Catena Chapter 17



17:1-8 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. (Verse 8) HOW GOD CALLS ETERNAL WHAT WILL LAST ONLY A TIME? — And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land wherein you wandered, even all the land of Canaan for an eternal possession. The question is why he said “eternal”, when it was given to the Israelites for a time: whether it was called “eternal” with respect to this world, so that from Greek αἰών, which also means saeculum (in English “world”), there was said αἰώνιον as though you could say saeculare in Latin (in English, “worldly”); or whether we are forced from this to understand something pertaining to a spiritual promise, so that it was called eternal because something eternal is signified by it; or whether it rather belongs to an expression of the Scriptures, so that these call eternal a thing whose end is not determined or which is not done without necessity to be done continually as far as lies in the care or power of the doer, as when Horace says, “He who does not know how to be content with little shall be eternally a slave” (Ep. 1, 10, 41).  A person cannot eternally be a slave when their life itself, during which they are a slave, cannot be eternal. I would not use this evidence if it did not pertain to an expression. Naturally, those people are for us authorities concerning words, not concerning facts or opinions. Now if the Scriptures are defended concerning peculiar expressions, which are called idioms, how much more will they be defended concerning those that they share with other languages? [Questions on Genesis, 31]


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. (Gen. 17:6) What the Latin versions do: Augeam te nimis valde (I will multiply your race in an extraordinary way), is expressed in Greek by the words valde valde (an extra extraordinary way).

(Gen. 17:8) Et dabo tibi et semini tuo post te terram in qua habitas, omnem terram Chanaan in possessionem aeternam (I will give you and your descendants after you the land you live in; the whole land of Chanaan will be forever your possession). One may wonder if there is not a phrase in the word aeternam (eternal), translated from Greek αιωνιον; as well as in these words: et semini tuo post te (and your descendants after you), which explain in what sense it is necessary to hear the word tibi (to you), which precedes. [Locutions]


CYRIL OF JERUSALEM. (Verse 5) I have made thee a father of many nations. Let us see, then, how Abraham is the father of many nations. (Rom. 4:17-18) Of Jews he is confessedly the father, through succession according to the flesh. But if we hold to the succession according to the flesh, we shall be compelled to say that the oracle was false. For according to the flesh he is no longer father of us all: but the example of his faith makes us all sons of Abraham. How? And in what manner? With men it is incredible that one should rise from the dead; as in like manner it is incredible also that there should be offspring from aged persons as good as dead. But when Christ is preached as having been crucified on the tree, and as having died and risen again, we believe it. By the likeness therefore of our faith we are adopted into the sonship of Abraham. [Lecture 5.6 NPNF s.2 v.7]


JEROME OF STRIDON. 17:4-5 AND THE LORD SPOKE TO HIM, SAYING: BEHOLD, MY COVENANT IS WITH YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE THE FATHER OF A GREAT NUMBER OF NATIONS; NEITHER FROM NOW ON SHALL YOUR NAME BE CALLED ABRAM, BUT YOUR NAME SHALL BE ABRAAM, BECAUSE I HAVE MADE YOU THE FATHER OF MANY NATIONS. It is to be observed that wherever in Greek we read testament, in the Hebrew language there is 'treaty' or 'covenant', that is, berith. Now the Hebrews say that God added the letter he from His own Name which among themselves is written with four letters, to the names of Abraam and Sarah. For at first he was called Abram, which means 'high father'; and afterwards he was called Abraam, which is translated as 'father of many': for 'nations', which follows, is not specifically contained in the name, but is understood. Nor should anyone wonder why we have said that the Hebrew letter he has been added, when it appears to the Greeks and to ourselves that the letter A has been added. For a characteristic of that language is actually to write the letter he, but to read it as the letter A. In similar fashion, contrariwise they often pronounce the letter A by means of he. [Hebrew Questions on Genesis]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him. (Gen. 17:1) Let us not measure the works of God to our weakness and torment us with the laws of nature; but, as faithful servants, let us recognize the immense power of our Lord, believe in his promises, and rise above our natural weakness to enjoy the favors announced to us, to merit his benevolence, and to honor him with all our might.  For the greatest honor we can give him is to trust in his power, even if the eyes of our flesh show us the opposite. And how surprising is the greatest homage paid to God to reject doubt? With our fellows, when we make promises subject to the change of perishable things, if we do not doubt it, if we trust it, this absence of doubt, this trust is regarded as the greatest honor we can make. If so with men so changeable and helpless, must we not believe much better in what God has announced to us, even when his promises are only to be fulfilled after a long interval? of time? It is not without reason that I speak to you this way, it is in order to put you in the same way, when we will approach the reading of today, to understand how the good God, wanting to illustrate the patriarch, - exercises his patience during so many years during which he did not abandon himself to grief, indifference, despair, but always nourished his piety by his hope. Now, to appreciate all the virtue of the patriarch, it is good to know how much he has lived. This is what Blessed Moses clearly tells us, inspired by the Holy Spirit. What does he say? When the righteous had obeyed the commands of God and left Charran to go to the land of Chanaan, he was seventy years old. As soon as he came to this land, God promised him that he would give it all to his race, which would multiply to the point of being innumerable like sand and stars. After this promise, he arrived at just many adventures, his descent into Egypt because of famine, the rapture of Sara, followed immediately by an effect of divine providence, his return from Egypt, the new insult that receives Sara of the king of the Greeks and the help that God still gives them. Well! the righteous seeing that so many contrary events succeeded this promise, had no anxiety, and did not ask himself why all these assurances did not save him from a thousand annoyances, and why he remained so long without children. Filled with piety, he did not want to subject God's actions to human reason, but he resigned himself to it and accepted with pleasure all that pleased God.

