Patristic Lectionary—4 January, Saturday After the Octave of Christmas, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

[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.]

Patristic Lectionary—4 January, Saturday After the Octave of Christmas, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

[Follow this link for a piece on Mother Seton.]

[The image is of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, “Doctor Mellifluous.” One quote from St. Bernard that refers to honey (mel in Latin) refers to the wisdom he sought to exemplify: “It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savor of grace.” St. Bernard was one of the last great theologians before the more scientific method of the mendicants and scholastics blossomed, which gave rise to Europe’s great universities. As Catholics, we can lay claim to both the “poetry” of the Church Fathers (all the way through the Cistercian writers) and the “science” of the scholastics.  A happy embarrassment of riches.]

A READING FROM THE SONG OF SONGS

Praise of the Bride, the Church

SONG OF SONGS 6:4 – 7:9

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they disturb me – Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing, all of them bear twins, not one among them is bereaved. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my perfect one, is only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her. The maidens saw her and called her happy; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her. “Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”

I went down to the nut orchard, to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince. Return, return, O Shulammite, return, return, that we may look upon you. Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?

How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, overlooking Damascus. Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses. How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth.

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

SERMO 27 IN CANT., 6-7 (PL 183, 916-917).

I saw the new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down from God out of heaven, adorned like a bride for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying: This is the dwelling place of God among men, where he will live with them. Why should God choose to live among men? I believe his purpose was to take a wife to himself from the human race. He came to earth in search of a bride, yet, paradoxically, he did not come without one. Does this mean that there were two brides? Not at all. In the Song of Songs the bridegroom says: My dove is one and unique. But it was the Lord’s will to gather his sheep together in a single flock so that there would be one fold and one shepherd. While the angels in their myriads had been espoused to him from the beginning, it was his good pleasure to call men together to form a Church which he would then unite to his heavenly bride, and so there would be one bride and one bridegroom. The source of this oneness is our conformity with the angels in love during our earthly life and our participation with them in glory in the life to come.

From heaven, then, we have the bridegroom Jesus, and the bride Jerusalem. In order to be seen on earth Jesus emptied himself, taking the nature of a servant, fashioned in human form and presenting himself to us in the likeness of man. But how did the bride present herself when she came down from heaven? Was it in the form of a throng of angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man?

I think this question is better answered by saying that we were given a vision of the bride when we saw the incarnate Word, and understood that bride and bridegroom were two in one flesh. When Emmanuel, the Holy One, brought his divine teaching to earth and showed us the beauty of that heavenly Jerusalem which is our mother by revealing to us her visible likeness in himself, were we not then given a vision of the bride in the bridegroom? No one can ascend to heaven except the one who has descended from heaven – the Lord who is one and the same, bridegroom as head and bride as body. Nor was his appearing on earth a fruitless mission: it had the effect of making a great many earthborn men heavenly like himself, so fulfilling the text: The heavenly man is the model for all who are heavenly.

From that time onward men began to live the kind of life on earth that the angels live in heaven. Like those blessed celestial spirits, the Church comes from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. With chaste love she cleaves to her heavenly bridegroom. Though not yet visibly united to him in the way the angels are, she is betrothed to him by faith, in accordance with the promise made through the prophet: I will betroth you to myself in mercy and compassion; I will betroth you to myself in fidelity.

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