[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a 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. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—28 December 2020, The Holy Innocents
[The image is of François-Joseph Navez’s “The Massacre of the Innocents” (1824).]
Exodus 1:8-16, 22
There came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies. They might take arms against us and so escape out of the country.’ Accordingly they put slavedrivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. The Egyptians forced the sons of Israel into slavery, and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and with brick, all kinds of work in the fields; they forced on them every kind of labour.
The king of Egypt then spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah. ‘When you midwives attend Hebrew women,’ he said ‘watch the two stones carefully. If it is a boy, kill him; if a girl, let her live.’
Pharaoh then gave his subjects this command: ‘Throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, but let all the girls live.’
[Quodvultdeus was a deacon, then Bishop, of Carthage in the early fifth century. He corresponded with St. Augustine, who dedicated some of his writings to him and served as his spiritual mentor. Like Augustine, Quodvultdeus was an opponent of Arianism, the heresy that denied the divinity and co-equality of Jesus with God the Father. Carthage was seized by the Arian King of the Vandals, Geiseric, and Quodvultdeus was exiled. He landed at Naples in Italy, where he continued his ministry, dying in 450 A.D.]
Sermo 2 de Symbolo (Patrologia Latina 40, 655)
Even before they learn to speak, they proclaim Christ A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.
Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.
You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.
Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.
The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the saviour already working salvation.
But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.
How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.