Friday, March 25, 2011

Reflection on St. Athanasius' Homily

Yesterday, I was translating Saint Athanasius' homily on Matthew 11:27. One sentence took hold of my imagination, and I wrote a minor reflection on it.

Greek: Παρεδόθη γὰρ αὐτῷ, ὡς ἰατρῷ, θεραπεῦσαι τὸ δῆγμα τοῦ ὄφεως· ὡς ζωῇ, ἀνεγεῖραι τὸ νεκρόν· ὡς φωτὶ, καταυγάσαι τὸ σκότος· καὶ λόγῳ ὄντι, ἀνακαινίσαι τὸ λογικόν.

English: All things were delievered to him [Jesus], as to a priest, so he could heal the sting of the serpent, as for life, so he could raise up what was dead, as for light, so he could brighten the darkness, and being the Word, he could renew man's nature.

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This sentence, though complex, contains many great mysteries for our personal reflections.

All humans were delivered to Jesus the Priest, so he could heal them. Here, the primary role of Jesus as priest is that of a healer. Healing is an essential part of the theology of the priesthood. It is why the healing sacraments (confession, annointing of the sick) can only be performed by priests. A priest who does not heal his people is no priest at all, but he is instead a burden to his parishoners. "The priest is not his own," as Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, and the priest who does not live for his parishoners, to help and to heal them, harms both himself and others, and undermines the mission of Christ. They are like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, who put heavy burdens on the shoulders of their people but did not lift a finger to help people support their burdens. Let us pray that all priests may be healers, not wounders.

And what is the wound that needs healing? It is the sting of the serpent, the bite of the snake. In other words, it is the incurable wound which overwhelms God's people (Jeremiah 14:17), the great destruction that was brought upon all creation through the cunning of the serpent. This great destruction is still taking place today, as Satan tries to do everything in his power to destroy the hope of humanity. Only Jesus is able to heal the wound of original sin. Being the Word of God—i.e. by his dual nature of God and human—Christ was able to renew humanity, to restore humanity to its original position. The priest has healed us, the wound is cured, and we are no longer slaves of sin, but now we live in Christ.

At the end of the sentence, which reads "Jesus could renew man's nature", St. Athanasius uses the word logicon. This word means "nature" in general, but it specifically refers to rational nature, as opposed to irrational nature. (This is why logicon later became the word logical in English.) By using this word, Athanasius indicates that, before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, humans were more rational than they are now.

This is a hard statement for people to accept today, because people like to believe that we are more rational now than previous generations. But Saint Athanasius is speaking the truth here, because sin is irrational. In all sins, you can see an element of irrationality, an element of complete and utter foolishness. The people now are more sinful than they were before the fall; therefore, the people now are more irrational.

This is why the wisdom of the saints is sometimes contrasted with the foolishness of sinners; only a fool would willingly choose to pursue anything other than God.

1 comment:

Airam said...

Wow! Thankful for your amazing comments. You as a priest will be a true blessing to the people lucky to be in your parish. We keep you in prayer and appreciate your commentaries.