Athanasius of Alexandria: The Psalms reveal the pattern of Christ’s life and teaching Sunday, Jul 5 2015 

AthanasiusContinued from here….

Every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way:

just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.

This is the further kindness of the Saviour that, having become man for our sake, He not only offered His own body to death on our behalf, that He might redeem all from death, but also, desiring to display to us His own heavenly and perfect way of living, He expressed this in His very self.

It was as knowing how easily the devil might deceive us, that He gave us, for our peace of mind, the pledge of His own victory that He had won on our behalf. But He did not stop there: He went still further, and His own self performed the things He had enjoined on us.

Every man therefore may both hear Him speaking and at the same time see in His behaviour the pattern for his own, even as He himself has bidden, saying, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart (Mt 11:29).

Nowhere is more perfect teaching of virtue to be found than in the Lord’s own life. Forbearance, love of men, goodness, courage, mercy, righteousness, all are found in Him; and in the same way no virtue will be lacking to him who fully contemplates this human life of Christ.

It was as knowing this that Saint Paul said, Be ye imitators of me, even as I myself am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). The Greek legislators had indeed a great command of language; but the Lord, the true Lord of all, Who cares for all His works, did not only lay down precepts but also gave Himself as model of how they should be carried out, for all who would to know and imitate.

And therefore, before He came among us, He sketched the likeness of this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as He revealed Himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Letter to Marcellinus in Athanasius: The Life Of Antony And The Letter To Marcellinus, translated by Robert C. Gregg; Paulist Press, New York; pp. 101-129; 1980 @ Athanasius.com

Athanasius of Alexandria: The Psalms move our hearts and voice our deepest thoughts Wednesday, Jun 17 2015 

AthanasiusIn the other books of Scripture we read or hear the words of holy men as belonging only to those who spoke them, not at all as though they were our own.

And in the same way the doings there narrated are to us material for wonder and examples to be followed, but not in any sense things we have done ourselves.

With this book [the Psalms], however, though one does read the prophecies about the Saviour in that way, with reverence and with awe, in the case of all the other Psalms it is as though it were one’s own words that one read.

And anyone who hears them is moved at heart, as though they voiced for him his deepest thoughts.

[…] No one would ever speak the patriarchs’ words as though they were his own, or dare to imitate the utterance of Moses or use the words of Abraham concerning the great Isaac, or about Ishmael and the home-born slave, as though they were his own, even though like necessity oppressed him.

Neither, if any man suffer with those that suffer or be gripped with desire of some better thing, would he ever say as Moses said, Show me Thyself (Ex 33:13), or If Thou remittest their sin; then remit it; but if not, then blot me out of Thy book that Thou hast written (Ex 32:32).

No more would any one use the prophets’ words of praise or blame as though they were his own, or say, The Lord lives, in Whose sight I stand today. For he who reads those books is clearly reading not his own words but those of holy men and other people about whom they write.

But the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own.

Each one sings the Psalms as though they had been written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up.

Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self.

Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Letter to Marcellinus in Athanasius: The Life Of Antony And The Letter To Marcellinus, translated by Robert C. Gregg; Paulist Press, New York; pp. 101-129; 1980 @ Athanasius.com (slightly adapted).

Augustine of Hippo: “Like a tree planted hard by the running streams of waters” Saturday, May 9 2015 

St Augustine of AfricaOn Psalm 1.

“Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly” (ver. 1). This is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord-Man.

“Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly,” as “the man of earth did” (1 Cor. 15:47), who consented to his wife deceived by the serpent to the transgressing the commandment of God.

“Nor stood in the way of sinners.” For He came indeed in the way of sinners, by being born as sinners are; but He “stood” not therein, inasmuch as the enticements of the world held Him not.

“And hath not sat in the seat of pestilence.” He willed not an earthly kingdom, with pride, which is well taken for “the seat of pestilence.”

For there is hardly anyone who is free from the love of rule, and craves not human glory. For a “pestilence” is disease widely spread, and involving all or nearly all.

