Sunday, January 31, 2016

St. Augustine: "How, then, will they believe these holy books?"

St. Augustine, by Vincenzo Foppa.
Wood panel, 1465-70;
Castello Sforzesco, Milan.
"IT very often happens that there is some question as to the earth and the sky, or the other elements of this world—respecting which one who is not a Christian has knowledge derived from most certain reasoning or observation, and it is very disgraceful and mischievous and of all things to be carefully avoided, that a Christian speaking of such matters as being according to the Christian Scriptures, should be heard by an unbeliever talking such nonsense that the unbeliever perceiving him to be as wide from the mark as east is from west, can hardly restrain himself from laughing.

"And the real evil is not that a man is subjected to derision because of his error, but it is that to profane eyes, our authors (that is to say, the sacred authors) are regarded as having had such thoughts; and are also exposed to blame and scorn upon the score of ignorance, to the greatest possible misfortune of people whom we wish to save. For, in fine, these profane people happen upon a Christian busy making mistakes on the subject which they know perfectly; how, then, will they believe these holy books? How will they believe in the resurrection of the dead and in the hope of life eternal, and in the kingdom of heaven, when, according to an erroneous assumption, these books seem to them to have as their object those very things which they, the profane, know by direct experience or by calculation which admits of no doubt?

"It is impossible to say what vexation and sorrow prudent Christians meet with through these presumptuous and bold spirits who, taken to task one day for their silly and false opinion, and realizing themselves on the point of being convicted by men who are not obedient to the authority of our holy books, wish to defend their so thoughtless, so bold, and so manifestly false. For they then commence to bring forward as a proof precisely our holy books, or again they attribute to them from memory that which seems to support their opinion, and they quote numerous passages, understanding neither the texts they quote, nor the subject about which they are making statement." 

~St. Augustine: De Genesi ad litteram, lib. I, cap. XIX.

The Astronomer, by Johannes Vermeer
Oil on canvas, c. 1668;
Musée du Louvre, Paris

St. Ambrose: Guardian Angels

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

“The servants of Christ are protected by invisible, rather than visible beings. But if these guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers.” (Sermo contra Auxent. 11)

~St. Ambrose: (c. 340 – 397), Bishop of Milan.

Virgin Enthroned with Angels, by Cimabue.
Panel, 1290-95; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Monday, January 25, 2016

St. Isidore of Seville: Natural moral law

“Natural law is what is common to all peoples, and what is observed everywhere by the instinct of nature rather than by any 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 (c. 560-636): Etymologies, 5, 4, 1-2.

St. Isidore of Seville 
by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. 
1665; Cathedral of Seville.

St. Jerome: On Paul the Apostle

PAUL, formerly called Saul, an apostle outside the number of the twelve apostles, was of the tribe of Benjamin and the town of Giscalis in Judea. When this was taken by the Romans he removed with his parents to Tarsus in Cilicia. Sent by them to Jerusalem to study law he was educated by Gamaliel, a most learned man whom Luke mentions. But after he had been present at the death of the martyr Stephen and had received letters from the high priest of the temple for the persecution of those who believed in Christ, he proceeded to Damascus, where constrained to faith by a revelation, as it is written in the Acts of the apostles, he was transformed from a persecutor into an elect vessel. As Sergius Paulus Proconsul of Cyprus was the first to believe in his preaching, he took his name from him because he had subdued him to faith in Christ, and having been joined by Barnabas, after traversing many cities, he returned to Jerusalem and was ordained apostle to the Gentiles by Peter, James and John. And because a full account of his life is given in the Acts of the Apostles, I only say this, that the twenty-fifth year after our Lord's passion, that is the second of Nero, at the time when Festus Procurator of Judea succeeded Felix, he was sent bound to Rome, and remaining for two years in free custody, disputed daily with the Jews concerning the advent of Christ. It ought to be said that at the first defence, the power of Nero having not yet been confirmed, nor his wickedness broken forth to such a degree as the histories relate concerning him, Paul was dismissed by Nero, that the gospel of Christ might be preached also in the West. As he himself writes in the second epistle to Timothy, at the time when he was about to be put to death dictating his epistle as he did while in chains; “At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and that all the Gentiles might hear, and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” — clearly indicating Nero as lion on account of his cruelty. And directly following he says “The Lord delivered me from the mouth of the lion” and again shortly “The Lord delivered me from every evil work and saved me unto his heavenly kingdom,” for indeed he felt within himself that his martyrdom was near at hand, for in the same epistle he announced “for I am already being offered and the time of my departure is at hand.” He then, in the fourteenth year of Nero on the same day with Peter, was beheaded at Rome for Christ's sake and was buried in the Ostian way, the twenty-seventh year after our Lord's passion. He wrote nine epistles to seven churches: To the Romans one, To the Corinthians two, To the Galatians one, To the Ephesians one, To the Philippians one, To the Colossians one, To the Thessalonians two; and besides these to his disciples, To Timothy two, To Titus one, To Philemon one. The epistle which is called the Epistle to the Hebrews is not considered his, on account of its difference from the others in style and language, but it is reckoned, either according to Tertullian to be the work of Barnabas, or according to others, to be by Luke the Evangelist or Clement afterwards bishop of the church at Rome, who, they say, arranged and adorned the ideas of Paul in his own language, though to be sure, since Paul was writing to Hebrews and was in disrepute among them he may have omitted his name from the salutation on this account. He being a Hebrew wrote Hebrew, that is his own tongue and most fluently while the things which were eloquently written in Hebrew were more eloquently turned into Greek and this is the reason why it seems to differ from other epistles of Paul. Some read one also to the Laodiceans but it is rejected by everyone.

St. Jerome: De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), Chap. 5.

St. Paul, by Domenico Beccafumi.
Oil on wood, c. 1515. Museo dell'Opera della Metropolitana, Siena.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Hippolytus of Rome

Martyr, presbyter and antipope; date of birth unknown; d. about 236. Until the publication in 1851 of the recently discovered "Philosophumena", it was impossible to obtain any definite authentic facts concerning Hippolytus of Rome and his life from the conflicting statements about him, as follows:

● Eusebius says that he was bishop of a church somewhere and enumerates several of his writings (Church History VI.20.22).

 St. Jerome likewise describes him as the bishop of an unknown see, gives a longer list of his writings, and says of one of his homilies that he delivered it in the presence of Origen, to whom he made direct reference (Illustrious Men 61).

● The Chronography of 354, in the list of popes, mentions Bishop Pontianus and the presbyter Hippolytus as being banished to the island of Sardinia in the year 235; the Roman Calendar in the same collection records under 13 August the feast of Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina and Pontianus in the catacomb of Callistus (ed. Mommsen in "Mon. Germ. Hist.: auctores antiquissimi", IX, 72, 74).

● According to the inscription over the grave of Hippolytus composed by Pope Damasus, he was a follower of the Novatian schism while a presbyter, but before his death exhorted his followers to become reconciled with the Catholic Church (Ihm, "Damasi epigrammata", Leipzig, 1895, 42, n.37).

● Prudentius wrote a hymn on the martyr Hippolytus ("Peristephanon", hymn XI, in P.L., LX, 530 sqq.), in which he places the scene of the martyrdom at Ostia or Porto, and describes Hippolytus as being torn to pieces by wild horses, evidently a reminiscence of the ancient Hippolytus, son of Theseus.

● Later Greek authors (e.g. Georgius Syncellus., ed. Bonn, 1829, 674 sqq.; Nicephorus Callistus, "Hist. eccl.", IV, xxxi) do not give much more information than Eusebius and Jerome; some of them call him Bishop of Rome, others Bishop of Porto. According to Photius (Bibliotheca, codex 121), he was a disciple of St. Irenæus. Oriental writers, as well as Pope Gelasius, place the See of Hippolytus at Bostra, the chief city of the Arabs.

● Several later legends of martyrs speak of Hippolytus in various connections. That of St. Laurence refers to him as the officer appointed to guard the blessed deacon, who was converted, together with his entire household, and killed by wild horses (Acta SS., August, III, 13-14; Surius, "De probatis Sanctorum historiis", IV, Cologne, 1573, 581 sqq.). A legend of Porto identifies him with the martyr Nonnus and gives an account of his martyrdom with others of the same city (Acta SS., August, IV, 506; P.G., X, 545-48).

● A monument of importance is the large fragment of a marble statue of the saint discovered in 1551 which underwent restoration (the upper part of the body and the head being new), and is now preserved in the Lateran museum; the paschal cycle computed by Hippolytus and a list of his writings are engraved on the sides of the chair on which the figure of Hippolytus is seated; the monument dates from the third century (Kraus, "Realencyklopädie der christlichen Altertumer", 661 sqq.).

● The topographies of the graves of the Roman martyrs place the grave of Hippolytus in the cemetery on the Via Tiburtina named after him, mention the basilica erected there, and give some legendary details concerning him. (De Rossi, "Roma sotterranea", I, 178-79); the burial vault of the sainted confessor was unearthed by De Rossi (Bullettino di archeologia cristiana, 1882, 9-76).

The discovery of the "Philosophumena" has now made it possible to clear up the most important period of the life of St. Hippolytus through his own evidence, and at the same time to test and correct the conflicting accounts contained in the old authorities. We proceed on the assumption that Hippolytus was really the author of the aforesaid work, an hypothesis almost universally accepted by investigators today.

Hippolytus was a presbyter of the Church of Rome at the beginning of the third century. There is no difficulty in admitting that he could have been a disciple of St. Irenæus either in Rome or Lyons. It is equally possible that Origen heard a homily by Hippolytus when he went to Rome about the year 212. In the reign of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217) he came into conflict with that pontiff and with the majority of the Church of Rome, primarily on account of the christological opinions which for some time had been causing controversies in Rome. Hippolytus had combated the heresy of Theodotion and the Alogi; in like fashion he opposed the false doctrines of Noetus, of Epigonus, of Cleomenes, and of Sabellius, who emphasized the unity of God too one-sidedly (Monarchians) and saw in the concepts of the Father and the Son merely manifestations (modi) of the Divine Nature (Modalism, Sabellianism). Hippolytus, on the contrary, stood uncompromisingly for a real difference between the Son (Logos) and the Father, but so as to represent the Former as a Divine Person almost completely separate from God (Ditheism) and at the same time altogether subordinate to the Father (Subordinationism). As the heresy in the doctrine of the Modalists was not at first clearly apparent, Pope Zephyrinus declined to give a decision. For this Hippolytus gravely censured him, representing him as an incompetent man, unworthy to rule the Church of Rome and as a tool in the hands of the ambitious and intriguing deacon Callistus, whose early life is maliciously depicted (Philosophumena, IX, xi-xii). Consequently when Callistus was elected pope (217-218) on the death of Zephyrinus, Hippolytus immediately left the communion of the Roman Church and had himself elected antipope by his small band of followers. These he calls the Catholic Church and himself successor to the Apostles, terming the great majority of Roman Christians the School of Callistus. He accuses Callistus of having fallen first into the heresy of Theodotus, then into that of Sabellius; also of having through avarice degraded ecclesiastical, and especially the penitential, discipline to a disgraceful laxity. These reproaches were altogether unjustified. Hippolytus himself advocated an excessive rigorism. He continued in opposition as antipope throughout the reigns of the two immediate successors of Callistus, Urban (222 or 223 to 230) and Pontius (230-35), and during this period, probably during the pontificate of Pontianus, he wrote the "Philosophumena". He was banished to the unhealthful island (insula nociva) of Sardinia at the same time as Pontianus; and shortly before this, or soon afterward, he became reconciled with the legitimate bishop and the Church of Rome. For, after both exiles had died on the island of Sardinia, their mortal remains were brought back to Rome on the same day, 13 August (either 236 or one of the following years), and solemnly interred, Pontianus in the papal vault in the catacomb of Callistus and Hippolytus in a spot on the Via Tiburtina. Both were equally revered as martyrs by the Roman Church: certain proof that Hippolytus had made his peace with that Church before his death. With his death the schism must have come to a speedy end, which accounts for its identification with the Novatian schism at the end of the fourth century, as we learn from the inscription by Damasus.

The fact that Hippolytus was a schismatic Bishop of Rome and yet was held in high honour afterwards both as martyr and theologian, explains why as early as the fourth century nothing was known as to his see, for he was not on the list of the Roman bishops. The theory championed by Lightfoot (see below), that he was actually Bishop of Porto but with his official residence in Rome, is untenable.

