Monday, March 31, 2014

On St. Augustine

• “Catholics venerate you as the restorer of the ancient faith, and while they look up to you, the heretics—an even more glorious testimony—detest you.” —St. Jerome: Letter to St. Augustine (No. 195 among the letters of St. Augustine.)

• “We have ever had in communion with us Augustine of holy memory for the sake of his life and merits; never has the slightest breath of evil suspicion tarnished his name. We have always kept him in memory as a man of such great learning that my predecessors ranked him with the foremost masters. Unanimously they held him in high esteem, for all loved him and paid him honor.” —Pope St. Celestine I.

• “Would you feast on delicious food, read the works of your countryman, the blessed Augustine, nor ask us to give you what, as compared with his white flour, is but our bran.” —Pope St. Gregory I: Letter to Innocent, Prefect of Africa.

• “The greatest of teachers of the churches after the apostles.” (Maximus post apostolos ecclesiarum instructor) —Peter the Venerable: Letter 229, 13 (To St. Bernard).

• “Doctor of grace.” (Doctor gratiae.) —Official title of the bishop of Hippo. (In 1298 Boniface VIII named Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great, Doctores Ecclesiae.)

• “What does the Christian world have more golden or august than this writer? (Quid habet orbis Christianus hoc scriptore magis aurem vel augustius?)
—Erasmus: Praef. Opera S. Augustini.
• “There’s no pot without bacon in it, and no sermon without St. Augustine.” —Spanish Proverb.

• “A man than whom, by the verdict of history, past ages produced no greater or grander in all the world.” —Pope Pius XI: Ad Salutem.

The Triumph of St. Augustine, by Claudio Coello.
Oil on canvas, 1664; Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

St. Augustine: "For this is life eternal"

"I OWN that I do not know what ages passed before the human race was created, yet I have no doubt that no created thing is co-eternal with the Creator. But even the apostle speaks of time as eternal, and this with reference, not to the future, but, which is more surprising, to the past. For he says, “In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the eternal times, but has in due times manifested His word.” You see he says that in the past there have been eternal times, which, however, were not co-eternal with God. And since God before these eternal times not only existed, but also, “promised” life eternal, which He manifested in its own times (that is to say, in due times), what else is this than His word? For this is life eternal. But then, how did He promise; for the promise was made to men, and yet they had no existence before eternal times? Does this not mean that, in His own eternity, and in His co-eternal word, that which was to be in its own time was already predestined and fixed?"

~St. Augustine: The City of God, Bk. 12, Chap. 16.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus: First Homily On the Annunciation

On the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary

Today are strains of praise sung joyfully by the choir of angels, and the light of the advent of Christ shines brightly upon the faithful. Today is the glad spring-time to us, and Christ the Sun of righteousness has beamed with clear light around us, and has illumined the minds of the faithful. Today is Adam made anew, and moves in the choir of angels, having winged his way to heaven. Today is the whole circle of the earth filled with joy, since the sojourn of the Holy Spirit has been realized to men. Today the grace of God and the hope of the unseen shine through all wonders transcending imagination, and make the mystery that was kept hidden from eternity plainly discernible to us. Today are woven the chaplets of never-fading virtue. Today, God, willing to crown the sacred heads of those whose pleasure is to hearken to Him, and who delight in His festivals, invites the lovers of unswerving faith as His called and His heirs; and the heavenly kingdom is urgent to summon those who mind celestial things to join the divine service of the incorporeal choirs. Today is fulfilled the word of David, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. The fields shall be joyful, and all the trees of the wood before the Lord, because He comes." David thus made mention of the trees; and the Lord's forerunner also spoke of them as trees "that should bring forth fruits meet for repentance," or rather for the coming of the Lord. But our Lord Jesus Christ promises perpetual gladness to all those who believe in Him. For He says, "I will see you, and you shall rejoice; and your joy no man takes from you." 

