Wednesday, August 24, 2016

From Milwaukee

AP photo/ Jeffrey Phelps

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the Theopolis Institute about the 2016 Milwaukee riots. The link to that article can be found here.

"If it's my will that he remains until I come, what is that to you?"

Now it's time to skip ahead a couple generations from where we last left off, to the witness of an Eastern Orthodox saint named Theophylact (1055-1108 A.D.), the Archbishop of Ohrid. Theophylact had quite a few interesting comments about Jesus’ promises in the Gospels, particularly those mentioned in Luke 21 and Mark 13 (which parallel Matthew 24 and all the other posts in this series). Archbishop Theophylact also reached the same conclusion that myself and many others throughout history have reached, namely, that Jesus’ prophecy about his own “coming” in John's Gospel (21:23) referred to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D. That, and other similar excerpts from St. Theophylacts’s commentaries can be found in Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea

Commenting on Luke 21:9-11, Theophylact said:
Now some have wished to place the fulfilment of these things not only at the future consummation of all things, but at the time also of the taking of Jerusalem. For when the Author of peace was killed, then justly arose among the Jews wars and sedition, But from wars proceed pestilence and famine, the former indeed produced by the air infected with dead bodies, the latter through the lands remaining uncultivated. Josephus also relates the most intolerable distresses to have occurred from famine; and at the time of Claudius Cæsar there was a severe famine, as we read in the Acts, (Acts 11:28.) and many terrible events happened, forboding, as Josephus says, the destruction of Jerusalem.1

Commenting on Luke 21:20-24, he wrote:
But some say that the Lord hereby signified the devouring of children, which Josephus also relates.2

Commenting on Mark 13:1-2, he continues:
For, since the Lord had spoken much concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, His disciples wondered, that such numerous and beautiful buildings were to be destroyed; and this is the reason why they point out the beauty of the temple, and He answers not only that they were to be destroyed, but also that one stone should not be left upon another: wherefore it goes on: And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now some may endeavour to prove that Christ’s words were false, by saying that many ruins were left, but this is not at all the point; for though some ruins had been left, still at the consummation of all things one stone shall not be left upon another. Besides it is related, that Ælius Adrian overturned the city and the temple from the foundation, so that the word of the Lord here spoken was fulfilled.3

Commenting on Mark 13:3-13
That is, the Romans against the Jews, which Josephus relates happened before the destruction of Jerusalem. For when the Jews refused to pay tribute, the Romans arose, in anger; but because at that time they were merciful they took indeed their spoils, but did not destroy Jerusalem. What follows shews that God fought against the Jews, for it is said, And there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines.4 

…Fitly also did He premise a recital of those things which concerned the Apostles, that in their own tribulations they might find some consolation in the community of troubles and sufferings. There follows: And ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. He says kings and rulers, as, for instance, Agrippa, Nero, and Herod. Again, His saying, for my sake, gave them no small consolation, in that they were about to suffer for His sake. For a testimony against them, means, as a judgment beforehand against them, that they might be inexcusable, in that though the Apostles were labouring for the truth, they would not join themselves to it. Then, that they might not think that their preaching should be impeded by troubles and dangers, He adds: And the Gospel must first be published among all nations.5

Commenting on Mark 13:14-20:
That is, if the Roman war had not been soon finished, no flesh should be saved; that is, no Jew should have escaped; but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, that is, for the sake of the believing Jews, or who were hereafter to believe, He hath shortened the days, that is, the war was soon finished, for God foresaw that many Jews would believe after the destruction of the city; for which reason He would not suffer the whole race to be utterly destroyed.6

[Marginal gloss by St Thomas]:7 After speaking of the things which were to happen before the destruction of the city, the Lord now foretells those which happened about the destruction itself of the city, saying, But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand.)

