Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Acts 4 - The apostolic community as a call to the monastic life

Luca Signorelli - The Apostles Peter and John the Evangelist - WGA21268.jpg
Signorelli: SS Peter and John

Acts 4 takes us to the reaction of the Jewish authorities to the Christians:

  • verses 1-7 chronicles the arrest and interrogation of Peter and John;
  • verses 8-22 describes their interrogation and responses;
  • verses 23-31 looks at their return to the community and prayer after the events (which I want to focus on); 
  • verses 32-37 describes the sharing of everything in the apostolic community, with the story of Barnabus' donation of his property setting the scene for the story of Ananias and Saphira in the next chapter.  St John Chrysostom provides a nice reflection on the need to revive monastic life as a continuation of the apostolic tradition.

The arrest of Peter and John:
Acts 4: Before they had finished speaking to the crowd, they were interrupted by the chief priests, the temple superintendent, and the Sadducees. 2 These, indignant at their teaching the multitude and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, 3 laid hands on them, and put them in prison (for it was already evening) until the next day. 4 (Meanwhile, many of those who had listened to their preaching had joined the believers, so that their numbers had now risen to five thousand men.) 5 On the next day, there was a gathering of the rulers and elders and scribes in Jerusalem; 6 the high priest Annas was there, and Caiphas, and John, and Alexander, and all those who belonged to the high-priestly family. 7 And they had Peter and John brought into their presence, and asked them, By what power, in whose name, have such men as you done this? 
Their interrogation:
8 Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said to them, Rulers of the people, elders of Israel, listen to me. 9 If it is over kindness done to a cripple, and the means by which he has been restored, that we are called in question, 10 here is news for you and for the whole people of Israel. You crucified Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, and God raised him from the dead; it is through his name that this man stands before you restored. 11 He is that stone, rejected by you, the builders, that has become the chief stone at the corner. (Psalm 117) 12 Salvation is not to be found elsewhere; this alone of all the names under heaven has been appointed to men as the one by which we must needs be saved.13 Seeing the boldness of Peter and John, and discovering that they were simple men, without learning, they were astonished, and recognized them now as having been in Jesus’ company. 14 They could find no answer to make, with the man who had been healed standing there beside them; 15 so they ordered them out of the council-chamber, and conferred together. 16 What are we to do with these men? they asked. It is commonly known among all the people of Jerusalem that a notable miracle has been done by their means, and we are powerless to deny it. 17 But the news must not spread any further; we must deter them by threats from preaching to anybody in this man’s name again.  18 So they called them in, and warned them not to utter a word or give any teaching in the name of Jesus. 19 At this, Peter and John answered them, Judge for yourselves whether it would be right for us, in the sight of God, to listen to your voice instead of God’s. 20 It is impossible for us to refrain from speaking of what we have seen and heard. 21 And they, after threatening them further, let them go; they could find no means of punishing them, because all the people were exclaiming at the astonishing circumstances of what had befallen; 22 the man in whom this miracle of healing had taken place was more than forty years old.
Return to the Christian community:
23 Now that they were set free, they went back to their company, and told them all the chief priests and elders had said. 24 And they, when they heard it, uttered prayer to God with one accord; Ruler of all, thou art the maker of heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them. 25 Thou hast said through thy Holy Spirit, by the lips of thy servant David, our father, What means this turmoil among the nations; why do the peoples cherish vain dreams? 26 See how the kings of the earth stand in array, how its rulers make common cause, against the Lord and his Christ. (Psalm 2) 27 True enough, in this city of ours, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to aid them, made common cause against thy holy servant Jesus, 28 so accomplishing all that thy power and wisdom had decreed. 29 Look down upon their threats, Lord, now as of old; enable thy servants to preach thy word confidently, 30 by stretching out thy hand to heal; and let signs and miracles be performed in the name of Jesus, thy holy Son. 31 When they had finished praying, the place in which they had gathered rocked to and fro, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to preach the word of God with confidence.
23 Dimissi autem venerunt ad suos, et annuntiaverunt eis quanta ad eos principes sacerdotum et seniores dixissent. 24 Qui cum audissent, unanimiter levaverunt vocem ad Deum, et dixerunt: Domine, tu es qui fecisti cælum et terram, mare et omnia quæ in eis sunt: 25 qui Spiritu Sancto per os patris nostri David pueri tui dixisti:Quare fremuerunt gentes,et populi meditati sunt inania? 26 Astiterunt reges terræ,et principes convenerunt in unumadversus Dominum, et adversus Christum ejus. 27 Convenerunt enim vere in civitate ista adversus sanctum puerum tuum Jesum, quem unxisti, Herodes et Pontius Pilatus, cum gentibus et populis Israël, 28 facere quæ manus tua et consilium tuum decreverunt fieri. 29 Et nunc, Domine, respice in minas eorum, et da servis tuis cum omni fiducia loqui verbum tuum, 30 in eo quod manum tuam extendas ad sanitates, et signa, et prodigia fieri per nomen sancti filii tui Jesu. 31 Et cum orassent, motus est locus in quo erant congregati: et repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto, et loquebantur verbum Dei cum fiducia.

