Decisions and Unity

Today’s epistle reading in the western church’s lectionary is the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas (feast day Feb. 24th). Notice the existence and faithfulness to a set of living parameters that governed the decision – the Holy Tradition is in place at even this early point! Here is what I glean:

  1. The prayers.
  2. Solidarity of fellowship — unity on several levels.
  3. Adherence to the Scriptures (the Old Testament) and a Christo-centric way of reading and interpreting them that is practical for everyday life.
  4. Adherence to the living witness of the Holy Spirit through the sacred narrative – spirit of the Word not just the letter of the Word.
  5. A conviction regarding the necessity for an apostolic order, consistency, and continuity that maintains and fosters the continuity of the community and the faithfulness/continuity of the witness/preaching. A conviction regarding unity and the need to preserve it. The need for 12 apostles not 11. The need to remain one in the Spirit and not be divided.
  6. The conviction that everyone could and would be used by the Holy Spirit along with the celebration of apostolic leadership.
  7. Trust in the presence, leading, and governance of the Holy Spirit – cost what it will, lead where it may. In other words, they are not “winging it” or creating a tradition on their own.

It is important, I believe, to read this passage with a view to the deeper work the Holy Spirit is doing. He is establishing His Tradition. For, in fact, the apostolic community will need it in the days ahead and the controversies they will face. Notice the unity is maintained. Why is that important? Well, lets think about the reason for the choice. They are replacing Judas. The whole event is prompted by their experience of betrayal and division!! Judas didn’t just betray Jesus. He betrayed them. Indeed, they betrayed one another in the deepest sense (remember Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus?!). The question of unity must have been on the minds of the disciples as they engaged in the choice! Here is what the Church Fathers have to say about the event and the underlying issue of unity:

St. John Chrysostom

election of Matthias“Make known to us, Lord, the one you choose” (Acts 1.24-25)
In those days, Peter, stood up in the midst of the disciples and said… As the fiery spirit to whom the flock was entrusted by Christ and as the leader in the band of the apostles, Peter always took the initiative in speaking: My brothers, we must choose from among our number. He left the decision to the whole body, at once augmenting the honour of those elected and avoiding any suspicion of partiality. For such great occasions can easily lead to trouble.

Did not Peter then have the right to make the choice himself? Certainly he had the right, but he did not want to give the appearance of showing special favour to anyone. Besides he was not yet endowed with the Spirit. And they nominated two, we read, Joseph, who was called Barsabbas and surnamed Justus, and Matthias. He himself did not nominate them; all present did. But it was he who brought the issue forward, pointing out that it was not his own idea but had been suggested to him by a scriptural prophecy. So he was speaking not as a teacher but as an interpreter.

So, he goes on, we must choose from those men who lived in our company. Notice how insistent he is that they should be eyewitnesses. Even though the Spirit would come to ratify the choice, Peter regards this prior qualification as most important.

Those who lived in our company, he continued, all through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us. He refers to those who had dwelt with Jesus, not just those who had been his disciples. For of course from the very beginning many had followed him. Notice how it is written that Peter himself was one of the two who had listened to John, and followed Jesus.

All through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning with the baptism of John – rightly so, because no one knew what had happened before that time, although they were to know of it later through the Spirit.

Up to the day, Peter added, on which he was taken up from us – one of these must be made a witness along with us of his resurrection. He did not say “a witness of the rest of his actions” but only a witness of the resurrection. That witness would be more believable who could declare that he who ate and drank and was crucified also rose from the dead. He needed to be a witness not of the times before or after that event, and not of the signs and wonders, but only of the resurrection itself. For the rest happened by general admission, openly; but the resurrection took place secretly, and was known to these men only.

And they all prayed together, saying: You, Lord, know the hearts of men; make your choice known to us. “You,” not “we.” Appropriately they said that he knew the hearts of men, because the choice was to be made by him, not by others.

