06 March 2017

Who is my Brethren?

A Patristic Homily for the Monday in the First Week of Lent. From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Remigius, Gregory the Great, Rabanus, and Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.

Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

To this most sweet section of Scripture which we cease not continually to ponder, let us now listen with all attention and compunction of spirit, for Christ does indeed clothe this discourse with more terrors and vividness. He does not accordingly say of this as of the others, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” but shews of Himself by direct revelation, saying, “When the Son of man shall come in his majesty.” Jesus gives us this story as he, himself, is within two days to celebrate the passover, to be delivered to the cross, and mocked by men. He now fitly now holds out the glory of His triumph, that He may overbalance the offences that were to follow by the promise of reward.

Both the wicked and they also who shall be set on His right hand shall see Him in human shape, for He shall appear in the judgment just when he was incarnate: in a form like ours. He shall come down with the Angels whom He shall call from heavenly places to hold judgment. “For all his Angels shall be with him” to bear witness to the things wherein they have administered to men’s salvation at His bidding. “And all nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Proving also that the resurrection of men shall be a real and bodily event.)

The wicked are called goats, because they climb rough and rugged rocks, and walk in dangerous places. Under the figure of a sheep in Scripture is signified simplicity and innocence. Beautifully then in this place are the elect denoted by sheep. The goat is a salacious animal, and was the offering for sins in the Law; and He says not ‘she goats’ which can produce young, and “come up shorn from the washing." Then He separates them in place. For the Saints who have wrought right works, shall receive in recompense of their right works the King’s right hand, at which is rest and glory; but the wicked for their evil and sinister deeds have fallen to the left hand, that is, into the misery of torments. Then shall the King say to those who are on “his right hand, Come,” that in whatsoever they are behind they may make it up when they are more perfectly united to Christ. He adds, “ye blessed of my Father,” to shew how eminently blessed they were, being of old “blessed of the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

Observe that He says not ‘Receive,’ but “possess,” or “inherit,” as due to you from of old. This “prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” is to be understood as of the foreknowledge of God, with whom things to come are as already done.

The Saints obtain the boon of this heavenly kingdom because, says Jesus, the Judge, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me to eat.” In fact, Our Lord here enumerates six works of mercy which whoso shall study to accomplish shall be entitled to the kingdom prepared for the chosen from the foundation of the world. These are they who are judged on the side of the elect, and who reign; who wash away the stains of their life with tears; who redeem former sins by good deeds following; who, whatever unlawful thing they have at any time done, have covered it from the Judge’s eyes by a cloak of alms. It is from humility that they declare themselves unworthy of any praise for their good deeds, not that they are forgetful of what they have done. “Lord, when saw we thee &c.” They say not because they distrust the Lord’s words, but they are in amaze at so great exaltation, and at the greatness of their own glory; or because the good which they have done will seem to them to be so small according to that of the Apostle, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

It is Christ in every poor man whom we feed when he is hungry, or give drink to when he is thirsty, and so of other things; but when He says, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren,” He seems to me not to speak of the poor generally, but of the poor in spirit, those to whom He pointed and said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother.”Yet if they are His brethren, why does He call them “the least?” Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother.