Friday, August 29, 2014

St. Bede: "The great forerunner of the morn"

"Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me" (Mal. 3:1).

THE great forerunner of the morn,
The herald of the Word, is born:
And faithful hearts shall never fail
With thanks and praise his light to hail.

With heavenly message Gabriel came,
That John should be that herald’s name,
And with prophetic utterance told
His actions great and manifold.

John, still unborn, yet gave aright
His witness to the coming Light;
And Christ, the Sun of all the earth,
Fulfilled that witness at His birth.

Of woman born shall never be
A greater prophet than was he,
Whose mighty deeds exalt his fame
To greater than a prophet’s name.

But why should mortal accents raise
The hymn of John the Baptist’s praise?
Of whom, or e’er his course was run,
Thus spake the Father to the Son?

“Behold, My herald, who shall go
Before Thy face Thy way to show,
And shine, as with the day-star’s gleam,
Before Thine own eternal beam.”

All praise to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore.

~St. Bede the Venerable: Praecursor altus luminis. (Tr. J. Neale)

Preaching of St. John the Baptist, by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Fresco, 1486-90; Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Augustine of Hippo: Bishop, Doctor of the Church—354-430 A.D.

Feast: August 28

Pope Leo I, during whose pontificate Augustine was canonized, ordered that the feast of this saint should be observed with the same honors as that of an Apostle. In every succeeding age his memory has been held in the highest veneration and his writings have been an inspiration to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Augustine was born on November 13, 354, at Tagaste, a small town of Numidia, North Africa, not far from the episcopal city of Hippo. His parents were citizens of good standing, though not wealthy. The father was one Patricius, a hot-tempered man and a pagan, who, under the influence of his Christian wife, the saintly Monica, learned patience and humility and was baptized shortly before his death. Of this union there were three children: Augustine, another son, Navigius, and a daughter, Perpetua, who became an abbess.

Augustine's youth and manhood, up to and including his conversion and the death of his mother, is described fully in his great spiritual autobiography, the Confessions.


He wrote the book, he says, for "a people curious to know the lives of others, but careless to amend their own," to demonstrate God's mercy as shown in the life of one sinner, and to make sure that no one should think him any better than he really was.

With the utmost candor Augustine divulges the sins and follies of his youth, and at the end enumerates the weaknesses which still beset him. With a copy of the book which he sent to a friend, he wrote: "See now what I am from this book; believe me who bear testimony against myself, and regard not what others say of me."

In infancy Augustine was marked with the sign of the cross and enrolled among the catechumens, and later instructed in the tenets of the Christian religion. Once, when ill, the boy asked for baptism, but he suddenly got well and the rite was postponed. At this time it was a common practice for Christians to defer baptism until they were well on in years, for fear of the greater guilt they would incur by sinning after baptism.

Augustine himself later condemned this custom, and the Church has long since forbidden it.

When he was barely twelve years old Augustine was sent to a grammar school at Madaura. He writes of this traditionally Roman school: "I had to learn things from which, poor boy, I derived no profit, and yet if I was negligent in learning I was whipped, for this was the method approved by my elders, and the many who had trod that life before us had chalked out for us these wearisome ways." Though the teachers had no other end in view than that their pupils should become military officers or rich merchants, divine Providence, Augustine admits, made good use of their misguided aim; for they forced him to learn, to his later profit and advantage. He accuses himself of avoiding study not for want of aptitude, but out of sheer love of mischief. "We were punished for our play by persons who were doing nothing better than we were, but the boys' play of grown men is called 'business.’" And here is another astute criticism of a teacher, who, "if defeated in some petty argument by a fellow teacher, was more jealous and angry than a boy ever was when beaten by a playmate at a game of ball." Augustine liked Latin very much, for he had learned it in childhood from nurses.

Greek was difficult for him and he did not progress far.

At sixteen Augustine returned to Tagaste, where he soon fell into loose company.

Patricius wanted his son to be a man of culture, but cared little about the formation of his character. Monica, on the other hand, pleaded with her son to govern his passions.

"Her words," he writes, "seemed to me but the admonitions of a woman, which I was ashamed to obey, whereas they were Thy admonitions, O God, and I knew it not. Through her Thou didst speak to me, and I despised Thee in her." Patricius died at about this time and a rich man of the town paid Augustine's expenses to study in the great city of Carthage. Now applying himself in earnest, the young man soon advanced to the first place in the school of rhetoric. His mind was awake and developing rapidly; yet, in retrospect, he writes that his motives for study were the unworthy ones of vanity and ambition. At Carthage he entered into a relationship with a woman whom he kept at his side for more than thirteen years. Before the age of twenty he was the father of a boy who bore the pious name of Adeodatus (Given by God). He read the best of the Latin writers—Vergil, Varro, and Cicero—but in time he grew dissatisfied with them and started to study the Scriptures.

At this point, much troubled by the problem of evil, he came under the influence of the Manichees,[1] according to whom there were two eternal, warring principles, spirit and light, the cause of all good, and matter and darkness, the cause of all evil. These subtle heretics claimed to put everything to the test of reason, and scoffed at those who deferred to the authority of the Church. Writing later to a friend, Augustine said: "You know, my dear Honoratus, that we believed in these men on no other grounds. What else made me reject for almost nine years the religion instilled into me in my childhood, and become their follower and diligent pupil, but their saying that we were overawed by superstition and that faith was imposed on us without reason, whereas they expected no one to believe, except after first examining and clearly seeing the truth?

Who would not have been inveigled by such promises? Especially a young man hungry for truth and already proud and talkative, with a reputation among learned men in the schools. They derided the simplicity of the Catholic faith, which commanded men to believe before they were taught by plain reasoning what was the truth." Augustine met Faustus, the Manichees' leading exponent, and was disappointed in him.

For nine years he conducted schools of rhetoric and grammar at Tagaste and Carthage.

His mother, encouraged by the assurance of the bishop that "the son of so many tears could not perish," never ceased by prayer and exhortation to try to make a Christian of him. In 383 Augustine set out for Rome with his little family, leaving secretly lest his mother should try to prevent him or wish to accompany him. At Rome he opened a school of rhetoric, but the enterprise was not a financial success.

It now happened that orders came to Symmachus, prefect of Rome, from the imperial capital at Milan, to send up a teacher of rhetoric. Augustine applied for the post, gave proof of his ability, and received the appointment. The brilliant young teacher was well received at Milan and soon made the acquaintance of the learned and powerful Bishop Ambrose. Augustine enjoyed the bishop's sermons and little by little the arguments persuaded him. At the same time he was reading the older Greek philosophers, Plato and Plotinus. "Plato," he wrote, "gave me knowledge of the true God, but Jesus showed me the way."

