[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—21 May 2020, The Ascension
[The image is of Salvador Dali’s “Ascension” (1958)]
Ascending on High, He Led Captivity Captive
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended”, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
St. Leo the Great
Sermon 73 (The Fathers of the Church , tr. Agnes Conway & Jane Freeland)
After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the divine power in three days raised the true Temple of God which Jewish wickedness had destroyed, on this very day, dearly beloved, the number of the forty holy days is completed. While the Lord draws out the time of his bodily presence, our faith in his Resurrection is being strengthened by the necessary signs. The Death of Christ had greatly disturbed the hearts of the disciples. When the holy women, as the Gospel story has told us, proclaimed that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, the sepulchre was empty, and that angels were witnesses of the living Lord, their words seemed to the Apostles and other disciples as pure nonsense.
The Spirit of Truth would by no means have permitted this wavering in human weakness to enter the hearts of his preachers if their trembling anxiety and questioning delay were not to have established the foundations of our faith. Consequently, it was our doubts, our danger, that was being considered in the Apostles. We, in the guise of the Apostles, were being instructed against the slanders of the wicked and the proofs of earthly wisdom. Let us give thanks for necessary slowness of the Holy Fathers. They doubted so that we need not doubt.
These days, dearly beloved, between the Resurrection of the Lord and his Ascension provided the opportunity to confirm great mysteries, to reveal great secrets. In these days the Holy Spirit was poured into all the Apostles by the breath of the Lord; and to blessed Peter above all the others, after the keys of the kingdom, the care of the Lord’s sheep is entrusted. Through all this time which went by between the Resurrection of the Lord and his Ascension, the providence of God took thought for this: that they should recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as truly risen, who was truly born, truly suffered, and truly died.
The result was that not only were they not afflicted with sadness but were filled with great joy when the Lord went into the heights of heaven. Truly it was a great and indescribable source of rejoicing when, in the sight of the heavenly multitudes, the nature of our human race ascended over the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass the angelic orders and to be raised beyond the heights of archangels. In its ascension it did not stop at any other height until this same nature was received at the seat of the eternal Father, to be associated on the throne of the glory of that One to whose nature it was joined in the Son.
Since the Ascension of Christ is our elevation, and since, where the glory of the Head has preceded it, there hope for the body is also invited, let us exult, dearly beloved, with worthy joy and be glad with a holy thanksgiving. Today we are established not only as possessors of Paradise, but we have even penetrated the heights of the heavens in Christ, prepared more fully for it through the indescribable grace of Christ which we had lost through the ill will of the devil. Those whom the violent enemy threw down from the happiness of our first dwelling, the Son of God has placed, incorporated within himself, at the right hand of the Father, the Son of God who lives and reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.