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St. John Henry Newman on the Trinity

“There is a God,” when really apprehended, is the object of a strong energetic adhesion, which works a revolution in the mind; but when held merely as a notion, it needs but a cold and ineffective acceptance, though it be held ever so unconditionally. Such is the assent of thousands, whose imaginations are not at all kindled, nor their hearts inflamed, nor their conduct affected, by the most august of all conceivable truths. I ask, then, as concerns the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, such as I have drawn it out to be, is it capable of being apprehended otherwise than notionally? Is it a theory, undeniable indeed, but addressed to the student, and to no one else? Is it the elaborate, subtle, triumphant exhibition of a truth, completely developed, and happily adjusted, and accurately balanced on its centre, and impregnable on every side, as a scientific view, “totus, teres, atque rotundus,” challenging all assailants, or, on the other hand, does it come to the unlearned, the young, the busy, and the afflicted, as a fact which is to arrest them, penetrate them, and to support and animate them in their passage through life? That is, does it admit of being held in the imagination, and being embraced with a real assent? I maintain it does, and that it is the normal faith which every Christian has, on which he is stayed, which is his spiritual life, there being nothing in the exposition of the dogma, as I have given it above, which does not address the imagination, as well as the intellect.

St. John Henry Newman – An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (available free throughout October!)

Origen on the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Henri de Lubac formulated the important principle, “Observe Origen at work,” and Origen’s writings on the Gospel of St. Luke are an intriguing place to do that. Origen’s interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan begins with a paraphrase of an unnamed patristic writer:

One of the elders wanted to interpret the parable as follows. The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the pandochium (that is, the stable), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. And further, the two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.

Origen – Homilies on Luke, Homily 34

After which he continues with his own reading of the parable, which builds on the paraphrased exegesis:

All of this has been said reasonably and beautifully. But we should not think that it applies to every man. For, not every man “goes down from Jerusalem into Jericho,” nor do all dwell in this present world for that reason, even if he who “was sent on account of the lost sheep of the house of Israel” went down. Hence, the man who “went down from Jerusalem into Jericho” “fell among robbers” because he himself wished to go down. But the robbers are none other than they of whom the Savior says, “All who came before me were thieves and robbers.” But still, he does not fall among thieves, but among robbers, who are far worse than thieves. He fell among them when he was going down from Jerusalem. “They robbed him and inflicted blows on him.” What are the blows? What are the wounds that have wounded a man? They are vices and sins. Then the robbers, who had stripped and wounded him, do not help the naked man, but they strike him again with blows and leave him. Hence, Scripture says, “They robbed him and inflicted wounds on him; and they went away and left him”—not dead, but “half-dead.” But it happened that first a priest, and then a Levite, were going down on the same road. Perhaps they had done some good to other men, but not to this man, who had gone down “from Jerusalem to Jericho.” For, the priest saw him—I think this means the Law. And the Levite saw him—that is, in my view, the prophetic word. When they had seen him, they passed by and left him. Providence was saving the half-dead man for him who was stronger than the Law and the prophets, namely for the Samaritan. The name means “guardian.” He is the one who “neither grows drowsy nor sleeps as he guards Israel.” On account of the half-dead man, this Samaritan set out not “from Jerusalem into Jericho,” like the priest and the Levite who went down. Or, if he did go down, he went down to rescue and care for the dying man. The Jews had said to him, “You are a Samaritan and you have a demon.” Though he denied having a demon, he was unwilling to deny that he was a Samaritan, for he knew that he was a guardian.

Origen’s Homilies on Luke is the free book for August.

On the Killing of the Egyptian Firstborn, from St. Gregory of Nyssa

Exodus 12:29 may be the most difficult verse in the Bible: “At midnight the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.” How are we to understand God’s killing of innocent children, even the children of captives? In response to this verse St. Gregory of Nyssa asks, “If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice?” He answers that question by seeking “the true spiritual meaning” of the verse:

We have learned through the things examined already that Moses (and he who exalts himself by virtue in keeping with his example), when his soul had been empowered through long application and high and lofty life, and through the illumination which came from above, considered it a loss not to lead his countrymen to the life of freedom.When he came to them, he implanted in them a more intense desire for freedom by holding out worse sufferings to them. Intending to remove his countrymen from evil, he brought death upon all the firstborn in Egypt. By doing this he laid down for us the principle that it is necessary to destroy utterly the first birth of evil. It is impossible to flee the Egyptian life in any other way. It does not seem good to me to pass this interpretation by without further contemplation. How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason? Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said. The teaching is this: When through virtue one comes to grips with any evil, he must completely destroy the first beginnings of evil.

