Saturday, 24 December 2016

Happy Christmas!

Image result for nativity with the prophets isaiah and ezekiel

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

Nativitytide officially starts after None on the December 24, is celebrated with the First Vespers of Christmas.  So do enjoy this wonderful season.

Friday, 23 December 2016

O Emmanuel (December 23)

The Annunciation, by Jacopo Torriti, Santa Maria Maggiore.

At Lauds today the canticle antiphon announces that all the things the angel announced have been completed; all that remains is the birth of Christ.  At Vespers today, the final O antiphon is O Emmanuel:
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and Salvation thereof; come to save us, O Lord our God!
Let us pray therefore that all might be filled with the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom...

Thursday, 22 December 2016

O King of nations (December 22)

Today's O antiphon is O Rex Gentium:
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and Desire thereof, O Cornerstone that makest of twain one; come to save man, whom thou hast made of the dust of the earth!
Pray therefore for the gift of piety - godliness -  so that all may acknowledge and truly serve our King.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

O Oriens (December 21)

Today's O antiphon, O Oriens, is sung as part of the commemoration of the feria:

O Day-Spring, brightness of the everlasting Light, Sun of Righteousness; come, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!

The antiphon reflects the prophesy of Isaiah 9:2
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2
We should pray then, for the gift of knowledge to illuminate us and guide our leaders.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

O key of David (December 20)

The antiphon for today is O Clavis David:

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel that openest, and no man shutteth; and shuttest and no man openeth; come to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!

Let us then pray for the gift of fortitude for ourselves and our leaders, so that we may be lead out of prison and darkness at the proper time.

Monday, 19 December 2016

O root of Jesse: the gift of counsel (December 19)

Today's O antiphon is O root of Jesse, a reference to the famous concept of the 'Jesse tree' that traces the ancestry of Jesus, and typically key events in salvation history, based on Isaiah 11:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness.  And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. 
He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears. But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: land he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.  And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.
The text of the antiphon itself is:
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; come to deliver us, make no tarrying!
Let us therefore pray for the gift of counsel for ourselves and above all for our leaders, that they might discern and follow the path he has flagged, and not some other, and thus avoid judgment and condemnation at the last.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Great O's - O Lord and master, give us leaders with understanding! (December 18)

Image result for moses and the law
Moses receives the law, c840
Today's O antiphon is O Adonai:

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

The word Adonai is invariably used in Scripture to refer to God, and seems to have been inserted to replace the tetragrammaton.  In the singular, it is a royal title meaning  'my Lord'.

Given today's text, it seems to me appropriate that we should pray especially today for all lawmakers and leaders, including those God is calling to step up to the plate, that they might respond to the graces given to them, and that they and we may be granted the gift of understanding.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Great Os - O Wisdom (December 17)

St Hildegarde Scivias manuscript: Wisdom

Today's is O antiphon, traditionally sung at Vespers is O Sapientia.  The text can be translated as:

O Wisdom, that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and dost mightily and sweetly order all things; come, to teach us the way of prudence!

Pray then, not just for ourselves, but also that our leaders - secular and ecclesiastical - might be blessed with the gift of wisdom.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Great O Antiphons

Image result for o antiphons

From tomorrow, December 17, the liturgy traditionally becomes more intense in the lead up to Christmas.  And one of the beautiful traditions of this time is the singing of the famous 'O Antiphons'  each day at Vespers.

An ancient tradition

Just how old the O antiphons are is not known, however they seem to have been known in sixth century Italy, given a reference to them by St Benedict's contemporary, St Boethius.   

At the Monastery of Fleury, famous (or infamous depending on your perspective!) for its raid on Monte Cassino to acquire the relics of SS Benedict and Scholastica circa 660, the antiphons were recited by the abbot and senior monks in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. 

The texts of the O antiphons will seem pretty familiar to most people, because they were paraphrased into a twelfth century hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel (O Come O come Emmanuel) which continues to be sung in both English and Latin in numerous versions.

