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—20 August 2020, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot, Doctor of the Church
[The image is of Didymus the Blind]
Ecclesiastes 7:1 – 8:1
“Do Not Make Yourself Over Wise”
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death, than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. Surely oppression makes the wise man foolish, and a bribe corrupts the mind. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money; and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
In my vain life I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing. Be not righteous overmuch, and do not make yourself over wise; why should you destroy yourself? Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand; for he who fears God shall come forth from them all.
Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city. Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
Do not give heed to all the things that men say, lest you hear your servant cursing you; your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others.
All this I have tested by wisdom; I said, “I will be wise”; but it was far from me. That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? I turned my mind to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness which is madness. And I found more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters; he who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, adding one thing to another to find the sum, which my mind has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. Behold, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices.
Who is like the wise man? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his countenance is changed.
Didymus the Blind
In Eccl. 197.14-198.22, 209.26, 231.13; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, tr. J. Robert Wright
Whoever does not focus attention on perishable goods and does not think highly of them but knows that it is better to be with Christ after death thinks that the day of death is better than the day of birth. The latter is the beginning of many evils; the former, however, the end and termination of evil.
Where there is mourning, there is no moral superficiality. Happiness and laughter are avoided; the calamity prohibits it. Sometimes we refrain from appearing happy out of regard for those who mourn and for those who experience harm. In the house of feasting, however, the opposite happens: Dances and songs bring reproof, since they indicate a disorderly life. The ‘house’, however, signifies a condition or an attitude, not a location. The one who goes to the house of mourning knows that everyone dies in the end. Once he knows that he has to die, he will not think about and dedicate his effort to owning something if it is a possession that is lost in death such as wealth, reputation and honour.
One can understand ‘the living’ in the following way: one who lives according to God’s will. Those people are Abraham and his descendants. God has created human beings straightforward, that is, morally perfect without anything crooked or oblique. But they themselves produce many thoughts. Evil, thus, is manifold. There is only one single human form that makes a person like God, but there are many into which he can transform himself. If he is cunning, he has the face of a fox; if he shows a poisonous, dangerous face, he has the face of a snake; if he looks wild, he has the face of a lion; if his face is ungovernable, flattering and desiring pleasures, he has the face of a dog. Generally out of one human being and one form emerge a whole plurality of characters and forms. Thus it is the goal to get rid of all forms – even if some people do not share this opinion – in order to show that he has the face that God created.
God knows the reasons for everything that came into being, and he knows why they are hidden. In no way do you have sufficient knowledge of God’s creations. If you take offence at them, this is because you are not reasonable. Watch God’s creatures! What for others is a reason for offence will be for you knowledge of the Creator and of the created.