Commenting on Mark 13:28-31:
Or else, This generation shall not pass away, that is, the generation of Christians, until all things be fulfilled, which were spoken concerning Jerusalem and the coming of Antichrist… He says this of the generation of Christians, wishing to console His disciples, lest they should believe that the faith should fail at that time.8

Finally, Theophylact comments on John 21:18-24, a passage that all preterists agree with10 because John the apostle did live until the Lord’s “coming” in 70 A.D.. Most commentators from the first thousand years of church history, oddly, never notice that obvious connection which Theophylact (and apparently, others he knew) highlighted. He writes:
Some have understood, Till I come, to mean, Till I come to punish the Jews who have crucified Me, and strike them with the Roman rod. For they say that this Apostle (John) lived up to the time of Vespasian, who took Jerusalem, and dwelt near when it was taken.9

1. Thomas Aquinas. (1843). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 677). Oxford: John Henry Parker.
2. Ibid. p. 682
3. Thomas Aquinas. (1842). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Mark. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 254–255). Oxford: John Henry Parker. It's also interesting to note that Theophylact considers the definitive, final "fulfillment" of Jesus' prophecies against the temple as occurring under Hadrian. 
4. Ibid. p. 257
5. Ibid. p. 258
6. Ibid.p. 260
7. Ibid p. 262
8. Ibid. p. 268

9. Ibid. p. 630
10. The ESV translates it this way: Truly, truly, I say to you (Peter), when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Warned miraculously from heaven"

Continuing where I left off in this series, with some insights from the Venerable Bede (672-735 A.D.), I want to share some thoughts from two more important theologians from that same influential era. 

The first worth mentioning is Rabanus Maurus Magnentius, a Benedictine monk who became the archbishop of Mainz (Germany) in 847 A.D., and is venerated in the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox Churches for his important contributions to the life and faith of the Church. The second important Christian theologian is Remigius of Auxerre (841-908 A.D.), a Benedictine monk and Latin scholar who taught and wrote copious amounts of works on Biblical exegesis, Christian theology, Greco-Roman classics, Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy, Latin grammar, and liturgical philosophy. 

As we shall see momentarily, both of these highly influential Christians interpreted important Gospel prophesies of Jesus as being fulfilled in the first century, particularly in the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Old Covenant administration. 

Also, as we survey the comments of Rabanus and Remigius, keep in mind what I have shown in earlier posts (here and here), that the thoughts expressed below were also handpicked by St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church who was commissioned by Pope Urban IV to compile a commentary on the gospels, to aid the Church in gaining a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.

Commenting on Matthew chapter 24, verse by verse, Thomas Aquinas records the works of Rabanus and Remigius as follows:

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 
Rabanus: The historical sense is clear, that in the forty-second year after the Lord’s passion, the city and temple were overthrown under the Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus.  
Remigius: So it was ordained of God, that as soon as the light of grace was revealed, the temple with its ceremonies should be taken out of the way, lest any weakling in the faith, beholding all the things instituted of the Lord and hallowed by the Prophets yet abiding, might be gradually drawn away from the purity of the faith to a carnal Judaism.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 
Remigius: The Lord continuing His walk arrives at Mount Olivet, having by the way foretold the destruction of the temple to those disciples who had shewn and commended the buildings. When they had reached the Mount they came to Him, asking Him further of this. 
…For Mount Olivet has no unfruitful trees, but olives, which supply light to dispel darkness, which give rest to the weary, health to the sick. And sitting on Mount Olivet over against the temple, the Lord discourses of its destruction, and the destruction of the Jewish nation, that even by His choice of a situation He might shew, that abiding still in the Church He condemns the pride of the wicked.

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Rabanus: Or, this is a warning to the Apostles not to flee from Jerusalem and Judæa in terror of these things, when they should begin to come upon them; because the end was not immediately, but the desolation of the province, and the destruction of the city and temple should not come till the fortieth year. And we know that most grievous woes, which spread over the whole province, fell out to the very letter.Nation shall rise against nation, shews the disquietude of men’s minds; pestilences, the affliction of their bodies; famines, the barrenness of the soil; earthquakes in diverse places, wrath from heaven above.