Monica traveled to Milan, for she still had not given up hope of seeing her son a Christian; moreover, she wished to see him properly married to a girl of his own station in life. She persuaded him to send the mother of Adeodatus back to Africa, where, it is supposed, she entered a convent. Augustine's struggle, moral and spiritual, went on. The writings of the Platonic philosophers, he tells us, bred pride and false confidence, instead of teaching him to bewail his condition. Finally turning to the New Testament, especially to the writings of St. Paul, he found the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled, the glory of Heaven revealed, and the way thither clearly pointed out. He learned what he had long felt to be true, that the law of his members warred against the law of his mind; and that nothing could free him of the conflict but the grace Of Jesus Christ. Although he had now become convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, he could not surrender. "I sighed and longed," he writes, "to be delivered, but was kept fast bound, not with exterior chains but with my own iron will.

The Enemy held my will, and of it he made a chain with which he fettered me fast. Out of a perverse will he created wicked desire or lust, my yielding to lust created habit, and habit unresisted created a kind of necessity, by which, as by links fastened to one another, I was kept close shackled in cruel slavery. I had not the excuse I claimed earlier to have, when I delayed serving Thee because I had not yet certainly discovered Thy truth. Now I knew it, yet I was still fettered."

One day an African Christian employed at court, one Pontitian, came to see Augustine and his friend Alipius. He took occasion to speak of the Life of St. Antony,[2] and was astonished that the young men did not even know Antony's name. They listened eagerly to the story of his holy life. The visit affected Augustine deeply; his weakness and vacillation were revealed to him. In his previous state of half wishing for conversion he had begged God for the grace of continence, but at the same time had been a little afraid of being heard too soon. "In the first dawning of my youth," he writes, "I begged of Thee chastity, but by halves, miserable wretch that I am; I said, 'Give me chastity, but not yet,' afraid that Thou mightest hear me too soon, and heal me of the disease which I wished to have satisfied rather than cured."

When Pontitian had departed, Augustine turned to Alipius with the words: "What are we doing to let the unlearned start up and seize Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, linger behind, cowardly and callous, wallowing in our sins? Because they have outstripped us and gone on before, are we ashamed to follow them? Is it not more shameful not to follow them?" He went out into the garden, Alipius following, and they sat down at some distance from the house. Augustine was in the throes of his conflict, torn between the promptings of the Holy Spirit calling him to chastity and the seductive memory of his sins. Advancing farther into the garden alone, he threw himself under a fig-tree, crying out, "How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou be angry forever? Remember not my past iniquities! " As he lay there despairing, suddenly he heard a childlike voice repeating, "Tolle lege! Tolle lege!" (Take, read! Take, read!) He wondered if there was a game in which children said these words, and could not remember that he had ever heard of one. Interpreting the voice as of divine origin, he returned to where Alipius was sitting, opened St. Paul's Epistles at random, and cast his eyes on the words: "Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts." Augustine felt an immediate sense of release, as if his long struggle was ended. He pointed out the passage to Alipius, who read on, "But him who is weak in faith, receive without disputes about opinions." They then went to relate these happenings to Monica, who rejoiced and praised God, "who is able to do all things more abundantly than we ask or understand." The story of Augustine's conversion has been repeated in some detail here because of its abiding spiritual and psychological interest. It occurred in September, 386, when Augustine was thirty-two.

He gave up his school and retired to spend the winter in a country house near Milan which a friend lent to him. Monica, Navigius, Adeodatus, Alipius, two cousins, and several friends were with him there. Augustine gave himself up to prayer, study, and conversation. He strove to get firm control over his passions and to prepare himself for a new life. From daily discussions with his companions he got ideas for the three Dialogues written at this time—Against the Academicians, On the Happy Life, and On Order.

Returning to Milan, Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose on Easter Eve, 387, with Alipius and the much-loved Adeodatus. Resolving to re-establish himself in Africa, he traveled to the port of Ostia, accompanied by his mother, brother, son, and friends. Monica was taken ill at Ostia and soon died. To her life and final days Augustine devoted some of the most moving chapters of the Confessions. He now went back to Rome to speak publicly against the Manichaeans, and a year passed before he took ship for Africa. It was during this period that he wrote his two unfinished books of Soliloquies. At Tagaste he settled with friends in his old home, and stayed there for nearly three years, cut off from temporal concerns, serving God by prayer, fasting, and good works. All things in the house were held in common; Augustine even gave up title to the family property. Soon his life was again made desolate by the death of Adeodatus, a brilliant boy of seventeen.

Augustine did not wish to become a priest, but was aware that an attempt might be made to give him a bishopric; by this time he was even more famed for his saintliness than for his learning. He therefore avoided visiting any cities in which sees were vacant. In 39I he was in the city of Hippo, whose bishop, Valerius, had spoken to the people of his need for a priest to assist him. So when Augustine appeared in church, the congregation swept him forward to Valerius, entreating the bishop to ordain him priest. Augustine yielded and was ordained; Valerius gave him some months to prepare for his ministry. When Augustine moved to Hippo, he established a small community in a house adjoining the church, similar to the monastic household at Tagaste. Valerius, who had an impediment in his speech, appointed Augustine to deliver his sermons for him. Augustine also preached his own sermons. He felt that preaching was his most important duty, and this activity continued up to the very end of life. Nearly a hundred of his sermons are extant, many of them not written out by him but taken down in shorthand as he delivered them.

In his sermons Augustine urges meditation on "the last things"; for "even if the Lord's day, the last judgment, be some distance away, is your day of death far off?" He insists on the necessity of penance, "For sin must be punished either by the penitent sinner or by God, his judge; and God, who has promised pardon to the penitent sinner, has nowhere promised to one who delays his conversion a morrow to do penance in." He has much to say of almsgiving, and declares that failure in this duty was the cause of the destruction of most of those who perish, since it is the only sin Christ mentions in the last judgment. (Mt xxv, 31-46.) He speaks often of Purgatory, and recommends prayer and the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of the faithful departed. He emphasizes the respect due to holy images and to the sign of the cross, telling of miracles wrought by it, and by martyrs' relics. There are sixty-nine sermons on saints; he refers often to the honor due to martyrs, but says that sacrifices are offered to God alone, not to martyrs, though those "who are with Christ intercede for us." He preached in Latin, but he tried to furnish the rural parts of the diocese, where the Punic tongue was spoken, with priests who could speak this language.