Today is the illustrious and ineffable mystery of Christians, who have willingly set their hope like a seal upon Christ, plainly declared to us. Today did Gabriel, who stands by God, come to the pure virgin, bearing to her the glad annunciation, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured! And she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel immediately proceeded to say, The Lord is with you: fear not, Mary; for you have found favour with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever: and of His kingdom there shall be no end." Then said Mary unto the angel, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Shall I still remain a virgin? Is the honour of virginity not then lost by me? And while she was yet in perplexity as to these things, the angel placed shortly before her the summary of his whole message, and said to the pure virgin, "The Holy Ghost 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." For what it is, that also shall it be called by all means. Meekly, then, did grace make election of the pure Mary alone out of all generations. For she proved herself prudent truly in all things; neither has any woman been born like her in all generations. She was not like the primeval virgin Eve, who, keeping holiday alone in paradise, with thoughtless mind, unguardedly hearkened to the word of the serpent, the author of all evil, and thus became depraved in the thoughts of her mind; and through her that deceiver, discharging his poison and refusing death with it, brought it into the whole world; and in virtue of this has arisen all the trouble of the saints. But in the holy Virgin alone is the fall of that (first mother) repaired. Yet was not this holy one competent to receive the gift until she had first learned who it was that sent it, and what the gift was, and who it was that conveyed it. While the holy one pondered these things in perplexity with herself, she says to the angel, "Whence have you brought to us the blessing in such wise? Out of what treasure-stores is the pearl of the word dispatched to us? Whence has the gift acquired its purpose toward us? From heaven you have come, yet you walk upon earth! You exhibit the form of man, and (yet) you are glorious with dazzling light." 

These things the holy one considered with herself, and the archangel solved the difficulty expressed in such reasonings by saying to her: "The Holy Ghost 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. And fear not, Mary; for I am not come to overpower you with fear, but to repel the subject of fear. Fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God. Question not grace by the standard of nature. For grace does not endure to pass under the laws of nature. You know, O Mary, things kept hidden from the patriarchs and prophets. You have learned, O virgin, things which were kept concealed till now from the angels. You have heard, O purest one, things of which even the choir of inspired men was never deemed worthy. Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and Daniel, and all the prophets, prophesied of Him; but the manner they knew not. Yet you alone, O purest virgin, are now made the recipient of things of which all these were kept in ignorance, and you learn the origin of them. For where the Holy Spirit is, there are all things readily ordered. Where divine grace is present, all things are found possible with God. The Holy Ghost 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."

And if He is the Son of God, then is He also God, of one form with the Father, and co-eternal; in Him the Father possesses all manifestation; He is His image in the person, and through His reflection the (Father's) glory shines forth. And as from the ever-flowing fountain the streams proceed, so also from this ever-flowing and ever-living fountain does the light of the world proceed, the perennial and the true, namely Christ our God. For it is of this that the prophets have preached: "The streams of the river make glad the city of God." And not one city only, but all cities; for even as it makes glad one city, so does it also the whole world. Appropriately, therefore, did the angel say to Mary the holy virgin first of all, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with you;" inasmuch as with her was laid up the full treasure of grace. For of all generations she alone has risen as a virgin pure in body and in spirit; and she alone bears Him who bears all things on His word. Nor is it only the beauty of this holy one in body that calls forth our admiration, but also the innate virtue of her soul. Wherefore also the angels addressed her first with the salutation, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with you, and no spouse of earth;" He Himself is with you who is the Lord of sanctification, the Father of purity, the Author of incorruption, and the Bestower of liberty, the Curator of salvation, and the Steward and Provider of the true peace, who out of the virgin earth made man, and out of man's side formed Eve in addition. Even this Lord is with you, and on the other hand also is of you.

Come, therefore, beloved brethren, and let us take up the angelic strain, and to the utmost of our ability return the due meed of praise, saying, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with you!" For it is yours truly to rejoice, seeing that the grace of God, as he knows, has chosen to dwell with you—the Lord of glory dwelling with the handmaiden; "He that is fairer than the children of men" with the fair virgin; He who sanctifies all things with the undefiled. God is with you, and with you also is the perfect man in whom dwells the whole fullness of the Godhead. Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the fountain of the light that lightens all who believe upon Him! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the rising of the rational Sun, and the undefiled flower of Life! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the mead of sweet savour! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the ever-blooming vine, that makes glad the souls of those who honour you? Hail, thou that art highly favoured!—the soil that, all untilled, bears bounteous fruit: for you have brought forth in accordance with the law of nature indeed, as it goes with us, and by the set time of practice, and yet in a way beyond nature, or rather above nature, by reason that God the Word from above took His abode in you, and formed the new Adam in your holy womb, and inasmuch as the Holy Ghost gave the power of conception to the holy virgin; and the reality of His body was assumed from her body. And just as the pearl comes of the two natures, namely lightning and water, the occult signs of the sea; so also our Lord Jesus Christ proceeds, without fusion and without mutation, from the pure, and chaste, and undefiled, and holy Virgin Mary; perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, in all things equal to the Father, and in all things consubstantial with us, apart from sin.