The texts

Each of the texts refers to key prophesies of Christ, mostly from Isaiah.  There is, however, another level to them, as they have been arranged so that if you work backwards, the first letter of each one together forms two words, viz Ero Cras, or tomorrow I will come, viz:

(December 23) O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. (O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.)

(December 22) O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. (O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.)

(December 21) O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. (O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.)

(December 20) O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis. (O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.)

(December 19) O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. (O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.)

(December 18) O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. (O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.)

(December 17) O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. (O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.)

Truly, I will come...

But there is also a very nice piece of the English tradition that is worth knowing about.  In medieval England an eighth antiphon was added by starting the set a day early and adding an extra antiphon to the end of the sequence, thus making the acrostic Vero cras, or truly tomorrow (I will come).  An alternative solution, adopted in the recording below, is to sing the extra antiphon on December 24.

Here is the traditional text:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.


O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

The O antiphons are pretty easy to learn, as they all have a very similar chant tone.  Over time of course, numerous other settings of them have also been made.

I will make a short post on each of the O antiphons this week, including some suggestions for prayer intentions around them appropriate for these troubling times.

When the walls of the city are completed...

In the last two posts I've referred to St Bede's advice in the face of attacks and attempts at seduction from within and without, namely just ignore them; keep building the walls of Jerusalem through the cultivation of the virtues.

His commentary on the final verses of Nehemiah 6 completes this little cycle, pointing to the hoped for results for our efforts, namely the conversion of those who have fallen, or at the very least, the exposure of their false teaching for what it is.

Nehemiah 6:16 - The attackers become afraid

Verse 15-16 of Nehemiah 6 marks a key turning point: the walls of the city have finally been completed, and the opponents of the work suddenly realise that this work had been done at God's instigation, and brought to a conclusion by him:
The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul; it had taken fifty-two days a-building. And when this reached the ears of our enemies, fear overtook all the nations round about us; their stature fell in their own eyes, and they doubted no longer that it was God who had inspired the enterprise. (Knox translation)
St Bede comments:
So too in the Holy Church,when the sturdy structure of charity, self-restraint, peace, and the rest of the virtues is erected, unclean spirits grow afraid and their temptation, put to flight by our strength, is repelled and makes our victory all the greater.  This can be understood to apply equally to heretics and to false catholics, who, through the steadfast faith of good men which works through love, are either set straight and reformed or, having been exposed so that people can be on their guard against them, are expelled from the boundaries of the Church. (On Ezra and Nehemiah, trans DeGregorio, pp 189-90)
Persevere in faith and good works!

St Bede's message then, is clear: focus on building virtue within ourselves; if we have the knowledge and skills required, expose false teachers and teaching for what it is lest others be led astray; and trust in God to compete the work.

And on that note, from tomorrow I will once again post on the great O Antiphons that are traditionally sung on these dates as we properly in this season focus our meditations on the coming of Christ once again.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Terrorism from within: euthanasia in Canada

Yesterday I talked about the opening verses of Nehemiah 6, which dealt with the threat posed by those feigning friendship in an effort to subvert from within.

Terror tactics and the enemy within

The next section of the text continues on that theme, with Nehemiah musing on the terror tactics being directed at his efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and discovering that one of the people he had thought a friend has actually been corrupted, and become a traitor:
 It was but a conspiracy to frighten us; their thought was we would cease building, and bide our time; but I pressed on the harder.   
I went once to visit Semaias, son of Dalaias, son of Metabeel; he was then keeping his house. Nay, said he, let us go to the temple and there hold converse, there in the heart of the temple, behind shut doors. They are coming to murder thee; this very night they are coming to murder thee. What, I answered, I take flight? I am not the man to save my life by skulking in God’s house. The temple is not for me.   
And well I knew that his was no errand from God, though he spoke to me as one inspired to prophesy. It was Tobias and Sanaballat that had him in their pay; they had bribed him, hoping that through terror I would commit a fault, and they would have ill tales to spread about me. (Nehemiah 6:8-13, trans Knox)
St Bede points out that it has ever been thus:
 For the elect always have conflicts without and fears within, and not just the apostles but the prophets too lived a life fraught with dangers from the nation, with dangers from Gentiles, with dangers from false brethren. (On Ezra and Nehemiah, trans DeGregorio, pg 188).
The only response possible, he suggests, is to strengthen ourselves through good action relying on the divine assistance.

