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Peri Pascha: Easter Sunday Sermon

We hope you have enjoyed our sermon series for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. For our culminating sermon on Easter Sunday, we will be reading from a sermon by Melito of Sardis known as Peri Pascha, a meditation on the Easter feast and its connection to the Passover tradition. Melito, a contemporary of Irenaeus and Clement, was a highly respected bishop of Sardis, but few of his writings have survived. Peri Pascha was not discovered and translated until 1940, so we will not otherwise encounter it in the ANF series. Those who wish to read the full sermon may find the version by Northwest Theological Seminary the most accessible.

anastasis

Icon of the Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell)–Christ’s triumph over death and hell; mosaic from the Hosios Loukas, a monastery in Phocis, Greece.

 First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained as to how the sheep was sacrificed and the people were saved. Therefore, understand this, O beloved: The mystery of the passover is new and old, eternal and temporal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal in this fashion: It is old insofar as it concerns the law, but new insofar as it concerns the gospel; temporal insofar as it concerns the type, eternal because of grace; corruptible because of the sacrifice of the sheep, incorruptible because of the life of the Lord; mortal because of his burial in the earth, immortal because of his resurrection from the dead. The law is old, but the gospel is new; the type was for a time, but grace is forever. The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible, who was crushed as a lamb, but who was resurrected as God.

For although he was led to sacrifice as a sheep, yet he was not a sheep; and although he was as a lamb without voice, yet indeed he was not a lamb. The one was the model; the other was found to be the finished product. For God replaced the lamb, and a man the sheep; but in the man was Christ, who contains all things. Hence, the sacrifice of the sheep, and the sending of the lamb to slaughter, and the writing of the law–each led to and issued in Christ, for whose sake everything happened in the ancient law, and even more so in the new gospel. For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God. For the one who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a lamb, and sacrificed as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose up from the dead as God, since he is by nature both God and man.

He is everything: in that he judges he is law, in that he teaches he is gospel, in that he saves he is grace, in that he begets he is Father, in that he is begotten he is Son, in that he suffers he is sheep, in that he is buried he is man, in that he comes to life again he is God. Such is Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.

. . .

What was this extraordinary mystery? It was Egypt struck to destruction but Israel kept for salvation. Listen to the meaning of this mystery: Beloved, no speech or event takes place without a pattern or design; every event and speech involves a pattern–that which is spoken, a pattern, and that which happens, a prefiguration–in order that as the event is disclosed through the prefiguration, so also the speech may be brought to expression through its outline.

Without the model, no work of art arises. Is not that which is to come into existence seen through the model which typifies it? For this reason a pattern of that which is to be is made either out of wax, or out of clay, or out of wood, in order that by the smallness of the model, destined to be destroyed, might be seen that thing which is to arise from it–higher than it in size, and mightier than it in power, and more beautiful than it in appearance, and more elaborate than it in ornamentation.

So whenever the thing arises for which the model was made, then that which carried the image of that future thing is destroyed as no longer of use, since it has transmitted its resemblance to that which is by nature true. Therefore, that which once was valuable, is now without value because that which is truly valuable has appeared. For each thing has its own time: there is a distinct time for the type, there is a distinct time for the material, and there is a distinct time for the truth. You construct the model. You want this, because you see in it the image of the future work. You procure the material for the model. You want this, on account of that which is going to arise because of it. You complete the work and cherish it alone, for only in it do you see both type and the truth.

Therefore, if it was like this with models of perishable objects, so indeed will it also be with those of imperishable objects. If it was like this with earthly things, so indeed also will it be with heavenly things. For even the Lord’s salvation and his truth were prefigured in the people, and the teaching of the gospel was proclaimed in advance by the law. The people, therefore, became the model for the church, and the law a parabolic sketch. But the gospel became the explanation of the law and its fulfillment, while the church became the storehouse of truth.

Therefore, the type had value prior to its realization, and the parable was wonderful prior to its interpretation. This is to say that the people had value before the church came on the scene, and the law was wonderful before the gospel was brought to light. But when the church came on the scene, and the gospel was set forth, the type lost its value by surrendering its significance to the truth, and the law was fulfilled by surrendering its significance to the gospel. Just as the type lost its significance by surrendering its image to that which is true by nature, and as the parable lost its significance by being illumined through the interpretation, so indeed also the law was fulfilled when the gospel was brought to light, and the people lost their significance when the church came on the scene, and the type was destroyed when the Lord appeared. Therefore, those things which once had value are today without value, because the things which have true value have appeared.

For at one time the sacrifice to the sheep was valuable, but now it is without value because of the life of the Lord. The death of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the salvation of the Lord. The blood of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Spirit of the Lord. The silent lamb once was valuable, but now it has no value because of the blameless Son. The temple here below once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Christ from above. The Jerusalem here below once had value, but now it is without value because of the Jerusalem from above. The meager inheritance once had value; now it is without value because of the abundant grace. For not in one place alone, nor yet in narrow confines, has the glory of God been established, but his grace has been poured out upon the uttermost parts of the inhabited world, and there the almighty God has taken up his dwelling place through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.

Now that you have heard the explanation of the type and of that which corresponds to it, hear also what goes into making up the mystery. What is the passover? Indeed its name is derived from that event–”to celebrate the passover” (to paschein) is derived from “to suffer” (tou pathein). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who he is who suffers along with the sufferer. Why indeed was the Lord present upon the earth? In order that having clothed himself with the one who suffers, he might lift him up to the heights of heaven.

. . .

Indeed, the Lord prearranged his own sufferings in the patriarchs, and in the prophets, and in the whole people of God, giving his sanction to them through the law and the prophets. For that which was to exist in a new and grandiose fashion was pre-planned long in advance, in order that when it should come into existence one might attain to faith, just because it had been predicted long in advance. So indeed also the suffering of the Lord, predicted long in advance by means of types, but seen today, has brought about faith, just because it has taken place as predicted. And yet men have taken it as something completely new. Well, the truth of the matter is the mystery of the Lord is both old and new–old insofar as it involved the type, but new insofar as it concerns grace. And what is more, if you pay close attention to this type you will see the real thing through its fulfillment.

Accordingly, if you desire to see the mystery of the Lord, pay close attention to Abel who likewise was put to death, to Isaac who likewise was bound hand and foot, to Joseph who likewise was sold, to Moses who likewise was exposed, to David who likewise was hunted down, to the prophets who likewise suffered because they were the Lord’s anointed. Pay close attention also to the one who was sacrificed as a sheep in the land of Egypt, to the one who smote Egypt and who saved Israel by his blood. For it was through the voice of prophecy that the mystery of the Lord was proclaimed. Moses, indeed, said to his people: Surely you will see your life suspended before your eyes night and day, but you surely will not believe on your Life. And David said: Why were the nations haughty and the people concerned about nothing? The kings of the earth presented themselves and the princes assembled themselves together against the Lord and against his anointed. And Jeremiah: I am as an innocent lamb being led away to be sacrificed. They plotted evil against me and said: Come! let us throw him a tree for his food, and let us exterminate him from the land of the living, so that his name will never be recalled. And Isaiah: He was led as a sheep to slaughter, and, as a lamb is silent in the presence of the one who shears it, he did not open his mouth. Therefore who will tell his offspring? And indeed there were many other things proclaimed by numerous prophets concerning the mystery of the passover, which is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.

When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.

This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.

. . .

But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.

This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age. This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

Holy Saturday Sermon on the Symbol of Faith

After our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday sermons, we continue with a sermon for this Holy Saturday. It was an ancient practice of the church to require people who wished to become Christians to undergo a period of instruction, called a catechumenate, before they were baptized. These catechumens were separate, symbolically and perhaps physically, from the body of believers who had been baptized, called the faithful. The culmination of instruction for catechumens was instruction in the creed (or symbol) and Lord’s Prayer, after which they would be baptized the night before Easter, baptism being the symbol of the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. Thus our reading today is Augustine’s sermon to catechumens teaching them the creed.

