Category Archives: Patristics

St. John Chrysostom: Feminist

I didn’t find much online about the Fathers’ opinion of 1 Corinthians 11, so I went looking and found some interesting stuff.

In defending St. Paul’s statement about “the head of Christ is God” not being Arian or Adoptionist or anything derogatory to the divinity of Christ, St. John Chrysostom actually shows his feminist side! Woot!

From “Homily 26 on First Corinthians”, Section 3.

“Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words [“the head of Christ is God”] they contrive against the Son.

But they stumble against themselves. For if “the man be the head of the woman,” and the head be of the same substance with the body, and “the head of Christ is God,” the Son is of the same substance with the Father.

“Nay,” say they, “it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection.”

What then are we to say to this?

In the first place, when anything lowly is said of Him, conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression.

However, tell me how you intend to prove this from the passage?

“Why, as the man governs the wife,” says he, “so also the Father, Christ.”

Therefore, as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father governs the Son. “For the head of every man,” we read, “is Christ.”

And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Father’s compared with the Son, consider to what meanness you will bring Him. So we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God.

For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. Such as this: “the head of Christ is God:” and, “Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman.” Therefore if we choose to take the term, “head,” in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?

But do you understand the term “head” differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ?

Therefore, in the case of the Father and the Son, we must understand it differently also.

“How understand it differently?” says the objector.

According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master.

For what if the wife be under subjection to her husband? It is as a wife — as free, as equal in honor.

And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God.

For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less.

For if we admire the Son — that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him — we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son — not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counsellor is no slave. But again, when you hear of a counsellor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son has the same honor with Him that begot Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.”

Heh. Anyway, the rest of his comments are a bit less feminist… but still, a lot more feminist than some people online!

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: St. Cyril of Alexandria

Another goodie from the collection at Tertullian.org! This one is adapted from the Syriac version of St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, which he apparently gave as a series of sermons. The 1859 translator was R. Payne Smith, a sublibrarian at the Bodleian Library who also edited and published the Syriac manuscript.

So here’s St. Cyril on eggs and Lk. 11:12, in Sermon 79.

“….We sometimes draw near to our bounteous God, offering Him petitions for various objects, according to each one’s pleasure — but occasionally without discernment, or without any careful examination of what truly is to our advantage, and of what, if granted by God, would prove a blessing; and what would be to our injury, if we received it.

“Rather, by the inconsiderate impulse of our fancy, we fall into desires replete with ruin, and which thrust the souls of those that entertain them into the snare of death and the meshes of hell.

“When, therefore, we ask of God aught of this kind, we shall by no means receive it. On the contrary, we offer a petition fit only for ridicule.

“And why shall we not receive it? Is the God of all weary of bestowing gifts upon us?

“By no means.

“‘Why, then?’ someone perhaps may say, ‘Will He not give, since He is bounteous in giving?’

“Let us learn from Him. Or rather, you have already heard Him here saying, ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ (Lk. 11:12)

‘Understand,’ He says, ‘by an image or plain example taken from what happens among you, the meaning of what I say.’

“‘You are the father of children; you have in you the sharp spur of natural affection towards them; in every way you wish to benefit them. When, therefore,’ He says, ‘one asks of you bread, without delay and with pleasure you give it, as knowing well that he seeks of you wholesome food. But when, from want of understanding, a little child that knows not yet how to distinguish what it sees, nor moreover what is the service and use of the various objects that fall in our way, asks for stones to eat, do you,’ He says, ‘give them? Or rather, do you not make him desist from any such desire as would be to his injury?’

“And the same reasoning holds good of the serpent and fish, and the egg and scorpion. If he ask for a fish, you will grant it. But if he see a serpent, and wish to seize it, you will hold back the child’s hand. If he want an egg, you will offer it at once; and encourage his desire after things of this sort, that the infant may advance to riper age. But if he see a scorpion creeping about, and run after it, imagining it to be something pretty, and being ignorant of the harm it can do, you will, I suppose, of course stop him, and not let him be injured by the noxious animal.

“When therefore He says, ‘You who are evil’ — by which He means, ‘you whose mind is capable of being influenced by evil, and not uniformly inclined to good like the God of all’ — ‘You know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more shall your heavenly Father give a good spirit to them that ask Him?’ And by ‘a good spirit,’ He means spiritual grace. For this in every way is good, and if a man receive it, he will become most blessed, and worthy of admiration.