Euthanasia: the virtual schism in Canada

On that front, the euthanasia debate is once again hotting up in Australia, with legislation in Victoria rated as having a chance of passing next year.

In other places, of course, it has already passed, and in Canada the bishops have split on the subject, with one group of faithful pastors reminding us that suicide is a mortal sin; another saying that say that those planning suicide should be “accompanied with dialogue and compassionate prayerful support.”

Horrifying and terrifying stuff indeed.

**And for more in depth analyses of the two documents see Rod Dreher and Ed Peters.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Some advice from St Bede the Venerable on dealing with those who would divert us from the cause

Apologies for the delay in posting a few comments received - blogger has changed its display making it harder to see any unmoderated comments when email alerts fail to occur (as they seem to have!).  I do appreciate them though, so will check more assiduously in future!

In the meantime, I'm still slowly working my way through the book of Nehemiah (or Esdras II) with the help of the wonderful commentary by St Bede.  Today's section elicited what seemed to me some excellent advice on what to do when confronted by seemingly friendly overtures from the enemy, so I thought I would share it with you.

The text he is commenting on is the first half of Nehemiah 6:
And now news reached Sanaballat and Tobias and the Arabian, Gosem, and the rest of our enemies, that I had finished building the wall, and never a gap was left in it; although in truth I had not yet been able to set up doors in the gateways. 
Thereupon Sanaballat and Gosem sent a message proposing that I should meet them in some unfortified town on the plains of Ono, and there make a treaty; it was their design to do me some mischief. 
But I bade my own messengers answer, It is a hard task I must perform here; I am not for the plain. There would be folk standing idle here, while I came down to meet you. 
Four times they sent word to the same purpose, and ever had the same answer from me; and once more Sanaballat repeated it, but this time the servant who brought it had a letter in his hand. And this was the tenor of it: The Gentiles will have it, and Gosem says the tale is true, that thou and the Jews are rebuilding the walls because you are plotting rebellion. It is said that thou wouldst be king thyself, and to that end hast put forward prophets to preach thee up in Jerusalem, and announce that Juda has a king. All this will reach the ears of Artaxerxes; come hither thou must, and we will devise measures between us. 
But I sent word back, There is no truth in the tale; it is of thy own imagining.
St Bede comments:
The enemies of the holy city are urging Nehemiah to go down to the plains and to enter a peace tact with them by together slaughtering calves  as testimony to the arranged treaty, but he perseveres in the mountains so that the devout work is not neglected.  So, too, heretics and false catholics want to have a fellowship of peace with true catholics, but with this stipulation, that they do not agree to ascend to the citadel of ecclesiastical faith or duty themselves, but rather they compel those whom they see dwelling on the peak of the virtues to go down to the lowest depths of wicked works or dogmas.   
And it is well that they want to enter a pact with Nehemiah on one plain, doubtless because they desire that all those whom they are able to seduce be relaxed in the same freedom of the broader life that the themselves follow; and it is well that they wish to enter into a pact with him by together slaughtering calves, because false brethren are eager to offer the sacrifices of their prayer and action to God together with true catholics, so that, when they are believed to be genuinely faithful, they might be able to corrupt these same true catholics through the proximity of their association.   
But Nehemiah, representing the person of faithful teachers, by no means agrees to go down to the impious nor to be defiled with their sacrifices but remains devout in the virtuous works he has undertaken...(On Ezra and Nehemiah, trans DeGregorio, pg 187)

Monday, 12 December 2016

The strange persistence of the hermeneutic of confusion

The Church in Australia and elsewhere in the developed West has long had a serious credibility problem.  

It loosened the reins at the time of Vatican II, abolishing all those 'unnecessary rules' that promoted things like asceticism and attendance at Mass, with entirely predictable consequences for the morality and commitment of pastors and people alike.  

