The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 6:17, 20-26

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 21, 2017

The following has been compiled from sermons by St Cyril. They are somewhat fragmented and contain nothing on verses 25 & 26.

6:17. He stood upon level ground, and a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of the people.

But observe, I pray, the manner of the election. For the most wise Evangelist says that it was not done in a corner and secretly, but rather when many disciples were gathered together, and a vast crowd from all the country of the Jews, and from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon. These latter were |100 idolaters, lame in the hollow of both knees,26 in part observing the customs of the Jews, but yet not altogether abandoning their idolatrous practices. The election, therefore, was held in the presence of all these spectators, and teachers appointed for all beneath the heaven: and this duty they also fulfilled, summoning the Jews from their legal worship, and those who served demons, from Grecian 27 error to the acknowledgment of the truth.

And when He had appointed the holy Apostles, He performed very many wonderful miracles, rebuking demons, delivering from incurable diseases whosoever drew near unto Him, and displaying His own most godlike power: that both the Jews, who had run together unto Him, and those from the country of the Greeks, might know, that Christ, by Whom they were honoured with the dignity of the Apostolate, was not some ordinary man of those in our degree, but, on the contrary, God, as being the Word That was made man, but retained, nevertheless, His own glory. For “power went forth from Him, and healed all.” For Christ did not borrow strength from some other person, but being Himself God by nature, even though He had become flesh, He healed them all, by the putting forth of power over the sick.

If further you wish to learn the interpretation of the Apostles’ names, know that Peter is explained as meaning “loosing,” or “knowing:” Andrew as “comely strength,” or “answering:” James as “one who takes labour by the heel:” John, “the grace of the Lord:” Matthew, “given:” Philip, “the opening of the hands,” or “the mouth of a lamp:” Bartholomew, “the son suspending water:” Thomas, an “abyss,” or “a twin:” James, the son of Alphaeus, “the supplanting |101 “of the passage of life:” Judas, “thanksgiving:” and Simon, “obedience.” 28

6:20. Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

[From the Syriac] Those are the Saviour’s words, when directing His disciples into the newness of the Gospel life after their appointment to the apostolate. But we must see of what poor it is that He speaks such great things: for in the Gospel according to Matthew it is written, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven:” wishing us to understand by the poor in spirit the man who entertains lowly thoughts of himself, and whoso mind, so to speak, is closely reefed, and hi3 heart gentle, and ready to yield, and entirely free from the guilt of pride.

[From Mai.] Such a one is worthy of admiration, and the friend of God; yea, He even said by one of the holy prophets; “Upon whom will I look but upon the humble and peaceable, and that trembleth at my words?” And the prophet David also said, that “a contrite and humbled heart God will not set at nought.” Moreover, the Saviour Himself also says, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble in heart.” In the lessons, however, now set before us, He says, that the poor shall be blessed, without the addition of its being in spirit. But the Evangelists so speak, not as contradicting one another, but as dividing oftentimes the narrative among them: and at one time they recapitulate the same particulars, and at another that which has been omitted by one, another includes in his narrative, that nothing essential for their benefit may be hidden from those who believe on Christ.—-[From the Syriac.] It seems likely, therefore, that He here means by the poor, whom He pronounces blessed, such as care not for wealth, and are superior to covetousness, and despisers of base gifts, and of a disposition free from the love of money, and who set no value upon the ostentatious display of riches. |103

And so the most wise Paul manifestly guides us into the best doctrines, where he says, “Let your disposition be free from the love of money, being contented with what it has:” and to this he has added, that “having nourishment and the means of shelter, we will be therewith content.” For it was necessary, absolutely necessary, for those whose business it would be to proclaim the saving message of the Gospel to have a mind careless about wealth, and occupied solely with the desire of better things. The argument, however, does not affect all whose means are abundant, but those only whose desire is set upon riches: and who are these? All to whom our Saviour’s words apply: “Store not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth.”

6:21. Blessed are ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled.

