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The ‘Our Father’ Explained by the Church Fathers

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Patristic Commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer

The following is a list of Patristic commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, with links to original-language versions and English translations.

The Lord’s Prayer is a pearl of great price, a treasure of Christianity, the value of which is often obscured by its very familiarity. Tertullian rightly called it “truly the summary of the whole Gospel.” (De oratione 1; Migne PL 1,1155). More than a simple prayer, the Our Father constitute a spiritual exercise, a form of meditation and contemplation, and a complete philosophy of life, all contained in a few lines.

It is vital that Christians learn to pray it reflectively, with understanding. For this we have numerous commentaries of Church Fathers to assist us.

Perhaps no better preface for the following can be found than the following remarks of St. John Cassian, taken from Conferences 9 (full citation supplied below).

[3] … and the soul kept free from all conversation and from roving thoughts that thus it may little by little begin to rise to the contemplation of God and to spiritual insight. …

[4] For the nature of the soul is not inaptly compared to a very fine feather or very light wing, which, if it has not been damaged or affected by being spoilt by any moisture falling on it from without, is borne aloft almost naturally to the heights of heaven by the lightness of its nature, and the aid of the slightest breath: but if it is weighted by any moisture falling upon it and penetrating into it, it will not only not be carried away by its natural lightness into any aerial flights but will actually be borne down to the depths of earth by the weight of the moisture it has received. So also our soul, if it is not weighted with faults that touch it, and the cares of this world, or damaged by the moisture of injurious lusts, will be raised as it were by the natural blessing of its own purity and borne aloft to the heights by the light breath of spiritual meditation; and leaving things low and earthly will be transported to those that are heavenly and invisible. …

[25] This prayer then though it seems to contain all the fullness of perfection, as being what was originated and appointed by the Lord’s own authority, yet lifts those to whom it belongs to that still higher condition of which we spoke above, and carries them on by a loftier stage to that ardent prayer which is known and tried by but very few, and which to speak more truly is ineffable; which transcends all human thoughts, and is distinguished, I will not say by any sound of the voice, but by no movement of the tongue, or utterance of words, but which the mind enlightened by the infusion of that heavenly light describes in no human and confined language, but pours forth richly as from copious fountain in an accumulation of thoughts, and ineffably utters to God, expressing in the shortest possible space of time such great things that the mind when it returns to its usual condition cannot easily utter or relate.

Compilation of the list was considerably facilitated by: Petiot, Henri (alias M. Daniel-Rops; editor); Hamman, Adalbert (translator). Le Pater expliqué par les Pères. (2nd ed.) Paris: Éditions Franciscaines, 1962.

Authors are listed chronologically, in order of year of birth.

Notation: Migne PL = J. P. Migne (ed.), Patrologia Latina; Migne PG = J. P. Migne (ed.), Patrologia Graeca.

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160–c. 225)

On Prayer (De oratione) 1–10

  • Latin: Migne PL 1, 1149–1166
  • English: Thelwall, Sydney. (translator). In: Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (editors), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. (ANF-03), Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887. (pp. 681–684). (Text)

Origen of Alexandria (c. 184–c. 253)

On Prayer (De Oratione) 18–30

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200–258)

On the Lord’s Prayer (De oratione dominica; Treatises 4)

  • Latin: Migne PL 4, 519–544
  • English: Wallis, Robert Ernest (translator). In: Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (editors), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5 (ANF-05), Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. (Cyprian: Treatises, 4, pp. 447–457). (Text)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313–386)

Catecheses mystagogicae 5.11–5.18

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 395)

On the Lord’s Prayer (De oratione dominica; 5 Sermons)

St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 337–397)

On the Sacraments (De sacramentis) 5.4.18–5.4.30

Evagrius Ponticus (345–399)

Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer (Expositio in orationem dominicam); Clavis patrum graecorum (CPG) no. 2461

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407)

Homilies on Matthew (In Mattheum) 19

Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer (Oratio dominica ejusque explanatio)

  • Greek, Latin: Oratio dominica ejusque explanatio; Migne PG 51, 44–48
  • English: ?

Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428)

Catechetical Lectures

St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430)

On the Sermon on the Mount 2.4.15–2.11.39

Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament 6–9 (= Benedictine edition 56–59 )

St. John Cassian (c. 360–435)

Conferences 9.18–9.25 (On the Lord’s Prayer, De oratione Dominica)

St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 380–c. 450)

Sermons 67–72

St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580–662)

A Brief Explanation of the Prayer Our Father to a Certain Friend of Christ (Orationis Dominicae expositio)

Bibliography

Ayo, Nicholas. The Lord’s Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 (Orig. 1992, Notre Dame University)

Hammerling, Roy. The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church: The Pearl of Great Price. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Simonetti, Manlio (ed.). Matthew 1-13. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). InterVarsity Press, 2001. (pp. 130–139).

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May you be filled to the complete fullness of Christ — Pseudo-Macarius

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Many people may have read the beautiful passage below in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings and wondered about its author.  It comes from the fourth-century work, Fifty Spiritual Homilies (specifically, Homily 18).  The author was traditionally thought to be Macarius of Egypt, but scholarly consensus is now against this attribution.  Lacking a firm identification, the author today is called simply Pseudo-Macarius.

Internal evidence in the Homilies points to a Syrian author.  It also appears there was contact or mutual familiarity between the author and the Cappadocian Fathers, especially Gregory of Nyssa.  Hermann Dörries (Symeon von Mesopotamien; Leipzig, 1941) suggested that the author is Symeon of Mesopotamia.

The author potentially had some connection with the curious Messalian sect, though modern opinion is that there is nothing unorthodox in the Homilies.

Homily 18 in its entirety may be read in the next post.  The entire Fifty Homlies are available in a 1992 Paulist Press translation by George Maloney, and a free 1921 translation by James Mason.

From a homily by a spiritual writer of the fourth century

“May you be filled to the complete fullness of Christ”    

Those who have been found worthy to become children of God and also to be born again through the Holy Spirit, those who carry Christ within them, shining within them and renewing them – these people are guided by the Spirit in various ways and led forward by grace working invisibly in the inner peace of their hearts.

Sometimes they are, as it were, in mourning and lamentation for the whole human race. They utter prayers for all mankind and fall back in tears and lamentation. They are on fire with spiritual love for all humanity.

Sometimes they burn, through the Spirit, with such love and exultation that they would embrace all mankind if they could, without discrimination, good and bad alike.

Sometimes they are cast down by humility, down below the least of men, as they consider themselves to be in the lowest, the most abject of conditions.

Sometimes the Spirit keeps them in a state of inextinguishable and unspeakable gladness.

Sometimes they are like some champion who puts on a full suit of royal armour and plunges into battle, combats his enemies fiercely and at length vanquishes them. For in the same way the spiritual champion, wearing the heavenly armour of the Spirit, attacks his enemies and, winning the battle, treads them underfoot.

Sometimes their soul is in the deepest silence, stillness and peace, experiencing nothing but spiritual delight and ineffable power: the best of all possible states.

Sometimes their soul is in a state of understanding and boundless wisdom and attention to the inscrutable Spirit, taught by grace things that neither tongue nor lips can describe.

And sometimes their soul is in a state just like anyone else’s.

Thus grace is poured into them in different ways, and by different paths it leads the soul, renewing it according to God’s will. It guides it by various paths until it is made whole, sinless and stainless before the heavenly Father.

Therefore let us pray to God, pray with great love and hope, that he may give us the heavenly grace of the Spirit. Let us pray that the Spirit may guide us and lead us, following God’s will in every way, and may re-make us in stillness and in quiet. Thanks to his guidance and spiritual strengthening, may we be found worthy to attain the perfection and fullness of Christ. As St Paul says: that you may be filled to the complete fullness of Christ.

Written by John Uebersax

February 10, 2013 at 12:07 am

Philo on the Two Wives of the Soul

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Philo on the Two Wives of the Soul

This most remarkable treatise, an allegory on virtue and vice, is due to Philo of Alexandria. Owing to its omission in some critical editions (notably the Greek/Latin edition of Thomas Mangey [Mangey; 1745; Mangey & Pfeiffer, 1820])  there is some confusion about in which of Philo’s works it belongs. Some editions place it at the end of Special Laws I, but others place it in  Book 1 of On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel.

