Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Lectio on Acts


Codex Laudianus (Acts 1,1-5) Tischendorf.jpg
Codex Laurentius, c6th


As the Matins readings have now shifted to a summer timetable (ie short chapter verse only) in the Benedictine use, I thought I'd post some lectio note on books appropriate to the season.

Accordingly over these next weeks leading up to Pentecost, I plan to read Acts with the help of the selections from the Sermons of St John Chrysostom (the full text is available on New Advent).  I'll generally post a chapter a day of Acts, but focus in a small portion of the text.  I will linger a little over the first couple of chapters however, given their particular relevance to the season.

Today's Homily from St John Chrysostom serves as a an introduction, discussing why we should read Acts.

Acts 1: 1-2

The first book which I wrote, Theophilus, was concerned with all that Jesus set out to do and teach, until the day came when he was taken up into heaven. He then laid a charge, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on the apostles whom he had chosen.

Primum quidem sermonem feci de omnibus, o Theophile, quæ cœpit Jesus facere et docere 2 usque in diem qua præcipiens Apostolis per Spiritum Sanctum, quos elegit, assumptus est: 

St John Chrysostom, Homily 1 on Acts:

To many persons this Book is so little known, both it and its author, that they are not even aware that there is such a book in existence. For this reason especially I have taken this narrative for my subject, that I may draw to it such as do not know it, and not let such a treasure as this remain hidden out of sight.

For indeed it may profit us no less than even the Gospels; so replete is it with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine, especially in what is said concerning the Holy Ghost. Then let us not hastily pass by it, but examine it closely.

Thus, the predictions which in the Gospels Christ utters, here we may see these actually come to pass; and note in the very facts the bright evidence of Truth which shines in them, and the mighty change which is taking place in the disciples now that the Spirit has come upon them.

For example, they heard Christ say, Whoso believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do John 14:12: and again, when He foretold to the disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings, and in their synagogues they should scourge them, and that they should suffer grievous things, and overcome all Matthew 10:18: and that the Gospel should be preached in all the world Matthew 24:14: now all this, how it came to pass exactly as it was said, may be seen in this Book, and more besides, which He told them while yet with them.

Here again you will see the Apostles themselves, speeding their way as on wings over land and sea; and those same men, once so timorous and void of understanding, on the sudden become quite other than they were; men despising wealth, and raised above glory and passion and concupiscence, and in short all such affections: moreover, what unanimity there is among them now; nowhere any envying as there was before, nor any of the old hankering after the pre-eminence, but all virtue brought in them to its last finish, and shining through all, with surpassing lustre, that charity, concerning which the Lord had given so many charges saying, In this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

And then, besides, there are doctrines to be found here, which we could not have known so surely as we now do, if this Book had not existed, but the very crowning point of our salvation would be hidden, alike for practice of life and for doctrine.

The greater part, however, of this work is occupied with the acts of Paul, who laboured more abundantly than they all. 1 Corinthians 15:10 And the reason is, that the author of this Book, that is, the blessed Luke, was his companion: a man, whose high qualities, sufficiently visible in many other instances, are especially shown in his firm adherence to his Teacher, whom he constantly followed... Again, when he says, He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, and, according to the Gospel which you received (1 Corinthians 15:5, 1), he means the Gospel of this Luke. So that there can be no mistake in attributing this work to him: and when I say, to him, I mean, to Christ...

And why then did he not relate every thing, seeing he was with Paul to the end? We may answer, that what is here written, was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at the time: it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition...

The Gospels, then, are a history of what Christ did and said; but the Acts, of what that other Comforter said and did. Not but that the Spirit did many things in the Gospels also; even as Christ here in the Acts still works in men as He did in the Gospels: only then the Spirit wrought through the Temple, now through the Apostles: then, He came into the Virgin's womb, and fashioned the Temple; now, into Apostolic souls: then in the likeness of a dove; now, in the likeness of fire. And wherefore? Showing there the gentleness of the Lord, but here His taking vengeance also, He now puts them in mind of the judgment likewise. For, when need was to forgive, need was there of much gentleness; but now we have obtained the gift, it is henceforth a time for judgment and examination.

Helpful resources on Acts

Translations

New Advent (Septuagint, Knox, Vulgate)
Douay-Rheims
Acts read in Latin
Acts read in Greek

Commentaries

Haydock's introduction to Acts
Divine Lamp resources
Patristic citations of Acts
Ante-Nicene Fathers e catena
Pamphilus

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