COMMENTARY OF S. CYRIL,
PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA,
THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE.
1:2. Who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.
In saying that the Apostles were eyewitnesses of the substantial and living Word, the Evangelist agrees with John, who says, that “the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled in us, and His glory was seen, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father.” For the Word became capable of being seen by reason of the flesh, which is visible and tangible and solid: whereas in Himself He is invisible. And John again in his Epistle says, “That which was from the beginning, That which we have heard, That which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled around the Word of Life, and the Life became manifest.” Hearest thou not that he speaks of the Life as capable of being handled? This he does that thou mayest understand that the Son became man, and was visible in respect of the flesh, but invisible as regards His divinity.
1:51. He hath shewed strength with His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
The arm enigmatically signifies the Word that was born of her: and by the proud, Mary means the wicked demons who with their prince fell through pride: and the Greek sages, who refused to receive the folly, as it seemed, of what was preached: and the Jews who would not believe, and were scattered for their unworthy imaginations about the Word of God. And by the mighty she means the Scribes and Pharisees, who sought the chief seats. It is nearer the sense, however, to refer it to the wicked demons: for these, when openly claiming mastery over the world, the Lord by His coining scattered, and transferred those whom they had made captive unto His own dominion. For those things all came to pass according to her prophecy, that
1:52. He hath put down riders from their thrones, and exalted the humble.
Great used to he the haughtiness of these demons whom He scattered, and of the devil, and of the Greek sages, as I said, and of the Pharisees and Scribes. But He put them down, and exalted those who had humbled themselves under their mighty hand, “having given them authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy:” and made the plots against us of these haughty-minded beings of none effect. The Jews, moreover, once gloried in their empire, but were stripped of it for their unbelief; whereas the Gentiles. who were obscure and of no note, were for their faith’s sake exalted.
1:53 He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.
By the hungry, she means the human race: for, excepting the Jews only, they were pining with famine. The Jews, however, were enriched by the giving of the law, and by the teaching of the holy prophets. For “to them belonged the giving of the law, the adoption of sons, the worship, the promises.” But they became wanton with high feeding, and too elate at their dignity; and having refused to draw near humbly to the Incarnate One, they were sent empty away, carrying nothing with them, neither faith nor knowledge, nor the hope of blessings. For verily they became both outcasts from the earthly Jerusalem, and aliens from the glorious life that is to be revealed, because they received not the Prince of Life, but even crucified the Lord of Glory, and abandoned the fountain of living water, and set at nought the bread that came down from heaven. And for this reason there came upon them a famine severer than any other, and a thirst more bitter than every thirst: for it was not a famine of the material bread, nor a thirst of water, “but a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord.” But the heathen, who were hungering and athirst, and with their soul wasted away with misery, were filled with spiritual blessings, because they received the Lord. For the privileges of the Jews passed over unto them.
1:54. He hath taken hold of Israel His child to remember mercy.
He hath taken hold of Israel,—-not of the Israel according to the flesh, and who prides himself on the bare name, but of him who is so after the Spirit, and according to the true meaning of the appellation;—-even such as look unto God, and believe in Him, and obtain through the Son the adoption of sons, according to the Word that was spoken, and the promise made to the prophets and patriarchs of old. It has, however, a true application also to the carnal Israel; for many thousands and ten thousands of them believed. “But He has remembered His mercy as He promised to Abraham:” and has accomplished what He spake unto him, that “in thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed.” For this promise was now in the act of fulfilment by the impending birth of our common Saviour Christ, Who is that seed of Abraham, in Whom the Gentiles are blessed. “For He took on Him the seed of Abraham,” according to the Apostle’s words: and so fulfilled the promise made unto the fathers.
1:69. He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us.
The word horn is used not only for power, but also for royalty. But Christ, Who is the Saviour that hath risen for us from the family and race of David, is both: for He is the King of kings, and the invincible power of the Father.
1:72. To perform mercy.
Christ is mercy and justice: for we have obtained mercy through Him, and been justified, having washed away the stains of wickedness through faith that is in Him.
1:73. The oath which He sware to our father Abraham,
But let no one accustom himself to swear from hearing that God sware unto Abraham. For just as anger, when spoken of God, is not anger, nor implies passion, but signifies power exercised in punishment, or some similar motion; so neither is an oath an act of swearing. For God does not swear, but indicates the certainty of the event,—-that that which He says will necessarily come to pass. For God’s oath is His own word, fully persuading those that hear, and giving each one the conviction that what He has promised and said will certainly come to pass.
1:76. And thou, child, shalt be called Prophet of the Highest.
Observe, I pray, this also, that Christ is the Highest, Whose forerunner John was both in his birth, and in his preaching. What remains, then, for those to say, who lessen His divinity? And why will they not understand, that when Zacharias said, “And thou shalt be called Prophet of the Highest,” he meant thereby “of God,” of Whom also were the rest of the prophets.
1:79. To give light to them that sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.
For those under the law, and dwelling in Judea, the Baptist was, as it were, a lamp, preceding Christ: and God so spake before of him; “I have prepared a lamp for My Christ.” And the law also typified him in the lamp, which in the first tabernacle it commanded should be ever kept alight. But the Jews, after being for a short time pleased with him, flocking to his baptism, and admiring his mode of life, quickly made him sleep in death, doing their best to quench the ever-burning lamp. For this reason the Saviour also spake concerning him; “He was a burning and shining lamp, and ye were willing a little to rejoice for a season in his light.”
1:79. To guide our feet into the way of peace.
For the world, indeed, was wandering in error, serving the creation in the place of the Creator, and was darkened over by the blackness of ignorance, and a night, as it were, that had fallen upon the minds of all, permitted them not to see Him, Who both by nature and truly is God. But the Lord of all rose for the Israelites, like a light and a sun.
“From S. Cyril’s Commentary upon the Gospel of St. Luke, Sermon the First.“
From the Syriac, MS. 12,154.
Luke ii. 1. And it came to pass in those days, &c.
Christ therefore was born in Bethlehem at the time when Augustus Caesar gave orders that the first enrolment should be made. But what necessity was there, some one may perhaps say, for the very wise Evangelist to make special mention of this? Yes, I answer: it was both useful and necessary for him to mark the period when our Saviour was born: for it was said by the voice of the Patriarch: “The head shall not depart from Judah, nor a governor from his thighs until He come, for Whom it is laid up: and He is the expectation of the Gentiles.” That we therefore might learn that the Israelites had then no king of the tribe of David, and that their own native governors had failed, with good reason he makes mention of the decrees of Caesar, as now having beneath his sceptre Judaea as well as the rest of the nations: for it was as their ruler that he commanded the census to be made.
2:4. Because he was of the house and lineage of David.
The book of the sacred Gospels referring the genealogy to Joseph, who was descended from David’s house, has proved through him that the Virgin also was of the same tribe as David, inasmuch as the Divine law commanded that marriages should be confined to those of the same tribe: and the interpreter of the heavenly doctrines, the great apostle Paul, clearly declares the truth, bearing witness that the Lord arose out of Juda. The natures, however, which combined unto this real union were different, but from the two together is one God the Son, without the; diversity of the natures being destroyed by the union. For a union of two natures was made, and therefore we confess One Christ, One Son, One Lord. And it is with reference to this notion of a union without confusion that we proclaim the holy Virgin to be the mother of God, because God the Word was made flesh and became man, and by the act of conception united to Himself the temple that He received from her. For we perceive that two natures, by an inseparable union, met together in Him without confusion, and indivisibly. For the flesh is flesh, and not deity, even though it became the flesh of God: and in like manner also the Word is God, and not flesh, though for the dispensation’s sake He made the flesh His own. But although the natures which concurred in forming the union are both different and unequal to one another, yet He Who is formed from them both is only One: nor may we separate the One Lord Jesus Christ into man severally and God severally, but we affirm that Christ Jesus is One and the Same, acknowledging the distinction of the natures, and preserving them free from confusion with one another.
