Patristic Lectionary—2 January, Before Epiphany, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings.  The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf(Durham University).  Click here for the link to the lectionary.]

[The photo is of a window at Fontenay Abbey, the best surviving example of Cistercian architecture from the early years of the Cistercian reforms. This post’s passage from St. Bernard’s sermon refers to the shadows of faith that gradually prepare us to bear Light Unapproachable. This Uncreated Light is what Cistercian architecture sought to symbolize.]

Patristic Lectionary—2 January, Before Epiphany, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

A READING FROM THE SONG OF SONGS

CHRIST DESIRES THE LOVE OF HIS BRIDE, THE CHURCH:

SONG OF SONGS 4:1 – 5:1

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an arsenal, whereon hang a thousand bucklers, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hie me to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips distil nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices – a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.

Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.

I come to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends, and drink: drink deeply, O lovers!

MEMORIA OF SS BASIL AND GREGORY NAZIANZEN

A READING FROM THE SERMONS ON THE SONG OF SONGS BY ST BERNARD

SERMO 31 IN CANT. 8-10

(OPERA OMNIA, EDIT. CIST. 1 1957, 224-226)

Throughout the whole of the Song of Songs you will find God the Word foreshadowed. This leads me to think there is a reference to the Word in the prophetic text: Christ the Lord is the breath of life to us; under his shadow we shall live among the peoples. We do not yet see him face to face, but only obscurely as in a mirror. However, this is true only as long as we are living among the peoples of this world. When we are with the angels, it will be different; we shall enjoy exactly the same happiness as they have now. We too shall see him as he is in his divine nature, and not in shadow.

We know that in ancient times the truth was veiled in shadows and figures, but that now the reality itself shines upon us through the grace of Christ, present in the flesh. In the same way we ourselves live at present in the shadow of the truth concerning the world to come. No one will deny this unless he refuses to accept what the Apostle says: Our knowledge is only partial and so is our prophesying; or again: I do not consider that I have fully grasped what I aspire to. There is surely a distinction between those who walk by faith and those who enjoy clear sight; whereas the upright live by faith, the blessed rejoice in the beatific vision. We can say, then, that during this earthly life holy men live in Christ’s shadow, but the holy angels in heaven are bathed in the splendour of the glory of his face.

Happy the shadow of faith that tempers the light to the sighted eye and prepares the eye to bear it! Scripture speaks of God cleansing our hearts by faith, which shows that faith does not extinguish the light, but preserves it. All that the angels see is preserved for me by the obscurity of faith; it is stored up in the believer’s heart, ready to be revealed when the time is ripe. Even the Lord’s mother lived in the obscurity of faith; was she not told: Blessed are you because you have believed? It was the shadow of Christ’s body that fell upon her when she heard the angel say: The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Now this could be no ordinary shadow, coming as it did from the power of the Most High. There was indeed power in Christ’s flesh as it cast its shadow over the Virgin. Under the protecting shadow of his life-giving body she was able to endure the presence of the divine glory and to bear light unapproachable, a thing impossible for mortal man. Clearly this was the power that defeated all the forces of the enemy; it was both strength and shade, invigorating and refreshing, scattering demons and protecting men.

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