Patristic Lectionary – Wednesday, Third Week of Lent – 23 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 1: Michelangelo Buonarroti – detail from _Moses_ (ca 1515), housed in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. ]
Exodus 33:7-11, 18-23; 34:5-9, 29-35
Moses is Given the Full Revelation of God
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. And every one who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tent.
Moses said, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favour in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance.”
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
[ Image 2: Michelangelo Buonarroti – _Moses_ (ca 1515), housed in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. ]
_Expositio Psalmi CXVIII_ (_Commentary on Psalm 118_) 17:26-29 ( _Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum_ 62:390-92)
Let your face shine on your servant, and teach me your precepts. The Lord enlightens his saints and makes his light shine in the hearts of the just. This means that when you see wisdom in anyone you can be sure that the glory of God has come down and flooded that person’s mind with the light of understanding and knowledge of divine truth. With Moses, however, it was different: God’s glory affected his body also, causing his face to shine. Indeed, his countenance was so transfigured that the Jews were afraid to look at him, and he was obliged to cover his face with a veil so that the children of Israel should not be alarmed at the sight of it.
Now the face of Moses represents the splendour of the Law; yet this splendour is not to be found in the written letter but in the Law’s spiritual interpretation. As long as Moses lived, he wore a veil over his face whenever he spoke to the Jewish people. But after his death Jesus, or Joshua, the son of Nun, spoke to the elders and the people without a veil. When he did so no one was afraid, even though God had spoken to Joshua as well as to Moses, assuring him that he would be with him just as he had been with Moses and would make him resplendent also. Joshua’s glory, however, would be seen in his deeds rather than in his face. By this the Holy Spirit signified that when Jesus, the true Joshua, came, he would lift the veil from the heart of anyone who turned to him in willingness to listen, and that person would then see his true Saviour with unveiled face.
So it was that, through the coming of his Son, God the almighty Father made his light shine into the hearts of the Gentiles, bringing them to see his glory in the face of Christ Jesus. This is clearly stated in the Apostle’s letter, where we find the following written: The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has made his light shine in our hearts, to enlighten us with the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ Jesus.
And so when David says to the Lord Jesus: Let your face shine upon your servant, he is expressing his longing to see the face of Christ, so that his mind may be capable of enlightenment. These words can be taken as referring to the incarnation, for as the Lord himself declared: Many prophets and righteous men have desired to have this vision. David was not asking for what had been denied to Moses, namely that he might see the face of the incorporeal God with his bodily eyes. (And yet if Moses, who was such a wise and learned man, could ask for this direct, unmediated vision, it was because it is inherent in our human nature for our desire to reach out beyond us.) There was nothing wrong, therefore, in David’s desire to see the face of the Virgin’s Son who was to come; he desired it in order that God’s light might shine in his heart, as it shone in the hearts of the disciples who said: Were not our hearts burning within us when he opened up the Scriptures to us?