Let us therefore purify our heart, our conscience, and our spirit many days ahead of time, and thus cleansed and spotless let us prepare to receive the immaculate Lord who is coming. As he was born of the Immaculate Virgin, so too may his servants be immaculate to celebrate his birth! Indeed, anyone who is dirty and tainted on that day neither is concerned with the Nativity of Christ nor desires him.
Such a man may well participate bodily in the feast of the Lord, but spiritually he quite distant from the Savoir; nor is it possible for an impure man and a holy man, an avaricious man and a merciful man, a corrupt man and a pure man to be together without the one offending the other, proving himself all the more unworthy the less he is aware of his unworthiness.
Indeed, he causes insult though wishing to be courteous, like the man in the Gospel invited to the feast of the saints who dared to attend the wedding without a wedding garment (see Mt 22:1-14): while all the other guests radiated with justice, faith, and chastity, he alone — with an unclean conscience — was spurned by all the others for the repugnance he caused; and the more the sanctity of the holy guests shone, the more the insolence of this sins was revealed.
Advent is the season for the church to contemplate and celebrate the long anticipated arrival of Jesus 2000 years ago. It also serves as a time for the church to celebrate the hopeful return of Christ, where we believe his presence will be manifested and his kingdom consummated here on earth.
We look back in celebration; we look forward in hope.
The content of our lives is filled in this space. We wait. How we wait is important, to be sure. When we grow bored of waiting, we often turn to superficial pleasures that minimize our horizons. Ultimately, our humanity is diminished.
Jesus provided us an alternate, more fully human way of living life in the between.
Advent and Christmas are propitious times to set your sights on Jesus’ life and to live as he did. Here are some fitting words provided by St. Hilary (and myself) to keep in mind as you follow Jesus on the way, as you wait for his return: gladness, hope, peace, poverty in spirit, purity of heart, everlasting treasure.
Hilary of Poitiers, Discourses, I, 1ff.
‘We await the Savior.’ In truth, the righteous man’s waiting is gladness, for he awaits the blessed hope and advent of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
‘What then am I awaiting,’ says the righteous man, ‘if not the Lord?’ . . . Poor in spirit, be happy you have stored up your treasures in heaven in accordance with the advice of the heavenly Counselor, for fear that your heart, like your treasure, would come to know corruption if left on earth! Indeed, the Lord says, ‘For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be’ (Matt 6:21).
May your hearts therefore follow their treasure! Set your thoughts on heavenly things, and may your expectation hold fast to God, so that you may say as the Apostle says, ‘But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:20).
I apologize for getting our Advent reading up late. I’ve had a busy morning. You may find it below.
Be watchful as next week I am aiming to post a concise explanation about the Liturgical (Church) Calendar – its seasons and their meaning – and why it’s important for shaping and nurturing faith in a secular age.
Also forthcoming will be a series of posts looking intimately at Martin Luther’s acclaimed 7 Marks of the Church and why they are necessary concepts to keep in mind, especially for pastors and church leaders in the American evangelical scene.
Is there a particular idea or book you’d like us to explore? Please don’t be shy about offering recommendations.
Lastly, we at The Theologian’s Library cannot say often enough how much we desire to be a helpful resource for the local church and the leaders who’ve dedicated their lives to serving it. We know we are just getting started, and of course there is much work and content development left to be done, but we want this little space to be conduit for finding helpful resources that explore the deep, penetrating truths that have sustained the life of the Church for 2000 years. Perhaps most importantly, we desire this space to be a community of people whose affection for the Church and her theology leads them to better serve her people, thus preparing them to joyfully inhabit the kingdom of God.
Yours in Christ our King,
Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, 187, 3.5
If the king of this world or a family father invited you to this birthday celebration, what garment would you wear other than the newest, most elegant, and most handsome one, so that neither its old age, nor little worth, nor any other unfavorable quality might be offensive in the eyes of your host?
With equal care, then, as best you can and with the help of Christ, make sure you prepare your soul, adorned with many ornaments of virtue, the jewels of simplicity, the flowers of temperance, and sure conscience, the beauty of chastity, the radiance of almsgiving, and the splendor of charity, for the solemn celebration of the Eternal King: the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior.
Indeed, if Christ the Lord sees how well you have prepared yourself to celebrate his birth, he will deign not only to visit your soul, but also to rest and abide there forever, as it is written: ‘I will live with them and move among them’ (2 Cor 6:16); and ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] i will enter his house and dine with them, and he with me.’ (Rev 3:20)
This is the moment: behold, the Master of all virtues, the Father’s Minister for the distribution of all good things, the divine and heavenly Word, has appeared to all men, to all the peoples of the earth prepared and ready to receive the knowledge of the Father, through a man who is in no way different from our own nature in the essence of his body, and who has done and suffered what they prophets foretold.
