[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, this is a series of occasional 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. R. M. Healey’s edition is also used if there are lacunae in the Durham edition. Click here for the link to Healey’s formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 5 October 2021 – Tuesday, Eighteenth Week in Trinitytide
2 Kings 18:17-36
Threats by Assyrian King’s Envoys Against Jerusalem
And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fullers Field. And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this confidence of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. But if you say to me, “We rely on the LORD our God”, is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?” Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders upon them. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Pray, speak to your servants in the Aramaic language, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”
Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. Do not let Hezekiah make you to rely on the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat of his own vine, and every one of his own fig tree, and every one of you will drink the water of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The LORD will deliver us. Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the countries have delivered their countries out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.”
St. Maximos the Confessor
“Various Texts on Theology” 3.2, 3, 9-11, Philokalia 2 (tr. G. E. H. Palmer, et alii)
[Maximus the Confessor – 7th-c monk, theologian. He was tortured (not executed, hence the identification as a confessor) because of his role in the Monothelite controversy that raged especially in Carthage and Constantinople.]
When any devout philosopher fortified with ascetic practice and contemplation sees the power of evil rising up against him through the passions, like the king of the Assyrians rising up against Hezekiah, he is aware that only with God’s help can he escape. He invokes God’s mercy by crying out silently and by striving to advance still further in virtue and knowledge. He then receives as an ally, or rather as his salvation, an angel: one of the higher principles of wisdom and knowledge who cuts off every mighty man, warrior, leader and commander in the camp.
Every passion has its origin in the corresponding sensible object. For without some object to attract the powers of the soul through the senses, no passion would ever be generated. In other words, without a sensible object a passion does not come into being: without a woman there is no unchastity; without food there is no gluttony; without gold there is no love of money, and so on. Thus at the origin of every impassioned stimulation of our natural powers there is a sensible object or, in other terms, a demon inciting the soul to commit sin by means of the sensible object.
The wrath of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him. Through this painful experience of unsought sufferings God often abases and humbles an intellect concerned about its knowledge and virtue; for such sufferings make it conscious of itself and its own weakness. When the intellect perceives its own weakness it rejects the vain pretensions of the heart.
The wrath of God is the suspension of gifts of grace – a most salutary experience for the self-inflated intellect that boasts of the blessings bestowed by God as if they were its own achievement.
The intellect of every true philosopher and gnostic possesses both Judah and Jerusalem; Judah is practical philosophy and Jerusalem is contemplative initiation. Whenever by the grace of God such an intellect repels the powers of evil with virtue and spiritual knowledge and wins a complete victory over them, yet does not thank God the true author of this victory, but boasts that the achievement is its own, it brings down the wrath of God’s abandonment not only on itself but also on Judah and Jerusalem, that is, on both its practice of the virtues and its contemplative life. It has failed to give thanks to God for the gifts that he has given. God at once permits shameful passions to vitiate its practice of the virtues and to sully its conscience, which until then was pure. He also permits false concepts to insinuate themselves into its contemplation of created beings and to pervert its spiritual knowledge, which until then had been sound. For ignoble passions immediately attack an intellect that is over-elated because of its spiritual knowledge and such an intellect will be permitted by God’s just judgement to lapse from true contemplation.