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. 
Rabanus: For what desert so many evils are to be brought upon Jerusalem, and the whole Jewish province the Lord shews, when He adds, Then shall they deliver you up, &c.  
Remigius: As the capture of Jerusalem approached, many rose up, calling themselves Christians, and deceived many; such Paul calls false brethren, John Antichrists
Whoso shall endure unto the end, i.e. to the end of his life; for whoso to the end of his life shall persevere in the confession of the name of Christ, and in love, he shall be saved. 
…For the Lord knew that the hearts of the disciples would be made sad by the destruction of Jerusalem, and overthrow of their nation, and He therefore comforts them with a promise that more of the Gentiles should believe than of the Jews should perish. 
…But the whole passage might be referred to the end of the world. For then shall many be offended, and depart from the faith, when they see the numbers and wealth of the wicked, and the miracles of Antichrist, and they shall persecute their brethren; and Antichrist shall send false Prophets, who shall deceive many; iniquity shall abound, because the number of the wicked shall be increased; and love shall wax cold, because the number of the good shall diminish. 
[Marginal gloss by St Thomas]:1 But it is possible to maintain both applications of the passage, if only we will take this diffusion of Gospel preaching in a double sense. If we understand it of fruit produced by the preaching, and the foundation in every nation of a Church of believers in Christ, as Augustine (in the passage above quoted) expounds it, then it is a sign which ought to precede the end of the world, and which did not precede the destruction of Jerusalem. But if we understand it of the fame of their preaching, then it was accomplished before the destruction of Jerusalem, when Christ’s disciples had been dispersed over the four quarters of the earth. Whence Jerome says, (Hieron. in loc.) I do not suppose that there remained any nation which knew not the name of Christ; for where preacher had never been, some notion of the faith must have been communicated by neighbouring nations.

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains:
Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house.
Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

Remigius: And this we know was so done when the fall of Jerusalem drew near; for on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us2 (Euseb. H.E. iii. 5.), miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.3
1 This Gloss appears to be a note of S. Thomas, in confirmation of the view of S. Chrysostom, which refers this to the taking of Jerusalem. cf. Iren Hæres. i. 2 and 3.
2 Notice that Remigius utilized the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (and by extension, Josephus and Hegessipus) that I cited early on in this series to conclude that Christians in Judea were warned "miraculously from heaven" about the destruction of Jerusalem. "This" he writes, "we know was so done when the fall of Jerusalem drew near."
3 Thomas Aquinas. (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 799-816). Oxford: John Henry Parker.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"It is on record that this was literally fulfilled"

As I mentioned in the previous post, St. Thomas Aquinas was commissioned to write a commentary on the four Gospels for Pope Urban IV,  collected from Christian commentaries distributed over a thousand years of history. That commentary, consisting of many ancient fragments, is now called the Catena Aurea

In this post, I'm going to highlight many more of those comments which Aquinas selected because they all play an important role in this series I've been writing about. Today I want to cover the views of one particular person. He is another "Doctor of the Church", and is considered by the Church to be "the Father of English History." The Church calls him Saint Bede or the "Venerable Bede" (672-735 A.D.).

Commenting on Luke 21:5-24, the Venerable Bede wrote:
  For it was ordained by the dispensation of God that the city itself and the temple should be overthrown, lest perhaps some one yet a child in the faith, while wrapt in astonishment at the rites of the sacrifices, should be carried away by the mere sight of the various beauties.1 
  For there were many leaders when the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand, who declared themselves to be Christ, and that the time of deliverance was drawing nigh. Many heresiarchs also in the Church have preached that the day of the Lord is at hand, whom the Apostles condemn. (2 Thess. 2:2.) Many Antichrists also came in Christ’s name, of whom the first was Simon Magus, who said, This man is the great power of God. (Acts 8:10.)2 
...Hitherto our Lord had been speaking of those things which were to come to pass for forty years, the end not yet coming. He now describes the very end itself of the desolation, which was accomplished by the Roman army; as it is said, And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed, &c. 
...But how, while the city was already compassed with an army, were they to depart out? except that the preceding word “then” is to be referred, not to the actual time of the siege, but the period just before, when first the armed soldiers began to disperse themselves through the parts of Galilee and Samaria. 
...And these are the days of vengeance, that is, the days exacting vengeance for our Lord’s blood.3

