Thursday, April 27, 2017

St. Augustine: "Understanding is the reward of faith"

"FOR understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand."

~St. Augustine: Tractate 29, 6, in Tractates (Lectures) on the Gospel of John. 

Allegory of Faith, by Moretto da Brescia;
Oil on panel, c. 1540; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

St. John Chrysostom: "Christ hath risen"

“WHERE is thy sting, O death? Where is thy victory, O hell? Christ hath risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ hath risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ hath risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ has risen, and life reigneth. Christ hath risen, and not one dead resteth in the grave. For Christ having risen from the dead became the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and majesty to ages of ages. Amen.”

─Byzantine Pentekostarion, Holy Pascha, Catechetical Discourse of St. John Chrysostom at Matins.

The Resurrection, by Passignano.
Oil on canvas, 1600-25; Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

St. John Damascene: The Annunciation and Incarnation

Concerning the manner in which the Word was conceived, and concerning His divine incarnation.

THE angel of the Lord was sent to the holy Virgin, who was descended from David's line. (Lk 1:27) For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe no one turned his attention to the altar (Heb 7:14), as the divine apostle said: but about this we will speak more accurately later. And bearing glad tidings to her, he said, Hail thou highly favoured one, the Lord is with you. (Lk 1:28) And she was troubled at his word, and the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God, and shall bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus ; for He shall save His people from their sins. (Mt 1:21) Hence it comes that Jesus has the interpretation Saviour. And when she asked in her perplexity, How can this be, seeing I know not a man? (Lk 1:34) The angel again answered her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. (Lk 1:35) And she said to him, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to Your word.

So then, after the assent of the holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth. And then was she overshadowed by the enhypostatic Wisdom and Power of the most high God, the Son of God Who is of like essence with the Father as of Divine seed, and from her holy and most pure blood He formed flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, the first-fruits of our compound nature : not by procreation but by creation through the Holy Spirit: not developing the fashion of the body by gradual additions but perfecting it at once, He Himself, the very Word of God, standing to the flesh in the relation of subsistence. For the divine Word was not made one with flesh that had an independent pre-existence, but taking up His abode in the womb of the holy Virgin, He unreservedly in His own subsistence took upon Himself through the pure blood of the eternal Virgin a body of flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, thus assuming to Himself the first-fruits of man's compound nature, Himself, the Word, having become a subsistence in the flesh. So that He is at once flesh, and at the same time flesh of God the Word, and likewise flesh animated, possessing both reason and thought. Wherefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become Man. For being by nature perfect God, He naturally became likewise perfect Man: and did not change His nature nor make the dispensation an empty show, but became, without confusion or change or division, one in subsistence with the flesh, which was conceived of the holy Virgin, and animated with reason and thought, and had found existence in Him, while He did not change the nature of His divinity into the essence of flesh, nor the essence of flesh into the nature of His divinity, and did not make one compound nature out of His divine nature and the human nature He had assumed.

─St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chap. 2.

Annunciation, by Fra Angelico.
Tempera on wood, 1433-341; Museo Diocesano, Cortona.

Monday, March 20, 2017

St. Bernard: Saint Joseph

“THERE is no doubt then that this Joseph, to whom the mother of the Saviour was espoused, was a man good and preeminently faithful. A prudent and faithful servant he was, I say, whom the Lord placed beside Mary to be her protector, and nourisher of His human body, and the single and most trusty assistant on earth in His great design.”

~St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Sermon 2 in Vigil. Nativ. Domini, 16.

St. Joseph with the child Jesus, by Guido Reni.
Oil on canvas, c. 1635; The Hermitage at St. Petersburg, Russia.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Their pestilential and deadly creed"

“THEY are heretics who in the Church of God entertain some unwholesome and perverse opinion, and on being rebuked refuse to alter it and square it to sound and right doctrine, but are contumacious in their resistance, refuse to amend their pestilential and deadly creed, and persist in defending the same.”

~St. Augustine: The City of God, 18, 51.

St. Augustine, by Vincenzo Foppa.
Wood panel 1465-70;
Castello Sforzesco, Milan.

Friday, January 6, 2017

St. Leo the Great: Sixth Sermon on the Epiphany

Sermon 36

On the Feast of the Epiphany, VI.

I. The story of the magi not only a bygone fact in history, but of everyday application to ourselves

The day, dearly-beloved, on which Christ the Saviour of the world first appeared to the nations must be venerated by us with holy worship: and today those joys must be entertained in our hearts which existed in the breasts of the three magi, when, aroused by the sign and leading of a new star, which they believed to have been promised, they fell down in presence of the King of heaven and earth. For that day has not so passed away that the mighty work, which was then revealed, has passed away with it, and that nothing but the report of the thing has come down to us for faith to receive and memory to celebrate; seeing that, by the oft-repeated gift of God, our times daily enjoy the fruit of what the first age possessed. And therefore, although the narrative which is read to us from the Gospel properly records those days on which the three men, who had neither been taught by the prophets' predictions nor instructed by the testimony of the law, came to acknowledge God from the furthest parts of the East, yet we behold this same thing more clearly and abundantly carried on now in the enlightenment of all those who are called, since the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled when he says, “the Lord has laid bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the nations upon earth have seen the salvation which is from the Lord our God;” and again, “and those to whom it has not been announced about Him shall see, and they who have not heard, shall understand.” Hence when we see men devoted to worldly wisdom and far from belief in Jesus Christ brought out of the depth of their error and called to an acknowledgment of the true Light, it is undoubtedly the brightness of the Divine grace that is at work: and whatever of new light illumines the darkness of their hearts, comes from the rays of the same star: so that it should both move with wonder, and going before lead to the adoration of God the minds which it visited with its splendour. But if with careful thought we wish to see how their threefold kind of gift is also offered by all who come to Christ with the foot of faith, is not the same offering repeated in the hearts of true believers? For he that acknowledges Christ the King of the universe brings gold from the treasure of his heart: he that believes the Only-begotten of God to have united man's true nature to Himself, offers myrrh; and he that confesses Him in no wise inferior to the Father's majesty, worships Him in a manner with incense.

