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Commentary on the Gospel According to St John, Book 2, Introduction
And saith, Behold the Lamb of God,
Which taketh away the sin of the world.
No longer has prepare ye the way fit place, since He at length is seen and is before the eyes for Whom the preparation is made: the nature of the thing began to need other words. It needed to explain, Who He is Who is come, and to whom He maketh His descent Who hath come to us from Heaven. Behold, therefore, saith he, the Lamb of God Which taketh away the sin of the world, Whom the Prophet Isaiah did signify to us, saying, He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb: Whom of old, too, saith he, the law of Moses typified, but then it saved in part, not extending mercy to all (for it was a type and shadow): but now He Who of old was dimly pictured, the very Lamb, the spotless Sacrifice, is led to the slaughter for all, that He might drive away the sin of the world, that He might overturn the destroyer of the earth, that dying for all He might bring to nought death, that He might undo the curse that is upon us, that He might at length end Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return, that He might become the second Adam, not of the earth, but from heaven, and might be the beginning of all good to the nature of man, deliverance from the imported corruption, Bestower of eternal life, foundation of our reconciliation to God, beginning of godliness and righteousness, way to the Kingdom of Heaven.
For one Lamb died for all, saving the whole flock on earth to God the Father, One for all, that He might subject all to God, One for all, that He might gain all: that at length all should not henceforth live to themselves but to Him Which died for them and rose again. For since we were in many sins, and therefore due to death and corruption, the Father hath given the Son a redemption for us, One for all, since all are in Him, and He above all. One died for all, that all should live in Him. For death having swallowed up the Lamb for all, hath vomited forth all in Him and with Him. For all we were in Christ, Who on account of us and for us died and rose again. But sin being destroyed, how could it be that death which was of it and because of it should not altogether come to nothing? The root dying, how could the shoot yet survive? wherefore should we yet die, now that sin hath been destroyed? Therefore jubilant in the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God we say: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? For all iniquity, as the Psalmist sings somewhere, shall stop her mouth, no longer able to accuse those who have sinned from infirmity. For it is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that we might escape the curse from transgression.
Why dost thou turn away from Him?
Excerpt from St John Chrysostom, Homily 76, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.
Doth He not justly turn away from us, and punish us, when He is giving up Himself
unto us for all things, and we are resisting Him? It is surely plain to all. For whether thou
art desirous to adorn thyself, “Let it, He saith, be with my ornaments;” or to arm thyself,
“with my arms,” or to clothe thyself, “with my raiment;” or to feed thyself, “at my table;” or
to journey, “on my way;” or to inherit, “my inheritance;” or to enter into a country, “the
city of which I am builder and maker;” or to build a house, “amongst my tabernacles.” “For
I, so far from asking thee for a recompense of the things that I give thee, do even make myself owe thee a recompense for this very thing, if thou be willing to use all I have.”
What can be equal to this munificence, “I am Father, I am brother, I am bridegroom, I am dwelling place, I am food, I am raiment, I am root, I am foundation, all whatsoever thou willest, I am.” “Be thou in need of nothing, I will be even a servant, for I came to minister, not to be ministered unto; I am friend, and member, and head, and brother, and sister, and mother; I am all; only cling thou closely to me.
I was poor for thee, and a wanderer for thee, on the cross for thee, in the tomb for thee, above I intercede for thee to the Father; on earth I am come for thy sake, am ambassador from my Father. Thou art all things to me, brother, and joint heir, and friend, and member.”
What wouldest thou more? Why dost thou turn away from Him, who loveth thee? Why dost thou labor for the world? Why dost thou draw water into a broken cistern? For it is this to labor for the present life. Why dost thou comb wool into the fire? Why dost thou “beat the air?” Why dost thou “run in vain?”