Baptism of Augustine

Baptism of Augustine. Note on the wall the words Te deum laudaumus, the opeing words of the creedal hymn supposedly composed for Augustine’s baptism.

A Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed

1. Receive, my children, the Rule of Faith, which is called the Symbol (or Creed ). And when you have received it, write it in your heart, and be daily saying it to yourselves; before ye sleep, before ye go forth, arm you with your Creed. TheCreed no man writes so as it may be able to be read: but for rehearsal of it, lest haply forgetfulness obliterate what care has delivered, let your memory be your record-roll: what you are about to hear, that are you to believe; and what you shall have believed, that are about to give back with your tongue. For the Apostle says,With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For this is the Creed which you are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which you have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slowpersons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes. For have ye now merely heard that God is Almighty? But ye begin to have him for your father, when you have been born by the church as yourMother.

2. Of this, then, you have now received, have meditated, and having meditatedhave held, that you should say, I believe in God the Father Almighty. God isAlmighty, and yet, though Almighty, He cannot die, cannot be deceived, cannot lie; and, as the Apostle says, cannot deny Himself. How many things that He cannot do, and yet is Almighty! Yea therefore is Almighty, because He cannot do these things. For if He could die, He were not Almighty; if to lie, if to be deceived, if to dounjustly, were possible for Him, He were not Almighty: because if this were in Him, He should not be worthy to be Almighty. To our Almighty Father, it is quite impossible to sin. He does whatsoever He will: that is Omnipotence. He does whatsoever He rightly will, whatsoever He justly will: but whatsoever is evil to do, He wills not. There is no resisting one who is Almighty, that He should not do what He will. It was He Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, invisible and visible. Invisible such as are in heaven, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels, angels: all, if we shall live aright, our fellow citizens. He made in heaven the things visible; the sun, the moon, the stars. With its terrestrial animals He adorned the earth, filled the air with things that fly, the land with them that walk and creep, the sea with them that swim: all He filled with their own proper creatures. He made also man after His own image and likeness, in the mind: for in that is the image of God. This is the reason why the mind cannot be comprehended even by itself, because in it is the image of God. To this end were we made, that over the other creatures we should bear rule: but through sin in the first man we fell, and are all come into an inheritance of death. We were brought low, became mortal, were filled with fears, with errors: this by desert of sin: with which desert and guilt is every man born. This is the reason why, as you have seen today, as you know, even little children undergo exsufflation, exorcism; to drive away from them the power of the devil their enemy, which deceived man that it might possess mankind. It is not then the creature of God that in infants undergoesexorcism or exsufflation: but he under whom are all that are born with sin; for he is the first of sinners. And for this cause by reason of one who fell and brought all into death, there was sent One without sin, Who should bring unto life, by delivering them from sin, all that believe in Him.

3. For this reason we believe also in His Son, that is to say, God the FatherAlmighty’s, His Only Son, our Lord. When you hear of the Only Son of God, acknowledge Him God. For it could not be that God’s Only Son should not be God. What He is, the same did He beget, though He is not that Person Whom He begot. If He be truly Son, He is that which the Father is; if He be not that which the Father is, He is not truly Son. Observe mortal and earthly creatures: what each is, that it engenders. Man besets not an ox, sheep besets not dog, nor dog sheep. Whatever it be that begets, that which it is, it begets. Hold ye therefore boldly, firmly, faithfully, that the Begotten of God the Father is what Himself is, Almighty. These mortal creatures engender by corruption. Does God so beget? He that is begotten mortal generates that which himself is; the Immortal generates what He is: corruptible begets corruptible, Incorruptible begets Incorruptible: the corruptible begets corruptibly, Incorruptible, Incorruptibly: yea, so begets what Itself is, that One begets One, and therefore Only. You know, that when I pronounced to you theCreed, so I said, and so you are bounden to believe; that we believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son. Here too, when you believe that He is the Only, believe Him Almighty: for it is not to be thought that God the Father does what He will, and God the Son does not what He will. One Will of Father and Son, because one Nature. For it is impossible for the will of the Son to be any whit parted from the Father’s will. God and God; both one God: Almighty and Almighty; both One Almighty.

4. We do not bring in two Gods as some do, who say, God the Father and God theSon, but greater God the Father and lesser God the Son. They both are what? Two Gods? You blush to speak it, blush to believe it. Lord God the Father, you say, andLord God the Son: and the Son Himself says, No man can serve two Lords. In Hisfamily shall we be in such wise, that, like as in a great house where there is the father of a family and he has a son, so we should say, the greater Lord, the lesserLord? Shrink from such a thought. If you make to yourselves such like in your heart, you set up idols in the one soul. Utterly repel it. First believe, then understand. Now to whom God gives that when he has believed he soon understands; that is God’s gift, not human frailness. Still, if you do not yet understand, believe: One God the Father, God Christ the Son of God. Both are what? One God. And how are both said to be One God? How? Do you marvel? In the Acts of the Apostles, There was, it says, in the believers, one soul and one heart. There were many souls, faith had made them one. So many thousands ofsouls were there; they loved each other, and many are one: they loved God in the fire of charity, and from being many they have come to the oneness of beauty. If all those many souls the dearness of love made one soul, what must be the dearnessof love in God, where is no diversity, but entire equality! If on earth and amongmen there could be so great charity as of so many souls to make one soul, where Father from Son, Son from Father, has been ever inseparable, could They both be other than One God? Only, those souls might be called both many souls and onesoul; but God, in Whom is ineffable and highest conjunction, may be called OneGod, not two Gods.

5. The Father does what He will, and what He will does the Son. Do not imagine anAlmighty Father and a not Almighty Son: it is error, blot it out within you, let it not cleave in your memory, let it not be drunk into your faith, and if haply any of you shall have drunk it in, let him vomit it up. Almighty is the Father, Almighty the Son. If Almighty begot not Almighty, He begot not very Son. For what say we, brethren, if the Father being greater begot a Son less than He? What said I, begot? Man engenders, being greater, a son being less: it is true: but that is because the one grows old, the other grows up, and by very growing attains to the form of his father. The Son of God, if He grows not because neither can God wax old, was begotten perfect. And being begotten perfect, if He grows not, and remained not less, He is equal. For that you may know Almighty begotten of Almighty, hear Him Who is Truth. That which of Itself Truth says, is true. What says Truth? What says the Son, Who is Truth? Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son likewise does. The Son is Almighty, in doing all things that He wills to do. For if the Father does some things which the Son does not, the Son said falsely, Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son does likewise. But because the Son spoke truly, believe it: Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son does likewise, and you have believed in the Son that He is Almighty. Which word although ye said not in the Creed, yet this is it that you expressed when youbelieved in the Only Son, Himself God. Hath the Father anything that the Son has not? This Arian heretic blasphemers say, not I. But what say I? If the Father has anything that the Son has not, the Son lies in saying, All things that the Father has, are Mine. Many and innumerable are the testimonies by which it is provedthat the Son is Very Son of God the Father, and the Father God has His Very-begotten Son God, and Father and Son is One God.

6. But this Only Son of God, the Father Almighty, let us see what He did for us, what He suffered for us. Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. He, so great God, equal with the Father, born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, born lowly, that thereby He might heal the proud. Man exalted himself and fell; Godhumbled Himself and raised him up. Christ’s lowliness, what is it? God has stretched out an hand to man laid low. We fell, He descended: we lay low, He stooped. Let uslay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then His stooping to us is this, Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. His very Nativity too as man, it is lowly, and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man He was born of men. Whence lofty? That He was born of a virgin. A virgin conceived, a virgin bore, and after the birth was a virgin still.

7. What next? Suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was in office as governor and was the judge, this same Pontius Pilate, what time as Christ suffered. In the name of thejudge there is a mark of the times, when He suffered under Pontius Pilate: when He suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried. Who? What? For whom? Who? God’sOnly Son, our Lord. What? Crucified, dead, and buried. For whom? For ungodly and sinners. Great condescension, great grace! What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He has bestowed on me?

8. He was begotten before all times, before all worlds. Begotten before. Before what, He in Whom is no before? Do not in the least imagine any time before thatNativity of Christ whereby He was begotten of the Father; of that Nativity I am speaking by which He is Son of God Almighty, His Only Son our Lord; of that am I first speaking. Do not imagine in this Nativity a beginning of time; do not imagineany space of eternity in which the Father was and the Son was not. Since when the Father was, since then the Son. And what is that since, where is no beginning? Therefore ever Father without beginning, ever Son without beginning. And how, you will say, was He begotten, if He have no beginning? Of eternal, coeternal. At notime was the Father, and the Son not, and yet Son of Father was begotten. Whence is any manner of similitude to be had? We are among things of earth, we are in the visible creature. Let the earth give me a similitude: it gives none. Let the element of the waters give me some similitude: it has not whereof to give. Some animal give me a similitude: neither can this do it. An animal indeed engenders, both what engenders and what is engendered: but first is the father, and then is born the son. Let us find the coeval and imagine it coeternal. If we shall be able to find a father coeval with his son, and son coeval with his father, let us believe God the Father coeval with His Son, and God the Son coeternal with His Father. On earth we can find some coeval, we cannot find any coeternal. Let us stretch the coeval andimagine it coeternal. Some one, it may be, will put you on the stretch, by saying,When is it possible for a father to be found coeval with his son, or son coeval with his father? That the father may beget he goes before in age; that the son may be begotten, he comes after in age: but this father coeval with son, or son with father, how can it be? Imagine to yourselves fire as father, its shining as son; see, we have found the coevals. From the instant that the fire begins to be, that instant it begets the shining: neither fire before shining, nor shining after fire. And if we ask, which begets which? The fire the shining, or the shining the fire? Immediately ye conceive by natural sense, by the innate wit of your minds ye all cry out, The fire the shining, not the shining the fire. Lo, here you have a father beginning; lo, a son at the same time, neither going before nor coming after. Lo, here then is a father beginning, lo, a son at the same time beginning. If I have shown you a father beginning, and a son at the same time beginning, believe the Father not beginning, and with Him the Son not beginning either; the one eternal, the other coeternal. If you get on with your learning, you understand: take pains to get on. The being born, you have; but also the growing, you ought to have; because no man begins with being perfect. As for the Son of God, indeed, He could be born perfect, because He was begotten without time, coeternal with the Father, long before all things, not in age, but in eternity. He then was begotten coeternal, of which generation theProphet said, His generation who shall declare? begotten of the Father withouttime, He was born of the Virgin in the fullness of times. This nativity had times going before it. In opportunity of time, when He would, when He knew, then was He born: for He was not born without His will. None of us is born because he will, and none of us dies when he will: He, when He would, was born; when He would, He died: how He would, He was born of a Virgin: how He would, He died; on the cross. Whatever He would, He did: because He was in such wise Man that, unseen, He was God; Godassuming, Man assumed; One Christ, God and Man.

9. Of His cross what shall I speak, what say? This extremest kind of death He chose, that not any kind of death might make His Martyrs afraid. The doctrine He showed in His life as Man, the example of patience He demonstrated in His Cross. There, you have the work, that He was crucified; example of the work, the Cross; reward of the work, Resurrection. He showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope. Just like a consummate task-master in the matches of the arena, He said, Do, and bear; do the work and receive the prize; strive in the match and you shall be crowned. What is the work?Obedience. What the prize? Resurrection without death. Why did I add, without death? Because Lazarus rose, and died: Christ rose again, dies no more, death willno longer have dominion over Him.

10. Scripture says, You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. When we read what great trials Job endured, it makes one shudder, it makes one shrink, it makes one quake. And what did he receive? The double of what he had lost. Let not a man therefore with an eye to temporal rewards be willing to have patience, and say to himself, Let me endure loss, God will give me back sons twice as many; Job received double of all, and begot as many sons as he had buried. Then is this not the double? Yes, precisely the double, because the former sons still lived. Let none say, Let me bear evils, and God will repay me as He repaid Job: that it be now no longer patience but avarice. For if it was not patience which that Saint had, nor a brave enduring of all that came upon him; the testimony which the Lord gave, whence should he have it? Have you observed,says the Lord, my servant Job? For there is not like him any on the earth, a man without fault, true worshipper of God. What a testimony, my brethren, did this holyman deserve of the Lord! And yet him a bad woman sought by her persuasion to deceive, she too representing that serpent, who, like as in Paradise he deceived the man whom God first made, so likewise here by suggesting blasphemy thought to be able to deceive a man who pleased God. What things he suffered, my brethren! Who can have so much to suffer in his estate, his house, his sons, his flesh, yea in his very wife who was left to be his tempter! But even her who was left, the devilwould have taken away long ago, but that he kept her to be his helper: because byEve he had mastered the first man, therefore had he kept an Eve. What things, then, he suffered! He lost all that he had; his house fell; would that were all! It crushed his sons also. And, to see that patience had great place in him, hear what he answered; The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so has it been done; blessed be the name of the Lord. He has taken what He gave, is He lost Who gave? He has taken what He gave. As if he should say, He has taken away all, let Him take all, send me away naked, and let me keep Him. What shall I lack if I have God? Or what is the good of all else to me, if I have not God? Then it came to his flesh, he was stricken with a wound from head to foot; he was one running sore, one mass of crawling worms: and showed himself immovable in hisGod, stood fixed. The woman wanted, devil’s helper as she was not husband’scomforter, to put him up to blaspheme God. How long, said she, do you suffer so and so; speak some word against the Lord, and die. So then, because he had been brought low, he was to be exalted. And this the Lord did, in order to show it tomen; as for His servant, He kept greater things for him in heaven. So then Job who was brought low, He exalted; the devil who was lifted up, He brought low: for He puts down one and sets up another. But let not any man, my beloved brethren, when he suffers any such-like tribulations, look for a reward here: for instance, if he suffer any losses, let him not perhaps say, The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord; only with the mind to receive twice as much again. Let patience praise God, not avarice. If what you have lost you seek to receive back twofold, and therefore praisest God, it is of covetousness you praise, not of love. Do not imagine this to be the example of that holy man; you deceive yourself. When Job was enduring all, he was nothoping for to have twice as much again. Both in his first confession when he bore up under his losses, and bore out to the grave the dead bodies of his sons, and in the second when he was now suffering torments of sores in his flesh, you may observe what I am saying. Of his former confession the words run thus: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: as it pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord. He might have said, The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; He that took away can once more give; can bring back more than He took. He said not this, but, As it pleased the Lord, said he, so is it done: because it pleases Him, let it please me: let not that which has pleased the good Lord misplease His submissive servant; what pleased the Physician, not misplease the sick man. Hear his other confession: You have spoken, said he to his wife, like one of the foolishwomen. If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, why shall we not bearevil? He did not add, what, if he had said it, would have been true. The Lord is able both to bring back my flesh into its former condition, and that which He has taken away from us, to make manifold more: lest he should seem to have endured in hope of this. This was not what he said, not what he hoped. But, that we might be taught, did the Lord that for him, not hoping for it, by which we should be taught, that God was with him: because if He had not also restored to him those things, there was the crown indeed, but hidden, and we could not see it. And therefore what says the divine Scripture in exhorting to patience and hope of things future, not reward of things present? You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. Why is it, the patience of Job, and not, You have seen the end of Job himself? You would open your mouth for the twice as much;would say, Thanks be to God; let me bear up: I receive twice as much again, likeJob. Patience of Job, end of the Lord. The patience of Job we know, and the end of the Lord we know. What end of the Lord? My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? They are the words of the Lord hanging on the cross. He did as it were leave Him for present felicity, not leave Him for eternal immortality. In this isthe end of the Lord. The Jews hold Him, the Jews insult, the Jews bind Him, crown Him with thorns, dishonor Him with spitting, scourge Him, overwhelm Him with revilings, hang Him upon the tree, pierce Him with a spear, last of all bury Him. He was as it were left: but by whom? By those insulting ones. Therefore you shall but to this end have patience, that you may rise again and not die, that is, never die, even as Christ. For so we read, Christ rising from the dead henceforth dies not.

