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Home > Fathers of the Church > Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles (Chrysostom) > Homily 3

Homily 3 on the Acts of the Apostles

Acts I. 12

Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.

Then returned they, it is said: namely, when they had heard. For they could not have borne it, if the angel had not ( περέθετο) referred them to another Coming. It seems to me, that it was also on a sabbath-day that these things took place; for he would not thus have specified the distance, saying, from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey, unless they were then going on the sabbath-day a certain definite distance. And when they had come in, it says, they went up into an upper room, where they were making their abode: so they then remained in Jerusalem after the Resurrection: both Peter, and James, and John: no longer is only the latter together with his brother mentioned, but together with Peter the two: and Andrew, and Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, and James (the son) of Alphæus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas, (the brother) of James. Acts 1:13 He has done well to mention the disciples: for since one had betrayed Christ, and another had been unbelieving, he thereby shows that, except the first, all of them were preserved.

These were all continuing with one accord in prayer together with the women. Acts 1:14 For this is a powerful weapon in temptations; and to this they had been trained. [Continuing with one accord.] Good. (καλὥς). Besides, the present temptation directed them to this: for they exceedingly feared the Jews. With the women, it is said: for he had said that they had followed Him: and with Mary the mother of Jesus. Luke 23:55 How then [is it said, that that disciple] took her to his own home John 19:26, at that time? But then the Lord had brought them together again, and so returned. And with His brethren. John 17:5 These also were before unbelieving. And in those days, it says, Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said. Acts 1:15 Both as being ardent, and as having been put in trust by Christ with the flock, and as having precedence in honor, he always begins the discourse. (The number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty.) Men and brethren, he says, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spoke before, [etc.] Acts 1:16 Why did he not ask Christ to give him some one in the room of Judas? It is better as it is. For in the first place, they were engaged in other things; secondly, of Christ's presence with them, the greatest proof that could be given was this: as He had chosen when He was among them, so did He now being absent. Now this was no small matter for their consolation. But observe how Peter does everything with the common consent; nothing imperiously. And he does not speak thus without a meaning. But observe how he consoles them concerning what had passed. In fact, what had happened had caused them no small consternation. For if there are many now who canvass this circumstance, what may we suppose they had to say then?

Men and brethren, says Peter. For if the Lord called them brethren, much more may he. [Men, he says]: they all being present. See the dignity of the Church, the angelic condition! No distinction there, neither male nor female. I would that the Churches were such now! None there had his mind full of some worldly matter, none was anxiously thinking about household concerns. Such a benefit are temptations, such the advantage of afflictions!

This Scripture, says he, must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spoke before. Always he comforts them by the prophecies. So does Christ on all occasions. In the very same way, he shows here that no strange thing had happened, but what had already been foretold. This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, he says, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spoke before. He does not say, David, but the Spirit through him. See what kind of doctrine the writer has at the very outset of the book. Do you see, that it was not for nothing that I said in the beginning of this work, that this book is the Polity of the Holy Spirit? Which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David. Observe how he appropriates (οἰκειοὕται) him; and that it is an advantage to them, that this was spoken by David, and not by some other Prophet. Concerning Judas, he says, which was guide. Here again mark the philosophical temper of the man: how he does not mention him with scorn, nor say, that wretch, that miscreant: but simply states the fact; and does not even say, who betrayed Him, but does what he can to transfer the guilt to others: nor does he animadvert severely even on these: Which was guide, he says, to them that took Jesus. Furthermore, before he declares where David had spoken, he relates what had been the case with Judas, that from the things present he may fetch assurance of the things future, and show that this man had already received his due. For he was numbered, says he, with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man acquired a field out of the reward of iniquity. (v. 17-18.) He gives his discourse a moral turn, and covertly mentions the cause of the wickedness, because it carried reproof with it. And he does not say, The Jews, but, this man, acquired it. For since the minds of weak persons do not attend to things future, as they do to things present, he discourses of the immediate punishment inflicted. And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst. He does well to dilate not upon the sin, but upon the punishment. And, he says, all his bowels gushed out. This brought them consolation. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue Aceldama, that is to say, the field of blood. Acts 1:19. Now the Jews gave it this name, not on this account, but because of Judas; here, however, Peter makes it to have this reference, and when he brings forward the adversaries as witnesses, both by the fact that they named it, and by saying, in their proper tongue, this is what he means.

