Tuesday, October 28, 2014

St. John Damascene: "The soul, accordingly, is a living essence"

"THE SOUL, accordingly, is a living essence, simple, incorporeal, invisible in its proper nature to bodily eyes, immortal, reasoning and intelligent, formless, making use of an organised body, and being the source of its powers of life, and growth, and sensation, and generation , mind being but its purest part and not in any wise alien to it; (for as the eye to the body, so is the mind to the soul); further it enjoys freedom and volition and energy, and is mutable, that is, it is given to change, because it is created. All these qualities according to nature it has received of the grace of the Creator, of which grace it has received both its being and this particular kind of nature."

~St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. II, Chap 12.


St. Augustine: "Pride lurks even in good works"

"FOR every other kind of sin finds scope in evil works, so that by it they are done, but pride lurks even in good works, so that by it they are undone; and what avails it to lavish money on the poor, and become poor oneself, if the unhappy soul is rendered more proud by despising riches than it had been by possessing them?"

~St. Augustine of Hippo: Letters, 211.

St. Clement I: "Let our praise be in God"

"LET our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hates those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him."

~Pope St. Clement I: Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. 30.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lactantius: "Against the pleasures of the five senses"

From The Divine Institutes (Divinae institutiones) Bk. VI, Ch. 20.

Of the Senses, and Their Pleasures in the Brutes and in Man; And of Pleasures of the Eyes, and Spectacles.


IT remains that I should speak against the pleasures of the five senses, and this briefly, for the measure of the book itself now demands moderation; all of which, since they are vicious and deadly, ought to be overcome and subdued by virtue, or, as I said a little before respecting the affections, be recalled to their proper office. The other animals have no pleasure, except the one only which relates to generation. Therefore they use their senses for the necessity of their nature: they see, in order that they may seek those things which are necessary for the preservation of life; they hear one another, and distinguish one another, that they may be able to assemble together; they either discover from the smell, or perceive from the taste, the things which are useful for food; they refuse and reject the things which are useless, they measure the business of eating and drinking by the fullness of their stomach. But the foresight of the most skilful Creator gave to man pleasure without limit, and liable to fall into vice, because He set before him virtue, which might always be at variance with pleasure, as with a domestic enemy. Cicero says, in the Cato Major: "In truth, debaucheries, and adulteries, and disgraceful actions are excited by no other enticements than those of pleasure. And since nature or some God has given to man nothing more excellent than the mind, nothing is so hostile to this divine benefit and gift as pleasure. For when lust bears sway there is no place for temperance, nor can virtue have any existence when pleasure reigns supreme." But, on the other hand, God gave virtue on this account, that it might subdue and conquer pleasure, and that, when it passed the boundaries assigned to it, it might restrain it within the prescribed limits, lest it should soothe and captivate man with enjoyments, render him subject to its control, and punish him with everlasting death.

The pleasure arising from the eyes is various and manifold, which is derived from the sight of objects which are pleasant in intercourse with men, or in nature or workmanship. The philosophers rightly took this away. For they say that it is much more excellent and worthy of man to look upon the heaven rather than carved works, and to admire this most beautiful work adorned with the lights of the stars shining through, as with flowers, than to admire things painted and moulded, and varied with jewels. But when they have eloquently exhorted us to despise earthly things, and have urged us to look up to the heaven, nevertheless they do not despise these public spectacles. Therefore they are both delighted with these, and are gladly present at them; though, since they are the greatest incitement to vices, and have a most powerful tendency to corrupt our minds, they ought to be taken away from us; for they not only contribute in no respect to a happy life, but even inflict the greatest injury. For he who reckons it a pleasure, that a man, though justly condemned, should be slain in his sight, pollutes his conscience as much as if he should become a spectator and a sharer of a homicide which is secretly committed. And yet they call these sports in which human blood is shed. So far has the feeling of humanity departed from the men, that when they destroy the lives of men, they think that they are amusing themselves with sport, being more guilty than all those whose blood-shedding they esteem a pleasure. I ask now whether they can be just and pious men, who, when they see men placed under the stroke of death, and entreating mercy, not only suffer them to be put to death, but also demand it, and give cruel and inhuman votes for their death, not being satiated with wounds nor contented with bloodshed. Moreover, they order them, even though wounded and prostrate, to be attacked again, and their caresses to he wasted with blows, that no one may delude them by a pretended death. They are even angry with the combatants, unless one of the two is quickly slain; and as though they thirsted for human blood, they hate delays. They demand that other and fresh combatants should be given to them, that they may satisfy their eyes as soon as possible. Being imbued with this practice, they have lost their humanity. Therefore they do not spare even the innocent, but practice upon all that which they have learned in the slaughter of the wicked. It is not therefore befitting that those who strive to keep to the path of justice should be companions and sharers in this public homicide. For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.

Therefore let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there may be no crime with which they may not pollute their hands, deprive souls as yet innocent and simple of the light which they themselves have not given. Can any one, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain even from their own? But these are without any controversy wicked and unjust. What are they whom a false piety compels to expose their children? Can they be considered innocent who expose their own offspring as a prey to dogs, and as far as it depends upon themselves, kill them in a more cruel manner than if they had strangled them? Who can doubt that he is impious who gives occasion for the pity of others? For, although that which he has wished should befall the child— namely, that it should be brought up— he has certainly consigned his own offspring either to servitude or to the brothel? But who does not understand, who is ignorant what things may happen, or are accustomed to happen, in the case of each sex, even through error? For this is shown by the example of Œdipus alone, confused with twofold guilt. It is therefore as wicked to expose as it is to kill. But truly parricides complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children; as though, in truth, their means were in the power of those who possess them, or God did not daily make the rich poor, and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage than with wicked hands to mar the work of God.

If, then, it is in no way permitted to commit homicide, it is not allowed us to be present at all, lest any bloodshed should overspread the conscience, since that blood is offered for the gratification of the people. And I am inclined to think that the corrupting influence of the stage is still more contaminating. For the subject of comedies are the dishonouring of virgins, or the loves of harlots; and the more eloquent they are who have composed the accounts of these disgraceful actions, the more do they persuade by the elegance of their sentiments; and harmonious and polished verses more readily remain fixed in the memory of the hearers. In like manner, the stories of the tragedians place before the eyes the parricides and incests of wicked kings, and represent tragic crimes. And what other effect do the immodest gestures of the players produce, but both teach and excite lusts? Whose enervated bodies, rendered effeminate after the gait and dress of women, imitate unchaste women by their disgraceful gestures. Why should I speak of the actors of mimes, who hold forth instruction in corrupting influences, who teach adulteries while they feign them, and by pretended actions train to those which are true? What can young men or virgins do, when they see that these things are practised without shame, and willingly beheld by all? They are plainly admonished of what they can do, and are inflamed with lust, which is especially excited by seeing; and every one according to his sex forms himself in these representations. And they approve of these things, while they laugh at them, and with vices clinging to them, they return more corrupted to their apartments; and not boys only, who ought not to be inured to vices prematurely, but also old men, whom it does not become at their age to sin.