Sermon LVIII. St Leo the Great, Pope of Rome
On the Passion, VII
I. The reason of Christ suffering at the Paschal Feast.
I know indeed, dearly-beloved, that the Easter festival partakes of so sublime a mystery as to surpass not only the slender perceptions of my humility, but even the powers of great intellects. But I must not consider the greatness of the Divine work in such a way as to distrust or to feel ashamed of the service which I owe; for we may not hold our peace upon the mystery of man’s salvation, even if it cannot be explained. But, your prayers aiding us, we believe God’s Grace will be granted, to sprinkle the barrenness of our heart with the dew of His inspiration:
that by the pastor’s mouth things may be proclaimed which are useful to the ears of his holy flock. For when the Lord, the Giver of all good things, says: “open thy mouth, and I will fill it,” we dare likewise to reply in the prophet’s words: “Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise.” Therefore beginning, dearly-beloved, to handle once more the Gospel-story of the Lord’s Passion, we understand it was part of the Divine plan that the profane chiefs of the Jews and the unholy priests, who had often sought occasion of venting their rage on Christ, should receive the power of exercising their fury at no other time than the Paschal festival. For the things which had long been promised under mysterious figures had to be fulfilled in all clearness; for instance, the True Sheep had to supersede the sheep which was its antitype, and the One Sacrifice to bring to an end the multitude of different sacrifices. For all those things which had been divinely ordained through Moses about the sacrifice of the lamb had prophesied of Christ and truly announced the slaying of Christ. In order, therefore, that the shadows should yield to the substance and types cease in the presence of the Reality, the ancient observance is removed by a new Sacrament, victim passes into Victim, blood is wiped away by Blood, and the law-ordained Feast is fulfilled by being changed.
II. The leading Jews broke their own Law, as well as failed to apprehend the new dispensation in destroying Christ.
And hence, when the chief priests gathered the scribes and elders of the people together to their council, and the minds of all the priests were occupied with the purpose of doing wrong to Jesus, the teachers of the law put themselves without the law, and by their own voluntary failure in duty abolished their ancestral ceremonies. For when the Paschal feast began, those who ought to have adorned the temple, cleansed the vessels, provided the victims, and employed a holier zeal in the purifications that the law enjoined, seized with the fury of traitorous hate, give themselves up to one work, and with uniform cruelty conspire for one crime, though they were doomed to gain nothing by the punishment of innocence and the condemnation of righteousness, except the failure to apprehend the new mysteries and the violation of the old. The chiefs, therefore, in providing against a tumult arising on a holy day, showed zeal not for the festival, but for a heinous crime; and their anxiety served not the cause of religion, but their own incrimination. For these careful pontiffs and anxious priests feared the occurrence of seditious riots on the principal feast-day, not lest the people should do wrong, but lest Christ should escape.
III. Jesus instituting the Blessed Sacrament showed mercy to the traitor Judas to the last.
But Jesus, sure of His purpose and undaunted in carrying out His Father’s will, fulfilled the New Testament and founded a new Passover. For while the disciples were lying down with Him at the mystic Supper, and when discussion was proceeding in the hall of Caiaphas how Christ might be put to death, He, ordaining the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, was teaching them what kind of Victim must be offered up to God, and not even from this mystery was the betrayer kept away, in order to show that he was exasperated by no personal wrong, but had determined beforehand of his own free-will upon his treachery. For he was his own source of ruin and cause of perfidy, following the guidance of the devil and refusing to have Christ as director. And so when the Lord said, “Verily I say to you that one of you is about to betray Me,” He showed that His betrayer’s conscience was well known to Him, not confounding the traitor by harsh or open rebukes, but meeting him with mild and silent warnings that he who had never been sent astray by rejection, might the easier be set right by repentance. Why, unhappy Judas, dose thou not make use of so great long-suffering? Behold, the Lord spares thy wicked attempts; Christ betrays thee to none save thyself. Neither thy name nor thy person is discovered, but only the secrets of thy heart are touched by the word of truth and mercy. The honour of the apostolic rank is not denied thee, nor yet a share in the Sacraments. Return to thy right mind; lay aside thy madness and be wise. Mercy invites thee, Salvation knocks at the door, Life recalls thee to life. Lo, thy stainless and guiltless fellow-disciples shudder at the hint of thy crime, and all tremble for themselves till the author of the treachery is declared. For they are saddened not by the accusations of conscience, but by the uncertainty of man’s changeableness; fearing lest what each knew against himself be less true than what the Truth Himself foresaw. But thou abusest the Lord’s patience in this panic of the saints, and believest that thy bold front hides thee. Thou addest impudence to guilt, and art not frightened by so clear a test. And when the others refrain from the food in which the Lord had set His judgment, thou dost not withdraw thy hand from the dish, because thy mind is not turned aside from the crime.