2:5 With Mary, his betrothed wife, being great with child.
The sacred Evangelist says that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, to shew that the conception had taken place upon her betrothal solely, and that the birth of the Emanuel was miraculous, and not in accordance with the laws of nature. For the holy Virgin did not bear from the immission of man’s seed. And what was the reason of this? Christ, Who is the first-fruits of all, the second Adam according to the Scriptures, was born of the Spirit, that he might transmit the grace (of the spiritual birth) to us also: for we too were intended, no longer to bear the name of sons of men, but of God rather, having obtained the new birth of the Spirit in Christ first, that he might be “foremost among all,” as the most wise Paul declares.
And the occasion of the census most opportunely caused the holy Virgin to go to Bethlehem, that we might see another prophecy fulfilled. For it is written, as we have already mentioned, “And thou Bethlehem, house of Ephratah, art very small to be among the thousands of Judah: from thee shall come forth for Me to be Ruler in Israel!”
But in answer to those who argue that, if He were brought forth in the flesh, the Virgin was corrupted: and if she were not corrupted, that He was brought forth only in appearance, we say; the prophet declares, “the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in and gone out, and the gate remaineth closed.” If, moreover, the Word was made flesh without sexual intercourse, being conceived altogether without seed, then was He born without injury to her virginity.
2:7. And she brought forth her firstborn Son.
In what sense then her firstborn? By firstborn she here means, not the first among several brethren, but one who was both her first and only son: for some such sense as (his exists among the significations of “firstborn.” For sometimes also the Scripture calls that the first which is the only one; as “I am God, the First, and with Me there is no other.” To shew then that the Virgin did not bring forth a mere man, there is added the word firstborn; for as she continued to be a virgin, she had no other son but Him Who is of the Father: concerning Whom God the Father also proclaims by the voice of David, “And I will set Him Firstborn high among the kings of the earth.” Of Him also the all-wise Paul makes mention, saying, “But when He brought the First-begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” How then did He enter into the world? For He is separate from it, not so much in respect of place as of nature; for it is in nature that He differs from the inhabitants of the world: but He entered into it by being made man, and becoming a portion of it by the incarnation. For though He is the Only-begotten as regards His divinity, yet as having become our brother, He has also the name of Firstborn; that, being made the first-fruits as it were of the adoption of men, He might; make us also the sons of God.
Consider therefore that He is called the Firstborn in respect of the economy: for with respect to His divinity He is the Only-begotten. Again, He is the Only-begotten in respect of His being the Word of the Father, having no brethren by nature, nor being co-ordinate with any other being: for the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, is One and Alone: but He becomes the Firstborn by descending to the level of created things. When therefore He is called the Only-begotten, He is so with no cause assigned by reason of which He is the Only-begotten, being “the Only-begotten God into the bosom of the Father:” but when the divine Scriptures call Him Firstborn, they immediately also add of whom He is the firstborn, and assign the cause of His bearing this title: for they say, “Firstborn among many brethren:” and “Firstborn from the dead:” the one, because He was made like unto us in all things except sin; and the other, because He first raised up His own flesh unto incorruption. Moreover, He has ever been the Only-begotten by nature, as being the Sole begotten of the Father, God of God, and Sole of Sole, having shone forth God of God, and Light of Light: but He is the Firstborn for our sakes, that by His being called the Firstborn of things created, whatever resembles Him may be saved through Him: for if He must of necessity be the Firstborn, assuredly those must also continue to exist of whom He is the Firstborn. But if, as Eunomius 6 argues, He is called God’s Firstborn, as born the first of many; and He is also the Virgin’s Firstborn; then as regards her also, He must be the first as preceding another child: but if He is called Mary’s Firstborn, as her only child, and not as preceding others, then is He also God’s Firstborn, not as the first of many, but as the Only One born.
Moreover if the first are confessedly the cause of the second, but God and the Son of God are first, then is the Son the cause of those who have the name of sons, inasmuch as it is through Him that they have obtained the appellation. He therefore who is the cause of the second sons may justly be called the |11 Firstborn, not as being the first of them, but as the first cause of their receiving the title of sonship. And just as the Father being called the first—-“for I, He saith, am the first, and I am after these things”—-assuredly will not compel us to regard Him as similar in nature to those that are after Him; so also though the Son be called the first of creation, or the Firstborn before all creation, it by no means follows that He is one of the things made: but just as the Father said “I am the first,” to shew that He is the origin of all things, in the same sense the Son also is called the first of creation. “For all things were made by Him,” and He is the beginning of all created things, as being the Creator and Maker of the world 7.
2:7. And she laid him in the manger.
He found man reduced to the level of the beasts: therefore is He placed like fodder in a manger, that we, having left off our bestial life, might mount up to that degree of intelligence which befits man’s nature; and whereas we were brutish in soul, by now approaching the manger, even His own table, we find no longer fodder, but the bread from heaven, which is the body of life. |12
SERMON II. Sermon of S. Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, from the Commentary upon the Gospel of Luke; Upon the birth of our Saviour in the flesh.
From the Syriac, MS. 12,165.
2:8-18. And there were shepherds in that country, watching and keeping guard by night over their flock: and the angel of the, Lord came unto them, and the glory of God shone upon them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for lo! I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which, shall be to all the people: that there is born unto you to-day, in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord. And this is your sign; ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and among men good will. And it came to pass that when the angels had gone from them unto heaven, the shepherds said unto one another, Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which hath come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe laid in the manger. And when they had seen, they made known the word that was spoken unto them concerning the child. And all that heard wondered at what was told them by the shepherds.
LET me begin my discourse to you with that which is written in the book of Psalms, “Come let us praise the Lord, and sing unto God our Saviour:” for He is the Head of our feast-day, and therefore let us tell His noble doings, and |13 relate the manner of that beautifully contrived dispensation, by means of which He has saved the world, and having placed on each one of us the yoke of His kingdom, is justly the object of our admiration. The blessed David therefore says in the Psalms, “All ye people clap your hands;” and again adds thereto, “Sing with understanding, God hath set a king over all the heathen.” For this holy mystery was wrought with a wisdom most befitting Christ, if it be true, as true most certainly it is, that the Lord, though He is God, appeared unto us, and though He is in the form of God the Father, and possesses an incomparable and universal preeminence, took the likeness of a slave. But even so He was God and Lord; for He did not cease to be that which He had been.
The company of the holy prophets had before proclaimed both His birth in the flesh, and His assumption of our likeness as about in due time to come to pass: and inasmuch as this hope had now reached its fulfilment, the rational powers of heaven bring the glad tidings of His manifestation and appearance in this world, to shepherds first of all at Bethlehem, who were thus the earliest to receive the knowledge of the mystery. And the type answers to the truth: for Christ reveals Himself to the spiritual shepherds, that they may preach Him to the rest, just as the shepherds also then were taught His mystery by the holy angels, and ran to bear the glad tidings to their fellows. Angels therefore are the first to preach Him, and declare His glory as God born in the flesh in a wonderful manner of a woman.