In 395 Augustine was consecrated bishop and coadjutor to Valerius, and on Valerius' death soon after he succeeded him. He now established a regular common life in the episcopal residence, and required all priests, deacons, and sub-deacons who lived with him to renounce their property and accept the rule he set up there. Only those who would bind themselves to such a life were accepted for Holy Orders. His biographer, Possidius, tells us that the furnishings of the house were extremely plain. He would have no silver utensils except spoons; the dishes were of earthenware, wood, and stone; the fare was frugal, and while wine was supplied to guests, the quantity was strictly limited. At meals Augustine preferred reading or literary conversation to secular talk.

All clerics who lived with him ate at the same table. Thus, the mode of life instituted by the Apostles and carried out in the early history of the Church was adopted by the good bishop of Hippo. He also founded a community of religious women over whom his sister Perpetua was abbess. Augustine wrote the nuns a letter in which he laid down the broad, ascetic principles of the religious life. This letter, along with two sermons he preached on the subject, comprises the so-called Rule of St. Augustine, which has been the basis for the constitutions of many orders of canons regular, friars, and nuns.[3]

To overseers among his clergy Augustine committed the entire care of temporal matters, receiving their accounts at the end of the year. To others he entrusted the building and management of hospitals and churches. He would never accept for the poor any estate or gift when the donation seemed unfair to an heir. But the revenues of his church were freely spent, and Possidius says that sometimes sacred vessels were melted down to raise funds for redeeming captives, an act for which he had the precedent set by Ambrose. He persuaded his people to provide clothing for all the poor of each parish once a year. In times of hardship he was not afraid to contract heavy debts to aid the distressed. His concern for the spiritual welfare of his people was boundless. "I do not wish to be saved without you," he told them. "Why am I in the world? Not only to live in Jesus Christ; but to live in Him with you. This is my passion, my honor, my glory, my joy, and my riches."

Few men have been endowed with a more generous and affectionate nature than Augustine. He talked freely with unbelievers, and often invited them to his table, although he sometimes declined to eat with Christians whose conduct was evil. He was rigorous in subjecting such offenders to canonical penance and the censures of the Church; but in his opposition to wrong-doing he never forgot the precepts of charity, humility, and good manners. He followed Ambrose's example in refusing to persuade men to become soldiers and he took no part in match-making.

St. Augustine's letters show an astonishing breadth of interests. Some are learned treatises on points of Christian doctrine and conduct, others are full of practical counsel. In his letter to Ecdicia he explains the duties of a wife, telling her she ought not wear black clothes, since her husband disliked them; she might be humble in spirit while rich and gay in dress. In all things reasonable, he tells her, she should agree with her husband as to the method of educating their son, and leave the chief care of it to him; he reproves her for having given goods and money to the poor without his consent, and tells her to ask his pardon for it. In like manner, he always impressed on husbands the respect, tender affection, and consideration which they owed their wives.

Augustine's own modesty and restraint is revealed in his exchange with Jerome over the interpretation of a text of Galatians. A private letter from Jerome to him had miscarried, and Jerome, a hot-tempered man, thought himself insulted and retorted angrily. Augustine wrote to him in all gentleness, "I entreat you again and again to correct me firmly when you see me standing in need of it; for though the office of bishop is greater than that of priest, yet in many respects Augustine is inferior to Jerome." He was grieved by the bitterness of the quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus; he saw an element of vanity in such disputes, in which men love their own opinion, he says, "not because it is true, but because it is their own; and they dispute, not for the truth, but for victory."

Throughout his thirty-five years as bishop of Hippo Augustine was continually defending the faith against heresies or paganism. In 404 he debated publicly with a famous Manichaean leader called Felix. The debate ended dramatically, with Felix confessing the Catholic faith and pronouncing an anathema on Manes and his blasphemies. The Priscillianist heresy was similar in some respects to the Manichaean, and had spread through several parts of Spain. Paul Orosius, a Spanish priest, made the voyage to Africa in 415 in order to see Augustine, and was the instigator of the latter's book, Against the Priscillianists and the Origenists. In it he condemns the doctrine that the human soul, divine by nature, was imprisoned in the material body as punishment for previous transgressions In a treatise meant for Jews he maintains that the Mosaic law, good in its time, was destined to come to an end and be replaced by the new law of Christ.

The neighboring town of Madaura, where Augustine had gone to school, had been settled mainly by Roman veterans, many of whom were pagans, and he won their good will by rendering them important public services. Numbers of them became Christians.

When Rome was taken and plundered in 410 by Alaric the Goth, there was a new outbreak against the Christian population, the pagans saying that the city's calamities came because the ancient gods had been forsaken. Partially to answer these accusations, Augustine began in 413 his greatest book, The City of God, a survey of human history and justification of Christian philosophy. This work was not finished until 426.

There was also trouble with the Donatists, a faction led by Donatus, bishop of Carthage.

They maintained that the Catholic Church, by readmitting to communion penitents who had once apostatized under stress of persecution, and by recognizing the efficacy of sacraments administered by penitent priests, had ceased to be the true Church, and that they were the only true Christians. In Africa, after the cessation of persecution, the feeling against weaklings who had denied Christ ran high. The Donatists had five hundred bishops, and even in Hippo the Catholics were in the minority. In some places the Donatists attacked and murdered Catholics. Augustine's reputation and zeal won followers, but a few Donatists were so exasperated by him as to preach that to kill him would be a great service to their religion and meritorious before God. In 405 he was obliged to invoke the civil power to restrain the Donatist party around Hippo, and the Catholic Emperor Honorius issued severe edicts against it. Augustine himself never countenanced the death penalty for heresy. A conference of Catholics and Donatists at Carthage in 411 marked the beginning of the return of the Donatists to the Church.

Now a new heresy arose, that known as Pelagianism. Pelagius is usually referred to as a Briton; Jerome scornfully called him "a big fat fellow, bloated with Scots porridge." Rejecting the doctrine of original sin, he taught that men had the power of choice and could live good lives of their own free will and win salvation by their own efforts; baptism was simply a sign of their previous admission to God's kingdom. In 411 Pelagius came to Africa from Rome, and the next year his doctrines were condemned by a synod at Carthage. Augustine combatted Pelagianism in treatises, sermons, and letters. Yet when he found it necessary to name Pelagius, it was to speak well of him: "As I hear, he is a holy man, well exercised in Christian virtue, a good man and worthy of praise." He had a loving tolerance for the man, while disliking his ideas. Against a modified doctrine called semi-Pelagianism, Augustine wrote two books, On the Predestination of Saints and On the Gift of Perseverance, to show that the authors of this doctrine had not retreated from the position of Pelagius. To Augustine, more than to any other man, the Church throughout this troubled period owes the preservation of its doctrine of the dependence of man on God for deliverance and salvation.