The Venerable Bede also commented on various verses within Mark 13:1-31, mentioning such things as:
...For many came forward, when destruction was hanging over Jerusalem, saying that they were Christs, and that the time of freedom was now approaching. Many teachers of heresy also arose in the Church even in the time of the Apostles; and many Antichrists came in the name of Christ, the first of whom was Simon Magus, to whom the Samaritans, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, listened, saying, This man is the great power of God: wherefore also it is added here, And shall deceive many. (Acts 8:10) Now from the time of the Passion of our Lord there ceased not amongst the Jewish people, who chose the seditious robber and rejected Christ the Saviour, either external wars or civil discord; wherefore it goes on: And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled. And when these come, the Apostles are warned not to be afraid, or to leave Jerusalem and Judæa, because the end was not to come at once, nay was to be put off for forty years.4 And this is what is added: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet, that is, the desolation of the province, and the last destruction of the city and temple. It goes on: For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 
...Now it is on record that this literally took place at the time of the Jewish rebellion. But kingdom against kingdom, the pestilence of those whose word spreads as a canker, dearth of the word of God, the commotion of the whole earth, and the separation from the true faith, may all rather be understood of heretics who, by fighting one against the other, bring about the triumph of the Church.5 
...The Lord shews how Jerusalem and the province of Judæa merited the infliction of such calamities, in the following words: But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten. For the greatest cause of destruction to the Jewish people was, that after slaying the Saviour, they also tormented the heralds of His name and faith with wicked cruelty. 
...Ecclesiastical historians testify that this was fulfilled, for they relate that all the Apostles long before the destruction of the province of Judæa were dispersed to preach the Gospel over the whole world, except James the son of Zebedee and James the brother of our Lord, who had before shed their blood in Judæa for the word of the Lord. Since then the Lord knew that the hearts of the disciples would be saddened by the fall and destruction of their nation, He relieves them by this consolation, to let them know that even after the casting away of the Jews, companions in their joy and heavenly kingdom should not be wanting, nay that many more were to be collected out of all mankind than perished in Judæa.6

...When we are challenged to understand what is said (about the "Abomination of Desolation"), we may conclude that it is mystical. But it may either be said simply of Antichrist, or of the statue of Cæsar, which Pilate put into the temple, or of the equestrian statue of Adrian, which for a long time stood in the holy of holies itself. An idol is also called abomination according to the Old Testament, and he has added of desolation, because it was placed in the temple when desolate and deserted. 
...It is on record that this was literally fulfilled, when on the approach of the war with Rome and the extermination of the Jewish people, all the Christians who were in that province, warned by the prophecy, fled far away, as Church history relates, and retiring beyond Jordan, remained for a time in the city of Pella under the protection of Agrippa, the king of the Jews, of whom mention is made in the Acts, and who with that part of the Jews, who chose to obey him, always continued subject to the Roman empire.7 
...Some however refer this to the time of the Jewish captivity, where many, declaring themselves to be Christs, drew after them crowds of deluded persons.8

1. Thomas Aquinas. (1843). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 674). Oxford: John Henry Parker.
2. Ibid. p. 675
3. Ibid. pp. 681-682
4. i.e. in 70 A.D., forty years after Jesus' death in 30 A.D.
5. Thomas Aquinas. (1842). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Mark. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 256–257). Oxford: John Henry Parker.
6. Ibid. pp. 258-259
7. Ibid. pp. 260-261
8. Ibid. p. 264

Fragments from the Tradition

Continuing in this series about the early Christian Church and their views about prophetic fulfillment in the first century, I want to cover some statements by four important theologians, and the implications which arise from what they believed. The four theologians who I am referring to are St. Ambrose, Titus of Bostra, Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Augustine.