Then after the event, he appositely brings in the Prophet, saying, For it is written in the Book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein Acts 1:20 Psalm 69:25: this is said of the field and the dwelling: And his bishopric let another take; that is, his office, his priesthood. So that this, he says, is not my counsel, but His who has foretold these things. For, that he may not seem to be undertaking a great thing, and just such as Christ had done, he adduces the Prophet as a witness. Wherefore it behooves of these men which have companied with us all the time. Acts 1:21 Why does he make it their business too? That the matter might not become an object of strife, and they might not fall into contention about it. For if the Apostles themselves once did this, much more might those. This he ever avoids. Wherefore at the beginning he said, Men and brethren. It behooves to choose from among you. He defers the decision to the whole body, thereby both making the elected objects of reverence and himself keeping clear of all invidiousness with regard to the rest. For such occasions always give rise to great evils. Now that some one must needs be appointed, he adduces the prophet as witness: but from among what persons: Of these, he says, which have companied with us all the time. To have said, the worthy must present themselves, would have been to insult the others; but now he refers the matter to length of time; for he says not simply, These who have companied with us, but, all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection Acts 1:22: that their college ( χορὸς) might not be left mutilated. Then why did it not rest with Peter to make the election himself: what was the motive? This; that he might not seem to bestow it of favor. And besides, he was not yet endowed with the spirit. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabus, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. Acts 1:23 Not he appointed them: but it was he that introduced the proposition to that effect, at the same time pointing out that even this was not his own, but from old time by prophecy; so that he acted as expositor, not as preceptor. Joseph called Barsabus, who was surnamed Justus. Perhaps both names are given, because there were others of the same name, for among the Apostles also there were several names alike; as James, and James (the son) of Alphæus; Simon Peter, and Simon Zelotes; Judas (the brother) of James, and Judas Iscariot. The appellation, however, may have arisen from a change of life, and very likely also of the moral character. They appointed two, it is said, Joseph called Barsabus, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said; Thou, Lord, which know the hearts of all men, show whether of these two you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and Apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. (v. 24-25.) They do well to mention the sin of Judas, thereby showing that it is a witness they ask to have; not increasing the number, but not suffering it to be diminished. And they gave forth their lots (for the spirit was not yet sent), and the lot fell upon Matthias: and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles. Acts 1:26

Then, it says, returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet (Recapitulation), [which is near to Jerusalem, at the distance of a sabbath-day's journey:] so that there was no long way to go, to be a cause of alarm to them while yet trembling and fearful. And when they had come in, they went up into an upper room. They dared not appear in the town. They also did well to go up into an upper room, as it became less easy to arrest them at once. And they continued, it is said, with one accord in prayer. Do you see how watchful they were? Continuing in prayer, and with one accord, as it were with one soul, continuing therein: two things reported in their praise. [Where they were abiding, etc., to, And Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.] Now Joseph perhaps was dead: for it is not to be supposed that when the brethren had become believers, Joseph believed not; he who in fact had believed before any. Certain it is that we nowhere find him looking upon Christ as man merely. As where His mother said, [Your father and I did seek you sorrowing. Luke 2:48 And upon another occasion, it was said,] Your mother and your brethren seek you. Matthew 13:47 So that Joseph knew this before all others. And to them [the brethren] Christ said, The world cannot hate you, but Me it hates. John 7:7

Again, consider the moderation of James. He it was who received the Bishopric of Jerusalem, and here he says nothing. Mark also the great moderation of the other Apostles, how they concede the throne to him, and no longer dispute with each other. For that Church was as it were in heaven: having nothing to do with this world's affairs: and resplendent not with wails, no, nor with numbers, but with the zeal of them that formed the assembly. They were about an hundred and twenty, it says. The seventy perhaps whom Christ Himself had chosen, and other of the more earnest-minded disciples, as Joseph and Matthias. Acts 1:14 There were women, he says, many, who followed Him. Mark 15:41 [The number of the names together.] Together they were on all occasions.