By contrast, religions that have maintained or recovered their core identity: insisted on their core practices and beliefs; and rejected any compromise when it comes to cult, maintaining, for example, their sacred languages, continue to grow as people seek to fill up the void this failure to teach has created.

False clarity?!

Yet it seems our pastors continue to fail to learn the lesson, claiming instead that there is some virtue in confusion.

We live in a world of grays, some people seem to think.  Really?

It is true of course that judging the best course of action sometimes  - perhaps often - requires grappling with hard issues and matters of judgment and balance.  

The core principles that should help us make those judgments, though, are surely capable of perfect clarity.

Isn't the whole point of the Church to proclaim the truth that Christ taught?

Either way, the debate on Amor Laetitia certainly seems to be hotting up.

Even as more papal sycopants step up to defend the indefensible, more are coming out in support of the four Cardinals' (including notable theologians Professors Finnis and Grisez, and a group of pastors and theologians) request for clarification of just what the document means in practice.

The voice from the pew

And the reasons why this is important have been admirably summarised by Mulier Fortis, who writes:
... no matter whether I stumbled on my path to holiness (or even walked in completely the wrong direction), I knew that there was a correct way that I should be trying to follow, and I knew that this direction was signposted clearly through the teachings of the Church.
These teachings are clear. They have been based on what our Lord Jesus Christ said and did and on the teachings and traditions passed on by the successors to the Apostles, particularly the successor to St. Peter. It was to St. Peter that our Lord Jesus Christ gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the mission to strengthen and confirm his brethren in the faith... 
The current lack of clarity in Amoris Laetitia is profoundly distressing. Papal pronouncements are not meant to be ambiguous starting points for discussion - rather, they are meant to explain the teachings the Church has held since the beginning... 
Meanwhile there are a number of helpful pieces coming out on the limits of papal authority.   This one from Phil Lawler looks to me to be very helpful; a more comprehensive treatment from Professor Mattai has been posted at Rorate Caeli.

What can we do?

Our first response must be to pray - in support of those taking up the fight; for the conversion of those who seem to have lost sight of the Church's mission of spreading truth; and for the Church.  This week includes the three Ember Days of Advent, so an especially suitable time a chance to offer some fasting for the cause.

Secondly, educate yourself - take a chance to reread the Catechism of the Catholic Church and/or some of the older papal documents of the Church on this subject such as Familiaris Consortio, particularly if these matters affect you directly.

Thirdly, you might want to consider signing one of the documents currently being circulated in support of the four Cardinals and/or affirming fidelity to the longstanding teaching of the Church on marriage and the family.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Like people, like priest

The Matins reading for Friday in the second week of Advent in the traditional Office is from Isaiah 24, which presents a vision of the devastation God will unleash on a disobedient world:
Behold the Lord shall lay waste the earth, and shall strip it, and shall afflict the face thereof, and scatter abroad the inhabitants thereof...With desolation shall the earth be laid waste, and it shall be utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word... 
Failure to teach

And what is the cause of this devastation?  The second verse of the chapter alludes to a range of people abusing their positions, but the Fathers mostly focused in on the first up in the list, viz priests:
And it shall be as with the people, so with the priest...
The verse echoes a similar phrase in Hosea, which comes in the midst of a condemnation of priests for failing to teach the people:
My people have been silent, because they had no knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood to me: and thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children.  According to the multitude of them so have they sinned against me: I will change their glory into shame.  They shall eat the sins of my people, and shall lift up their souls to their iniquity.  And there shall be like people like priest: and I will visit their ways upon them, and I will repay them their devices.  And they shall eat and shall not be filled: they have committed fornication, and have not ceased: because they have forsaken the Lord in not observing his law. Fornication, and wine, and drunkenness take away the understanding...
Teaching, or failing to do so, by example

St Gregory the Great, for example in his Homily 19 on the Gospels, laments that those those who should set an example in their conduct too often turn out to be wolves rather than shepherds:
We are put as guards in the vineyards, but we do not cultivate our own.  ..I think that God suffers greater outrage from no one, dearly beloved, than from priests.  Those he has placed to reprove others he sees giving an example of wickedness in their own lives.  We who ought to have restrained sin, ourselves commit it.  More seriously, priests who ought to give of their own possessions frequently plunder the goods of others.  If they see others living humbly and chastely, they often make fun of them.  
Consider what will become of the flocks when wolves become shepherds!  They undertake to guard the flock and are not afraid to waylay the Lord's flock...What is written in Hosea is truyly fulfilled in us: And so it will be, like people, like priest.
 And what should we do in the face of this?