But perchance some one may object to this; “that He Who was now born was still a child, and wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger: how then did the powers above praise Him as God?” Against such our argument stands firm. Understand, O man, the depth of the mystery! God was in visible form like unto us: the Lord of all in the likeness of a slave, albeit the glory of lordship is inseparable from Him. Understand that the Only-begotten was made flesh; that He endured to be born of a woman for our sakes, to put away the curse pronounced upon the first woman: for to her it was said, “In pains shalt thou bring forth children:” for it was as bringing forth unto death, that they endured the sting of |14 death 8. But because a woman has brought forth in the flesh the Immanuel, Who is Life, the power of the curse is loosed, and along with death have ceased also the pains that earthly mothers had to endure in bringing forth.
Wouldst thou learn also another reason of the matter? Remember what the very wise Paul has written of Him. “For as to the powerlessness of the law, wherein it was weak through the flesh, God having sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and because of sin, has condemned 9 the sin in His flesh, that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit 10.” What then is the meaning of his saying that the Son was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh?” It is this. The law of sin lies hidden in our fleshly members, together with the shameful stirring of the natural lusts: but when the Word of God became flesh, that is man, and assumed our likeness, His flesh was holy and perfectly pure; so that He was indeed in the likeness of our flesh, but not according to its standard. For He was entirely free from the stains and emotions natural to our bodies 11, and from that inclination which leads us to what is not lawful.
When therefore thou seest the child wrapped in swaddling-clothes, stay not thy thought solely upon His birth in the flesh, but mount up to the contemplation of His godlike glory: elevate thy mind aloft: ascend to heaven: so wilt thou behold |15 Him in the highest exaltation, possessed of transcendent glory; thou wilt see Him “set upon a throne high and lifted up;” thou wilt hear the Seraphim extolling Him in hymns, and saying that heaven and earth are full of His glory. Yea! even upon earth this has come to pass: for the glory of God shone upon the shepherds, and there was a multitude of the heavenly armies telling Christ’s glory. And this it was which was proclaimed of old by the voice of Moses, “Rejoice, ye heavens, with Him, and let all the sons 12 of God worship Him.” For very many holy prophets had been born from time to time, but never had any one of them been glorified by the voice of angels: for they were men, and according to the same measure as ourselves, the true servants of God, and bearers of His words. But not so was Christ: for He is God and Lord, and the Sender of the holy prophets, and, as the Psalmist says, “Who in the clouds shall be compared unto the Lord, and who shall be likened unto the Lord among the sons of God?” For the appellation of sonship is bestowed by Him as of grace upon us who lie under the yoke, and are by nature slaves: but Christ is the true Son 13, that is, He is the Son of God the Father by nature, even when He had become flesh: for He continued, as I have said, to be that which He had ever been, though He took upon Him that which He had not been.
And that what I say is true, the prophet Isaiah again assures us, saying, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel; butter and honey shall He eat: before He knoweth or chooseth the evil, He shall prefer the good: for before the Child distinguisheth good or evil, He is not obedient to evil in that He chooseth the good.” And yet how is it not plain to all, that a new-born babe, as yet unable, from its youth and tenderness, to understand anything, is unequal to the task of distinguishing between good and evil? For he knows absolutely nothing. But in our Saviour Christ it was a great and extraordinary miracle: for He ate while yet a babe both butter and honey. And because He was God, ineffably made flesh, He knew only |16 the good, and was exempt from that depravity which belongs to man. And this too is an attribute of the supreme Substance; for that which is good by nature, firmly and unchangeably, belongs specially to It, and It only; “for there is none good, but one God,” as the Saviour has Himself said.
Wouldst thou see another virtue of the Child? Wouldst thou see that He is by nature God, Who in the flesh was of woman? Learn what the prophet Isaiah says of Him: “And I drew near unto the prophetess, and she conceived, and bare a male; and the Lord said unto me, Call His name, Quick take captive, and spoil hastily.14 For before the Child shall know to call father or mother, He shall take the strength of Damascus.” For contemporaneously with the birth of Christ the power of the devil was spoiled. For in Damascus he had been the object of religious service, and had had there very many worshippers; but when the holy Virgin brought forth, the power of his tyranny was broken; for the heathen were won unto the knowledge of the truth; and their firstfruits and leaders were the Magi, who came from the East to Jerusalem; whose teacher was the heaven, and their schoolmaster a star.
Look not therefore upon Him Who was laid in the manger as a babe merely, but in our poverty see Him Who as God is rich, and in the measure of our humanity Him Who excels the inhabitants of heaven, and Who therefore is glorified even by the holy angels. And how noble was the hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and among men good will!” For the angels and archangels, thrones and lordships, and high above them the Seraphim, preserving their settled order, are at peace with God: for never in any way do they transgress His good pleasure, but are firmly established|17 in righteousness and holiness. But we, wretched beings, by having set up our own lusts in opposition to the will of our Lord, had put ourselves into the position of enemies unto Him. But by Christ this has been done away: for He is our peace; for He has united us by Himself unto God the Father, having taken away from the middle the cause of the enmity, even sin, and so justifies us by faith, and makes us holy and without blame, and calls near unto Him those who were afar off: and besides this, He has created the two people into one new man, so making peace, and reconciling both in one body to the Father. For it pleased God the Father to form into one new whole all things in Him, and to bind together things below and things above, and to make those in heaven and those on earth into one flock. Christ therefore has been made for us both Peace and Goodwill; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be glory and honour and might with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.15 |18
VERY numerous indeed is the assembly, and earnest the hearer:—-for we see the Church full:—-but the teacher is but poor. He nevertheless Who giveth to man a mouth and tongue, will further supply us with good ideas.17 For He somewhere says Himself, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Since therefore ye have all come together eagerly on the occasion of this joyous festival 18 of our Lord, let us with cheerful torches brightly celebrate the feast, and apply ourselves to the consideration of what was divinely fulfilled, as it were, this day, gathering for ourselves from every quarter whatsoever may confirm us in faith and piety.
But recently we saw the Immanuel lying as a babe in the manger, and wrapped in human fashion in swaddling bands, but extolled as God in hymns by the host of the holy angels. For they proclaimed to the shepherds His birth, God the Father having granted to the inhabitants of heaven as a special privilege to be the first to preach Him. And to-day too we have seen Him obedient to the laws of Moses, or rather we have seen Him Who as God is the Legislator, subject to His |19 own decrees. And the reason of this the most wise Paul teaches us, saying, “When we were babes we were enslaved under the elements of the world; but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born 19 of a woman, born under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” Christ therefore ransomed from the curse of the law those who being subject to it, had been unable to keep its enactments. And in what way did He ransom them? By fulfilling it. And to put it in another way: in order that He might expiate the guilt of Adam’s transgression, He showed Himself obedient and submissive in every respect to God the Father in our stead: for it is written, “That as through the disobedience of the One man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One, the many shall be made just.” He yielded therefore His neck to the law in company with us, because the plan of salvation so required: for it became Him to fulfil all righteousness. 20 For having assumed the form of a slave, as being now enrolled by reason of His human nature among those subject to the yoke, He once even paid the half shekel to the collectors of the tribute, although by nature free, and as the Son not liable to pay the tax. |20 When therefore them seest Him keeping the law, be not offended, nor place the free-born among the slaves, but reflect rather upon the profoundness of the plan of salvation.