What else does the practice of the Circensian games contain but levity, vanity, and madness? For their souls are hurried away to mad excitement with as great impetuosity as that with which the chariot races are there carried on; so that they who come for the sake of beholding the spectacle now themselves exhibit more of a spectacle, when they begin to utter exclamations, to be thrown into transports, and to leap from their seats. Therefore all spectacles ought to be avoided, not only that no vice may settle in our breasts, which ought to be tranquil and peaceful; but that the habitual indulgence of any pleasure may not soothe and captivate us, and turn us aside from God and from good works. For the celebrations of the games are festivals in honour of the gods, inasmuch as they were instituted on account of their birthdays, or the dedication of new temples. And at first the huntings, which are called shows, were in honour of Saturnus, and the scenic games in honour of Liber, but the Circensian in honour of Neptune. By degrees, however, the same honour began to be paid also to the other gods, and separate games were dedicated to their names, as Sisinnius Capito teaches in his book on the games. Therefore, if any one is present at the spectacles to which men assemble for the sake of religion, he has departed from the worship of God, and has betaken himself to those deities whose birthdays and festivals he has celebrated.
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From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)

Also see:
• The Divine Institutes (at New Advent)
 Lactantius (from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Beginning of the first book of Lactantius’ Divinae institutiones (“Divine Institutions”) in a Renaissance manuscript written in Florence ca. 1420–1430 by Guglielmino Tanaglia, possibly Niccolo Niccoli and a third, unknown scribe. This so-called Tanaglia Lactantius is MS 1369 of the Schøyen Collection. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Catholic Encyclopedia: Lactantius

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius

A Christian apologist of the fourth century. The name Firmianus has misled some authors into believing that he was an Italian from Fermo, whereas he was an African by birth and a pupil of Arnobius who taught at Sicca Veneria. An inscription found at Cirta in Numidia, which mentions a certain L. Caecilius Firminianus, has led to the conclusion in some quarters that his family belonged to that place (Harnack, "Chronologie d. altchr. Lit.", II, 416. Lactantius was born a pagan and in his early life taught rhetoric in his native place. At the request of Emperor Diocletian he became an official professor of rhetoric in Nicomedia. One of his poems (Hodoeporicum) is an account of his journey from Africa to his new home. It is probable that his conversion to Christianity did not take place until after his removal to Nicomedia. It seems clear, however, that he could not retain his position as public teacher after the publication of Diocletian's first Edict against the Christians (24 February, 303). After his dismissal it was not easy to find pupils in that Greek city who would patronize a teacher of Latin, and he was in consequence reduced to such poverty that he at times lacked the necessities of life (St. Jerome, "Chron.", ad. ann. abr. 2333). In those circumstances, he attempted to eke out a living by writing. The persecution impelled him to leave Nicomedia and from the outbreak of hostilities until perhaps 311 or 313 he had to find a home elsewhere. The friendship of the Emperor Constantine raised him from penury and though very old (extrema senectute) he was appointed tutor in Latin to the emperor's son Crispus. This new appointment compelled him to follow his charge to Trier where he spent the remainder of his life. It seems very probable that his transfer to Trier did not take place until 317, when Crispus was made Caesar and sent to the city. Crispus was put to death in 326, but when Lactantius died and in what circumstances is not known. Like so many of the early Christian authors, Lacantius in all his works betrays his dependence on classical models and true to the requirements of his profession, he is polished rather than profound. He well merits the designation of the "Christian Cicero" bestowed on him by the humanists, for he exhibits many of the shortcomings as well as the graces of his master. Among the works of his pen extant, the earliest is the "De Opificio Dei", written in 303 or 304 during the Diocletian persecution, and dedicated to a former pupil, a rich Christian named Demetrianus. The apologetic principles underlying all the works of Lactantius are well set forth in this treatise, which may be considered as an introduction to his great work "The Divine Institutions" (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII), written between 303 and 311. This the most important of all the writings of Lactantius is systematic as well as apologetic and was intended to point out the futility of pagan beliefs and to establish the reasonableness and truth of Christianity. It was the first attempt at a systematic exposition of Christian theology in Latin, and though aimed at certain pamphleteers who were aiding the persecutors by literary assaults on the Church, the work was planned on a scale sufficiently broad enough to silence all opponents. The strengths and the weakness of Lactantius are nowhere better shown than in his work. The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author's lack of grasp of Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture. The "dualistic and panegyrical" passages, which have been such a puzzle to students of Lactantius, are manifestly not from his pen, but from that of someone who lived close to his time, probably a rhetorician of Trier. The "Epitome Divinarium Institutionum", made by Lactantius himself at the request of a friend named Pentadius, is much more than a mere abbreviation, rather a more summary treatment of the subject dealt with in the older work. Another treatise, "De Ira Dei", directed against the Stoics and Epicureans, is supplementary to the "Divine Institutions" (II, xvii, 5) and deals with anthropomorphism in its true sense. Knowing the bent of Lactantius's mind it is not surprising that the only historical work we have from his pen, "De Mortibus Persecutorum", should have an apologetic character. In this work, we have an account of the frightful deaths of the principal persecutors of the Christians, Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and the contemporaries of Lactantius himself, Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Maximus. This work, not withstanding the manifest bias of the author, is of prime importance as a source of the last and greatest of the persecutions, though, somewhat strangely, the style is not so perfect might be expected. The full text is found in only one manuscript, which bears the title, "Lucii Caecilii liber ad Donatum Confessorem de Mortibus Persecutorum". Many attempts have been made to show that the work was not written by Lactantius; however the coincidences of name, both of author and recipient the similarities in style and train of thought between this and other works of Lactantius, are too striking to admit of such a possibility. The chronological difficulties which Brandt thought he discovered are shown by Harnack to have no weight (Chronologie, II, 423). Of the poems attributed to Lactantius only one, besides the "Hodoeporicum", is genuine, viz., the "De Ave Phoenice", an account, in eighty-five distichs, of the fabulous eastern bird which is reborn from its own ashes every thousand years, The poem "De Resurrectione" was written by Venantius Fortunatus, and the "Passione Domini" by a medieval humanist. St. Jerome (De Vir. Ill., c. lxxx) mentions two other works, "Symposium" and "Grammaticus", which have not been preserved.
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Healy, P. (1910). Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius. From The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tertullian: "Unity of marriage"

Unity of Marriage Taught by Its First Institution, and by the Apostle's Application of that Primal Type to Christ and the Church

"FOR THE laying down of the law of once marrying, the very origin of the human race is our authority; witnessing as it emphatically does what God constituted in the beginning for a type to be examined with care by posterity. For when He had moulded man, and had foreseen that a peer was necessary for him, He borrowed from his ribs one, and fashioned for him one woman; whereas, of course, neither the Artificer nor the material would have been insufficient (for the creation of more). There were more ribs in Adam, and hands that knew no weariness in God; but not more wives in the eye of God. And accordingly the man of God, Adam, and the woman of God, Eve, discharging mutually (the duties of) one marriage, sanctioned for mankind a type by (the considerations of) the authoritative precedent of their origin and the primal will of God. Finally, "there shall be," said He, "two in one flesh," not three nor four. On any other hypothesis, there would no longer be "one flesh," nor "two (joined) into one flesh." These will be so, if the conjunction and the growing together in unity take place once for all. If, however, (it take place) a second time, or oftener, immediately (the flesh) ceases to be "one," and there will not be "two (joined) into one flesh," but plainly one rib (divided) into more. But when the apostle interprets, "The two shall be (joined) into one flesh" of the Church and Christ, according to the spiritual nuptials of the Church and Christ (for Christ is one, and one is His Church), we are bound to recognise a duplication and additional enforcement for us of the law of unity of marriage, not only in accordance with the foundation of our race, but in accordance with the sacrament of Christ. From one marriage do we derive our origin in each case; carnally in Adam, spiritually in Christ. The two births combine in laying down one prescriptive rule of monogamy. In regard of each of the two, is he degenerate who transgresses the limit of monogamy. Plurality of marriage began with an accursed man. Lamech was the first who, by marrying himself to two women, caused "three" to be (joined) "into one flesh." "