11. He ascended into heaven: believe. He sits at the right hand of the Father:believe. By sitting, understand dwelling: as [in Latin] we say of any person, In that country he dwelt (sedit) three years. The Scripture also has that expression, that such an one dwelt (sedisse) in a city for such a time. Not meaning that he sat and never rose up? On this account the dwellings of men are called seats (sedes).Where people are seated (in this sense), are they always sitting? Is there no rising, no walking, no lying down? And yet they are called seats (sedes). In this way, then,believe an inhabiting of Christ on the right hand of God the Father: He is there. And let not your heart say to you, What is He doing? Do not want to seek what is not permitted to find: He is there; it suffices you. He is blessed, and from blessednesswhich is called the right hand of the Father, of very blessedness the name is, right hand of the Father. For if we shall take it carnally, then because He sits on the right hand of the Father, the Father will be on His left hand. Is it consistent with piety so to put Them together, the Son on the right, the Father on the left? There it is allright-hand, because no misery is there.

12. Thence He shall come to judge the quick and dead. The quick, who shall be alive and remain; the dead, who shall have gone before. It may also be understood thus: The living, the just; the dead, the unjust. For He judges both, rendering unto each his own. To the just He will say in the judgment, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For this prepare yourselves, for these things hope, for this live, and so live, for thisbelieve, for this be baptized, that it may be said to you, Come ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. To them on the left hand, what? Go into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and hisangels. Thus will they be judged by Christ, the quick and the dead. We have spoken of Christ’s first nativity, which is without time; spoken of the other in the fullness of time, Christ’s nativity of the Virgin; spoken of the passion of Christ; spoken of the coming of Christ to judgment. The whole is spoken, that was to be spoken of Christ, God’s Only Son, our Lord. But not yet is the Trinity perfect.

13. It follows in the Creed, And in the Holy Ghost. This Trinity, one God, onenature, one substance, one power; highest equality, no division, no diversity, perpetual dearness of love. Would ye know the Holy Ghost, that He is God? Bebaptized, and you will be His temple. The Apostle says, Do you not know that your bodies are the temple within you of the Holy Ghost, Whom you have of God? Atemple is for God: thus also Solomon, king and prophet, was bidden to build atemple for God. If he had built a temple for the sun or moon or some star or someangel, would not God condemn him? Because therefore he built a temple for God he showed that he worshipped God. And of what did he build? Of wood and stone, because God deigned to make unto Himself by His servant an house on earth, where He might be asked, where He might be had in mind. Of which blessedStephen says, Solomon built Him a house; howbeit the Most High dwells not intemples made by hand. If then our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, what manner of God is it that built a temple for the Holy Ghost? But it was God. For if our bodies be a temple of the Holy Ghost, the same built this temple for the Holy Ghost, that built our bodies. Listen to the Apostle saying, God has tempered the body, giving unto that which lacked the greater honor; when he was speaking of the different members that there should be no schisms in the body. God created our body. The grass, God created; our body Who created? How do we prove that the grass is God’s creating? He that clothes, the same creates. Read the Gospel, If then the grass of the fields, says it, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God so clothes. He, then, creates Who clothes. And the Apostle: You fool, that which you sow is not quickened except it die; and that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but a bare grain, as perchance of wheat, or of some other grain; but God gives it a body as He would, and to each one of seeds its proper body. If then it be God that builds our bodies, God that builds our members, and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, doubt not that the Holy Ghost isGod. And do not add as it were a third God; because Father and Son and Holy Ghost is One God. So believe ye.

14. It follows after commendation of the Trinity, The Holy Church. God is pointed out, and His temple. For the temple of God is holy, says the Apostle, which (temple) are you. This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they went all out of it, like as unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. The gates ofhell shall not prevail against it.

15. Forgiveness of sins. You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism. Let none say, I have done this or that sin: perchance that is not forgiven me. What have you done? How great a sin have you done? Name any heinous thing you have committed, heavy, horrible, which you shudder even to think of: have done what you will: have you killed Christ? There is not than thatdeed any worse, because also than Christ there is nothing better. What a dreadful thing is it to kill Christ! Yet the Jews killed Him, and many afterwards believed on Him and drank His blood: they are forgiven the sin which they committed. When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.

16. In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? When they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits. For how can they say, Our Father, who are not yet born sons? The Catechumens, so long as they be such, have upon them all their sins. If Catechumens, how much more Pagans? How much more heretics? But to heretics we do not change their baptism. Why? Because they have baptism in the same way as a deserter has the soldier’s mark: just so these also have Baptism; they have it, but to be condemned thereby, not crowned. And yet if the deserter himself, being amended, begin to do duty as a soldier, does any man dare to change his mark?

17. We believe also the resurrection of the flesh, which went before in Christ: that the body too may have hope of that which went before in its Head. The Head of theChurch, Christ: the Church, the body of Christ. Our Head is risen, ascended intoheaven: where the Head, there also the members. In what way the resurrection of the flesh? Lest any should chance to think it like as Lazarus’s resurrection, that you may know it to be not so, it is added, Into life everlasting. God regenerate you! God preserve and keep you! God bring you safe unto Himself, Who is the Life Everlasting. Amen.

 

“Passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus”: Good Friday Sermon

Since we are in Holy Week, we at Read the Fathers wish to bring you a series of sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Today is Good Friday, when we remember that our Lord “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” Our sermon today is from Leo the Great, the fifth century pope and bishop of Rome whose Tome was was foundational to the work of the Council of Chalcedon in defining the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. Leo preached a number of sermons during Passion Week, many of which take up the theme of Christ’s two natures revealed in his sufferings on the cross. Especially worth reading are sermons 54, 59, and 67. Today’s sermon 68 is the last in the collection.

Icon of the crucifixion

Icon of the crucifixion from Mount Sinai, 13th century. Notice that Christ’s cross stands over a skull, both because the Gospels name the place as Golgatha, the place of the skull, and because some early Christians believed that Christ was crucified at the place where Adam was buried, a connection that fits with Paul’s theology of Christ as the second Adam.

Sermon LXVIII. (On the Passion, XVII.: delivered on the Wednesday.)

I. Christ’s Godhead never forsook Him in His Passion.

The last discourse, dearly-beloved, of which we desire now to give the promised portion, had reached that point in the argument where we were speaking of that cry which the crucified Lord uttered to the Father: we bade the simple and unthinking hearer not take the words “My God, [my God, why hast thou forsaken me?],” in a sense as if, when Jesus was fixed upon the wood of the cross, the Omnipotence of the Father’s Deity had gone away from Him; seeing that God’s and Man’s Nature were so completely joined in Him that the union could not be destroyed by punishment nor by death. For while each substance retained its own properties, God neither held aloof from the suffering of His body nor was made passible by the flesh, because the Godhead which was in the Sufferer did not actually suffer. And hence, in accordance with the Nature of the Word made Man, He Who was made in the midst of all is the same as He through Whom all things were made. He Who is arrested by the hands of wicked men is the same as He Who is bound by no limits. He Who is pierced with nails is the same as He Whom no wound can affect. Finally, He Who underwent death is the same as He Who never ceased to be eternal, so that both facts are established by indubitable signs, namely, the truth of the humiliation in Christ and the truth of the majesty; because Divine power joined itself to human frailty to this end, that God, while making what was ours His, might at the same time make what was His ours. The Son, therefore, was not separated from the Father, nor the Father from the Son; and the unchangeable Godhead and the inseparable Trinity did not admit of any division. For although the task of undergoing Incarnation belonged peculiarly to the Only-begotten Son of God, yet the Father was not separated from the Son any more than the flesh was separated from the Word.

