Friday, August 22, 2008

Homily 4

Hebrews 2:5-15

For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.

But one testified in a certain place, saying:

"What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that you take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet"

For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.

For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,


"I will declare your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You."

And again:

"I will put My trust in Him."

And again:

"Here am I and the children whom God has given Me."

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.


Paul takes the Psalm to be another Incarnational prophecy: the Son of Man by taking on human flesh is made a little lower than the angels, in his Passion crowned with glory and honor, and in his Resurrection set over all things.

As Paul says Christ was "made perfect" through suffering it is important to remember the older meaning of "perfect" still in use-- that is to say, to be perfect is to have achieved one's goal. In this way perfection is different from sinlessness or blamelessness. Christ was always blameless but his Incarnation was not made perfect-- that is to say, was not accomplished-- before his suffering.

After assuring us that those who follow Christ are his brethren, Paul goes on to speak of the Eucharist. Christ shares in our flesh and blood, in our lives, inasmuch as we through Holy Communion partake of his flesh and blood. And when we partake of Christ's flesh and blood, his death destroys death's power over our own lives.

This phrase, but we see Jesus, is very important. Up until this point Paul has not named the Son. He's spoken of a Son of God, cited Scripture that prophecies the Second Person of the Trinity, but takes his time before introducing that Son in person. We do not yet see all things put under God's control, says Paul. But we see Jesus. And so we see God.


Chrysostom says that Paul's quotation of the Psalm applies generally to human nature but specifically to the Incarnate Christ.

He continues to speak of Paul's balancing act, "how he both brings us together and then separates us"-- using language sometimes to identify Christ with humanity and sometimes to identify Christ with God. And he makes certain to emphasize that Christ being "made perfect" is not "an accession of glory to Him: for that which is of nature He always had, and received nothing in addition."

A good half of the homily deals with a proper response to Christ's victory over death: no longer slaves to death we should not mourn overmuch at funerals. This is especially a poor witness to unbelievers: "For they will say at once, 'when will any of these [fellows] be able to despise death, when he is not able to see another dead?' "

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Homily 3

Hebrews 1:6 - 2:4

But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:

"Let all the angels of God worship Him."

And of the angels He says:

"Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire."

But to the Son He says:

"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness, more than Your companions."


"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail."

But to which of the angels has He ever said:

"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool"?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things have heard, lest we drift away.

For if the word spoken through the angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,

how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?


Having established his claim as to the two natures of Christ, Paul goes on to reference Trinitarian prophecies in the Jewish Scripture. He emphasizes the Son's elevation above the angels, and quotes a Psalm in which God (the Father) anoints God (the Son). This may be a reference to Christ's baptism, when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit. And in a sense it was at this moment of baptism that he was elevated above his companions. Of course as God, Christ had always been greater in honor, but for thirty years this was hidden, to be made manifest at the Baptism. The next quote emphasizes Christ's eternal nature-- he created the heavens and will someday fold them up. And the final quote is again Trinitarian: God sits God at God's right hand.

And so with this claim that Christ is God, Paul emphasizes the importance of such a doctrine-- if the word brought by the angels has had such consequence, how much more necessary to heed the salvation brought to us by the Word Himself!


Chrysostom makes much of Paul's reference to the Father bringing the firstborn into the world (whereas the Incarnation is elsewhere described as a sending Christ out to the world). By bringing His only-begotten into the world, Chrysostom says, God puts the world in the palm of his hand.

He views these quotations as a balancing of Christ's God-hood with his humanity-- Christ's being anointed above his companions is not a "gift afterwards superadded to Him" because in the beginning Christ "laid the foundation of the earth."

Chrysostom takes the phrase "so great a salvation" as a superlative over the lesser salvations of the Hebrew covenant. "For not from wars (he saith) will He now rescue us, nor bestow on us the earth and the good things that are in the earth, but it will be the dissolution of death, the destruction of the devil, the kingdom of Heaven, everlasting life."

This great salvation is evidenced in part by miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the remainder of Chrysostom's homily is dedicated to advocating the greatest gift-- greater than tongues, or teaching, or healing, or raising the dead, he says, is love. If we love our enemies we have a gift equal to that of the Apostles.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Homily 2

Hebrews 1:3-5

Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

For to which of the angels did He ever say:

"You are my Son,
Today I have begotten You"?

