himself without sin. For this cause then he said not, Behold, He that is without sin, but what was much more, He that bears the sin of the world, in order that together with this truth you might receive that other with all assurance, and having received it might perceive, that in the conduct of some further economy He comes to the baptism. Wherefore also he said to Him when He came, I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?

He then considers the theophany, or epiphany that occurred:

For inasmuch as many supposed that John was greater than He, because John had been brought up all his time in the wilderness, and was son of a chief priest, and was clothed with such raiment, and was calling all men unto his baptism, and had been born of a barren mother; while Jesus, first of all, was of a damsel of ordinary rank (for the virgin birth was not yet manifest to all); and besides, He had been brought up in an house, and held converse with all men, and wore this common raiment; they suspected Him to be less than John, knowing as yet nothing of those secret things—and it fell out moreover that He was baptized of John, which thing added support to this surmise, even if none of those mentioned before had existed; for it would come into their mind that this man was one of the many (for were He not one of the many, He would not have come with the many to the baptism), but that John was greater than He and far more admirable:— in order therefore that this opinion might not prevail with the multitude, the very heavens are opened, when He is baptized, and the Spirit comes down, and a voice with the Spirit, proclaiming the dignity of the Only Begotten. For since the voice that said, This is my beloved Son, would seem to the multitude rather to belong to John, for It added not, This that is baptized, but simply This, and every hearer would conceive it to be said concerning the baptizer, rather than the baptized, partly on account of the Baptist's own dignity, partly for all that has been mentioned; the Spirit came in form of a dove, drawing the voice towards Jesus, and making it evident to all, that This was not spoken of John that baptized, but of Jesus who was baptized.

So why did this not have much of an impact on those present?:

And how was it, one may say, that they did not believe, when these things came to pass? Because in the days of Moses also many wonderful works were done, albeit not such as these; and after all those, the voices, and the trumpets, and the lightnings, they both forged a calf, and were joined unto Baal-peor. And those very persons too, who were present at the time, and saw Lazarus arise, so far from believing in Him, who had wrought these things, repeatedly attempted even to slay Him. Now if seeing before their eyes one rise from the dead, they were so wicked, why marvel at their not receiving a voice wafted from above? Since when a soul is uncandid and perverse, and possessed by the disease of envy, it yields to none of these things; even as when it is candid it receives all with faith, and has no great need of these.

Speak not therefore thus, They believed not, but rather inquire, Did not all things take place which ought to have made them believe? For by the prophet also God frames this kind of defense of His own ways in general. That is, the Jews being on the point of ruin, and of being given over to extreme punishment; lest any from their wickedness should calumniate His providence, He says, What ought I to have done to this vineyard, that I have not done? Just so here likewise reflect; what ought to have been done, and was not done? And indeed whenever arguments arise on God's Providence, make use of this kind of defense, against those who from the wickedness of the many try to raise a prejudice against it. See, for instance, what astonishing things are done, preludes of those which were to come; for it is no more paradise, but Heaven that is opened...

And how should it impact on us:

Wherefore were the heavens opened? To inform you that at your baptism also this is done, God calling you to your country on high, and persuading you to have nothing to do with earth. And if you see not, yet never doubt it. For so evermore at the beginnings of all wonderful and spiritual transactions, sensible visions appear, and such-like signs, for the sake of them that are somewhat dull in disposition, and who have need of outward sight, and who cannot at all conceive an incorporeal nature, but are excited only by the things that are seen: that so, though afterward no such thing occur, what has been declared by them once for all at the first may be received by your faith.

For in the case of the apostles too, there was a sound of a mighty wind, Acts 2:2 and visions of fiery tongues appeared, but not for the apostles' sake, but because of the Jews who were then present. Nevertheless, even though no sensible signs take place, we receive the things that have been once manifested by them. Since the dove itself at that time therefore appeared, that as in place of a finger (so to say) it might point out to them that were present, and to John, the Son of God. Not however merely on this account, but to teach you also, that upon you no less at your baptism the Spirit comes. But since then we have no need of sensible vision, faith sufficing instead of all. For signs are not for them that believe, but for them that believe not. 1 Corinthians 14:22...

Having then all this in your mind, show forth a life worthy of the love of Him who calls you, and of your citizenship in that world, and of the honor that is given you. Crucified as you are to the world, and having crucified it to yourself, show yourself with all strictness a citizen of the city of the heavens. And do not, because your body is not translated unto heaven, suppose that you have anything to do with the earth; for you have your Head abiding above. Yea with this very purpose the Lord, having first come here and having brought His angels, did then, taking you with Him, depart there; that even before your going up to that place, you might understand that it is possible for you to inhabit earth as it were heaven....