Ten years later he looked upon Ishmael as the child for whom the prediction was to be fulfilled. For the patriarch, at the birth of Ishmael, was eighty-six years old. But the good God still exercises his patience for thirteen years, until the fulfillment of his promise. He knew, indeed, that gold being purified with time in the furnace, the virtue of the righteous also took more glory and brightness. When Abram was ninety-nine, God appeared to him again. And why this long wait? To make known to us, not only the virtue of the righteous and his patience, but also the greatness of the divine power. But we must hear the very words of God. When he was ninety-nine, God appeared to him and said to him: By these words appeared to him, hear nothing material, and do not believe that the eyes of the flesh can see the divine power and immutable, but consider everything religiously. God appeared to him, that is to say, deigned to communicate with him, and judged him worthy of his providence, lowering himself to speak to him: I am your God, seeking to please me and to be irreproachable; I will put my covenant between you and me, and I will multiply you abundantly. And Abram fell on his face. (Gen. 17:2-3) What gratitude from the righteous, what goodness from God! I am your God. It's as if he said: I've been watching over you until now; It is I who brought you from your country so far, who has supported you in all times, and who has made you the conqueror of your enemies: I did it! He does not say I am God, but I am your God. See what immense goodness! as by the addition of this word, he expresses his love for the just! He is the God of all the earth, the workman whose hand has done everything, the Creator of heaven and earth, he himself who says. I am your (266) God! what an honor for the just! this is how he speaks to the prophets. Without doubt, then and now, he is the Lord of all, and yet he deigns to call himself by the name of a servant, and we will hear him say again: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Exodus III, 6.) Also the prophets usually say: God, my God, not to restrict within the limits of their own person, the dominion of God, but to show how far their love was going. This should not surprise us on the part of men, but on the part of God himself it may seem strange and extraordinary. Let us not be surprised, my beloved ones, but let us listen to the words of the Prophet: Better, a single man who observes the Lord's will, than a thousand who transgress it (Eccl XVI, 3); Let us listen also to the words of St. Paul: They wore skins of sheep, goats, they were destitute, tormented, afflicted, and the world was not worthy of possessing them. (Heb XI, 37, 38.)

Thus the Prophet says that one man doing the will of God is better than a thousand who depart from it, and St. Paul, the doctor of the earth, recalling all the good men whose suffering he knows, says again: the world was not worthy of possessing them. On one side he puts the whole world, on the other those who suffer to teach us all the power of virtue. So the Creator says to the patriarch: I am your God; I try to please myself and to be irreproachable. I will keep you in mind of the efforts of your virtue; I will make a covenant between you and me, and I will multiply you abundantly. Not only will I multiply you, but, abundantly, which indicates a great posterity: what he had previously expressed by the comparison of sand and stars, he now expresses it by this word abundantly. This pious and grateful servant, seeing that God lowered himself to take such care, was moved by the weakness of his nature, the goodness of God, and his infinite power. He fell on his face; which showed all his gratitude. Such a favor did not inspire him with arrogance or pride, but a new humility He fell on his face. Such is the true recognition that honors God, especially as it is more favored. He fell on his face. The righteous dared not cast his eyes on himself and on the weakness of his nature; he dared not rise, but his lowering showed his respect: see now how much God appreciated him.

God spoke to him, saying, I have made a covenant with you, and you shall be the father of many nations: you shall not be called Abram, but Abraham, because I have made you the father of many. peoples, and I will make you grow: I will bring out nations and even kings from you. (Gen. 17:4-6)

Consider, my beloved, the clarity of these just predictions; see that to confirm them, he adds a letter to his name, and says: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations: you shall not call yourself Abram, but Abraham, because I have established you to be the father of several peoples. Indeed, his first name indicates his travels (for Abram means traveler, as those who know Hebrew know); his parents had called him so when he left for the land of Chanaan. It may be said: his parents being unfaithful, whence came their prescience to indicate the future by the name they gave? This is a resource of the wisdom of God, who often acts through the infidels and we find many other examples. The first that comes to mind is Noah's name. It is not without reason, or by chance, that his parents gave him this name; they presaged that in five hundred years the flood would come. It is not that his father was a righteous man himself because he gave his son this name, because the Holy Scripture teaches us that in this generation, Noah alone was an accomplished righteous man. (Gen. VI, 9.) Had his father Lamech offered him the model of virtues, Scripture would not have passed over it in silence, and would not have said: Noah alone was right. Wishing to give a name to his son, he said: His name shall be Noah; he will give us rest after our labors and the fatigue of our hands, on this earth that the Lord God has cursed. (Gen. V, 29.) Whence came, tell me, this prescience of a future so remote? He will be called Noah; he will give us rest, Noah, in Hebrew, means, rest. It was he, when the earth would be invaded by the deluge, which alone was to save itself and renew the human race, so it is said: it will give us rest; this word of rest here signifying the deluge. Indeed, the earth was as tired by the perversity (267) of its inhabitants that it bore with difficulty, when the flood, by the terrible invasion of the waters, put an end to this perversity, delivered the land from the defilement of its inhabitants and punishes them by giving him rest: For death is rest for man. (Job, III, 23.) So you see that God often makes predictions even by the infidels. As for the name that the parents of the patriarch had given him, we know the cause from the beginning, when he crossed the river to go to a foreign land.

