Matt. 6:16-18 (Part 2)

TATIAN: When you fast, do not frown, as the hypocrites; for they make their faces austere, so that they may be seen of men that they are fasting. Verily I say to you, They have received their reward. But when you fast, wash your face and anoint your head; that you do not make an appearance before men of fasting, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you. The Diatessaron, 9.58.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: In regard to fasting it is said, “For what reason do you fast to me? says the Lord. Is it such a fast that I have chosen, even a day for a man to humble his soul? Do not bend your neck like a circle, and spread sackcloth and ashes under you. Do not call this an acceptable fast.”

What is a fast, then? “Lo, this is the fast which I have chosen, says the Lord. Loose every band of wickedness. Dissolve the knots of oppressive contracts. Let the oppressed go free, and tear every unjust bond. Break your bread to the hungry; and lead the houseless poor into your house. If you see the naked cover him.”  The Instructor, 2.292-293.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: “Fasting with prayer is a good thing.”  Now fasting signifies abstinence from all evils whatsoever, both in action and in word, and in thought itself. The Stromata, 2.503.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: The Christian knows also the enigmas of the fasting of those days—I mean the Fourth and the Preparation.  . . . He fasts in his life, in respect of covetousness and voluptuousness, from which all the vices grow. For we have already often above shown the three varieties of fornication, according to the apostle—love of pleasure, love of money, idolatry. He fasts, then, according to the law, abstaining from bad deeds, and, according to the perfection of the Gospel, from evil thoughts. The Stromata, 2.544.

TERTULLIAN: We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Pascha to Pentecost. The Chaplet, 3.94.

TERTULLIAN: We kneel at other times, but on the Lord’s day, and from the Paschal Feast to Pentecost we stand in prayer, nor do we count it lawful to fast on Sundays. The Chaplet, 3.103.

TERTULLIAN: Therefore Christ belonged to John, and John to Christ; while both belonged to the Creator, and both were of the law and the prophets, preachers and masters. Else Christ would have rejected the discipline of John, as of the rival god, and would also have defended the disciples, as very properly pursuing a different walk, because consecrated to the service of another and contrary deity. But as it is, while modestly giving a reason why “the children of the bridegroom are unable to fast during the time the bridegroom is with them,” but promising that “they should afterwards fast, when the bridegroom was taken away from them,”  He neither defended the disciples, (but rather excused them, as if they had not been blamed without some reason), nor rejected the discipline of John, but rather allowed it, referring it to the time of John, although destining it for His own time. Otherwise His purpose would have been to reject it, and to defend its opponents, if He had not Himself already belonged to it as then in force. Against Marcion, 3.360-361.

TERTULLIAN: Another custom has now become prevalent. Such as are fasting withhold the kiss of peace,  which is the seal of prayer, after prayer made with brethren. But when is peace more to be concluded with brethren than when, at the time of some religious observance such as fasting, our prayer ascends with more acceptability; that they may themselves participate in our observance, and thereby be appeased for transacting with their brother touching their own peace? What prayer is complete if divorced from the “holy kiss?”  Whom does peace impede when rendering service to his Lord? What kind of sacrifice is that from which men depart without peace? Whatever our prayer be, it will not be better than the observance of the precept by which we are bidden to conceal our fasts; for now, by abstinence from the kiss, we are known to be fasting. But even if there be some reason for this practice, still, lest you offend against this precept, you may perhaps defer your “peace” at home, where it is not possible for your fast to be entirely kept secret. But wherever else you can conceal your observance, you ought to remember the precept: thus you may satisfy the requirements of discipline abroad and of custom at home. So, too, on the day of the Passover, when the religious observance of a fast is general, and as it were public, we justly forego the holy kiss, caring nothing to conceal anything which we do in common with all. Similarly, too, touching the days of Stations,  most think that they must not be present at the sacrificial prayers, on the ground that the Station must be dissolved by reception of the Lord’s Body. Does, then, the Eucharist cancel a service devoted to God, or bind it more to God? Will not your Station be more solemn if you have in addition stood at God’s altar? On Prayer, 3.686-687.

TERTULLIAN: At fasts, moreover, and Stations, no prayer should be made without kneeling, and the remaining customary marks of humility; for (then) we are not only praying, but deprecating, and making satisfaction to God our Lord. On Prayer, 3.689.

TERTULLIAN: It is the affliction of the flesh—a victim able to appease the Lord by means of the sacrifice of humiliation—in making a libation to the Lord of sordid raiment, together with scantiness of food, content with simple diet and the pure drink of water in conjoining fasts to all this; in conditioning herself to sackcloth and ashes. This bodily patience adds a grace to our prayers for good, a strength to our prayers against evil; this opens the ears of Christ our God, dissipates severity, elicits clemency. . . . If the “spirit is willing, but the flesh,” without patience, “weak,” where, except in patience, is the safety of the spirit, and of the flesh itself? But when the Lord says this about the flesh, pronouncing it “weak,” He shows what need there is of strengthening, it—that is by patience —to meet every preparation for subverting or punishing faith; that it may bear with all constancy stripes, fire, cross, beasts, sword; all which prophets and apostles, by enduring, conquered! Of Patience, 3.715-716.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The passages below were written by TERTULLIAN to justify the extremes of Montanist fasts. Nevertheless, these quotations reveal much about the early Christians' beliefs and practices of fasting. In contrast to the early Church, the Montanists made various fasts obligatory.

TERTULLIAN: They think that fasting is to be indifferently observed, by the new discipline, of choice, not of command, according to the times and needs of each individual: that this, additionally, had been the observance of the apostles, imposing as they did no other yoke of definite fasts to be observed by all generally, nor similarly of Stations either, which have, besides, days of their own (the fourth and sixth days of the week), but yet take a wide range according to individual judgment, neither subject to the law of a given precept, nor to be protracted beyond the last hour of the day, since even prayers the ninth hour generally concludes, after Peter’s example, which is recorded in the Acts.  . . .

Meantime they huff in our teeth the fact that Isaiah has authoritatively declared, “Not such a fast has the Lord elected,” that is, not abstinence from food, but the works of righteousness.  On Fasting, 4.103.

TERTULLIAN: They say that this duty of the stations ought to be observed of free choice, and not continued beyond the ninth hour, —deriving their rule, of course, from their own practice. As to that which pertains to the question of injunction, I will once for all give a reply to suit all causes. Now, turning to the point which is proper to this particular cause—concerning the limit of time, I mean—I must first demand from themselves from where they derive this prescriptive law for concluding stations at the ninth hour. If it is from the fact that we read that Peter and he who was with him entered the temple “at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer,”  who will prove to me that they had that day been performing a station, so as to interpret the ninth hour as the hour for the conclusion and discharge of the station? On Fasting, 4.108.

TERTULLIAN: It is a customary practice for the bishops to issue mandates for fasts to the universal commonalty of the Church; I do not mean for the special purpose of collecting contributions of alms, as your beggarly fashion has it, but sometimes too from some particular cause of ecclesiastical care. On Fasting, 4.111.

TERTULLIAN: If the Apostle has erased all devotion absolutely “of seasons, and days, and months, and years,”  why do we celebrate the Passover by an annual rotation in the first month? Why in the fifty ensuing days do we spend our time in all exultation? Why do we devote to stations the fourth and sixt days of the week, and to fasts the Preparation day?  Anyhow, you sometimes continue your station even over the Sabbath,—a day never to be kept as a fast except at the Passover season. On Fasting, 4.112.

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