Most of the holy fathers, and patriarchs, and prophets desired to see Him, and to be eye-witnesses of Him, but did not attain hereto. And some of them by visions beheld Him in type, and darkly; others, again, were privileged to hear the divine voice through the medium of the cloud, and were favoured with sights of holy angels; but to Mary the pure virgin alone did the archangel Gabriel manifest himself luminously, bringing her the glad address, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured!" And thus she received the word, and in the due time of the fulfilment according to the body's course she brought forth the priceless pearl. Come, then, you too, dearly beloved, and let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, "Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the ark of Your sanctuary." For the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary. "Arise, O Lord, into Your rest." Arise, O Lord, out of the bosom of the Father, in order that You may raise up the fallen race of the first-formed man. Setting these things forth, David in prophecy said to the rod that was to spring from himself, and to sprout into the flower of that beauteous fruit, "Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline your ear, and forget your own people and your father's house; so shall the King greatly desire your beauty: for He is the Lord your God, and you shall worship Him." Hearken, O daughter, to the things which were prophesied before time of you, in order that you may also behold the things themselves with the eyes of understanding. Hearken to me while I announce things beforehand to you, and hearken to the archangel who declares expressly to you the perfect mysteries. Come then, dearly beloved, and let us fall back on the memory of what has gone before us; and let us glorify, and celebrate, and laud, and bless that rod that has sprung so marvellously from Jesse.

For Luke, in the inspired Gospel narratives, delivers a testimony not to Joseph only, but also to Mary the mother of God, and gives this account with reference to the very family and house of David: "For Joseph went up," says he, "from Galilee, unto a city of Judea which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child, because they were of the house and family of David. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered; and she brought forth her son, the first-born of the whole creation, and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." She wrapped in swaddling-clothes Him who is covered with light as with a garment. She wrapped in swaddling-clothes Him who made every creature. She laid in a manger Him who sits above the cherubim, and is praised by myriads of angels. In the manger set apart for dumb brutes did the Word of God repose, in order that He might impart to men, who are really irrational by free choice, the perceptions of true reason. In the board from which cattle eat was laid the heavenly Bread, in order that He might provide participation in spiritual sustenance for men who live like the beasts of the earth. Nor was there even room for Him in the inn. He found no place, who by His word established heaven and earth; "for though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor," and chose extreme humiliation on behalf of the salvation of our nature, in His inherent goodness toward us. He who fulfilled the whole administration of unutterable mysteries of the economy in heaven in the bosom of the Father, and in the cave in the arms of the mother, reposed in the manger. Angelic choirs encircled Him, singing of glory in heaven and of peace upon earth. In heaven He was seated at the right hand of the Father; and in the manger He rested, as it were, upon the cherubim. Even there was in truth His cherubic throne; there was His royal seat. Holy of the holy, and alone glorious upon the earth, and holier than the holy, was that wherein Christ our God rested. To Him be glory, honour, and power. together with the Father undefiled, and the altogether holy and quickening Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

~St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (ho Thaumatourgos, the miracle-worker)
(St. Gregory of Neocaesarea)

[Additional paragraphing was added to the sermon]

"Hail! Full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

“TODAY is the crowning of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity. The Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel giveth the good tidings of grace. Therefore with him let us cry to the Mother of God, Hail! Full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

~Byzantine Menaea, Troparian for the Feast (March 25). (ca. 6th cent.)

 The Annunciation, by Andrei Rublev. Tempera on wood;
c. 1410; Annunciation Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, Russia.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

St. Augustine: "Bad times! Troublesome times!"

"BAD times! Troublesome times! This men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times."

~St. Augustine: Homily, 30:8.

Extended quote:

"And so, Brethren, we say, pray as much as you are able. Evils abound, and God has willed that evils should abound. Would that evil men did not abound, and then evils would not abound. Bad times! Troublesome times! This men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times. But what can we do? We cannot, it may be, convert the mass of men to a good life. But let the few who do give ear live well; let the few who live well endure the many who live ill. They are the grain, they are in the floor; in the floor they can have the chaff with them, they will not have them in the barn. Let them endure what they would not, that they may come to what they would. Wherefore are we sad, and blame we God? Evils abound in the world, in order that the world may not engage our love. Great men, faithful saints were they who have despised the world with all its attractions; we are not able to despise it even disfigured as it is. The world is evil, lo, it is evil, and yet it is loved as though it were good. But what is this evil world? For the heavens and the earth, and the waters, and the things that are therein, the fish, and birds, and trees, are not evil. All these are good: but it is evil men who make this evil world. Yet as we cannot be without evil men, let us, as I have said, while we live pour out our groans before the Lord our God, and endure the evils, that we may attain to the things that are good. Let us not find fault with the Master of the household; for He is loving to us. He bears us, and not we him. He knows how to govern what He made; do what He has bidden, and hope for what He has promised."

~Homily, 30:8 (On the words of the Matt 17:19, “Why could not we cast it out”? Etc., and on prayer.)

