[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 – 11 March 2021 – Thursday in the Third Week of Lent
[The image is from Hugh Easton’s 1952 windows at Christ the Saviour, Ealing]
Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10
Jesus Christ, Our High Priest
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honour upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee; as he says also in another place, Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Letter 63:47-50 (Patrologia Latina 16:1253-1254)
Our Lord was the good physician who bore our infirmities and cured our ills; yet he did not arrogate to himself the glory of becoming high priest; this was conferred on him by the Father when he said: You are my Son, today 1 have begotten you. He also says elsewhere: You are a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek. Since as a priest he was to be the model of all priests, he became one of us, so that during his earthly life he might offer up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and tears, to God his Father; and, Son though he was, he might learn obedience through suffering. This obedience was his lesson to us; in this way he became the source of salvation for us all. When at last he had reached the full measure of his sufferings and his obedience had been perfected, he healed us and took away our sins.
In the same way, it was God himself who chose Aaron to be the high priest making it clear that the choice would not depend on the will of man but on the favour of God. None was to propose himself for the priesthood or take it upon himself: it was to be a heavenly vocation. The one who was to offer sacrifice for sins would be someone capable of sympathizing with sinners, aware, as Scripture says, that he too was beset by weakness. No one may confer the honour of the priesthood on himself; it is for the one called to it by God, as Aaron was. Even Christ did not arrogate the priesthood to himself; it was conferred on him. Since succession in the office of high priest was reckoned by descent from Aaron, those who were descended from him did not necessarily inherit his holiness. This is why Christ came as the fulfilment of what was foreshadowed in Melchizedek, the true king of peace; his very name means true king of holiness. He has no father, no mother, no genealogy; his years have no beginning, his life no end. All of this applies to the Son of God, who had no mother in his divine generation, no father when born of the Virgin Mary; begotten of the Father alone before time began, born of a virgin alone when he entered this world of time. Since there can be no doubt that he who is from eternity had no beginning, how can there be any ending for him who gives its being to everything that exists? He is truly the beginning and end of all things. These words also point to the ideal for every priest, namely, that he should be, as it were, without father or mother; that is, chosen not by reason of his aristocratic birth, but because of his moral integrity and outstanding virtue.
A priest should be a person of faith and mature character. It is not enough for him to have only one of these qualities; he must have both, together with good deeds to prove it. And so the apostle Paul would have us imitate those who, through faith and long-suffering, have inherited the promises made to Abraham, the man who, by his patient endurance, deserved to receive the blessings promised him and the grace which sanctified him. And the prophet David urges us to emulate the holiness of Aaron, a man he placed among the Lord’s saints when he said: Moses and Aaron are among his priests, and Samuel among those who call on his name.