[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—3 February, Ferial Day Following the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany.
[The image is a mosaic of St. Ambrose in the Cappella Palatina, Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo, Sicily, Italy]
Esau is Supplanted
As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. He also prepared savoury food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your first-born, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled violently and said, Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? – yes, and he shall be blessed.” When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Then Isaac his father answered him: “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you break loose you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran, and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury turns away; until your brother’s anger turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and fetch you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”
A Reading from St. Ambrose,
On Jacob and the Blessed Life, 3.10-12; FOC 65 (1971) Tr. McHugh
After Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, the elder brother arrived. By this it is revealed that the Kingdom was predestined to be bestowed on the Church rather than on the synagogue, but had secretly entered the synagogue so that sin might abound and, when sin had abounded, that grace might also abound. At the same time, it makes it clear that the candidate for the kingdom of heaven must be quick to carry off the blessing for which he has been recommended. On this account the younger son was not blamed by his father but praised, for Isaac says, Your brother came deceitfully and received your blessing. For deceit is good when the plunder is without reproach. Now the plunder of piety is without reproach, because from the days of John the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent bear it away. Our fathers celebrated the Pasch in haste and ate the Lamb in haste with no delay, and the holy Joseph summoned his brother Benjamin by a holy fabrication and deceit.
Nevertheless, Esau brought it about by his demands and entreaties that he did receive a blessing, but such a blessing as was in agreement with the earlier one, namely that he should serve his brother.
Indeed, the one who could not command the other ought to have served him, in order to be ruled by the one who was more wise. It was not the role of the holy Patriarch to deliver his own son to the ignoble state of slavery. But since he had two sons, one without moderation and the other moderate and wise, in order to take care for both like a good father, he placed the moderate son over the son without moderation, and he ordered the foolish one to obey the one who was wise. For the foolish man cannot of his own accord be a disciple of virtue or persevere in his intent, because the fool changes like the moon. Isaac was right to deny Esau freedom to make his own choices; else he might drift like a ship in the waves without a helmsman. But Isaac made him subject to his brother according to that which is written, The unwise man is the slave of the wise man. Therefore the Patriarch was right to make him subject, so that he might amend his dispositions under rule and guidance. And so Isaac says, By your sword shall you live; you shall serve your brother, for holiness has mastery over cruelty and kindness excels over emotions that are harsh.
Every man who does not possess the authority conferred by a clear conscience is a slave; whoever is ensnared by pleasure or seduced by desires or provoked by wrath or felled by grief is a slave. In fact, every passion is servile, because everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin, and, what is worse, he is the slave of many sins. The man who is subject to vices has sold himself to many masters, so that he is scarcely permitted to go out of servitude. But the man who is the master over his own will, judge over his counsels, and who restrains the longing of his bodily passions, is assuredly a free man. For the man who does all things wisely and in complete accord with his will is the only truly free man.