Thursday, January 03, 2008

Scripture notes from the Fathers on the Epiphany

This is just some notes for my parish Bible study today (based on my reading of Epiphany homilies from The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation.

Feast of Epiphany, Gospel reading: Mt 2:1-12


gold—as to a king (offered as tribute to a king); also symbolizes wisdom (Prov 21:10 in LXX transl.) [Gregory]

incense—as to God (symbolizes divine majesty; offered in sacrifice to God); also symbolizes the prayers we offer to God (Gregory)

myrrh—for the man who dies and is buried (service of honor to a body to be buried; preserves the body) [w/ myrrh they proclaim he is mortal—St. Gregory]; also symbolizes our mortification of our flesh—when we safeguard/preserve our mortal bodies through fasting, abstinence, chastity, penance (Gregory)
[St. Ambrose homily on Epiphany]

St. Gregory the Great says that some heretics offer Christ gold and incense, believing him to be God who reigns everywhere, but refuse to offer him myrrh because they cannot accept that Jesus also had a fully human nature.

St. Ambrose also asks us to consider what gifts we can bring and offer to God:
“We also who read and hear these things, let us, Brethren, offer similar gifts, from our treasures. For we have treasures, in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). If you consider that which you are as being, not from thee, but from Christ: how much more ought you not to consider that which you own as being, not yours, but Christ’s?”

the star

= the way, and the way is Christ [Jn 14]: “for in the mystery of the Incarnation Christ is a star. ‘A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a man shall rise up from Israel’ (Num 24:17). [Ambrose]

2 ways: (the magi do not return by the same way that they came)
1. the way of sinners, that leads to [the king of this world and ]destruction (Herod)
2. the way that leads to the everlasting Kingdom of God, our heavenly country/homeland. [Ambrose]

“It is paradise that is our true country, to which, having come to know Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the way we came. For we left our land by the way of pride and disobedience, by following after the things of this world, by tasting forbidden food; and so we must return to it by the way of tears, by obedience, by contempt of the world, and by restraining the desires of the flesh. Let us return then to our own country by another way, and since we cut ourselves off from the joys of heaven because of earthly delights, let us recover them again through penance.”
–Pope St. Gregory the Great, homily on The Gifts of the Magi, given at St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Epiphany

Magi adore

“But what was it that moved the Magi to adore Him? For the Virgin bore upon her no distinguishing mark, and the abode was not one of splendor;… For of the things that fell upon their outward senses there was nothing striking: there was only a manger, a mud hut, a poor mother.”

“What then was it that moved them? It was that which had before moved them, so that leaving their own country they had begun this so weary journey, namely: the Star, and together with the Star the light that God had placed in their hearts, which was to lead them step by step to more perfect knowledge. … Thus you may comprehend the pure wisdom of these Wise Men, and by it you may learn that they came to Him, not as to a simple man, but as to God and to their source of blessing.”
[St. John Chysostom, homily on the Epiphany and the Flight into Egypt, PG 57, 81 sermo 8]

So, St. John says that the magi “make a beginning of offering to Him: knowledge, wisdom, and love” (which far transcend the old gifts of sacrificed animals under the old covenant).

Labels: ,