~Tertullian: On Exhortation to Chastity, Chap. 5.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

St. Isidore: "Natural law"

"NATURAL LAW is what is common to all peoples, and what is observed everywhere by the instinct of nature than by ordinance, as the marriage of man and woman, the begetting and rearing of children, the common possession of all things, the one freedom of all, and the acquisition of those things that are taken in the air, or on land, or on sea. Likewise the restoring of property entrusted or lent, and the repelling of violence by force. For this, or anything like this, is not considered unjust but natural and fair.”

~St. Isidore of Seville: Etymologies, 5, 5.

Page of Etymologiae, Carolingian manuscript (8th cent.),
Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

St. Cyprian of Carthage: Baptism of Infants

Epistle 58 (c. 253)

To Fidus, on the Baptism of Infants.

Argument: In This Letter Cyprian is Not Establishing Any New Decree; But Keeping Most Firmly the Faith of the Church, for the Correction of Those Who Thought that an Infant Must Not Be Baptized Before the Eighth Day After Its Birth, He Decreed with Some of His Fellow-Bishops, that as Soon as It Was Born It Might Properly Be Baptized. He Takes Occasion, However, to Refuse to Recall the Peace that Had Been Granted to One Victor, Although It Had Been Granted Against the Decrees of Synods Concerning the Lapsed; But Forbids Therapius the Bishop to Do It in Other Cases.

1. Cyprian, and others his colleagues who were present in council, in number sixty-six, to Fidus their brother, greeting. We have read your letter, dearest brother, in which you intimated concerning Victor, formerly a presbyter, that our colleague Therapius, rashly at a too early season, and with over-eager haste, granted peace to him before he had fully repented, and had satisfied the Lord God, against whom he had sinned; which thing rather disturbed us, that it was a departure from the authority of our decree, that peace should be granted to him before the legitimate and full time of satisfaction, and without the request and consciousness of the people— no sickness rendering it urgent, and no necessity compelling it. But the judgment being long weighed among us, it was considered sufficient to rebuke Therapius our colleague for having done this rashly, and to have instructed him that he should not do the like with any other. Yet we did not think that the peace once granted in any wise by a priest of God was to be taken away, and for this reason have allowed Victor to avail himself of the communion granted to him.

2. But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. For as the Lord says in His Gospel, The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them, (Lk 4:56) as far as we Can, We must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost. For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their Maker.

3. Moreover, belief in divine Scripture declares to us, that among all, whether infants or those who are older, there is the same equality of the divine gift. Elisha, beseeching God, so laid himself upon the infant son of the widow, who was lying dead, that his head was applied to his head, and his face to his face, and the limbs of Elisha were spread over and joined to each of the limbs of the child, and his feet to his feet. If this thing be considered with respect to the inequality of our birth and our body, an infant could not be made equal with a person grown up and mature, nor could its little limbs fit and be equal to the larger limbs of a man. But in that is expressed the divine and spiritual equality, that all men are like and equal, since they have once been made by God; and our age may have a difference in the increase of our bodies, according to the world, but not according to God; unless that very grace also which is given to the baptized is given either less or more, according to the age of the receivers, whereas the Holy Spirit is not given with measure, but by the love and mercy of the Father alike to all. For God, as He does not accept the person, so does not accept the age; since He shows Himself Father to all with well-weighed equality for the attainment of heavenly grace.

4. For, with respect to what you say, that the aspect of an infant in the first days after its birth is not pure, so that any one of us would still shudder at kissing it, we do not think that this ought to be alleged as any impediment to heavenly grace. For it is written, To the pure all things are pure. (Ti 1:15) Nor ought any of us to shudder at that which God has condescended to make. For although the infant is still fresh from its birth, yet it is not such that any one should shudder at kissing it in giving grace and in making peace; since in the kiss of an infant every one of us ought for his very religion's sake, to consider the still recent hands of God themselves, which in some sort we are kissing, in the man lately formed and freshly born, when we are embracing that which God has made. For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord's day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us.

5. For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks, and says, The Lord has said to me that I should call no man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28) But if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted— and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace— how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins— that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.

6. And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to he hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to he observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat. We bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.
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Source: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

St. Bernard: "This universal vanity"

“IT is the nature of this universal vanity which is in us to wish for praise when we deserve blame, and to be loath to praise others when we know them to be praiseworthy.”

~St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Letters, 19, 3.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is called "the last of the Fathers" of the Church because once again in the 12th century he renewed and brought to the fore the important theology of the Fathers. (Benedict XVI)

St. Irenaeus: "True knowledge is..."

"TRUE knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]."

~St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Adversus haereses, 4, 33, 8.

Irenaeus of Lyons,
by Danish sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith (b.1848-d.1900).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

St. John Damascene: Concerning angels, the devil and demons

Book II
Chapter 3. Concerning angels.


He is Himself the Maker and Creator of the angels: for He brought them out of nothing into being and created them after His own image, an incorporeal race, a sort of spirit or immaterial fire: in the words of the divine David, He makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire: and He has described their lightness and the ardour, and heat, and keenness and sharpness with which they hunger for God and serve Him, and how they are borne to the regions above and are quite delivered from all material thought.

An angel, then, is an intelligent essence, in perpetual motion, with free-will, incorporeal, ministering to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature: and the Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence. But all that we can understand is, that it is incorporeal and immaterial. For all that is compared with God Who alone is incomparable, we find to be dense and material. For in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal.

The angel's nature then is rational, and intelligent, and endowed with free-will, changeable in will, or fickle. For all that is created is changeable, and only that which is un-created is unchangeable. Also all that is rational is endowed with free-will. As it is, then, rational and intelligent, it is endowed with free-will: and as it is created, it is changeable, having power either to abide or progress in goodness, or to turn towards evil.

It is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance.

It is immortal, not by nature but by grace. For all that has had beginning comes also to its natural end. But God alone is eternal, or rather, He is above the Eternal: for He, the Creator of times, is not under the dominion of time, but above time.

They are secondary intelligent lights derived from that first light which is without beginning, for they have the power of illumination; they have no need of tongue or hearing, but without uttering words they communicate to each other their own thoughts and counsels.

Through the Word, therefore, all the angels were created, and through the sanctification by the Holy Spirit were they brought to perfection, sharing each in proportion to his worth and rank in brightness and grace.

They are circumscribed: for when they are in the Heaven they are not on the earth: and when they are sent by God down to the earth they do not remain in the Heaven. They are not hemmed in by walls and doors, and bars and seals, for they are quite unlimited. Unlimited, I repeat, for it is not as they really are that they reveal themselves to the worthy men to whom God wishes them to appear, but in a changed form which the beholders are capable of seeing. For that alone is naturally and strictly unlimited which is un-created. For every created thing is limited by God Who created it.

Further, apart from their essence they receive the sanctification from the Spirit: through the divine grace they prophesy: they have no need of marriage for they are immortal.

Seeing that they are minds they are in mental places, and are not circumscribed after the fashion of a body. For they have not a bodily form by nature, nor are they extended in three dimensions. But to whatever post they may be assigned, there they are present after the manner of a mind and energise, and cannot be present and energise in various places at the same time.

Whether they are equals in essence or differ from one another we know not. God, their Creator, Who knows all things, alone knows. But they differ from each other in brightness and position, whether it is that their position is dependent on their brightness, or their brightness on their position: and they impart brightness to one another, because they excel one another in rank and nature. And clearly the higher share their brightness and knowledge with the lower.

They are mighty and prompt to fulfil the will of the Deity, and their nature is endowed with such celerity that wherever the Divine glance bids them there they are straightway found. They are the guardians of the divisions of the earth: they are set over nations and regions, allotted to them by their Creator: they govern all our affairs and bring us succour. And the reason surely is because they are set over us by the divine will and command and are ever in the vicinity of God.

With difficulty they are moved to evil, yet they are not absolutely immoveable: but now they are altogether immoveable, not by nature but by grace and by their nearness to the Only Good.

They behold God according to their capacity, and this is their food.

They are above us for they are incorporeal, and are free of all bodily passion, yet are not passionless: for the Deity alone is passionless.

They take different forms at the bidding of their Master, God, and thus reveal themselves to men and unveil the divine mysteries to them.

They have Heaven for their dwelling-place, and have one duty, to sing God's praise and carry out His divine will.

Moreover, as that most holy, and sacred, and gifted theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, says, All theology, that is to say, the holy Scripture, has nine different names for the heavenly essences. These essences that divine master in sacred things divides into three groups, each containing three. And the first group, he says, consists of those who are in God's presence and are said to be directly and immediately one with Him, viz., the Seraphim with their six wings, the many-eyed Cherubim and those that sit in the holiest thrones. The second group is that of the Dominions, and the Powers, and the Authorities; and the third, and last, is that of the Rulers and Archangels and Angels.

Some, indeed, like Gregory the Theologian, say that these were before the creation of other things. He thinks that the angelic and heavenly powers were first and that thought was their function. Others, again, hold that they were created after the first heaven was made. But all are agreed that it was before the foundation of man. For myself, I am in harmony with the theologian. For it was fitting that the mental essence should be the first created, and then that which can be perceived, and finally man himself, in whose being both parts are united.

But those who say that the angels are creators of any kind of essence whatever are the mouth of their father, the devil. For since they are created things they are not creators. But He Who creates and provides for and maintains all things is God, Who alone is uncreate and is praised and glorified in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 4. Concerning the devil and demons.

He who from among these angelic powers was set over the earthly realm, and into whose hands God committed the guardianship of the earth, was not made wicked in nature but was good, and made for good ends, and received from his Creator no trace whatever of evil in himself. But he did not sustain the brightness and the honour which the Creator had bestowed on him, and of his free choice was changed from what was in harmony to what was at variance with his nature, and became roused against God Who created him, and determined to rise in rebellion against Him: and he was the first to depart from good and become evil. For evil is nothing else than absence of goodness, just as darkness also is absence of light. For goodness is the light of the mind, and, similarly, evil is the darkness of the mind. Light, therefore, being the work of the Creator and being made good (for God saw all that He made, and behold they were exceeding good Gn 1:31) produced darkness at His free-will. But along with him an innumerable host of angels subject to him were torn away and followed him and shared in his fall. Wherefore, being of the same nature as the angels, they became wicked, turning away at their own free choice from good to evil.

Hence they have no power or strength against any one except what God in His dispensation has conceded to them, as for instance, against Job (Job 1:12) and those swine that are mentioned in the Gospels. (Mk 5:13) But when God has made the concession they do prevail, and are changed and transformed into any form whatever in which they wish to appear.

Of the future both the angels of God and the demons are alike ignorant: yet they make predictions. God reveals the future to the angels and commands them to prophesy, and so what they say comes to pass. But the demons also make predictions, sometimes because they see what is happening at a distance, and sometimes merely making guesses: hence much that they say is false and they should not be believed, even although they do often, in the way we have said, tell what is true. Besides they know the Scriptures.

All wickedness, then, and all impure passions are the work of their mind. But while the liberty to attack man has been granted to them, they have not the strength to over-master any one: for we have it in our power to receive or not to receive the attack. Wherefore there has been prepared for the devil and his demons, and those who follow him, fire unquenchable and everlasting punishment. (Mt 25:41)

Note, further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance.

~St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.


Fall of the Rebel Angels, by Domenico Beccafumi.
Oil on wood, c. 1528; San Niccolò al Carmine, Siena.

St. Ambrose: On Guardian Angels

• "The angels must be entreated for us, who have been given to guard us." (Concerning Widows, 55)

• "Eliseus was sought by the king of Syria; an army had been sent to capture him; and he was surrounded on all sides. His servant began to fear, for he was a servant, that is, he had not a free mind, nor had he free powers of action. The holy prophet sought to open his eyes, and said: "Look and see how many more are on our side than there are against us." (2 Kgs 6:16) And he beheld, and saw thousands of angels. Mark therefore that it is those that are not unseen rather than those that are seen that guard the servants of Christ. But if they guard you, they do it in answer to your prayers: for you have read that those very men, who sought Eliseus, entered Samaria, and came to him whom they desired to take. Not only were they unable to harm him, but they were themselves preserved at the intercession of the man against whom they had come.

"The Apostle Peter also gives you an example of either case. For when Herod sought him and took him, he was put into prison. For the servant of God had not got away, but stood firm without a thought of fear. The Church prayed for him, but the Apostle slept in prison, a proof that he was not in fear. An angel was sent to rouse him as he slept, by whom Peter was led forth out of prison, and escaped death for a time." (Sermo contra Auxent., 11-12.)

~St. Ambrose

The Liberation of St. Peter, by Raffaelo Sanzio.
Fresco, 1514; Stanza di Eliodoro, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Sermon on the Holy Guardian Angels

"He hath given his angels charge over thee." O wonderful bounty and truly great love of charity! Who? For whom? Wherefore? What has He commanded? Let us study closely, brethren, and let us diligently commit to our memory this great mandate. Who is it that commands? Whose angels are they? Whose mandates do they fulfill? Whose will do they obey? In answer, "He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." And they do not hesitate even to lift thee up in their hands.

So the Supreme Majesty has given charge to the angels. Yes, He has given charge to His own angels. Think of it! To those sublime beings, who cling to Him so joyfully and intimately, to His very own He has given charge over you! Who are you? "What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?" As if man were not rottenness, and the son of man a worm! Now why, do you think, he Has given them charge over thee? — To guard thee!

With what great reverence should you treat this word! What devotion should you proffer it; what great confidence should you place in it. Reverence because of their presence; devotion because of their benevolence; confidence because of their solicitude. Walk carefully, in all thy ways, as one with whom the angels are present as He has given them charge. In every lodging, at every corner, have reverence for thy Angel. Do not dare to do in his presence what you would not dare to do if I were there. Or do you doubt that he is present whom you do not behold? What if you should hear him? What if you should touch him? What if you should scent him? Remember that the presence of something is not proved only by the sight of things.

