[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 – 8 March 2021 – Monday in the Third Week of Lent
[The image is of one of the panels from Augustin Pugin’s 1851 design of stained-glass windows for Bolton Priory, England. Jesus “made the blind see the light of day.” Cyril of Alexandria, Paschal Homilies 26.3]
Jesus, the Author of Salvation, Made Like His Brethren
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Paschal Homilies 26.3 (Patrologia Graeca 77:925)
For our sake Christ became a merciful high priest. The Law given to the people of Israel through the mouths of angels ordered the immediate punishment of those who fell into sin. Paul tells us that anyone who violates the Law of Moses is put to death on the evidence of two or three witnesses. Under the Law, therefore, priests never had the least thought of showing mercy to anyone convicted of negligence. But Christ became a merciful high priest. He did not punish people for their sins, but justified all by his grace and compassion. Moreover, he taught us how to worship in a spiritual way, and by giving us a clear vision of the truth, he showed us how to live worthily. This is the message of the Gospel.
Nevertheless, by teaching us the truth he did not mean to censure the Law of Moses, or to refute the ancient Prophets. It was a question rather of removing the shadow that overlay the writings of the Law, and of replacing symbols by worship in spirit and in truth. He made this perfectly plain when he said: Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them. I assure you that the Law will not lose a single dot or stroke until its purpose is achieved.
Changing types into the reality they signified was not nullifying, but fulfilling them. A painter, by covering his basic design with a variety of colour, does not destroy it but brings it out more clearly, and this is what Christ did when he transformed the crudity of symbols into the reality they represented.
Yet the people of Israel failed to understand this mystery, even though it had been foretold in many ways by both the Law and the Prophets. Indeed, Christ our Saviour himself tried to show them through many marvellous deeds that although for our sake he had become a man according to the divine dispensation, he was still God as he had always been. To help them to realize this he did things that were beyond the power of any man – God alone could perform such miracles. He raised the dead from their graves when they were already in a state of corruption; like the Creator, he made the blind see the light of day; he rebuked unclean spirits with authority; he cured lepers by a word of command; and there were other things he did that were marvellous beyond description. Therefore, if I am not acting as my Father would, he said to them, do not believe in me. But if I am, even if you do not believe in me, accept the evidence of my deeds.