Besides paralleling the Old Testament theme of the strange woman, it is reminiscent of “The Choice of Hercules”, found in Xenophon’s Memorobilia of Socrates 2.1.21-34.  There, Xenophon, who includes this narrative as an illustration of the ethical teachings of Socrates, paraphrases a lost treatise by the Athenian sophist, Prodicus.   Even by the standards of Philo, the work below is unusually prolix — although skillfully and with good effect; one might well imagine it having partly originated with the legendary rhetorician, Prodicus.

St. Ambrose of Milan’s work, On Cain and Abel (1.13 ff.) follows Philo’s text here closely.

The version here is as shown on the Early Christian Writings website, in On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel, from the translation of Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo Judeaus (Vol  3. “On the Wages of a Harlot”); the numbering supposes it’s placement in On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel 1.5.21-34:

Book 1, Chapter V.

(19) And concerning this doctrine Moses also records a law, which he makes with great beauty and suitableness. And it runs thus, “If a man have two wives, the one of them beloved and the other hated; and if both the one who is beloved and the one who is hated have borne him children, and if the child of her who is hated is the firstborn, then it shall be in the day in which he divides the inheritance of his possessions among his sons that he shall not be able to give the inheritance of the first-born to the son of the wife that is beloved, overlooking his first-born son, the son of her who is hated; but he shall recognise the son of her who is hated as his first-born, to give him a double share of all the property that he has acquired; because he is the beginning of his children, and the right of the first-born is His.”[Deut. 21:15].

(20) Consider, O my soul, and know who it is who is hated, and who is the son of her who is hated, and immediately you shall perceive that the chief rights and chief honours belong to no one else but to him alone; for there are two wives cohabiting with each individual of us, hostile and inimical to one another, filling the abode of the soul with the contentions which arise from jealousy. Of these we love one, which is gentle and tractable, and which we think very affectionate and akin to ourselves, and its name is pleasure; but the other we hate, looking upon it as untameable, ungentle, fierce, and very hostile to us, and the name of this one is virtue. Now what mortal is ignorant of the great mysteries of that exceedingly beautiful and greatly contended for pleasure? And who could worthily describe the multitude or the greatness of the good things which are treasured up by Virtue? [Footnote 1]

(21) For two women live with each individual among us, both unfriendly and hostile to one another, filling the whole abode of the soul with envy, and jealousy, and contention; of these we love the one looking upon her as being mild and tractable, and very dear to and very closely connected with ourselves, and she is called pleasure; but the other we detest, deeming her unmanageable, savage, fierce, and most completely hostile, and her name is virtue. Accordingly, the one comes to us luxuriously dressed in the guise of a harlot and prostitute, with mincing steps, rolling her eyes about with excessive licentiousness and desire, by which baits she entraps the souls of the young, looking about with a mixture of boldness and impudence, holding up her head, and raising herself above her natural height, fawning and giggling, having the hair of her head dressed with most superfluous elaborateness, having her eyes pencilled, her eyebrows covered over, using incessant warm baths, painted with a fictitious colour, exquisitely dressed with costly garments, richly embroidered, adorned with armlets, and bracelets, and necklaces, and all other ornaments which can be made of gold, and precious stones, and all kinds of female decorations; loosely girdled, breathing of most fragrant perfumes, thinking the whole market her home; a marvel to be seen in the public roads, out of the scarcity of any genuine beauty, pursuing a bastard elegance.

(22) And with her there walk as her most intimate friends, bold cunning, and rashness, and flattery, and trick, and deceit, and false speaking, and false opinion, and impiety, and injustice, and intemperance, in the middle of which she advances like the leader of the company, and marshalling her band, speaks thus to her mind, “My good friend, the treasuries of all human blessings and stores of happiness are in my power (for as for divine blessings they are all in heaven), and besides them you will find nothing.

(23) “If you will dwell with me I will open to you all these treasures, and will bestow on you for ever the most unsparing use and enjoyment of them. And I desire to inform you beforehand of the multitude of good things which I have stored up there, that if you are so inclined you may of your own accord live happily, and that if you refuse you may not decline them out of ignorance.

