Friday, September 16, 2016

Saint Cyprian of Carthage on the Lord's Prayer

Patristic commentaries on the Lord's Prayer were some of my favorite readings during my patrology course last year. St. Cyprian, who is commemorated today with fellow martyr Pope St. Cornelius, was not the first to compose such a commentary but his has been one of the most influential. Here are some selections from the work:

Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we do not say “My Father, which art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my daily bread;” nor does each ask that only his own debt should be forgiven; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.

But what matters of great import are contained in the Lord’s prayer! How many and how great, briefly collected in the words, but spiritually abundant in virtue so that there is absolutely nothing passed over that is not encompassed in these prayers and petitions, as in a compendium of heavenly doctrine. “Pray ye thus,” He says: "Our Father, which art in heaven.” The new man, born again and restored to God by His grace, says “Father,” in the first place because he has now begun to be a son. But how great is the Lord’s indulgence and goodness towards us, seeing that He has wished us to pray in such a way as to call God Father, and to call ourselves sons of God, even as Christ is the Son of God,—a name which none of us would dare to venture on in prayer, unless He Himself had allowed us thus to pray! We ought then, beloved brethren, to remember and to know, that when we call God Father, we ought to act as God’s children; so that in the measure in which we find pleasure in considering God as a Father, He might also be able to find pleasure in us.

After this we say, “Hallowed be Thy name;” not that we wish God may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beg that His name may be hallowed in us. Because He says, “Be ye holy, even as I am holy,” we ask and entreat, that we who were sanctified in baptism may continue as that which we have begun to be. And this we daily pray for; for we have need of daily sanctification, that we who daily fall away may wash out our sins by continual sanctification.

There follows in the prayer, "Thy kingdom come." We ask that the kingdom of God may be set forth to us, even as we also ask that His name may be sanctified in us. For when does God not reign, or when does that which always has been and never ceases to be begin with Him? We pray that our kingdom may come, which was acquired by the blood and passion of Christ; that we who first are His subjects in the world, may hereafter reign with Christ when He reigns, as He Himself promises and says, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world.”

We add, also, and say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth;” not that God should do what He wills, but that we may be able to do what God wills. For who resists God, that He may not do what He wills? But since we are hindered by the devil from obeying with our thought and deed God’s will, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us; and that it may be done in us we have need of God’s good will, that is, of His help and protection, since no one is strong in his own strength, but he is safe by the grace and mercy of God.

As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation.  For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And just as we say, “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who believe, so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. And therefore we ask that our bread—that is, Christ—may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.

After this we also entreat for our sins, saying, “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” The Lord calls sins debts, as He says in His Gospel, “I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desired me.” Lest any one should flatter himself that he is innocent, and by exalting himself should more deeply perish, he is taught that he sins daily by being bidden to entreat daily for his sins. Thus, John also in his epistle warns us, and says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” He who taught us to pray for our debts and sins, has promised that His fatherly mercy and pardon shall follow. He has here clearly added the law and bound us by a certain condition, that we should ask that our debts be forgiven us in such a manner as we ourselves forgive our debtors, knowing that that which we seek for our sins cannot be obtained unless we ourselves have acted in a similar way in respect of our debtors. Therefore also He says in another place, “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” And the servant who, after having had all his debt forgiven him by his master, would not forgive his fellow-servant, is cast back into prison; because he would not forgive his fellow-servant, he lost the indulgence that had been shown to himself by his lord. “When ye stand praying,” He says, “forgive if ye have aught against any, that your Father which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you your trespasses.”

Moreover, the Lord of necessity admonishes us to say in prayer, “And suffer us not to be led into temptation.” In which words it is shown that the adversary can do nothing against us except what God shall have previously permitted; so that all our fear, and devotion, and obedience may be turned towards God, since in our temptations nothing is permitted to evil unless power is given from Him.

After all these things, in the conclusion of the prayer comes a brief clause which briefly and comprehensively sums up all our petitions and our prayers. For we conclude by saying, “But deliver us from evil,” encompassing all adverse things which the enemy attempts against us in this world, from which there may be a faithful and sure protection if God deliver us. For when we say, "Deliver us from evil," there remains nothing further which ought to be asked. When we have once asked for God’s protection against evil, and have obtained it, then against everything which the devil and the world work against us we stand secure and safe. For what fear is there in this life, to the man whose guardian in this life is God?

What wonder is it, beloved brethren, if such is the prayer which God taught, seeing that He condensed in His teaching all our prayer in one saving sentence? For when the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came unto all, and gathering alike the learned and unlearned, published to every sex and every age the precepts of salvation, He made a large compendium of His precepts, that the memory of the scholars might not be burdened in the celestial learning, but might quickly learn what was necessary to a simple faith.

