These quick book reviews include links to our YouTube videos and blogs on the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers, plus related topics. We will also discuss how to read ancient works, and the problems scholars face when translating ancient works, and the 38-volume set of the writings of the Ante-Nicene, ante meaning before, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Church Fathers, translated into English. […]
Eusebius explains, “Irenaeus, whose name means ‘peaceable’ and who by temperament was a peacemaker, pleased and negotiated for the peace of the churches.” There was a dispute between Bishop Viktor of Rome and the Asian dioceses over the length of a church fast, he was threatening excommunication over this dispute. Irenaeus interceded, arguing that “the dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast.” He pointed out the variations were differences in practice extending back to their forefathers. Although they had their differences, “they all lived in peace with one another, and so do we: the divergences in the fast emphasizes the unanimity of the faith.” […]
We must be one of the peacemakers. What is peace? Peace is a “loving disposition towards our neighbor.” What is the opposite of this love? The enemy of peace is “hate and wrath, anger and envy, harboring resentment as well as hypocrisy and the calamity of war.”
We are reminded that the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Plain directly reminds us that not only are the poor in spirit blessed, but also the poor and down and out, and in case we do not comprehend, Jesus in Luke warns us, “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” So what is common between to these two Beatitudes and the words of Jesus on the Day of Judgement? St Gregory of Nyssa teaches us, “they all converge on the same goal,” they all show how the Love of God shines in our lives and in how we live our lives, and the love we show to our neighbor. […]
These sermons by St Gregory of Nyssa are cited twice in the Catholic Catechism in its discussion of the Commandment, DO NOT COVET, DO NOT ENVY. St Gregory of Nyssa mentions envy in this Beatitude: “Some people covet glory, or wealth, or prominence. Others lap up envy like some noxious food, and there are others (more holy) who desire things whose nature is good.” He continues, “the Word calls blessed those who hunger not without qualification, but those whose desire is directed toward true justice.”
Those who hunger and thirst for justice need never be filled, the possession of virtue “always offers its disciples the fulness of its delights. Therefore, God the Word promises to those who hunger for these things that they shall be filled, and in being filled their desire for virtue will not be dulled but rather kindled anew.” […]
St Gregory of Nyssa teaches, “Blessed are those who are not easily turned towards the passionate movements of the soul, but who are steadied by reason.” “To boast of riches or to be proud of one’s family, to have regard to fame and to think oneself above one’s neighbor, all these human honors destroy and shame the honor of the soul. No righteous man would thus defile the purity of his soul. When humility is well established, wrath will find no entrance into the soul. If there is no wrath, our life will be in a settled state of peace. This is true meekness.” […]
St Gregory of Nyssa’s collection of sermons on the Beatitudes is quoted twice in the Catholic Catechism’s discussion on the commandment, DO NOT ENVY. At first blush that seems odd, the Beatitudes do not directly mention envy, but when you think of the Beatitudes as positive commands, as encouragements to Love God and our neighbor more deeply, promising blessings to those whose hearts are humble, we realize that the connection between the Beatitudes is quite natural and not odd at all, for the commandment DO NOT envy is also a positive command to see our neighbor in the best light possible, to see our neighbor’s good fortune as our good fortune, to truly love our neighbor as ourselves. […]
The Beatitudes and St Nyssa’s sermons on the Beatitudes are both poetry of the soul. St Nyssa asks us, “Who among us is a disciple of the Word, seeking to ascend with our Lord from the low ground, from superficial and ignoble thoughts to the spiritual mountain of sublime concentration? This mountain leaves behind all shadows cast by the rising hills of wickedness, this mountain is lit up on all sides by the rays of true light, from the summit of this mountain everything that is invisible to those imprisoned in the CAVE may be seen the pure air of truth.” […]
John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.
One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]
We should always search our heart for upright and humble motives. St Mark the Ascetic warns that “some, without keeping the commandments, think they are keeping the faith, while others, keeping the commandments, expect to receive the kingdom as a reward owed to them. Both are deprived of the kingdom.” Our reward lies in our humble obedience, our salvation is our striving to live a more godly life.
Salvation is not a transaction, salvation is not bartering, salvation is a gift by grace, unearned. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “when the Scriptures say, ‘God will reward each person according to his works,’ the Scriptures are not saying that works deserve hell or the kingdom, but rather that works are done out of faith or lack of faith in Him. Christ repays each person not as a businessman fulfilling his contracts but as God, our Creator and Redeemer,” out of love for us, not out of bartered obligations. […]