In his Confessions, as we have said, Augustine retraced his youth and laid bare his sins; in his seventy-second year he did the same for past errors of judgment, and these are summarized in his Retractations, which reviews the great body of his writings, and corrects mistakes with candor and severity. The bishop now desired more leisure for writing, and accordingly proposed to his clergy and people that they accept Heraclius, the youngest of his deacons, a man of wisdom and piety, as coadjutor.

The bishop's last years were full of the turmoil brought by the Vandal invasion of North Africa. Count Boniface, formerly imperial general in Africa, had incited Genseric, King of the Vandals, to invade the rich African provinces. Augustine wrote to Boniface, recalling him to his duty, but it was too late to stop the invasion. The Vandals landed in Africa in May, 428, and every contemporary account tells of the horror and desolation they spread as they advanced inland. Flourishing cities were left in ruins and country houses razed, the inhabitants either dead or in flight or seized as slaves.

Worship ceased in the churches, most of which were burned. The greater number of clergy who escaped death were stripped and reduced to beggary. Of all the churches in North Africa, there were left hardly more than those in Carthage, Hippo, and Cirta, cities which were too strong for the Vandals to take at first.

In this dire situation another bishop asked Augustine if it was awful or right for the clergy to flee at the approach of the barbarians. Augustine's prudent reply is deserving of quotation: it was lawful for a bishop or priest to flee and leave his flock when he alone was the object of the attack; or, again, when the people had all fled, and the pastor had no one left; or, yet again, when the ministry might be better performed by others who had no need to flee. Under all other circumstances, he said, pastors were obliged to stay and watch over their flocks, committed to them by Christ. Augustine grieved deeply over the outward calamities of his people, but even more over the damage to souls, for the ruthless Vandals, so far as they professed any religion, were Arians.

Towards the end of May, 430, the Vandals appeared before Hippo, the most strongly fortified city in this region, and settled down for a siege of fourteen months. That first summer Augustine fell ill of a fever, which he felt would be fatal. Death had long been a subject of his meditations, and he now talked of it with serene confidence in God's mercy. He asked for the penitential psalms of David to be written out and hung on the wall by his bed. His mind was sound to the end, and on August 28, 430, at the age of seventy-six, he calmly resigned his spirit to God. This man of tremendous gifts and vital personality, who had piloted the African Church through some of the world's darkest years, never doubted the ultimate victory of that "most glorious City of God."
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Excerpts from the Confessions

X, 6. Not with a doubtful but a sure consciousness, O Lord, do I love Thee. Thou didst strike on my heart with Thy word and I loved Thee.... But what do I love when I love Thee? Not the beauty of bodies nor the loveliness of seasons, nor the radiance of the light around us, so gladsome to our eyes, nor the sweet melodies of songs of every kind, nor the fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices, nor manna and honey, nor limbs delectable for fleshly embraces. I do not love these things when I love my God.

And yet I love a light and a voice and a fragrance and a food and an embrace when I love my God, who is a light, a voice, a fragrance, a food, and an embrace to my inner man.... This it is that I love when I love my God.

But what is this? I asked the earth[4] and she replied: "It is not I," and all that is in her made the same response. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping spirits and they answered: "We are not thy God; look above us." I asked the fleet winds, and the whole air with its inhabitants said: "Anaximenes is mistaken.[5] I am not God." I asked the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars. "Neither are we," said they, "the God whom thou seekest." And I cried to everything that stands about the doors of my flesh: "Tell me of my God, since you art not He. Tell me something of Him!" And they shouted aloud: "He made us."

Then I turned myself to myself and said to myself: "Who are thou?" I replied: "A man. Lo, here are a body and a soul in me, attendant on me, one outside and one within." With which of these should I have sought after my God? With my body I had now searched for Him from the earth to heaven, as far as I could send my messengers, the rays of my eyes. But the inner man is the greater. To him as their superior and judge all my bodily messengers had reported the answers of the heavens and the earth and all that in them is, saying: "We are not God," and "He made us." These things my inner man learned through the services of the outer man....

That same voice speaks indeed to all men, but only they understand it who join that voice, heard from outside, to the truth that is within them. And the truth says to me: "Neither heaven nor earth nor any body is thy God." Their own nature says the same They see that the substance of a part is less than that of the whole. And now I speak to thee, my soul. Thou art my greater part, since thou quickenest the substance of my body by giving to it life, which no body can give to a body. And thy God is the life of thy life to thee....

27. Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so old and so new! Too late have I loved Thee.

And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside, and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. Those beauties kept me away from Thee, though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness. Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight. Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath, and now I pant after Thee. I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee. Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....
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Excerpts from the City of God, Bk XII

1. We said in our earlier books that it was God's pleasure to propagate all mankind from one man, both to keep in human nature a likeness to one society and also to make its original unity a means of concord in heart. Nor would any of mankind have died had not the first two-one of whom was made from the other and the other of nothing- incurred this punishment by their disobedience. For they committed so great a sin that their whole nature was thereby depraved and the same degree of corruption and necessity of death was transmitted to all their offspring. And thereupon death's power by this just punishment became so great over man that all would have been cast headlong into the second death which has no end had not the merciful grace of God acquitted some from it. And hence it comes to pass that although mankind is divided into many nations, distinct in language, training, habit, and fashion, yet there are but two sorts of men, who do properly make the two cities of which we speak. The one is a city of men who live according to the flesh, and the other a city of men who live according to the Spirit, each after his kind. And when they attain their desire, both live in their peculiar peace....

11. Now God, foreknowing all things, could not but know that man would fall; therefore we must found our city on His prescience and ordinance, not on what we know not and He has not revealed. For man's sin could not disturb God's decree nor force Him to change His resolve. God foreknew and anticipated both how bad the man He had made would become and what good He meant to produce from him for all his badness. For though God is said to change His intention, as the Scriptures figuratively say He repented, etc., yet this is from the point of view of man's hope or Nature's order, not of His own prescience. So then God made man upright and consequently good in his will; otherwise he could not have been upright. This good will was God's work, man being thus created. The evil will which was in man before his evil deed was rather a falling away from the work of God to its own work than any work in itself.... And evil is removed from his nature not by cutting away a nature contrary to it but only by purifying that which was depraved. Then therefore is our will truly free, when it serves neither vice nor sin. Such God gave us, such we lost and can only recover through Him who gave it....