21 Upon the arrival, therefore, of the eighth day, on which it was customary for the circumcision in the flesh to be performed according to the enactment of the law, He receives His Name, even Jesus, which by interpretation signifies, the Salvation of the people. For so had God the Father willed that His Son should be named, when born in the flesh of a woman. For then especially was He made the salvation of the people, and not of one only, but of many, or rather of every nation, and of the whole world. He received His name, therefore, on the same occasion on which He was circumcised.
But come, and let us again search and see, what is the riddle, and to what mysteries the occurrence directs us. The blessed Paul has said, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing.” To this it is probable that some may object, Did the God of all then command by the all-wise Moses a thing of no account to be observed, with a punishment decreed against those that transgressed it? Yes, I say: for as far as regards the nature of the thing, of that, I mean, which is done in the flesh, it is absolutely nothing, but it is pregnant with the graceful type of a mystery, or rather contains the hidden manifestation of the truth. For on the eighth 22 day Christ arose from the dead, and gave us the spiritual circumcision. For He commanded the holy Apostles: “Having gone, make ye disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And we affirm that the spiritual circumcision takes place chiefly in |21 the season of holy baptism, when also Christ makes us partakers of the Holy Ghost. And of this again, that Jesus of old, who was captain after Moses, was a type. For he first of all led the children of Israel across the Jordan: and then having halted them, immediately circumcised them with knives of stone. So when we have crossed the Jordan, Christ circumcises us with the power of the Holy Ghost, not purifying the flesh, but rather cutting off the defilement that is in our souls.
On the eighth day, therefore, Christ is circumcised, and receives, as I said, His Name: for then, even then, were we saved by Him 23 and through Him, “in Whom, it saith, ye were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands in the putting off of the fleshly body, with Christ’s circumcision, having been buried together with Him in baptism, wherein also ye were raised with Him.” His death, therefore, was for our sakes. as were also His resurrection and His circumcision. For He died, that we who have died together with Him in His dying unto sin, may no longer live unto sin: for which reason it is said, “If we have died together with Him, we shall also live together with Him.” And He is said to have died unto sin, not because He had sinned, “for He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but because of our sin. Like as therefore we died together with Him when He died, so shall we also rise together with Him.
Again, when the Son was present among us, though by nature God and the Lord of all, He does not on that account despise our measure, but along with us is subject to the same law, although as God He was Himself the legislator. Like the Jews, He is circumcised when eight days old, to prove His descent from their stock, that they may not deny Him. For Christ was expected of the seed of David, and offered them the proof of His relationship. But if even when He was circumcised they said, “As for This man, we know not whence He is;” there |22 would have been a show of reason in their denial, had He not been circumcised in the flesh, and kept the law.
But after His circumcision, the rite was done away by the introduction of that which had been signified by it, even baptism: for which reason we are no longer circumcised. For circumcision seems to me to have effected three several ends: in the first place, it separated the posterity of Abraham by a sort of sign and seal, and distinguished them from all other nations. In the second, it prefigured in itself the grace and efficacy of Divine baptism; for as in old time he that was circumcised, was reckoned among the people of God by that seal, so also he that is baptized, having formed in himself Christ the seal, is enrolled into God’s adopted family. And, thirdly, it is the symbol of the faithful when established in grace, who cut away and mortify the tumultuous risings of carnal pleasures and passions by the sharp surgery of faith, and by ascetic labours; not cutting the body, but purifying the heart, and being circumcised in the spirit, and not in the letter: whose praise, as the divine Paul testifies, needs not the sentence of any human tribunal, but depends upon the decree from above. 24
After His circumcision, she next waits for the time of her purification: and when the days were fulfilled, and the fortieth was the full time, God the Word, Who sitteth by the Father’s side, is carried up to Jerusalem, and brought into the Father’s presence in human nature like unto us, and by the shadow of the law is numbered among the firstborn. For even before the Incarnation the firstborn were holy, and consecrated to God, being sacrificed to Him according to the law. 25 O! how great and wonderful is the plan of salvation! “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” He Who is in the bosom of the Father, the Son Who shares His throne, and is coeternal with Him: by Whom all things are divinely brought into existence, submitted nevertheless to the measure of human nature, and even offered a sacrifice to His own Father, although adored by all, and glorified with |23 Him. And what did He offer? As the firstborn and a male a pair of turtles, or two young doves, according to what the law prescribed. But what does the turtle signify? And what too the other, the dove? Come, then, and let us examine this. The one, then, is the most noisy of the birds of the field: but the other is a mild and gentle creature. And such did the Saviour of all become towards us, shewing the most perfect gentleness, and like a turtle moreover soothing the world, and filling His own vineyard, even us who believe in Him, with the sweet sound of His voice. For it is written in the Song of Songs, “The voice of the turtle has been heard in our land.” For Christ has spoken to us the divine message of the Gospel, which is for the salvation of the whole world.
Turtles, therefore, and doves were offered, when He presented Himself unto the Lord, and there might one see simultaneously meeting together the truth and the types. And Christ offered Himself for a savour of a sweet smell, that He might offer us by and in Himself unto God the Father, and so do away with His enmity towards us by reason of Adam’s transgression, and bring to nought sin that had tyrannized over us all. For we are they who long ago were crying, “Look upon me, and pity me.” 26 |24
27 The prophet Isaiah says, “Beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings of good:” and what could there be so sweet to learn as that God has saved the world by the mediation of the Son, in that He was made like unto us? For it is written, “that there is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the Man Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself a ransom for us.” For of His own accord He descended to our poverty, that He might make us rich by our gaining what is His. Behold Him therefore as one in our estate presented unto the Father, and obedient to the shadows of the law, offering sacrifice moreover according to what was customary, true though it be that these things were done by the instrumentality of His mother according to the flesh. Was He then unrecognised by all at Jerusalem, and known to none dwelling there? How could this be the case? For God the Father had before proclaimed by the holy prophets, that in due season the Son would be manifested to save them that were lost, and to give light to them that were in darkness. By one too of the holy prophets He said, “My righteousness approacheth quickly, and My mercy to be revealed, and My salvation shall burn as a torch. But the mercy and righteousness is Christ: for through Him have we obtained mercy and righteousness, having washed away our filthy vileness by faith that is in Him. And that which a torch going before them is to those in night and darkness, this has Christ become for those who are in mental gloom and darkness, implanting in them the divine light. For this reason also the blessed prophets prayed to be made partakers of His great grace, saying, “Shew us Thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us Thy salvation.” |25
Christ 28 therefore was carried into the temple, being yet a little child at the breast: and the blessed Symeon being endowed with the grace of prophecy, takes Him in his arms, and filled with the highest joy, blessed God, and said; “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all the nations, the Gentiles’ light for revelation, and a glory of Thy people Israel.” For the mystery of Christ had been prepared even before the very foundation of the world, but was manifested in the last ages of time, and became a light for those who in darkness and error had fallen under the devil’s hand. These were they “who serve the creation instead of the Creator,” worshipping moreover the dragon, the author of evil, and the impure throng of devils, to whom they attach the honour due unto God: yet were they called by God the Father to the acknowledgment of the Son Who is the true light. Of them in sooth He said by the voice of Isaiah, “I will make signs unto them, and receive them, because I will ransom them, and they shall be multiplied, as they were many: and I will sow them among the nations, and they who are afar off shall remember Me.” For very many were they that were astray, but were called through Christ: and again they are many as they |26 were before; for they have been received and ransomed, having obtained as the token of peace from God the Father, the adoption into His family and the grace that is by faith in Jesus Christ. And the divine disciples were sown widely among the nations: and what is the consequence? Those who in disposition were far from God, have been made near. To whom also the divine Paul sends an epistle, saying, “Now ye who some time were afar off have been made near in the blood of Christ.” And having been brought near, they make Christ their glorying: for again, God the Father has said of them, “And I will strengthen them in the Lord their God, and in His Name shall they glory, saith the Lord.” This also the blessed Psalmist teaches, speaking as it were unto Christ the Saviour of all, and saying, “Lord, they shall walk in the light of Thy countenance, and in Thy Name shall they exult all the day, and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted: for Thou art the glorying of their strength.” And we shall find also the prophet Jeremiah calling out unto God, “Lord, my strength and my help, and my refuge in the day of my evils, to Thee shall the heathen come from the end of the earth, and say, Our fathers took unto themselves false idols, in which there is no help.”