As will be shown briefly below, St Ambrose and Titus comment on Luke 21:5-8, and Cyril of Alexandria comments on Luke 21:9-19, whereas St. Augustine comments on Luke 21:20-24. Yet notice carefully that they all are commenting on the same chapter in Luke's Gospel. Notice also, in connection with the remainder of this series, that Luke chapter 21 is the same "Olivet Discourse" offered in Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13. Therefore, it can deduced with great certainty that many Christians of the early Church were made aware of what these men taught and believed, namely that Jesus prophesied about the first century Jewish wars and its end in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). 

Beginning with Luke's Gospel, in 21:5-8 we are told:
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.
Commenting on those verses, Saint Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan (A.D. 374) shows us that he was familiar with Jesus' predictions about the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.  St Ambrose writes:
It was spoken then of the temple made with hands, that it should be overthrown.” 

After this, he makes note of what Matthew's Gospel records about these prophetic statements by Jesus:
Matthew adds a third question, that both the time of the destruction of the temple, and the sign of His coming, and the end of the world, might be inquired into by the disciples. But our Lord being asked when the destruction of the temple should be, and what the sign of His coming, instructs them as to the signs, but does not mind to inform them as to the time. It follows, Take heed that ye be not deceived.1

Commenting on those same verses, Titus of Bostra (theologian and Bishop of Bostra in 363 A.D.) clearly implies that he, too, was aware of other theologians who interpreted Luke 21:5-8 as having first century fulfillment. He wrote:
…perhaps He [i.e. Jesus] does not speak of false Christs coming before the end of the world, but of those who existed in the Apostles’ time.”2

Continuing in Luke's Gospel (21:9-19) Jesus adds: 
And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.

Then he said to them, Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Commenting on these verses, Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria (376-444 A.D.) shows that he, too, was well aware that the New Testament Scriptures address the Jewish wars and persecutions which culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  

Cyril of Alexandria wrote: 
He says this, because before that Jerusalem should be taken by the Romans, the disciples, having suffered persecution from the Jews, were imprisoned and brought before rulers; Paul was sent to Rome to Cæsar, and stood before Festus and Agrippa.3

Luke continues Jesus' prophetic exhortations (21:20-24): 
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

St. Augustine comments on these verses from Luke's Gospel:
These words of our Lord, Luke has here related to shew, that the abomination of desolation which was prophesied by Daniel, and of which Matthew and Mark had spoken, (i.e. Mat. 24, Mark 13) was fulfilled at the siege of Jerusalem. …But where Matthew and Mark have written, Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes, Luke adds more clearly, And let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto, for these be the days of vengeance, that all the things which are written may be fulfilled. …Then Luke follows in words similar to those of the other two; But woe to them that are with child, and them that give suck in those days; and thus has made plain what might otherwise have been doubtful, namely, that what was said of the abomination of desolation belonged not to the end of the world, but the taking of Jerusalem.4
Moreover, in case anyone thinks that St. Augustine didn't explain his own view clearly enough, his comments on the corresponding prophecy in Mark's Gospel are helpful. Referring to Mark 13:14-20, St. Augustine said this:
But Luke, in order to shew that the abomination of desolation happened when Jerusalem was taken, in this same place,5 gives the words of our Lord, And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (c.f. Luke 21:20) It goes on: Then let them that be in Judæa flee to the mountains. …For Josephus, who has written the history of the Jews, relates that such things were suffered by this people…6

What I find most interesting about all of these comments by famous early church fathers is not what they said per se (although that, too, is interesting), but who it was recording those comments. I'm guessing that most Christians today don't know which world famous theologian studied and hand-picked the  comments posted above, placing them within his own commentary. That theologian I'm referring to is St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most famous and influential "Doctor of the Church." 