In this, therefore, brethren, let us affectionately love His angels as one day our future coheirs; meanwhile, however, as counselors and defenders appointed by the Father and placed over us. Why should we fear under such guardians? Those who keep us in all our ways can neither be overcome nor be deceived, much less deceive. They are faithful; they are prudent; they are powerful; why do we tremble? Let us only follow them, let us remain close to them, and in the protection of the God of heaven let us abide. As often, therefore, as a most serious temptation is perceived to weigh upon you and an excessive trial is threatening, call to your guard, your leader, your helper in your needs, in your tribulation; cry to him and say: "Lord, save us; we perish!"

~St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Ambrose: Against Auxentius on the Giving Up of the Basilicas

Sermon Against Auxentius on the Giving Up of the Basilicas

To calm the anxiety of the people over the imperial decree, he lays his answer before them, and adds that he did not go to the consistory, because he was afraid of losing the basilica. Then, first challenging his opponents to a discussion in the church, he says that he is not terrified at their weapons; and also, after recalling his answer on the subject of the sacred vessels, declares that he is ready for the contest. The will of God, he maintains, cannot be frustrated, nor can His protection be overcome, yet He is ready too to suffer in His servants. Since he has not already been taken before this, it is plain that the heretics are causing this disturbance for no reason whatever. Next, after applying Naboth's history and Christ's entry into Jerusalem to the present state of affairs, he censures Auxentius'[1] cruel law, answers the Arians' objections, and states that he will gladly discuss the matter in the presence of the people. Auxentius, he adds, has been already condemned by the pagans, whom he had chosen to sit as judges, as he had been condemned by Paul and by Christ. The heretic had forgotten the year before, when he had made the same appeal to Cæsar; and the Arians, in stirring up ill-will against the servants of Christ, are much worse than the Jews: for the Church does not belong to Cæsar, but displays the image of Christ. Then adding to these a few more words on his answer and his hymns, he declares that he is not disobedient, that the Emperor is a son of the Church, and that Auxentius is worse than a Jew.

1. I see that you are unusually disturbed, and that you are closely watching me. I wonder what the reason is? Is it that you saw or heard that I had received an imperial order at the hands of the tribunes, to the effect that I was to go hence, whither I would, and that all who wished might follow me? Were you afraid that I should desert the Church and forsake you in fear for my own safety? But you could note the message I sent, that the wish to desert the Church had never entered my mind; for I feared the Lord of the universe more than an earthly emperor; and if force were to drag me from the Church, my body indeed could be driven out, but not my mind. I was ready, if he were to do what royal power is wont to do, to undergo the fate a priest has to bear.

2. Why, then, are you disturbed? I will never willingly desert you, though if force is used, I cannot meet it. I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against weapons, soldiers, Goths, my tears are my weapons, for these are a priest's defence. I ought not, I cannot resist in any other way; but to fly and forsake the Church is not my way; lest any one should suppose I did so from fear of some heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to show respect to our emperors, but not to yield to them, to offer myself freely to punishment, and not to fear what is prepared for me.

3. Would that I were sure the Church would never be given over to heretics. Gladly would I go to the Emperor's palace, if this but fitted the office of a priest, and so hold our discussion in the palace rather than the church. But in the consistory Christ is not wont to be the accused but the judge. Who will deny that the cause of faith should be pleaded in the church? If any one has confidence let him come hither; let him not seek the judgment of the Emperor, which already shows its bias, which clearly proves by the law that is passed that he is against the faith; neither let him seek the expected goodwill of certain people who want to stand well with both sides. I will not act in such a way as to give any one the chance of making money out of a wrong to Christ.

4. The soldiers around, the clash of the arms wherewith the church is surrounded, do not alarm my faith, but they disquiet me from fear that in keeping me here you might meet with some danger to your lives. For I have learned by now not to be afraid, but I do begin to have more fear for you. Allow, I beg you, your bishop to meet his foes. We have an adversary who assails us, for our adversary "the devil goes about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour," (1 Pt 5:8) as the Apostle said. He has received, no doubt, he has received (we are not deceived, but warned of this) the power to tempt in this wise, lest I might perhaps by the wounds of my body be drawn away from the earnestness of my faith. You have read how the devil tempted holy Job in these many ways, and how at last he sought and obtained power to try his body, which he covered with sores.

5. When it was suggested that I should give up the vessels of the Church, I gave the following answer: I will willingly give up whatever of my own property is demanded, whether it is estates, or house, or gold, or silver— anything, in fact, which is in my power. But I cannot take anything away from the temple of God; nor can I give up what I have received to guard and not to give up. In doing this I am acting for the Emperor's good, for it would neither be right for me to give it up, nor for him to receive it. Let him listen to the words of a free-spoken bishop, and if he wishes to do what is best for himself, let him cease to do wrong to Christ.

6. These words are full of humility, and as I think of that spirit which a bishop ought to show towards the Emperor. But since “our contest is not against flesh and blood, but also” (which is worse) “against spiritual wickedness in high places,” (Eph 6:12) that tempter the devil makes the struggle harder by means of his servants, and thinks to make trial of me by the wounds of my flesh. I know, my brethren, that these wounds which we receive for Christ's sake are not wounds that destroy life, but rather extend it. Allow, I pray, the contest to take place. It is for you to be the spectators. Reflect that if a city has an athlete, or one skilled in some other noble art, it is eager to bring him forward for a contest. Why do you refuse to do in a more important matter what you are wont to wish in smaller affairs? He fears not weapons nor barbarians who fears not death, and is not held fast by any pleasures of the flesh.

7. And indeed if the Lord has appointed me for this struggle, in vain have you kept sleepless watch so many nights and days. The will of Christ will be fulfilled. For our Lord Jesus is almighty, this is our faith: and so what He wills to be done will be fulfilled, and it is not for us to thwart the divine purpose.

8. You heard what was read today: The Saviour ordered that the foal of an ass should be brought to Him by the apostles, and bade them say, if any one withstood them: "The Lord has need of him." (Lk 19:35) What if now, too, He has commanded that foal of an ass, that is, the foal of that animal which is wont to bear a heavy burden, as man must, to whom is said: "Come unto Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; take My yoke upon you, for it is easy;" what if, I say, He has commanded that foal to be brought to Him now, sending forth those apostles, who, having put off their body, wear the semblance of the angels unseen by our eyes? If withstood by any, will they not say: The Lord has need of him? If, for instance, love of this life, or flesh and blood, or earthly intercourse (for perhaps we seem pleasing to some), were to withstand them? But he who loves me here, would show his love much more if he would suffer me to become Christ's victim, for "to depart and be with Christ is much better, though to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." (Phil 1:23) There is nothing therefore for you to fear, beloved brethren. For I know that whatever I may suffer, I shall suffer for Christ's sake. And I have read that I ought not to fear those that can kill the flesh. (Mt 10:28) And I have heard One Who says: "He that loses his life for My sake shall find it." (Mt 10:39)

9. Wherefore if the Lord wills, surely no one will resist. And if as yet He delay my struggle, what do you fear? It is not bodily guardianship but the Lord's providence that is wont to fence in the servant of Christ.

