Patristic Lectionary—21 November 2020, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[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 November 2020, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[The image is from a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin – Daniel 3:25 King Nebuchadnezzar “replied, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.’”]

Daniel 3:8-12, 19-23; [The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews] 1, 68; [Daniel 3:] 24-30

The King’s Golden Statue; The Youths Thrown into the Furnace

At that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live for ever! You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no heed to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he ordered certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their mantles, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were cast into the burning fiery furnace.

Because the king’s order was strict and the furnace very hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

And they walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. “Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever.”

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counsellors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He answered, “But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come forth, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counsellors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their mantles were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set at nought the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

St. Hippolytus of Rome

Commentary on Daniel II, 18-37 (Sources Chrètiennes 14:150-184)

Look well; behold three youths who have set an example for all. They were unafraid of the numerous satraps and of the words of the king: they did not tremble when they heard about the fiery flames of the furnace, but they spurned all and the whole world for they thought only of the fear of God.

You see how the Spirit of the Father teaches eloquence to the martyrs, consoling them and exhorting them to despise death in this world, to hasten their attainment of heavenly goods. But a person who is without the Holy Spirit is frightened of the struggle. He hides himself, takes precautions against a death that is only temporal, is afraid of the sword, falls into a panic at the thought of the torture. He no longer sees any other thing than the world here below, worries only about the present life, prefers his wife to everything else, is bothered only about love for his children, and seeks nothing but wealth.

Such a man, because he is not endowed with heavenly strength, is quickly lost. That is why anyone who desires to come near the Word listens to the behest of the King and Lord of heaven: Whoever does not bear his cross and follow me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not renounce all that he possesses cannot be my disciple.

Scripture tells us that after this, those three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell into the white-hot furnace and walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord. The fire had no difficulty in devouring the fetters with which they had been bound by order of the king, but it did not touch their coats, hats, shoes, and other garments. This miracle brought out the wonderful power of God.

But someone might say: ‘Why did God of old not rescue martyrs of our own day? For we see that blessed Daniel was cast twice into the den, and that he was not devoured by the beasts, just as the three youths were cast into the furnace and suffered not the least damage from the fire.’

Think it over, O man! At that time, God saved those he wanted, in order that the wonders of his works might be revealed to the whole world. But those whom he desired to undergo martyrdom, he crowned and let them come to him. If he drew the three youths out of their predicament, it was to show the emptiness and folly of Nebuchadnezzar’s boastfulness and prove at the same time that what is impossible to man is possible to God. Nebuchadnezzar had proudly declared: Who is the God that can deliver you out of my hands? God proved to him that he can free his servants when he wishes to do so. That is why it is improper for man to oppose the decisions of God. For if we live, we live for the Lord. And if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.

Br. John-Bede Pauley OSB, PhD

    St. John’s Abbey

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