The quotations listed above come from Aquinas' Catena Aurea, a commentary on the four gospels comprised of fragments from existing commentaries in his day. Aquinas was commissioned by Pope Urban IV to compile the Catena Aurea in hopes that it would aid the Catholic Church to gain a deeper understanding of the Christian faith as revealed in the Gospels. 

With that in mind, consider how important the literal first century fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies were in the mind of great leaders throughout the Christian Church. Not only is the belief in first century "fulfillment" found among great Christian leaders such as St. James, Hegessipus, Eusebius, Hilary, Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Cyril, and Augustine--which I have been showing clearly in this series of posts--but among all the great Christian leaders of Church history, Thomas Aquinas believed it too. Out of all the commentaries available to Aquinas, and out of all the statements in those ancient commentaries, Aquinas selected the quotations I have shared with you above. He is the one who selected them for the Church, and for Pope Urban IV. 

In the next post, I plan on sharing more from Aquinas' Catena Aurea, in order to show that the early Church fathers were not the only ones who held to this view. Aquinas also wanted the Church in his own day to appreciate the legacy of gospel interpretation throughout the ages as well.

1.  Cited in Thomas Aquinas. (1843). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 674–675). Oxford: John Henry Parker.
2.  Ibid.
3.  Ibid. p. 678
4.  Ibid. pp. 681-682
5.  The same place where Mark records Jesus' "Olivet Discourse" (Mark 13)
6. Cited in Thomas Aquinas. (1842). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Mark. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 260-261). Oxford: John Henry Parker. Notice carefully that St. Augustine was familiar with the history recorded by Josephus.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

For the Deed of the Cross

In another homily delivered by Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, we continue to learn (as seen elsewhere in this series) what the early Christian Church thought about New Testament prophecies. Commenting on Matthew 24, he writes:

“Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains. And let him that is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. Neither let him which is in his field return back to take his clothes.” 

Having spoken of the ills that were to overtake the city, and of the trials of the apostles, and that they should remain unsubdued, and should overrun the whole world, He mentions again the Jews’ calamities, showing that when the one should be glorious, having taught the whole world, the others should be in calamity. 

And see how He relates the war, by the things that seem to be small setting forth how intolerable it was to be. For, “Then,” saith He, “let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains.” Then, When? When these things should be, “when the abomination of desolation should stand in the holy place.” Whence he seems to me to be speaking of the armies. Flee therefore then, saith He, for thenceforth there is no hope of safety for you. 

For since it had fallen out, that they often had recovered themselves in grievous wars, as under Sennacherib, under Antiochus again (for when at that time also, armies had come in upon them, and the temple had been seized beforehand, the Maccabees rallying gave their affairs an opposite turn); in order then that they might not now also suspect this, that there would be any such change, He forbids them all thought of the kind. For it were well, saith He, to escape henceforth with one’s naked body. Therefore them also that are on the housetop, He suffers not to enter into the house to take their clothes, indicating the evils to be inevitable, and the calamity without end, and that it must needs be that he that was involved therein should surely perish. Therefore He adds also, him that is in the field, saying, neither let this man turn back to take his clothes. For if they that are in doors flee, much more they that are out of doors ought not to take refuge within. 

“Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck,” to the one because of their greater inertness, and because they cannot flee easily, being weighed down by the burden of their pregnancy; to the other, because they are held by the tie of feeling for their children, and cannot save their sucklings. For money it is a light thing to despise, and an easy thing to provide, and clothes; but the bonds of nature how could any one escape? how could the pregnant woman become active? how could she that gives suck be able to overlook that which she had borne? 

