[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—23 November 2020, St. Columban, Abbot, Missionary; St. Clement I, Pope, Martyr; Bd. Miguel Augustin Pro, Priest, Religious, Martyr
[The image is Rembrandt’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” (ca. 1636) – Daniel 5:6 “Then the king’s colour changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.”]
Daniel 5:1-2, 5-9, 13-17, 25-31
God’s Judgement at Belshazzar’s Feast
King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in front of the thousand.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.
Immediately the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand; and the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s colour changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and shows me its interpretation shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his colour changed; and his lords were perplexed.
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. I have heard of you that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation; but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Then Daniel answered before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation.
“And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Then Belshazzar commanded, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put about his neck, and proclamation was made concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Theodoret of Cyrus
De Divina Providentia 10, 52-54
When the people had lapsed into the depths of impiety, loot was sent to Babylon and the sacred vessels became the spoils of the enemy. Now Nebuchadnezzar, since they were sacred, removed them from profane use and brought them to the temples of those whom they cultivated as gods. His son, Belshazzar, however, had not learned his lesson sufficiently from his father’s disasters and did not calculate the penalty he should pay for such arrogance; having honoured, as he thought, these sacred vessels, he brought out the vessels once consecrated to God, drank from them – the wretch – and handed round the vessels that should not be touched to his fellow drinkers. While this was going on, the decision against the accursed wretch was produced and a hand of somebody invisible wrote on the wall the sentence of God. Belshazzar was held in doubt, unable to read or understand the import of what was written.
Then his mother brought into the court Daniel, who often solved such problems for his father. Daniel read and interpreted it and told him the cause of the punishment, saying: ‘We have been made captives to pay the penalty for our sins. And God has given those vessels consecrated by us to our vanquisher to teach us that he suffered us to offer sacrifices which he did not need and accepted our offerings as long as we remained holy, because he wished to be of help to us. But when we drifted into impiety, he rejected the gifts we offered. Your father, then, accepting the rebuke, worshipped as he thought best, withdrawing objects from profane use and offering them to his supposed gods. You have no use for such worship; you have fallen into the abyss of arrogance and have drunk from the sacred vessels. The reason the Lord gives you such a lesson to end your arrogance is not his care for inanimate objects, but his loving care for all, and he proposes your punishment as a lesson in discipline for many.’ So much he said, and that night Belshazzar paid the penalty.
Behold, then, how the Maker of the universe has always shown a loving care for mankind, not merely for the race of the descendants of Abraham, but for all the descendants of Adam; through one tribe he has led all tribes to a knowledge of himself. He used them for this purpose both when they were religious and when they were paying the penalty for their sins – for instance, Nebuchadnezzar, the arrogant tyrant, who raised up the golden image and called on all to adore it, saying: I will exalt my throne above the stars. I will ascend above the height of the clouds. I will be like the Most High. I will gather in my hand the whole earth as a nest, as eggs that lie abandoned will I gather it.