[Men and brethren, etc.] Here is forethought for providing a teacher; here was the first who ordained a teacher. He did not say, 'We are sufficient.' So far was he beyond all vain-glory, and he looked to one thing alone. And yet he had the same power to ordain as they all collectively. But well might these things be done in this fashion, through the noble spirit of the man, and because prelacy then was not an affair of dignity, but of provident care for the governed. This neither made the elected to become elated, for it was to dangers that they were called, nor those not elected to make a grievance of it, as if they were disgraced. But things are not done in this fashion now; nay, quite the contrary.— For observe, they were an hundred and twenty, and he asks for one out of the whole body: with good right, as having been put in charge of them: for to him had Christ said, And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren. Luke 22:32

For he was numbered with us, (πρὥτος τοῦ πράγματος αὐθεντει absent from A.B.C) says Peter. On this account it behooves to propose another; to be a witness in his place. And see how he imitates his Master, ever discoursing from the Scriptures, and saying nothing as yet concerning Christ; namely, that He had frequently predicted this Himself. Nor does he mention where the Scripture speaks of the treachery of Judas; for instance, The mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me Psalm 109:1; but where it speaks only of his punishment; for this was most to their advantage. It shows again the benevolence of the Lord: For he was numbered with us (τοὕτο γὰρ αὐτοὺς μάλιστα ὡφέλειGod's grace and election, and reminding them of the old times, inasmuch as God chose him into His own lot or portion, as of old He took the Levites. He also dwells upon the circumstances respecting Judas, showing that the reward of the treachery was made itself the herald of the punishment. For he acquired, he says, a field out of the reward of the iniquity. Observe the divine economy in the event. Of the iniquity, he says. For there are many iniquities, but never was anything more iniquitous than this: so that the affair was one of iniquity. Now not only to those who were present did the event become known, but to all thereafter, so that without meaning or knowing what they were about, they gave it a name; just as Caiaphas had prophesied unconsciously. God compelled them to call the field in Hebrew Aceldama. Matthew 26:24 By this also the evils which were to come upon the Jews were declared: and Peter shows the prophecy to have been so far in part fulfilled, which says, It had been good for that man if he had not been born. We may with propriety apply this same to the Jews likewise; for if he who was guide suffered thus, much more they. Thus far however Peter says nothing of this. Then, showing that the term, Aceldama, might well be applied to his fate, he introduces the prophet, saying, Let his habitation be desolate. For what can be worse desolation than to become a place of burial? And the field may well be called his. For he who cast down the price, although others were the buyers, has a right to be himself reckoned owner of a great desolation. This desolation was the prelude to that of the Jews, as will appear on looking closely into the facts. For indeed they destroyed themselves by famine, and killed many, and the city became a burial-place of strangers, of soldiers, for as to those, they would not even have let them be buried, for in fact they were not deemed worthy of sepulture.

Wherefore of these men which have companied with us, continues Peter. Observe how desirous he is they should be eye-witnesses. It is true indeed that the Spirit would shortly come; and yet great care is shown with regard to this circumstance. Of these men, he says, which have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. He shows that they had dwelt with Christ, not simply been present as disciples. In fact, from the very beginning there were many that then followed Him. Observe, for instance, how this appears in these words: One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Jesus.— All the time, he says, that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John. John 1:40 True! For no one knew what preceded that event, though they did learn it by the Spirit. Unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection. He said not, a witness of the rest of his actions, but a witness of the resurrection alone. For indeed that witness had a better right to be believed, who was able to declare, that He Who ate and drank, and was crucified, the same rose again. Wherefore it was needed that he should be a witness, not only of the time preceding this event, nor only of what followed it, and of the miracles; the thing required was, the resurrection. For the other matters were manifest and acknowledged, but the resurrection took place in secret, and was manifest to these only. And they do not say, Angels have told us; but, We have seen. For this it was that was most needful at that time: that they should be men having a right to be believed, because they had seen.