“There is in my power perfect relaxation, and exemption from all fear, and tranquillity, and a complete absence of all care and labour, and an abundant variety of colours, and most melodious intonations of the voice, and all kinds of costly viands and drinks, and plentiful varieties of the sweetest scents, and continual loves, and sports such as require no teacher, and connections which will never be inquired into, and speeches which will have no shade of reproof in them, and actions free from all necessity of being accounted for, and a life free from anxiety, and soft sleep, and abundance without any feeling of satiety.

(24) If therefore you are inclined to take up your abode with me, I will give you what is suitable for you of all the things which I have prepared, considering carefully by eating or drinking what you may be most thoroughly cheered, or by what sights addressed to your eyes, or by what sounds visiting your ears, or by the small of what fragrant odours you may be most delighted. “And nothing which you can desire shall be wanting to you; for you shall find what is produced anew more abundant than what is expended and consumed;

(25) for in the treasuries which I have mentioned there are ever-flourishing plants, blossoming and producing an incessant series of fruits, so that the beauty of those in their prime and fresh appearing overtakes and overshadows those which are already fully ripe; and no war, either domestic or foreign, has ever cut down these plants, but from the very day that the earth first received them it has cherished them like a faithful nurse, sending down into its lowest depths the roots to act like the strongest branches, and above ground extending its trunk as high as heaven, and putting forth branches which are by analogy imitations of the hand and feet which we see in animals, and leaves which correspond to the hair. I have prepared and caused that to blossom which shall be at the same time a covering and an ornament to you; and besides all this, I have provided fruit for the sake of which the branches and leaves are originally produced.”

(26) When the other woman heard these words (for she was standing in a place where she was out of sight but still within hearing), Bouguereau_The_Virgin_With_Angelsfearing lest the mind, without being aware of it, might be led captive and be enslaved, and so be carried away by so many gifts and promises, yielding also to the tempter in that she was arrayed so as to win over the sight, and was equipped with great variety of ingenuity for the purposes of deceit; for by all her necklaces and other appendages, and by her different allurements, she spurred on and charmed her beholders, and excited a wonderful desire within them; she in her turn came forward, and appeared on a sudden, displaying all the qualities of a native, free-born, and lady-like woman, such as a firm step, a very gentle look, the native colour of modesty and nature without any alloy or disguise, an honest disposition, a genuine and sincere way of life, a plain, honest opinion, an language removed from all insincerity, the truest possible image of a sound and honest heart, a disposition averse to pretence, a quiet unobtrusive gait, a moderate style of dress, and the ornaments of prudence and virtue, more precious than any gold.

(27) And she was attended by piety, and holiness, and truth, and right, and purity, and an honest regard for an oath, and justice, and equality, and adherence to one’s engagements and communion, and prudent silence, and temperance, and orderliness, and meekness, and abstemiousness, and contentment, and good-temper, and modesty, and an absence of curiosity about the concerns of others, and manly courage, and a noble disposition and wisdom in counsel, and prudence, and forethought, and attention, and correctness, and cheerfulness, and humanity, and gentleness, and courtesy, and love of one’s kind, and magnanimity, and happiness, and goodness. One day would fail me if I were to enumerate all the names of the particular virtues.

(28) And these all standing on each side of her, were her bodyguards, while she was in the middle of them.

And she, having assumed an appearance familiar to her, began to speak as follows: “I have seen pleasure, that worker of wonderous tricks, that conjuror and teller of fables, dressed in a somewhat tragic style, and constantly approaching you in a delicate manner; so that (for I myself do by nature detest everything that is evil) I feared lest, without being aware of it, you might be deceived, and might consent to the very greatest of evils as if they were exceeding good; and therefore I have thought fit to declare to you with all sincerity what really belongs to that woman, in order that you might not reject anything advantageous to you out of ignorance, and so proceed unintentionally on the road of transgression and unhappiness.

(29) “Know, then, that the very dress in which she appear to you wholly belongs to some one else; for of ten things which contribute to genuine beauty, not one is ever brought forward as being derived from or as belonging to her. But she is hung round with nets and snares with which to catch you with a bastard and adulterated beauty, which you, beholding beforehand, will, if you are wise, take care that her pursuit shall be unprofitable to her; for when she appears she conciliates your eyes, and when she speaks she wins over your ears; and by these, and by all other parts of her conduct, she is well calculated by nature to injure your soul, which is the most valuable of all your possessions; and all the different circumstances belonging to her, which were likely to be attractive to you if you heard of them, she enumerated; but all those which would not have been alluring she suppressed and made no mention of, but, meaning mischief to you, concealed utterly, as she very naturally expected that no one would readily agree with them.”

