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A Commentary Upon The Gospel According To Saint Luke -St. Cyril

And when the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed, shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? A man clad in soft garments? Behold they who wear soft clothing, are in the abodes of kings. But what went ye out to see? A Prophet? Yea, I say unto yon: and more than a prophet: for this is he of whom it is written, Behold I send My messenger before Thy face, to prepare Thy way before Thee. Verily I say unto you, Among those born of women there is no one greater than John: but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

YE who thirst for the knowledge of the divine doctrines, open once again the treasure-house of your minds: satiate yourselves with the sacred words: or rather, give way to no feeling of satiety herein: for gluttony in things that tend to edification is a quality worth the gaining. Let us approach, then, the Saviour’s words, not carelessly, and without due preparation, but with that attentiveness and vigilance which befits those who would learn. For so alone can those subjects for contemplation, which are difficult of comprehension, be rightly understood. Let us, therefore, ask of Christ that light, which He sends down upon the mind and heart, that thus being enabled correctly to understand the force of what is said, we may again admire the beautiful skill of the management. For He had been asked by the disciples of John, whether He is He that cometh? When then He had answered them in a suitable manner, and commanded them to return to him that sent them, He began to say unto the multitudes concerning him, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken by the wind?” And what the instruction is which we gain from this, or what the end to which our Saviour’s words have reference, how must it not be worth our while to inquire? Let us examine, therefore, the meaning of what is said: let us search it as a treasure: let us spy into its secrets: and fixing our mind upon the profundity of the mystery, let us be like careful moneychangers, proving every thing, as Scripture says.

There were then certain who prided themselves upon their performance of what was required by the law: the Scribes namely, and Pharisees, and others of their party; who were regarded according to their professions as exact observers of the law, and claimed on this score, that their heads should be adorned with honours. This too is the reason why they neither accepted faith in Christ, nor paid due honour to that mode of life which truly is praiseworthy and blameless: even that which is regulated by the commands of the Gospel. The purpose, therefore, of Christ the Saviour of all, was to shew them that the honours both of the religious and moral service that are by the law, were of small account, and not worthy of being attained to, or even perhaps absolutely nothing, and unavailing for edification: while the grace that is by faith in Him is the pledge of blessings worthy of admiration, and able to adorn with incomparable honour those that possess it. Many, then, as I said, were observers of the law, and greatly puffed up on this account: they even gave out that they had attained to the perfection of all that is praiseworthy, in the exact performance of the righteousness that consisted in shadows and types. In order, then, that, as I said, He might prove that those who believe in Him. are better and superior to them, and that the glories of the followers of the law are evidently but small in comparison with the evangelic mode of life, He takes him who was the best of their whole class, but nevertheless was born of woman, I mean the blessed Baptist: and having affirmed that he is a prophet, or rather above the measure of the prophets, and that among those born of women no one had arisen greater than he in righteousness, that namely, which is by the law, He declares, that he who is small, who falls short, that is, of his measure, and is inferior to him in the righteousness that is by the law, is greater than he:—not greater, in legal righteousness, but in the kingdom of God, even in faith, and the excellencies which result from faith. For faith crowns those that receive it with glories that surpass the law. And this thou learnest, and wilt thyself affirm to be the case, when thou meetest with the words of the blessed Paul: for having declared himself to be free from blame in the righteousness that is by the law, he added forthwith, “But those things that were gain unto me, those I have counted loss for Christ’s sake: and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ: not having my own righteousness which is by the law, but the righteousness that is of the faith of Jesus Christ.” And the Israelites he even considers deserving of great blame, thus saying: “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, that namely which is by Christ, and seeking to establish their own; even that which is by the law; they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the completion of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth.” And again, when speaking of these things: “We, he says, who by nature are Jews, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Jesus Christ, that we may be justified in Him.” The being justified, therefore, by Christ, that is to say, by faith in Him, surpasses the glories of the righteousness that is by the law. For this reason the blessed Baptist is brought forward, as one who had attained the foremost place in legal righteousness, and to a praise so far incomparable. And yet even thus he is ranked as less than one who is least: “for the least, He says, is greater than he in the kingdom of God.” But the kingdom of God signifies, as we affirm, the grace that is by faith, by means of which we are accounted worthy of every blessing, and of the possession of the rich gifts which come from above from God. For it frees us from all blame; and makes us to be the sons of God, partakers of the Holy Ghost, and heirs of a heavenly inheritance.