And they appointed two, it is said. Why not many? That the feeling of disappointment might not reach further, extending to many. Again, it is not without reason that he puts Matthias last; he would show, that frequently he that is honourable among men, is inferior before God. And they all pray in common saying, You, Lord, which know the hearts of all men, show. You, not We. And very seasonably they use the epithet, heart-knowing: for by Him Who is this must the choice be made. So confident were they, that assuredly one of them must be appointed. They said not, Choose, but, Show the chosen one; knowing that all things were foreordained of God; Whom You chose: one of these two, say they, to have his lot in this ministry and apostleship. For there was besides another ministry (διακονία). And they gave them their lots. For they did not yet consider themselves to be worthy to be informed by some sign. And besides, if in a case where neither prayer was made, nor men of worth were the agents, the casting of lots so much availed, because it was done of a right intention, I mean in the case of Jonah Jonah 1:7; much more did it here. Thus, did he, the designated, fill up the company, complete the order: but the other candidate was not annoyed; for the apostolic writers would not have concealed [that or any other] failings of their own, seeing they have told of the very chief Apostles, that on other occasions they had indignation Matthew 20:24; Matthew 26:8, and this not once only, but again and again.

Let us then also imitate them. And now I address no longer every one, but those who aim at preferment. If you believe that the election is with God, be not displeased. Mark 10:14-21 and 14:4 For it is with Him you are displeased, and with Him you are exasperated: it is He who has made the choice; you do the very thing that Cain did; because, forsooth, his brother's sacrifice was preferred, he was indignant, when he ought to have felt compunction. However, that is not what I mean here; but this, that God knows how to dispense things for the best. In many cases, you are in point of disposition more estimable than the other but not the fit person. Besides, on the other hand, your life is irreproachable, and your habits those of a well-nurtured man, but in the Church this is not all that is wanted. Moreover, one man is adapted for one thing, another for another. Do you not observe, how much discourse the holy Scripture has made on this matter? But let me say why it is that the thing has become a subject of competition: it is because we come to the Episcopate not as unto a work of governing and superintending the brethren, but as to a post of dignity and repose. Did you but know that a Bishop is bound to belong to all, to bear the burden of all; that others, if they are angry, are pardoned, but he never; that others, if they sin, have excuses made for them, he has none; you would not be eager for the dignity, would not run after it. So it is, the Bishop is exposed to the tongues of all, to the criticism of all, whether they be wise or fools. He is harassed with cares every day, nay, every night. He has many to hate him, many to envy him. Talk not to me of those who curry favor with all, of those who desire to sleep, of those who advance to this office as for repose. We have nothing to do with these; we speak of those who watch for your souls, who consider the safety and welfare of those under them before their own. Tell me now: suppose a man has ten children, always living with him, and constantly under his control; yet is he solicitous about them; and a bishop, who has such numbers, not living under the same roof with him, but owing obedience to his authority— what does he not need to be! But he is honored, you will say. With what sort of honor, indeed! Why, the paupers and beggars abuse him openly in the market-place. And why does he not stop their mouths then? Yes, very proper work, this, for a bishop, is it not? Then again, if he do not give to all, the idle and the industrious alike, lo! A thousand complaints on all sides. None is afraid to accuse him, and speak evil of him. In the case of civil governors, fear steps in; with bishops, nothing of the kind. As for the fear of God, it does not influence people, as regards them, in the least degree. Why speak of the anxiety connected with the word and doctrine? The painful work in Ordinations? Either, perhaps, I am a poor wretched incompetent creature, or else, the case is as I say. The soul of a Bishop is for all the world like a vessel in a storm: lashed from every side, by friends, by foes, by one's own people, by strangers. Does not the Emperor rule the whole world, the Bishop a single city? Yet a Bishop's anxieties are as much beyond those of the emperor, as the waters of a river simply moved, by the wind are surpassed in agitation by the swelling and raging sea. And why? Because in the one case there are many to lend a hand, for all goes on by law and by rule; but in the other there is none of this, nor is there authority to command; but if one be greatly moved, then he is harsh; if the contrary, then he is cold! And in him these opposites must meet, that he may neither be despised, nor be hated. Besides, the very demands of business preoccupy him: how many is he obliged to offend, whether he will or not! How many to be severe with! I speak not otherwise than it is, but as I find it in my own actual experience. I do not think there are many among Bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish: and the reason is, that it is an affair that requires a great mind. Many are the exigencies which throw a man out of his natural temper; and he had need have a thousand eyes on all sides. Do you not see what a number of qualifications the Bishop must have? To be apt to teach, patient, holding fast the faithful word in doctrine see 1 Timothy 3:2-9; Titus 1:7-9. What trouble and pains does this require! And then, others do wrong, and he bears all the blame. To pass over every thing else: if one soul depart unbaptized, does not this subvert all his own prospect of salvation? The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring! And if in this present life he who is cause of another's destruction is worthy of death, much more in the next world. Do not tell me, that the presbyter is in fault, or the deacon. The guilt of all these comes perforce upon the head of those who ordained them. Let me mention another instance. It chances, that a bishop has inherited from his predecessor a set of persons of indifferent character. What measures is it proper to take in respect of bygone transgressions (for here are two precipices) so as not to let the offender go unpunished, and not to cause scandal to the rest? Must one's first step be to cut him off? There is no actual present ground for that. But is it right to let him go unmarked? Yes, say you; for the fault rests with the bishop who ordained him. Well then? Must one refuse to ordain him again, and to raise him to a higher degree of the ministry? That would be to publish it to all men, that he is a person of indifferent character, and so again one would cause scandal in a different way. But is one to promote him to a higher degree? That is much worse.

