[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 – 30 January 2021 – Ferial Day Following the Third Sunday after Epiphany; Saturday, Third Week in Ordinary Time
[The image is of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Olive Orchard,” painted in mid-June of 1889.]
“If the Root is Holy, so are the Branches”
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an Apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Adversus Haereses 5.9.4-10 (Sources Chrétiennes 153:122-6)
To save us from forfeiting life by losing the Spirit who possesses us, and to exhort us to share in the Spirit, the Apostle declares that it is impossible for flesh and blood to gain possession of the kingdom of God. In other words: Do not deceive yourselves, for if the Word of God and the Spirit of the Father do not dwell in you, and you lead a life of vanity and carelessness, as though you were merely flesh and blood, you cannot obtain the kingdom of God.
He says this to prevent us from indulging our physical nature and spurning the grafting of the spirit, for when you were a wild olive, he says, you were grafted into the cultivated olive and came to share that olive’s rich sap. So just as with a grafted wild olive, if the graft fails to take, it is cut off and thrown into the fire, but if the graft is successful and the wild olive takes on the qualities of the cultivated one, it develops into a fruitful olive, like one planted in a royal garden, so we too, if faith leads us to reform and we receive the Spirit of God and produce the fruit of that Spirit, we too shall be spiritual, as if planted in the garden of God; but if we spurn the Spirit and remain what we were before, choosing to belong to the flesh rather than the Spirit, we would rightly be told: It is impossible for flesh and blood to gain possession of the kingdom of God: in other words, no wild olive will be admitted into God’s garden. Thus in comparing flesh and blood with the wild olive, the Apostle has given us a wonderful picture of our nature and of the whole of God’s plan for us.
The olive, if neglected and left to grow for a time in some deserted spot, becomes a wild olive again and produces poor fruit, but if it is taken care of once more and grafted, it returns to its earlier fertility. And it is the same with us. We too may become careless and allow the bad fruit of worldly desires to grow in us, and by our own fault fail to bear the fruits of righteousness. While we sleep, the enemy sows weeds, which is why the Lord commanded his disciples to be watchful. If, however, when we have become barren of righteousness and as it were entangled in brambles, we are cared for again and receive the word of God like a graft, we then return to our original nature, the nature created in the image and likeness of God.