IV. Various incidents of the Passion further explained and the reality of Christ’s sufferings asserted.
And thus it followed, dearly-beloved, that as John the Evangelist has narrated, when the Lord offered the bread which He had dipped to His betrayer, more clearly to point him out, the devil entirely seized Judas, and now, by his veritable act of wickedness, took possession of one whom he had already bound down by his evil designs. For only in body was he lying there with those at meat: in mind he was arming the hatred of the priests, the falseness of the witnesses, and the fury of the ignorant mob. At last the Lord, seeing on what a gross crime Judas was bent says, “What thou doest, do quickly.” This is the voice not of command but of permission, and not of fear but of readiness: He, that has power over all times, shows that He puts no hindrance in the way of the traitor, and carries out the Father’s will for the redemption of the world in such a way as neither to promote nor to fear the crime which His persecutors were preparing. When Judas, therefore, at the devil’s persuasion, departed from Christ, and cut himself off from the unity of the Apostolic body, the Lord, without being disturbed by any fear, but anxious only for the salvation of those He came to redeem, spent all the time that was free from His persecutors’ attack on mystic conversation and holy teaching, as is declared in St. John’s gospel: raising His eyes to heaven and beseeching the Father for the whole Church that all whom the Father had and would give the Son might become one and remain undivided to the Redeemer’s glory, and adding lastly that prayer in which He says, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Wherein it is not to be thought that the Lord Jesus wished to escape the Passion and the Death, the sacraments of which He had already committed to His disciples’ keeping, seeing that He Himself forbids Peter, when he was burning with devoted faith and love, to use the sword, saying, “The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” and seeing that that is certain which the Lord also says, according to John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life;” as also what the Apostle Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a victim to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” For the saving of all through the Cross of Christ was the common will and the common plan of the Father and the Son; nor could that by any means be disturbed which before eternal ages had been mercifully determined and unchangeably fore-ordained. Therefore in assuming true and entire manhood He took the true sensations of the body and the true feelings of the mind. And it does not follow because everything in Him was full of sacraments, full of miracles, that therefore He either shed false tears or took food from pretended hunger or feigned slumber. It was in our humility that He was despised, with our grief that He was saddened, with our pain that He was racked on the cross. For His compassion underwent the sufferings of our mortality with the purpose of healing them, and His power encountered them with the purpose of conquering them. And this Isaiah has most plainly prophesied, saying, “He carries our sins and is pained for us, and we thought Him to be in pain and in stripes and in vexation. But He was wounded for our sins, and was stricken for our offences, and with His bruises we are healed.”
V. The resignation of Christ is an undying lesson to the Church.
And so, dearly beloved, when the Son of God says, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” He uses the outcry of our nature, and pleads the cause of human frailty and trembling: that our patience may be strengthened and our fears driven away in the things which we have to bear. At length, ceasing even to ask this now that He had in a measure palliated our weak fears, though it is not expedient for us to retain them, He passes into another mood, and says, “Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou;” and again, “If this cup can not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” These words of the Head are the salvation of the whole Body: these words have instructed all the faithful, kindled the zeal of all the confessors, crowned all the martyrs. For who could overcome the world’s hatred, the blasts of temptations, the terrors of persecutors, had not Christ, in the name of all and for all, said, to the Father, “Thy will be done?” Then let the words be learnt by all the Church’s sons who have been purchased at so great a price, so freely justified: and when the shock of some violent temptation has fallen on them, let them use the aid of this potent prayer, that they may conquer their fear and trembling, and learn to suffer patiently. From this point, dearly-beloved, our sermon must pass to the consideration of the details of the Lord’s Passion, and lest we should burden you with prolixity, we will divide our common task, and put off the rest till the fourth day of the week. God’s grace will be vouchsafed to you if you pray Him to give me the power of carrying out my duty: through our Lord Jesus Christ, &c.
On Almsgiving:Excerpt from St John Chrysostom, Homily 71, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.
“...When thou givest for display and ostentation, consider how great the sorrow that then comes upon thee, and how continual the desponding, while Christ’s voice is heard in thine ears, saying, “Thou hast lost all thy reward.” For in every matter indeed vainglory is a bad thing, yet most of all in beneficence, for it is the utmost cruelty, making a show of the calamities of others, and all but upbraiding those in poverty. For if to mention one’s own good actions is to upbraid, what dost thou think it is to publish them even to many others...
“How then shall we escape the danger? If we learn how to give alms, if we see after whose good report we are to seek. For tell me, who has the skill of almsgiving? Plainly, it is God, who hath made known the thing, who best of all knows it, and practises it without limit...
“Thou art become like to God in giving alms; be thou then like Him in not
making a display. For even He said, when healing, that they should tell no man.”
Excerpt from St Gregory the Theologian's Oration on St Basil the Great.