13. But evil began within them (Adam and Eve), secretly at first, to draw them later into open disobedience. For there would have been no evil deed had there not been an evil will before it. What could beget this evil will but pride, which is the beginning of all sin? And what is pride but a perverse ambition for height, which forsakes Him to whom the soul ought solely to cleave as the source of it, and makes itself seem its one and only source? This is when it likes itself too well or loves itself so that it will abandon that unchangeable Good in which it ought to find more delight than in itself.

The defect now is willful, for if the will had remained firm in its love of that loftier and mightier Good which gave it light to see it and zeal to love it, it would not have turned from it to delight in itself and thereat have become so blind of sight and cold of zeal that either Eve would have believed the serpent's words as true or Adam would have dared to prefer his wife's wish to God's command....

15. Now God had made man in His own image, placed him in Paradise above all creatures, given him all things in abundance and laid no hard or lengthy commands on him but merely that one brief requirement of obedience to show that He Himself was Lord of that creature from whom should come a free service. But when He was thus disregarded, there followed His righteous sentence, which was that man, who might have kept His commandment and been spiritual in body became thenceforth carnal in mind, and because he had before delighted in his pride, now tasted of God's justice, becoming not, as he had desired, fully his own master but falling even below himself and becoming the slave of him who had taught him sin, exchanging his sweet liberty for a wretched bondage. By his own will he was dead in spirit, though unwilling to die in the flesh. He had lost eternal life and was condemned to eternal death, did not God's good grace deliver him....
_____________________________________________

Endnotes:

1. The Manichees, or Manichaeans, were the successors of the earlier Gnostics, and pushed the principle of dualism to further extremes. The cult had been founded by Manes, a Persian.

2. For selections from Athanasius' Life of St. Antony, see above, p. 55.

3. Augustine never drew up a detailed rule, but simply laid down a few general precepts, including poverty, unity, charity, and prayer in common.

4. It will be remembered that Augustine as a young man had searched for answers to his questionings in the faiths of the time, and that earth, sea, and sky were worshipped in most pagan cults.

5. Anaximenes, a Greek philosopher of the 6th century B.C., taught that the original source of the entire universe was air.

(From the translation of John Healey, ed. of 1909.)
_____________________________________________

Source: Lives of Saints, Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.

Recommended biographies of St. Augustine

Description: "This classic biography was first published thirty years ago and has since established itself as the standard account of Saint Augustine's life and teaching. The remarkable discovery recently of a considerable number of letters and sermons by Augustine has thrown fresh light on the first and last decades of his experience as a bishop. These circumstantial texts have led Peter Brown to reconsider some of his judgments on Augustine, both as the author of the Confessions and as the elderly bishop preaching and writing in the last years of Roman rule in north Africa. Brown's reflections on the significance of these exciting new documents are contained in two chapters of a substantial Epilogue to his biography (the text of which is unaltered). He also reviews the changes in scholarship about Augustine since the 1960s. A personal as well as a scholarly fascination infuse the book-length epilogue and notes that Brown has added to his acclaimed portrait of the bishop of Hippo."


St. Augustine of Hippo
by Hugh Pope, O.P.
Description: “Fr. Hugh Pope’s brilliant survey of St. Augustine’s contributions to literature, philosophy, and history has become a classic of Augustinian scholarship. Fr. Pope writes of the Church’s most illustrious doctor with lucidity, gravity, and erudition. As a result of his profound research into the life and writings of the saint, Augustine is here re-created in his own surroundings of time and place and circumstances, in his spiritual and terrestrial wanderings, in the many and diverse aspects of his character, personality, and spirituality.” 

Prayer by St. Augustine

BEFORE Thine eyes, O Lord, we bring our sins, and we compare them with the stripes we have received.

If we examine the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great.

What we have committed is very grievous, what we have suffered is very slight.

We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning.

Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed.

Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent.

Our life groans under sorrow, yet emends not in deed.

If thou spare us, we correct not our ways: if Thou punish we cannot endure it.

In time of correction we confess our wrongdoing: after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept.

If Thou stretchest forth Thy hand, we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword, we keep not our promise.

If Thou strikest, we cry out for mercy: if Thou sparest we again provoke Thee to strike.

Here we are before Thee, O Lord, confessedly guilty; we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish.

Grant then, O almighty Father, without our deserving it, the parson we ask; Thou who madest out of nothing those who ask Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Augustine in His Cell, by Sandro Botticelli.
Tempera on panel; 1490-92; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

On St. Augustine

August 28th: Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 – 28 August 430); Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

• Official title of the bishop of Hippo: "Doctor of grace." (Doctor gratiae.)
(In 1298 Boniface VIII names Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great, "Doctores Ecclesiae.")

• Letter From Jerome to Augustine (A.D. 418): 

"To His Holy Lord and Most Blessed Father, Augustine, Jerome Sends Greeting.

"At all times I have esteemed your Blessedness with becoming reverence and honour, and have loved the Lord and Saviour dwelling in you. But now we add, if possible, something to that which has already reached a climax, and we heap up what was already full, so that we do not suffer a single hour to pass without the mention of your name, because you have, with the ardour of unshaken faith, stood your ground against opposing storms, and preferred, so far as this was in your power, to be delivered from Sodom, though you should come forth alone, rather than linger behind with those who are doomed to perish. Your wisdom apprehends what I mean to say. Go on and prosper! You are renowned throughout the whole world; Catholics revere and look up to you as the restorer of the ancient faith, and — which is a token of yet more illustrious glory — all heretics abhor you. They persecute me also with equal hatred, seeking by imprecation to take away the life which they cannot reach with the sword. May the mercy of Christ the Lord preserve you in safety and mindful of me, my venerable lord and most blessed father." (Letter No. 195 among letters of St. Augustine)

• “The greatest teacher of the churches after the apostles.” (Maximus post apostolos ecclesiarum instructor.) ~Peter the Venerable: in Letter to St. Bernard, Letter No. 229, 13.

