Tag Archives: St. Athanasius

Coins of Heaven’s Treasury

Icon of Holy Communion

Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Luke 5:27-32

The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Luke 5:30

The banquet at Levi’s house was a preview of paradise when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will recline with “tax collectors and sinners” at the feast in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11). God became “sin” so that sinners might become “righteous” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.
St. Athanasius

The Divine Thief, crucified between thieves, broke into our earthly house to take back his spoils (Luke 11:22). The Divine Tax Collector ate with tax collectors to gather his coins, stamped with his image, and bring them back to the Father (Mark 12:16-17; Matthew 22:21-22; Luke 20:24-25).1

God became the guest of sinners so that sinners may return to God as his beloved guests at the heavenly banquet.

Out of Heaven’s treasury
Abba’s newly minted Coin
Stamped with divine royalty
Was sent to Earth to purloin.

Tax collectors hosting Christ—
Coins of the Tax Collector—
Were rifled by Abba’s heist
And restored by the Doctor.

Dusty coins out of the ground
Imprinted by the Spirit,
Freshly minted, graced and crowned,
Stamped for the heav’nly banquet.

-GMC

1 In patristic thought, humankind is the coin of God stamped with the divine image.

The Tower of the Spirit

St. Seraphim of Sarov feeding a bear

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Luke 14:25-33

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? (Luke 14:28)

An architect must have the end in mind before embarking on the construction of an edifice. Jesus’ comparison of discipleship to a tower might lead one to measure spiritual progress by the success of our external projects, plans, organizations and institutes. What is the “tower” of which Jesus speaks?

The saints tell us that the answer is theosis—deification or divinization. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius). According to St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

By baptism, every child of God becomes “a new creature… a partaker of the divine nature… and a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace… giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”1

St. Seraphim further explains:

He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die for some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and freely gives grace upon grace. Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-man, it is said in the Gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4); and further: And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness has never swallowed it (John 1:5). This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of man’s fall into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in our hearts with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ. In the event of a sinner’s impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: ‘Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life).’ Then, at the sinner’s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption spun from the grace of the Holy Spirit. The acquisition of this is the aim of the Christian life…2

The seed of grace planted at baptism must be watered, fertilized, and cultivated to flourish into a mature organism. Earthly attachments block the Son-light and water of the Holy Spirit from reaching the divine seed.

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes  to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27).

Matthew’s version reads: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). The Greek verb for “hate” (miseó) means “to love less.” Since God the Father contains all persons, however, the love of Christ does not diminish other relationships but embraces them.

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:18-33).

In the analogy, term A (building and military resources) is mapped to term B (renunciation of all possessions). From a material point of view, the analogy seems incongruous as they are opposites (addition and subtraction). However, Jesus is speaking about the inner tower of the spirit and the conquest of the ego, which detachment accomplishes by increasing faith, hope, charity, the virtues and fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the spiritual life, the laws of mathematics and physics are inverted: material and ego contraction leads to spiritual expansion.

Theosis by the grace of the Holy Spirit is our “tower” and “victory.” Our projects and apostolates are an overflow of the work of the Spirit. St. Paul discerned the need to prioritize the inner tower and combat from his apostolate of preaching: “No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:27).

The Holy Spirit lays the first cornerstone of the tower, Jesus Christ:

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The Holy Spirit arms us in the battle for theosis:

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:10-17).

St. Seraphim’s blueprint and battle plan is simple yet profound: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” 

-GMC

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1265-6.

2 St. Seraphim of Sarov, On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit, Conversation with Motovilov. Although St. Seraphim was canonized by the Orthodox Church, St. John Paul II counted him among the saints for the Catholic Church: “Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but he lets God be most fully present in prayer. The history of mystical prayer in the East and West attests to this: Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and, in the East, Saint Serafim of Sarov and many others.” From Crossing the Threshold of Hope, trans. Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 18.

Resurrection in a Garden

Icon of the Anastasis (Resurrection)

24th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”1

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”2

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”3

These pointers beyond our earthly existence to our deified destiny were lifted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (460). The spiritual DNA of Adam and the cosmos finds its origin in the eternally begotten Son of God. Christ, transcendent and “prior” to creation, is the archetype of humankind. The blueprint of humanity, untouched by time, exists in the heart of the Trinity.

