17 December 2007

St Peter Chrysologus on St John the Baptizer

That blessed John was the messenger to the messengers of Christ, the witness to his witnesses, and the foremost of his promoters, we have frequently mentioned in our preaching. Then why is it that the messenger asks a question, the witness is in doubt, and the promoter is lacking in knowledge? Are you the One who is to come, or do we wait for another? (Mt 11.3) John, you perfect man, are you asking whether he is the Christ who is to come, when while you were still within your mother’s womb you announced that he had already come?

John, there are your words: “Behold, the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” And when he submitted to be baptized by your hands, you said: “I ought to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Are you not the one who heard amidst the waters of the Jordan the voice of the Father resounding from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”? You certainly were the only human being who saw the Holy Spirit come down in bodily form from heaven upon him. You are the one who grasped the Father with your ears, the Son with your hands, and the Holy Spirit with your eyes at one and the same moment in an unparalleled manifestation of power.

And after this you ask whether he is the Christ or whether there is another who is to come?

We are disturbed, John, we who sing your praises are disturbed… So give an answer, John, assist yourself and assist us; say why you who used to have knowledge sent them to ask a question.

Let us pay attention, brothers, let us pay attention more in-depth attention, and let us listen to the answer John gives here not only with our ears, but also with our hearts. John says: “If while I was still in the womb I instantly announced that Christ was going to be born, now after hearing of his works, works which attest to his divinity, have I plunged into the waves of doubt? Far from it!

“This is the reason form my question: my disciples, who had seen my good reputation, who had admired my life, who had heard me impose penance, forgive sins, and promise that the kingdom of heaven was arriving in him who was to come, were so prepared to be bound with chains, to live in prison with me, to share my punishments, and to become my partners with me in death, that they failed to see my Lord, for whom I had prepared them. They were following the teacher of penitence so closely that they were neglecting the Giver of grace; on account of ignorance they considered themselves mine to such an extent that they were unaware that the servant’s property belongs to his Master.

“So I sent them out, in order to put heavenly goods before them, to lead them to divine ones, to hand them over to God, to return them to the Creator. I sent them, so that by his works they would affirm that he was the Christ about whom they had heard my words, and so that my [disciples] would not be lost to my Lord with my passing away. I sent them to him who knew very well why I sent them. I sent them to the One who probes the heart; I sent them to the One who judges thoughts. I sent them to him who was in me and with me. I sent them so that by recognizing his divinity by means of his works, they would not find his humanity to be a stumbling block. I sent them, so that gazing upon his humanity would not disturb them who could not but be strengthened by the signs of his divine powers.

“And so the Lord, who knew why I sent them, responded with his works before he did with words.”

Source: The Fathers of the Church, Volume 110. St Peter Chrysologus Selected Sermons, Volume 3. Translated by William B. Palardy (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), pp. 355-356.

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