II. Christ’s death was voluntary on His part, and yet in saving others He could not save Himself.

Jesus, therefore, cried with a loud voice, saying, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” in order to notify to all how it behoved Him not to be rescued, not to be defended, but to be given up into the hands of cruel men, that is to become the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of all men, not by misery but by mercy; and not by the failure of succour but by the determination to die. But what must we feel to be the intercessory power of His life Who died and rose again by His own inherent power. For the blessed Apostle says the Father “spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all;” and again, he says, “For Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify it.” And hence the giving up of the Lord to His Passion was as much of the Father’s as of His own will, so that not only did the Father “forsake” Him, but He also abandoned Himself in a certain sense, not in hasty flight, but in voluntary withdrawal. For the might of the Crucified restrained itself from those wicked men, and in order to avail Himself of a secret design, He refused to avail Himself of His open power. For how would He who had come to destroy death and the author of death by His Passion have saved sinners, if he had resisted His persecutors? This, then, had been the Jews’ belief, that Jesus had been forsaken by God, against Whom they had been able to commit such unholy cruelty; for not understanding the mystery of His wondrous endurance, they said in blasphemous mockery: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” Not at your blind will, O foolish scribes and wicked priests, was the Saviour’s power to be displayed, nor in obedience to blasphemers’ evil tongues was the Redemption of mankind to be delayed; for if you had wished to recognize the Godhead of the Son of God, you would have observed His numberless works, and they must have confirmed you in that faith, which you so deceitfully promise. But if, as you yourselves acknowledge, it is true that He saved others, why have those many, great miracles, which have been done under the public gaze, done nothing to soften the hardness of your hearts, unless it be because you have always so resisted the Holy Ghost as to turn all God’s benefits towards you into your destruction? For even though Christ should descend from the cross, you would yet remain in your crime.

III. A transition was then being effected from the Old to the New Dispensation.

Therefore the insults of empty exultation were scorned, and the Lord’s mercy in restoring the lost and the fallen was not turned from the path of its purpose by contumely or reviling. For a peerless victim was being offered to God for the world’s salvation, and the slaying of Christ the true Lamb, predicted through so many ages, was transferring the sons of promise into the liberty of the Faith. The New Testament also was being ratified, and in the blood of Christ the heirs of the eternal Kingdom were being enrolled; the High Pontiff was entering the Holy of Holies, and to intercede with God the spotless Priest was passing in through the veil of His flesh. In fine, so evident a transition was being effected from the Law to the Gospel, from the synagogue to the Church, from many sacrifices to the One Victim, that, when the Lord gave up the ghost, that mystic veil which hung before and shut out the inner part of the Temple and its holy recess was by sudden force torn from top to bottom, for the reason that Truth was displacing figures, and forerunners were needless in the presence of Him they announced. To this was added a terrible confusion of all the elements, and nature herself withdrew her support from Christ’s crucifiers. …

IV. Let us profit by fasting and good works at this sacred season of the year.

… [L]et us, dearly-beloved, prostrate our bodies and our souls and worship God’s Grace, which has been poured out upon all nations, beseeching the merciful Father and the rich Redeemer from day to day to give us His aid and enable us to escape all the dangers of this life. For the crafty tempter is present everywhere, and leaves nothing free from his snares. Whom, God’s mercy helping us, which is stretched out to us amid all dangers, we must ever with stedfast faith resist so that, though he never ceases to assail, he may never succeed in carrying the assault. Let all, dearly-beloved, religiously keep and profit by the fast, and let no excesses mar the benefits of such self-restraint as we have proved convenient both for soul and body. For the things which pertain to sobriety and temperance must be the more diligently observed at this season, that a lasting habit may be contracted from a brief zeal; and whether in works of mercy or in strict self-denial, no hours may be left idle by the faithful, seeing that, as years increase and time glides by, we are bound to increase our store of works, and not squander our opportunities. And to devout wills and religious souls God’s Mercy will be granted, that He may enable us to obtain that which He enabled us to desire, Who liveth and reigneth with our Lord Jesus Christ His Son, and with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Mandatum novum do vobis”: Maundy Thursday Sermon

Since we are in Holy Week, we at Read the Fathers wish to bring you a series of sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Today is known as Maundy Thursday, a term probably derived from the Vulgate’s translation of the words of our Lord on this Thursday: “mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem. in hoc cognoscent omnes quia mei discipuli estis si dilectionem habueritis ad invicem”; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). And so our preacher for the day is Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius, with a sermon on that text.

Lorenzo Monaco, The Last Supper, 1394–95

Lorenzo Monaco, The Last Supper, 1394–95

Chapter XIII. 34, 35.

1. The Lord Jesus declares that He is giving His disciples a new commandment, that they should love one another. “A new commandment,” He says, “I give unto you, that ye love one another.” But was not this already commanded in the ancient law of God, where it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”? Why, then, is it called a new one by the Lord, when it is proved to be so old? Is it on this account a new commandment, because He hath divested us of the old, and clothed us with the new man? For it is not indeed every kind of love that renews him that listens to it, or rather yields it obedience, but that love regarding which the Lord, in order to distinguish it from all carnal affection, added, “as I have loved you.” For husbands and wives love one another, and parents and children, and all other human relationships that bind men together: to say nothing of the blame-worthy and damnable love which is mutually felt by adulterers and adulteresses, by fornicators and prostitutes, and all others who are knit together by no human relationship, but by the mischievous depravity of human life. Christ, therefore, hath given us a new commandment, that we should love one another, as He also hath loved us. This is the love that renews us, making us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song. It was this love, brethren beloved, that renewed also those of olden time, who were then the righteous, the patriarchs and prophets, as it did afterwards the blessed apostles: it is it, too, that is now renewing the nations, and from among the universal race of man, which overspreads the whole world, is making and gathering together a new people, the body of the newly-married spouse of the only-begotten Son of God, of whom it is said in the Song of Songs, “Who is she that ascendeth, made white?” Made white indeed, because renewed; and how, but by the new commandment? Because of this, the members thereof have a mutual interest in one another; and if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. For this they hear and observe, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another:” not as those love one another who are corrupters, nor as men love one another in a human way; but they love one another as those who are God’s, and all of them sons of the Highest, and brethren, therefore, of His only Son, with that mutual love wherewith He loved them, when about to lead them on to the goal where all sufficiency should be theirs, and where their every desire should be satisfied with good things. For then there will be nothing wanting they can desire, when God will be all in all. An end like that has no end. No one dieth there, where no one arriveth save he that dieth to this world, not that universal kind of death whereby the body is bereft of the soul; but the death of the elect, through which, even while still remaining in this mortal flesh, the heart is set on the things which are above. Of such a death it is that the apostle said, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And perhaps to this, also, do the words refer, “Love is strong as death.” For by this love it is brought about, that, while still held in the present corruptible body, we die to this world, and our life is hid with Christ in God; yea, that love itself is our death to the world, and our life with God. For if that is death when the soul quits the body, how can it be other than death when our love quits the world? Such love, therefore, is strong as death. And what is stronger than that which bindeth the world?