I take it as admitted by men of sense, that the first of our advantages is education;
and not only this our more noble form of it, which disregards rhetorical ornaments and
glory, and holds to salvation, and beauty in the objects of our contemplation: but even
that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and
dangerous, and keeping us afar from God. For as we ought not to neglect the heavens,
and earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them,
and honour God’s works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them
for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers; not raising creation, as foolish
men do, in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the
Worker, and, as the divine apostle says, bringing into captivity every thought to
Christ: and again, as we know that neither fire, nor food, nor iron, nor any other of
the elements, is of itself most useful, or most harmful, except according to the will of
those who use it; and as we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the
reptiles; so from secular literature we have received principles of enquiry and
speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction. Nay,
even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what
is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness
Excerpt from St John Chrysostom, Homily 67, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.
When we have come back unto the earnest love of God, He remembers not the former things. God is not as man, for He reproaches us not with the past, neither doth He say, Why wast thou absent so long a time? when we repent; only let us approach Him as we ought. Let us cleave to Him earnestly, and rivet our hearts to His fear.
Excerpt from St Gregory the Theologians' Oration on this father, St Gregory
Life and death, as they are called, apparently so different, are in a sense resolved into, and successive to, each other. For the one takes its rise from the corruption which is our mother, runs its course through the corruption which is the displacement of all that is present, and comes to an end in the corruption which is the dissolution of this life; while the other, which is able to set us free from the ills of this life, and oftentimes translates us to the life above, is not in my opinion accurately called death, and is more dreadful in name than in reality; so that we are in danger of irrationally being afraid of what is not fearful, and courting as preferable what we really ought to fear.
There is one life, to look to life. There is one death, sin, for it is the destruction of the soul. But all else, of which some are proud, is a dream-vision, making sport of realities, and a series of phantasms which lead the soul astray. If this be our condition, mother, we shall neither be proud of life, nor greatly hurt, by death. What grievance can we find in being transferred hence to the true life? In being freed from the vicissitudes, the agitation, the disgust, and all the vile tribute we must pay to this life, to find ourselves, amid stable things, which know no flux, while as lesser lights, we circle round the great light?
Excerpt from St Gregory the Theologian's Oration on his sister, St Gorgonia.
nor any truly modest and decorous woman thinks anything: but which we have been
made to think much of, by those who are too fond of ornament and display, and refuse to
listen to instruction on such matters. She was never adorned with gold wrought into
artistic forms of surpassing beauty, nor flaxen tresses, fully or partially displayed, nor
spiral curls, nor dishonouring designs of men who construct erections on the honourable
head, nor costly folds of flowing and transparent robes, nor graces of brilliant stones,
which color the neighbouring air, and cast a glow upon the form; nor the arts and
witcheries of the painter, nor that cheap beauty of the infernal creator who works against
the Divine, hiding with his treacherous pigments the creation of God, and putting it to
shame with his honour, and setting before eager eyes the imitation of an harlot instead of
the form of God, so that this bastard beauty may steal away that image which should be
kept for God and for the world to come.
But though she was aware of the many and various external ornaments of women, yet none of them was more precious to her than her own character, and the brilliancy stored up within.
One red tint was dear to her, the blush of modesty; one white one, the sign of temperance: but pigments and pencillings, and living pictures, and flowing lines of beauty, she left to women of the stage and of the streets, and to all who think it a shame and a reproach to be ashamed.
Excerpt from St Gregory the Theologian's Oration on his brother, St Caesarius.
not surpass those who had made it their sole study? Whom did he allow even to
approach him, not only of his own time and age, but even of his elders, who had devoted
many more years to study? All subjects he studied as one, and each as thoroughly as if
he knew no other. The brilliant in intellect, he surpassed in industry, the devoted
students in quickness of perception; nay, rather he outstripped in rapidity those who
were rapid, in application those who were laborious, and in both respects those who
were distinguished in both.
From geometry and astronomy, that science so dangerous to anyone else, he gathered all that was helpful (I mean that he was led by the harmony and order of the heavenly bodies to reverence their Maker), and avoided what is injurious; not attributing all things that are or happen to the influence of the stars, like those who raise their own fellow-servant, the creation, in rebellion against the Creator, but referring, as is reasonable, the motion of these bodies, and all other things besides, to God.
In arithmetic and mathematics, and in the wonderful art of medicine, in so far as it treats of physiology and temperament, and the causes of disease, in order to remove the roots and so destroy their offspring with them, who is there so ignorant or contentious as to think him inferior to himself, and not to be glad to be reckoned next to him, and carry off the second prize? This indeed is no unsupported assertion, but East and West alike, and every place which he afterward visited, are as pillars inscribed with the record of his learning.