Patristic Lectionary (Year 1) – Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time (Ferial Day following the First Sunday after Epiphany) – 14 January 2021
[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: St. Aelred of Rievaulx in a medieval illumination – Bibliothèque municipale de Douai (MS 392 f.3) ]
The Disobedience of Israel
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.
Aelred of Rievaulx
Speculum Caritatis (The Mirror of Charity) 10-11
Charity – a short word indeed, but with its meaning of perfect and unalloyed love it sums up the whole human attitude to God and his creatures; or, to use our Lord’s own explanation, it is on charity that all the Law and the Prophets depend. Surely for us, then, there can be no need to demand great signs and miracles as the Jews were wont to do. For charity gives the soul a spiritual circumcision: the delights of a never ending sabbath, the saving victims offered by the loving soul to God, the perfumed incense and fragrant smoke of sacrifice – these are merely some of the fruits of charity when it is firmly rooted in the soul. Yet none can flourish or even live in a soul where charity is not present.
The circumcision effected in the soul by charity is the complete casting off of our baser inclinations as they affect both body and soul. The result is that the flames of lust are quenched and anger’s heat is cooled. Tempering also the appetites of gluttony, charity further roots out all envy and banishes completely the mother of all vices, pride. And it so soothes the sting of melancholy in the soul that even accidie, that spiritual torpor which is the aftermath of melancholy, is waylaid. Yet another effect of charity’s circumcision of the soul is that munificence cuts the shackles of graspingness so that nothing – least of all the desire for wealth – can take God’s place in the soul’s devotion.
Surely no physical operation could have greater effect than this spiritual circumcision which amputates vice, drains the pus of sin, removes the dead skin of original sin, and burns away the gangrene of long-standing evil. Then the mind is untroubled by fear or worry, for the calm of perfect love reigns there. Lust’s evil desires can leave no stain, anger’s raging will never again sear the soul, nor will pride inflate it with self-importance. Gone is the blinding desire for earthly glory together with the heat of anger and the sting of ambition. No longer does the soul yearn for masses of worldly wealth, no more can sadness make it downcast nor envy gnaw at it. For as Saint Paul tells us, when charity reigns in the soul, there is no envy or double-dealing, no arrogance or self-centredness, no self-pity or self-aggrandizement.
It is easy to see, then, that the circumcision of the soul destroys all evil at the same time as it purifies all the senses of the body, just as the surgeon’s knife cores out a poisoned wound.