 St Gregory of Nazianzen urges, if necessary, the laity to go to war with their priests:
Nor indeed is there any distinction between the state of the people and that of the priesthood: but it seems to me to be a simple fulfilment of the ancient curse, As with the people so with the priest. Nor again are the great and eminent men affected otherwise than the majority; nay, they are openly at war with the priests, and their piety is an aid to their powers of persuasion. 
And indeed, provided that it be on behalf of the faith, and of the highest and most important questions, let them be thus disposed, and I blame them not; nay, to say the truth, I go so far as to praise and congratulate them. Yea! Would that I were one of those who contend and incur hatred for the truth's sake: or rather, I can boast of being one of them. For better is a laudable war than a peace which severs a man from God: and therefore it is that the Spirit arms the gentle warrior, as one who is able to wage war in a good cause. (Oration 2:82)
We have seen this happening increasingly, with two small but significant victories in Melbourne and Sydney in recent weeks in Australia.

There is much more to be done, however, particularly given that the fish rots from the head..

Monday, 5 December 2016

O that some Nehemiah might come in our own days...

On Sunday I heard a sermon that started from the Matins readings, and pointed to the Christological reading of these texts, and so I thought it was worth briefly commenting on how we think we should approach Scripture, particularly as we seek guidance on how to respond to the world around us.

In the Benedictine tradition of lectio divina which I  try to follow - which is really just that of the Fathers - there are, I think, three dimensions we need to think about when reading the Old Testament: the significance of the original historical context or teachings embodied in the literal meaning of the text; the Christological interpretation of the text; and the sense in which it foreshadows what is happening now, or is calling us to act.

All three of these dimensions of Scripture can have spiritual implications for us that need to be considered.

The literal sense

Old Testament events occurred for a reason; they are part of God's providential plan.  Accordingly, it is important to consider just why they happened, and what those events were and are meant to teach.

St Jerome notes that:
Even if one understands Holy Writ only as history, he has something useful for his soul. (Commentary on Psalm 1)
Isaiah's vision of heaven (chapter 6), for example, reminds us of the care God has shown for his people through history, sending prophets and teachers to guide them when needed.  It also reminds of the awe we should feel when we enter a Church and especially when we are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

The spiritual senses of Scripture

All the same, while most contemporary commentaries effectively stop at this point, there is a lot more spiritual juice to be extracted!  We have to be careful in how we treat the Old Testament, interpreting it in the light of the New, for as St Bede says:
...the Lord 'investigated' God's law in that he rejected the traditions of the Pharisees and taught how Holy Scripture was to be understood mystically and what spiritual secrets it concealed beneath the veil of the letter, and because he showed that the decrees of the Gospel that he himself brought to the world were more perfect and pleasing to God the Father than the ones that he had sent earlier through Moses. (On Ezra and Nehemiah, pg 116-7)
Many people will be familiar with the four 'senses' of Scripture, viz literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical (or eschatological).  But I actually think it is useful to reconceptualise these a little, into the Christological and personal dimensions of Scripture.

The Christological sense

Emphasising the Christological sense of the Old Testament is particularly important in our time, for many have lost the sense that virtually every line of the Old Testament prophesies and foreshadows aspects of the Incarnation and life of Christ.

The Old Testament is filled with 'types' of Christ, of whom Isaiah is one: when 'God asks who shall I send?' the answer is indeed Christ, and this chapter can certainly be read as a prophesy of the Incarnation.  Cyril of Alexandria, for example, in his commentary on Isaiah says:
In announcing that the whole earth is full of his glory, the seraphim are predicting the mystery of the economy that will be brought to pass through Christ....  
St Cyril's commentary on Isaiah goes on to suggest that the vision points us to the realisation that through the Incarnation, true worship is inaugurated, since by becoming human, the world was filled with his glory.  Through the Incarnation, we have the gifts of the channels of grace such as the sacraments to aid us, and we should make full use of them.

