CHURCH FATHERS (62) – Saint Peter Chrysologus

– Anastasios

With Peter Chrysologus we are speaking of one of the most active bishops under the pontificate of Leo the Great. He lived between the 4th and the 5th centuries. He was known for his devotion to the Roman Pontiff. This is the way he is described: 

“A man who vigorously pursues a goal may produce results far beyond his expectations and his intentions. Thus it was with Peter ‘of the Golden Words,’ as he was called, who as a young man became bishop of Ravenna, the capital of the empire in the West. At the time there were abuses and vestiges of paganism evident in his diocese, and these Peter was determined to battle and overcome. His principal weapon was the short sermon, and many of them have come down to us. They do not contain great originality of thought. They are, however, full of moral applications, sound in doctrine, and historically significant in that they reveal Christian life in fifth-century Ravenna. So authentic were the contents of his sermons that some 13 centuries later, he was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII. He who had earnestly sought to teach and motivate his own flock was recognized as a teacher of the universal Church. In addition to his zeal in the exercise of his office, Peter Chrysologus was distinguished by a fierce loyalty to the Church, not only in its teaching, but in its authority as well. He looked upon learning not as a mere opportunity but as an obligation for all, both as a development of God-given faculties and as a solid support for the worship of God. Some time before his death around AD 450, Saint Peter Chrysologus returned to his birthplace of Imola, in northern Italy.” (www.franciscanmeda.org).

He was a master of sermons, so it will be good to read some excerpts from them: “When God saw the world falling to ruin because of fear, he immediately acted to call it back to himself with love. He invited it by his grace, preserved it by his love, and embraced it with compassion. When the earth had become hardened in evil, God sent the flood both to punish and to release it. He called Noah to be the father of a new era, urged him with kind words, and showed that he trusted him; he gave him fatherly instruction about the present calamity, and through his grace consoled him with hope for the future. But God did not merely issue commands; rather with Noah sharing the work, he filled the ark with the future seed of the whole world. The sense of loving fellowship thus engendered removed servile fear, and a mutual love could continue to preserve what shared labor had effected.”

Another passage from the same: “In all the events we have recalled, the flame of divine love enkindled human hearts and its intoxication overflowed into men’s senses. Wounded by love, they longed to look upon God with their bodily eyes. Yet how could our narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain? But the law of love is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be. Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden. But why continue?”

On February 7, 2018, Pope Francis spoke about homilies in the weekly general audience. Among other things he has said:  “The homilist — the one who preaches, the priest or the deacon or the bishop — must carry out his ministry well, by offering a real service to all those who participate in the Mass, but those who listen to it must also do their part. Firstly by paying proper attention, that is, assuming the right interior disposition, without subjective pretexts, knowing that every preacher has merits and limitations. If at times there is reason for boredom because a homily is long or unfocused or unintelligible, at other times, however, prejudice creates the obstacle. And the homilist must be aware that he is not doing something of his own, but is preaching, giving voice to Jesus; he is preaching the Word of Jesus. And the homily must be prepared well; it must be brief, short! A priest told me that once he had gone to another city where his parents lived, and his father told him: ‘You know, I am pleased, because my friends and I have found a church where they say Mass without a homily!’ And how often do we see that during the homily some fall asleep, others chat or go outside to smoke a cigarette…. For this reason, please, make the homily brief, but prepare it well. And how do we prepare a homily, dear priests, deacons, bishops? How should it be prepared? With prayer, by studying the Word of God and by making a clear and brief summary; it should not last more than 10 minutes, please.”

All those called to do homilies should study examples as the one of Peter Chrysologus. Certainly the people today have not the time or the concentration to listen to long sermons. But the examples of these great preachers can only benefit those that have to perform this difficult task.

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