Then, to show again the greatness of the calamity, He saith, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be.” 

Seest thou that His discourse is addressed to the Jews, and that He is speaking of the ills that should overtake them? For the apostles surely were not to keep the Sabbath day, neither to be there, when Vespasian did those things. For indeed the most part of them were already departed this life. And if any was left, he was dwelling then in other parts of the world. 

But wherefore neither “in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day?” Not in the winter, because of the difficulty arising from the season; not on the Sabbath day, because of the absolute authority exercised by the law. For since they had need of flight, and of the swiftest flight, but neither would the Jews dare to flee on the Sabbath day, because of the law, neither in winter was such a thing easy; therefore, “Pray ye,” saith He; “for then shall be tribulation, such as never was, neither shall be.” 

And let not any man suppose this to have been spoken hyperbolically; but let him study the writings of Josephus, and learn the truth of the sayings. For neither can any one say, that the man being a believer, in order to establish Christ’s words, hath exaggerated the tragical history. For indeed He was both a Jew, and a determined Jew, and very zealous, and among them that lived after Christ’s coming. 

What then saith this man? That those terrors surpassed all tragedy, and that no such had ever overtaken the nation. For so great was the famine, that the very mothers fought about the devouring of their children, and that there were wars about this; and he saith that many when they were dead had their bellies ripped up. 

I should therefore be glad to inquire of the Jews. Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judæa only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear, that it was for the deed of the cross, and for this rejection? All would say it, and with all and before all the truth of the facts itself. 

But mark, I pray thee, the exceeding greatness of the ills, when not only compared with the time before, they appear more grievous, but also with all the time to come. For not in all the world, neither in all time that is past, and that is to come, shall any one be able to say such ills have been. And very naturally; for neither had any man perpetrated, not of those that ever have been, nor of those to come hereafter, a deed so wicked and horrible. Therefore He saith, “there shall be tribulation such as never was, nor shall be.” 

“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” By these things He shows them to be deserving of a more grievous punishment than had been mentioned, speaking now of the days of the war and of that siege. But what He saith is like this. If, saith He, the war of the Romans against the city had prevailed further, all the Jews had perished (for by “no flesh” here, He meaneth no Jewish flesh), both those abroad, and those at home. For not only against those in Judæa did they war, but also those that were dispersed everywhere they outlawed and banished, because of their hatred against the former. 

But whom doth He here mean by the elect? The believers that were shut up in the midst of them. For that Jews may not say that because of the gospel, and the worship of Christ, these ills took place, He showeth, that so far from the believers being the cause, if it had not been for them, all had perished utterly. For if God had permitted the war to be protracted, not so much as a remnant of the Jews had remained, but lest those of them who had become believers should perish together with the unbelieving Jews, He quickly put down the fighting, and gave an end to the war. Therefore He saith, “But for the elect’s sake they shall be shortened.” But these things He said to leave an encouragement to those of them who were shut up in the midst of them, and to allow them to take breath, that they might not be in fear, as though they were to perish with them. And if here so great is His care for them, that for their sakes others also are saved, and that for the sake of Christians remnants were left of the Jews, how great will be their honor in the time for their crowns? 

By this He also encouraged them not to be distressed at their own dangers, since these others are suffering such things, and for no profit, but for evil upon their own head. 

But He not only encouraged them, but also led them off secretly and unsuspectedly from the customs of the Jews. For if there is not to be a change afterwards, and the temple is not to stand, it is quite evident that the law also shall be made to cease. 

However, He spake not this openly, but by their entire destruction He darkly intimated it. But He spake it not openly, lest He should startle them before the time. Wherefore neither at the beginning did He of Himself fall into discourse touching these things; but having first lamented over the city, He constrained them to show Him the stones, and question Him, in order that as it were in answering them their question, He might declare to them beforehand all the things to come.1

1.   Philip Schaff, Editor. Chysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 10 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, second printing), pp. 456-458