This statement, made by a few authorities, results from a confusion with a martyr of Porto, due perhaps to a legendary account of his martyrdom. Moreover De Rossi's hypothesis, based on the inscription by Damasus, that Hippolytus returned from exile, and subsequently became an adherent of Novatian, his reconciliation with the Roman Church not being effected until just before his martyrdom under the Emperor Valerian (253-60), is incompatible with the supposition that he is the author of the "Philosophumena." The feast of St. Hippolytus is kept on 13 August, a date assigned in accordance with the legend of St. Laurence; that of Hippolytus of Porto is celebrated on 22 August.
Hippolytus was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era. Nevertheless the fate of his copious literary remains has been unfortunate. Most of his works have been lost or are known only through scattered fragments, while much has survived only in old translations into Oriental and Slavic languages; other writings are freely interpolated. The fact that the author wrote in Greek made it inevitable that later, when that language was no longer understood in Rome, the Romans lost interest in his writings, while in the East they were read long after and made the author famous. His works deal with several branches of theology, as appears from the aforementioned list on the statue, from Eusebius, St. Jerome, and from Oriental authors. His exegetical treatises were numerous: he wrote commentaries on several books of the Old and New Testaments. Most of these are extant only in fragments. The commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, however, has probably been preserved in its entirety ("Werke des Hippolytus", ed. Bonwetsch, 1897, 343 sqq.); likewise the fullest extant commentary on the Book of Daniel in 4 books (ibid., 2 sqq.). Eight of his works, known by their titles, dealt with dogmatic and apologetic subjects, but only one has come down entire in the original Greek. This is the work on Christ and Antichrist ("De Antichristo", ed. Achelis, op. cit., I, II, 1 sqq.); fragments of a few others have been preserved. Of his polemics against heretics the most important is the "Philosophumena", the original title of which is kata pason aireseon elegchos (A Refutation of All Heresies). The first book had long been known; books IV to X, which had been discovered a short time previously, were published in 1851. But the first chapters of the fourth and the whole of the second and third books are still missing. The first four books treat of the Hellenic philosophers; books V to IX are taken up with the exposition and refutation of Christian heresies, and the last book contains a recapitulation. The work is one of the most important sources for the history of the heresies which disturbed the early Church. Origen is cited in some manuscripts as the author of the first book. Photius attributes it to the Roman author Caius, while by others it has been ascribed also to Tertullian and Novatian. But most modern scholars hold for weighty reasons that Hippolytus is undoubtedly its author. A shorter treatise agains heresies (Syntagma), and written by Hippolytus at an earlier date, may be restored in outline from later adaptations (Libellus adversus omnes haereses; Epiphanius, "Panarion"; Philastrius, "De haeresibus"). He wrote a third antiheretical work which was universal in character, called the "Small Labyrinth". Besides these Hippolytus wrote special monographs against Marcion, the Montanists, the Alogi, and Caius. Of these writings only a few fragments are extant. Hippolytus also produced an Easter cycle, as well as a chronicle of the world which was made use of by later chroniclers. And finally St. Jerome mentions a work by him on Church laws. Three treatises on canon law have been preserved under the name of Hippolytus: the "Constitutiones per Hippolytum" (which are parallel with the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions), the Egyptian Church Ordinance, in Coptic, and the "Canones Hippolyti". Of these works the first two are spurious beyond doubt, and the last, the authenticity of which was upheld even by Achelis (Die Canones Hippolyti, Leipzig, 1891), belongs in all probability to the fifth or sixth century.

The works of Hippolytus have been edited by Fabricius, "S. Hippolyti episcopi et mart. opera" (2 vols., Hamburg, 1716-18); by Gallandi in "Bibliotheca veterum patrum", II, 1766; in Migne, P.G., X; by Lagarde (Leipzig and London, 1858); and by Bonwetsch and Achelis, "Hippolytus" I, pts. I and II (Leipzig, 1897), in "Die gr. chr. Schriftsteller", a series published by the Berlin Academy. The "Philosophumena" was edited by Miller, as the work of Origen (Oxford, 1851); by Duncker and Schneidewin as the work of Hippolytus (Göttingen, 1859), and in P.G., XVI. The "Canones Hippolyti" were edited by Haneberg (Munich, 1870); by Achelis, "Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechts", I, in "Texte und Untersuchungen", VI (Leipzig, 1891), 4.

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Source. Kirsch, J.P. (1910). St. Hippolytus of Rome. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

St. Hippolytus of Rome: Prayer and instruction

"Let every faithful man and every faithful woman, when they rise from sleep at dawn, before they undertake any work, wash their hands and pray to God. Then they may go to work. But if there is some instruction in the Word, they shall go there, considering that it is God whom they hear in the one instructing. For having prayed in the assembly, they will be able to avoid all the evils of the day. The pious should consider it a great wrong if they do not go to the place in which they give instruction, especially if they know how to read.

~From The Apostolic Tradition.
Read about St. Hippolytus.

Portrait of a Young Man at Prayer,
by Hans Memling. 
Oil on oak panel, c. 1487; Upton House, Banbury.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Gregory of Nyssa

Date of birth unknown; died after 385 or 386. He belongs to the group known as the "Cappadocian Fathers", a title which reveals at once his birthplace in Asia Minor and his intellectual characteristics. Gregory was born of a deeply religious family, not very rich in worldly goods, to which circumstances he probably owed the pious training of his youth. His mother Emmelia was a martyr's daughter; two of his brothers, Basil of Cæsarea and Peter of Sebaste, became bishops like himself; his eldest sister, Macrina, became a model of piety and is honoured as a saint. Another brother, Naucratius, a lawyer, inclined to a life of asceticism, but died too young to realize his desires. A letter of Gregory to his younger brother, Peter, exhibits the feelings of lively gratitude which both cherished for their elder brother Basil, whom Gregory calls "our father and our master". Probably, therefore, the difference in years between them was such as to have enabled Basil to supervise the education of his younger brothers. Basil's training was an antidote to the lessons of the pagan schools, wherein, as we know from a letter of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa spent some time, very probably in his early youth, for it is certain that while still a youth Gregory exercised the ecclesiastical office of rector. His family, it would seem, had endeavoured to turn his thoughts towards the Church, for when the young man chose a secular career and began the study of rhetoric, Basil remonstrated with him long and earnestly; when he had failed he called on Gregory's friends to influence him against that objectionable secular calling. It was all in vain; moreover, it would seem that the young man married. There exists a letter addressed to him by Gregory of Nazianzus condoling with him on the loss of one Theosebeia, who must have been his wife, and with whom he continued to live, as with a sister, even after he became bishop. This is also evident from his treatise "De virginitate".

Some think that Gregory spent a certain time in retreat before his consecration as bishop, but we have no proof of the fact. His extant letters make no mention of such retirement from the world. Nor are we better informed of the circumstances of his election to the See of Nyssa, a little town on the banks of the Halys, along the road between Cæsarea and Ancyra. According to Gregory of Nazianzus it was Basil who performed the episcopal consecration of his brother, before he himself had taken possession of the See of Sozima; which would place the beginning of Gregory of Nyssa's episcopate about 371. Was this brusque change in Gregory's career the result of a sudden vocation? St. Basil tells us that it was necessary to overcome his brother's repugnance, before he accepted the office of bishop. But this does not help us to an answer, as the episcopal charge in that day was beset with many dangers. Moreover in the fourth century, and even later, it was not uncommon to express dislike of the episcopal honour, and to fly from the prospect of election. The fugitives, however, were usually discovered and brought back, and the consecration took place when a show of resistance had saved the candidate's humility. Whether it was so in Gregory's case, or whether he really did feel his own unfitness, we do not know. In any case, St. Basil seems to have regretted at times the constraint thus put on his brother, now removed from his influence; in his letters he complains of Gregory's naive and clumsy interference with his (Basil's) business. To Basil the synod called in 372 by Gregory at Ancyra seemed the ruin of his own labours. In 375 Gregory seemed to him decidedly incapable of ruling a Church. At the same time he had but faint praise for Gregory's zeal for souls.