2. Think not then, my brethren, that when the Lord says, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another,” there is any overlooking of that greater commandment, which requires us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind; for along with this seeming oversight, the words “that ye love one another” appear also as if they had no reference to that second commandment, which says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” For “on these two commandments,” He says, “hang all the law and the prophets.” But both commandments may be found in each of these by those who have good understanding. For, on the one hand, he that loveth God cannot despise His commandment to love his neighbor; and on the other, he who in a holy and spiritual way loveth his neighbor, what doth he love in him but God? That is the love, distinguished from all mundane love, which the Lord specially characterized, when He added, “as I have loved you.” For what was it but God that He loved in us? Not because we had Him, but in order that we might have Him; and that He may lead us on, as I said a little ago, where God is all in all. It is in this way, also, that the physician is properly said to love the sick; and what is it he loves in them but their health, which at all events he desires to recall; not their sickness, which he comes to remove? Let us, then, also so love one another, that, as far as possible, we may by the solicitude of our love be winning one another to have God within us. And this love is bestowed on us by Him who said, “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” For this very end, therefore, did He love us, that we also should love one another; bestowing this on us by His own love to us, that we should be bound to one another in mutual love, and, united together as members by so pleasant a bond, should be the body of so mighty a Head.

3. “By this,” He adds, “Shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another:” as if He said, Other gifts of mine are possessed in common with you by those who are not mine,—not only nature, life, perception, reason, and that safety which is equally the privilege of men and beasts; but also languages, sacraments, prophecy, knowledge, faith, the bestowing of their goods upon the poor, and the giving of their body to the flames: but because destitute of charity, they only tinkle like cymbals; they are nothing, and by nothing are they profited. It is not, then, by such gifts of mine, however good, which may be alike possessed by those who are not my disciples, but “by this it is that all men shall know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another.” O thou spouse of Christ, fair amongst women! O thou who ascendest in whiteness, leaning upon thy Beloved! for by His light thou art made dazzling to whiteness, by His assistance thou art preserved from falling. How well becoming thee are the words in that Song of Songs, which is, as it were, thy bridal chant, “That there is love in thy delights”! This it is that suffers not thy soul to perish with the ungodly; it is this that judges thy cause, and is strong as death, and is present in thy delights. How wonderful is the character of that death, which was all but swallowed up in penal sufferings, had it not been over and above absorbed in delights! But here this discourse must now be closed; for we must make a new commencement in dealing with the words that follow.

Fifteenth century Russian icon of the events of Maundy Thursday

Fifteenth century Russian icon of the events of Maundy Thursday

Translation for Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We hope you have been enjoying Clement’s rather detailed practical guide to Christian living. Perhaps it has helped you to refine your table manners, or perhaps—as some readers have told us—its humorous specificity has caused you to lose your composure at the breakfast table!

In tomorrow’s reading, Clement turns his attention to marriage, gender roles, and sexuality. As our public domain translation was crafted in 1869, at the height of Victorian sensibility, the translator William Wilson left much of Book 2 Chapter 10 of the Instructor (Pedagogus) untranslated. Agreeing with the ANF editors that Wilson may have “been too cautious” in his “sacrifice to a proper verecundia” (sense of modesty), we are supplying an alternative translation (PDF) for our readers who happen to lack proficiency with Latin.

That translation comes from Simon Wood’s Christ the Educator (Fathers of the Church Series, 1954). For convenience’ sake, we are including both chapters 9 and 10 of Wood’s translation of our prescribed reading tomorrow. Readers who up to this point have not used an alternate translation may be surprised to find that what constitutes seven pages in the ANF series fills roughly thirty pages of the alternate edition! We assure you the amount of content is substantially the same, though the text formatting is not. (When we use another alternate edition—for the same reasons—next month for Book 3 of the Stromata, the ratio is closer to eighteen pages.)

We hope you find Clement’s thoughts on sleep, intercourse, and adornment worth pondering.

Clement of Alexandria

Icon of Clement

Icon of Clement

The life and career of Titus Flavius Clement mark the ascendancy of Alexandrian theology. Whereas Clement’s contemporary, the sarcastic Latin lawyer Tertullian (whom we read next) famously asked, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” the Alexandrians answered that pagan philosophy had a vital role to play in bringing the world to Christian faith. For better or worse, Clement had an almost reckless confidence that pagan philosophy was the underpinning of Christian truth, so that Christ fulfilled not only the law of Moses but also the myriad attempts of pagan thought to discern the immutable nature of all things true, good, and beautiful.

Biography

Clement was born to wealthy pagans in Athens sometime in the middle of the second century. Given the breadth of learning displayed in his writings, he was undoubtedly well traveled. We learn from an autobiographical brief in Stromateis 1.2 that his education under a variety of teachers took him from Greece to southern Italy to Egypt, where his career as a student of Christian philosophy seems to have begun upon meeting Pantaenus (c. 180), the master of the catechetical school in Alexandria at that time. (Clement’s intellectual pilgrimage is reminiscent of that of Justin  Martyr). The learned circles of Alexandria at the time melded Hellenistic and Judaic religious sensibility, which is evident in Clement’s thought. Clement became the master of the Alexandrian school around 190. According to tradition, Clement suffered martyrdom during the persecution under Septimius Severus sometime after 203.

Clement was the teacher of Origen (whom we will read later), the third-century Egyptian prodigy who popularized the Alexandrian approach to theology, in particular its exegesis. Clement failed to attain to universal acclaim in later Christendom despite his martyrdom. His pupil Origen  suffered posthumous condemnation at the second council of Constantinople in 553, and the eclecticism of Clement’s theological works led Photius of Constantinople to criticize them sharply in the ninth century. Clement all but disappeared from western calendars by the seventeenth century, having achieved little recognition except among the non-Chalcedonian churches of the east, such as the Coptic church.

Clement thus stands as a threshold figure, representing a passage from the era of the apostolic charism of theological intuition and the vigor of the apologists to an age of intellectual acuity and precise theological definition. In Clement, we finally begin to see Christianity “plunder the Egyptians,” taking pagan philosophy captive and turning it to its own purposes, which culminated in the first three general councils and the formulae of Nicea ratified at Constantinople.

Works

Clement is best known for three principle works: the Protrepticus (“Exhortation to the Greeks”), the Pedagogus (“The Instructor”), and the Stromateis (“Miscellanies”). In addition, “Who is the Rich Man who Shall be Saved?” is a surviving work of Clement’s, written to exhort some of his wealthier Christian students not to despair over their salvation, and to maintain a disposition toward riches in keeping with that taught in the gospel. There are numerous “lost” works by Clement, the one worth mentioning being the Hypotyposes, or “Outlines,” which, according to Photius, was an “impious” work of esoteric speculation about the heavenly hierarchies.

The Exhortation to the Greeks is a polemic against pagan thought. Clement here strives to demonstrate the utter undesirability of pagan religion and theology, and to encourage his Greek audience to abandon the ignorant worship of malignant and misanthropic deities  in favor of the worship of the true God of Christianity. The Instructor is a reflection of somewhat less consequence, which focuses on the practical elements of Christian discipleship. Here we see Clement not as a polemicist but as a tutor, schooling his audience in the basics of  the moral life and Christian piety.

The Miscellanies is a work of tremendous scope and varied interests; it seems to be more a sketchbook of thoughts than a theological treatise with a unified intention. Nevertheless, it is from this work that we encounter Clement’s overall theological perspective.  The work is an attempt to develop a Christian gnosticism. The Miscellanies, therefore, brings Clement more fully into view as a metaphysician and speculative theologian.