(30) But I, stripping off all her disguises, will reveal her to you; and I will not myself imitate the ways of pleasure, so as to show you nothing in me but what is alluring, and to conceal and to keep out of sight everything that has any unpleasantness or harshness in it; but, on the contrary, I will say nothing about those matters which do of themselves give delight and pleasure, well knowing that such things will of themselves find a voice by their effects; but I will fully detail to you all that is painful and difficult to be borne about me, putting them plainly forward with their naked appellation, so that their nature may be visible and plain even to those whose sight is somewhat dim. For the things which, when offered by me, appear to be the greatest of my evils, will in effect be found to be more honourable and more beneficial to the users than the greatest blessings bestowed by pleasure. But, before I begin to speak of what I myself have to give, I will mention all that may be mentioned of those things which are kept in the back ground by her. John Waterhouse - Siren

(31) For she, when she spoke of what she had stored up in her magazines, such as colours, sounds, flavours, smells, distinctive qualities, powers relating to touch and to every one of the outward senses, and having softened them all by the allurements which she offered to the hearing, made no mention at all of those other qualities which are her misfortunes and diseases; which, however, you will of necessity experience if you choose those pleasures which she offers; that so, being borne aloft by the breeze of some advantage, you may be taken in her toils.

(32) Know, then, my good friend, that if you become a votary of pleasure you will be all these things: a bold, cunning, audacious, unsociable, uncourteous, inhuman, lawless, savage, illtempered, unrestrainable, worthless man; deaf to advice, foolish, full of evil acts, unteachable, unjust, unfair, one who has no participation with others, one who cannot be trusted in his agreements, one with whom there is no peace, covetous, most lawless, unfriendly, homeless, cityless, seditious, faithless, disorderly, impious, unholy, unsettled, unstable, uninitiated, profane, polluted, indecent, destructive, murderous, illiberal, abrupt, brutal, slavish, cowardly, intemperate, irregular, disgraceful, shameful, doing and suffering all infamy, colourless, immoderate, unsatiable, insolent, conceited, self-willed, mean, envious, calumnious, quarrelsome, slanderous, greedy, deceitful, cheating, rash, ignorant, stupid, inharmonious, dishonest, disobedient, obstinate, tricky, swindling, insincere, suspicious, hated, absurd, difficult to detect, difficult to avoid, destructive, evil-minded, disproportionate, an unreasonable chatterer, a proser, a gossip, a vain babbler, a flatterer, a fool, full of heavy sorrow, weak in bearing grief, trembling at every sound, inclined to delay, inconsiderate, improvident, impudent, neglectful of good, unprepared, ignorant of virtue, always in the wrong, erring, stumbling, ill-managed, ill-governed, a glutton, a captive, a spendthrift, easily yielding, most crafty, double-minded, double-tongued, perfidious, treacherous, unscrupulous, always unsuccessful, always in want, infirm of purpose, fickle, a wanderer, a follower of others, yielding to impulses, open to the attacks of enemies, mad, easily satisfied, fond of life, fond of vain glory, passionate, ill-tempered, lazy, a procrastinator, suspected, incurable, full of evil jealousies, despairing, full of tears, rejoicing in evil, frantic, beside yourself, without any steady character, contriving evil, eager for disgraceful gain, selfish, a willing slave, an eager enemy, a demagogue, a bad steward, stiffnecked, effeminate, outcast, confused, discarded, mocking, injurious, vain, full of unmitigated unalloyed misery.

(33) These are the great mysteries of that very beautiful and much to be sought for pleasure, which she designedly concealed and kept out of sight, from a fear that if you knew of them you would turn away from any meeting with her. But who is there who could worthily describe either the multitude or the magnitude of the good things which are stored up in my treasure houses? They who have partaken of them already know it, and those whose nature is mild will hereafter know, when they have been invited to a participation in the banquet, not the banquet at which the pleasures of the satiated belly make the body fat, but that at which the mind is nourished and at which it revels among the virtues, and exults and revels in their company.