On arriving in his see Gregory had to face great difficulties. His sudden elevation may have turned against him some who had hoped for the office themselves. It would appear that one of the courtiers of Emperor Valens had solicited the see either for himself or one of his friends. When Demosthenes, Governor of Pontus, convened an assembly of Eastern bishops, a certain Philocares, at one of its sessions, accused Gregory of wasting church property, and of irregularity in his election to the episcopate, whereupon Demosthenes ordered the Bishop of Nyssa to be seized and brought before him. Gregory at first allowed himself to be led away by his captors, then losing heart and discouraged by the cold and brutal treatment he met with, he took an opportunity of escape and reached a place of safety. A Synod of Nyssa (376) deposed him, and he was reduced to wander from town to town, until the death of Valens in 378. The new emperor, Gratian, published an edict of tolerance, and Gregory returned to his see, where he was received with joy. A few months after this (January, 379) his brother Basil died; whereupon an era of activity began for Gregory. In 379 he assisted at the Council of Antioch which had been summoned because of the Meletian schism. Soon after this, it is supposed, he visited Palestine. There is reason for believing that he was sent officially to remedy the disorders of the Church of Arabia. But possibly his journey did not take place till after the Council of Constantinople in 381, convened by Emperor Theodosius for the welfare of religion in that city. It asserted the faith of Nicæa, and tried to put an end to Arianism and Pneumatism in the East. This council was not looked on as an important one at the time; even those present at it seldom refer to it in their writings. Gregory himself, though he assisted at the council, mentions it only casually in his funeral oration over Meletius of Antioch, who died during the course of this assembly.

An edict of Theodosius (30 July, 381; Cod. Theod., LXVI, tit. I., L. 3) having appointed certain episcopal sees as centres of Catholic communion in the East, Helladius of Cæsarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Otreius of Melitene were chosen to fill them. At Constantinople Gregory gave evidence on two occasions of his talent as an orator; he delivered the discourse at the enthronization of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also the aforesaid oration over Meletius of Antioch. It is very probable that Gregory was present at another Council of Constantinople in 383; his "Oratio de deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti" seems to confirm this. In 385 or 386 he preached the funeral sermon over the imperial Princess Pulcheria, and shortly afterwards over Empress Flaccilla. A little later we meet him again at Constantinople, on which occasion his counsel was sought for the repression of ecclesiastical disorders in Arabia; he then disappears from history, and probably did not long survive this journey. From the above it will be seen that his life is little known to us. It is difficult to outline clearly his personality, while his writings contain too many flights of eloquence to permit final judgment on his real character.



Most of his writings treat of the Sacred Scriptures. He was an ardent admirer of Origen, and applied constantly the latter's principles of hermeneutics. Gregory is ever in quest of allegorical interpretations and mystical meanings hidden away beneath the literal sense of texts. As a rule, however, the "great Cappadocians" tried to eliminate this tendency. His "Treatise on the Work of the Six Days" follows St. Basil's Hexæmeron. Another work, "On the Creation of Man", deals with the work of the Sixth Day, and contains some curious anatomical details; it was translated into Latin by Dionysius Exiguus. His account of Moses as legislator offers much fine-spun allegorizing, and the same is true of his "Explanation of the Titles of the Psalms". In a brief tractate on the witch of Endor he says that the woman did not see Samuel, but only a demon, who put on the figure of the prophet. Besides a homily on the sixth Psalm, he wrote eight homilies on Ecclesiastes, in which he taught that the soul should rise above the senses, and that true peace is only to be found in contempt of worldly greatness. He is also the author of fifteen homilies on the Canticle of Canticles (the union of the soul with its Creator), five very eloquent homilies on the Lord's Prayer, and eight highly rhetorical homilies on the Beatitudes.


In theology Gregory shows himself more original and more at ease. Yet his originality is purely in manner, since he added little that is new. His diction, however, offers many felicitous and pleasing allusions, suggested probably by his mystical turn of mind. These grave studies were taken up by him late in life, hence he follows step by step the teaching of St. Basil and of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Like them he defends the unity of the Divine nature and the trinity of Persons; where he loses their guidance, our confidence in him tends to decrease. In his teaching on the Eucharist he appears really original; his Christological doctrine, however, is based entirely on Origen and St. Athanasius. The most important of his theological writings is his large "Catechesis", or "Oratio Catechetica", an argumentative defence in forty chapters of Catholic teaching as against Jews, heathens, and heretics. The most extensive of his extant works is his refutation of Eunomius in twelve books, a defence of St. Basil against that heretic, and also of the Nicene Creed against Arianism; this work is of capital importance in the history of the Arian controversy. He also wrote two works against Apollinaris of Laodicea, in refutation of the false doctrines of that writer, viz. that the body of Christ descended from heaven, and that in Christ, the Divine Word acted as the rational soul. Among the works of Gregory are certain "Opuscula" on the Trinity addressed to Ablabius, the tribune Simplicius, and Eustathius of Sebaste. He wrote also against Arius and Sabellius, and against the Macedonians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit; the latter work he never finished. In the "De anima et resurrectione" we have a dialogue between Gregory and his deceased sister, Macrina; it treats of death, resurrection, and our last end. He defends human liberty against the fatalism of the astrologers in a work "On Fate", and in his treatise "On Children", dedicated to Hieros, Prefect of Cappadocia, he undertook to explain why Providence permits the premature death of children.


He wrote also on Christian life and conduct, e.g. "On the meaning of the Christian name or profession", addressed to Harmonius, and "On Perfection and what manner of man the Christian should be", dedicated to the monk Olympius. For the monks, he wrote a work on the Divine purpose in creation. His admirable book "On Virginity", written about 370, was composed to strengthen in all who read it the desire for a life of perfect virtue.

Sermons and homilies

Gregory wrote also many sermons and homilies, some of which we have already mentioned; others of importance are his panegyric on St. Basil, and his sermons on the Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.


A few of his letters (twenty-six) have survived; two of them offer a peculiar interest owing to the severity of his strictures on contemporary pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

For a discussion of his peculiar doctrine concerning the general restoration (Apocatastasis) to divine favour of all sinful creatures at the end of time, i.e. the temporary nature of the pains of hell, see the articles APOCATASTASIS and MIVART. The theory of interpolation of the writings of Gregory and of Origen, sustained among others by Vincenzi (below), seems, in this respect at least, both useless and gratuitous (Bardenhewer).