II. Satan still carries on the wiles of Herod, and, as it were, impersonates him in his opposition to Christ

These comparisons, dearly-beloved, being thoughtfully considered, we find Herod's character also not to be wanting, of which the devil himself is now an unwearied imitator, just as he was then a secret instigator. For he is tortured at the calling of all the nations, and racked at the daily destruction of his power, grieving at his being everywhere deserted, and the true King adored in all places. He prepares devices, he hatches plots, he bursts out into murders, and that he may make use of the remnants of those whom he still deceives, is consumed with envy in the persons of the Jews, lies treacherously in wait in the persons of heretics, blazes out into cruelty in the persons of the heathen. For he sees that the power of the eternal King is invincible Whose death has extinguished the power of death itself; and therefore he has armed himself with all his skill of injury against those who serve the true King; hardening some by the pride that knowledge of the law engenders, debasing others by the lies of false belief, and inciting others to the madness of persecution. Yet the madness of this “Herod” is vanquished, and brought to nought by Him who has crowned even infants with the glory of martyrdom, and has endued His faithful ones with so unconquerable a love that in the Apostle's words they dare to say, “who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or want, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written, For your sake are we killed all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. But in all these things we overcome on account of Him who loved us (Romans 8:35).”

III. The cessation of active persecution does not do away with the need of continued vigilance: Satan has only changed his tactics

Such courage as this, dearly-beloved, we do not believe to have been needful only at those times in which the kings of the world and all the powers of the age were raging against God's people in an outburst of wickedness, thinking it to redound to their greatest glory if they removed the Christian name from the earth, but not knowing that God's Church grows through the frenzy of their cruelty, since in the tortures and deaths of the martyrs, those whose number was reckoned to be diminished were augmented through the force of example. In fine, so much strength has our Faith gained by the attacks of persecutors that royal princedoms have no greater ornament than that the lords of the world are members of Christ; and their boast is not so much that they were born in the purple as that they have been re-born in baptism. But because the stress of former blasts has lulled, and with a cessation of fightings a measure of tranquillity has long seemed to smile upon us, those divergences are carefully to be guarded against which arise from the very reign of peace. For the adversary having been proved ineffective in open persecutions now exercises a hidden skill in doing cruel hurt, in order to overthrow by the stumbling-block of pleasure those whom he could not strike with the blow of affliction. And so seeing the faith of princes opposed to him and the indivisible Trinity of the one Godhead as devoutly worshipped in palaces as in churches, he grieves at the shedding of Christian blood being forbidden, and attacks the mode of life of those whose death he cannot compass. The terror of confiscations he changes into the fire of avarice, and corrupts with covetousness those whose spirit he could not break by losses. For the malicious haughtiness which long use has ingrained into his very nature has not laid aside its hatred, but changed its character in order to subjugate the minds of the faithful by blandishments. He inflames those with covetous desires whom he cannot distress with tortures: he sows strifes, kindles passions, sets tongues a-wagging, and, lest more cautious hearts should draw back from his lawless wiles, facilitates opportunities for accomplishing crimes: because this is the only fruit of all his devices that he who is not worshipped with the sacrifice of cattle and goats, and the burning of incense, should be paid the homage of various wicked deeds. 

IV. Timely repentance gains God's merciful consideration

Our state of peace, therefore, dearly-beloved, has its dangers, and it is vain for those who do not withstand vicious desires to feel secure of the liberty which is the privilege of their Faith. Men's hearts are shown by the character of their works, and the fashion of their minds is betrayed by the nature of their actions. For there are some, as the Apostle says, “who profess that they know God, but deny Him by their deeds (Titus 1:16).” For the charge of denial is truly incurred when the good which is heard in the sound of the voice is not present in the conscience. Indeed, the frailty of man's nature easily glides into faults: and because no sin is without its attractiveness, deceptive pleasure is quickly acquiesced in. But we should run for spiritual succour from the desires of the flesh: and the mind that has knowledge of its God should turn away from the evil suggestion of the enemy. Avail yourself of the long-suffering of God, and persist not in cherishing your sin, because its punishment is put off. The sinner must not feel secure of his impunity, because if he loses the time for repentance he will find no place for mercy, as the prophet says, “in death no one remembers you; and in the realms below who will confess to you?” But let him who experiences the difficulty of self-amendment and restoration betake himself to the mercy of a befriending God, and ask that the chains of evil habit may be broken off by Him “who lifts up those that fall and raises all the crushed.” The prayer of one that confesses will not be in vain since the merciful God “will grant the desire of those that fear Him,” and will give what is asked, as He gave the Source from Which to ask. Through our Lend Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.
Source. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.

Adoration of the Magi, by Fra Angelico. Panel, c. 1445;
National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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