Church Father Friday is the ongoing curation of Patristic texts. These short selections from church history remind us of where we’ve been, and what God has done throughout history for the Church. I pray these excerpts are a blessing to you.
Recently, at the church I serve, we worked through Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung. It is a helpful, and convicting, work that details the 7 “Deadly Sins” and it is filled with historical and philosophical considerations. Throughout the work, Rebecca DeYoung masterfully references the teachings of the Desert Fathers. Before reading her book, I had not given much thought to the Desert Fathers. The only primary source I read about them was Athanasius’ Vita Antony. And while interesting, it didn’t grab my attention. Since finishing Glittering Vices I’ve been spending some “time in the desert” and it’s been greatly beneficial.
Today for Church Father Friday, we are going to examine Psuedo-Macarius’ Spiritual Homily II. Macarius was born around 300 AD and lived until 390 or 391. He is important in the Coptic tradition and is as influential in this area as Antony was in the east. According to tradition, when he was 30 a pregnant woman accused him of being the father of her unborn child. He didn’t argue with the woman who was unable to give birth until she exonerated the accused Macarius. He then went off to live as a hermit monk in the desert of Scetis (Wadi El Natrun) where he remained for the rest of his life (minus an exile and reported pilgrimages).
Macarius was a defender of orthodoxy, namely against Arianism, and encouraged the pursuit of holiness over and against the world. Recent scholarship has argued that Macarius did not write all of the Homilies which bear his name. But, they were certainly written during or shortly after his life, and most likely by his followers (1). Therefore, regardless of whether he wrote these Homilies down, we can trust that they reflect his teachings and views of the Lord. With that brief biography in mind, Let’s dig into how Macarius viewed the effects of sin and the role of the Devil in temptation.
Homily 2 – Concerning the Kingdom of Darkness
A common theme that runs through the Desert Fathers is the struggle against the Devil. It is likely that they chose the desert because it mirrors what Christ did at the inauguration of his public ministry (Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11). There are famous detailed accounts of Anthony’s spiritual battle with the Devil that help put this into context (2). Macarius expounds on this theme saying, “The kingdom of darkness, the evil prince, having taken man captive at the beginning, enveloped and clothed the soul in the power of darkness, as a man might clothe another” and “The evil one clothed the whole soul, which is the indispensable part or member of man, with his own unhappiness, which is sin, and thus the body became liable to suffering and decay” (3).
According to Macarius, the whole nature of fallen man is trapped under the wiles of the Evil One. He points out that the Devil corrupted all aspects of our nature through his deception at Eden. For “the Evil One has defiled the entire man, soul, and body, and dragged him down, and has clothed the man with an ‘old man.” Because of this corruption, mankind is “at enmity with God, not subject to the law of God, and all identified with sin, that he may no longer see as the man himself wishes, but may see wrongly, and hear wrongly, and have feet that are swift to do evil, and hands that work iniquity, and a heart that devises evil things.” In this condition, it is “ It is impossible to separate between the soul and sin unless God should stop and repress this evil wind, which dwells in the soul and in the body” (4).
Macarius follows that hard saying with a practical example of how it is impossible for man to be saved apart from a work of God, “A man watches a bird flying and wishes to fly himself, but he cannot because he has no wings.” It is impossible for man to save themselves from sin because it is their very nature. But, Macarius shares the only remedy, “None but He can do it. Behold, it says, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. He alone has shewn this mercy to those men who believe Him, redeeming them from sin; and for those who are always waiting for Him, and hope, and seek without ceasing, He achieves this unutterable salvation” (5).
Macarius begins this Homily saying that man has put on the garment of darkness, and he calls back to that introduction, saying “And as yonder, in the state of error, the old man put on man as a complete whole, and wears the garment of the kingdom of darkness, the garment of blasphemy, unbelief, unconcern, vainglory, pride, avarice, lust, and all the other trappings of the kingdom of darkness, ragged, unclean, and abominable” and shows how Christ undid this state, “So here, all who have put off the old man, which is from beneath the earth—all whom Jesus has stripped of the clothing of the kingdom of darkness—have put on the new and heavenly man, Jesus Christ, once more corresponding, eyes to eyes, ears to ears, head to head, to be all pure, and wearing the heavenly image” (6).
What an amazing, divine reversal; we are stripped of the wicked and sinful clothing, and given the very righteousness of Christ! It is common for people to accuse the Desert Fathers of thinking they are saved by their merits. But it is clear that they understood their need for grace, mercy, and the works of Christ. The final section of this Homily is wonderful, deep, and spiritually nourishing. I am putting the full section below, as well as a link to the entire homily. I strongly recommend you read it entirely as I cannot do it justice in a blog post.
Concerning the Kingdom of Darkness, 2.5
“The Lord has clothed them with the clothing of the kingdom of ineffable light, the clothing of faith, hope, charity, of joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and all the other divine and living clothing of the light of life, of inexpressible rest, that, as God Himself is love, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and goodness, so the new man may be through grace. And as the kingdom of darkness, and sin, are hidden in the soul until the day of resurrection when the bodies also of sinners shall be covered with the darkness that is now hidden in the soul, so the kingdom of light, and the heavenly Image, Jesus Christ, now mystically enlightens the soul, and reigns in the soul of the saints, but is hidden from the eyes of men, and only with the eyes of the soul is Christ truly seen, until the day of resurrection; but then the body also shall be covered and glorified with the light of the Lord, which is now in the man’s soul, that the body also may reign with the soul which now receives the kingdom of Christ and rests and is enlightened with eternal light. Glory to His mercies and His tender compassion, for that He has such pity on His servants, and enlightens them, and delivers them from the kingdom of darkness, and bestows upon them His own light and His own kingdom. To Him be glory and might forever. Amen.”
The full text of Pseudo-Macarius Homily II can be read HERE
1 – Johannes Quasten, Patrology Vol. 3. Utrecht, 1966, 162-164. People knew the teaching of Macarius and it was widely distributed in the community and surrounding area. It is unlikely that someone got away with attaching his name to these writings without them at least being very close to the teachings of Macarius.
2 – Athanasius, Vita Antony, Chapters 5, 6, 11, 23, etc.
3 – Pseudo-Macarius Homily 2.1
4 – Ibid, 2.2
5 – Ibid. 2.3