If then there were only the responsibility of the office itself for people to run after in the episcopate, none would be so quick to accept it. But as things go, we run after this, just as we do after the dignities of the world. That we may have glory with men, we lose ourselves with God. What profit in such honor? How self-evident its nothingness is! When you covet the episcopal rank, put in the other scale, the account to be rendered after this life. Weigh against it, the happiness of a life free from toil, take into account the different measure of the punishment. I mean, that even if you have sinned, but in your own person merely, you will have no such great punishment, nothing like it: but if you have sinned as bishop, you are lost. Remember what Moses endured, what wisdom he displayed, what good deeds he exhibited: but, for committing one sin only, he was bitterly punished; and with good reason; for this fault was attended with injury to the rest. Not in regard that the sin was public, but because it was the sin of a spiritual Ruler ( ερέως) cf. S.); for in truth we do not pay the same penalty for public and for hidden faults. Augustine in Psalm 99:6 The sin may be the same, but not the (ζημία) harm of it; nay, not the sin itself; for it is not the same thing to sin in secret and unseen, and to sin openly. But the bishop cannot sin unobserved. Well for him if he escape reproach, though he sin not; much less can he think to escape notice, if he do sin. Let him be angry, let him laugh, or let him but dream of a moment's relaxation, many are they that scoff, many that are offended, many that lay down the law, many that bring to mind the former bishops, and abuse the present one; not that they wish to sound the praise of those; no, it is only to carp at him that they bring up the mention of fellow bishops, of presbyters. Sweet, says the proverb, is war to the inexperienced; but it may rather be said now, that even after one has come out of it, people in general have seen nothing of it: for in their eyes it is not war, but like those shepherds in Ezekiel, we slay and devour. Ezekiel 34:2 Which of us has it in his power to show that he has taken as much care for the flocks of Christ, as Jacob did for Laban's? Genesis 31:40 Which of us can tell of the frost of the night? For talk not to me of vigils, and all that parade. The contrary plainly is the fact. Prefects, and governors ( παρχοι καὶ τοπάρχαι) of provinces, do not enjoy such honour as he that governs the Church. If he enter the palace, who but he is first? If he go to see ladies, or visit the houses of the great, none is preferred to him. The whole state of things is ruined and corrupt. I do not speak thus as wishing to put us bishops to shame, but to repress your hankering after the office. For with what conscience, (even should you succeed in becoming a bishop, having made interest for it either in person or by another), with what eyes will you look the man in the face who worked with you to that end? What will you have to plead for your excuse? For he that unwillingly, by compulsion and not with his own consent, was raised to the office, may have something to say for himself, though for the most part even such an one has no pardon to expect, and yet truly he so far has something to plead in excuse. Think how it fared with Simon Magus. What signifies it that you give not money, if, in place of money, you pay court, you lay many plans, you set engines to work? Your money perish with you! Acts 8:20 Thus was it said to him, and thus will it be said to these: your canvassing perish with you, because you have thought to purchase the gift of God by human intrigue! But