They spoke with such confidence, because someone had to be appointed. They did not say “choose” but make known to us the chosen one; the one you choose, they said, fully aware that everything was pre-ordained by God. They then drew lots. For they did not think themselves worthy to make the choice of their own accord, and therefore they wanted some sign for their instruction. Source: From a homily of St. John Chrysostom on the Choosing of Matthias

St. Cyril of Alexandria

All who receive the sacred flesh of Christ are united with him as members of his body. This is the teaching of St Paul when he speaks of the mystery of our religion that was hidden from former generations, but has now been revealed to the holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit; namely, that the Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Jews, that they are members of the same body, and that they have a share in the promise made by God in Christ Jesus.

If in Christ all of us, both ourselves and he who is within us by his own flesh, are members of the same body, is it not clear that we are one both with one another and with Christ? He is the bond that unites us, because he is at once both God and man.

With regard to our unity in the Spirit we may say, following the same line of thought, that all of us who have received one and the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, are united intimately both with one another and with God. Taken separately we are many, and Christ sends the Spirit who is both the Father’s Spirit and his own, to dwell in each of us. Yet that Spirit, being one and indivisible, gathers together those who are distinct from each other as individuals and causes them all to be seen as a unity in himself. Just as Christ’s sacred flesh has power to make those in whom it is present into one body, so the one, indivisible Spirit of God, dwelling in all, causes all to become one in spirit

Therefore Saint Paul appeals to us to bear with one another charitably, and to spare no effort in securing by the bonds of peace, the unity that comes from the Spirit. There is but one body and one Spirit just as there is but one hope held out to us by God’s call. There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and works through all, and is in all. If the one Spirit dwells in us, the one God and Father of all will be in us, and he through his Son will gather together into unity with one another and with himself all who share in the Spirit.

There is also another way of showing that we are made one by sharing in the Holy Spirit. If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit it must surely be obvious to everyone that by repudiating in a sense our own life, and taking on the supernatural likeness of the Holy Spirit who is united to us, our nature is transformed so that we are no longer mere men but also children of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature. We are all one, therefore, in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are one in mind and holiness, we are one through our communion in the sacred flesh of Christ, and through our sharing in the one Holy Spirit. Source: St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on St John’s Gospel, 11.11 (PG 74:559-562); Word in Season III.

St. Basil the Great

Who is there who can hear the names of the Holy Spirit and not feel exaltation in his soul, not lift up his thoughts to that supreme nature? For he is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the upright Spirit, the guiding Spirit. His chief and distinguishing name is Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn for their sanctification; all who live virtuously seek him, and are, by his influence, refreshed and helped towards their own natural end.

He is the source of holiness, the light of our under­standing, for to every mind he offers his own light for the discovery of truth.

Though by nature he is inaccessible, yet through his generosity men can receive him in themselves. He fills all creatures with his power, but only those who are worthy can participate in him. But all do not share him in the same measure; he distributes his power in proportion to men’s faith.

He is simple in essence, but manifold in power. He is present to each in his fullness, and in his fullness is present everywhere. He is divided, but does not suffer by the division; all share in him, but he remains whole, like a sunbeam whose kindly influence benefits each creature as though it were present to that creature alone, and shines over land and sea and dissolves in the air.

So too the Spirit is present like the sun to each individual who is capable of receiving him, and emits an influence which is sufficient to help them all, but is not divided; and they profit by sharing in him according to their natures, not according to his power.

Through him hearts are raised on high, the weak are led by the hand, those who are advanced gain perfection. He it is who shines on those whose hearts are purified and stainless and makes them truly spiritual through the common comm­union they have with him.

Even as bright and shining bodies, once touched by a ray of light falling on them, become even more glorious and themselves cast another light, so too souls that carry the Spirit, and are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and send forth grace upon others.

This grace enables them to foresee the future, to understand mysteries, to grasp hidden things, to receive spiritual blessings, to have their thoughts fixed on heavenly things, and to dance with the angels. So is their joy unending, so is their perseverance in God unfailing, so do they acquire likeness to God, so – most sublime of all – do they themselves become divine. St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 9.22-23; The Divine Office II


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