A Lenten Meditation

For Lancelot Andrewes celebrating the Nativity is our first Christmas and Easter is a second Christmas. At Christmas he becomes ours from his mother’s side. At Easter we become his by his Father’s side. Christmas makes us half-brothers, Easter communicates the ‘whole blood’. ‘Now by the Father and mother both, … we can not be more … This day’s (Easter) is the better birth by far.’

St Peter Chrysologus

In preparing for Easter here are some thoughts to ponder from Sermon 117 by St Peter Chrysologus, a contemporary and friend of St Leo. Born, c.406, at Forocornelium (Imola), he became bishop of Ravenna, c.433, and after an active and fruitful apostolate returned to his native town, where he died c.450. Only one of his letters is extant, addressed in 448 to Eutyches. This heretic, after his condemnation at the Council of Constantinople, had attempted to win the Bishop of Ravenna to his cause. Peter answered, referring him to the judgment of the pope, in whom St. Peter ‘teaches the truth of faith to those who seek it.’ His collection of sermons (176) was made by Felix (707–717), one of his successors. The contents are not all genuine; but there exists elsewhere under other names, discourses which are truly the work of Peter Chrysologus. Felix’s collection are mostly very short, like those of Leo, and remarkable for variety of tone and style, abundance of illustration and antithesis, and the frequency of brisk concise sentences which, with one word, depict a whole situation or drive home a truth. His concern is to expound Scripture or explain the Apostles’ Creed.

The Word, the Wisdom of God, was made flesh

The blessed apostle has recalled that two men gave a beginning to the human race, namely Adam and Christ: two men equal in physical nature but unequal in merit; truly alike in their bodily structure, but totally dissimilar in their own origin. ‘The first Adam’, he says, ‘became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’

That first Adam was made by this last, from whom he obtained the soul to give him life; the last was author of his own making: he did not look for life from another, but himself alone bestowed life on all. The first Adam is moulded from the vile dust of the earth, the second comes forth from the precious womb of the Virgin. In the first Adam earth is changed into flesh, in the last, flesh is raised up to God.

And what more? This last is the Adam, who when forming the first set his own image in him. Hence he assumed his role, and received his name to prevent the loss of what he had made to his own image. There is a first Adam, then, and a last Adam: the first has a beginning, this last has no end. Because this last is in truth himself the first, as he says, ‘I am the first and the last…’

‘As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.’ How shall those not born in such a condition be found so, remaining not as they were born, but as they were reborn?

This is the reason, brothers, why the heavenly Spirit makes fertile the womb of the virginal font, by the secret admixture of his light, that it may bring forth as heavenly creatures, and bring back to the likeness of their Creator, those whom their origin in earth’s dust had produced as men of dust in miserable state. So now reborn and refashioned to the likeness of our Creator, let us fulfil the apostle’s command: ‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven.’

Now reborn after the pattern of our Lord, as I have said, let us bear the full and complete image of our maker: not in majesty, in which he is alone, but in innocence, simplicity, meekness, patience, humility, mercy and concord-in which he deigned to become and to be one with us.

Benedictus of Ephraem of Edessa

Blessed be he who in his love stooped to redeem mankind!

Blessed be the King who made himself poor to enrich the needy! Blessed be he who came to fulfil the types and emblems of the prophets! Blessed be he who made creation rejoice with the wealth and treasure of his Father! Blessed be he whose glory the dumb sang with hosannas! Blessed be he to whom little children sang new glory in hymns of praise! Blessed be the new King who came that newborn babes might glorify him! Blessed be he unto whom children brought faltering songs to praise him among his disciples!

Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, Hon Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St Chad’s College.