Sunday, 3 May 2015

Lectio divina on Acts

St John Chrysostom introduces his commentary on Acts with some comments on its importance and authorship:

To many persons this Book is so little known, both it and its author, that they are not even aware that there is such a book in existence. For this reason especially I have taken this narrative for my subject, that I may draw to it such as do not know it, and not let such a treasure as this remain hidden out of sight. For indeed it may profit us no less than even the Gospels; so replete is it with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine, especially in what is said concerning the Holy Ghost. Then let us not hastily pass by it, but examine it closely. Thus, the predictions which in the Gospels Christ utters, here we may see these actually come to pass; and note in the very facts the bright evidence of Truth which shines in them, and the mighty change which is taking place in the disciples now that the Spirit has come upon them. For example, they heard Christ say, Whoso believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do John 14:12: and again, when He foretold to the disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings, and in their synagogues they should scourge them, and that they should suffer grievous things, and overcome all Matthew 10:18: and that the Gospel should be preached in all the world Matthew 24:14: now all this, how it came to pass exactly as it was said, may be seen in this Book, and more besides, which He told them while yet with them. Here again you will see the Apostles themselves, speeding their way as on wings over land and sea; and those same men, once so timorous and void of understanding, on the sudden become quite other than they were; men despising wealth, and raised above glory and passion and concupiscence, and in short all such affections: moreover, what unanimity there is among them now; nowhere any envying as there was before, nor any of the old hankering after the preeminence, but all virtue brought in them to its last finish, and shining through all, with surpassing lustre, that charity, concerning which the Lord had given so many charges saying, In this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35 And then, besides, there are doctrines to be found here, which we could not have known so surely as we now do, if this Book had not existed, but the very crowning point of our salvation would be hidden, alike for practice of life and for doctrine.

"The greater part, however, of this work is occupied with the acts of Paul, who laboured more abundantly than they all. 

And the reason is, that the author of this Book, that is, the blessed Luke, was his companion: a man, whose high qualities, sufficiently visible in many other instances, are especially shown in his firm adherence to his Teacher, whom he constantly followed. 

Thus at a time when all had forsaken him, one gone into Galatia, another into Dalmatia, hear what he says of this disciple: Only Luke is with me.  And giving the Corinthians a charge concerning him, he says, Whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the Churches.  Again, when he says, He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, and, according to the Gospel which you received, he means the Gospel of this Luke. So that there can be no mistake in attributing this work to him: and when I say, to him, I mean, to Christ. 

And why then did he not relate everything, seeing he was with Paul to the end? We may answer, that what is here written, was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at the time: it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition. 

Now while all that is contained in this Book is worthy of admiration, so is especially the way the Apostles have of coming down to the wants of their hearers: a condescension suggested by the Spirit who has so ordered it, that the subject on which they chiefly dwell is that which pertains to Christ as man. For so it is, that while they discourse so much about Christ, they have spoken but little concerning His Godhead; it was mostly of the Manhood that they discoursed, and of the Passion, and the Resurrection, and the Ascension. For the thing required in the first instance was this, that it should be believed that He was risen, and ascended into heaven. 

As then the point on which Christ himself most insisted was, to have it known that He had come from the Father, so is it this writer's principal object to declare, that Christ was risen from the dead, and was received up into Heaven, and that He went to God, and came from God. For, if the fact of His coming from God were not first believed, much more, with the Resurrection and Ascension added thereto, would the Jews have found the entire doctrine incredible. Wherefore gently and by degrees he leads them on to higher truths. Nay, at Athens Paul even calls Him man simply, without saying more. For if, when Christ Himself spoke of His equality with the Father, they often attempted to stone Him, and called Him a blasphemer for this reason, it was little to be expected that they would receive this doctrine from the fishermen, and that too, with the Cross coming before it.

But why speak of the Jews, seeing that even the disciples often upon hearing the more sublime doctrines were troubled and offended? Therefore also He told them, I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.  If those could not, who had been so long time with Him, and had been admitted to so many secrets, and had seen so many wonders, how was it to be expected that men, but newly dragged away from altars, and idols, and sacrifices, and cats, and crocodiles (for such did the Gentiles worship), and from the rest of their evil ways, should all at once receive the more sublime matters of doctrine? And how in particular should Jews, hearing as they did every day of their lives, and having it ever sounded in their ears, The Lord your God is one Lord, and beside Him is none other who also had seen Him hanging nailed on the Cross, nay, had themselves crucified and buried Him, and not seen Him even risen: when they were told that this same person was God and equal with the Father, how should they, of all men, be otherwise than shocked and revolted? 

Therefore it is that gently and little by little they carry them on, with much consideration and forbearance letting themselves down to their low attainments, themselves the while enjoying in more plentiful measure the grace of the Spirit, and doing greater works in Christ's name than Christ Himself did, that they may at once raise them up from their grovelling apprehensions, and confirm the saying, that Christ was raised from the dead. For this, in fact, is just what this Book is: a Demonstration of the Resurrection: this being once believed, the rest would come in due course. The subject then and entire scope of this Book, in the main, is just what I have said. And now let us hear the Preface itself.

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