Christ therefore became the Gentiles’ light for revelation: but also for the glory of Israel. For even granting that some of them proved insolent, and disobedient, and with minds void of understanding, yet is there a remnant saved, and admitted unto glory through Christ. And the firstfruits of these were the divine disciples, the brightness of whose renown lightens the whole world.
And in another sense Christ is the glory of Israel, for He came of them according to the flesh, though He be “God over all, and blessed for evermore, Amen.”
And Symeon blesseth also the holy Virgin as the handmaid of the divine counsel, and the instrument of the birth that submitted not itself to the laws of human nature. For being a virgin she brought forth, and that not by man, but by the power of the Holy Ghost having come upon her.
29 And what does the prophet Symeon say of Christ? “Behold This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against.” For the |27 Immanuel is set by God the Father for the foundations of Sion, “being a stone elect, chief of the corner, and honourable.” Those then that trusted in Him were not ashamed: but those who were unbelieving and ignorant, and unable to perceive the mystery regarding Him, fell, and were broken in pieces. For God the Father again has somewhere said, “Behold I lay in Sion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and He that believeth on It shall not be ashamed; but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will winnow him.” But the prophet bade the Israelites be secure, saying, “Sanctify the Lord Himself, and He shall be thy fear: and if thou trust upon Him, He shall be thy sanctification, nor shall ye strike against Him as on a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.” Because however Israel did not sanctify the Emmanuel Who is Lord and God, nor was willing to trust in Him, having stumbled as upon a stone because of unbelief, it was broken in pieces and fell. But many rose again, those, namely, who embraced faith in Him. For they changed from a legal to a spiritual service: from having in them a slavish spirit, they were enriched with That Spirit Which maketh free, even the Holy Ghost: they were made partakers of the divine nature: they were counted worthy of the adoption of sons: and live in hope of gaining the city that is above, even the citizenship, to wit, the kingdom of heaven.
And by the sign that is spoken against, he means the precious Cross, for as the most wise Paul writes, “to the Jews it is a stumbling-block, and foolishness to the heathen.” And again, “To them that are perishing it is foolishness: but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation.” The sign therefore is spoken against, if to those that perish it seem to be folly; while to those who acknowledge its power it is salvation and life.
And Symeon further said to the holy Virgin, “Yea, a sword shall go through thy own soul also,” meaning by the sword the pain which she suffered for Christ, in seeing Him |28 Whom she brought forth crucified; and not knowing at all that He would be more mighty than death, and rise again from the grave. Nor mayest thou wonder that the Virgin knew this not, when we shall find even the holy Apostles themselves with little faith thereupon: for verily the blessed Thomas, had he not thrust his hands into His side after the resurrection, and felt also the prints of the nails, would have disbelieved the other disciples telling him, that Christ was risen, and had shewed Himself unto them,
The very wise Evangelist therefore for our benefit teaches us all things whatsoever the Son, when He was made flesh, and consented to bear our poverty, endured for our sakes and in our behalf, that so we may glorify Him as our Redeemer, as our Lord, as our Saviour, and our God: 30 by Whom and with Whom to God the Father and the Holy Ghost be the glory and the power for over and ever, Amen.31 |29
[From Mai and Cramer]
2:40-52. And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him. And again; But Jesus increased in stature and wisdom and grace with God and men.
TO say that the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him, must be taken as referring to His human nature. And examine, I pray you, closely the profoundness of the dispensation: the Word endures to be born in human fashion, although in His divine nature He has no beginning nor is subject to time: He Who as God is all perfect, submits to bodily growth: the Incorporeal has limbs that advance to the ripeness of manhood: He is filled with wisdom Who is Himself all wisdom. And what say we to this? Behold by these things Him Who was in the form of the Father made like unto us: the Rich in poverty: the High in humiliation: Him said to “receive,” Whose is the fulness as God. So thoroughly did God the Word empty Himself! For what things are written of Him as a man shew the manner of the emptying. For it were a thing impossible for the Word begotten of God the Father to admit ought like this into His own nature: but when He became flesh, even a man like unto us, then He is born according to the flesh of a woman, and is said also to have been subject to the things that belong to man’s state: and though the Word as being God could have made His flesh spring forth at once from the womb unto the measure of the perfect man, yet this would have been of the nature of a portent: and therefore He gave the habits and laws of human nature power even over His own flesh.
32 Be not therefore offended, considering perchance within thyself, How can God increase? or how can He Who gives grace to angels and to men receive fresh wisdom? Rather reflect upon the great skill wherewith we are initiated into His mystery. For the wise Evangelist did not introduce the Word in His abstract and incorporeal nature, and so say of Him that |30 He increased in stature and wisdom and grace, but after having shewn that He was born in the flesh of a woman, and took our likeness, he then assigns to Him these human attributes, and calls Him a child, and says that He waxed in stature, as His body grow little by little, in obedience to corporeal laws. And so He is said also to have increased in wisdom, not as receiving fresh supplies of wisdom,—-for God is perceived by the understanding to be entirely perfect in all things, and altogether incapable of being destitute of any attribute suitable to the Godhead:—-but because God the Word gradually manifested His wisdom proportionably to the age which the body had attained.
The body then advances in stature, and the soul 33 in wisdom: for the divine nature is capable of increase in neither one nor the other; seeing that the Word of God is all perfect. And with good reason he connected the increase of wisdom with the growth of the bodily stature, because the divine nature revealed its own wisdom in proportion to the measure of the bodily growth.
2:42. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.
After the Evangelist had said, that Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace with God and men, he next shews that what he says is true: for he carries Him to Jerusalem in company with the holy Virgin, upon the summons of the feast: and then he says that He remained behind, and was afterwards found in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors both asking and answering questions regarding those things, as we may feel sure, which were spoken of old by the law: and that He was wondered at by all for His questions and answers. Thou seest Him advancing in wisdom and grace, by reason of His becoming known unto many as being what He was. |31
2:48. Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.
His mother certainly knew that He was not the child of Joseph, but she so speaks to avoid the suspicions of the Jews. And upon her saying, that “Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing,” the Saviour answers;
2:49. Did ye not know that I must be at My Father’s?