“Most ready, therefore, is our heavenly Father, to bestow gifts upon us; so that whosoever is denied what he asks, is himself the cause of it. For he asks, as I said, what God will not give…

“Examine, therefore, your prayer. For if you ask aught, by receiving which, you will become a lover of God — God, as I said, will grant it. But if it be anything unreasonable, or that is able to do you an injury, He will withhold His hand.

“He will not bestow the wished-for object, in order that He may neither give you anything of an injurious nature — for this is completely alien from Him — nor let you harm yourself by receiving it.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Aelfric of Eynsham

In Aelfric of Eynsham’s homily, “On the Greater Litany” (“In Letania Maiore”), he also draws from St. Augustine’s egg material when quoting Lk. 11:12.

“God is our Father through his mildheartedness [ie, mercy]. And the fish betokens faith, and the egg, holy hope; and the loaf, true love.

“God gives these three things to His chosen, for no man can have God’s kingdom unless he has these three things. He must believe rightly, and have hope in God, and have true love for God and men, if he would come to God’s kingdom.

“…The egg betokens hope. For the birds do not propagate like other animals, but first give birth to an egg; and then, with hope, the mother raises that egg to be a bird. In like manner, our hope does not yet come to what it hopes for, but is like an egg. When it gets what it has been promised, it will be a bird.”

This translation is adapted from The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Vol. 1: The Sermones Catholici, or Homilies of Aelfric, by Benjamin Thorpe.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Even More St. Augustine

In Sermon 105, c. 4-10, St. Augustine elaborates further on the symbolic meaning of the “three opposing” choices of gift in this passage, and he gives the egg a little more credit. Here’s the egg parts from chapters 5-10:

“What’s left is hope — which, it seems to me, is compared to an egg. For hope is for a thing that has not yet arrived; and an egg is something, but it’s not a hen yet.

“And so quadrupeds give birth to children, but birds to a hope of children.

“Therefore, it is for this that hope cheers us on: that we may despise present things and hope for what is to come, forgetting what is behind us, when we are reaching forward along with the Apostle [Paul]. For he says it this way: ‘But one thing I do: I forget what is behind in stretching forward to what is ahead, leaning toward the finish line, to win the palm leaves of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.’

“Nothing is such an enemy of hope as considering what is behind us — that is, to put hope in those things which cross our path and slip past us….

“Be afraid of the example of Lot’s wife. For she looked behind her, and she stayed where she looked. She was turned into salt; she was pickled in brine as an example for the prudent.

“The Apostle Paul has spoken about this hope, like this: ‘For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For why does a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for that which we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’

“‘For why does a man hope for what he sees?’

“There is an egg. It is an egg, and it is not a hen yet.

“And there is a turtleshell. The turtle is not seen, because it is covered by the shell. With patience, it can be awaited. Let it warm up, and it will come back to life.

“Work toward this finish line: to lean forward, to forget the past. For the things which are seen are temporal things.”

“‘Not looking back,” he says, ‘at what is seen, but considering what is not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal things, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Cor. 4:18)

“Therefore, reach out your hope to those things which are not seen. Wait for them! Hold on! Don’t look back!

“Fear the scorpion coming for your egg! See how it strikes with its tail, which it holds behind it.

“Therefore, don’t let the scorpion kill your egg! Don’t let this world kill your hope, I tell you, with the poison that’s behind it, which goes against you!

“How much the world says to you! How much ruckus it makes behind your back! It’s all so you will look back — that is, put your hope in things of the present. But not really of the present — they can’t be said to be things of the present, because they don’t stay that long.

“And it’s so that you will move your hope away from what Christ promised and has not yet given you, but which He will give because He is faithful. It’s so that you will turn your soul away, and wish to quit, still in this dying world.

“…If I have hope, if I hold onto hope, my egg will not be struck by the scorpion.”

“…All those who blaspheme against our Christ because of these adversities — they are the tail of the scorpion.

“Let us put our egg under the wings of this Gospel hen who clucks, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’ to those false and wandering ones. ‘How often would I have gathered together your children, as the hen gathers her chicks? But you would not.’

“It is not said to us: ‘How often would I’ and ‘You would not.’

“For this Hen is the Divine Wisdom. But He assumes flesh so that He may fit with His chicks.

“Look at the other hen – the one of molting plumage shaking her wings, with a voice broken and quavering and weary, and sluggish to gather her little ones.

“Therefore, let us put our egg — that is, our hope — under the wings of this Hen over here.