The writings of Gregory are best collected in P.G., XLIV-XLVI. There is no critical edition as yet, though one was begun by FORBES and OEHLER (Burntisland, 1855, 61); of another edition planned by Oehler, only one volume appeared (Halle, 1865). The best of the earlier editions is that of FRONTO DUCÆUS (Paris, 1615). Cf. VINCENZI, In Gregorii Nysseni et Origenis scripta et doctrinam nova recensio, etc. (Rome, 1864-69); BAUER, Die Trostreden des Gregorios von Nyssa in ihrem Verhältniss zur antiken Rhetorik (Marburg, 1892); BOUËDRON, Doctrines philosophiques de Saint Grégoire de Nysse (Nantes, 1861); KOCH, Das mystische Schauen beim hl. Gr. v. Nyssa in Theol. Quartalschrift (1898), LXXX, 397-420; DIEKAMP, Die Gotteslehre des hl. Gregor von Nyssa: ein Beitrag zur Dogmengesch. der patristischen Zeit (Münster, 1897); WEISS, Die Erziehungslehre der Kappadozier (Freiburg, 1903); HILT, St. Gregorii episcopi Nysseni doctrina de angelis exposita (Freiburg, 1860); KRAMPF, Der Urzustand des Menschen nach der Lehre des hl. Gregor von Nyssa, eine dogmatisch-patristische Studie (Würzburg, 1889); REICHE, Die kunstlerischen Elemente in der Welt und Lebens-Anschauung des Gregor von Nyssa (Jena, 1897); and on the large Catechesis (logos katechetikos ho megas), generally known as Oratio Catechetica, see SRAWLEY in Journal of Theol. Studies (1902), III, 421-8, also his new edition of the Oratio (Cambridge, 1903). For an English version of several works of Gregory see Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (New York, 1893), II, v; and for a German version of some works, HAYD in the Kemptener Bibliothek der Kirchenväter (1874).

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Sorce.  Leclercq, Henri. "St. Gregory of Nyssa." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

St. Gregory of Nyssa: On the Baptism of Christ

A Sermon for the Day of the Lights. 

Now I recognize my own flock: today I behold the wonted figure of the Church, when, turning with aversion from the occupation even of the cares of the flesh, you come together in your undiminished numbers for the service of God—when the people crowds the house, coming within the sacred sanctuary, and when the multitude that can find no place within fills the space outside in the precincts like bees. For of them some are at their labours within, while others outside hum around the hive. So do, my children: and never abandon this zeal. For I confess that I feel a shepherd's affections, and I wish, when I am set upon this watchtower, to see the flock gathered round about the mountain's foot: and when it so happens to me, I am filled with wonderful earnestness, and work with pleasure at my sermon, as the shepherds do at their rustic strains. But when things are otherwise, and you are straying in distant wanderings, as you did but lately, the last Lord's Day, I am much troubled, and glad to be silent; and I consider the question of flight from hence, and seek for the Carmel of the prophet Elijah, or for some rock without inhabitant; for men in depression naturally choose loneliness and solitude. But now, when I see you thronging here with all your families, I am reminded of the prophetic saying, which Isaiah proclaimed from afar off, addressing by anticipation the Church with her fair and numerous children:—“Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as doves with their young to me”? Yes, and he adds moreover this also, “The place is too strait for me; give place that I may dwell (Is 49:20).” For these predictions the power of the Spirit made with reference to the populous Church of God, which was afterwards to fill the whole world from end to end of the earth.

The time, then, has come, and bears in its course the remembrance of holy mysteries, purifying man—mysteries which purge out from soul and body even that sin which is hard to cleanse away, and which bring us back to that fairness of our first estate which God, the best of artificers, impressed upon us. Therefore it is that you, the initiated people, are gathered together; and you bring also that people who have not made trial of them, leading, like good fathers, by careful guidance, the uninitiated to the perfect reception of the faith. I for my part rejoice over both—over you that are initiated, because you are enriched with a great gift: over you that are uninitiated, because you have a fair expectation of hope—remission of what is to be accounted for, release from bondage, close relation to God, free boldness of speech, and in place of servile subjection equality with the angels. For these things, and all that follow from them, the grace of Baptism secures and conveys to us. Therefore let us leave the other matters of the Scriptures for other occasions, and abide by the topic set before us, offering, as far as we may, the gifts that are proper and fitting for the feast: for each festival demands its own treatment. So we welcome a marriage with wedding songs; for mourning we bring the due offering with funeral strains; in times of business we speak seriously, at times of festivity we relax the concentration and strain of our minds; but each time we keep free from disturbance by things that are alien to its character.