Here then first He makes more open mention of Him Who is truly His Father, and lays bare His own divinity: for when the holy Virgin said, Child, why hast Thou so done unto us? then at once shewing Himself to transcend the measure of human things, and teaching her that she had been made the handmaid of the dispensation in giving birth to the flesh, but that He by nature and in truth was God, and the Son of the Father That is in heaven, He says, Did ye not know that I must be at My Father’s? 34 Here let the Valentinians, when they hear that the temple was God’s, and that Christ was now at His own, Who long before also was so described in the law, and represented as in shadows and types, feel shame in affirming, that neither the Maker of the world, nor the God of the law, nor the God of the temple, was the Father of Christ.35 |32
3:1-6. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet.
The blessed Isaiah was not ignorant of the scope of John’s preachings, but of old, even long before the time, bearing witness of it, he called Christ Lord and God: but John he styled His minister and servant, and said that he was a lamp advancing before the true light, the morning star heralding the sun, foreshowing the coming of the day that was about to shed its rays upon us: and that he was a voice, not a word, forerunning Jesus, as the voice docs the word.36
3:4 Prepare ye the ways of the Lord, make His paths straight,
John, being chosen for the Apostleship, was also the last of the holy prophets: for which reason, as the Lord was not yet come, he says, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. And what is the meaning of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord?” It is put for, Make ready for the reception of whatever Christ may wish to enact: withdraw your hearts from the shadow of the law: cease from the types: think no more perversely. “Make the paths of our God straight.” For every path that leadeth unto good is straight and smooth and easy: but the other is crooked that leadeth down to wickedness them that walk therein. For of such it is written, “Whose paths are crooked, and the tracks of their wheels awry.” Straightforwardness therefore of the mind is as it were a straight path, having no crookedness. Such was the divine Psalmist’s character, who thus sings, “A crooked heart hath not cleaved unto me.” And Jesus,37 the son of Nun, in exhorting the people, said, “Make |33 straight your hearts unto the God of Israel:” while John cries, “Make straight your ways.” And this means, that the soul must be straight, displaying its natural intuition as it was created: and it was created beautiful and very straight. But when it turns aside, and its natural state is perverted, this is called vice, and the perversion of the soul. The matter therefore is not very difficult: for if we continue as we are made, we shall be virtuous. 38
But when some one, as it were, exclaims against us, saying, How shall we prepare the way of the Lord? or how make His paths straight? for there are many impediments in the way of those that will live well,—-Satan, who hates all that is beautiful, the unholy throng of wicked spirits, the law of sin itself that is in our fleshly members, and which arms itself against the inclinations of the mind to what is good, and many other passions besides, that have mastery over the mind of man:—-what then shall we do, with so great difficulty pressing upon us? The word of prophecy meets these objections, saying, Every valley shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and the crooked way shall become straight, and the rough ways shall become smooth: and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” 39
3:6. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
And all flesh did see the salvation of God, even of the Father: for He sent the Son to be our Saviour. And in these words by “flesh,” man generally is to be understood, that is, the whole human race. For thus all flesh shall see the salvation of God: no longer Israel only, but all flesh. For the gentleness of the Saviour and Lord of all is not limited, nor did He save one nation merely, but rather embraced within His net the whole world, and has illuminated all who were in darkness. And this is what was celebrated by the Psalmist’s lyre, “All the nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord.” While at the same time the remnant of the Israelites is saved, as the great Moses also long ago declared, saying, “Rejoice ye nations with His people.” |34
3:7-9. The Baptist therefore said to the multitudes that came to he baptized of him, Generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
WE affirm therefore that the blessed Baptist, as being full of the Holy Ghost, was not ignorant of the daring acts that Jewish wickedness would venture against Christ. For he foreknew that they would both disbelieve in Him, and wagging their envenomed tongue, would pour forth railings and accusations against Him: accusing Him at one time of being born of fornication; at another, as one who wrought His miracles by the help of Beelzebub, prince of the devils: and again, as one that had a devil, and was no whit better than a Samaritan. Having this therefore in view, he calls even those of them who repent wicked, and reproves them because, though they had the law speaking unto them the mystery of Christ, and the predictions of the prophets relating thereunto, they nevertheless had become dull of hearing, and unready for faith in Christ the Saviour of all. “For who hath warned you to flee from the coining wrath?” Was it not the inspired Scripture, which tells the happiness of those who believe in Christ, but forewarns those who believe not, and are ignorant, that they will be condemned to severe and inevitable punishment?
3:8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.
Moreover, the fruit of repentance is, in the highest degree, faith in Christ: and next to it, the evangelic mode of life, and in general terms the works of righteousness in contradistinction to sin, which the penitent must bring forth as fruits worthy of repentance. And he has added; “Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father: for I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” You see how most skilfully he humbles their foolish pride, and shews that their being born of Abraham according to the flesh is useless for their profit. For of |35what benefit is nobility of birth, if men practise not the like earnest deeds, nor imitate the virtue of their ancestors? For the Saviour says unto them, “if ye were Abraham’s children, ye would have done the works of Abraham.” The relationship which God requires is one in character and manners: so that it is a vain thing to boast of holy and good parents, while we fall far short of their virtue.
But, says the Jew, if this be so, in what way is the send of Abraham still to be multiplied, and the promise made to him of God hold true, of which the terms are, that “He will multiply his seed as the stars of heaven?” By the calling of the Gentiles, O Jew: for it was said to Abraham himself, that “in Isaac shall a seed for thee be called:” and that “I have set thee as a father of many nations.” But the phrase “in Isaac” means, According to promise. He is set therefore as a father of many nations by faith, that is to say, in Christ. And of these it was that God spake also by the voice of Ezekiel: “And I will take away out of their flesh the heart of stone, and will give them a heart of flesh, that they may know Me, that I am the Lord.”
And the blessed Baptist apparently calls them stones, because they as yet knew not Him Who is by nature God, but were in error, and in their great folly worshipped the creation instead of the Creator: but they were called, and became the sons of Abraham, and acknowledged, by believing in Christ, Him Who is by nature God.
But that he may benefit in a still higher degree those that hear him, the blessed Baptist brings forward something more: “But already even the axe is laid at the root of the trees.” But by the axe in this passage he signifies the sharp wrath which God the Father brought upon the Jews for their wickedness towards Christ, and audacious violence: for the wrath was brought upon them like an axe. And this the prophet Zecharias has explained to us, saying, “The wailing of Jerusalem shall be as the wailing of a grove of pomegranate trees cut down in the plain.” And Jeremiah also addressing her, said, “The Lord called thy name a beautiful olive tree, very leafy to behold: at the sound of its felling, a fire was kindled upon it: great was the lamentation over it: its branches |36 have been made unserviceable: and the Lord of hosts That planted thee hath uttered evils against thee.” And to this thou mayest add also the parable in the Gospels about the fig-tree. As being therefore a plant unfruitful, and no longer of generous kind, it was cut down by God. He does not, however, say that the axe was laid into the root, but at the root, that is, near the root. For the branches were cut off, but the plant was not dug up by its root: for the remnant of Israel was saved, and did not perish utterly.
SERMONS VIII AND IX.40
3:10-14. And the multitudes asked him.
THE blessed Luke has introduced three classes of men making inquiry of John,—-the multitudes, the publicans, and, thirdly, the soldiers: and as a skilful physician applies to each malady a suitable and fitting remedy, so also the Baptist gave to each mode of life useful and becoming counsel, bidding the multitudes in their course towards repentance practise mutual kindness: for the publicans, he stops the way to unrestrained exactions: and very wisely tells the soldiers to oppress no one, but be content with their wages. |37
[From the Syriac MS. 12,165.]