Book 1, Chapter VI.

(34) Now, on account of these things, and because of what was said before, namely, that the things which are really pious, holy, and good do naturally utter a voice from themselves, even while they keep silence, I will desist from saying any more about them; for neither does the sun nor the moon require an interpreter, because they, being on high, fill the whole world with light, the one shining by day and the other by night. But their own brilliancy is an evidence in their case which stands in no need of witnesses, but which is confirmed by the eyes, which are more undeniable judges than the ears.

(35) But I will speak with all freedom of that point in virtue which appears to have the greatest amount of difficulty and perplexity, for this, too, does appear to the imagination, at their first meeting, to be troublesome; but, on consideration, it is found to be very pleasant and, as arising from reason, to be suitable. But labour is the enemy of laziness, as it is in reality the first and greatest of good things, and wages an irreconcilable war against pleasure; for, if we must declare the truth, God has made labour the foundation of all good and of all virtue to man, and without labour you will not find a single good thing in existence among the race of men.

(36) For, as it is impossible to see without light, since neither colours nor eyes are sufficient for the comprehension of things which we arrive at by means of sight (for nature has made light beforehand to serve as a link to connect the two, by which the eye is brought near and adapted to colour, for the powers of both eye and of colour are equally useless in darkness), so in the same manner is the eye of the soul unable to comprehend anything whatever of the actions in accordance with virtue, unless it takes to itself labour as a coadjutor, as the eye borrows the assistance of light; for this, being placed in the middle, between the intellect and the good object which the intellect desires, and understanding the whole nature of both the one and the other, does itself bring about friendship and harmony, two perfect goods between the two things on either hand of it.

Footnote.

1. “Sections 21-33 were misplaced in Yonge’s translation because the edition on whichYonge based his translation, Thomas Mangey, Philonis Iudaei opera omnia graece et latine ad editionem Thomae Mangey collatis aliquot mss. edenda curavit Augustus Fridericus Pfeiffer (Erlangae: In Libraria Heyderiana, 1820), lacked this material. The lines in Yonge’s edition were originally [i.e., in Yonge’s original edition] located in On the Special Laws 2.284ff.”

On this issue, F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker write (Philo, vol. 2, pp. 88-93; Loeb Classical Library,):

“The other [special point] is the history of the sections 21-32, which do not appear in this place in Mangey’s edition nor in Yonge’s translation. These sections containing the allegory of the two women had been incorporated in an otherwise spurious treatise, De Mercede Meretricis. In consequence the archetype of the MSS. from which Turnebus made his edition of 1552 omitted them here, and this was followed in subsequent editions. That their proper place is in this treatise is shown not only by their presence in other MSS., but also by the evidence that Ambrose, whose treatise on Cain and Abel draws largely from Philo, evidently had these sections before him.”

Written by John Uebersax

February 22, 2010 at 1:33 am

Origen – Scripture is sealed; the analogy of rooms and keys

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Origen – Scripture is sealed; the analogy of rooms and keys

From Commentary on the 1st Psalm as cited in The Philocalia of Origen

CHAP. II.That the Divine Scripture is closed up and sealed. From the Commentary on the 1st Psalm.

1. The Divine words say that the Divine Scriptures have been closed up and sealed with the key of David, and perhaps with the seal which is described as “the stamp of a seal, a hallowed offering to the Lord” [Ex. 28:32] — that is, with the power of God, Who gave the Scriptures, the seal being the emblem of power. Now John interprets the closing up and sealing in the Apocalypse, when he says:

7   And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth:
8   I know thy works: behold I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut.
[Rev. 3:7 f.]

And a little farther on:

1   And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and without, close sealed with seven seals.
2   And I saw another, a strong angel, proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3   And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon.
4   And I wept because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look thereon.
5   And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof.
[Rev. 5:1 ff.]

2. As regards the sealing up only, Esaias [Isaiah] thus speaks:

11   And all these sayings shall be to you as the words of this book which is sealed, which men deliver to One that is learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I cannot read it, for it is sealed:
12   and the book shall be delivered into the hands of a man that is not learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I am not learned.
” [Isa. 29:11 f.]

