Patristic Lectionary – 30 December – Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Patristic Lectionary – 30 December – Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

[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.]

[Image: North cloister walk at Hauterive Abbey, Switzerland]

Song of Songs 1:11 – 2:7

Dialogue Between the Lover and the Beloved, Interpreted as Christ and the Church

We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.

While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely. Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine.

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens.

As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am sick with love. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Sermon 46 On the Song of Songs (Cistercian Fathers 7, tr. Kilian Walsh, O.C.S.O. 1976)

Our bed is covered with flowers; the beams of our houses are of cedar, the panelling of cypress. She is singing her marriage-song, describing in beautiful language the marriage bed and bridal suite. She invites the bridegroom to repose: for the better thing is to remain at ease and be with Christ; but necessity drives one forth to help those who are to be saved. So now when she feels that the opportunity presents itself, she announces that the bridal suite has been furnished, and pointing to the bed with her finger she invites, as I have said, the Beloved to rest there. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus she cannot contain the ardour in her heart, but entices him to be the guest of her soul, compels him to spend the night with her. With Peter she says: Lord it is good for us to be here.

Let us now seek the spiritual content of these words. And indeed in the Church the ‘bed’ where one reposes is, in my opinion, the cloisters and monasteries, where one lives undisturbed by the cares of the world and the anxieties of life. This bed is seen to be adorned with flowers when the conduct and life of the brothers brightly reflect the examples and rules of the Fathers, as if strewn with sweet smelling flowers. By ‘houses’ understand the ordinary communities of Christians. Those who enjoy high office, the Christian leaders of both orders, strongly bind them together with laws justly imposed, as beams bind the walls, lest living by their own law and will, they should fall apart from each other like tilting walls and tottering fences, and thus the whole building fall to the ground and be destroyed. The panelling however, which is firmly attached to the beams, and impressively adds to the beauty of the house, seems to me to designate the courteous and disciplined behaviour of a well-trained clergy, who carry out their duties correctly. For how shall the clerical orders stand and fulfil their duties unless they are sustained, as by beams, by the beneficence and munificence of those who govern and protect by their power?

It is worth noting how beautifully every state of the Church is comprehended in one brief expression: the authority of prelates, the good repute of the clergy, the dutifulness of the people, the peacefulness of the monks. As she reflects on these, holy Mother Church rejoices when everything is right; and then she presents them to the beloved to contemplate, since she refers everything to his goodness as the author of all things, attributing nothing of them all to herself.

For the rest, when you hear or read these words of the Holy Spirit, do you think you can apply to yourself some of what is said? Can you recognize in yourself any share in the happiness of the bride that is celebrated by the Holy Spirit himself in this song of love?

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