3: 15-17. But when the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether he were not the Christ, John answered, and said to them all, I indeed baptize you in water, but there cometh He Who is mightier than I: Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire, Whose fan is in His hand, and He shall purge His floor, and gather His wheat into stores, but the chaff He will burn in unquenchable fire. 41
IT is written, that “a just father will bring up (his children) excellently.” For those who are clad in the glory of the righteousness that is by Christ, and are acquainted with His sacred commands, will train up excellently and piously those who are their sons in the faith, giving them not the material bread of earth, but that which is from above, even from heaven. Of which bread the admirable Psalmist also makes mention, where he says, “Bread establisheth man’s heart, and wine rejoiceth man’s heart.” Let us therefore now also establish our hearts: let our faith in Christ be assured, as we correctly understand the meaning of those evangelic writings now read unto us. “For when the people, it says, were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts of John, whether he were not the Christ, he answered them in the words which we have just heard read.” |38
They had beheld with admiration the incomparable beauty of John’s mode of life: the splendour of his conduct: the unparalleled and surpassing excellence of his piety. For so great and admirable was he, that even the Jewish populace began to conjecture whether he were not himself the Christ, Whom the law had described to them in shadows, and the holy prophets had before proclaimed. Inasmuch therefore as some ventured on this conjecture, he at once cuts away their surmise, declining as a servant the honours due to the Master, and transferring the glory to Him Who transcends all, even to Christ. For he knew that He is faithful unto those that serve Him. And what he acknowledges is in very deed the truth: for between God and man the distance is immeasurable. “Ye yourselves, therefore, he says, bear me witness that I said I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him.” But where shall we find the holy Baptist thus speaking? In the Gospel of John, who has thus spoken concerning him; “And this is the testimony of John when the scribes and Pharisees at Jerusalem sent to ask him whether he were the Christ. And he confessed, and denied not, and said, that I am not the Christ, but am he that is sent before Him.” Great therefore and admirable in very deed is the forerunner, who was the dawning before the Saviour’s meridian splendour, the precursor of the spiritual daylight, beautiful as the morning star, and called of God the Father a torch.
Having therefore thus declared himself not to be the Christ, he now brings forward proofs, which we must necessarily consider, and by which we may learn how immeasurable the distance evidently is between God and man, between the slave and the Master, between the minister and Him Who is ministered unto, between him who goes before as a servant, and Him Who shines forth with divine dignity. What, therefore, is the proof? “I indeed baptize in water: after me shall come He Who is mightier than I, Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” As I said, therefore, the difference is incomparable, the superiority immeasurable, if, as is the case, the blessed Baptist, being so great in virtue, declares that he is not worthy even, as it were, to touch His shoes. And his declaration is true: for if the rational powers above, |39 principalities, and thrones, and lordships, and the holy Seraphim themselves, who stand around His godlike throne, holding the rank of ministers, unceasingly crown Him with praises as the Lord of all, what dweller upon earth is worthy even to be nigh unto God? For though He be loving unto man, and gentle, and mild, yet must we, as being of slight account, and children of earth, confess the weakness of our nature.
And after this, he again brings forward a second proof, saying, “I indeed baptize you in water: but He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.” And this too is of great importance for the proof and demonstration that Jesus is God and Lord. For it is the sole and peculiar property of the Substance That transcends all, to be able to bestow on men the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and make those that draw near unto It partakers of the divine nature. But this exists in Christ, not as a thing received, nor by communication from another, but as His own, and as belonging to His substance: for “He baptizes in the Holy Ghost.” The Word therefore That became man is, as it appears, God, and the fruit of the Father’s substance. But to this, it may be, those will object who divide the one Christ into two sons,—-those I mean who, as Scripture says, are “animal, and dividers, and having not the Spirit,”—-that He Who baptizes in the Holy Ghost is the Word of God, and not He Who is of the seed of David. What answer shall we make, then, to this? Yes! we too affirm, without fear of contradiction, that the Word being God as of His own fulness bestows the Holy Ghost on such as are worthy: but this He still wrought, even when He was made man, as being the One Son with the flesh united to Him in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner. For so the blessed Baptist, after first saying, “I am not worthy to stoop down “and loose the thong 42 of His shoes,” immediately added, |40 “He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire;” plainly while having feet for shoes. For no one whose mind was awake would say, that the Word, while still incorporeal, and not as yet made like unto us, had feet and shoes, but only when He had become a man. Inasmuch, however, as He did not then cease to be God, He wrought even so works worthy of the Godhead, by giving the Spirit unto them that believe in Him. For He, in one and the same person, was at the same time both God and also man.
But yes, he objects, the Word wrought the works of Deity by means of Him Who is of the seed of David. If so then thou arguest, we will repeat to thee in answer the words of John; for he somewhere said unto the Jews, “There cometh after me a man Who was before me, because He is before me: and I knew Him not, but He That sent me to baptize in water, He said unto me, Upon Whom thou seest the Spirit descending from heaven, and abiding upon Him, This is He That baptizeth in the Holy Ghost: and I saw, and bare witness, that This is the Son of God.” Behold, therefore, while plainly calling Him a man, he says that He is prior to him, and was before him, in that He is first, evidently in His divine nature; according to what was plainly said by Himself to the Jewish populace, “Verily I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Next, he says as well, that the Spirit also came down from heaven upon Him. Do they pretend that the Holy Ghost came down upon the Word of God while still abstract and incorporeal? and represent Him Who bestows the Spirit as made partaker of His own Spirit? Or rather is this their meaning, that having received the Spirit in His human nature, He in His divine nature baptizes in the Holy Ghost? For He is Himself singly, and alone, and verily the Son of God the Father, as the blessed Baptist, being taught of God, himself bare witness, saying, “And I saw, and bare witness that This is the Son of God!” 43 |41
Wouldst thou have also a third proof, in addition to what have already been given? “His fan,” he says, “is in His hand, and He shall purge His floor, and gather His wheat into His stores, but the chaff He shall burn with fire unquenchable.” For he compares those upon earth to ears of corn, or rather to the threshingfloor and the wheat upon it: for each one of us has grown like an ear of corn. And our Lord once, when speaking to the holy Apostles, made a similar comparison of our state: “The harvest indeed is great: but the labourers are few: pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest.” We therefore, who are upon the earth, are called ears of corn and wheat, and the harvest. And this harvest belongs to God over all: for He is Lord of all. But behold! says the blessed Baptist, the threshing floor belongs to Christ as its owner; for as such He purges it, removing and separating the chaff from the wheat. For the wheat is the just, whose faith is established and assured: but |42 the chaff signifies those whose mind is weak, and their heart easy to be ensnared, and unsafe and timorous, and blown about by every wind. The wheat, then, he says, is stored up in the granary: is deemed worthy, that is, of safety at God’s hand, and mercy, and protection and love: but the chaff, as useless matter, is consumed in the fire.
In every way, therefore, we may perceive that the Word of God, even when He was man, nevertheless continued to be one Son. 44 For He performs those works that belong to Deity, possessing the majesty and glory of the Godhead inseparable from Him. If so we believe, He will crown us with His grace: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be glory and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.45 |43
[From the Syriac MS. 12,165.]
3:21-23 46. And it came to pass, that when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized: and as He was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased. And Jesus Himself was beginning to be about thirty years old.