For we must consider these things to be spoken not only of the Apocalypse of John and Esaias, but also of all Divine Scripture, which is beyond question full of riddles, and parables, and dark sayings, and various other obscurities, hard to be understood by men, whose ears can catch no more than the faint echoes of the Divine words. This was what the Saviour wished to teach us when He said, inasmuch as the key was with the Scribes and Pharisees who did not strive to find the way to open the Scriptures, “Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” [ Luke 11:51; cf. Matt. 23:14.]

Then, after topics of a different kind, Origen proceeds:—-

3. Now that we are going to begin our interpretation of the Psalms, let us preface our remarks with a very pleasing tradition respecting all Divine Scripture in general, which has been handed down to us by the Jew. That great scholar used to say that inspired Scripture taken as a whole was on account of its obscurity like many locked-up rooms in one house. Before each room he supposed a key to be placed, but not the one belonging to it; and that the keys were so dispersed all round the rooms, not fitting the locks of the several rooms before which they were placed. It would be a troublesome piece of work to discover the keys to suit the rooms they were meant for. It was, he said, just so with the understanding of the Scriptures, because they are so obscure; the only way to begin to understand them was, he said, by means of other passages containing the explanation dispersed throughout them. The Apostle, I think, suggested such a way of coming to a knowlege of the Divine words when He said, “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” [Cor. 2:13]

Much farther on, comparing the blessings addressed to individuals with those addressed to more than one, [See Chap. 8.] he says:—-

4. If the words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace, approved of the whole earth, purified seven times; [Ps. 12(11):7] it is just as true that the Holy Spirit has dictated them, through the ministers of the Word, [Cf. Luke 1:2] with the most scrupulous accuracy, lest the parallel meaning which the wisdom of God had constantly in view over the whole range of inspired Scripture, even to the mere letter, should escape us. And perhaps this is why the Saviour says, “One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” [Matt. 5:18] For if we study Creation we see that the Divine skill is shown not only in heaven, in the sun, moon, and stars, being everywhere evidenced in those bodies, but also upon earth no less in commoner matter: so that the bodies of the smallest living creatures are not scornfully treated by the Creator, much less the souls existing in them, each having some peculiar gift, something to ensure the safety of the irrational creature. And as for plants, neither are they overlooked, for the Creator is immanent in every one, as regards roots, and leaves, appropriate fruits, and varying qualities. So, too, we conceive of all that has been recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, believing that the sacred foreknowledge [Or, “providence.”] has through the Scriptures supplied superhuman wisdom to the race of man, having, so to speak, sown the seeds of saving truths, traces of the wisdom of God, in every letter as far as possible.

5. In truth, any one who has once accepted these Scriptures as coming from the Creator of the world, must be convinced that whatever difficulties confront those who investigate the story of creation, similar difficulties will also be found in the study of the Scriptures. There are, I say, in creation as well as in Scripture, certain problems which we men solve with difficulty, or even not at all; and we must not therefore blame the Maker of the universe because, say, we cannot discover why basilisks and other venomous creatures were created. In the contemplation of Nature it is an act of piety if a man who is conscious of human weakness, and recognises the impossibility of understanding the principles of the Divine skill, though pondered with all diligence, will ascribe to God the knowledge of these things. He will hereafter, should we be deemed worthy, reveal to us all the mysteries which now engage our reverent attention. Similarly, we should see that the Divine Scriptures also contain many mysteries of which it is hard for us to give an account. Anyway, let those who, after forsaking the Creator of the world and betaking themselves to a god of their own invention, make these professions, solve the difficulties we put before them; or, at least, after such strange impiety, let them see how they can with a good conscience uphold their speculations on the matters under investigation and the problems presented to them. For if the problems no less remain, though our opponents have forsaken the Godhead, would it not be far greater piety to be content with our conception of God, the Creator being contemplated through the works of creation, and to refrain from uttering godless and unholy opinions respecting so great a God?