They had predicted that a God-Man, a worker of marvelous deeds, would come to the earth and become the Teacher of the Father’s religion for all peoples; they had preannounced the wonder of this birth, the novelty of his teachings, the marvelousness of his works, and then the Death he would undergo, his Resurrection, and his divine return to the heavens.
It is clear that all of this can be attributed to no one other than our Savior, the God-Word who was with God in the beginning and who, by his ultimate Incarnation, is also called the Son of Man.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) known as the “angelic doctor” is the unofficial, official philosopher/theologian of the Catholic Church. I say unofficial/official because the Catholic Church does not, and should not, have just one theologian that speaks for it, but Thomas does have a privileged place among Catholic teaching and doctrine.
From Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris (1870) which touted Thomas as the philosopher par excellence that could help restore the loss of depth among Catholic philosophy to St. Thomas Aquinas high schools littered throughout the country, Thomas is likely the most widely esteemed thinker in the Catholic tradition.
Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter, editors of the fantastic volume Reason and the Reason’s of Faith (2005) say in their introduction that they were surprised at how universally and frequently Thomas was drawn on in the collection from writers of all different kinds of Christian traditions, far more than any other thinker. Thomas thought holds an embarrassment of riches for the Church that we must have at least a rudimentary grasp of of to be intellectually responsible leaders in the Church.
I have been diving back into Thomas’ world and his writings during some time off during this Thanksgiving season and want to highlight five themes that ground Thomas’ thought that seem to me absolutely crucial to guiding reflection on God and the world around us. Thomas’ metaphysical first principles provides the Christian thinker with a set of basic principles through which questions of reality can be filtered — a bastion of hope in a world looking for stability. In what follows I have borrowed heavily from the venerable Thomistic scholar, the late W. Norris Clarke, longtime professor at Fordham. Clarke leaned heavily on the “existential” interpretation of Thomas’ thought introduced to America through the writings of the French philosopher/theologian Etienne Gilson and furthered by Catholic thinkers like Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. Before we dive in, three definitions are vital to understanding Thomas’ technical language.
A Thomistic Glossary to Get Going
esse– The best translation of this Latin term is probably existence. Esse is the act by which things exist. God is pure esse, pure existence, anything that exists participates in esse. All created things have a natural inclination to God because our existence is sustained only by a continual outflow of esse, God Himself. This word is the heart and soul of Thomistic metaphysics and fully explicated in the little volume De Ente et Essentia. Being with a capital B often stands in for this crucially important Latin term. Think Heidegger.
essence- The essence of a thing is that which makes a thing to be what it is. The essence of the human person is humanity, everything that makes a human a human, for instance. Any created being analyzed metaphysically is a composite of esse and essence. Analyzed in more natural scientific terms, all beings are composed of form (the essence of a thing) and matter.
being- being with a lower case b is all that exists that consists of a composite of essence and esse. A being is a human person, a rock, a puppy, an angel, an electron…
Three Themes of Thomastic Metaphysics that should Guide our Thinking Today
1.The connaturality of the human spirit and being. “By nature all people desire to know,” Aristotle says in the first line of the Metaphysics.The human mind is made to know being, being is intelligible, and the human spirit is made to seek being, being is good. That being is intelligible is the first principle of the intellectual life and that good is to be done an evil avoided is the first principle of the moral life. As Christians, this principle is grounded in the fact that creation was spoken into being by the Logos, the incarnate Word of God, the essence of intelligibility and goodness.
2. An understanding of the structure of being of composed of essence and the act of existence (esse). This existential structure of every created thing is what gives us community with every other being in the universe. The essence of a thing is what limits its receptivity of the act of existence, the greater the amount of participation in esse, the more perfect the being because existence is the perfection of God. “Existence itself is participation in God’s own essential perfection.” Human beings thus have an essence that allow for greater participation in esse than does, say, a fly, and thus the human being is closer to God’s perfection than a fly. It is only in the human person that Being is able to truly manifest itself as Being, because it is only the human person that is capable of being overawed by the sheer grace of existence. The human person is truly a Da-Sein, the only creature where Being is self-manifested.
3.being (lower-case) is by its very nature dynamic. (The same is true of upper case Being, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) Created things are self-revealing by nature because being overflows into action. What would a being be that didn’t have the capacity to act or be acted upon? It wouldn’t be an intelligible object, it would be literally nothing, no-thing. The rock has the potential to be picked up and thrown, the puppy’s being overflows into running and playing, the human person types metaphysical blog entries and drinks coffee in the cold. This principle grounds a realist epistemology. We can know things outside of our minds as they are in the world because they are by nature self-revealing by their actions. Creation, being, reveals its essence continually through action and thus throws itself into a web of relations creating a universum, a being-together. The modern notion of inert substance found in Descartes, Locke, and Hume, as static, simply an extended thing or an unknowable pincushion revealed only by its “accidents” should be rejected. Being is fundamentally self-revealing and relational.