Funeral of St. Augustine (scene 17, south wall), by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Fresco, 1464-65; Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On St. Monica

St. Monica (332-387)

Our knowledge of Monica comes almost entirely from the writings of her much-loved son, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. His relationship with his mother was a close one, especially during Monica's last years. In Book IX of St. Augustine's Confessions he gives us many details of her life, and expresses his gratitude for her devotion in moving terms. Monica was born about the year 332 in Tagaste, North Africa, of a Christian family of some substance. We are given one episode of her childhood which suggests a possible origin for her firmness of will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. She developed such a passion for wine that before long she was drinking great draughts of it whenever opportunity offered. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a wine-bibber, and Monica, covered with shame, gave up the habit. Soon afterwards she was baptized, and thenceforth seems to have led a life of irreproachable virtue.


As soon as Monica had reached marriageable age, her parents found a husband for her, the pagan Patricius. He was a man of violent temper and their home could scarcely have been a happy one. Monica endured his outbursts with the utmost patience, although he was critical of Christians and their practices. The daily example of her gentleness and kindness finally had its rewards, and a year before his death, which occurred when Augustine was seventeen, Patricius accepted his wife's faith. Monica and Patricius had three children, Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine, the more brilliant of the sons, was sent to Carthage, so that he might develop his talents and become a man of culture. He took to learning naturally but he also spent time in youthful carousing. This caused his mother great anguish, and when he returned to Tagaste, she disapproved so strongly both of his loose living and of his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism that she refused at first to allow him to live at home. She relented only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She answered, and a voice issued from the mysterious figure, telling her to dry her tears; then she heard the words, "Your son is with you." Monica related this story to Augustine, and he replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith, for that was the main obstacle keeping them apart. Quickly she retorted, "He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me." Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, "God's time will come." Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: "Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

Augustine was twenty-nine and a successful teacher when he decided to go to Rome. Monica opposed the move, fearing that his conversion would be indefinitely postponed. Her son went on with his plan, and set off with his young mistress and little son Adeodatus for the seaport. His mother followed him there, and when he saw that she intended to accompany him, he outwitted her by a deception as to the time of sailing. He embarked while she was spending the night praying in a church. Although this grieved her deeply, Monica was still not discouraged about her wayward son, for she continued on to Rome. The ship on which she took passage was tossed about by a storm, and she cheered those on board by her serene confidence in God's mercy. On reaching Rome, Monica learned that her son had gone to Milan. There he had come under the influence of the great Bishop Ambrose. When his mother finally found him in the northern city, he had given up Manichaeism, although he was not yet a Christian. Monica's friendship with Ambrose is worth touching upon. She apparently made a friend of this eminent churchman and he entertained the highest opinion of her. Here in Milan, as at home in North Africa, Monica was foremost among the women in all charitable works, and also in her devotions. The bishop, however, persuaded her to give up some of the customs practiced by the Christians of her homeland, for they were derived from ancient pagan rites; carrying food and wine to the tombs of the martyrs was one of the customs which Monica now relinquished.

The joyous day of Augustine's conversion, which will be fully described in the life of that saint, came at last. For some time his mother had been trying to end her son's illicit relationship of so many years' standing. She hoped to find a suitable bride for him, but after his mistress went back to Africa Augustine informed her that he would now adopt a celibate life and devote himself to God's service. The Confessions give us glimpses of the period of preparation preceding his baptism. The time was passed in the house of a friend, where a close-knit group, consisting of his mother, brother, Adeodatus, and a few companions occupied themselves with discussions of religion and philosophy. At Easter, when Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine, his mother's cup was full to overflowing.

Augustine and the members of his family now set out for their return to Tagaste. At the port of Ostia, Monica fell ill. She knew that her work had been accomplished and that life would soon be over. Her exaltation of spirit was such that her sons were unaware of the approach of death. As Monica's strength failed, she said to Augustine: "I do not know what there is left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. All I wished for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God granted me even more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service." Shortly afterwards they asked her if she did not fear to die so far from home, for she had earlier expressed a desire to be buried beside her husband in Tagaste. Now, with beautiful simplicity, she replied, "Nothing is far from God," and indicated that she was content to be buried where she died. Monica's death plunged her children into the deepest grief, and Augustine, "the son of so many tears," in the Confessions implores his readers' prayers for his parents. It is the prayers of Monica herself that have been invoked by generations of the faithful who honor her as a special patroness of married women and as an example for Christian motherhood. Her relics are alleged to have been transferred from Ostia to Rome, to rest in the church of San Agostino. Her emblems are a girdle and tears. +

Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.


Death of St. Monica (scene 13, south wall), by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Fresco, 1464-65; Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

St. John Damascene: Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"ASSUREDLY, she who played the part of the Creator's servant and mother is in all strictness and truth in reality God's Mother and Lady and Queen over all created things."

~St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4, 14.

Coronation of the Virgin (Cell 9), by Fra Angelico.
Fresco, 1440-42; Convento di San Marco, Florence.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

St. Isidore: "Two kinds of martyrs"

“THERE are two kinds of martyrs, one in open suffering, the other in the hidden virtue of the spirit. For many, enduring the snares of the enemy and resisting all carnal desires, because they have sacrificed themselves in their hearts to almighty God, have also become martyrs in time of peace, and if they had lived in time of persecution, they would have been martyrs in reality.”

~St. Isidore of Seville: Etymologies, 7, 11.

St. Isidore of Sevilla, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
Oil on canvas, 1655; Cathedral of Sevilla, Spain.

St. Jerome: "Our adversary"

"AH! My brother, you are mistaken, you are mistaken, if you suppose that there is ever a time when the Christian does not suffer persecution. Then are you most hardly beset when you know not that you are beset at all. Our adversary as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour, (1 Pet 5:8) and do you think of peace? He sits in the lurking-places of the villages: in the secret places does he murder the innocent; his eyes are privily set against the poor. He lies in wait secretly as a lion in his den; he lies in wait to catch the poor; and do you slumber under a shady tree, so as to fall an easy prey? On one side self-indulgence presses me hard; on another covetousness strives to make an inroad; my belly wishes to be a God to me, in place of Christ, and lust would fain drive away the Holy Spirit that dwells in me and defile His temple. (1 Cor 3:17) I am pursued, I say, by an enemy

Whose name is Legion and his wiles untold; 
and, hapless wretch that I am, how shall I hold myself a victor when I am being led away a captive?"

~St. Jerome: Letters, 14, 4; To Heliodorus, Monk.

Friday, August 15, 2014

St. John Damascene: The Son made all creation serve His Mother"

"IT was fitting that the body of her, who preserved her virginity unsullied in her motherhood, should be kept from corruption even after death. She who nursed her Creator as an infant at her breast, had a right to be in the divine tabernacles. The place of the bride whom the Father had espoused, was in the heavenly courts. It was fitting that she who saw her Son die on the cross, and received in her heart the sword of pain which she had not felt in childbirth, should gaze upon Him seated next to the Father. The Mother of God had a right to the possession of her Son, and as handmaid and Mother of God to the worship of all creation. The inheritance of the parents ever passes to the children. Now, as a wise man said, the sources of sacred waters are above. The Son made all creation serve His Mother."