Christ, then, was born as it were a few days ago—He Whose generation was before all things, sensible and intellectual. Today He is baptized by John that He might cleanse him who was defiled, that He might bring the Spirit from above, and exalt man to heaven, that he who had fallen might be raised up and he who had cast him down might be put to shame. And marvel not if God showed so great earnestness in our cause: for it was with care on the part of him who did us wrong that the plot was laid against us; it is with forethought on the part of our Maker that we are saved. And he, that evil charmer, framing his new device of sin against our race, drew along his serpent train, a disguise worthy of his own intent, entering in his impurity into what was like himself—dwelling, earthly and mundane as he was in will, in that creeping thing. But Christ, the repairer of his evil-doing, assumes manhood in its fullness, and saves man, and becomes the type and figure of us all, to sanctify the first-fruits of every action, and leave to His servants no doubt in their zeal for the tradition. Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. By regeneration, understand regeneration conceived in thought, not discerned by bodily sight. For we shall not, according to the Jew Nicodemus and his somewhat dull intelligence, change the old man into a child, nor shall we form anew him who is wrinkled and gray-headed to tenderness and youth, if we bring back the man again into his mother's womb: but we do bring back, by royal grace, him who bears the scars of sin, and has grown old in evil habits, to the innocence of the babe. For as the child new-born is free from accusations and from penalties, so too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing. For since we are wont by washing in water to render our body clean when it is soiled by dirt or mud, we therefore apply it also in the sacramental action, and display the spiritual brightness by that which is subject to our senses. Let us however, if it seems well, persevere in enquiring more fully and more minutely concerning Baptism, starting, as from the fountain-head, from the Scriptural declaration, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:—for his visible body, water, the sensible element—for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. For “the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but canst not tell whence He comes or whither He goes.” He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby. For this holy altar, too, by which I stand, is stone, ordinary in its nature, nowise different from the other slabs of stone that build our houses and adorn our pavements; but seeing that it was consecrated to the service of God, and received the benediction, it is a holy table, an altar undefiled, no longer touched by the hands of all, but of the priests alone, and that with reverence. The bread again is at first common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ. So with the sacramental oil; so with the wine: though before the benediction they are of little value, each of them, after the sanctification bestowed by the Spirit, has its several operation. The same power of the word, again, also makes the priest venerable and honourable, separated, by the new blessing bestowed upon him, from his community with the mass of men. While but yesterday he was one of the mass, one of the people, he is suddenly rendered a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries; and this he does without being at all changed in body or in form; but, while continuing to be in all appearance the man he was before, being, by some unseen power and grace, transformed in respect of his unseen soul to the higher condition. And so there are many things, which if you consider you will see that their appearance is contemptible, but the things they accomplish are mighty: and this is especially the case when you collect from the ancient history instances cognate and similar to the subject of our inquiry. The rod of Moses was a hazel wand. And what is that, but common wood that every hand cuts and carries, and fashions to what use it chooses, and casts as it will into the fire? But when God was pleased to accomplish by that rod those wonders, lofty, and passing the power of language to express, the wood was changed into a serpent. And again, at another time, he smote the waters, and now made the water blood, now made to issue forth a countless brood of frogs: and again he divided the sea, severed to its depths without flowing together again. Likewise the mantle of one of the prophets, though it was but a goat's skin, made Elisha renowned in the whole world. And the wood of the Cross is of saving efficacy for all men, though it is, as I am informed, a piece of a poor tree, less valuable than most trees are. So a bramble bush showed to Moses the manifestation of the presence of God: so the remains of Elisha raised a dead man to life; so clay gave sight to him that was blind from the womb. And all these things, though they were matter without soul or sense, were made the means for the performance of the great marvels wrought by them, when they received the power of God. Now by a similar train of reasoning, water also, though it is nothing else than water, renews the man to spiritual regeneration, when the grace from above hallows it. And if any one answers me again by raising a difficulty, with his questions and doubts, continually asking and inquiring how water and the sacramental act that is performed therein regenerate, I most justly reply to him, “Show me the mode of that generation which is after the flesh, and I will explain to you the power of regeneration in the soul.” You will say perhaps, by way of giving an account of the matter, “It is the cause of the seed which makes the man.” Learn then from us in return, that hallowed water cleanses and illuminates the man. And if you again object to me your “How?” I shall more vehemently cry in answer, “How does the fluid and formless substance become a man?” and so the argument as it advances will be exercised on everything through all creation. How does heaven exist? How earth? How sea? How every single thing? For everywhere men's reasoning, perplexed in the attempt at discovery, falls back upon this syllable “how,” as those who cannot walk fall back upon a seat. To speak concisely, everywhere the power of God and His operation are incomprehensible and incapable of being reduced to rule, easily producing whatever He wills, while concealing from us the minute knowledge of His operation. Hence also the blessed David, applying his mind to the magnificence of creation, and filled with perplexed wonder in his soul, spoke that verse which is sung by all, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works: in wisdom have You made them all.” The wisdom he perceived: but the art of the wisdom he could not discover. Let us then leave the task of searching into what is beyond human power, and seek rather that which shows signs of being partly within our comprehension:—what is the reason why the cleansing is effected by water? And to what purpose are the three immersions received? That which the fathers taught, and which our mind has received and assented to, is as follows:—We recognize four elements, of which the world is composed, which every one knows even if their names are not spoken; but if it is well, for the sake of the more simple, to tell you their names, they are fire and air, earth and water. Now our God and Saviour, in fulfilling the Dispensation for our sakes, went beneath the fourth of these, the earth, that He might raise up life from thence. And we in receiving Baptism, in imitation of our Lord and Teacher and Guide, are not indeed buried in the earth (for this is the shelter of the body that is entirely dead, covering the infirmity and decay of our nature), but coming to the element akin to earth, to water, we conceal ourselves in that as the Saviour did in the earth: and by doing this thrice we represent for ourselves that grace of the Resurrection which was wrought in three days: and this we do, not receiving the sacrament in silence, but while there are spoken over us the Names of the Three Sacred Persons on Whom we believed, in Whom we also hope, from Whom comes to us both the fact of our present and the fact of our future existence. It may be you are offended, thou who contendest boldly against the glory of the Spirit, and that you grudge to the Spirit that veneration wherewith He is reverenced by the godly. Leave off contending with me: resist, if you can, those words of the Lord which gave to men the rule of the Baptismal invocation. What says the Lord's command? “Baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (Mt 28:19).” How in the Name of the Father? Because He is the primal cause of all things. How in the Name of the Son? Because He is the Maker of the Creation. How in the Name of the Holy Ghost? Because He is the power perfecting all. We bow ourselves therefore before the Father, that we may be sanctified: before the Son also we bow, that the same end may be fulfilled: we bow also before the Holy Ghost, that we may be made what He is in fact and in Name. There is not a distinction in the sanctification, in the sense that the Father sanctifies more, the Son less, the Holy Spirit in a less degree than the other Two. Why then do you divide the Three Persons into fragments of different natures, and make Three Gods, unlike one to another, while from all thou dost receive one and the same grace?

As, however, examples always render an argument more vivid to the hearers, I propose to instruct the mind of the blasphemers by an illustration, explaining, by means of earthly and lowly matters, those matters which are great, and invisible to the senses. If it befell you to be enduring the misfortune of captivity among enemies, to be in bondage and in misery, to be groaning for that ancient freedom which thou once had—and if all at once three men, who were notable men and citizens in the country of your tyrannical masters, set you free from the constraint that lay upon you, giving your ransom equally, and dividing the charges of the money in equal shares among themselves, would you not then, meeting with this favour, look upon the three alike as benefactors, and make repayment of the ransom to them in equal shares, as the trouble and the cost on your behalf was common to them all—if, that is, thou were a fair judge of the benefit done to you? This we may see, so far as illustration goes, for our aim at present is not to render a strict account of the Faith. Let us return to the present season, and to the subject it sets before us.

I find that not only do the Gospels, written after the Crucifixion, proclaim the grace of Baptism, but, even before the Incarnation of our Lord, the ancient Scripture everywhere prefigured the likeness of our regeneration; not clearly manifesting its form, but fore-showing, in dark sayings, the love of God to man. And as the Lamb was proclaimed by anticipation, and the Cross was foretold by anticipation, so, too, was Baptism shown forth by action and by word. Let us recall its types to those who love good thoughts—for the festival season of necessity demands their recollection.

