December 6, 2010

Saint Peter Chrysologus and Advent

Advent is a time to seek Christ who comes into our poverty with the Fire of Love.  John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel and many others are special messengers who help us learn to listen for angel choirs and to follow the signs of heaven.  The Church also invites the faithful to ponder the writings of many others saints during the Advent season.  One beautiful reading from the Office of Readings comes from a homily by a 5th Century bishop of Ravenna, St. Peter Chrysologus or Peter the Golden-Worded.

In one sermon, he reflects how the Lord would not abandon us after we sinned against Him, but rather acted in power to stir up in our hearts the desire to see God.  The love God has for Fallen Humanity stirs us, even in our sinfulness, to seek Him, to want to see Him.  This Father of the Church unfolds this insight by showing how the Lord gently guided us since time primordial from the beginnings of a kind of servile fear - unto the full filial love of sons and daughters of God.  Chrysologus suggests that even the pagans were touched by this movement of God to us.  God's love ignites in the human heart an intoxicating divine eros which moves people to what seems to be irrational - that is to want to see God with our own eyes:

But the Law of Eros is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be.  Eros-Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation.  Such love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object.    Eros destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; such passion follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong.  The yearning of love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden.  But why continue? It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see the Lord.

I have modified the translation provided in the Office of Readings to emphasize the Fire of God's love permeating this text.  Anyone who has fallen in love understands the passion pushing beyond all reason that St. Peter is attributing to the saints - because to fall in love is to be seized by movements of the heart that our frail reason scarcely glimpses. This anticipates the wonderful modern proverb, the heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.  And, we can also say, this reflection of Chrysologus suggests something much more.  For if we look closely at his words, they suggest that, whatever divine passion has been stirred in the hearts of men, this powerful yearning was caused by an even more passionate God whose life is an unceasing circumcession of love.

There is something of the mystery of the cross in St. Peter's insight into love destroying the lover.  But God's love is more powerful than death - and Christ who so passionately loved us to the end has saved human love and made it glorious in the eyes of the Father.  And just as He is beheld, his human eyes behold the Father - the fulfillment of all desire.  The Father in turn yearns that we should see the Son.   It is this great movement of love in the heart of God - eternal, undying, unchanging, never ceasing, ever new - this eros pulses in the heart of advent, the heart of this season in which we await his coming.   Such love is waiting to explode in those who silence themselves in prayerful receptivity before the Word made flesh, who seek Him in the poverty of Bethlehem, who listen for angel choirs in the night.


  1. Is "eros" the word St. Peter uses in the original in this homily, then?

  2. Actually, Father Peter Chrysologus is a Latin Father of the Church - so he would not have used "eros." I have been trying to hunt down the Latin text. He was a 5th Century Bishop of Ravenna who preached to the imperial court of the Western Emporer at a time when the Western Empire was in decline. His name means "golden tongue" and his Latin is eloquent. I used "eros" because recent magisterial teaching (Pope Benedict - God is Love) speaks about this reality in the Divine Nature and our struggles with it in human nature. Peter Chrysologus is using a Latin term with the same passionate connotation that "eros" now has for many English speakers familiar with the Holy Father's encyclical.

  3. Hello, just coming back to this blogpost again as I am still contemplating St. Peter's homily. Did you ever come across the Latin text?