10. You are troubled because you have found the double doors open, which a blind man in seeking his chamber is said to have unfastened. In this you learn that human watchfulness is no defence. Behold! One who has lost the gift of sight has broken through all our defences, and escaped the notice of the guards. But the Lord has not lost the guard of His mercy. Was it not also discovered two days ago, as you remember, that a certain entrance on the left side of the basilica was open, which you thought had been shut and secured? Armed men surrounded the basilica, they tried this and the other entrance, but their eyes were blinded so that that could not see the one that was open. And you know well that it was open many nights. Cease, then, to be anxious; for that will take place which Christ commands and which is for the best.

11. And now I will put before you examples from the Law. Eliseus was sought by the king of Syria; an army had been sent to capture him; and he was surrounded on all sides. His servant began to fear, for he was a servant, that is, he had not a free mind, nor had he free powers of action. The holy prophet sought to open his eyes, and said: "Look and see how many more are on our side than there are against us." (2 Kgs 6:16) And he beheld, and saw thousands of angels. Mark therefore that it is those that are not seen rather than those that are seen that guard the servants of Christ. But if they guard you, they do it in answer to your prayers: for you have read that those very men, who sought Eliseus, entered Samaria, and came to him whom they desired to take. Not only were they unable to harm him, but they were themselves preserved at the intercession of the man against whom they had come.

12. The Apostle Peter also gives you an example of either case. For when Herod sought him and took him, he was put into prison. For the servant of God had not got away, but stood firm without a thought of fear. The Church prayed for him, but the Apostle slept in prison, a proof that he was not in fear. An angel was sent to rouse him as he slept, by whom Peter was led forth out of prison, and escaped death for a time.

13. And Peter again afterwards, when he had overcome Simon, in sowing the doctrine of God among the people, and in teaching chastity, stirred up the minds of the Gentiles. And when these sought him, the Christians begged that he would withdraw himself for a little while. And although he was desirous to suffer, yet was he moved at the sight of the people praying, for they asked him to save himself for the instruction and strengthening of his people. Need I say more? At night he begins to leave the town, and seeing Christ coming to meet him at the gate, and entering the city, says: Lord, where are You going? Christ answers: I am coming to be crucified again. Peter understood the divine answer to refer to his own cross, for Christ could not be crucified a second time, for He had put off the flesh by the passion of the death which He had undergone; since: "In that He died, He died unto sin once, but in that He lives, He lives unto God." (Rom 6:10) So Peter understood that Christ was to be crucified again in the person of His servant. Therefore he willingly returned; and when the Christians questioned him, told them the reason. He was immediately seized, and glorified the Lord Jesus by his cross.

14. You see, then, that Christ wills to suffer in His servants. And what if He says to this servant, "I will that he tarry, you follow Me," (Jn 21:22) and wishes to taste the fruit of this tree? For if His meat was to do the will of His Father,(Jn 4:34) so also is it His meat to partake of our sufferings. Did He not, to take an example from our Lord Himself—did He not suffer when He willed, and was He not found when He was sought? But when the hour of His passion had not yet come, He passed through the midst of those that sought Him, (Jn 7:30) and though they saw Him they could not hold Him fast. This plainly shows us that when the Lord wills, each one is found and taken, but because the time is put off, he is not held fast, although he meets the eyes of those who seek him.

15. And did not I myself go forth daily to pay visits, or go to the tombs of the martyrs? Did I not pass by the royal palace both in going and returning? Yet no one laid hands on me, though they had the intention of driving me out, as they afterwards gave out, saying, Leave the city, and go where you will. I was, I own, looking for some great thing, either sword or fire for the Name of Christ, yet they offered me pleasant things instead of sufferings; but Christ's athlete needs not pleasant things but sufferings. Let no one, then, disturb you, because they have provided a carriage, or because hard words, as he thinks them, have been uttered by Auxentius, who calls himself bishop.

16. Many stated that assassins had been dispatched, that the penalty of death had been decreed against me. I do not fear all that, nor am I going to desert my position here. Whither shall I go, when there is no spirit that is not filled with groans and tears; when throughout the Churches Catholic bishops are being expelled, or if they resist, are put to the sword, and every senator who does not obey the decree is proscribed. And these things were written by the hand and spoken by the mouth of a bishop who, that he might show himself to be most learned, omitted not an ancient warning. For we read in the prophet that he saw a flying sickle. (Zec 5:1) Auxentius, to imitate this, sent a flying sword through all cities. But Satan, too, transforms himself into an angel of light, (2 Cor 11:14) and imitates his power for evil.

17. You, Lord Jesus, have redeemed the world in one moment of time: shall Auxentius in one moment slay, as far as he can, so many peoples, some by the sword, others by sacrilege? He seeks my basilica with bloody lips and gory hands. Him today's chapter answers well: "But unto the wicked said God: Wherefore do you declare My righteousness?" That is, there is no union between peace and madness, there is no union between Christ and Belial. (2 Cor 6:15) You remember also that we read today of Naboth, a holy man who owned his own vineyard, being urged on the king's request to give it up. When the king after rooting up the vines intended to plant common herbs, he answered him: "God forbid that I should give up the inheritance of my fathers." (1 Kgs 21:3) The king was grieved, because what belonged by right to another had been refused him on fair grounds, but had been unfairly got by a woman's device. Naboth defended his vines with his own blood. And if he did not give up his vineyard, shall we give up the Church of Christ?

18. Was the answer that I gave then contumacious? For when summoned I said: God forbid that I should give up the inheritance of Christ. If Naboth gave not up the inheritance of his fathers, shall I give up the inheritance of Christ? And I added further: God forbid that I shall give up the inheritance of my fathers, that is, the inheritance of Dionysius, who died in exile in the cause of the faith; the inheritance of the Confessor Eustorgius, the inheritance of Mysocles and of all the faithful bishops of bygone days. I answered as a bishop ought to answer: Let the Emperor act as an emperor ought to. He must take away my life rather than my faith.

19. But to whom shall I give it up? Today's lesson from the Gospel ought to teach us what is asked for and by whom it is asked. You have heard read that when Christ (Lk 19:35) sat upon the foal of an ass, the children cried aloud, and the Jews were vexed. At length they spoke to the Lord Jesus, bidding Him to silence them. He answered: "If these should hold their peace, the stones will cry out." (Lk 19:40) Then on entering the temple, He cast out the money-changers, and the tables, and those that sold doves in the temple of God. That passage was read by no arrangement of mine, but by chance; but it is well fitted to the present time. The praises of Christ are ever the scourges of the unfaithful. And now when Christ is praised, the heretics say that sedition is stirred up. The heretics say that death is being prepared for them, and truly they have their death in the praises of Christ. For how can they bear His praises, Whose weakness they maintain. And so today, when Christ is praised, the madness of the Arians is scourged.

20. The Gerasenes could not bear the presence of Christ; (Lk 8:37) these, worse than the Gerasenes, cannot endure the praises of Christ. They see boys singing of the glory of Christ, for it is written: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have perfected praise." They mock at their tender age, so full of faith, and say: "Behold, why do they cry out?" But Christ answers them: "If these should hold their peace, the stones will cry out," (Lk 19:40) that is, the stronger will cry out, both youths and the more mature will cry out, and old men will cry out; these stones now firmly laid upon that stone of which it is written: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner."