The life of Christ, whether in shadow in the Old Testament, or directly in the New, is meant to be the central pole, the reference point that anchors and grounds our lives, pointing us to our hope of heaven, so it is important always to keep it front and centre.  And of course, in Advent, we should rightly focus on the coming of Our Lord.

For the world today, and us

That said, we cannot, in my view break off interpretation at this point, for history is not yet done!

The providential history of the world, embodied in typological events and people, can continue to provide guidance to us today in terms of what we are each called to do here and now.  We have to also ponder, for example, whether God is currently saying to us, Who will I send?  And if so, just what it is he wants us to do and say.

In his commentary on Esra and Nehemiah, for example, Bede keeps coming back to the importance of those who study Scripture and share their insights with others; to the importance of teachers and preachers to build up the Church.  He argues that it is only with the help of Holy Scripture that we can withstand the assault of the devil:
The pool built with great labour can be understood not inappropriately as Divine Scripture, which, composed as it was by the work of the Holy Spirit, supplies us with the bath to expiate our sins as well as with the cup of the taste of salvation, and which, if changed into wine for us by the Lord (that is, if it has been translated into the spiritual sense), intoxicates us with an even more pleasing sweetness of truth...all who are accustomed to being refreshed by the abundant streams of divine utterances by hearing and practising them are rendered strong and invincible against all attacks of the ancient enemy. (On Nehemiah 3:16, trans DeGregorio, pg 173)
Unsurprisingly given his own vocation as a Benedictine monk and author of several commentaries on Scripture, he sees a big role for religious in meditating on Scripture, and sharing their insights with others.  He also, though, sees key roles for those in all other states of life, repeatedly finding parallels between the events he is commenting on in Scripture and his own times, saying for instance that:
We see that this occurs among us in the same manner everyday....Would that some Nehemiah (ie 'a consoler from the Lord') might come in our own days and retain our errors, kindle our breasts to love of the divine, and strengthen our hands by turning them away from our own pleasures to establishing Christ's city! (on Nehemiah 5:1-4, pg 184)

Friday, 2 December 2016

Who will I send? St Jerome on the failure to teach.

Bible angels seraphim Isaiah 6 - Public Domain

Today's Matins readings are from Isaiah 6, which describes an awe-inspiring vision of  the heavenly temple:
In the year that king Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple.  Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they hew. And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory. And the lintels of the doors were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 
Isaiah then laments that he has failed to speak up in the face of the sin surrounding him: he has, St Jerome, explains, committed the sin  committed the sin of failing to teach.  Isaiah says:
And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.
St Jerome comments:
Not because he had said anything that was contrary to the will of God, but because he had held his peace, deterred either by fear or modesty, and because he had not exercised the prerogative of a prophet, of condemning a sinful nation...if we keep silent about the truth, we are certainly committing a sin? (Against the Pelagians)
In Isaiah's vision, one of the seraphim touches a burning coal to his lips, cleansing him from his sins.  God then asks the key question, who will I send?
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.  And he said: Go, and thou shalt say to this people: Hearing, hear, and understand not: and see the vision, and know it not.  Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.
We don't need to have a vision of God in the heavenly temple to apply this to ourselves: it is a call to all to be converted, confess and do penance so that we are cleansed of our sins, and then speak up.

The obligation applies particularly, though, to those entrusted with the teaching Office in the Church.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Those who under the pretext of mercy, do unlawful sins...


Today's Matins readings, in the traditional lectionary for the Office, come from Isaiah 4 and 5.  The first reading, from Isaiah 4, has long been interpreted as a message to the Church.

