[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 – 3 May 2021 – Sts. Philip and James, Apostles
[The image is an ivory plaque depicting St. John the Evangelist. The plaque is from the Carolingian era, early ninth century, and is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City]
Revelation 19: 11-21
The Victory of the Word of God
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
Commentary on the Gospel of John 2:46-49, 56-57, 59-61 (Fathers of the Church 80 (1989), tr. Ronald E. Heine
To advance in understanding the matters pertaining to the ‘Word of God’, we must contemplate what is suggested by the heaven being opened, the white horse, and the fact that the one called the Word of God, who, in addition to being the Word of God, is also said to be faithful and true, and one who judges and fights with justice, is seated on the white horse.
Now I think that heaven has been closed to those who are impious and who bear ‘the image of the earthly’, but opened to those who are just and who have been adorned with ‘the image of the heavenly’. For the higher things have been closed to the first group, inasmuch as they are below and are still in the flesh, because they cannot understand them nor their beauty, for they do not wish to perceive them. But he opened the heavenly places with the key of David to be contemplated by the superior group, inasmuch as they have citizenship in heaven. The divine Word opens them and explains them by riding a horse. The horse is the words which proclaim the meanings. He is white because the nature of the knowledge is remarkable and white and luminous.
And he who is called ‘faithful’ sits on the white horse, seated on words which cannot be overturned, words which run faster and swifter than any horse, and which surpass every opponent in their rush, that is, every supposed word which is a dissembler of the Word. But he who is on the white horse is called ‘faithful’, not so much because he trusts, as because he is trustworthy, for according to Moses, the Lord is faithful and true. For he is also true in distinction to a shadow and a type, and he is an image since the Word in the opened heaven is an image. For the Word on earth is not like the Word in heaven, inasmuch as he has become flesh and is expressed by means of a shadow and types and images.
Further, John says most admirably in his statements about the Word mounted on the white horse, His eyes were as a flame of fire. For as the flame is bright and at the same time illuminating, and further also has a nature that is fiery and consumes the more material elements, so the eyes of the Word with which he sees, and everyone who participates in him, destroy and obliterate the more material and gross elements of thoughts by grasping them by means of the spiritual powers inherent in him. He is also said to have a name written which no one knows except himself, for this living Word alone understands some things because of the natural inferiority in those who came into existence after him. None of them can contemplate all the things which he grasps. And perhaps also only those who share in the Word, in contradistinction to those who do not, know what the latter are missing.
Now John does not see the Word of God mounted on a horse naked. He is clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood, since the Word who became flesh, and died because he became flesh, is invested with traces of that passion, since his blood also was poured forth upon the earth when the soldier pierced his side. For, perhaps, even if in some way we obtain the most sublime and highest contemplation of the Word and of the truth, we shall not forget completely that we were introduced to him by his coming in our body.