Patristic Lectionary – Tuesday, Third Week of Lent – 22 March 2022

Patristic Lectionary – Tuesday, Third Week of Lent – 22 March 2022

[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: Master Honoré’s illumination of Exodus 32:6.  The illumination was commissioned by Louis IX ca. 1290 for the moral treatise, _La Somme le Roy_, written 1279 by Laurent de Bois, O.P., confessor to Philippe III. ]

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Exodus 32:1-20

The Golden Calf

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.’” And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.

And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it upon the water, and made the people of Israel drink it.

St. John of Damascus

On the Divine Images III.4, 6, 8 (tr. Andrew Louth)

God, the best physician of souls, prohibits from making images those who are still infants and ill with a diseased inclination to idolatry, those who are apt to venerate idols as gods. For it is impossible to make an image of God who is incorporeal, invisible, and with neither shape nor circumscription; how can what cannot be seen be depicted? That they did venerate idols as gods, listen to what Scripture says in Exodus, when Moses went up on to Mount Sinai and was there for some time, waiting to receive the Law from God. The senseless people rose up against the servant of God, Aaron, saying, Make us gods to go before us; as for this man, Moses, we do not know what has become of him.

I know what the One who cannot lie said: The Lord your God is one Lord, and you shall not make any carved likeness, of anything in heaven or on the earth, and all who venerate carved images shall be put to shame. I venerate one God, one divinity but also I worship a trinity of persons, God the Father and God the Son incarnate and God the Holy Spirit. I do not offer three venerations, but one, not to each of the persons separately, but I offer one veneration to the three persons together as one God. I do not venerate the creation instead of the creator, but I venerate the Creator, created for my sake, who came down to his creation that he might glorify my nature and bring about communion with the divine nature. I venerate together with the King and God the purple robe of his body, not as a garment, nor as a fourth person (God forbid!), but as unchangeably equal to God and the source of anointing. For the nature of the flesh did not become divinity, but as the Word became flesh immutably, remaining what it was, so also the flesh became the Word without losing what it was, being rather made equal to the Word hypostatically.

Therefore I am emboldened to depict the invisible God, not as invisible, but as he became visible for our sake, by participation in flesh and blood. I do not depict the invisible divinity, I depict God made visible in the flesh.

It was, therefore, for the Jews, on account of their sliding into idolatry, that these things were ordained by the Law. To speak theologically, however, we, who, passing beyond childhood to reach maturity, are no longer under a custodian, have received the habit of discrimination from God and know what can be depicted and what cannot be delineated in an image. For it is now clear that you cannot depict the invisible God. When you see the bodiless become human for your sake, then you may accomplish the figure of a human form; then you may depict him on a board  and set up to view the One who has accepted to be seen. Depict his ineffable descent, his birth from the Virgin, his being baptized in the Jordan, his transfiguration on Tabor, what he endured to secure our freedom from passion, the miracles which are symbols of his divine nature and activity accomplished through the activity of the flesh, the saving tomb of the Saviour, the resurrection, the ascent into heaven. Depict all these in words and in colours, in books and on tablets.

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