Hagar, the handmaid of Abraham (whom Paul treats allegorically in reasoning with the Galatians), being sent forth from her master's house by the anger of Sarah—for a servant suspected in regard to her master is a hard thing for lawful wives to bear—was wandering in desolation to a desolate land with her babe Ishmael at her breast. And when she was in straits for the needs of life, and was herself near unto death, and her child yet more sore for the water in the skin was spent (since it was not possible that the Synagogue, she who once dwelt among the figures of the perennial Fountain, should have all that was needed to support life), an angel unexpectedly appears, and shows her a well of living water, and drawing thence, she saves Ishmael. Behold, then, a sacramental type: how from the very first it is by the means of living water that salvation comes to him that was perishing—water that was not before, but was given as a boon by an angel's means. Again, at a later time, Isaac—the same for whose sake Ishmael was driven with his mother from his father's home—was to be wedded. Abraham's servant is sent to make the match, so as to secure a bride for his master, and finds Rebekah at the well: and a marriage that was to produce the race of Christ had its beginning and its first covenant in water. Yes, and Isaac himself also, when he was ruling his flocks, dug wells at all parts of the desert, which the aliens stopped and filled up, for a type of all those impious men of later days who hindered the grace of Baptism, and talked loudly in their struggle against the truth. Yet the martyrs and the priests overcame them by digging the wells, and the gift of Baptism over-flowed the whole world. According to the same force of the text, Jacob also, hastening to seek a bride, met Rachel unexpectedly at the well. And a great stone lay upon the well, which a multitude of shepherds were wont to roll away when they came together, and then gave water to themselves and to their flocks. But Jacob alone rolls away the stone, and waters the flocks of his spouse. The thing is, I think, a dark saying, a shadow of what should come. For what is the stone that is laid but Christ Himself? For of Him Isaiah says, “And I will lay in the foundations of Sion a costly stone, precious, elect:” and Daniel likewise, “A stone was cut out without hands,” that is, Christ was born without a man. For as it is a new and marvellous thing that a stone should be cut out of the rock without a hewer or stone-cutting tools, so it is a thing beyond all wonder that an offspring should appear from an unwedded Virgin. There was lying, then, upon the well the spiritual stone, Christ, concealing in the deep and in mystery the laver of regeneration which needed much time—as it were a long rope—to bring it to light. And none rolled away the stone save Israel, who is mind seeing God. But he both draws up the water and gives drink to the sheep of Rachel; that is, he reveals the hidden mystery, and gives living water to the flock of the Church. Add to this also the history of the three rods of Jacob. For from the time when the three rods were laid by the well, Laban the polytheist thenceforth became poor, and Jacob became rich and wealthy in herds. Now let Laban be interpreted of the devil, and Jacob of Christ. For after the institution of Baptism Christ took away all the flock of Satan and Himself grew rich. Again, the great Moses, when he was a goodly child, and yet at the breast, falling under the general and cruel decree which the hard-hearted Pharaoh made against the men-children, was exposed on the banks of the river—not naked, but laid in an ark, for it was fitting that the Law should typically be enclosed in a coffer. And he was laid near the water; for the Law, and those daily sprinklings of the Hebrews which were a little later to be made plain in the perfect and marvellous Baptism, are near to grace. Again, according to the view of the inspired Paul, the people itself, by passing through the Red Sea, proclaimed the good tidings of salvation by water. The people passed over, and the Egyptian king with his host was engulfed, and by these actions this Sacrament was foretold. For even now, whenever the people is in the water of regeneration, fleeing from Egypt, from the burden of sin, it is set free and saved; but the devil with his own servants (I mean, of course, the spirits of evil), is choked with grief, and perishes, deeming the salvation of men to be his own misfortune.

Even these instances might be enough to confirm our present position; but the lover of good thoughts must yet not neglect what follows. The people of the Hebrews, as we learn, after many sufferings, and after accomplishing their weary course in the desert, did not enter the land of promise until it had first been brought, with Joshua for its guide and the pilot of its life, to the passage of the Jordan. But it is clear that Joshua also, who set up the twelve stones in the stream, was anticipating the coming of the twelve disciples, the ministers of Baptism. Again, that marvellous sacrifice of the old Tishbite, that passes all human understanding, what else does it do but prefigure in action the Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and redemption? For when all the people of the Hebrews had trodden underfoot the religion of their fathers, and fallen into the error of polytheism, and their king Ahab was deluded by idolatry, with Jezebel, of ill-omened name, as the wicked partner of his life, and the vile prompter of his impiety, the prophet, filled with the grace of the Spirit, coming to a meeting with Ahab, withstood the priests of Baal in a marvellous and wondrous contest in the sight of the king and all the people; and by proposing to them the task of sacrificing the bullock without fire, he displayed them in a ridiculous and wretched plight, vainly praying and crying aloud to gods that were not. At last, himself invoking his own and the true God, he accomplished the test proposed with further exaggerations and additions. For he did not simply by prayer bring down the fire from heaven upon the wood when it was dry, but exhorted and enjoined the attendants to bring abundance of water. And when he had thrice poured out the barrels upon the cleft wood, he kindled at his prayer the fire from out of the water, that by the contrariety of the elements, so concurring in friendly cooperation, he might show with superabundant force the power of his own God. Now herein, by that wondrous sacrifice, Elijah clearly proclaimed to us the sacramental rite of Baptism that should afterwards be instituted. For the fire was kindled by water thrice poured upon it, so that it is clearly shown that where the mystic water is, there is the kindling, warm, and fiery Spirit, that burns up the ungodly, and illuminates the faithful. Yes, and yet again his disciple Elisha, when Naaman the Syrian, who was diseased with leprosy, had come to him as a suppliant, cleanses the sick man by washing him in Jordan, clearly indicating what should come, both by the use of water generally, and by the dipping in the river in particular. For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism. These then are indications in deed and act of regeneration by Baptism. Let us for the rest consider the prophecies of it in words and language. Isaiah cried saying, “Wash you, make you clean, put away evil from your souls;” and David, “Draw near to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.” And Ezekiel, writing more clearly and plainly than them both, says, “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be cleansed: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I give you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and my Spirit will I put within you.” Most manifestly also does Zechariah prophesy of Joshua, who was clothed with the filthy garment (to wit, the flesh of a servant, even ours), and stripping him of his ill-favoured raiment adorns him with the clean and fair apparel; teaching us by the figurative illustration that verily in the Baptism of Jesus all we, putting off our sins like some poor and patched garment, are clothed in the holy and most fair garment of regeneration. And where shall we place that oracle of Isaiah, which cries to the wilderness, “Be glad, O thirsty wilderness: let the desert rejoice and blossom as a lily: and the desolate places of Jordan shall blossom and shall rejoice”? For it is clear that it is not to places without soul or sense that he proclaims the good tidings of joy: but he speaks, by the figure of the desert, of the soul that is parched and unadorned, even as David also, when he says, “My soul is unto You as a thirsty land,” and, “My soul is thirsty for the mighty, for the living God.” So again the Lord says in the Gospels, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink;” and to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst (Jn 4:13-14).” And “the excellency of Carmel” (Is 35:2) is given to the soul that bears the likeness to the desert, that is, the grace bestowed through the Spirit. For since Elijah dwelt in Carmel, and the mountain became famous and renowned by the virtue of him who dwelt there, and since moreover John the Baptist, illustrious in the spirit of Elijah, sanctified the Jordan, therefore the prophet foretold that “the excellency of Carmel” should be given to the river. And “the glory of Lebanon (Is 35:2),” from the similitude of its lofty trees, he transfers to the river. For as great Lebanon presents a sufficient cause of wonder in the very trees which it brings forth and nourishes, so is the Jordan glorified by regenerating men and planting them in the Paradise of God: and of them, as the words of the Psalmist say, ever blooming and bearing the foliage of virtues, “the leaf shall not wither,” and God shall be glad, receiving their fruit in due season, rejoicing, like a good planter, in his own works. And the inspired David, foretelling also the voice which the Father uttered from heaven upon the Son at His Baptism, that He might lead the hearers, who till then had looked upon that low estate of His Humanity which was perceptible by their senses, to the dignity of nature that belongs to the Godhead, wrote in his book that passage, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, the voice of the Lord in majesty.” But here we must make an end of the testimonies from the Divine Scriptures: for the discourse would extend to an infinite length if one should seek to select every passage in detail, and set them forth in a single book.