In Matthew, however, again He says; “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled:” but here He simply says, that “those that hunger shall be filled.” We say, therefore, that it is a great and noble thing to hunger and thirst after righteousness: that is, habitually to take part in earnest endeavours after piety:—-for such is the meaning of righteousness:—-as if it were our meat and drink. And inasmuch as we ought to give to this passage also a meaning, in accordance with the foregoing explanations, we say again as follows: The Saviour pronounced those blessed who love a voluntary poverty, to enable them honourably, and without distraction, to practise the apostolic course of life. For it is in plain keeping with the having neither gold nor silver in their purses, nor two coats, to endure also very great hardness in their way of life, and scarcely obtain food for their need. But this is a burdensome thing for those who are suffering poverty and persecutions, and therefore He That knoweth hearts, very suitably does not permit us to be dispirited because of the results of poverty: for He says, that those who hunger now for their piety’s sake towards Him shall be filled: that is, they shall enjoy the intellectual and spiritual blessings that are in store. |104

6:21. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.

[From the Syriac.] He pronounces them that weep blessed, and says that they shall laugh. But by those who weep, we say that those are not meant who simply shed tears from their eyes: for this is a thing common to all without exception, whether believers or unbelievers, if ought happen of a painful nature; but those rather who shun a life of merriment and vanity, and carnal pleasures. —-[From Mai.] For of the one we say, that they live in enjoyment and laughter; whereas believers abandoning luxury and the careless life of carnal pleasures, and all but weeping because of their abhorrence of worldly things, are, our Saviour declares, blessed; and for this reason, as having commanded us to choose poverty, He also crowns with honours the things which necessarily accompany poverty: such, for instance, as the want of things necessary for enjoyment, and the lowness of spirits caused by privation: for it is written, that “many are the privations of the just, and the Lord shall deliver them out of them all.”

6:22. Blessed are ye when men shall hate you.

Already did the Lord mention persecution, even before the Apostles had been sent on their mission. The Gospel anticipated what would happen. For it was altogether to be expected that those who proclaimed the Gospel message, and made the Jews abandon their legal mode of worship to learn the Gospel way of virtuous living, while too they won over idolaters to the acknowledgment of the truth, would come in contact with many impious and unholy men. For such are they who, in their enmity against piety, excite wars and persecutions against those who preach Jesus. To prevent them, therefore, from falling into unreasonable distress whenever the time should arrive at which such events were sure to befal them from some quarter or other, He forewarns them for their benefit, that even the assault of things grievous to bear will bring its reward and advantage to them. For they shall reproach you, He says, as deceivers, and as trying to mislead: they shall separate you from them, even from their friendship and society: but let none of these things trouble you, He says: |105 for what harm will their intemperate tongue do a well-established mind? For the patient suffering of these things, will not be without fruit. He says, to those who know how to endure 1 piously, but is the pledge of the highest happiness. And besides, He points out to them for their benefit, that nothing strange will happen unto them, even when suffering these things: but that, on the contrary, they will resemble those who before their time were the bearers to the Israelites of the words that came from God above. They were persecuted, they were sawn asunder, they perished slain by the sword, they endured reproaches unjustly cast upon them. He would therefore have them also understand that they shall be partakers with those whose deeds they have imitated; nor shall they fail in winning the prophet’s crown, after having travelled by the same road. |106

(6:24) [From the Syriac. 2 MS.14,551.] *         *          *          *          *          *          *          *          receive those things that will lead you unto life eternal. For it is written, that “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that goeth forth from the mouth of God.” All Scripture, indeed, is inspired of God; but this is especially true of the proclamations in the Gospels: for He Who in old time delivered unto the Israelites by the ministry of Moses the law that consisted in types and shadows, the very same having become man spake unto us, as the wise Paul testifies, writing; “God, Who in divers manners spake in old time to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son:” and “we are taught of God:” for Christ is in truth God and the Son of God. Let us therefore fix our careful attention upon what He says: and scrupulously examine the very depth of His meaning. For “Woe, He says, unto you rich, in that ye have received your consolation.”

Very fitly is this added to His previous discourse: for having already shewn that poverty for God’s sake is the mother of every blessing, and said that the hungering and weeping of the saints would not be without a reward, He proceeds to speak of the opposite class of things, and says of them, that they are productive of grief and condemnation. For He blames indeed the rich, and those who indulge immoderately in pleasures, and are ever in merriment, in order that He may leave no means untried of benefitting those who draw near unto Him, and chief of all the holy Apostles. For if the endurance of poverty for God’s sake, together with hunger and tears:—-by which is meant the being exposed to pain and afflictions in the cause of piety:—-be profitable before God, and He pronounce a threefold 3 blessedness on those who embrace them; as a necessary consequence, those are liable to the utmost blame, |107 who have prized the vices, that are the opposites of these virtues.

