St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 12:49-53

12:49-53. I am come to cast fire upon the earth: and what will I, if already it be kindled? And I have a baptism to be baptized with: and how am I straitened, until it be accomplished! You think that I am come to give peace upon earth: I tell you, Nay, but division. For henceforth there shall be five in one house divided; three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

GOD the Father for the salvation of all sent down for us the Son from heaven. For to the Israelites indeed He gave the law to be their helper, according to the Scripture; and also spoke to them by the holy prophets such things as were profitable for their salvation, promising them the deliverance that is by Christ. But when the season had arrived, in which those things that had been prophesied of old were to be accomplished, He Who is God and Lord shone forth upon us. And He tells us the cause thereof in these words; “I am come to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I if already it be kindled? Come therefore, and let us examine of what nature is this fire, concerning which He here speaks. Is it useful for those upon earth? Is it for their salvation? Or does it torture men, and cause their perdition, like that which is prepared for the devil and his angels?

We affirm therefore that the fire which is sent forth by Christ is for men’s salvation and profits’: God grant that all |436 our hearts may be full thereof. For the fire here is, I say, the saving message of the Gospel, and the power of its commandments; by which all of us upon earth, who were so to speak cold and dead because of sin, and in ignorance of Him Who by nature and truly is God, are kindled unto a life of piety, and made “fervent in spirit,” according to the expression of the blessed Paul. And besides this we are also made partakers of the Holy Spirit, Who is as fire within us. For we have been baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit. And we have learnt the way thereto, by what Christ says to us: for listen to His words; “Verily I say unto you, that except a man be born of water and spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

It is the custom moreover of the divinely inspired Scripture to give the name of fire sometimes to the divine and sacred words, and to the efficacy and power which is by the Holy Spirit, and whereby we are made, as I said, “fervent in spirit.” For one of the holy prophets thus spoke as in the person of God respecting Christ our common Saviour: “The Lord, Whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, Whom you desire: behold He comes, says the Lord. And who shall endure the day of His coming? or who shall stand at the sight of Him? For lo! He comes like the fire of a furnace, and like the sulphur of the bleacher. And He shall sit, like one that smelts and purifies as silver and as gold.” Now by the temple he here means the body, holy of a truth and undefiled, which was born of the holy virgin by the Holy Spirit in the power of the Father. For so was it said to the blessed virgin, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you.” And he styles Him the Messenger of the covenant,” because He makes known and ministers unto us the good-will of the Father. For He has Himself said to us, “All things that I have heard of the Father, 1 have made known unto you.” And the prophet Isaiah also thus writes respecting Him; “Unto us a Child is born; yes, unto us a Son is given: and His government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called, The Messenger of the great counsel.” Just therefore as those who know how to refine gold and silver, melt out the dross contained in them by the use of fire; so also the Saviour |437 of all cleanses by the doctrines of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit, the mind of all those who have believed in Him.

And further the prophet Isaiah also said, that “He saw the Lord of Sabaoth sitting upon a throne high, and lifted up: and around Him stood the Seraphim, praising Him. Then said He to himself, Alas for me a sinner, for I repent me: in that being a man, and of unclean lips, I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and have seen with my eyes the King, the Lord of Sabaoth.” But to this he adds, that ” one of the Seraphim was sent unto me, and in his hand he had a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs from the altar, and he touched with it my mouth, and said, Lo! this has touched your lips, and it shall take away your sins, and cleanse you of your iniquities.” What interpretation then are we to put upon the coal which touched the prophet’s lips, and cleansed him from all sin? Plainly it is the message of salvation, and the confession of faith in Christ, which whosoever receives with his mouth is forthwith and altogether purified. And of this Paul thus assures us; “that if you say with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

We say then that the power of the divine message resembles a live coal and fire. And the God of all somewhere said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I have made My words in your mouth to be fire, and this people to be wood, and it shall devour them.” And again, “Are not My words as burning fire, says the Lord? Rightly therefore did our Lord Jesus Christ say unto us, “I am come to throw fire upon earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled!” For already some of the Jewish crowd believed on Him, whose first-fruits were the divine disciples: and the fire being once kindled was soon to seize upon the whole world, immediately that the whole dispensation had attained to its completion: as soon, that is, as He had borne His precious passion upon the cross, and had commanded the bonds of death to cease. For He rose on the third day from the dead.

