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—26 October 2020, Feria after the Twentieth Sunday of Trinitytide (Monday ~ 30th Week in Ordinary Time)
[The image is of Augustus John’s “Moses and the Brazen Serpent” (1898)]
Wisdom 1:16 – 2:24
The Foolish Thoughts of the Ungodly against the Righteous
But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.
“Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full, as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls; for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.
In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus 12, 10-11 (Corpus Christianorum Latina 36:126-127)
Scripture says that death was not God’s doing, and that he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the living. To be – for this he created everything. How then does it continue? It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world. The devil could not force upon man the death he held before his eyes; he had no power to determine the human will. All he had was his own cunning and persuasive skills. Without your consent, the devil could have done nothing to harm you; it was that consent which brought death upon you. Though born mortal of mortal flesh, it was from an immortal state that we were brought to mortality. Since Adam, all human beings have been subject to death. Even Jesus, Son of God, Word of God through whom all things were made, the only Son equal to the Father, was made subject to death; for the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Because he accepted death, death itself was hung on the cross, while humankind was freed from death.
What took place symbolically in times of old was recalled by the Lord when he said: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. A great mystery is here, as those who have read the Scriptures know. When the Israelites were in the desert, they were struck down by bites they received from serpents, and death claimed countless victims. This was the stroke of God, scourging and correcting them for their instruction. A great mystery, prefiguring something yet to come, was thus revealed, as the Lord himself testifies in this passage, ensuring that it should bear no interpretation other than the one he, the Truth, gives about himself. For the Lord had bidden Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, lift it up on a pole in the desert, and tell the Israelites that all who were bitten by a serpent should fix their eyes on the serpent raised up on the pole. What does this serpent lifted on high signify? The Lord’s death on the cross. Death came into being through a serpent, and so the figure of a serpent is its symbol. But whereas the serpent’s bite was deadly, our Lord’s death is life-giving. Is not Christ life itself? And yet Christ died. But in the death of Christ, it was death that met its end: life by dying slew death, the fullness of life swallowed up death, in the body of Christ death was destroyed. This is what we shall proclaim at the resurrection when we sing in triumph, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? But in the meantime, to find healing for our sins, let us fix our eyes on Christ crucified.