In order therefore that men may be won by the desire of the crowns of reward unto willingness to labour, and voluntary poverty for God’s sake; and, on the other hand, by fear of the threatened punishment, may flee from riches, and from living in luxury and merriment, that is to say, in worldly amusements, He says that the one are heirs of the kingdom of heaven, but that the others will be involved in the utmost misery: “for ye have received, He says, your consolation.”

And this truth we are permitted to behold beautifully delineated in the Gospel parables like as in a painting. For we have heard read that there was a rich man decked in purple and fine linen 4, at whose gate Lazarus was cast, racked with poverty and pain; and the rich man felt no pity for him.—-But Lazarus, it says, was carried to Abraham’s bosom; while he was in torments and in flame. And when he saw Lazarus at rest and in happiness in Abraham’s bosom, he besought saying, “Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger 5 in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But what was blessed Abraham’s reply? “Son, thou hast received thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus evil things; but now he is here in happiness, and thou art tormented.” True therefore is what is here said by Christ of those who live in wealth and luxury and merriment, that “ye have received your consolation:” and of those who now are full, that they shall |108 hunger, and that those who laugh now shall weep and lament.

But come and let us examine the matter among ourselves. Our Saviour in His parables has thus spoken: “Two men went up unto the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. And the Pharisee forsooth prayed saying, God I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of mankind, extortioners, unjust, adulterers; or like this publican. I fast twice in the week: and I pay tithes of all that I possess. But the publican, He says, did not venture to lift up his eyes unto heaven, but stood smiting his breast and saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner. Verily I say unto you, that this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” For the proud Pharisee was boasting over the publican, and indecently assuming the rank of a lawgiver, would have condemned one, on whom it was rather his duty to have shewn pity: but the other was the accuser of his own infirmity, and thereby aided in his own justification; for it is written, “Declare thou thy sins first, that thou mayest be justified.” Let us therefore unloose, that is, set free those who are suffering sicknesses from having been condemned by us, in order that God may also unloose us from our faults: for He condemneth not, but rather sheweth mercy.

Closely neighbouring, so to speak, upon the virtues which we have just mentioned is compassion, of which He next makes mention. For it is a most excelling thing, and very pleasing to God, and in the highest degree becoming to pious souls: and concerning which it may suffice for us to imprint upon our mind that it is an attribute of the divine nature. “For be ye, He says, merciful, as also your heavenly Father is merciful.” But that we shall be recompensed with bountiful hand by God, Who giveth all things abundantly to them that love Him, He has given us full assurance by saying, that “good measure, and squeezed down, and running over shall they give into your bosom:” adding this too, “for with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” There is however an apparent incompatibility between the two declarations: for if we are to receive “good measure, and squeezed down, and running over,” how “shall we be paid back the same measure wherewith we mete?” for this implies an equal recompense, and not one of |109 far-surpassing abundance. What say we then? The all wise Paul frees us from our difficulties, by bringing us the solution of the matters in question. For he says, that “he that soweth sparingly, meaning thereby, that he who distributeth the necessaries of life to those who are in penury and affliction moderately, and so to speak, with contracted hand, and not plentifully and largely,” shall also reap sparingly: and he “that soweth in blessings, in blessings shall also reap.” By which is meant, he who bountifully * * * * * [From Mai] So that if anyone hath not, he has not sinned by not giving it; for a man is acceptable according to that which he hath, and not according to that which he hath not. [From the Syriac.] And this the law of the very wise Moses has taught us in type: for those that were under the law brought sacrifices to God according to what they severally possessed, and were able to afford: some for instance bullocks, and some rams, or sheep, or doves, or pigeons, or meal mingled with oil, but even he who offered this * *, because he had no calf to offer, though so little and to be procured so cheaply, was equal to the other as regards his intention.

6:24. Woe unto you rich; For ye have received your consolation.

This too we must discuss among ourselves: For is it the case, that every one who is rich, and possesses abundant wealth, |110 is determinately cut off from the expectation of God’s grace? Is he entirely shut out from the hope of the saints? Has he neither inheritance nor part with them that are crowned? Not so, we say, hut rather on the contrary, that the rich man might have shewn mercy on Lazarus, and so have been made partaker of his consolation. For the Saviour pointed out a way of salvation to those who possess earthly wealth, saying, “Make unto yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon, that when ye depart this life they may receive you into their tents.” (source)

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