Chrysostom (Homily 11): As it was the beginning (of their work), and they had besought a sensible sign for their persuasion (πρὸς τὸ πεισθἥναι αὐτους)— but after this we nowhere find the like happening— therefore great was the encouragement they received. In fact, they had no means of proving that He was risen, save by miraculous signs. So that it was not only their own assurance (ἀ σφαλείαν) that they sought: but that they might not be put to shame, but that they might speak with boldness. 

The place was shaken, and that made them all the more unshaken. For this is sometimes a token of wrath, sometimes of favor and providence, but on the present occasion, of wrath. For in those times it took place in an unusual manner. Thus, at the Crucifixion, the earth was shaken: and the Lord Himself says, Then there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. Matthew 24:7 

But then the wrath of which it was a sign was against the adversaries: as for the disciples, it filled them with the Spirit. Observe, even the Apostles, after the prayer, are filled with the Holy Ghost. And the multitudes of them that believed, etc. Acts 4:32 Great, you perceive, is the virtue of this thing, seeing their was need of this (grace) even in that Company...

Not in word, but with power the Apostles exhibited their testimony of the Resurrection: just as Paul says, And my preaching was not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but with manifestation of the Spirit and of power. And it is not merely, With power, but, With great power. 1 Corinthians 2:4 

The life of the apostolic community:
 Acts: 32 There was one heart and soul in all the company of believers; none of them called any of his possessions his own, everything was shared in common. 33 Great was the power with which the apostles testified to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and great was the grace that rested on them all. 34 None of them was destitute; all those who owned farms or houses used to sell them, and bring the price of what they had sold 35 to lay it at the apostles’ feet, so that each could have what share of it he needed. 36 There was a Levite called Joseph, a Cypriot by birth, to whom the apostles gave the fresh name of Barnabas, which means, the man of encouragement; 37 he had an estate, which he sold, and brought the purchase-money to lay it at the apostles’ feet.
32 Multitudinis autem credentium erat cor unum et anima una: nec quisquam eorum quæ possidebat, aliquid suum esse dicebat, sed erant illis omnia communia. 33 Et virtute magna reddebant Apostoli testimonium resurrectionis Jesu Christi Domini nostri: et gratia magna erat in omnibus illis. 34 Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos. Quotquot enim possessores agrorum aut domorum erant, vendentes afferebant pretia eorum quæ vendebant, 35 et ponebant ante pedes Apostolorum. Dividebatur autem singulis prout cuique opus erat. 36 Joseph autem, qui cognominatus est Barnabas ab Apostolis (quod est interpretatum, Filius consolationis), Levites, Cyprius genere, 37 cum haberet agrum, vendidit eum, et attulit pretium, et posuit ante pedes Apostolorum.
Chrysostom: The dwellers in the monasteries live just as the faithful did then: now did ever any of these die of hunger? Was ever any of them not provided for with plenty of everything? Now, it seems, people are more afraid of this than of falling into a boundless and bottomless deep. But if we had made actual trial of this, then indeed we should boldly venture upon this plan (τοὕ πράγματος). What grace too, think you, would there not be! For if at that time, when there was no believer but only the three thousand and the five thousand: when all, throughout the world, were enemies, when they could nowhere look for comfort, they yet boldly entered upon this plan with such success; how much more would this be the case now, when by the grace of God there are believers everywhere throughout the world? What Gentile would be left? For my part, I think there would not be one: we should so attract all, and draw them to us? But yet if we do but make fair progress, I trust in God that even this shall be realized. Only do as I say, and let us successfully achieve things in their regular order; if God grant life, I trust that we shall soon bring you over to this way of life.

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