~St. John Damascene: Homily 2 on the Assumption.

Assumption, by Filippino Lippi.
Fresco, 1489-91; Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

St. Bede: "The blessed Mother of God"

“LET us mull over the words of the Gospel in frequent meditation, let us ever keep in mind the examples of Mary, the blessed Mother of God, so that we also may be found humble in the sight of God, that being subject in due honor also to our neighbor, we may deserve together with her to be exalted forever.”

~St. Bede the Venerable: Homilies, 1, 2.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Tempera on wood, c. 1483; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

St. Vincent of Lérins: "The Truth of the Catholic Faith"

A General Rule for Distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity

"I HAVE often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

"But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

"Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors."

~St. Vincent of Lérins: Commonitory: For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, Ch. 2. (A.D. 434).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

St. Leo the Great: Sermon on the Transfiguration

Sermon 51

A Homily delivered on the Saturday before the Second Sunday in Lent— on the Transfiguration, S. Matthew 17:1-13

I. Peter's confession shown to lead up to the Transfiguration

The Gospel lesson, dearly-beloved, which has reached the inner hearing of our minds through our bodily ears, calls us to the understanding of a great mystery, to which we shall by the help of God's grace the better attain, if we turn our attention to what is narrated just before.

The Saviour of mankind, Jesus Christ, in founding that faith, which recalls the wicked to righteousness and the dead to life, used to instruct His disciples by admonitory teaching and by miraculous acts to the end that He, the Christ, might be believed to be at once the Only-begotten of God and the Son of Man. For the one without the other was of no avail to salvation, and it was equally dangerous to have believed the Lord Jesus Christ to be either only God without manhood, or only man without Godhead , since both had equally to be confessed, because just as true manhood existed in His Godhead, so true Godhead existed in His Manhood. To strengthen, therefore, their most wholesome knowledge of this belief, the Lord had asked His disciples, among the various opinions of others, what they themselves believed, or thought about Him: whereat the Apostle Peter, by the revelation of the most High Father passing beyond things corporeal and surmounting things human by the eyes of his mind, saw Him to be Son of the living God, and acknowledged the glory of the Godhead, because he looked not at the substance of His flesh and blood alone; and with this lofty faith Christ was so well pleased that he received the fullness of blessing, and was endued with the holy firmness of the inviolable Rock on which the Church should be built and conquer the gates of hell and the laws of death, so that, in loosing or binding the petitions of any whatsoever, only that should be ratified in heaven which had been settled by the judgment of Peter.

II. The same continued

But this exalted and highly-praised understanding, dearly-beloved, had also to be instructed on the mystery of Christ's lower substance, lest the Apostle's faith, being raised to the glory of confessing the Deity in Christ, should deem the reception of our weakness unworthy of the impassible God, and incongruous, and should believe the human nature to be so glorified in Him as to be incapable of suffering punishment, or being dissolved in death. And, therefore, when the Lord said that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and scribes and chief of the priests, and the third day rise again, the blessed Peter who, being illumined with light from above, was burning with the heat of his confession, rejected their mocking insults and the disgrace of the most cruel death, with, as he thought, a loyal and outspoken contempt, but was checked by a kindly rebuke from Jesus and animated with the desire to share His suffering. For the Saviour's exhortation that followed, instilled and taught this, that they who wished to follow Him should deny themselves, and count the loss of temporal things as light in the hope of things eternal; because he alone could save his soul that did not fear to lose it for Christ. In order, therefore, that the Apostles might entertain this happy, constant courage with their whole heart, and have no tremblings about the harshness of taking up the cross, and that they might not be ashamed of the punishment of Christ, nor think what He endured disgraceful for themselves (for the bitterness of suffering was to be displayed without despite to His glorious power), Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John, and ascending a very high mountain with them apart, showed them the brightness of His glory; because, although they had recognised the majesty of God in Him, yet the power of His body, wherein His Deity was contained, they did not know. And, therefore, rightly and significantly, had He promised that certain of the disciples standing by should not taste death till they saw "the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom," that is, in the kingly brilliance which, as specially belonging to the nature of His assumed Manhood, He wished to be conspicuous to these three men. For the unspeakable and unapproachable vision of the Godhead Itself which is reserved till eternal life for the pure in heart, they could in no wise look upon and see while still surrounded with mortal flesh. The Lord displays His glory, therefore, before chosen witnesses, and invests that bodily shape which He shared with others with such splendour, that His face was like the sun's brightness and His garments equalled the whiteness of snow.

III. The object and the meaning of the Transfiguration

And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the offense of the cross from the disciple's heart, and to prevent their faith being disturbed by the humiliation of His voluntary Passion by revealing to them the excellence of His hidden dignity. But with no less foresight, the foundation was laid of the Holy Church's hope, that the whole body of Christ might realize the character of the change which it would have to receive, and that the members might promise themselves a share in that honour which had already shone forth in their Head. About which the Lord had Himself said, when He spoke of the majesty of His coming, "Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in their Father's Kingdom" (Matt 13:43), while the blessed Apostle Paul bears witness to the self-same thing, and says: "for I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18): and again, "for you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:3). But to confirm the Apostles and assist them to all knowledge, still further instruction was conveyed by that miracle.

IV. The significance of the appearance of Moses and Elias

For Moses and Elias, that is the Law and the Prophets, appeared talking with the Lord; that in the presence of those five men might most truly be fulfilled what was said: "In two or three witnesses stands every word" (Deut 19:15). What more stable, what more steadfast than this word, in the proclamation of which the trumpet of the Old and of the New Testament joins, and the documentary evidence of the ancient witnesses combine with the teaching of the Gospel? For the pages of both covenants corroborate each other, and He Whom under the veil of mysteries the types that went before had promised, is displayed clearly and conspicuously by the splendour of the present glory. Because, as says the blessed John, "the law was given through Moses: but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17), in Whom is fulfilled both the promise of prophetic figures and the purpose of the legal ordinances: for He both teaches the truth of prophecy by His presence, and renders the commands possible through grace.

