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—30 November 2020, St. Andrew
The Sign of Immanuel
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but they could not conquer it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim”, his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go forth to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabe-el as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord GOD: It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. (Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces so that it will no longer be a people.) And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.’”
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Commentarium in Isaiam Prophetam 1.4 (Patrologia Graeca 70, 204A-205D)
Some of those who have translated the divine Scriptures have rendered this text: ‘Behold a young woman shall conceive.’ It seems to the Jews that the mother of the Lord should be indicated by the expression ‘young woman’ rather than be called a virgin. For they think it possible to invalidate the power of the mystery if she is called a young woman rather than a virgin. One may note their ignorance on a number of levels. First, even if the virgin is called a young woman, that does not exclude her from being a virgin. Secondly, they say that the prophet uttered these words about the wife of Ahaz, so that we should take this to refer to the birth of Hezekiah. But, my friends, one might say to them, who has called Hezekiah Emmanuel? Or how can it be proved that before he had knowledge of good and evil he rejected wickedness and chose the good? We therefore say farewell to their quibbling and welcome what is right and true, believing that in this prophecy God is indicating the Holy Virgin to us.
For in this way there will truly be a miracle and a great sign, in both its depth and its height, that has come about in accordance with the divine promise. For he who is from above, and is by nature the only-begotten Son of God the Father, emptied himself and was brought forth from a virginal womb according to the flesh, receiving his generation not from the human emission of seed but from the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. For that is why it was said to the holy Virgin by the mouth of the blessed Gabriel: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. She will in consequence, he says, bear a son.
See how, in order to show that he was truly God as well as man, the prophet assigned to him attributes that were both divine and human. For when he says that he was given food suitable for infants, namely butter and honey, he is trying to assure us that he came to be in the flesh in reality. Then he teaches that although he did indeed become flesh he was nonetheless as God superior to sin, for he adds at once: For before the child knows good and evil, he will reject evil and choose the good. For men who have not yet arrived at puberty cannot discern what is vicious and what is good. This phrase therefore signifies that it belongs to the divine nature to be irrevocably fixed on the good. This is also true of Christ as, though he came into being according to the flesh through the Holy Virgin, he was holy as God both from the womb and before it, seeing that he did not lose his own prerogatives on account of his human nature.
Neither did he ignore what pertains to human nature on account of the dispensation of the Incarnation, in order that he might be believed to have become like us in reality, and might sanctify this created nature of ours.