Now God says to him: Your parents have given you this name to presage that you must come here: I add a letter to you to teach you that you will be father of a multitude of nations. See what precision in these words. He does not say of all nations, but of a multitude of nations. As other peoples were to be put aside, so that the race of the righteous might alone share in his inheritance, God said: I have established you to be the father of a multitude of nations; knowing all your virtue I will use you to teach the world: I will multiply you more and more and I will bring out of you peoples and even kings. Let us stop on these words, my beloved ones. In thinking of the age of the just and his extreme old age, we will admire his faith and the power of God of a man already dead, so to speak, and powerless in appearance, who must always have death before the eyes, God He predicts that he will come out with an innumerable race and many nations, even kings.

See the extent of these promises: I will multiply you more and more. This word is repeated to indicate the immense multitude which is to be born of the just. Thus the addition of a letter is like a pillar where God inscribes his promise, and he says again: I will make a covenant between you and me, and with your seed after you in all generations; as an everlasting covenant, that I may be your God. (Gen. 17:7) Not only will I grant you my protection, but also to your race and after your death. See how he raises the spirit of the righteous by promising him that he will always support his descendants. And why this alliance? That I may be your God, and your race after you. It will be for you and your race the height of honor. I will give to you and to your race the land that you inhabit, all the land of Chanaan, in perpetual possession, and I will be their God. (Gen. 17:8) Thanks to your virtue, your descendants will enjoy my providence and I will give them in perpetual possession this land of Chanaan, and I will be their God. What does it mean, I will be their God? It means: I will lay on them my care and my protection and I will always fight with them. [Homilies on Genesis]




17:9-10 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.


AMBROSIASTER. WHY DID ABRAHAM RECEIVE CIRCUMCISION AS A SIGN OF HIS FAITH? — If you want to pay attention to it, you will see a perfect fit in what at first sight might seem to you devoid of reason. Abraham believing that he would have a son in which all nations would be blessed, and who would be the principle of all holiness, received the sign of this promise on the member by whom the generation of children begins, it tends to a higher holiness. If we were tempted to see in it something different, let us remember that circumcision was a subject of joy for Abraham, and that his children were always glorious in this testimony. Indeed, Achior, one of the princes of the idolatrous nations, witnesses of the great wonders of the God of Abraham, who by the hand of a simple woman had cut off the head of that general of the olives Assyrian militia, whose whole land dreaded power, wished to receive circumcision himself as a mark of honor and dignity (Judith 13:27; 14:16). Is not a Christian proud to have lost an eye or a member for the name of Jesus Christ? does he not discover this part mutilated in the eyes of men as a title of glory? And in this way, a momentary loss for faith is a real gain. The circumcision which Abraham received as a sign of his faith, was therefore for him not a mutilation of the soul, but a mark of honor. Now this ceremony signified in the spiritual sense that the clouds of the flesh were to be cut off from the hearts of men by the faith of Jesus Christ, because the error of the senses, covering the hearts of men as a cloud, an obstacle to the Creator’s knowledge. Now, Abraham, to whom God promised that the Christ who was to dispel this cloud would be born one day of his race was circumcised, because he believed that a son would be born to him that would destroy this error. Judge now whether it was not proper that he should receive on this part of the body the sign of his faith. [Question 12]

WHY DID GOD IMPOSE ON THE JEWISH PEOPLE CIRCUMCISION AND OTHER PRECEPTS THAT DID NOT EXIST BEFORE AND WHICH HAVE NOW LOST ALL AUTHORITY? — Circumcision is the sign of Abraham’s faith, and it was established to be the distinguishing sign of the children of that patriarch who received this sign after having believed in the promise of God. The precepts that relate to the sanctification of the Sabbath were given as a testimony of the past and a figure of the future. This sabbath, which is like the crowning of every week accomplished, is the figure of the Sabbath which must one day put us in possession of an eternal rest. (Ex. 20) The law relating to food was not given at the beginning, but when, under the inspiration of unbelief, the Jews refused to believe in the words and promises of God; it was then that they received imperfect precepts, as the prophet says (Ezek. 20:25), and whose purpose was to lower their haughty heads and bring them back to the earth to be better. It was not just, indeed, that all creatures should be subordinate to haughty and obstinate men. But when the mercy of God spread over men, it gave them freedom in the choice of food. So the apostle Peter said: “Why did you impose upon the heads of your brethren a yoke which neither our fathers nor we could bear? “(Acts 15:10.) [Questions on the Old and New Testaments, 10, 2nd part]


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. (Gen 17:9) Tu autem testamentum meum conservabis, et semen tuum post te in progenies suas (you shall faithfully keep my covenant, you and your seed, in all generations to come); conservabis (you shall faithfully keep) is put for conserva (faithfully keep), the future for the imperative. [Locutions]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. Only you will keep my covenant, you and your seed after you in all generations. (Gen. 17:9) I only ask you for obedience and gratitude, and I will fulfill all my promises. Wishing to make a people of his own son of the patriarch and prevent them from interfering, after they would have multiplied, the nations whose inheritance they were to collect; Also wishing to avoid this mixture in Egypt, where, according to his prediction, they were to be enslaved, he just orders the circumcision, as a sign of gratitude, and says to him: Here is my covenant which you will keep between me and you, as well as your race for all generations. Let every male be circumcised. You will circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. (Gen. 17:10-11) [Homilies on Genesis]


