Patristic Lectionary (Year 1) – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Second Sunday after Epiphany) – 15 January 2023
[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: Caravaggio (attributed), _Sacrificio d’Isacco_ (ca. 1603). (The following comments, from John T. Spike’s _Caravaggio_ (2001), are available online here.) This and another painting of the same subject might be the work of Caravaggio (1571-1610) or of Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (1587-1625), who followed the style of Caravaggio. The use of chiaroscuro (tenebrism)—one of Caravaggio’s signature characteristics—is used dramatically. Though the faces of Abraham and Isaac are in shadow, the emotion is intense (perhaps even more so because they are in shadow, in contrast to the light on the angel’s face). Expressive too are the placement of hands. The angel’s right hand rests on the ram’s head; Abraham’s left, on Isaac’s. Abraham’s other hand, holding the knife, already relaxes as the angel conveys the message. The ram is a symbol on several levels: “In the Biblical era, the ram’s horn was a symbol of power. Referred to as a shofar, the ram’s horn was used in battle to alert warriors.” In this context especially, both the ram and, as St. Cyril points out, Isaac-being-sacrificed comprise “a type of Christ.”]
Abraham Justified by Faith
What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.”
Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants – not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” – in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, “So shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. But the words, it was reckoned to him, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Commentary on John, X ( Patrologia Graeca 74:386-7 )
It is written in a book of Moses that Abraham believed in God and that his faith was counted as righteousness and he was called a friend of God. How did he show his faith, and why was he called God’s friend? He heard God say to him: Leave your own land and your kindred, and go to the land that I will show you. When he was commanded to sacrifice his only son as a type of Christ, he learned God’s hidden purpose. Hence the Saviour’s remark about him to the Jews: Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.
It was therefore through obedience and sacrifice that Abraham came to be called a friend of God, and won his glorious crown of righteousness. Nor was this all; he was even deemed worthy to converse with God, and he knew God’s plan, which was to be accomplished in the last days. For in the fullness of time Christ died for us, he who was the truly sacred and holy sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.
But now see how events have repeated themselves for those who rise through faith to the friendship of our Saviour Christ. They too heard the command to leave their country, and that they left it eagerly we know from their own declaration that We have here no lasting city, but seek one that is to come, whose builder and maker is God. For those who are citizens of heaven are strangers and sojourners on earth; so great is their love for God that they have abandoned as it were their native land, and long for the resting place above. The Saviour gave them a glimpse of this when he said to them: I am going to prepare a place for you; and when I come again I will take you with me, so that where I am you may be also. They heard the command to leave their kindred. How shall we show this? We will refer to Christ’s own words: Anyone who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me. There can be no doubt that relationship with God comes before earthly and physical relationship, and that among his followers love for Christ is far stronger than any other love. Blessed Abraham was commanded to offer his own son to God as a fragrant odour; others, girded with the righteousness of faith, are commanded to offer only themselves. Present your bodies, wrote the Apostle, as a living sacrifice, holy and well pleasing to God – that is your spiritual worship. Of these it is also written: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh, with its passions and desires.
Such people know the mystery that is in Christ, since they know the powers of the age to come, and what will happen at the end of time, when they will receive the rewards of their labours, and the recompense for their devotion to Christ. Thus, like Abraham, we shall be called righteous and friends of God.