Source: Origen, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (ed.), George Lewis (tr.). The Philocalia of Origen, [2.1-5] Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911. [pdf version]

Written by John Uebersax

July 18, 2009 at 2:35 am

St Athanasius on Psalm 1

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From an Easter letter by Saint Athanasius, bishop

The Paschal sacrament brings together in unity of faith those who are far away

Brethren, how fine a thing it is to move from festival to festival, from prayer to prayer, from holy day to holy day. The time is now at hand when we enter on a new beginning: the proclamation of the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We feed as on the food of life, we constantly refresh our souls with his precious blood, as from a fountain. Yet we are always thirsting, burning to be satisfied. But he himself is present for those who thirst and in his goodness invites them to the feast day. Our Saviour repeats his words: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

He quenched the thirst not only of those who came to him then. Whenever anyone seeks him he is freely admitted to the presence of the Saviour. The grace of the feast is not restricted to one occasion. Its rays of glory never set. It is always at hand to enlighten the mind of those who desire it. Its power is always there for those whose minds have been enlightened and who meditate day and night on the holy Scriptures, like the one who is called blessed in the holy psalm: Blessed is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or stood where sinners stand, or sat in the seat of the scornful, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

March 27, 2009 at 7:12 am

Saint Leo the Great – Purification of spirit

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From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope

Purification of spirit through fasting and almsgiving

Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvellous beauty of the elements as they obey him demands from the intelligent creation a fitting expression of its gratitude.

But with the return of that season marked out in a special way by the mystery of our redemption, and of the days that lead up to the paschal feast, we are summoned more urgently to prepare ourselves by a purification of spirit.

The special note of the paschal feast is this: the whole Church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins. It rejoices in the forgiveness not only of those who are then reborn in holy baptism but also of those who are already numbered among God’s adopted children.

Initially, men are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet there still is required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.

Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.

There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. The love that we owe both God and man is always free from any obstacle that would prevent us from having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace.
The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

February 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Patristics

Procopius of Gaza – God’s Wisdom is wine and feast

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From the Commentary on Proverbs by Procopius of Gaza (c. 465-528 AD)

The Wisdom of God has mixed wine for us and set up a feast

Wisdom has built herself a house. God the Father’s Power, himself a person, has fashioned as his dwelling-place the whole world, in which he lives by his activity; and has fashioned man also, who was created to resemble God’s own image and likeness and has a nature which is partly seen and partly hidden from our eyes.

And she has set up seven pillars. To man, who was made in the image of Christ when the rest of creation was completed, Wisdom gave the seven gifts of the Spirit to enable him to believe in Christ and to keep his commandments. By means of these gifts, strength is stimulated by knowledge and knowledge is reflected in strength until the spiritual man is brought to completion, solidly founded on firm faith and on the supernatural graces in which he shares.

His nature is made more glorious by strength, by good counsel, and by prudence. Strength brings a desire to seek out all manifestations of the divine will through which all things were made. Good counsel distinguishes what is God’s will from what is not and leads him to ponder, to proclaim and to fulfil the will of God. Prudence, finally, leads him to turn towards the will of God and not to other things.

She has mingled her wine in a bowl and spread her table. Because the Word of God has mingled in man, as in a bowl, a spiritual and a physical nature and has given him a knowledge both of creation and of himself as the Creator, it is natural for the things of God to have on man’s mind the inebriating effect of wine. Christ himself, the bread from heaven, is his nourishment enabling him to grow in virtue, and it is Christ who quenches his thirst and gladdens him with his teaching. For all who desire to share in it, he has prepared this rich banquet, this spiritual feast.

She has sent forth her servants with the sublime message that all are to come to the bowl and drink. Christ has sent forth his apostles, the servants of his divine will, to proclaim the message of the Gospel which, because it comes from the Spirit, transcends both the natural and the written law. By this he calls us to himself: in him, as in a bowl, there was brought about by the mystery of the incarnation a marvelous mingling of the divine and human natures, although each still remains distinct. And through the apostles he cries out: Is anyone foolish? Let him turn to me. If anyone is so foolish as to think in his heart that there is no God, let him renounce his disbelief and turn to me by faith. Let him know that I am the maker of all things and their Lord.

And to those who lack wisdom he says: Come, eat my bread and drink the wine that I have prepared for you. To those who still lack the works of faith and the higher knowledge which inspires them he says ‘Come, eat my body, the bread that is the nourishment of virtue, and drink my blood, the wine that cheers you with the joy of true knowledge and makes you divine. For I have miraculously mingled my divinity with my blood for your salvation.’

 from: Catholic Breviary (18 Feb)

 

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Patristics, Wisdom