JOHN OF DAMASCUS. The Circumcision was given to Abraham before the law, after the blessings, after the promise, as a sign separating him and his offspring and his household from the Gentiles with whom he lived… It was, moreover, a figure of baptism. For just as the circumcision does not cut off a useful member of the body but only a useless extra section, so by the holy baptism we are circumcised from sin, and sin clearly is, so to speak, the superfluous part of desire and not useful desire. For it is quite impossible that any one should have no desire at all nor ever experience the taste of pleasure. But the useless part of pleasure, that is to say, useless desire and pleasure, it is this that is sin from which holy baptism circumcises us, giving us as a token the precious cross on the brow, not to divide us from the Gentiles (for all the nations received baptism and were sealed with the sign of the Cross), but to distinguish in each nation the faithful from the faithless. Wherefore, when the truth is revealed, circumcision is a senseless figure and shade. So circumcision is now superfluous and contrary to holy baptism. For he who is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law. (Gal. 5:3) Further, the Lord was circumcised that He might fulfil the law: and He fulfilled the whole law and observed the Sabbath that He might fulfil and establish the law. (Mt. 5:17) Moreover after He was baptized and the Holy Spirit had appeared to men, descending on Him in the form of a dove, from that time the spiritual service and conduct of life and the Kingdom of Heaven was preached. [Orth. Faith 4.25 NPNF s.2 v.9]




17:11-12 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.


AMBROSIASTER. WHY DID GOD COMMAND THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE CHILDREN ON THE EIGHTH DAY? — God commanded to circumcise every male child on the eighth day after his birth, because after the number of seven days had passed, the eighth day became like the first after the Sabbath, and was no longer the eighth, but the first. As the salvation which Christ was to bring to the world was to take place on the first day called the day of the Lord, because the Lord resurrected that day after the Sabbath; the figurative sign of salvation was given in circumcision to make known the future regeneration even under the law of circumcision. It was by faith that men were to be saved, and this faith received its confirmation on the first day of the resurrection of the Savior; the figurative sign of salvation was thus established on the first day in the law of circumcision, which was also to be the sign of the faith of Abraham. Harmony is therefore complete here; the sign of the past faith which was given on the first day, was the figure of the future faith which was firmly established on the first day. [Questions on the Old and New Testaments, 29]


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. (Gen. 17:12) Et puer octo dierum circumcidetur, omne masculinum (Every male child will be circumcised eight days after birth.); omne masculinum is put for omnis masculus; as if circumcision did not concern exclusively male children. [Locutions]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. The boy of eight days will be circumcised. I believe he had two reasons for prescribing this term; the one because, in so tender an age, the operation is less painful; the other, to indicate that it is only a mark, without utility for the soul. The new-born child, who knows nothing and understands nothing, what advantage can he receive from it? What can be good for the soul comes to him by his own choice. What is good for the soul is to prefer virtue to vice; it is to desire only the necessary, and to distribute the superfluous to the needy; what is good for the soul is not to attach itself to the present, and even to despise it, always thinking of the future. What good can there be in a carnal sign? This sign of circumcision separated the Jews from other nations, and showed that God had chosen them in particular; in the same way our circumcision speaks baptism better-the separation of the faithful and infidels. We are not circumcised in the flesh, but by the entrenchment of the sins of the flesh. For what the circumcision of the flesh did, baptism does this by suppressing our sins. Once we have stripped them and put on the robe of purity, persevere, my beloved ones, in this purity, and remain superior to the affections of the flesh, embracing virtue. [Homilies on Genesis]




17:13-14 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. When it is said, The male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people, because he has broken my covenant,” (Gen. 17:14) some may be troubled how that ought to be understood, since it can be no fault of the infant whose life it is said must perish; nor has the covenant of God been broken by him, but by his parents, who have not taken care to circumcise him. But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned.  Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which anyone who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxes old as does a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, You shall die the death.” (Sir. 15:17) Now, as the law was more plainly given afterward, and the apostle says, “Where no law is, there is no prevarication,” (Rom. 4:15) on what supposition is what is said in the psalm true, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” except that all who are held liable for any sin are accused of dealing deceitfully (prevaricating) with some law? If on this account, then, even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins, certainly it must be acknowledged that in the same sense in which they are sinners they are also prevaricators of that law which was given in Paradise, according to the truth of both scriptures, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” and “Where no law is, there is no prevarication.” And thus, because circumcision was the sign of regeneration, and the infant, on account of the original sin by which God’s covenant was first broken, was not undeservedly to lose his generation unless delivered by regeneration, these divine words are to be understood as if it had been said, Whoever is not born again, that soul shall perish from his people, because he has broken my covenant, since he also has sinned in Adam with all others. For had He said, Because he has broken this my covenant, He would have compelled us to understand by it only this of circumcision; but since He has not expressly said what covenant the infant has broken, we are free to understand Him as speaking of that covenant of which the breach can be ascribed to an infant. Yet if any one contends that it is said of nothing else than circumcision, that in it the infant has broken the covenant of God because, he is not circumcised, he must seek some method of explanation by which it may be understood without absurdity (such as this) that he has broken the covenant, because it has been broken in him although not by him. Yet in this case also it is to be observed that the soul of the infant, being guilty of no sin of neglect against itself, would perish unjustly, unless original sin rendered it obnoxious to punishment. [City of God, 16.27, NFNP s.1 v.2]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. This will be the mark of the covenant between me and you. After that, he indicates the time when it must be done: Circumcise the boy of eight days, the servant born in the house, or the slave bought; in a word, all those who are with you will receive this mark. (Gen. 17:12-14) Whoever has not been circumcised in the prescribed time will perish, because he will have violated my covenant.