Cyprian of Carthage (d.258): On the Lord's Prayer (Excerpts)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Saint John Chrysostom on the Cross

Unspeakable is the power of the Cross. For that being actually in the midst of horrors, He should have shown Himself above all horrors; and being in the enemy's hold should have overcome; this comes of Infinite Power. For as in the case of the Three Children, their not entering the furnace would not have been so astonishing, as that having entered in they trampled upon the fire—and in the case of Jonah, it was a greater thing by far, after he had been swallowed by the fish, to suffer no harm from the monster, than if he had not been swallowed at all—so also in regard of Christ; His not dying would not have been so inconceivable, as that having died He should loose the bands of death. Say not then, why did He not help Himself on the Cross? for He was hastening on to close conflict with death himself. He descended not from the Cross, not because He could not, but because He would not. For Him Whom the tyranny of death restrained not, how could the nails of the Cross restrain?

Saint John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians

Monday, April 4, 2016

Saint Leo the Great on the Incarnation

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is observed today, transferred from 25 March because of Good Friday. The second reading of Matins today is from Pope St. Leo the Great. Reading some of his writings for patrology last semester, I gained an appreciation for the style in which he expresses the dogmas of the incarnation and hypostatic union with great clarity within his theological subtlety, an art I am gaining appreciation for as I struggle to write papers and exams on the Trinity this semester. 

Second reading
From a letter by Saint Leo the Great, pope
The mystery of man’s reconciliation with God

Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.

He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours. By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it.

For in the Savior there was no trace of what the deceiver introduced and man, being misled, allowed to enter. It does not follow that because he submitted to sharing in our human weakness he therefore shared in our sins.

He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.

Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth.

He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship.

As God does not change by his condescension, so man is not swallowed up by being exalted. Each nature exercises its own activity, in communion with the other. The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfills what is proper to the flesh.

One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race.

One and the same person — this must be said over and over again — is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He is man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Annunciation Friday

What does the date of Christmas have to do with Good Friday? Good Friday is the reason that Christmas is observed on December 25.

There are many popular explanations for why Christmas is on December 25. These are mostly modern revisionist attempts to explain away the significance of Christian holy days and generally relate to supposed attempts to suppress or appropriate earlier pagan practices. For example, Christmas was supposedly meant to replace Saturnalia, but this Roman bacchanal began on December 17 and never extended later than December 23. Another popular myth propagated by Bill Maher in his "mockumentary" Religulous is that attempts to suppress the cult of Sol Invictus was the reason for fixing the date, but this is hard to believe because the cult of Sol Invictus dates from the late third century, well after Christmas was fixed, and Sol Invictus was on the day of the solstice, which is not December 25.

The reason for Christmas on December 25 is the date of Easter. Methods used to calculate the date of Easter in the early Church varied; some continued to observe 14 Nisan as the date of Easter based on the Jewish Passover feast whether or not it fell on a Sunday; in parts of the west such as Gaul, the date of Easter was fixed on March 27, a practice that continued right up to the 6th century, and therefore Good Friday was March 25. If you are aware of the temporal cycle of the Church's calendar, you probably know March 25 as the day that the Solemnity of the Annunciation is observed, and this is not by accident; a common belied in the ancient world was that a great man's date of death coincided with that of his birth or conception. The Fathers of the western Church used this common belief when they established March 25 as the date of commemoration for both the conception and death of Jesus.

There was a different method of calculation used in the east, but despite that the dates agree and March 25 and December 25 are also observed in the Byzantine Churches (although the Orthodox retain the Julian Calendar which is now 12 days behind). The reasoning was more theological: it was held that the day of the new creation (Resurrection) corresponded to the date of the first creation, and these also shared the date of the Incarnation. The understanding was that there is an inextricable connection between all the mysteries of salvation, beginning with creation and including all the mysteries of Christ. Therefore it was natural to celebrate the new creation annually with its cardinal mysteries of the Incarnation and Resurrection. (See Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 106).

It is obvious that December is nine months after March, but what I learned in Patristics class last semester is that the date of birth was figured from the date of conception, not the other way around as the importance assumed by the second holy day in contemporary public awareness might have led me to assume.
Resurrection and Annunciation, details from opposite doors of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald, 1515.

This connection  between the feasts was lost later when the calculation of Easter was standardized for the most part (the calculation long continued to vary, not being fixed by a council until Nicaea in 325, which also explains the ancient Armenian observance of the Nativity and Theophany on 6 January because of a different Easter dating). Another reason the connection is lost is the later change that when 25 March falls within Holy Week, the Solemnity of the Annunciation is transferred to the second Monday of Easter. This preserves it as a separate celebration, which only makes sense if it is seen separately.