And this He teaches us by saying, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!” And by His baptism He means His death in the |438 flesh: and by being straitened because of it He means, that He was saddened and troubled until it was accomplished. For what was to happen when it was accomplished? That henceforth not in Judaea only should the saving message of the Gospel be proclaimed: comparing which to fire He said, “I am come to send fire upon earth:”—-but that now it should be published even to the whole world. For before the precious cross, and His resurrection from the dead, His commandments and the glory of His divine miracles, were spoken of in Judaea only. But because Israel sinned against Him, for they killed the Prince of Life, as far as they were concerned, even though He arose having spoiled the grave: then immediately He gave commandment to the holy apostles in these words: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all those things which I have commanded you.” Behold therefore, yes see, that throughout all nations was that sacred and divine fire spread abroad by means of the holy preachers.

And of the holy apostles and evangelists Christ somewhere spoke by one of the prophets: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will make the heads of the thousands of Judaea like a firebrand among wood, and like a fiery lamp among reeds; and they shall devour on the right hand and on the left all the nations round about.” For, so to speak, like fire they ate up all the nations, and fed upon the whole earth, kindling all its inhabitants, who as I said were cold, and had suffered the death of ignorance and sin.

Would you like to see the effects of this divine and rational fire? hear then again His words: “Or think you that I am come to give peace upon earth? I tell you, no, but division.” And yet Christ is our peace, according to the Scriptures. “He has broken down the middle wall: He has united the two people in one now man, so making peace: and has reconciled both in one body unto the Father.” He has united the things below to them that are above: how therefore did He not come to give peace upon earth? What then say we to these things? |439

That peace is an honourable and truly excellent thing when given by God. For the prophets also say; “Lord, grant us peace: for You have given us all things.” But not every peace necessarily is free from blame: there is sometimes, so to speak, an unsafe peace, and which separates from the love of God those who, without discretion or examination, set too high a value upon it. As for instance: the determination to avoid evil men. and refuse to be at peace with them;—-by which I mean the not submitting to entertain the same sentiments as they do;—-is a thing profitable and useful to us. And in like manner the opposite course is injurious to those who have believed in Christ, and attained to the knowledge of His mystery: to such it is unprofitable to be willing to follow the same sentiments as those who wander away from the right path, and have fallen into the net of heathen error, or been caught in the snares of wicked heresies. With these it is honourable to contend, and to set the battle constantly in array against them, and to glory in holding opposite sentiments; so that even though it be a father that believes not, the son is free from blame who contradicts him, and resists his opinions. And in like manner also the father, if he be a believer, and true unto God, but his son disobedient and evilly disposed, and that opposes the glory of Christ, is also free from blame, if he disregard natural affection, and disowns him as his child. And the same reasoning holds with respect to mother and daughter: and daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. For it is right that those who are in error should follow those who are sound in mind: and not, on the contrary, that those should give way whose choice is to |440 entertain correct sentiments, and who have a sound knowledge of the glory of God.

And this Christ has also declared to us in another manner; “He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he that loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” When therefore you deny an earthly father for your piety’s sake towards Christ, then shall you gain as Father Him “Who is in heaven. And if you give up a brother because he dishonours God, by refusing to serve Him, Christ will accept you as His brother: for with His other bounties He has given us this also, saying; “I will declare Your Name unto My brethren.” Leave your mother after the flesh, and take her who is above, the heavenly Jerusalem, “which is our mother:” so will you find a glorious and mighty lineage in the family of the saints. With them you will be heir of God’s gifts, which neither the mind can comprehend, nor language tell. Of which may we too be counted worthy by the grace and loving-kindness of Christ, the Saviour of us all; by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen. |441 (source)

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One Response to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 12:49-53

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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