And again:

"I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son"?


Christ is the only-begotten of the Father, Begotten of the Father before all ages.

So in this sense, Christ receives his inheritance and in receiving his inheritance becomes more glorious than the angels. But because he is begotten before all ages, there is no time when he was not yet begotten, when he had not yet received his inheritance, when he had not yet become more glorious than the angels. There is an after but not a before.

Paul is reinforcing his claim with quotations from the Jewish Scripture, as evidence that God has spoken of a Son greater than the angels-- for even the angels are not sons begotten of the Father. He's prepping the Jews for the Incarnation by pointing out Incarnational promises in their own Scripture.


Chrysostom uses a highly detailed examination of this passage to provide evidence against both Sabellianism and Arianism. That is to say, on the one hand he argues against the idea that Christ is unoriginate and indistinct from the Father, and on the other hand against the notion that Christ is a created being, nonexistant before the Incarnation.

As the one who "upholds all things by the word of his power," Christ is clearly not a created being. And yet by himself coming among us to purge our sins by his inheritance, Christ is clearly distinct from God the Father.

And as we emulate Christ's condescension, Chrysostom exhorts us also to "take the form of a slave" and be humble. If we take pride in anything, says Chrysostom, we should be proud of our poverty.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So, a friend is memorizing Hebrews and I'm not part of a Bible study right now. Which has made me think of experimenting (again) with the book of Hebrews. This time, the idea is to read the book in conjunction with Chrysostom's commentary. First, I type the passage in question. Then I reflect on it and write my comments. Finally, I read Chrysostom and summarize his comments. This method may well change before too long.

Hebrews 1:1-2

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;


Christ is God's Son and through Him the worlds were made. The God who spoke to the prophets speaks through Jesus Christ.

This passage unambiguously asserts Christ's status as God (the worlds were made through Him), and proclaims to the Jews a continuity with the prophesies of old-- it emphasizes that Christ Jesus is not a new god.


In time past God spoke through prophets, then "when a long time had intervened, when we were on the edge of punishment, when the Gifts had failed, when there was no expectations of deliverance, when we were expecting to have less than all-- then we had more."

"God has spoken by Christ" emphasizes to those who don't yet trust Christ (but do trust God) that it is God who is speaking (this is why Paul doesn't simply say that Christ spoke these words, but rather that God spoke the words by Christ).

That Christ is appointed "heir of all things" means that his inheritance is not just the Jews, but has been extended to all nations.

Hebrews 1:3-4

who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.


This passage emphasizes Christ's glory and worthiness-- He purged our sins, He is the brightness and image of God, He upholds all things. He is more excellent even than the angels.

But why this word 'became'? It's tempting to interpret this as a hint that Christ was not always greater than the angels, that he became such. In which case, God the Son would not have always been God.

This cannot be Paul's meaning, as he's already said that all things were made through Christ. If Christ predated the angels, if they were made through Him, then Paul cannot mean to imply that the angels were at one time more excellent than their Creator.

But still that curious verb.

Perhaps, as this is an epistle to the Jews who acknowledge God's glory but doubt Christ's participation in that glory, this verb "became" emphasizes God's humanit in Christ.

The Word, remember, "became" flesh. Human flesh did not always have a more excellent name than the angels, but by the Incarnation human flesh inherited such a name; human flesh was incorporated into the Godhead. Perhaps Paul is emphasizing to the Jews that through Christ our flesh inherits holiness?


"Henceforward then he treats here of that which is according to the flesh, since the phrase 'being made better' doth not express His essence according to the Spirit, (for that was not 'made' but 'begotten') but according to the flesh: for this was "made."

Chrysostom speaks of what we now call the "zone of proximal development" or "scaffolding," by which in teaching you alternately take the student up to lofty levels beyond their full comprehension, and then guide them back down to what they understand firmly. By this means they begin to grasp for higher things but remain grounded. So also Paul alternates between Christ's glory and his lowliness, between his Godhood and his humanity.

He says that the Word is pre-eternally glorious, but that the flesh has been made glorious in the Incarnation.

Chrysostom then speaks of "both high and low" of man, in particular emphasizing the giving of alms, reminding us that the "least of these" will be made high. Yet even the poorest, he says, should be mindful of the needy-- because God "regards the will, not the gifts."