See the wisdom of the Lord! as he knew the imperfection of men to come, he imposes on them as a brake this mark of circumcision, to tame their evil inclinations and to prevent them from mingling with other nations. He knew their penchant for evil, and knew that, despite a host of warnings, their bad passions would not be chained. Also, as an imperishable memory, he imposed upon them this sign of circumcision, as a bond which subjected them to impassable laws, to remain faithful to their nation and never to mingle with other peoples, so that the race of the patriarch would remain pure and receive the fulfillment of the divine promises. Just as a gentle and wise man who has a maid brought to disobedience, gives him the precise order not to leave the house, and that sometimes he even chains it to contain his vagabond instinct; so God, in his goodness, imposed on them the sign of circumcision as a hindrance, so that this particular mark would prevent them from seeking anything from others.

But the ungrateful and senseless Jews still want circumcision, which is no longer needed, and thus show their childishness. For what reason, tell me, do they now want to be circumcised? Then they had received this precept not to mingle with the ungodly nations, but now that the grace of God has brought them all to the light of truth, what is circumcision for? Can this removal of a piece of flesh serve to deliver our soul? Did they not understand that if God said to them, it would be the sign of the covenant, he meant that their weakness required a particular mark? This is what usually happens in human things. When we doubt someone, we demand proof that assures us of his good faith. In the same way the Almighty, knowing the inconstancy of their spirit, required of them this sign, not to preserve it always, but so that it disappeared when the antique law would have ended and that this sign would have become useless. Those who have asked for proof of good faith leave it out when the case is over; likewise here, this mark had been introduced among you to distinguish the posterity of the patriarch; but after these nations of which you were so separated have been, some destroyed, others called to the great day of truth, cease to bear the proof of your weakness and return to your primitive nature. Remember that this admirable man, that is to say, the patriarch, before having received the order of circumcision (he was then ninety-nine years old), had been pleasing to God and had been a thousand times praised by the Lord. Now that the promises were about to be fulfilled, that Isaac would come into the world, that the race would increase and that the patriarch was coming to an end, he received the precept of circumcision, and he himself submits to it. at his age, so that his example becomes a rule for his descendants.

The facts themselves will show you, my beloved, that this use is of no use to the soul. What does God say? The eight-day-old boy will be circumcised. I think there were two reasons for prescribing that term; one because, in such a tender age, the operation is less painful; the other, to indicate that it is only a mark, without any use for the soul. The newborn child, who knows and understands nothing, what benefit can he receive? What can be good for the soul comes to him by his own choice. What is good for the soul is to prefer virtue to vice, it is to desire only the necessary, and to distribute the superfluity to the needy; what is good for the soul is not to cling to the present and even to despise it, always thinking of the future. What good can there be in a carnal sign? But the ungrateful and senseless Jews, when the truth has passed, still remain in the shadows; while the sun of righteousness has risen and scattered its rays everywhere, they only light by the light of their lamp; when it is time to taste solid foods, they still eat milk and do not want to hear the voice of St. Paul, who tells them so powerfully, about their patriarch: He received the mark of the circumcision as a sign of the righteousness he had had by faith. (Romans IV, 11.)

See how the Apostle shows us that it was only a sign, and that this circumcision showed that his faith had justified him. That a Jew does not dare to say to us: is it not the circumcision which justified it? the same saint, raised by Gamaliel (Act XXII, 3) and, knowing the law so profoundly, will say to him: Do not believe, impudent Jews, that circumcision does something to justify, for before that time Abraham believed God and his faith was known to him for justice. (Romans IV, 3.) It was after having been justified by his faith that he received circumcision. God begins by adding a letter to his name, then orders him to circumcise, which shows that the Lord has adopted him for his virtue, as well as his posterity. Just as he who has bought a slave, often changes his name and costume, to find that he is his master and can command him; so also the Lord of all things, wishing to distinguish the patriarch from other men, adds a letter to his name to show that he will be the father of an infinite multitude, then he is circumcised to separate him and his people, other nations. Those whose blindness still wishes to preserve it, do not listen to these other words of St. Paul: If you are circumcised, Christ will serve you nothing. (Galatians, v. 2.) Indeed, the Lord is (269) come to suppress this practice, and the law being fulfilled, the observance of the law must end; So St. Paul says: If you justify yourself by the law, you lose grace. (Gal 4: 4) Let us then obey this saint, and do not practice circumcision any more, for he said: You have been circumcised, not in the flesh, but by the entrenchment of the sins of the flesh; it is the circumcision of Christ. (Colossi II, 11)

This sign of circumcision separated the Jews from other nations, and showed that God had chosen them in particular; in the same way our circumcision speaks baptism shows better-the separation of the faithful and the infidels. We are not circumcised in the flesh, but by the entrenchment of the sins of the flesh. For what the circumcision of the flesh did, baptism does by removing our sins. Once we have stripped ourselves of it and put on the robe of purity, persevere, my beloved, in this purity, and remain superior to the affections of the flesh, embracing virtue. And we, who are under grace, take as a model one who lived under the law and even before the law. In directing our lives according to his own, we deserve to be found in his bosom and to enjoy eternal goods, by the grace and goodness of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, as well as to the Father and to the Holy Father. Spirit, glory, power, and honor, now and forever, and for ever and ever. Amen. [Homilies on Genesis]




17:15-16 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. ON THE KINGS OF ABRAHAM. — Why does God say to Abraham, speaking of his son: And the kings of the nations shall come from him. It is that since it did not have its origin according to the kingdoms of the earth, it must be understood according to the Church, or because it also happened literally because of Esau. [Questions on Genesis, 32]


JEROME OF STRIDON. 17:15 AND GOD SAID TO ABRAAM: AS FOR SARAI, YOUR WIFE, YOU SHALL NOT CALL HER SARAI, BUT SARA SHALL BE HER NAME. Those people are mistaken who think that the name Sara was written first with one R and that another R was afterwards added to it; and because among the Greeks R represents the number 100, they surmise many absurd things about her name. At any rate, in whatever way they maintain that her name was altered, it ought not to have a Greek but a Hebrew explanation, since the name itself is Hebrew. And no one who calls someone by a name in one language takes the etymology of that word from another language. Therefore Sarai was at first named with the letters sin, res, iod; then iod, that is, the element i, was taken away; letter he, which is read as A, was added; so she was called Sara. Now this is the reason why her name was changed in this way: formerly she was called 'my ruler', the mother of a household of one house only; thereafter she was called 'ruler' absolutely, that is, archousa.