The Fathers of the Church intended that the whole mystery of Christ from Incarnation to Pasch be celebrated together and that they be seen as inextricably connected. Although this connection has been lost in all but historical record, the two coincide (at least formally) a few times a century when Easter falls on 27 March*, a unique occasion, especially in this Jubilee of Mercy, to reflect on the unity of history in Christ who makes all things new.

*This actually happened twice recently, 2005 and 2016, and will not recur until year 2157.

Station XIV: The Body of Jesus is Placed in the Tomb

Romans 6:3-5, 8, 10-11

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
Tissot, Jacques, 1836-1902. Jesus Carried to the Tomb.

Psalm 16:8-11

I keep the Lord always before me;
    with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices;
    my body also dwells secure,
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    nor let your devout one see the pit.
You will show me the path to life,
    abounding joy in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever.

John 12:24-26

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Station XIII: The Body of Jesus is Removed from the Cross

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Thus says the Lord God: Look! I am going to open your graves; I will make you come up out of your graves, my people, and bring you back to the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. I have spoken; I will do it—says the Lord.

Tissot, Jacques, 1836-1902. The Descent from the Cross.
Psalm 22:24-27

“You who fear the Lord, give praise!
    All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
    show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained
    the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
    but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;
    my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor will eat their fill;
    those who seek the Lord will offer praise.
    May your hearts enjoy life forever!”

Matthew 16:25

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Station XII: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Zechariah 12:10

 I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through, they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.

Psalm 142:2-8

With my own voice I cry to the Lord;
Tissot, Jacques, 1836-1902. The Death of Jesus.
    with my own voice I beseech the Lord.
Before him I pour out my complaint,
    tell of my distress in front of him.
When my spirit is faint within me,
    you know my path.
As I go along this path,
    they have hidden a trap for me.
I look to my right hand to see
    that there is no one willing to acknowledge me.
My escape has perished;
    no one cares for me.
I cry out to you, Lord,
    I say, You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.
Listen to my cry for help,
    for I am brought very low.
Rescue me from my pursuers,
    for they are too strong for me.
Lead my soul from prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name.
Then the righteous shall gather around me
    because you have been good to me.

John 15:12-17

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Station XI: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Lamentations 1:12

Come, all who pass by the way,
    pay attention and see:
Is there any pain like my pain,
    which has been ruthlessly inflicted upon me,
With which the Lord has tormented me
    on the day of his blazing wrath?

Psalm 22:2, 8-9, 12

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why so far from my call for help,
    from my cries of anguish?
All who see me mock me;
    they curl their lips and jeer;
    they shake their heads at me:
“He relied on the Lord—let him deliver him;
    if he loves him, let him rescue him.”
Do not stay far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is no one to help.

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Tissot, Jacques, 1836-1902. The First Nail.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Station X: Jesus is Stripped of His Clothing

Isaiah 53:7-8
Tissot, Jacques, 1836-1902. Jesus Stripped of his Clothing.

Let the wicked forsake their way,
    and sinners their thoughts;
Let them turn to the Lord to find mercy;
    to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways—says Lord.

Psalm 22:17-22

Dogs surround me;
    a pack of evildoers closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and my feet
    I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;
    they divide my garments among them;
    for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, Lord, do not stay far off;
    my strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my life from the grip of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
    my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.

Matthew 20:25-28

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom
for many.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Station IX: Jesus Falls a Third Time

Isaiah 52:13-15

See, my servant shall prosper,
    he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him—
    so marred were his features,
    beyond that of mortals
    his appearance, beyond that of human beings—
So shall he startle many nations,
    kings shall stand speechless;
For those who have not been told shall see,
    those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Psalm 71:14-16, 19-22

I will always hope in you
    and add to all your praise.
My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds,
    day after day your acts of deliverance,
    though I cannot number them all.
I will speak of the mighty works of the Lord;
    O God, I will tell of your singular justice.
do not forsake me, God,
That I may proclaim your might
    to all generations yet to come,
Your power and justice, God,
    [are] to the highest heaven.
You have done great things;
    O God, who is your equal?
Whatever bitter afflictions you sent me,
    you would turn and revive me.
From the watery depths of the earth
    once more raise me up.
Restore my honor;
    turn and comfort me,
That I may praise you with the lyre
    for your faithfulness, my God,
And sing to you with the harp,
    O Holy One of Israel!

John 10:14-15, 18

"I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”