[…] “And he shall be like a tree planted hard by the running streams of waters” (ver. 3). This refers either to True “Wisdom” (Prov. 8),  which vouchsafed to assume man’s nature for our salvation; that as man He might be “the tree planted hard by the running streams of waters.”

This can be understood in the sense which we find  in another Psalm: “the river of God is full of water” (Ps. 64:9).  Or it can be taken as referring to the Holy Spirit, of whom it is said, “He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 3:11),  and again, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” (John 7:37).

[…]  Alternatively, “by the running streams of waters” may mean “by the sins of the people”, because, firstly, the waters are called “peoples” in the Apocalypse (Rev. 17:15); and again, “running stream” may reasonably be understood as meaning “waterfall,” which can refer to sin.

That “tree” (that is, our Lord), drawing them from the running streams of water (that is, from the sinful peoples by the way) into the roots of His discipline, will “bring forth fruit,” that is, will establish Churches, “in His season,” that is, after He has been glorified by His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

For then, by the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and by the confirming of their faith in Him, and their mission to the world, He made the Churches to “bring forth fruit.” “His leaf also shall not fall,” that is, His Word shall not be in vain.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Exposition of the Book of Psalms, Psalm 1, 1,3 (slightly adapted).  

Athanasius of Alexandria: The Psalms portray the movements of the human soul in all their great variety Saturday, May 2 2015 

AthanasiusThe Psalter has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul.

It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.

Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men.

But in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself.

You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.

Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin.

Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed.

Again, Saint Paul says, Tribulation worketh endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed (Rom 5:3, 5); but it is in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease.

The whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God.

Or take the commandment, In everything give thanks (1 Thess 5:18). The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say.

We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12); and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it.

We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may meetly be confessed.

In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Letter to Marcellinus in Athanasius: The Life Of Antony And The Letter To Marcellinus, translated by Robert C. Gregg; Paulist Press, New York; pp. 101-129; 1980 @ Athanasius.com

Francis de Sales: Remedies for Sadness and Melancholy Tuesday, Nov 19 2013 

Franz_von_SalesThe Evil One delights in sadness and melancholy, because they are his own characteristics.

He will be in sadness and sorrow through all Eternity, and he would fain have all others the same.

The “sorrow of the world” disturbs the heart, plunges it into anxiety, stirs up unreasonable fears, disgusts it with prayer, overwhelms and stupefies the brain, deprives the soul of wisdom, judgment, resolution and courage, weakening all its powers.

In a word, it is like a hard winter, blasting all the earth’s beauty, and numbing all animal life; for it deprives the soul of sweetness and power in every faculty.

Should you, my daughter, ever be attacked by this evil spirit of sadness, make use of the following remedies.

[…] Prayer is a sovereign remedy, it lifts the mind to God, Who is our only Joy and Consolation.

But when you pray let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, all tend to love and trust in God.

“O God of Mercy, most Loving Lord, Sweet Saviour, Lord of my heart, my Joy, my Hope, my Beloved, my Bridegroom.”

Vigorously resist all tendencies to melancholy, and although all you do may seem to be done coldly, wearily and indifferently, do not give in.

The Enemy strives to make us languid in doing good by depression, but when he sees that we do not cease our efforts to work, and that those efforts become all the more earnest by reason of their being made in resistance to him, he leaves off troubling us.

Make use of hymns and spiritual songs; they have often frustrated the Evil One in his operations, as was the case when the evil spirit which possessed Saul was driven forth by music and psalmody.

It is well also to occupy yourself in external works, and that with as much variety as may lead us to divert the mind from the subject which oppresses it, and to cheer and kindle it, for depression generally makes us dry and cold.

[…] Moderate bodily discipline is useful in resisting depression, because it rouses the mind from dwelling on itself; and frequent Communion is specially valuable; the Bread of Life strengthens the heart and gladdens the spirits.

Lay bare all the feelings, thoughts and longings which are the result of your depression to your confessor or director, in all humility and faithfulness; seek the society of spiritually-minded people, and frequent such as far as possible while you are suffering.

And, finally, resign yourself into God’s Hands, endeavouring to bear this harassing depression patiently, as a just punishment for past idle mirth. Above all, never doubt but that, after He has tried you sufficiently, God will deliver you from the trial.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 12.