Brothers and sisters: Someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back? ”You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Fading flowers, seed production, winter dormancy, and springtime renewal point beyond themselves to the ultimate resurrection of Adam and the cosmos. 

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

Through stillness and silence in the midst of our activities, may we allow the Holy Spirit to plant us in the soil of Paradise so that we may germinate and grow in the Son to the Father. 

-GMC

1 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
2 St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
3 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

Who is the “Son of David”?

The Psalms scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

Mark 12:35-37

Jesus’ discourse in the temple is unintelligible unless we put on the mindset of the people who were listening. Psalm 110:1, a Messianic prophecy, was very familiar to the crowd in which David said, 

The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
while I make your enemies your footstool.”

The reference to “my Lord” was understood to be “the Christ” or the “Anointed One,” a king who would come from the line of David. The expectation of a “Son of David,” the primary title for the coming Messiah, was cultivated for centuries and shaped the cultural lens. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel foretold that a shoot or righteous Branch would spring from the stump of Jesse, a Davidic child and king who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The hoped-for descendant of David was so ingrained in the popular mind that those who heard Jesus and sought his healing power often cried out to him, “Son of David!” If Jesus was the Messiah, then he would sit on the throne of David and “shepherd” his flock (Ezekiel 34:23).

Jesus knew his audience well and opened with the question, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? …David himself calls him ‘Lord’; so how is he his son?”

Familiar words, yet it never dawned on the scribes to make the connection between sonship and lordship. Why would David call his own descendant his Lord? In this psalm, David declares that his descendant will be equal in dignity and authority with God—one who “sits at His right hand.”

The prevailing mindset viewed the “Son of David” as an anointed king according to the flesh alone—a purely biological descendant of David. The idea that this Son is eternally begotten of God and would enter time in the womb of a Virgin Mother was completely out of their orbit. Centuries and centuries of oral tradition, rabbinic discussions, dinner conversations and “cocktail parties” had painted the “Son of David” as a political or military hero come to establish an earthly kingdom. Up until the last hour of Jesus’ earthly mission, at the Ascension, his disciples were still asking, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Cultural consciousness does not easily shift.

Jesus’ greatest challenge was transforming minds to look beyond to the heavenly kingdom, and gaining acceptance of his identity as the Son of God. Moving an ancient mindset was more difficult than raising the dead. At a mere word, lepers were healed and the lame walked, but opening the minds of free thinking persons to “see” the familiar in a new light was no easy task. 

Against the backdrop of Judaism, the later reflections of the apostles John, Paul, and the Church Fathers represent a seismic shift in consciousness. Flights into the “Word made flesh,” and of an eternal Son who sits at the right hand of—not just God, but the Father (Ephesians 1:17-21)—are from another universe of thought all together. 

Step one is simply recognizing that the “Son of David” is divine. Step two—that the Son is equal to God the “Father”—is a paradigm shift. Step three—that the Spirit who “proceeds from the Father” will come to dwell in us—is yet another shift. St. John included the Last Supper Discourse in his Gospel, in which he gives the fullest revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, to supplement the other accounts which were focused on the basics of Jesus’ revelation.

In the first four centuries after the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church Fathers advanced humanity’s reflection on the Psalms. In the light of the Trinity, they found new, hidden meanings that eluded the psalm writer himself. For example, taking Psalms 110:3 and 2:7 together, St. Athanasius reflected that it is the Father who says of His Son, “I have begotten You from the womb before the morning star;” and again, “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you” (Defense of the Nicene Definition 3:13).

This insight surpassed the limited goal of Jesus at the temple, which was simply getting to step one. St. Athanasius was not reading something alien into the Psalms, for Jesus affirmed that David was “inspired by the Holy Spirit” when he wrote it. Prophets are sometimes unaware, as when the high priest Caiaphas declared that one man should die for the people (John 11:50).

-GMC

The Word Made Flesh

Because the Word was made flesh, St. Athanasius writes:
“He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of “what will be born in you” to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of “what will be born from you,” so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.
  By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.
  This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Saviour truly became human, and from this has followed the salvation of humanity as a whole. Our salvation is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply only to the body. The salvation of the human being, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.
  What was born of Mary was therefore human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam.
  The words of St John, the Word was made flesh, bear the same meaning, as we may see from a similar turn of phrase in St Paul: Christ was made a curse for our sake. Our  body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.
  Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.