[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 – 15 March 2021 – Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent
[The image is Dirk Bouts’s “The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek” (ca. 1465). (See Genesis 14:18)]
The Eternal Priesthood of Christ
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “Thou art a priest forever.” This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.
St. Augustine of Hippo
First Exposition of Psalm 33.5-6 (Works of St. Augustine, tr. Maria Boulding)
As you know, the Jews of old offered sacrifices proper to the order of Aaron, using animals as victims. This was a mysterious prophetic sign. The sacrifice of the Lord’s body and blood had not yet been offered; the faithful know about this, as do all who have read the Gospel, and this sacrifice is now widespread throughout the world. Keep both kinds of sacrifice before your mind’s eye, the one after the order of Aaron, the other after the order of Melchisedek; for Scripture says, The Lord has sworn, and will not change his mind: you are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek.
Now of whom is it said, You are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek? Of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who was Melchisedek? He was King of Salem. Salem was the original city, but the later city in the same place was called Jerusalem, according to the experts. So before ever the Jews established their Kingdom, the Priest Melchisedek was there, and Genesis describes him as a Priest of God Most High.
So great was Melchisedek that he could confer a blessing on Abraham. He set forth bread and wine, and blessed Abraham; and Abraham gave him tithes. Consider what he set forth and to whom he gave his blessing. Later on, David says in the Spirit to someone, You are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek. This was said long after Abraham’s day, yet Abraham was Melchisedek’s contemporary. To whom, then, does the prophecy refer? To whom else, but he whose sacrifice is known to you?
The sacrifice of Aaron was therefore superseded and the sacrifice according to the order of Melchisedek came into being. Our Lord Jesus Christ willed us to find salvation in his body and blood. But how could he make his body and blood available to us? Through his humility; for if he had not been humble, he could not have been eaten and drunk.
Contemplate his lofty Divinity: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God; he was God. That is eternal food, the angels eat it and in eating they are totally satisfied. What man could aspire to that food? Where could a human heart be found fit to eat food like that?
It was necessary for the banquet to be converted into milk if it was to become available to little ones. But how can food be turned into milk, except by being passed through flesh? This is what a mother does. What the mother eats, the baby eats too, but since the baby is unable to digest bread, the mother turns the bread into her own flesh, and through the humility of her breast and its supply of milk she feeds her baby with the same bread. How does the Wisdom of God feed us with bread? The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The eternal Word, equal to the Father, on whom the angels feed, has been eaten by men. He humbled himself and was made obedient unto death, even death on a cross, so that from the cross the Lord’s flesh and blood might be delivered to us today as the new sacrifice.