Sunday, 12 January 2014

First Sunday after the Epiphany: St Luke 2:42-52

This Sunday's Gospel, in whatever version of the Extraordinary Form you are following, is St Luke 2:42-52:

"42 And when he was twelve years old, after going up to Jerusalem, as the custom was at the time of the feast, 43 and completing the days of its observance, they set about their return home. But the boy Jesus, unknown to his parents, continued his stay in Jerusalem. 44 And they, thinking that he was among their travelling companions, had gone a whole day’s journey before they made enquiry for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances. 45 When they could not find him, they made their way back to Jerusalem in search of him, 46 and it was only after three days that they found him. He was sitting in the temple, in the midst of those who taught there, listening to them and asking them questions; 47 and all those who heard him were in amazement at his quick understanding and at the answers he gave. 48 Seeing him there, they were full of wonder, and his mother said to him, My Son, why hast thou treated us so? Think, what anguish of mind thy father and I have endured, searching for thee. 49 But he asked them, What reason had you to search for me? Could you not tell that I must needs be in the place which belongs to my Father?[7] 50 These words which he spoke to them were beyond their understanding; 51 but he went down with them on their journey to Nazareth, and lived there in subjection to them, while his mother kept in her heart the memory of all this. 52 And so Jesus advanced in wisdom with the years, and in favour both with God and with men.[8]" (Knox translation)

Or in Latin:

42 Et cum factus esset annorum duodecim, ascendentibus illis Jerosolymam secundum consuetudinem diei festi, 43 consummatisque diebus, cum redirent, remansit puer Jesus in Jerusalem, et non cognoverunt parentes ejus. 44 Existimantes autem illum esse in comitatu, venerunt iter diei, et requirebant eum inter cognatos et notos. 45 Et non invenientes, regressi sunt in Jerusalem, requirentes eum. 46 Et factum est, post triduum invenerunt illum in templo sedentem in medio doctorum, audientem illos, et interrogantem eos. 47 Stupebant autem omnes qui eum audiebant, super prudentia et responsis ejus. 48 Et videntes admirati sunt. Et dixit mater ejus ad illum: Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quærebamus te. 49 Et ait ad illos: Quid est quod me quærebatis? nesciebatis quia in his quæ Patris mei sunt, oportet me esse? 50 Et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum quod locutus est ad eos. 51 Et descendit cum eis, et venit Nazareth: et erat subditus illis. Et mater ejus conservabat omnia verba hæc in corde suo. 52 Et Jesus proficiebat sapientia, et ætate, et gratia apud Deum et homines.

From the Octave of the Epiphany to the Holy Family...

This set of verses is very important theologically - verse 52 in particular  - has been the subject of extensive analysis on the subject of what Jesus did and didn't know by virtue of his divinity and humanity.

All the same, though the Gospel is the same, and there is much to be learnt from meditating on its different aspects of it, there is a certain peculiarity in the change in emphasis from the old Octave of the Epiphany readings, to those constructed in the nineteenth century for the feast of the Holy Family.

In the old Octave, the readings at Matins in the Benedictine Office focus on the little epiphany, or showing forth, of Jesus from his hidden years, namely his discussions with the teachers in the Temple at the age of twelve.

In the Feast of the Holy Family, however, the emphasis shifts to the conclusion of that incident, and Jesus' subjection to his human parents.

The first Nocturn readings shift too: from 1 Corinthians 1:1-13 (an admonition to unity in Christ) for the old Octave and First Sunday, to Colossians 3:12-25&4:1-2 (an admonition on obedience).

Now there is a certain holy subversiveness, perhaps, in the juxtaposition of this text with an incident chronicling Jesus' seeming disobedience to his earthly parents in favour of a higher obedience (though our priest this morning suggested that some of the Fathers claim that Jesus was technically obedient to his parents, having asked permission from them; it was simply that they hadn't quite understood what he took this permission to mean).  Still, the whole emphasis does seem a bit odd in the context of the showing forth of the Incarnation, and perhaps the novus ordo shift of the feast of the Holy Family to another date altogether makes some sense in this context.

The knowledge of Jesus

All the same, in this age when Arianism, or the denial of the divinity of Jesus, seems rife once more (albeit not perhaps amongst traditionalists as some seem in high places to think, but rather amongst liberals; still we need to be well instructed on this subject in order to be able to defend it), the original emphasis is one that can perhaps usefully be recovered.