Bede the Venerable: St Chad Sunday, Oct 27 2013 

icon_bede-October 26th was the feast of St Chad and St Cedd 

It is no wonder that St Chad joyfully beheld the day of his death, or rather the day of the Lord, the coming whereof he had always been mindful to await with earnest expectation.

For with all his merits of continence, humility, teaching, prayer, voluntary poverty, and other virtues, he was so filled with the fear of the Lord, so mindful of his latter end in all his actions, that, as I was wont to hear from one of the brothers who instructed me in the Scriptures, and who had been bred in his monastery, and under his direction, whose name was Trumbert, if it happened that there blew a sudden strong gust of wind, when he was reading or doing any other thing, he forthwith called upon the Lord for mercy, and begged that it might be granted to all mankind.

If the wind grew stronger, he closed his book, and fell on his face, praying still more earnestly. But, if a violent storm of wind or rain came on, or if the earth and air were filled with the terror of thunder and lightning, he would go to the church, and anxiously devote himself with all his heart to prayers and psalms till the weather became calm.

Being asked by his brethren why he did so, he answered, “Have not you read—The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice. Yea, he sent out his arrows and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.’

For the Lord moves the air, raises the winds, hurls lightning, and thunders from heaven, to rouse the inhabitants of the earth to fear him; to put them in mind of judgement to come; to dispel their pride, and confound their boldness, by recalling to their thoughts that dread time, when the heavens and the earth being on fire, He will come in the clouds, with great power and majesty, to judge the quick and the dead.

Wherefore,” said he, “it behoves us to respond to His heavenly admonition with due fear and love; that, as often as the air is moved and He puts forth His hand threatening to strike, but does not yet let it fall, we may immediately implore His mercy; and searching the recesses of our hearts, and casting out the dregs of our sins, we may carefully so act that we may never deserve to be struck down.”

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Ecclesiastical History of England, 4, 3.

Basil the Great: In Proportion to the Size of the Heart, the Spirit Writes in Hearts More or Less Tuesday, Sep 17 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatMy tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly (Psalm 44[45]:2).

As the pen is an instrument for writing when the hand of an experienced person moves it to record what is being written, so also the tongue of the just man, when the Holy Spirit moves it, writes the words of eternal life in the hearts of the faithful, dipped ‘not in ink, but in the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3).

The scrivener, therefore, is the Holy Spirit, because He is wise and an apt teacher of all; and swiftly writing, because the movement of His mind is swift.

The Spirit writes thoughts in us, ‘Not on tablets of stone but on fleshy tablets of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3).

In proportion to the size of the heart, the Spirit writes in hearts more or less, either things evident to all or things more obscure, according to its previous preparation of purity.

Because of the speed with which the writings have been finished all the world now is filled with the Gospel.

[…] Thou art ripe in beauty, above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips (Ps. 44:3).

[…] David calls the Lord ripe in beauty when he fixes his gaze on His divinity. He does not celebrate the beauty of the flesh.  ‘And we have seen him, and he had no sightliness, nor beauty, but his appearance was without honor and lacking above the sons of men’ (Isa. 53:2, 3, LXX).

It is evident, then, that the prophet, looking upon His brilliancy and being filled with the splendor there, his soul smitten with this beauty, was moved to a divine love of the spiritual beauty, and when this appeared in the human soul all things hitherto loved seemed shameful and abominable.

Therefore, even Paul, when he saw His ripe beauty ‘counted all things as dung that he might gain Christ’ (Phil. 3:8).

Those outside the word of truth, despising the simplicity of expression in the Scriptures, call the preaching of the Gospel folly; but we, who glory in the cross of Christ, ‘to whom the gifts bestowed on us by God were manifested through the Spirit, not in words taught by human wisdom’ (Cf. 1 Cor. 2.12, 13) know that the grace poured out by God in the teachings concerning Christ is rich.

Therefore, in a short time the teaching passed through almost the whole world, since grace, rich and plentiful, was poured out upon the preachers of the Gospel, whom Scripture called even the lips of Christ.

