The Wisdom of the Forebears

An Episcopalian professor, liturgical scholar and author J. Robert Wright did the American church an invaluable service, re-introducing the Early Church Fathers (yes, a few mothers, but their voices are more difficult to find) to today’s church.  These monks, nuns, bishops, mystics and scholars carried the Christian message in the generations after the original apostolic era to the western and eastern worlds, and their sagacity for Christmas deserves to be heard.  A profound gratitude to Professor Wright, and please enjoy their wisdom over Christmas:

 

Pope Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, 461 AD

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice!  Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life!…Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.  Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member.  Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom!

 

Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389 AD

Christ is born, glorify him!  Christ comes from heaven: go out to meet him.  Christ descends to earth: let us be raised on high….He who has no mother in heaven is now born without father on earth!  Nature’s laws are overthrown, for the upper world must be filled with citizens.  He who is without flesh becomes incarnate; the Word puts on a body; the Invisible is seen; he whom no hand can touch is handled; the Timeless has a beginning!…For the sake of my flesh he takes flesh; for the sake of my soul he is united to a rational soul, purifying like by like.  In every way he becomes human, except for sin.  O strange conjunction!…He shares in the poverty of my flesh, that I may share in the riches of his Godhead!

 

Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, 1153 AD (Clairvaux is perhaps Europe’s most famous medieval monastery, Bernard its most exceptional Abbot or leader)

God has gone so far as to “pitch his tent in the sun” so that even the dimmest eyes see him.  Notice that peace is not promised but sent to us; it is no longer deferred, it is given; peace is not prophesied but achieved.  It is as if God the Father sent upon the earth a purse full of his mercy.  This purse was burst open during the Lord’s passion to pour forth its hidden contents—the price of our redemption.  It was only a small purse, but it was very full! 

 

Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, 379 AD

God on earth, God among us!  No longer the God who gives his law amid flashes of lightning, to the sound of the trumpet on the smoking mountain, within the darkness of the terrifying storm, but the God who speaks gently and with kindness in a human body to his kindred.  God in the flesh!…Let us too shout our joy…Let us celebrate the salvation of the world, the day when humanity (itself) was born.  Today Adam’s condemnation has been lifted.  We shall no longer say, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” but, “United to him who is in heaven, you shall be lifted up to heaven!”

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