Accordingly, here are some extracts from the anthology of Patristic commentaries compiled by St Thomas Aquinas, the Catena Aurea, on this subject:

ORIGEN; Because moreover He was the Son of God, He is found in the midst of the doctors, enlightening and instructing them. But because He was a little child, He is found among them not teaching but asking questions, as it is said, Sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And this He did as a duty of reverence, that He might set us an example of the proper behavior of children, though they be wise and learned, rather to hear their masters than teach them, and not to vaunt themselves with empty boasting. But He asked not that He might learn, but that asking He might instruct.

For from the same source of learning is derived both the power of asking and answering wisely, as it follows, All who heard him were astonished at his wisdom.

THEOPHYL; To show that He was a man, He humbly listened to the masters; but to prove that He was God, He divinely answered those who spoke.

GREEK EX. He asks questions with reason, He listens with wisdom, and answers with more wisdom, so as to cause astonishment. As it follows, And they who saw it were astonished.

THEOPHYL; For from His tongue there went forth divine wisdom, while His age exhibited man's helplessness, and hence the Jews, amid the high things they hear and the lowly things they see, are perplexed with doubts and astonishment. But we can in no wise wonder, knowing the words of the Prophet, that thus unto us a Is Child is born, that He abides the mighty God.

THEOPHYL. Not that He became wise by making progress, but that by degrees He revealed His wisdom. As it was when He disputed with the Scribes, asking them questions of their law to the astonishment of all who heard Him. You see then how He increased in wisdom, in that He became known to many, and caused them to wonder, for the showing forth of His wisdom is His increase. But mark how the Evangelist, having interpreted what it is to increase in wisdom, adds, and in stature, declaring thereby that an increase or growth in age is an increase in wisdom.

CYRIL; But the Eunomian Heretics say, "How can He be equal to the Father in substance, who is said to increase, as if before imperfect." But not because He is the Word, but because He is made man, He is said to receive increase. For if He really increased after that He was made flesh, as having before existed imperfect, why then do we give Him thanks as having thence become incarnate for us? But how if He is the true wisdom can He be increased, or how can He who gives grace to others be Himself advanced in grace. Again, if bearing that the Word humbled Himself, no one is offended (thinking slightingly of the true God,) but rather marvels at His compassion, how is it not absurd to be offended at hearing that He increases? For as He was humbled for us, so for us He increased, that we who have fallen through sin might increase in Him. For whatever concerns us, Christ Himself has truly undertaken for us, that He might restore us to a better state. And mark what He says, not that the Word, but Jesus, increases, that you should not suppose that the pure Word increases, but the Word made flesh; and as we confess that the Word suffered in the flesh, although the flesh only suffered, because of the Word the flesh was which suffered, so He is said to increase, because the human nature of the Word increased in Him. But He is said to increase in His human nature, not as if that nature which was perfect from the beginning received increase, but that by degrees it was manifested. For the law of nature brooks not that man should have higher faculties than the age of his body permits. The Word then (made man) was perfect, as being the power and wisdom of the Father, but because something was to be yielded to the habits of our nature, lest He should be counted strange by those who saw Him, He manifested Himself as man with a body, gradually advancing in growth, and was daily thought wiser by those who saw and heard Him.

GREEK EX. He increased then in age, His body growing to the stature of man; but in wisdom through those who were taught divine truths by Him; in grace, that is, whereby we are advanced with joy, trusting at last to obtain the promises; and this indeed before God, because having put on the flesh, He performed His Father's work, but before men by their conversion from the worship of idols to the knowledge of the Most High Trinity. 

Lectio schedule for the week of January 12

For those (few!) reading this blog, I thought I might just set out my plan for the notes to be posted here for the week.

On Sunday's and major feasts, I plan to provide notes, on this blog, related to the Gospel for the day.

On all other days, I hope to work systematically through St Matthew's Gospel so as to reach the last chapter by the end of March.  That means reading a little over two chapters a week on average.

Accordingly, this week will be devoted to chapters 5 and 6 of St Matthew, save for Monday when I plan to go back to Matthew 3, looking at St Matthew's account of the baptism of Our Lord for the feast thereof.

At Matins this week

For those looking to do more lectio, the readings of Matins this week in the Roman and Benedictine Breviaries of 1962 are from 1 Corinthians (up to Chapter 16 by next Saturday).

Alternatively, if you are following the 'Bible in a Year Plan' I've mentioned elsewhere, you should be reading Galatians, Philippians and then getting started on Leviticus.

And of course there are always the psalms as lectio option.