St. Gregory of Nyssa – The Life of Moses, §91-92

He continues:

For when he slays the beginning, he destroys at the same time what follows after it. The Lord teaches the same thing in the Gospel, all but explicitly calling on us to kill the firstborn of the Egyptian evils when he commands us to abolish lust and anger and to have no more fear of the stain of adultery or the guilt of murder. Neither of these things would develop of itself, but anger produces murder and lust produces adultery. Since the producer of evil gives birth to lust before adultery and anger before murder, in destroying the firstborn he certainly kills along with it the offspring which follows. Take for an example a snake: When one crushes his head he kills the rest of the body at the same time. This would not have happened unless the blood which turns aside the destroyer had been poured out on our doors. And if it is necessary to perceive the meaning presented here more fully, the history provides this perception in both the killing of the firstborn and the safeguarding of the entrance by blood. In the one the first impulse to evil is destroyed, and in the other the first entrance of evil into us is turned away by the true Lamb. For when the destroyer has come inside, we do not drive him out by our own devices, but by the Law we throw up a defense to keep him from gaining a foothold among us.

ibid, §93-95

St. Gregory’s work on Moses serves well as an introduction to how the Church Fathers read the Bible. As David Bentley Hart once put it, “For ancient and medieval exegetes… the very question of whether the events recounted in the text had ever actually happened was largely a matter of indifference for how to go about reading the text literally—or, more precisely, reading it ad litteram: that is, with an exactingly scrupulous attention to what was written on the page, in every detail, and with every discernible shade of significance.” Discover for yourself the riches of patristic exegesis! The Life of Moses is available free through the end of July.

St. Augustine Reads St. Matthew

Fra Angelico – The Conversion of St. Augustine

This week in the lectionary we read from the 11th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The chapter focuses on John the Baptist. Here St. Augustine explains Christ’s teaching in Matthew 11:25-27, which follows right after Christ’s description of John’s prophecy.

We have heard the Son of God saying, I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. What doth he confess to Him? Wherein doth he praise Him? Because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Who are the wise and prudent? Who the babes? What hath He hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes? By the wise and prudent, He signifieth those of whom St. Paul speaks; Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? Yet perhaps thou still askest who they are. They are they peradventure who in their much disputation concerning God, have spoken falsely of Him; who, puffed up by their own doctrines, could in no wise find out and know God, and who for the God whose substance is incomprehensible and invisible, have thought the air and sky to be God, or the sun to be God, or any thing which holds high place among the creatures to be God. For observing the grandeur and beauty and powers of the creatures, they rested in them, and found not the Creator.

St. Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament (A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and West; Oxford; London 1844–1845)

Run Toward the Fatherland

By Oliver Davies, excerpted from this month’s free Catholic book.

It is natural for travelers to hurry on to their homeland; it is natural too that they should experience anxiety on the roadway and peace when they arrive home. And so we too who are on the road should hasten on, for the whole of our life is like one day’s journey. Our first duty is to love nothing here, but to love the things above, to desire the things above, to relish the things above and to seek our home there, for the fatherland is where our Father is. [Read more…]

Verbum’s Free Book Goes Away Soon

You only have a few days left to get these resources on Mary and the Catholic tradition at a great discount. [Read more…]

What Was Original before Original Sin?

Suppose we are asked to complete this phrase: “Original ——.” What do we answer? My guess is that we, and most people who have received adequate Christian education, would respond: “Original Sin.”

With St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the response is radically different. The response becomes: [Read more…]

Get Lexicon of Saint Thomas Aquinas for Free

Start the new year with new reading.

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Last Chance to Get October’s Free Book

St. Catherine of Siena’s crowning work, The Dialogue, features her conversations with God on topics such as virtue, sin, and suffering.

In the excerpt below (the whole book is free this month), St. Catherine of Siena paints a vision for how the Church’s suffering today transforms it into Christ’s likeness, which will soon result in joy. She writes imaginatively from the perspective of God the Father. [Read more…]

Bridging the Chasm between God and Humanity: Get October’s Free Book

A new month brings a new free book, and this one’s a classic.

October’s free book of the month is Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue, in which St. Catherine, named a Doctor of the Church in 1970, shares her conversations with God on the topics of salvation, suffering, perfection, and more. [Read more…]

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