21. Invited, then, by these praises, Christ enters His temple, (Jn 2:15) and takes His scourge and drives the money-changers out of the temple. For He does not allow the slaves of money to be in His temple, nor does He allow those to be there who sell seats. What are seats but honours? What are the doves but simple minds or souls that follow a pure and clear faith? Shall I, then, bring into the temple him whom Christ shuts out? For he who sells dignities and honours will be bidden to go out. He will be bidden to go out who desires to sell the simple minds of the faithful.

22. Therefore, Auxentius is cast out. Mercurius is shut out. The portent is one, the names are two! That no one might know who he was, he changed his name so as to call himself Auxentius, because there had been here an Arian bishop, named Auxentius. He did this to deceive the people over whom the other had had power. He changed his name, but he did not change his falseness. He puts off the wolf, yet puts on the wolf again. It is no help to him that he has changed his name; whatever happens he is known. He is called by one name in the parts of Scythia, he is called by another here. He has a name for each country he lives in. He has two names already, and if he were to go elsewhere from here, he will have yet a third. For how will he endure to keep a name as a proof of such wickedness? He did less in Scythia, and was so ashamed that he changed his name. Here he has dared to do worse things, and will he be ready to be betrayed by his name wherever he goes? Shall he write the death warrant of so many people with his own hand, and yet be able to be unshaken in mind?

23. The Lord Jesus shut a few out of His temple, but Auxentius left none. Jesus with a scourge drove them out of His temple, Auxentius with a sword; Jesus with a scourge, Mercurius with an axe. The holy Lord drives out the sacrilegious with a scourge; the impious man pursues the holy with a sword. Of him you have well said today: Let him take away his laws with him. He will take them, although he is unwilling; he will take with him his conscience, although he takes no writing; he will take with him his soul inscribed with blood although he will not take a letter inscribed with ink. It is written: "Juda, your sin is written with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond, and it is graven upon your heart," (Jer 17:1) that is, it is written there, whence it came forth.

24. Does he, a man full of blood and full of murder, dare to make mention to me of a discussion? He who thinks that they whom he could not mislead by his words are to be slain with the sword, giving bloody laws with his mouth, writing them with his hand, and thinking that the law can order a faith for man to hold. He has not heard what was read today: "That a man is not justified by the works of the law," (Gal 2:16) or "I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I may live unto God," (Gal 2:19) that is, by the spiritual law he is dead to the carnal interpretation of the law. And we, by the law of our Lord Jesus Christ, are dead to this law, which sanctions such perfidious decrees. The law did not gather the Church together, but the faith of Christ. For the law is not by faith, but "the just man lives by faith." (Gal 3:11) Therefore, faith, not the law, makes a man just, for justice is not through the law, but through the faith of Christ. But he who casts aside his faith and pleads for that the claims of the law, bears witness that he is himself unjust; for the just man lives by faith.

25. Shall any one, then, follow this law, whereby the Council of Ariminum is confirmed, wherein Christ was said to be a creature. But say they: "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law." (Gal 4:4) And so they say "made," that is, "created." Do they not consider these very words which they have brought forward; that Christ is said to have been made, but of a woman; that is, He was made as regards his birth from a Virgin, Who was begotten of the Father as regards His divine generation? Have they read also today, "that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us?" (Gal 3:13) Was Christ a curse in His Godhead? But why He is called a curse the Apostle tells us, saying that it is written: "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree," (Gal 3:13) that is, He Who in his flesh bore our flesh, in His body bore our infirmities and our curses, that He might crucify them; for He was not cursed Himself, but was cursed in you. So it is written elsewhere: "Who knew no sin, but was made sin for us, for He bore our sins, (2 Cor 5:21) that he might destroy them by the Sacrament of His Passion."

26. These matters, my brethren, I would discuss more fully with him in your presence; but knowing that you are not ignorant of the faith, he has avoided a trial before you, and has chosen some four or five heathen to represent him, if that is he has chosen any, whom I should like to be present in our company, not to judge concerning Christ, but to hear the majesty of Christ. They, however, have already given their decision concerning Auxentius, to whom they gave no credence as he pleaded before them day by day. What can be more of a condemnation of him than the fact, that without an adversary he was defeated before his own judges? So now we also have their opinion against Auxentius.

27. And that he has chosen heathen is rightly to be condemned; for he has disregarded the Apostle's command, where he says: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust and not before the saints? Do you not know the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor 6:1-2) And below he says: "Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, who can judge between heathen? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." (1 Cor 6:5) You see, then, that what he has introduced is against the Apostle's authority. Do you decide, then, whether we are to follow Auxentius or Paul as our master.

28. But why speak of the Apostle, when the Lord Himself cries through the prophet: "Hearken unto Me, My people, you who know judgment, in whose heart is My law." (Is 51:7) God says: "Hearken unto Me, My people, you that know judgment." Auxentius says: You know not judgment. Do you see how he condemns God in you, who rejects the voice of the heavenly oracle: "Hearken unto Me, My people," says the Lord. He says not, "Hearken, you Gentiles," nor does He say, "Hearken, you Jews." For they who had been the people of the Lord have now become the people of error, and they who were the people of error have begun to be the people of God; for they have believed on Christ. That people then judges in whose heart is the divine, not the human law, the law not written in ink, but in the spirit of the living God; (2 Cor 3:3) not set down on paper, but stamped upon the heart. Who then, does you a wrong, he who refuses, or he who chooses to be heard by you?

29. Hemmed in on all sides, he betakes himself to the wiles of his fathers. He wants to stir up ill-will on the Emperor's side, saying that a youth, a catechumen ignorant of the sacred writings, ought to judge, and to judge in the consistory. As though last year when I was sent for to go to the palace, when in the presence of the chief men the matter was discussed before the consistory, when the Emperor wished to seize the basilica, I was cowed then at the sight of the royal court, and did not show the firmness a bishop should, or departed with diminished claims. Do they not remember that the people, when they knew I had gone to the palace, made such a rush that they could not resist its force; and all offered themselves to death for the faith of Christ as a military officer came out with some light troops to disperse the crowd? Was not I asked to calm the people with a long speech? Did I not pledge my word that no one should invade the basilica of the church? And though my services were asked for to do an act of kindness, yet the fact that the people came to the palace was used to bring ill-will upon me. They wish to bring me to this now again.

30. I recalled the people, and yet I did not escape their ill-will, which ill-will, however, I think we ought rather to tempt than fear. For why should we fear for the Name of Christ? Unless perchance I ought to be troubled because they say: "Ought not the Emperor to have one basilica, to which to go, and Ambrose wants to have more power than the Emperor, and so refuses to the Emperor the opportunity of going forth to church?" When they say this, they desire to lay hold of my words, as did the Jews who tried Christ with cunning words, saying: "Master, is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not?" (Mt 22:17) Is ill-will always stirred up against the servants of God on Cæsar's account, and does impiety make use of this with a view to starting a slander, so as to shelter itself under the imperial name? And can they say that they do not share in the sacrilege of those whose advice they follow?

31. See how much worse than the Jews the Arians are. They asked whether He thought that the right of tribute should be given to Cæsar; these want to give to Cæsar the right of the Church. But as these faithless ones follow their author, so also let us answer as our Lord and Author has taught us. For Jesus seeing the wickedness of the Jews said to them: Why do you tempt Me? Show Me a penny. When they had given it, He said: "Whose image and superscription has it?" (Mt 22:18) They answered and said: Cæsar's. And Jesus says to them: "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt 22:21) So, too, I say to these who oppose me: Show me a penny. Jesus sees Cæsar's penny and says: Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's. Can they in seizing the basilicas of the church offer Cæsar's penny?