Moreover, the message of the Gospel in its insignificant little words possesses great guidance and attraction toward salvation. And every soul is overcome by the unalterable doctrines, being strengthened by grace to an unshaken faith in Christ.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 17 (on Psalm 44[45]), 3-4,  from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 281-283.

Bede the Venerable: St Aidan was Endued with the Grace of Discretion, the Mother of the Virtues Saturday, Aug 31 2013 

icon_bede-The feast of St Aidan and the Saints of Lindisfarne is celebrated in the RC Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle on August 31st.

Aidan…taught nothing that he did not practice in his life among his brethren.

[…] He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity;

to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms.

[…] If it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray.

[…] It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition, who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home,

[…] They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the, salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them.

Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, “Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.”

Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued pre-eminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues.

So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Ecclesiastical History of England, 3, 5.

John of Karpathos: You have barbarian cave-dwellers living within you Tuesday, Aug 27 2013 

johnkarpathosDo all in your power not to fall, for the strong athlete should not fall.

But if you do fall, get up again at once and continue the contest.

Even if you fall a thousand times because of the withdrawal of God’s grace, rise up again each time, and keep on doing so until the day of your death.

For it is written, ‘If a righteous man falls seven times’ — that is, repeatedly throughout his life — seven times shall he rise again’ (Prov. 24:16, LXX).

[…] It is more serious to lose hope than to sin.

The traitor Judas was a defeatist, inexperienced in spiritual warfare; as a result he was reduced to despair by the enemy’s onslaught, and he went and hanged himself.

Peter, on the other hand, was a firm rock: although brought down by a terrible fall, yet because of his experience in spiritual warfare he was not broken by despair, but leaping up he shed bitter tears from a contrite and humiliated heart.

And as soon as our enemy saw them, he recoiled as if his eyes had been burnt by searing flames, and he took to flight howling and lamenting.

[…] There was once a king of Israel who subdued cave-dwellers and other barbarian tribes by using the psalms and music of David.

You, too, have barbarian cave-dwellers living within you: the demons who have gained admittance to your senses and limbs, who torment and inflame your flesh.

Because of them lust is in your eyes when you look at things; as you listen or use your sense of smell, passion dominates you; you indulge in dirty talk; you are full of turmoil inwardly and outwardly, like the city of Babylon.

With great faith, then, and with ‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5:19), you too must destroy the cave-dwellers who work evil within you.

The Lord desires one man to be saved through another, and in the same way Satan strives to destroy one man through another. So do not spend your time with somebody who is sloppy, a mischief-maker, not guarding his tongue, lest you be sent with him into punishment.

It is hard enough for one who associates with a good man to attain salvation. If you do not watch yourself, but consort with people of evil character, you will be infected with their leprosy and destroyed.

How can anyone expect pity if he recklessly approaches a poisonous snake? You should avoid those who cannot control their tongue, who are quarrelsome and full of agitation inwardly or outwardly.

John of Karpathos (7th century): For the Encouragement of the Monks in India, 84-88, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, P. Sherrard, and K. Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (Faber and Faber, London & Boston: 1979 @ J B Burnett.

Basil the Great: The Psalms Efface the Passions and Cure the Wounds of Sin Monday, Aug 26 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatAll Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition. For, it says, ‘care will make the greatest sin to cease.’

Now, the prophets teach one thing, historians another, the law something else, and the form of advice found in the proverbs something different still. But, the Book of Psalms has taken over what is profitable from all.

It foretells coming events; it recalls history; it frames laws for life; it suggests what must be done; and, in general, it is the common treasury of good doctrine, carefully finding what is suitable for each one.

The old wounds of souls it cures completely, and to the recently wounded it brings speedy improvement; the diseased it treats, and the unharmed it preserves.

On the whole, it effaces, as far as is possible, the passions, which subtly exercise dominion over souls during the lifetime of man, and it does this with a certain orderly persuasion and sweetness which produces sound thoughts.

When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do?

The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey.

[…] A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens.

A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God? […] A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day.

[…]. It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God. For, a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone.

A psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 1 (on Psalm 1),1-2, from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 151-153.

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