Thursday, 21 April 2016

Acts 11 - Debating with Peter

Peter's vision of the sheet with animals.jpg
St Peter's vision, from Henry Davenport Northrop, "Treasures of the Bible," 1894
Acts 11 chronicles the continuing expansion of the mission to the Gentiles:
  • verses 1-18 has St Peter justifying his decision to visit Cornelius, relating to the two visions to the apostles;
  • verses 19-30 with the establishment of the church in Antioch.
Today a look at the first half of the chapter, which dealswith that most traditional of all past-times in the Church, disputes with Peter:
And now the apostles and brethren in Judaea were told how the word of God had been given to the Gentiles. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who held to the tradition of circumcision found fault with him; 3 Why didst thou pay a visit, they asked, to men who are uncircumcised, and eat with them? 
Audierunt autem Apostoli et fratres qui erant in Judæa, quoniam et gentes receperunt verbum Dei. 2 Cum autem ascendisset Petrus Jerosolymam, disceptabant adversus illum qui erant ex circumcisione, 3 dicentes: Quare introisti ad viros præputium habentes, et manducasti cum illis?
 Chrysostom (Homily 24): After such great things, they of the circumcision contended: not the Apostles; God forbid! It means, they took no small offense. And see what they allege. They do not say, Why did you preach? But, Why did you eat with them? But Peter, not stopping to notice this frigid objection— for frigid indeed it is— takes his stand (ἵ σταται) on that great argument...

Do you note what zeal they had for the Law? Not Peter's authority abashed them, not the signs which had taken place, not the success achieved, what a thing it was, the Gentiles having received the word: but they contended about those petty things. For if none of those (signs) had taken place, was not the success (itself) enough?
4 Whereupon Peter told them the story point by point from the beginning; 5 I was in the city of Joppa, he said, at my prayers, when I fell into a trance and saw a vision. A bundle, like a great sheet, came down from heaven, lowered by the four corners, till it reached me. 6 I looked closely to find out what it was, and there I saw four-footed creatures of earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and the birds that fly in heaven. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, Rise up, Peter, lay about thee and eat. 8 So I answered, It cannot be, Lord; nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed my lips. 9 And a second utterance came from heaven in answer, It is not for thee to call anything profane, which God has made clean. 10 Three times this happened, and then all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And at that very moment three men appeared at the door of the house where I was, with a message to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit bade me accompany them without misgiving; so these six brethren came with me, and together we entered the man’s home.13 There he told us how he had had a vision of an angel in his house; this angel stood before him, and said, Send to Joppa, and bid Simon, who is also called Peter, come to thee. 14 He will have such a message for thee as will bring salvation to thee and to all thy household. 15 And then, when I had set about speaking to them, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as it was with us at the beginning. 16 Then I was reminded of what the Lord said to us, John’s baptism was with water, but there is a baptism with the Holy Spirit which you are to receive. 17 And now, if God has made them the same free gift, which he made to us when faith in the Lord Jesus had gone before it, who was I, what power had I, to stay God’s hand? 18 At these words, they were content, and gave glory to God; Why then, they said, it seems God has granted life-giving repentance of heart to the Gentiles too.
Incipiens autem Petrus exponebat illis ordinem, dicens: 5 Ego eram in civitate Joppe orans, et vidi in excessu mentis visionem, descendens vas quoddam velut linteum magnum quatuor initiis summitti de cælo, et venit usque ad me. 6 In quod intuens considerabam, et vidi quadrupedia terræ, et bestias, et reptilia, et volatilia cæli. 7 Audivi autem et vocem dicentem mihi: Surge, Petre: occide, et manduca. 8 Dixi autem: Nequaquam Domine: quia commune aut immundum numquam introivit in os meum. 9 Respondit autem vox secundo de cælo: Quæ Deus mundavit, tu ne commune dixeris. 10 Hoc autem factum est per ter: et recepta sunt omnia rursum in cælum. 11 Et ecce viri tres confestim astiterunt in domo in qua eram, missi a Cæsarea ad me. 12 Dixit autem Spiritus mihi ut irem cum illis, nihil hæsitans. Venerunt autem mecum et sex fratres isti, et ingressi sumus in domum viri. 13 Narravit autem nobis quomodo vidisset angelum in domo sua, stantem et dicentem sibi: Mitte in Joppen, et accersi Simonem qui cognominatur Petrus, 14 qui loquetur tibi verba in quibus salvus eris tu, et universa domus tua. 15 Cum autem cœpissem loqui, cecidit Spiritus Sanctus super eos, sicut et in nos in initio. 16 Recordatus sum autem verbi Domini, sicut dicebat: Joannes quidem baptizavit aqua, vos autem baptizabimini Spiritu Sancto. 17 Si ergo eamdem gratiam dedit illis Deus, sicut et nobis qui credidimus in Dominum Jesum Christum: ego quis eram, qui possem prohibere Deum? 18 His auditis, tacuerunt: et glorificaverunt Deum, dicentes: Ergo et gentibus pœnitentiam dedit Deus ad vitam.
 Chrysostom: Do you mark that it is to the Spirit the enacting of laws belongs! ... And not content with this, he reminds them also of the words of the Lord: Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.  He means, that no new thing has happened, but just what the Lord foretold.

Meditation

St John goes on to provide some reflections on the importance of living up to our own baptism:

Have you been thrown? Have you taken grievous hurt? Stand up, recover yourself: you are still in the course, the meeting (θέατρον) is not yet broken up. Do you not see how many that have been thrown in the wrestling have afterwards resumed the combat? Only do not willingly come by your fall. Do you count him a happy man for departing this life? Much rather count yourself happy. Was he released of his sins? But you, if you will, shall not only wash away your sins, but shall also have achievements (of good works), which in his case is not possible. It is in our power to recover ourselves.

Great are the medicinal virtues (φάρμακα) of repentance: let none despair of himself. That man truly deserves to be despaired of, who despairs of himself; that man has no more salvation, nor any hopes. It is not the having fallen into a depth of evils, it is the lying there when fallen, that is dreadful, it is not the having come into such a condition, it is the making light of it that is impious. The very thing that ought to make you earnest, say, is it this that makes you reckless?

Having received so many wounds, have you fallen back? Of the soul, there can be no incurable wound; for the body, there are many such, but none for the soul: and yet for those we cease not in our endeavors to cure them, while for these we are supine. Do you see not the thief (on the cross), in how short a time he achieved (his salvation)? Do you see not the Martyrs, in how short a time they accomplished the whole work?

But martyrdom is not to be had nowadays. True, but there are contests to be had, as I have often told you, if we had the mind. For they that wish, says the Apostle, to live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. They that live godly are always undergoing persecution, if not from men, at any rate from evil spirits, which is a more grievous persecution.... 

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