17:16 FOR THERE FOLLOWS: I SHALL GIVE YOU A SON FROM HER, AND I SHALL BLESS HIM: AND HE SHALL BECOME NATIONS, AND KINGS OF THE PEOPLES SHALL COME FORTH FROM HIM. In the Hebrew is found distinctly: You shall not call her name Sarai and not, as we read in the Greek: God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, her name shall not be called Sarai. That is, you shall not say to her, 'You are my ruler', because she is already the future ruler of all the nations. Some people quite wrongly suppose that she had formerly been named 'leprosy', and later 'ruler', on the grounds that leprosy is called sarath, which in our language seems to bear at least some similarity [to Sarai]; but in Hebrew it is utterly different. For it is written with sade and res and ain and thau, which is clearly very different from the three letters above, that is, sin, res, and he, with which Saraa is written. [Hebrew Questions on Genesis]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. And God said to Abraham, Sarah, your wife, will not be called Sarah, but Sarra will be her name. (Gen. 17:15) Yesterday we spoke of the precept of circumcision, and these words that God addresses to the patriarch: Every male will be circumcised in your home, and this will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. The eight-day-old boy will be circumcised. And if anyone is not circumcised, his soul will perish, because he will have broken my covenant. We have finished here what we have said about circumcision; and, in order not to tire your mind with too many words, we did not go further. Indeed, our only intention is not to speak much and then to leave; we want to measure to your strength the instruction contained in our speeches, so that you bring home some fruit of our words. Here are the remains of this speech; we shall see, after the precept of circumcision, what the God of kindness says to the patriarch. And God, say to Abraham, Sarah thy wife shall not be called Sarah, but Sarrah shall be her name. (Gen. 17:16) As well as adding a letter to your name, I have shown that you would be a father of many nations, so I add a letter to Sarah's, to show that the time is coming when the promises that I made you sometime would be fulfilled. Sarrah will be his name. I will bless her, and I will give you a son of her, and I will bless him, and he shall be ruler of a nation, and the kings of the nations shall come out of him. I added a letter to tell you that all my words will come true. Do not be discouraged by thinking of the weakness of nature, but rather consider how far my power goes and trust what I said: I will bless her and I will give you a son of her, and I will bless him and he will rule the nations, and the kings of the nations will come out of him.

Such a prediction went beyond human nature; it was as if we had promised to make men with stones. For they differed nothing from the stones in the point of view of generation. The old age of the patriarch rendered him almost impotent and incapable of having children; as for Sara, besides her infertility, she was far too advanced in age. But the righteous, when he heard these words, was persuaded that God had already fulfilled his promise to Ishmael. Indeed, in these words: I will give this earth to you and to your race, God did not specify in a precise way the son that Sara must have, Abraham therefore believed that the promise was already accomplished. [Homilies on Genesis]




17:17-27 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? 18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! 19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. 22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. 23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. 24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. (Gen. 17:17) Et procidit Abraham in faciem, et dixit in animo suo dicens : Si mihi centum annos habenti nascetur, et si Sara annorum nonaginta pariet (Abraham prostrated his face to the ground, and said to himself: At the age of one hundred, can I hope to have a son? and could Sara be born at ninety)? This phrase expresses astonishment and not doubt; nothing is more certain.

(Gen. 17:24) Abraham autem erat annorum nonaginta novera cura circumcisus est carnem proeputii sui (Abraham was ninety-nine when he circumcised himself); Latin required carne (by his flesh) or in carne (in his flesh). [Locutions]


HILARY OF POITIERS. (Verses 19-20) In this passage the one Deity is first the Angel of God, and then, successively, Lord and God. But to Abraham He is God only. For when the distinction of Persons had first been made, as a safeguard against the delusion that God is a solitary Being, then His true and unqualified name could safely be uttered. And so it is written. And God said to Abraham, Behold Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as far Ishmael, behold. I have heard you and have blessed him, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve nations shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. (Gen.17:19-20) Is it possible to doubt that He Who was previously called the Angel of God is here, in the sequel, spoken of as God? In both instances He is speaking of Ishmael; in both it is the same Person Who shall multiply him. To save us from supposing that this was a different Speaker from Him who had addressed Hagar, the Divine words expressly attest the identity, saying, And I have blessed him, and will multiply him. The blessing is repeated from a former occasion, for Hagar had already been addressed; the multiplication is promised for a future day, for this is God’s first word to Abraham concerning Ishmael. Now it is God Who speaks to Abraham; to Hagar the Angel of God had spoken. Thus God and the Angel of God are One; He Who is the Angel of God is also God the Son of God. He is called the Angel because He is the Angel of great counsel; but afterwards He is spoken of as God, lest we should suppose that He Who is God is only an angel. Let us now repeat the facts in order. The Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar; He spoke also to Abraham as God. One Speaker addressed both. The blessing was given to Ishmael, and the promise that he should grow into a great people. [On the Trinity, 4.24 NFNP s.2 v.9]