But do ye all, as many as are made glad, by the gift of regeneration, and make your boast of that saving renewal, show me, after the sacramental grace, the change in your ways that should follow it, and make known by the purity of your conversation the difference effected by your transformation for the better. For of those things which are before our eyes nothing is altered: the characteristics of the body remain unchanged, and the mould of the visible nature is nowise different. But there is certainly need of some manifest proof, by which we may recognize the new-born man, discerning by clear tokens the new from the old. And these I think are to be found in the intentional motions of the soul, whereby it separates itself from its old customary life, and enters on a newer way of conversation, and will clearly teach those acquainted with it that it has become something different from its former self, bearing in it no token by which the old self was recognized. This, if you be persuaded by me, and keep my words as a law, is the mode of the transformation. The man that was before Baptism was wanton, covetous, grasping at the goods of others, a reviler, a liar, a slanderer, and all that is kindred with these things, and consequent from them. Let him now become orderly, sober, content with his own possessions, and imparting from them to those in poverty, truthful, courteous, affable—in a word, following every laudable course of conduct. For as darkness is dispelled by light, and black disappears as whiteness is spread over it, so the old man also disappears when adorned with the works of righteousness. You see how Zacchæus also by the change of his life slew the publican, making fourfold restitution to those whom he had unjustly damaged, and the rest he divided with the poor—the treasure which he had before got by ill means from the poor whom he oppressed. The Evangelist Matthew, another publican, of the same business with Zacchæus, at once after his call changed his life as if it had been a mask. Paul was a persecutor, but after the grace bestowed on him an Apostle, bearing the weight of his fetters for Christ's sake, as an act of amends and repentance for those unjust bonds which he once received from the Law, and bore for use against the Gospel. Such ought you to be in your regeneration: so ought you to blot out your habits that tend to sin; so ought the sons of God to have their conversation: for after the grace bestowed we are called His children. And therefore we ought narrowly to scrutinize our Father's characteristics, that by fashioning and framing ourselves to the likeness of our Father, we may appear true children of Him Who calls us to the adoption according to grace. For the bastard and the supposititious son, who belies his father's nobility in his deeds, is a sad reproach. Therefore also, methinks, it is that the Lord Himself, laying down for us in the Gospels the rules of our life, uses these words to His disciples, “Do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” For then He says they are sons when in their own modes of thought they are fashioned in loving kindness towards their kindred, after the likeness of the Father's goodness.

Therefore, also, it is that after the dignity of adoption the devil plots more vehemently against us, pining away with envious glance, when he beholds the beauty of the new-born man, earnestly tending towards that heavenly city, from which he fell: and he raises up against us fiery temptations, seeking earnestly to despoil us of that second adornment, as he did of our former array. But when we are aware of his attacks, we ought to repeat to ourselves the apostolic words, “As many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death (Rm 6:3).” Now if we have been conformed to His death, sin henceforth in us is surely a corpse, pierced through by the javelin of Baptism, as that fornicator was thrust through by the zealous Phinehas. (Nm 25:7-8) Flee therefore from us, ill-omened one! For it is a corpse you seek to despoil, one long ago joined to you, one who long since lost his senses for pleasures. A corpse is not enamoured of bodies, a corpse is not captivated by wealth, a corpse slanders not, a corpse lies not, snatches not at what is not its own, reviles not those who encounter it. My way of living is regulated for another life: I have learned to despise the things that are in the world, to pass by the things of earth, to hasten to the things of heaven, even as Paul expressly testifies, that the world is crucified to him, and he to the world. These are the words of a soul truly regenerated: these are the utterances of the newly-baptized man, who remembers his own profession, which he made to God when the sacrament was administered to him, promising that he would despise for the sake of love towards Him all torment and all pleasure alike.

And now we have spoken sufficiently for the holy subject of the day, which the circling year brings to us at appointed periods. We shall do well in what remains to end our discourse by turning it to the loving Giver of so great a boon, offering to Him a few words as the requital of great things. For You verily, O Lord, are the pure and eternal fount of goodness, Who justly turned away from us, and in loving kindness had mercy upon us. You hated, and were reconciled; You cursed, and blessed; You banished us from Paradise, and recalled us; You stripped off the fig-tree leaves, an unseemly covering, and put upon us a costly garment; You opened the prison, and released the condemned; You sprinkled us with clean water, and cleanse us from our filthiness. No longer shall Adam be confounded when called by You, nor hide himself, convicted by his conscience, cowering in the thicket of Paradise. Nor shall the flaming sword encircle Paradise around, and make the entrance inaccessible to those that draw near; but all is turned to joy for us that were the heirs of sin: Paradise, yea, heaven itself may be trodden by man: and the creation, in the world and above the world, that once was at variance with itself, is knit together in friendship: and we men are made to join in the angels' song, offering the worship of their praise to God. For all these things then let us sing to God that hymn of joy, which lips touched by the Spirit long ago sang loudly: “Let my soul be joyful in the Lord: for He has clothed me with a garment of salvation, and has put upon me a robe of gladness: as on a bridegroom He has set a mitre upon me, and as a bride has He adorned me with fair array.” And verily the Adorner of the bride is Christ, Who is, and was, and shall be, blessed now and for evermore. Amen.

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Source. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.

See St. Gregory of Nyssa

Baptism of Christ, by Benedetto Buglioni.
Glazed terracotta, with remainders of gilding, 
c. 1505; private collection.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pope St. Leo I: The Epiphany

“THAT day, beloved children, on which Christ, the Savior of the world, for the first time appeared to the gentiles, is to be venerated with a most holy honor by us also. . . . For that day is not past in such a way that the power of the work which was then revealed should be past as well.”

~Pope St. Leo I (reigned A.D. 440-61): from Sixth Sermon on the Epiphany.

The Journey of the Magi, by James Tissot.
Oil on canvas, c. 1894; Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Friday, January 1, 2016

St. Vincent of Lérins: "She is truly the Mother of God"

“THEREFORE, MAY God forbid that anyone should attempt to defraud holy Mary of her privileges of divine grace and of her special glory. For by a unique favor of our Lord and God she is to be confessed to be the most true and blessed Mother of God (Theotokos). She is truly the Mother of God, not merely in name . . . but rather because, as has already been said, in her sacred womb was accomplished the mystery that, by reason of a certain singular and unique Unity of person, even as the Word is flesh in flesh, so the man is God in God.”

~St. Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445): Commonitoria, 15.

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