Theology

The most noteworthy element of Clement’s theology is his belief that philosophy is as divine a preparation for the gospel as the law and the prophets of the Old Testament (cf. Strom. 1.5, 20). Whereas many of Christendom’s most prolific writers, such as Tertullian and Hippolytus, had been trying to pin heresy on the influence of Greek philosophy among Christians, Clement sees in philosophy the prospect of a “preliminary cleansing” which prepares students to receive the faith. So we see that Clement’s eclecticism did have a conservative purpose: not to sow pagan tares in the midst of Christian wheat, as it were, but rather to till the soil of paganism such till it was capable of finding its fulfillment in Christ. Hence, Clement proposes a version of “gnosticism” that is quite Christian: theology is the culmination of a course of study which ascends the heights of mystical truth by way of the pedagogy of pagan thought.We must note that for Clement, the successful student will outgrow the pedagogue: therefore, Clement’s eclecticism is best understood not as an affirmation of the efficacy of paganism to convey the truth, but rather as an affirmation of the gospel to make better sense of paganism than paganism can make of itself.

Clement of Alexandria, engraving from Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz by Andre Thevet (1584)

Clement of Alexandria, engraving from Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz by Andre Thevet (1584)

In speculating about apokatastasis, or “restoration,” Clement is the first known Christian writer to refer to the fire of hell as a purifying fire, a “wise fire that penetrates the soul” (Strom. 7.6). So it is that the wrath of God is understood by Clement as remedial, even therapeutic: “God does not take vengeance, which is the requital of evil for evil, but he chastises for the benefit of the chastised” (Strom. 7.16). The chastisement of divine wrath is intended as an aid in the divine therapy of man’s deification, the end toward which knowledge (gnosis) is most expedient. For knowledge of God presupposes conformity to God’s very self, and conformity to God is the sum of salvation. According to Clement, it seems that all rational beings, by virtue of their rationality, when they encounter the divine substance in the form of a consuming fire, will invariably somehow be brought to genuine gnosis, to conformity to divine truth, in the end. While the universalist implications of this teaching would be condemned in 553, we will see the idea of apokatastasis recur in the writings of several other eastern church fathers, particularly Gregory of Nyssa.

Finally, Clement may be credited as an early proponent of the fourfold interpretation of Scripture (cf. Strom. 1.27). It is not necessary to develop this point very much, as Origen is the Alexandrian exegete most notable for his allegorical interpretations. Let it suffice to say that Clement’s use of Scripture is influenced by his bent towards metaphysics, yet, as is most common with early Christian allegory, his conservative method results in very little overt mishandling of the biblical texts.

Alternate Editions and Further Reading

There has been a re-publication of the ANF translation in an affordable volume edited by Paul A. Boer. The Loeb Classical Library has published a critical edition, both in Greek and in English, of the “Exhortation to the Greeks,” “The Rich Man’s Salvation,” and a fragment titled “To the Newly Baptized” (trans. G. W. Butterworth). Complete editions of Clement’s three major works might easily be found distributed by smaller publishers individually, but substantial excerpts and helpful commentary can also be found in the Library of Christian Classics volume Alexandrian Christianity (ed. Henry Chadwick) and in Henry Bettenson’s The Early Christian Fathers.

Eric Osborn has published a study of Clement’s synthesis of the apostolic faith and classical philosophy in Clement of Alexandria (Cambridge, 2008), and the series of Oxford Early Christian Studies has published an interesting Orthodox take on Clement’s apophatic mystical theology, Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Apophaticism. Also, for an enjoyable apologia for the Alexandrian allegorical method as well for the eclecticism of Alexandrian fathers such as Clement and Origin, see John Henry Newman’s The Arians of the Fourth Century, a dated yet pertinent work regarding Alexandrian dominance at the creative edge of Christian theology.

 

Feast of Polycarp of Smyrna

Today (February 23) is the Feast of Polycarp of Smyrna in both the Western and the Eastern churches. We read Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the account of his martyrdom in our first week back in December.

How old, you might ask, is the practice commemorating the saints and martyrs who have gone on to their reward? The answer is, at least since the death of Polycarp, either circa 155–56 or circa 166–67. The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom records that the Roman official who ordered Polycarp’s death at first refused to turn over his bodies to the Christians, for fear that they would abandon the worship of Jesus in favor of the worship of Polycarp. The Christians thought his fear patently absurd (ch. 17):

This he said at the suggestion and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples! 1

But though the body of Polycarp was burned by the centurion, the Christians gathered his bones and commemorated the anniversary of his death (ch. 18):

The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.

There you have a very early example of Christians marking their calendars to remember they are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [martyrs].”

Irenaeus and the Development of the Creeds

We’ve been quiet here on the Read the Fathers blog for the last few weeks. If Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and e-mail subscriptions are any indication, though, many of you are still reading, and maybe some new folks have joined us. In the past few weeks, we’ve had a big accomplishment: we finished the long and demanding text Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons. We’ve also finished the first of the volumes in the Ante-Nicene Fathers; only thirty-six more volumes to go! Right now we’re in the midst of a few minor authors: The Shepherd of Hermas (not so minor, actually), Tatian the Assyrian, Theophilus of Antioch, and Athenagoras the Athenian. After that we tackle Clement of Alexandia, for whom we’ll have a proper introductory post. I might be able to work something up about the Shepherd of Hermas (see Scholiast’s post).

I’d be remiss to let Irenaeus pass without so much as a word. We have Scholiast’s introduction to Irenaeus, but I’d like to point out Irenaeus’s contributions to our creeds.

Against Heresies was a tough book to read because so much of it was spent detailing the Gnostic heresies. Nevertheless, Irenaeus is brimful with positive statements of Christian doctrine. The most interesting of these are the creedal statements that Irenaeus makes.

In the first instance, Irenaeus describes the creedal statement as having been “received from the apostles and their disciples” (bk. 1 ch. 10):

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

In the second place where Irenaeus sums up the faith of the church, he again emphasizes that the church is holds the deposit of the faith, “since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life” (bk. 3 ch. 4):

To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom.

In the third and final place where Irenaeus makes a creedal statement, the emphasis is on the creedal statement as being the judge of who belongs to the church and who does not (bk. 4 ch. 33):

He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it,—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church; but he himself shall be judged by no one. For to him all things are consistent: he has a full faith in one God Almighty, of whom are all things; and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things, and in the dispensations connected with Him, by means of which the Son of God became man; and a firm belief in the Spirit of God, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which He dwells with every generation of men, according to the will of the Father.

Philip Schaff, in his work The Creeds of Christendom, has a chart of Irenaeus’s creedal statements arranged into the component doctrines that parallel the Apostles’ Creed. He also has another chart that compares the development of the Apostles’ Creed among many of the fathers.

There are two points to be made from these observations. First, the content of the Apostles’ Creed is of great antiquity, since it appears in a well developed form by c. 170–180 in Irenaeus. Second, these creedal statements were very early treated as the authentic, authoritative statement of the essentials of the Christian faith.

 

Irenaeus’ Homeric Poem

In today’s reading (January 14), Irenaeus likened the ‘Gnostic’ use of Scripture to that of someone who takes Homeric verses and rearranges them to create a new poem on a totally different theme. This passage is strong evidence that Irenaeus was classically-educated — Homer was the backbone of ancient Greek education. Furthermore, in all likelihood, Irenaeus composed this little poem about Heracles himself.

This form of poetic composition is called the cento (not the canto) in Latin (and hence English) and κέντρων in Greek (deriving from the Latin for once). The  Latin term literally means any patchwork piece of clothing, especially a cloak (as I found it in Petronius’ bawdy Satyricon referring to a cloak). It was practised throughout antiquity to produce new poetry out of old. The cento is a demonstration of the erudition of the poet, not necessarily of his or her own originality.

Although Homeric resonances, sometimes not only half- but even full lines, are found throughout Greek poetry from the Archaic period (up to the 5th c. BC) onwards, such resonances are a different sort of composition, being either conscious or unconscious allusion/intertextuality with Homer, not a complete poem composed out of rearranged Homeric material.

