As I was reading St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul the following passages were brought to my attention and I was wondering what some of the church fathers said on them in comparison to the Little Flower.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! (Luke 12:27-28, NRSV-CE)
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matt. 6:30, NRSV-CE)
Regretfully, not many commentaries are available from the church fathers on Luke and Matthew (online at least which is what I need). But I did find two fathers on this subject…
And what benefit at all is there living luxuriously? Or rather, will it not bring with it utter destruction? For quickly of a certain there center along with luxurious pleasures the infamies of sensuality, and the assaults of base and contemptible lusts;–things whose approach is difficult to combat. And the being clad too in splendid apparel is of no benefit whatsoever. “For consider,” He says, “the lilies, how they grow. They toil not neither do they spin. I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.” And this is also true: for both in lilies and other flowers that spring up in the fields, the lustre of the colours possesses an admirable beauty, both by the diversity of the hues, and the variety of the arrangement, as they glitter in their natural purple, or shine with the brilliancy of other colours: but all that is made by the art of man in imitation of them, whether by the painter’s skill, or in embroidery, altogether falls short of reality: and even though it be successful as a work of art, it scarcely even approaches the truth. If therefore these means of art are so inferior to the glory of the lily, and the beautiful colours of other flowers, how is it not true, that Solomon, though so magnificent a king, in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these things? Vain therefore is our toil for beautiful apparel. … What garments therefore are not surpassed in splendour by the magnificence that is in Christ? (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Sermon XC)
St. John Chrysostom
But if Solomon was surpassed by their beauty, and that not once nor twice, but throughout all his reign:— for neither can one say, that at one time He was clothed with such apparel, but after that He was so no more; rather not so much as on one day did He array Himself so beautifully: for this Christ declared by saying, in all his reign: and if it was not that He was surpassed by this flower, but vied with that, but He gave place to all alike (wherefore He also said, as one of these: for such as between the truth and the counterfeit, so great is the interval between those robes and these flowers):— if then he acknowledged his inferiority, who was more glorious than all kings that ever were: when will you be able to surpass, or rather to approach even faintly to such perfection of form?
After this He instructs us, not to aim at all at such ornament. See at least the end thereof; after its triumph it is cast into the oven: and if of things mean, and worthless, and of no great use, God has displayed so great care, how shall He give up you, of all living creatures the most important?
Wherefore then did He make them so beautiful? That He might display His own wisdom and the excellency of His power; that from everything we might learn His glory. For not the Heavens only declare the glory of God, but the earth too; and this David declared when he said, Praise the Lord, you fruitful trees, and all cedars. For some by their fruits, some by their greatness, some by their beauty, send up praise to Him who made them: this too being a sign of great excellency of wisdom, when even upon things that are very vile (and what can be viler than that which today is, and tomorrow is not?) He pours out such great beauty. If then to the grass He has given that which it needs not (for what does the beauty thereof help to the feeding of the fire?) how shall He not give unto you that which you need? If that which is the vilest of all things, He has lavishly adorned, and that as doing it not for need, but for munificence, how much more will He honor you, the most honorable of all things, in matters which are of necessity.
2. Now when, as you see, He had demonstrated the greatness of God’s providential care, and they were in what follows to be rebuked also, even in this He was sparing, laying to their charge not want, but poverty, of faith. Thus, if God, says He, so clothe the grass of the field, much more you, O you of little faith. Matthew 6:30
And yet surely all these things He Himself works. For all things were made by Him, and without Him was not so much as one thing made. John 1:3 But yet He nowhere as yet makes mention of Himself: it being sufficient for the time, to indicate His full power, that He said at each of the commandments, You have heard that it has been said to them of old time, but I say unto you.
Marvel not then, when in subsequent instances also He conceals Himself, or speaks something lowly of Himself: since for the present He had but one object, that His word might prove such as they would readily receive, and might in every way demonstrate that He was not a sort of adversary of God, but of one mind, and in agreement with the Father. (Homily 22 on Matthew)
St. Therese of Lisieux
I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace. In reading the lives of the Saints I was surprised to see that there were certain privileged souls, whom Our Lord favoured from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their path which might keep them from mounting towards Him, permitting no sin to soil the spotless brightness of their baptismal robe. And again it puzzled me why so many poor savages should die without having even heard the name of God.
Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.
I understood this also, that God’s Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul which does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed. In fact, the characteristic of love being self-abasement, if all souls resembled the holy Doctors who have illuminated the Church, it seems that God in coming to them would not stoop low enough. But He has created the little child, who knows nothing and can but utter feeble cries, and the poor savage who has only the natural law to guide him, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop. These are the field flowers whose simplicity charms Him; and by His condescension to them Our Saviour shows His infinite greatness. As the sun shines both on the cedar and on the floweret, so the Divine Sun illumines every soul, great and small, and all correspond to His care—just as in nature the seasons are so disposed that on the appointed day the humblest daisy shall unfold its petals.
So here it is…St. Cyril seems to take an approach which looks at spiritual clothing over material clothing but doesn’t seem to favour any doubt which means, if you have but one doubt about the faith, St. Cyril ain’t a good guy for you. St. John Chrysostom handles “o ye of little faith” better but St. Therese seems to move us in a better direction by arguing that it’s actually the least of these flowers which God loves the most (although she doesn’t comment directly on the passage). I tend to agree with St. Therese, maybe that’s just because I’m reading her right now, but it seems she takes the passage the most seriously and in the most fullest context. It seems that not much doubting was allowed in the fourth century–“Now die, you Arian heretick!”