These three themes are but a fly by of Aquinas but if you don’t grasp them, you won’t understand Thomas. He is a difficult thinker and getting into the language and the terminology is difficult. But he is worth spending a day, a month, a year, a lifetime to understand. He brings God and creation into a whole new level of understanding, wonder, and worship.
Our soul is the greatest possession we have, it is what makes us human. Often the soul is characterized as some ephemeral, formless, vapor-like substance that resides deep within us, separate from our mind and body. But I think the soul is considerably more substantial than this popular caricature betrays. The soul, I contend, is the essence of who we are as a person: it is the sum of our thoughts, words, actions, emotions, sensations, desires, and experiences past, present, and future. In a word, the soul is our being in the world.
Because this is so, one of our key purposes in life is to care for our soul, to tend to the soil of our personhood. Soul care, as it is often called, is not an end in itself but a means of preparation for the life to come, when God’s future is established in-full here on earth.
Contemplating life, however, is inextricable with contemplating death. While it is the sting of sin’s curse, death is not given the final word on our life. Rather, it may also be seen as one climactic act in God’s grand drama of redemption. The problem with death, though, as Chrysostom suggests below, is that it cannot be restrained or altogether predicted: all will eventually be met with its devastating power and most will be caught unawares.
Thus the import of cultivating our soul’s virtue while we still retain consciousness. It is the shape of our soul – all of who we are, remember, not just an amorphous spirit – who will survive the blow of death and enter the Age to Come. All of our possessions this side of death will be of no consequence in a new reality.
In sum, then, as we contemplate the shape of our soul this Advent, and as we solemnly celebrate the arrival of the One who conquered death, let us heed Chrysostom’s words and begin to trim the fat from our moral lives. Let’s train our souls in virtue so we may know how to navigate the streets of God’s coming kingdom.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 77, 2ff.
‘Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come’ (Mt 24:43-44).
He does not reveal the day, so that they will remain vigilant and ever ready; and he declares that he will come at the hour they least expect, so that they will remain constantly prepared for battle and dedicated to virtue. This is what his words ultimately mean: if men knew the time of their death, they would prepare for that hour in every way and with the greatest effort. That their fervor might not be limited to that day, he reveals neither the day of universal judgment nor the day of particular judgment; they will thus be always fervent and in constant expectation.
This is the reason he leaves the end of every man’s life in a veil of uncertainty. It seems to me that he also intends to rouse and confound the lazy, whose souls do not manifest the same concern as those whose riches instead lead them to fear the raids of a thief.
Patience is a virtue not easily acquired in today’s culture. We are busy, restless people who get too easily distracted by entertainment and constant change. Restlessness inevitably leads to pettiness and boredom — and we seemingly begin to live for cheap, momentary pleasures more than the hope of sustainable, enduring goodness.
Patience is the handmaid of hope. It resigns and restricts human avarice with the knowledge that something greater, more assuring, lies on the horizon of our experience. That is why St. Hilary can write confidently that “Our fathers awaited you; all the righteous men from the beginning of the world have hoped in you and have not been confounded.”
Patience is not a vice to hamper desire or progress, as it is often thought to be. Rather, patience is a practice that gently shapes, forms, and orders our desires toward truth, beauty, and goodness. In solidarity with those before us, we sit patiently, though no less hopefully and expectantly, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like them, we eschew petty dreams and cheap thrills so we may be ready to attend to our Lord on the day of his visitation.
May the peace of our Lord comfort you during this Advent season as you wait patiently for his return.
Hilary of Poitiers, Discourses, I, 1ff.
O awaited one of the peoples! Those who await you will not be disappointed. Our fathers awaited you; all the righteous men from the beginning of the world have hoped in you and have not been confounded. Indeed, when our mercy was received in the heart of your temple, the joyful choruses made heard their praises and sang, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mk 11:9). I have tirelessly awaited the Lord, and he has turned his gaze toward me.
Then, recognizing divine majesty in the lowliness of flesh, they said, ‘Here is our God! We have awaited him; he will save us! He is the Lord; we have awaited him patiently, and we will exult and rejoice in his salvation!’ . . . While others trouble themselves seeking their happiness down here, rushing to hoard the spoils, the world offers them without waiting for the fulfillment of the Lord’s design.
The blessed man who has placed his hope in the Lord and has not set his sights on vanity and deceptive folly keeps far from their ways. . . . And in thinking to himself, he consoles himself with these words: ‘My inheritance is the Lord, says my soul; that is why I will wait. The Lord is good to those who hope in him. to the soul that seeks him. It is good to wait in silence for God’s salvation.’