It speaks of seven women (the seven Churches of the Book of Revelation) clinging to one man (Christ):
 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, take away our reproach.  In that day the bud of the Lord shall be in magnificence and glory, and the fruit of the earth shall be high, and a great joy to them that shall have escaped of Israel.  And it shall come to pass, that every one that shall be left in Sion, and that shall remain in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, every one that is written in life in Jerusalem.
One of the earliest Christians commentaries on it comes from Victorinus, who was martyred around 303 AD, who interprets the verse as a call for Christ to forgive the sins of his Church:
The one man is Christ, not born of seed; but the seven women are seven churches, receiving His bread, and clothed with his apparel, who ask that their reproach should be taken away, only that His name should be called upon them. The bread is the Holy Spirit, which nourishes to eternal life, promised to them, that is, by faith. And His garments wherewith they desire to be clothed are the glory of immortality, of which Paul the apostle says: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 
 Moreover, they ask that their reproach may be taken away— that is, that they may be cleansed from their sins: for the reproach is the original sin which is taken away in baptism, and they begin to be called Christian men, which is, Let your name be called upon us. 
What are the particular sins he is focusing on? One of his key concerns is those who claim to be offering mercy, but are in fact leading the faithful astray:
Therefore in these seven churches, of one Catholic Church are believers, because it is one in seven by the quality of faith and election. Whether writing to them who labour in the world, and live of the frugality of their labours, and are patient, and when they see certain men in the Church wasters, and pernicious, they hear them, lest there should become dissension, he yet admonishes them by love, that in what respects their faith is deficient they should repent; or to those who dwell in cruel places among persecutors, that they should continue faithful; or to those who, under the pretext of mercy, do unlawful sins in the Church, and make them manifest to be done by others; or to those that are at ease in the Church; or to those who are negligent, and Christians only in name; or to those who are meekly instructed, that they may bravely persevere in faith; or to those who study the Scriptures, and labour to know the mysteries of their announcement, and are unwilling to do God's work that is mercy and love: to all he urges penitence, to all he declares judgment.
The form of the judgment comes in the verses from Isaiah 5, using eh allegory of the vineyard:
I will sing to my beloved the canticle of my cousin concerning his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a hill in a fruitful place.  And he fenced it in, and picked the stones out of it, and planted it with the choicest vines, and built a tower in the midst thereof, and set up a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.  And now, O ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and ye men of Juda, judge between me and my vineyard.  What is there that I ought to do more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it?
And now I will shew you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted: I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down.  And I will make it desolate: it shall not be pruned, and it shall not be digged: but briers and thorns shall come up: and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel: and the man of Juda, his pleasant plant: and I looked that he should do judgment, and behold iniquity: and do justice, and behold a cry.
The image of the beloved (Christ) and the vineyard (the Church) recurs frequently in Scripture.  It challenges us to consider: are we bringing forth good fruit or only wild grapes, fit only to allowed to fall desolate, dry and barren, left unpruned and open to wild animals?

St Ambrose comments:
And the Lord Himself spoke through Isaias, saying: 'My beloved had a vineyard  on a hill in a fruitful place. And I fenced it in and dug  around the vine of Sorech and I built a tower in the midst  thereof.' 
He fenced it in with a rampart, as it were of heavenly precepts and with the angels standing guard, for 'the angel of the lord shall encamp round about them that fear him. 
 He placed in the Church a tower, so to speak, of Apostles, Prophets, and Doctors ready to defend the peace of the Church. 
He dug around it, when He had freed it from the burden of earthly anxieties. For nothing burdens the mind more than solicitude for the world and cupidity either for wealth or for power...
It seems clear, therefore, that the example of the vine is designed, as this passage indicates, for the instruction of our lives. It is observed to bud in the mild warmth of early spring and next to produce fruit from the joints of the shoots, from which a grape is formed. This gradually increases in size, but it still retains its bitter taste. 
When, however, it is ripened and mellowed by the sun, it acquires its sweetness. Meanwhile, the vine is decked in green leaves by which it is protected in no slight manner from frosts and other injuries and is defended from the sun's heat. Is there any spectacle which is more pleasing or any fruit that is sweeter? What a joy to behold the rows of hanging grapes like so many jewels of a beautiful countryside, to pluck those grapes gleaming in colors of gold or purple!  (Hexameron, Day 3)