JEROME OF STRIDON. 17:17 AND ABRAAM FELL ON HIS FACE AND LAUGHED, AND SAID IN HIS HEART. SHALL A SON BE BORN TO A MAN ONE HUNDRED YEARS OLD, AND SHALL SARA AGED NINETY BEAR CHILDREN? THEN, AFTER A LITTLE WHILE, AND YOU SHALL CALL HIS NAME ISAAC. There is a difference of opinion why he was called Isaac, but only one etymology of the name; for Isaac means 'laughter'. Some people say that because Saraa had laughed, he was therefore called 'laughter'; but this is incorrect. Others, however, say that it was because Abraham laughed; and this is what we approve. For it was in consequence of Abraham's laughter that his son was called Isaac; only then do we read that Saraa also laughed. But it should be known that four persons in the Old Testament were called by their names without any concealment before they were born: Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon, and Josias. Read the Scriptures. [Hebrew Questions on Genesis]


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. Now when the Lord said to him, I will bless Sarra, and I will give you a son of her, and I will bless him, and he shall rule the nations; then, moreover, the kings of the nations will come out of him; not knowing what to say (for such a pious man could not doubt the words of God), thinking of his old age and Sara's persistent sterility, crushed and stunned by the promise of God, he fell on his face and laughed. (Gen. 17:17) Before this unheard-of promise, before the power of the one who made it, he fell on his face and began to laugh, that is to say, he was filled with joy. He sought in his reflections how he could agree with the order of human things that a centenarian had a son, and that a sterile, nonagenarian woman suddenly became fertile. Such were his thoughts, but his tongue dared not state them; only he showed his gratitude by praying for Ishmael, as if he were saying: "Lord, you have comforted me enough, and you have changed in joy by the birth of Ishmael the pain of being without posterity. After his birth I never believed or even imagined that I would have a son of Sara; she herself did not expect it and had given up hope, since she had given me Hagar. We both had great consolation by the birth of Ishmael. May this son, who was given to me by you, live before your face, (Gen. 17:18) and we will have enough happiness; and his presence will comfort our old age. What does this good Lord answer to this? As he had long since felt the piety of the righteous and the faith of Sarah, as he saw that they expected nothing of themselves, one because of his old age, the other because of his age and from his sterility, he says, it seems to you completely impossible: that's why I waited so long; you will know that the favors I have are far above human nature; everyone will know, as you do by these wonders, that I am the Master of Nature, that she obeys all my wishes and yields to all my orders. I, who have drawn being from nothingness, can, with much greater reason, correct nature when it is imperfect. To give you confidence, listen and reassure yourself, receive a sure guarantee of my word. Here is your wife Sara, whom you think you can not bear because of her infertility and old age: she will give you a son, and so that you do not doubt it, I will even tell you her name in advance. Your unborn son will be called Isaac. I will make a covenant with him (271) forever and with his race after him. (Gen. 17:19) It is he whom I have promised you first and from the beginning, and it is in him that my promises will be fulfilled. I warn you of all this, not only because it must be born, but so that you know how you will call it and that I have made a covenant, not only with him, but with his race after him. Then this God whose benefits always exceed our prayers, thus strengthening the spirit of the righteous and having almost rejuvenated him by his promises, since he had, so to speak, brought back, by his words, from death to life and even to fecundity, says to him as the height of liberality: I will fulfill all these promises and I will grant you besides what you asked me for Ishmael, because I heard your prayer. I will bless him; I will increase it and multiply it more and more. He will beget twelve nations, and I will make him a great people. (Gen. 17:20) Since he is your race, I will increase him and multiply him abundantly, to the point of bringing twelve nations out of him. But I will make my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear you at this time, in a year's time. (Gen. 17:21)

Here, I pray you, see, my beloved, how the righteous received in an instant the reward of all his life, and how was accomplished in him what Christ said to his disciples: Whoever will leave father, mother, family and brothers in my name, will receive the hundredfold and will gain eternal life. (Matt XIX, 29.) Consider, I pray you, to our righteous who obeyed without delay the order of the Lord and preferred another land to his homeland, see how his continual resignation raised him little by little to the height of virtue, as he became illustrious and famous, and how the number of his descendants could be compared to that of the stars. If one could calculate at the rigor, one would find that the just has not been rewarded a hundred times, but ten thousand times. If he has been honored until now with so many benefits, what voice can ever tell those who will follow? It is best to say it; as much as possible, of a single word. If it be said to you that all the righteous, from that time to ours and to the consummation of the times, have had and will have no other desire than to rest in the bosom of the patriarch, that can we say more glorious for him? You have appreciated his resignation, his virtue, his piety and all, his gratitude for the blessings of the Lord. When he had to, he did everything that depended on him, he accepted with all good grace, pleasure and displeasure; so the God of goodness finally granted him the first of all good things, the one he desired above all else. Notice, indeed, that he has experienced for twenty-four years the virtue of the just! For when he came out of Charran to obey the Lord, he was seventy-five years old, and now, when God spoke to him again, he only needed a year to be a hundred years old.

