Preface to “The Explanation of the Gospels”
by Blessed Theophylact
by Blessed Theophylact
Those divine men who lived before the law were not taught by writings and books, but they had a pure mind and so were enlightened by the radiance of the Holy Spirit. Thus they knew the will of God, and He Himself conversed with them mouth to mouth. Such were Noah, Abraham, Job, and Moses. But when men grew weak and became unworthy to be enlightened and instructed by the Holy Spirit, God Who loves mankind gave the Scriptures, so that at least by these means they might be made mindful of the will of God.
Christ also conversed in person with the apostles, and He sent the grace of the Spirit to be their teacher. But later, heresies would arise and our morals would be corrupted. Therefore it was His good pleasure that the Gospels be written down in order to teach us the truth, so that we would not be drawn away by the falsehood of these heresies, and our morals altogether corrupted. He gave us four Gospels, perhaps because we learn from them the four universal virtues: courage, prudence, righteousness, and self-control. We learn courage when the Lord says, Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul (Mt 10:28); we learn prudence when He exhorts, Be ye wise therefore as serpents (Mt 10:16); we learn righteousness when He teaches, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Mt 7:12); and we learn self-control when He declares, Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Mt 5:28).
For another reason are there four Gospels: they are pillars of the world. As the world is divided into four parts—east, west, north, and south—it was right that there also be four pillars. And for yet another reason are the Gospels four in number: they contain four elements—teachings, commandments, warnings, and promises. To those who believe the teachings and observe the commandments, God promises the good things that are to come. But those who do not believe the teachings and do not keep the commandments, He threatens with the punishments that are to come.
It is called “Gospel” because it announces to us things that are good: namely, remission of sins, being counted as righteous, ascent into the heavens, and adoption as sons by God. It also announces that we can receive these things easily. For we ourselves have not labored to obtain these good things, nor have we received them as a result of our own accomplishments. We have been deemed worthy of such good things by God’s grace and love for man.
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