The cento does not become popular until the imperial period (31 BC-476/1453) and usually uses epic (which, in Greek, invariably means Homer), such as Palatine Anthology 9.381 and Dio Chrysostom Oration 32. In Latin, the cento uses Vergil (70-19 BC) the most; Vergil was the backbone of imperial Roman education, as Homer was of Greek education. Petronius in the first century produced a Vergilian cento at Satyricon 132.11, and our earliest surviving whole cento is the 461-line Medea attributed to Hosidius Geta in the second century AD. We have eleven other pagan centos, all of them under 200 lines.

Although a Christian, Irenaeus’ cento is basically a pagan cento.

Christians do, however, take up the cento for more than apologetic or polemical purposes and use them to recast the Gospel story to convert the snobbish upper classes of Rome. Although Jerome sniffs his nose at centos, we must admit that many in antiquity sniffed their noses at the Bible, whether in Latin or Greek (recall Augustine’s admissions of his own attitude before conversion). The cento casts the Good News of Jesus in a poetic form acceptable to a pagan audience for evangelistic purposes.

The most popular Christian cento was a Latin cento of 694 Vergilian verses by Proba (mid-4th c AD) that takes the reader from the Creation to Redemption, from Adam to Christ. This text was very popular throughout the Middle Ages as a school-text, no doubt because it could teach good style and the Gospel at once. John Currans recently wrote an article about Proba’s cento,* demonstrating how not only was the style of narration affected by this recasting of the Gospel, but also its moral content. Proba gives us a Jesus who is the best of what an aristocratic Roman could hope to be but also mirrors some Irenaean themes of recapitulation.

Another cento worth mentioning is a Byzantine play of 2,610 verses drawn from Euripides, Aeschylus, and Lycophron called Christus Patiens. This tragedy retells the passion of Christ and was long attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus (late fourth century, composed his own verses in Homeric dialect and metre) but is now thought to be from the 11th or 12th century.

I don’t imagine that when Irenaeus wrote his Heraclean cento he thought that Christians would one day employ the same poetic strategy for spreading the Gospel. But they did, and he is probably the first Christian to write a cento.

*’Virgilizing Christianity in Late Antique Rome’, in Gavin Kelly and Lucy Grig, eds, Two Romes. New York: 2012, 325-344.

Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyon

Irenaeus of Lyons

Our next Father is Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 – c. 200). He is a well-known figure for various reasons: until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents, he was one of our major sources for ancient ‘Gnosticism’ (and his descriptions have been largely proven accurate); he is the first clear, conscious defender of the fourfold Gospels (no more, no less); he gives us many variations on the ‘Canon (or Rule) of the Faith’ which are precursors to the later creeds; he is an early exponent of the Apostolic Succession; and, while continuing Justin the Martyr’s logos theology, he gives a vibrant and exciting account of Christus Victor atonement theory and the theology of recapitulation (anakephalaiosis).

Biography

Irenaeus hailed from Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he grew up under the authority and teaching of the Apostolic Father Polycarp. At some stage he emigrated to Gaul where he settled in Lugdunum (today’s Lyons, France). Christianity was strong in many Asian communities, but not so in Gaul. Around 177, he lived up to his name on an embassy from Lyons to Rome where he pleaded against the excommunication of Montanists (whom we’ll study in more detail when we read Tertullian). Irenaeus was elected episcopos of the community in Lyons as successor to the martyred Photinus.

During his epsicopate, he produced his theological works and also wrote a letter to a Roman episcopos named Victor, once again urging an irenic approach to disputes, this time in the dispute over the date of Easter called the Quartodeciman Controversy, the details of which we will study in our reading of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.

Irenaeus died around the year 200. Our first reference to his martyrdom is Jerome (347–420), Commentary on Isaiah 17.64. Even later is a tradition recounted by Gregory of Tours (538–594), living in Merovingian Gaul, that the Pope of Rome sent Irenaeus on an evangelistic mission to Lyons, at which he was widely successful (contrary to many of Irenaeus’ own references to the un-Christian barbarians amongst whom he lives).

Works

Irenaeus’ greatest work is his five books Against Heresies, directed principally against Gnostic teachings. A second work by Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, was discovered in Armenian translation in 1904, after the ANF series was compiled. The latter work is thus not on our reading calendar, but we encourage anyone interested to read the Proof, found either in the public domain, or in the works referenced below.

Theology

Irenaeus is best known theologically for his views on atonement, the theory of recapitulation and Christus Victor theology (or the ‘Classic View’ of atonement, vs. the ‘Latin’ or ‘Juristic View’). Taking up Justin’s vision of the logos (inspired in turn – of course – by John 1), Irenaeus sees Christ as existing before the Incarnation as the eternal Word of the Father, who put the universe into place and governs it.

This Word took on flesh as part of God’s ongoing revelation to the human race. Had Adam and Eve not fallen, the Word would have become Incarnate anyway, for humanity was on a trajectory of development and growth into godliness (theosis) from the beginning. However, since Adam and Eve did sin through the deception of the serpent, Christ’s incarnation takes on a redemptive role. Not only does he become a human to show us more of God; he becomes a human to save us from sin, death, and the Devil.

Christ, the Incarnate Word, comes to undo what the first disobedience did. Therefore, just as sin began with a disobedient woman (Eve), the recapitulation-atonement begins with an obedient woman (Mary). Just as sin was perpetuated by a sinful man who was God’s son, so would it be stopped by a sinless Man Who is God’s Son (Jesus).

The Incarnation is a cosmic event and an irruption of the power of God into human history. By living a full, human – yet sinless – life, Jesus transforms all of human life. And when he, the only just man on earth, dies an unjust death on the cross, he destroys the power of death, as demonstrated by his triumphant resurrection and subsequent ascension. Because of the Incarnation and the drama of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, those who put their faith/trust in him with a determination to live holy lives are saved from their sins and the death that accompanies them, being given power over the devil.

This is a short recapitulation of recapitulation that does not do the theory justice. Good thing we’re going to read Irenaeus in the coming weeks!

This theology is played out against the backdrop of his battle, his polemic, against those whom he sees as having deviated from the true faith handed down from the apostles, the various groups termed ‘Gnostic’ as well as the Marcionites. At all times, we should see his statements of the Rule of Faith and Apostolic Succession and the Fourfold Gospel within their second-century, polemical context, and not to seized upon and misinterpreted with twenty-first-century assumptions.

Alternate Editions

There exists only one complete translation of Against the Heresies, and we shall be reading it (although Paul and Sara Parvis with Dennis Minns are working on a new one). However, there is a newer translation of Book 1 in the Ancient Christian Writers translated by Dominic Unger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Scandal of the Incarnation compiles a hundred pages of thematically arranged excerpts.

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching has been translated for the same series; another translation is John Behr’s for St. Vladimir’s Popular Patristics series.

For the keen and skilled in ancient languages, the entirety of Against the Heresies only exists in Latin translation. Two editions are worth noting: Contre les hérésies, ed. A. Rousseau, L. Doutreleau, C. Mercier, and B. Hemmerdinger, 10 vols. Paris: Cerf, 1965-1982 (with French translation); and Epideixis: Adversus haereses, ed. N. Brox. Fribourg, Switzerland: Herder, 1993-2001.

Further Reading

Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons in Routledge’s Early Church Fathers series provides a decent introduction to the material, and Dennis Minns, Irenaeus: An Introduction is well worth reading.

For the extra-keen, I recommend two studies that have been my matrix for Irenaeus’ theology. One is the popular-level book by Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, and the other is the classic modern work by Gustav Aulén, Christus Victor.

For those really interested in the rule of faith, do not forget J. N. D. Kelly’s classic, Early Christian Creeds. For evangelicals, see Baptist patristics scholar D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition.

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