St. Augustine in His Cell, by Sandro Botticelli.
Tempera on panel, 1490-94; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Augustine: "Heretics"

“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.

Conversion of the Heretic (scene 15, east wall), by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Fresco, 1464-65; Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano.

St. Clement: "Those who are humble-minded"

"FOR Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves over His flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him."

~Pope St. Clement I: Letter to the Corinthians, Ch. 16.

Clement held office from 92 to his death in A.D. 99. According to Tertullian, writing c. 199, the Roman Church claimed that Clement was ordained by St. Peter (De Praescript., xxxii), and St. Jerome tells us that in his time "most of the Latins" held that Clement was the immediate successor of the Apostle (Illustrious Men, 15). St. Jerome himself in several other places follows this opinion, but here he correctly states that Clement was the fourth pope.

St. Bernard: "Joseph...a prudent and faithful servant"

“THERE is no doubt then that this Joseph, to whom the mother of the Savior 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, the 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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lactantius: "We are bound"

“FOR we are created on this condition, that we pay just and due obedience to God who created us, that we should know and follow Him alone. We are ‘bound’ and ‘tied’ to God by this ‘chain of piety’; from which ‘religion’ itself received its name.”

~Lactantius: Divine Institutes, 4, 28.

Shepherd of Hermas: "The fast you must keep"

“HERE is the fast you must keep for God: Do not commit any wicked deed in your life and serve the Lord with a pure heart; keep His commandments by walking according to His directions and do not let any evil desire enter your heart; have faith in God.”

~Shepherd of Hermas: Parable 5, 1, 4-5.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

St. Cyprian: "Repentance"

“TO him who still remains in this world no repentance is too late. The approach to God’s mercy is open, and the access is easy to those who seek and apprehend the truth … pardon is granted to the man who confesses, saving mercy is given from the divine goodness to the believer, and a passage is opened to immortality even in death itself.”

~St. Cyprian of Carthage: To Demetrianus Proconsul of Africa, 25.

St. Prosper of Aquitaine: "The Physician"

“HE who asks of God in faith things needful for this life is sometimes mercifully heard and sometimes mercifully not heard. For the Physician knows better than the patient what will avail for the sick man.”

~St. Prosper of Aquitaine: Sententiae ex Augustino delibatae, 212.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Shepherd of Hermas: "The fast you must keep"

“HERE is the fast you must keep for God: Do not commit any wicked deed in your life and serve the Lord with a pure heart; keep His commandments by walking according to His directions and do not let any evil desire enter your heart; have faith in God.”

~Shepherd of Hermas: Parable 5, 1, 4-5.

St. Jerome: On Scripture

“IGNORANCE of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (In Isaiam, Prol.)

“LOVE the knowledge of the Scriptures and you will not love the errors of the flesh.” (Letters, 125:11)

~St. Jerome

St. Jerome as a Scholar, by El Greco.
Oil on canvas, 1600-14; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Monday, March 3, 2014

On St. Peter

“O foundation of the Church blessed in calling him by a new name, O rock worthy to be built upon, which will dissolve the laws of hell, the gates of Tartarus, and all the bonds of death! O blessed doorkeeper of heaven, to whose judgment the keys of access to eternity are committed, whose earthly sentence is binding authority in heaven: whatsoever is either bound or loosed on earth, has the same binding force in heaven.”
—St. Hilary of Poitiers: Commentary on St. Matthew, 16, 7.

“But you say that the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the church depends on them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.”
—St. Jerome: Against Jovinianus, 1.

“It is not without reason that, among all the apostles, it is Peter who represents the Catholic Church. For the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter. And when it was said to him, it was said to all: ‘Lovest thou me? Feed My sheep.’”
—St. Augustine: De Agone Christiano, 30, 32.

St. Peter, by Andrea di Vanni d'Andrea.
Tempera on panel, 1390s;
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

St. Ephrem: "Thou art the head of My disciples"

“SIMON, My disciple, I have made thee a foundation of holy Church. I called thee Rock on a previous occasion, because thou shalt be the support of all the buildings; thou art the overseer of those who build My Church on earth. If they try to build anything evil, thou, the foundation, shalt reprimand them. Thou art the head of the foundation from which My doctrine shall be drunk, thou art the head of My disciples; I will give all people to drink through thee; yours is that life-giving sweetness I pour forth; I have chosen thee to be as it were the firstborn in My establishment and thou shalt become the heir of My treasures. The key of my Kingdom I have given thee. Lo, I have established thee prince over all My treasures.”

~St. Ephrem of Syria (c. 306–373): Sermons on Holy Week, 4, 1.

The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail), by Andrea da Firenze.
Fresco, 1366-67; Cappellone degli Spagnoli,
Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

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