AGAIN come, that fixing our mind intently upon the Evangelic Scriptures, we may behold the beauty of the truth. Come let us direct the penetrating and accurate eyes of the mind unto the mystery of Christ; let us view with wonder the admirable skill of the divine economy: for so shall we see His glory. And thus to act is for our life: as He Himself assures us, when speaking unto God the Father in heaven, “Those things are life eternal: to know Thee Who alone art true; and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.” How therefore was He sent? and what was the manner of His coming unto us? For being by nature God That filleth all, how, as the blessed John the Evangelist said, “was He in the world,” Himself being Lord? And how was He sent by the Father, when as God He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things? for all things were established by Him.
The wise John the Evangelist then teaches us, saying, “And the Word was made flesh.” But perchance some one will say, ‘What then? Having ceased to be the Word, did |44 He change into being flesh? Did He fall from His Majesty, having undergone a transformation unto something which previously He was not?’ Not so, we say. Far from it. For by nature He is unchangeable and immutable. In saying, therefore, that the Word became flesh, the Evangelist means a man like unto us. For we also are often called flesh ourselves. For it is written, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” meaning thereby that every man shall see it. While therefore He immutably retains that “which He was, yet as having under this condition assumed our likeness, He is said to have been made flesh.
Behold Him, therefore, as a man, enduring with us the things that belong to man’s estate, and fulfilling all righteousness, for the plan of salvation’s sake. And this thou learnest from what the Evangelist says: “And it came to pass that when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized, and prayed.” Was He too then in need of holy baptism? But what benefit could accrue to Him from it? The Only-begotten Word of God is Holy of the Holy: so the Seraphim name Him in their praises: so every where the law names Him: and the company of the holy prophets accords with the writings of Moses. What is it that we gain by holy baptism? Plainly the remission of our sins. But in Jesus there was nought of this; “for He did no sin: neither was guile found “in His mouth,” as the Scripture saith. “He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sins, and made higher than the heavens,” according to the words of the divine Paul.
But yes! perchance some one will say, who has been ill instructed in the faith, ‘Was it then God the Word that was baptized? Was He in need of being made partaker of the Holy Ghost? Not at all. Therefore it is that we affirm, that the man who was of the seed of David, and united unto Him by conjunction 47, was baptized and received the Spirit.’ The |45 Indivisible therefore is divided by you into two sous: and because He was baptized when, thirty years old, He was made holy, as you say, by being baptized. Was He therefore not holy until He arrived at His thirtieth year? Who will assent to you, when thus you corrupt the right and blameless faith? For “there is one Lord Jesus Christ,” as it is written. But this we affirm: that He was not separate 48 from Him, and by Himself when baptized and made partaker of the Holy Ghost: for we know, both that He is God, and without stain, and Holy of the Holy: for we confess that “of His fulness have all we received.” For the Holy Spirit indeed proceedeth from God the Father, but belongeth also to the Son. It is even often called the Spirit of Christ, though proceeding from God the Father. And to this Paul will testify, saying, at one time, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God: but ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any one have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And again, “But because ye are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Father, our Father.” The Holy Spirit therefore proceedeth indeed as I said from God the Father, but His Only-begotten Word, as being both by nature and verily Son, and resplendent with the Father’s dignities, ministereth It to the creation, and bestoweth It on those that are worthy. Yea verily He said, “All things that the Father hath are mine.”
But let us retort upon those who pervert the right belief this question; ‘How can He Who received the Spirit, if He be, according to your phrase, a man, and the Son separately and by Himself, baptize with the Holy Ghost, and Himself give the Holy Spirit to them who are baptized?’ For to be able to impart the Spirit to men suiteth not any one whatsoever of things created, but, together with God’s other attributes, is the distinct property of Almighty God alone. But He Who gave It was man: for the wise John said, “After me cometh a Man, Who was before me . . . He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” As therefore it is unbefitting God the Word, |46 regarded as God the Word, to draw near unto holy baptism, and be made partaker of the Spirit, so in like manner it is altogether incredible, or rather impossible to believe that the ability to baptize men with the Holy Ghost, is the act of a mere man with nothing in Him superior to ourselves.
How then will the mystery be true? In that for our aid He assumed a kind of adaptation 49. The divine Word became man, even “He Who was in the form of God the Father, and thought it not robbery to be equal unto God,” as most wise Paul says, “but took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and humbling Himself to poverty.” Enquire therefore Who He was that was first in the likeness of God the Father, and could be regarded as on an equality with Him, but took the form of a slave, and became then a man, and besides this made Himself poor. Was it He of the seed of David, as they argue, Whom they specially regard separately and by Himself as the other Son, distinct from the Word of God the Father? If so, let them shew that He ever was on an equality with the Father. Let them shew how He assumed the form of a slave. Or what shall we say was that form of a slave? And how did He empty Himself? For what is poorer than human nature? He therefore Who is the exact image of God the Father, the likeness, and visible expression of His person, Who shines resplendent in equality unto Him, Who by right of nature is free, and the yoke of Whoso kingdom is put upon all creation,—-He it is Who took the form of a slave, that is, became a man, and made Himself poor by consenting to endure these human things, sin only excepted.
But how then, they object, was He baptized, and received also the Spirit? To which we reply, that He had no need of holy baptism, being wholly pure and spotless, and holy of the holy. Nor had He need of the Holy Ghost: for the Spirit That proceedeth from God the Father is of Him, and equal to Him in substance. We must now therefore at length hear what is the explanation of the economy. God in his love to man provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and making this confession before many witnesses, we wash away all the filth|47 of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and made partakers of the divine nature, and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary therefore that the Word of the Father, when He humbled Himself unto emptiness, and deigned to assume our likeness, should become for our sakes the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows, that He Who in every thing is first, must in this also set the example. In order therefore that we may learn both the power itself of holy baptism, and how much we gain by approaching so great a grace, He commences the work Himself; and, having been baptized, prays that you, my beloved, may learn that never-ceasing prayer is a thing most fitting for those who have once been counted worthy of holy baptism.
And the Evangelist says that the heavens were opened, as having long been closed. For Christ said, “Forthwith shall ye see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” For both the flock above and that below being now made one, and one chief Shepherd appointed for all, the heavens were opened, and man upon earth brought near to the holy angels. And the Spirit also again came down as at a second commencement of our race: and upon Christ first, Who received it not so much for His own sake as for ours: for by Him and in Him are we enriched with all things. Most suitably therefore to the economy of grace does He endure with us the things of man’s estate: for where otherwise shall we see Him emptied, Whose in His divine nature is the fulness? How became He poor as we are, if He were not conformed to our poverty? How did He empty Himself, if He refused to endure the measure of human littleness?
Having taken therefore Christ as our pattern, let us draw near to the grace of holy baptism, that so we may gain boldness to pray constantly, and lift up holy hands to God the Father, that He may open the heavens also unto us, and send down upon us too the Holy Ghost, to receive us as sons. For He spake unto Christ at the time of holy baptism, as though having by Him and in Him accepted man upon earth to the sonship, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” For He Who is the Son by nature and in truth, and the Only-begotten, when He became like unto us, is specially |48declared to be the Son of God, not as receiving this for Himself:—-for He was and is, as I said, very Son:—-but that He might ratify the glory unto us. For He has been made our firstfruits, and firstborn, and second Adam: for which reason it is said, that “in Him all things have become new:” for having put oil the oldness that was in Adam, we have gained the newness that is in Christ: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be glory and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.