Having prefaced therefore thus much by way of preparation, and to explain the connection of the ideas, come now, and let us examine the actual words. As I have already said then, He exalts the divine Baptist to a great height, and crowns the Forerunner with surpassing honours purposely; that thou mayest the more thoroughly admire faith; as that which makes believers to have a grandeur far surpassing even that of men thus illustrious. He asks the Jews, then, saying, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken by the wind?” Now He compares to a reed,—a thing tossed about, and, so to speak, reeling and shaken to and fro by the violence of the winds,—the man who lives in worldly honours and pleasures, and in the grandeur of temporal sovereignty. For there is nothing stable or firm or unshaken with such persons, but things change frequently in an unexpected manner, and to that which they did not anticipate, and their prosperity lightly passes away. For true it is, that “all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: the grass withereth, and the flower falleth.” Did ye then, He says, go out into the desert to see a man like a reed? This, however, possibly he is not, but of a different character; one of those who live in pleasures, and are wont to be clad in beautiful garments, and value childish honour. And yet one does not see persons such as these dwelling in the desert, but at the courts of kings: and as for the blessed Baptist’s raiment, it was of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle upon his loins.

What then did ye go out to see? Perhaps ye say, A Prophet. Yea, I also say as well as you. For he is a saint and a prophet: nay, he even surpasses the dignity of a prophet; for not only did he announce before that I am coming, but pointed Me out close at hand, saying? “Behold the Lamb of God, That beareth the sin of the world.” Moreover, he was testified of by the prophet’s voice, “as sent before My face, to prepare the way before Me.” And I bear him witness that there hath not arisen among those born of women one greater than he: but he that is least—in the life I mean according to the law—in the kingdom of God is greater than he. How and in what manner? In that the blessed John, together with as many as preceded him, was born of woman: but they who have received the faith, are no more called the sons of women, but as the wise Evangelist said, “are born of God.” “For to all, he says, who received Him, that is, Christ, He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on His Name: who have been born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” For we have been born again to the adoption of the sons, “not of corruptible seed,” but, as Scripture saith, “by the living and abiding Word of God.” Those then who are not of corruptible seed, but, on the contrary, have been born of God, are superior to any one born of woman.

There is also another respect in which they surpass those born of women. For they have earthly fathers: but we Him Who is above in heaven. For we have received this also of Christ, Who calleth us to the adoption of sons and brotherhood with Him. For He has said, “Ye shall not call any one on earth father: for One is your Father, Who is in heaven. But ye, all of you, are brethren.” And most wise Paul gives us surety of this, writing as follows: “For because ye are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, calling Father, our Father.” For when Christ rose, and spoiled hell, the spirit of adoption was then given to them that believed on Him, and first of all to the holy disciples; for “He breathed upon them, saying. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. If ye remit the sins of any, they are remitted them; and if ye retain the sins of any, they are retained.” For inasmuch as they have become partakers of the divine nature, by being richly endowed with that lordly and all-governing Spirit; therefore He has also given them the godlike power of remitting the sins of whomsoever they will, and of retaining those of all others. But that previously to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and His ascent to heaven, there was not among men the spirit of adoption, the most wise Evangelist John makes plain where he says: “For the Spirit was not as yet: because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” And yet certainly, how can the Spirit be unequal in eternity to God the Father, and the Son? And when did He not exist, Who is before all? For He is equal in substance to the Father, and the Son. “But inasmuch as Christ, he says, was not yet glorified,” that is to say, had not yet risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven, the spirit of adoption did not as yet exist for men. But when the Only-begotten Word of God ascended up into heaven. He sent down for us in His stead the Comforter, Who is in us by Him. And this He taught us, thus saying: “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you: but when I have departed, I will send Him unto you.”

Even though, therefore, we be inferior to them who have fulfilled the righteousness that is by the law: inferior. I mean, in righteousness of life, yet are we who have received faith in Him endowed with greater privileges. We must, however, bear in mind, that although the blessed Baptist was thus great in virtue, yet he plainly confessed that he stood in need of holy baptism: for he somewhere said, speaking to Christ, the Saviour of us all, “I have need to be baptized of Thee.” But he would have had no need of holy baptism, nor have requested leave to have it granted him, had there not been in it something more and better, than the righteousness that is by the law.

Christ therefore does not contend against the honours of the saints; nor is it His purpose to diminish and strip of their renown those holy men who had before attained to victory: but as I said, it rather is to prove that the Gospel mode of life is superior to the legal worship, and to crown with surpassing honours the glory of faith, that we all may believe in Him. For so we enter by Him, and with Him, into the kingdom of heaven: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

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