32. But in the church I only know of one Image, that is the Image of the unseen God, of Which God has said: "Let us make man in Our image and Our likeness;"(Gn 1:26) that Image of Which it is written, that Christ is the Brightness of His glory and the Image of His Person. (Heb 1:3) In that Image I perceive the Father, as the Lord Jesus Himself has said: "He that sees Me sees the Father." (Jn 14:9) For this Image is not separated from the Father, which indeed has taught me the unity of the Trinity, saying: "I and My Father are One," (Jn 10:30) and again: "All things that the Father has are Mine." (Jn 16:15) Also of the Holy Spirit, saying that the Spirit is Christ's, and has received of Christ, as it is written: "He shall receive of Mine, and shall declare it unto you." (Jn 16:14)

33. How, then, did we not answer humbly enough? If he demand tribute, we do not refuse it. The lands of the Church pay tribute. If the Emperor wants the lands, he has the power to claim them, none of us will interfere. The contributions of the people are amply sufficient for the poor. Do not stir up ill-will in the matter of the lands. Let them take them if it is the Emperor's will. I do not give them, but I do not refuse them. They ask for gold. I can say: Silver and gold I do not ask for. But they stir up ill-will because gold is spent. I am not afraid of such ill-will as this. I have dependents. My dependents are Christ's poor. I know how to collect this treasure. On that they may even charge me with this crime, that I have spent money on the poor! And if they make the charge that I seek for defence at their hands, I do not deny it; nay, I solicit it. I have my defence, but it consists in the prayers of the poor. The blind and the lame, the weak and the old, are stronger than hardy warriors. Lastly, gifts to the poor make God indebted to us, for it is written: "He that gives to the poor, lends to God." (Prv 19:17) The guards of warriors often do not merit divine grace.

34. They declare also that the people have been led astray by the strains of my hymns. I certainly do not deny it. That is a lofty strain, and there is nothing more powerful than it. For what has more power than the confession of the Trinity which is daily celebrated by the mouth of the whole people? All eagerly vie one with the other in confessing the faith, and know how to praise in verse the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So they all have become teachers, who scarcely could be disciples.

35. What could show greater obedience than that we should follow Christ's example, "Who, being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death?" (Phil 2:7-8) Accordingly He has freed all through His obedience. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." (Rom 5:19) If, then, He was obedient, let them receive the rule of obedience: to which we cling, saying to those who stir up ill-will against us on the Emperor's side: We pay to Cæsar what is Cæsar's, and to God what is God's. Tribute is due to Cæsar, we do not deny it. The Church belongs to God, therefore it ought not to be assigned to Cæsar. For the temple of God cannot be Cæsar's by right.

36. That this is said with respectful feeling for the Emperor, no one can deny. For what is more full of respect than that the Emperor should be called the son of the Church. As it is said, it is said without sin, since it is said with the divine favour. For the Emperor is within the Church, not above it. For a good emperor seeks the aid of the Church and does not refuse it. As I say this with all humility, so also I state it with firmness. Some threaten us with fire, sword, exile; we have learned as servants of Christ not to fear. To those who have no fear, nothing is ever a serious cause of dread. Thus too is it written: "Arrows of infants their blows have become."

37. A sufficient answer, then, seems to have been given to their suggestion. Now I ask them, what the Saviour asked: "The baptism of John, was it from heaven or men?" (Lk 20:4) The Jews could not answer Him. If the Jews did not make nothing of the baptism of John, does Auxentius make nothing of the baptism of Christ? For that is not a baptism of men, but from heaven, which the angel of great counsel (Is 9:6) has brought to us, that we might be justified to God. Wherefore, then, does Auxentius hold that the faithful ought to be rebaptized, when they have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, when the Apostle says: "One faith, one baptism?" (Eph 4:5) And wherefore does he say that he is man's enemy, not Christ's, seeing that he despises the counsel of God and condemns the baptism which Christ has granted us to redeem our sins.
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From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 10. Ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896.) 

Endnote:
1. Auxentius of Milan: Native of Cappadocia, ordained (343) to the priesthood by Gregory, the intruded Bishop of Alexandria. After the banishment of Dionysius of Milan in 355, Auxentius was made bishop of that see through Arian intrigue, though ignorant of the Latin tongue. Some of the principal Western bishops attempted, but in vain, to bring him to accept the Nicene Creed. He was publicly accused at Milan, in 364, by St. Hilary of Poitiers, and convicted of error in a disputation held in that city by order of the Emperor Valentinian. His submission was only apparent, however, and he remained powerful enough to compel the departure of St. Hilary from Milan. In 359 he forced many bishops of Illyricum to sign the creed of Rimini. Though St. Athanasius procured his condemnation by Pope Damasus at a Roman synod (369), he retained possession of his see until his death in 374, when he was succeeded by St. Ambrose. (Catholic Encyclopedia; 1907)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

St. Gregory the Great: "Three states of the converted"

"THERE are in truth three states of the converted; the beginning, the middle, and the perfection. But in this commencement they experience the charms of sweetness, in the mid-time the contests of temptations, but in the close the plenitude of perfection. Sweets then are first their portion, to comfort, afterwards bitternesses to exercise, and at last transcendent delights to confirm them. For every man too first soothes his bride with sweet blandishments, though he tries her when now united to him, with sharp reproofs, and possesses her, when she is proved, with thoughts of security. And hence also the people of Israel, on being summoned out of Egypt, when God betrothed Himself to the sacred marriage of the soul, was vouchsafed at first, in the place of pledges, the allurement of miracles; but, after marriage, is exercised with trials in the wilderness, and after trial, is confirmed in the land of promise with the plenitude of virtue. It first then tasted in the miracles that which it was to seek for; afterwards it was tried by hard trial, to prove whether it could keep safely what it had tasted; and at the last it also deserved to obtain a fuller enjoyment of that, which it had kept safe when put to the test of suffering. A gentle commencement therefore thus soothes the life of every convert, a rugged course proves it in the way, and afterwards full perfection gives it strength."

~St. Gregory the Great: Morals on the Book of Job, Bk. 24, Chap. 28.

St. Gregory the Great: “We speak of nine orders of Angels"

“WE speak of nine orders of Angels, because we know, by the testimony of Holy Scripture, that there are the following: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. Nearly every page of Scripture witnesses to the fact that there are Angels and Archangels. The prophetic books, as has been noted often, speak of Cherubim and Seraphim. Four more orders are enumerated by Paul the Apostle, writing to the Ephesians, when he says, "Above every Principality and Power and Virtue and Domination." And again writing to the Colossians, he says, "Whether Thrones, or Powers, or Principalities, or Dominations." When, then, we add the Thrones to those he mentions to the Ephesians, there are five orders, to which are to be added Angels, Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, certainly making nine orders of Angels in all.”

~Pope Gregory the Great (c.540–604): Homilies, 34.


The Congregation of the Archangels, by Angelos Akotantos
(15th cent.). Tempera on panel; Vatopediou Monastery, Mount Athos.

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