May this story, my beloved ones, teach us to be always resigned, and never to let ourselves be defeated or discouraged by the trials of virtue; let us understand by this the whole goodness and generosity of the Lord who, for a small offering, gives us a great reward, not only for the immortal goods of the future, but in filling us with his favors to relieve our weakness in this world . Thus our patriarch, during this space of time, had no doubt to endure hard trials, but his adversities were always intermixed with happy moments. For the Almighty, indulgent to our weakness, does not abandon us in the midst of adversities that we can not bear; he is vain to come to our aid, he revives our courage and recalls our reason; so he will not leave us too long in prosperity which would make us negligent and favor our bad inclinations. In fact, human nature, in the midst of prosperity, sometimes forgets itself, and leaves the limits that suit it; also our Father who loves us, sometimes favors us and sometimes tests us, in order to watch over our salvation anyway. Just as a doctor, when treating a patient, does not always subject him to the diet and does not always let him satisfy his hunger, lest his greed increases his fever or deprivation weakens him; he spares the forces of the patient, and uses all his art to be useful to him. It is thus that the good God, knowing what suits each one of us, sometimes makes us enjoy prosperity, sometimes submits us to trials to exercise ourselves to virtue. Those whose merit is already worthy of praise shine again in the midst of trials and receive a new grace from above; At the same time, sinners who accept these trials heartily, are delivered from the burden of their sins, and obtain their forgiveness. As well I beg you, knowing the intelligence and wisdom of the doctor of our souls, never discuss the care he gives us. If our minds can not understand them, this is one more reason to admire the purposes of God and to glorify the Lord, whose reason and human thought can not appreciate wisdom. We do not know as well as he does what suits us; we do not watch over our salvation as He watches over it himself, for he makes every effort to attract us to virtue and to save us from the hands of the devil. If he sees that prosperity is not advantageous to us, he is like a good doctor who heals us in the obesity produced by our greed and which heals us by sobriety. In the same way, this admirable doctor of our souls allows us to be a little tested to make us understand the dangers of prosperity, but when he sees that we have returned to health, he delivers us from our trials and gives us his favors in abundance. . If, therefore, virtuous persons are subjected to certain trials, let them not be troubled by them, but hope for them, and see them as the source of new crowns and rewards. If sinners fall into adversity, let them not revolt, knowing that sins are purified by misfortune, provided they accept everything with good grace. Indeed, a grateful servant must thank his master, not only when he receives all of it, but also in privations. Thus the patriarch became illustrious and was honored with the favor of God, who lavished on him benefits above human nature.

We must now resume the rest of our speech and notice the obedience of the just. Who executed the order of God without seeking the reason and without asking the cause, as do so many fools who discuss the works of God, and say why this? Why that? What is this for? What is it for? Such was not the just; as a devoted servant, he accomplishes the order without seeking beyond, you will still see him by what follows. After the Lord had made the promise to Him and finished talking to Him, the righteous man immediately did what was commanded of Him, and this mark required by God, that is to say, circumcision, (Gen. 17:26-27) He immediately made it suffer Ishmael and to all servants born at home or bought abroad. He himself was circumcised. He was ninety-nine when he cut the flesh of his foreskin. Ishmael was then thirteen years old. (Gen. 17:24-25) It is not without reason that Scripture reports here the number of its years; it is to show the great obedience of the righteous who was then in extreme old age and willingly endured pain to fulfill the order of God; so we count not only him, but Ishmael and all his servants; the operation must have been painful. It's not the same thing, . my beloved ones, to cut healthy flesh and sick flesh; when the doctors cut a sick limb the pain is not so great, for this limb, already dead, so to speak, has only a remnant of sensation at the moment of amputation. Now, this old man, so advanced in age, for he touched his hundred years, willingly supported this pain, in order to obey God; at the same time he disposed his son and his servants to show without hesitation the same obedience. See, what virtue in this man, and how he commits his whole house to follow in his footsteps. What I said yesterday, I repeat today; From that moment God wished that this operation should be practiced on infants, so that it would be less painful.

Consider, my beloved, the goodness of God and his ineffable beneficence to us. This circumcision brought pain and discomfort; it had no other advantage than to have those who had received it recognized and separated from other nations. Our circumcision, I mean the grace of baptism, heals us without pain and gives us innumerable goods; it fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit and can be done at any time. We can practice in childhood, in old age and in old age this immaterial and harmless circumcision that delivers us from our sins and makes us obtain the forgiveness of those of our whole life. God, seeing the excess from our weakness, and recognizing that our incurable troubles required a heroic remedy, as well as a supreme indulgence, took care of our salvation and allowed us to wash away our sins and regenerate our souls; in this way we strip the old man, that is, the works of evil, and we put on the new man, walking in the way of virtue. But, I conjure you, let us not remain inferior (273) to the Jews, ungrateful and insensate. These, having received the mark of circumcision, were very careful not to be like other nations; at least not to have relations with them; for, as to impiety, they sometimes passed them. For us, when we have received baptism, instead of circumcision, let us carefully watch over our conduct. No doubt we can mingle with the infidels, but remain faithful to our virtues, and we must communicate with them only to attract them to the world. so that the example of our good works may be a lesson for them. So the Almighty has allowed this mixture of good and bad, pious men and impious, so that the wicked profit with the good and the impious are brought to piety; for God has nothing so much at heart as the salvation of our souls. So, I conjure you, let us not neglect our salvation, nor that of our neighbor; do everything that depends on us so that our conduct may please God; as to the next, let our virtue so explode that, even while remaining silent, our example is a lesson for all who can see us. If we are virtuous, we will derive a great advantage, and at the same time we will be useful to the infidels; likewise, if we neglect our conduct, we will be severely punished for it, and we will become for the others an occasion of scandal. Thus, when we practice virtue, we are twice rewarded by God, first of all on our behalf and then because of those whom we promise to practice as well; likewise, if we do evil, we will be punished, not only for our own sins, but for those where we train others. God forbid that none of those present be in this situation; but let us regulate our conduct so as to edify those who see us, so that we may present ourselves with confidence before the judgment seat of Christ and merit his infinite goods; may it be so for all of us, by the grace and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, as well as to the Father and the Holy Spirit, glory, power, honor, now and always, and for centuries. Amen. [Homilies on Genesis]