there is none such here? And God forbid there should be! For it is not that I wish any thing of what I have been saying to be applicable to you: but just now the connection has led us on to these topics. In like manner when we talk against covetousness, we are not preaching at you, no, nor against any one man personally. God grant it may be the case, that these remedies were prepared by us without necessity. The wish of the physician is, that after all his pains, his drugs may be thrown away because not wanted: and this is just what we desire, that our words may not have been needed, and so have been spoken to the wind, so as to be but words. I am ready to submit to anything, rather than be reduced to the necessity of using this language. But if you like, we are ready to leave off; only let our silence be without bad effects. No one, I imagine, though he were ever so vainglorious, would wish to make a display of severity, when there is nothing to call for it. I will leave the teaching to you: for that is the best teaching, which teaches by actions. For indeed the best physicians, although the sickness of their patients brings them in fees, would rather their friends were well. And so we too wish all to be well. 2 Corinthians 13:7 It is not that we desire to be approved, and you reproved. I would gladly manifest, if it were possible, with my very eyes, the love which I bear to you: for then no one would be able to reproach me, though my language were ever so rough. For speech of friends, yea, were it insult, can be borne; more faithful are the wounds of a friend, rather than the ready kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 There nothing I love more than you, no, not even light itself. I would gladly have my eyes put out ten thousand times over, if it were possible by this means to convert your souls; so much is your salvation dearer to me than light itself. For what profit to me in the rays of the sun, when despondency on your account makes it all thick darkness before my eyes? Light is good when it shines in cheerfulness, to a sorrowful heart it seems even to be a trouble. How true this is, may you never learn by experience! However, if it happen to any of you to fall into sin, just stand by my bedside, when I am laid down to rest and should be asleep; see whether I am not like a palsied man, like one beside himself, and, in the language of the prophet, the light of my eyes, it also is gone from me. Psalm 38:10 For where is our hope, if you do not make progress? Where our despondency, if you do excellently? I seem to have wings, when I hear any thing good of you. Fulfil ye my joy. Philippians 2:2 This one thing is the burden of my prayers, that I long for your advancement. But that in which I strive with all is this, that I love you, that I am wrapped up in you, that you are my all, father, mother, brethren, children. Think not then that any thing that has been said was said in a hostile spirit, nay, it is for your amendment. It is written A brother assisted by his brother is as a strong city. Proverbs 18:19 Then do not take it in disdain: for neither do I undervalue what you have to say. I should wish even to be set right by you. For all (Edd. 'all we') you are brethren, and One is our Master: yet even among brothers it is for one to direct, while the others obey. Then disdain it not, but let us do all to the glory of God, for to Him belongs glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Source. Translated by J. Walker, J. Sheppard and H. Browne, and revised by George B. Stevens. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210103.htm>.

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