“Perhaps you notice how a hen can peck up a scorpion. So therefore, would that this Hen would also peck up and devour these blasphemers, creeping out of their caves and crawling across the earth, and stinging us with evil! Let the Hen drag them into her Body and turn them into eggs!

“…Let them stop blaspheming. Let them learn to adore. Let the stinging scorpions be eaten by the Hen, and be converted by being drawn into the Body! Let them be trained on earth, and crowned in Heaven.”

This is actually topical, as one of the old games with Easter eggs was to knock your egg against that of a neighbor at table, and see which egg was the strongest.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: More St. Augustine

In Sermon 61, St. Augustine references Luke 11:12 and other passages to show that, even when we are wicked, the Father still loves us and is good to us.

Sermon 61, 1-2:

“A wonderful thing, brothers! We may be evil, but we have a good Father.

“…Therefore, brothers, since we evil ones have a good father, let us not remain evil forever.

“Nobody evil does good. If nobody evil does good, how can an evil person do good to himself?

“The One Who is always good makes good out of evil… We know He gives His children good things ‘according to the time’ (Rom. 9:9): good temporal things, good bodily things, good carnal things, even when we may be evil.

“And what are these good things, if you doubt them?

“Fish. Eggs. Bread. Fruit. Grain. This light, this air. These things which we observe — they are good.

“Men are celebrated for such riches, and they do not recognize other men as their equals in such things — in things, I say, for which men are celebrated — loving flashy clothing, rather than considering the same skin that’s underneath.

“These riches are good things, all the same. But all these good things which I have mentioned, they can be owned by either good people or evil.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Tertullian

Tertullian also references Luke 11:12 in his book Against Marcion, lib. IV, c. 26. (Adapted by me from Peter Holmes’ 1870 translation.)

“Even if he has offended, man is more friends with the Creator than with Marcion’s [demiurge] god. Therefore he knocks at the door of Him to whom he has the right to come — the One Whose gate he could find, Whom he knew owned bread, Who will be home in bed with the children Whom He had willed to be born. Even if the knock comes late, Time belongs to the Creator.

“…So recognize Him Whom you call the Creator as Father, too. It is He Who knows what His children need. For when they asked for bread, He gave them manna from heaven… not a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg.

“…Marcion’s god, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a scorpion to give away, so he couldn’t deny what he didn’t own. Only God could do it — He who holds, but does not give out, the scorpion.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: The Venerable Bede

I think I will look around and find some egg quotes in the Fathers. Here is one.

From St. Bede’s commentary on Luke (Lk. 11:12):

“‘Aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget illi scorpionem?’

“In ovo, indicatur spes. Ovum enim nondum est foetus perfectus, sed fovendo speratur.”

“‘And if [a man’s son] should ask for an egg, will [his father] hand him a scorpion?'”

“Hope is shown in an egg. For an egg is not yet a complete offspring, but it is hoped for and kept warm.”

Bede seems to have gotten this from St. Augustine’s Letter 130 to St. Proba, “a religious handmaiden of God.” She was a nun who wrote letters full of questions, to folks like St. Jerome and St. Augustine. This letter was one of the many answer- slash- treatises she got from these guys.

“‘Aut si ovum petit, numquid porrigit ei scorpium?’ …

“Spes in ovo, quia vita pulli nondum est, sed futura est, nec iam videtur, sed adhuc speratur. Spes enim quae videtur, non est spes.”

“‘But if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?’…

“Hope [is signified] in the egg, because the life of a hen is not yet there, but it is coming; nor can it now be seen, but it is still hoped for. For ‘hope which can be seen is not hope.’ (Rom. 8:24)

Augustine and Bede both compare the fish, egg, and bread to faith, hope, and charity; whereas the snake, scorpion, and stone represent the devil making unbelievers in God, worldliness making unbelievers in eternal life, and the hardheartedness making people who have no charity.

You’ll also notice that St. Augustine is using a cool (but more inaccurate) Old Latin translation of the Bible, because the Vulgate hadn’t been finished yet. And both versions of the Bible use “numquid,” a question word indicating that the answer is “No.”

St. Augustine is going by the state of the art, when it comes to Greco-Roman natural philosophy. But St. Bede seems to indicate more clearly that an egg is alive — just not ready to go.

I suspect that monastic life in England included more contact with chicken coops than the life of a minor North African Roman aristocrat, or a bishop in Hippo.

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