V. St. Peter's suggestion contrary to the Divine order

The Apostle Peter, therefore, being excited by the revelation of these mysteries, despising things mundane and scorning things earthly, was seized with a sort of frenzied craving for the things eternal, and being filled with rapture at the whole vision, desired to make his abode with Jesus in the place where he had been blessed with the manifestation of His glory. Whence also he says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will let us make three tabernacles , one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elias." But to this proposal the Lord made no answer, signifying that what he wanted was not indeed wicked, but contrary to the Divine order: since the world could not be saved, except by Christ's death, and by the Lord's example the faithful were called upon to believe that, although there ought not to be any doubt about the promises of happiness, yet we should understand that amidst the trials of this life we must ask for the power of endurance rather than the glory, because the joyousness of reigning cannot precede the times of suffering.

VI. The import of the Father's voice from the cloud

And so while He was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold a voice out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him." The Father was indeed present in the Son, and in the Lord's brightness, which He had tempered to the disciples' sight, the Father's Essence was not separated from the Only-begotten: but, in order to emphasize the two-fold personality, as the effulgence of the Son's body displayed the Son to their sight, so the Father's voice from out the cloud announced the Father to their hearing. And when this voice was heard, "the disciples fell upon their faces, and were sore afraid," trembling at the majesty, not only of the Father, but also of the Son: for they now had a deeper insight into the undivided Deity of Both: and in their fear they did not separate the One from the Other, because they doubted not in their faith. That was a wide and manifold testimony, therefore, and contained a fuller meaning than struck the ear. For when the Father said, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom, etc.," was it not clearly meant, "This is My Son," Whose it is to be eternally from Me and with Me? Because the Begetter is not anterior to the Begotten, nor the Begotten posterior to the Begetter. "This is My Son," Who is separated from Me, neither by Godhead, nor by power, nor by eternity. "This is My Son," not adopted, but true-born, not created from another source, but begotten of Me: nor yet made like Me from another nature, but born equal to Me of My nature. "This is My Son," "through Whom all things were made, and without Whom was nothing made" because all things that I do He does in like manner: and whatever I perform, He performs with Me inseparably and without difference: for the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son, and Our Unity is never divided: and though I am One Who begot, and He the Other Whom I begot, yet is it wrong for you to think anything of Him which is not possible of Me. "This is My Son," Who sought not by grasping, and seized not in greediness, that equality with Me which He has, but remaining in the form of My glory, that He might carry out Our common plan for the restoration of mankind, He lowered the unchangeable Godhead even to the form of a slave.

VII. Who it is we have to hear

"Hear Him," therefore, unhesitatingly, in Whom I am throughout well pleased, and by Whose preaching I am manifested, by Whose humiliation I am glorified; because "He is the Truth and the Life," He is My "Power and Wisdom." "Hear Him," Whom the mysteries of the Law have foretold, Whom the mouths of prophets have sung. Hear Him, Who redeems the world by His blood, Who binds the devil, and carries off his chattels, Who destroys the bond of sin, and the compact of the transgression. "Hear Him," Who opens the way to heaven, and by the punishment of the cross prepares for you the steps of ascent to the Kingdom? Why do you tremble at being redeemed? Why do you fear to be healed of your wounds? Let that happen which Christ wills and I will. Cast away all fleshly fear, and arm yourselves with faithful constancy; for it is unworthy that you should fear in the Saviour's Passion what by His good gift you shall not have to fear even at your own end.

VIII. The Father's words have a universal application to the whole Church

These things, dearly-beloved, were said not for their profit only, who heard them with their own ears, but in these three Apostles the whole Church has learned all that their eyes saw and their ears heard. Let all men's faith then be established, according to the preaching of the most holy Gospel, and let no one be ashamed of Christ's cross, through which the world was redeemed. And let not any one fear to suffer for righteousness' sake, or doubt of the fulfilment of the promises, for this reason, that through toil we pass to rest and through death to life; since all the weakness of our humility was assumed by Him, in Whom, if we abide in the acknowledgment and love of Him, we conquer as He conquered, and receive what he promised, because, whether to the performance of His commands or to the endurance of adversities, the Father's fore-announcing voice should always be sounding in our ears, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear Him": Who lives and reigns, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

+++


See the following Catholic Encyclopedia articles:
•  Pope St. Leo I (the Great)
•  Transfiguration


The Transfiguration, by Raffaello Sanzio.
Oil on wood, 1518-20; Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

St. Clement of Alexandria: "The violent who take it by force"

“NOR does the kingdom of heaven belong to sleepers and sluggards, ‘but the violent who take it by force’ (Mt. 11:12). Therefore on hearing those words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute, quickly seized and comprehended the saying. And what does he say? ‘Lo, we have left all and followed Thee’ (Mt. 19:27; Mk. 10:28).”

~St. Clement of Alexandria: Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, Ch. 21.


Landscape with Christ and His Disciples, by Francisque Millet
(1642 - 1679). Oil on canvas; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

St. Justin Martyr: Judgment

“THE prophets have foretold two comings of Christ: the one, which has already taken place, was that of a dishonored and suffering Man; the other coming will take place, as it is predicted, when He shall gloriously come from heaven with His angelic army, when He shall also raise to life the bodies of all the men that ever were, shall cloak the worthy with immortality, and shall relegate the wicked, subject to sensible pain for all eternity, into the eternal fire with the evil demons.”

~St. Justin Martyr: First Apology, 52.


Triptych: The Last Judgment, by Fra Angelico.
Poplar, c. 1450; Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Friday, August 1, 2014

St. Augustine: On Truth

“That is true which is.” Soliloquies, 2, 5.

“Hence thou must in no manner deny that there is an immutable truth, embracing all such things as are immutably true; a truth which thou canst not call thine, or mine, or any man’s but which is present to all and gives itself to all alike who discern the things that are immutably true, as a light which in some miraculous way is both secret and yet open to all.” De Libero Arbitrio, 2, 12, 33.

“Everyone who knows that he is in doubt about something, knows a truth, and in regard to this that he knows he is certain. Therefore he is certain about a truth. Consequently everyone who doubts if there be a truth, has in himself a true thing on which he does not doubt; nor is there any true thing which is not true by truth. Consequently whoever for whatever reason can doubt, ought not to doubt that there is truth.” De vera Religione, 39, 73.

“That is was You who taught me, I believe: for it is the truth, and there is no other teacher of truth save You, no matter where or when it may happen to shine.” Confessions, 5, 6.

“Nothing conquers except truth: the victory of truth is charity.” Sermon, 358, 1.

Polyptych of St Augustine: St Augustine, by Piero della Francesca.
Tempera on panel, c. 1465; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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