01 March 2006

St Peter Chrysologus on Fasting

On his blog, my friend, Fr William Weedon, likes to include a "Patristic Quote for the Day." He's received some FLieger Abwehr Kanone because his citations seem to favor Eastern rather than Western fathers (as if the two are in competition).

To lend him an assist, I post this quote from one of my favorite fathers (East or West)--St. Peter Chrysologus.

It is fever that the blessed Apostle laments is seething within human wounds, when he says, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." (Rom 7.18) If nothing good, then certainly evil. What evil? Truly a certain frailty creeps within the flesh, seethes in the veins, enters the bones, is hidden in the marrow, boils within the blood, and thus bursts forth into a frenzy of vice. Frailty is the fever of nature, the mother of weakness, the source of passions. Frailty is that which places us under the law of compulsion; and where there is compulsion there is no free will, there is a condition of captivity, and one's judgment is irresolute and impotent.

It is on account of frailty that the human goes not where his will beckons, but where the compulsion leads. Listen to the Apostle as he says, "I do not do what I will." (Rom 7.15) Frailty, while it deals with the things necessary for the human being, causes him to reach for what is unnecessary; while it provides food, it leads to gluttony; it offers sleep in order to hand over laziness; it increases one's concerns for the belly, in order to remove any concern for health [salus; i.e., salvation]; it gives everything to the flesh, in order to leave nothing for the soul; it makes the body the showplace of the passions; it causes the human being to be the death of himself and the life of the vices.

Therefore, if a person feels that he is sick in this fashion, let him submit himself to the heavenly Physician, let him feel safe in acceding to his directives, let him be temperate when it comes to food, let him keep some for later, so that in this way he may be able to overcome the weakness of frailty, flee from frailty, and transform the fever of the passions and the frenzy of vice.

Abstinence is the first medicine the human being must take, but for a complete cure the expenditure of mercy is required. (Sermon 41 "On Fasting" in The Fathers of the Church, vol 109.164-165)

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