Theodoret on Deuteronomy, from “A word in season” by the Augustinian Press

Church lectionaries sometimes contain English translations of chunks of the fathers.  I came across this one on Facebook here.

Tuesday after Septuagesima:

A READING FROM QUESTIONS ON DEUTERONOMY BY THEODORET OF CYRRHUS

After the Lord God had brought the people out of Egypt, he gave them, on Mount Sinai, the Law that was to govern the behaviour of the children of Israel. Then, in the second year, he sent them to take possession of the land he had promised their fathers he would give them. But they absolutely refused to set out on the conquest of the country. Then God swore he would not give this land to any of those whom Moses, the lawgiver, had counted but would let them all perish in the wilderness. After forty more years had passed and that entire generation had died in accordance with God’s decree, the Lord ordered a census of their children; the latter were then at the age their fathers had been at the time of the first census.

Before God led them into the promised land, he taught them, through his minister, Moses the prophet, the Law he had given to their fathers and which their fathers had disobeyed. This is why Deuteronomy contains a recapitulation of the events and legal codes found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. There was no question of giving them a second law but of reminding them of the first set of laws, as the book itself tells us at its beginning: Moses began to teach this law clearly to them, saying: The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb. Moses reminds them of how the Lord had told them to enter the promised land and take possession of it and how he himself had appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as leader of the people.

Then Moses reminds them of how the God of the universe had shown himself to them: he had spoken to them from the midst of fire, but without displaying any form. They are therefore forbidden to fashion any image or to try making for themselves a representation of God, for they had not seen any form of him who is the archetype of all things. “Everything under heaven,” he tells them, “has been made by the creator for the use of men. Do not turn into gods that which the God of the universe has destined to serve the needs of man.”

You realise, of course, that the prophet did not address all these words to the people in a single day, but rather explained them day after day. This fact explains why he often repeats the same ideas, in order that persistent repetition might strengthen their memory of them. Elsewhere the words of the prophet himself show that he is not here giving a new law but instructing in the first law those who, because they were so young, had not been able to hear its promulgation: The Lord your God, he says, made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with your fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with you. Since these fathers had perished because of their sin, it was to them, their children, that the Lord was giving the land once promised to their fathers, that is, to those to whom he was giving the Law.

— Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Questions on Deuteronomy 1 (PG 80:401-408)

On enquiry I was told that this is from A Word in Season, vol. II, 2nd ed., Villanova: Augustinian Press (1999).  This, it seems, is a collection of volumes by English Benedictines, containing readings from the fathers for two years.  This blog tells us:

The English Benedictines also produced a set of volumes for the two-year lectionary, A Word in Season, Augustinian Press, 2nd edition 1999. These contain the Scriptural references but not texts; and texts of second readings, mostly patristic, but a number from more contemporary sources. These volumes contain responsories for each reading. Copies of some volumes are available from Stanbrook Abbey bookshop and occasionally come up on AbeBooks. There is an especially good representation of English spiritual writers.

The very generic title, unfortunately, makes it hard to find these volumes, but I could see that volumes of an earlier edition (1995) were on Abebooks, and some marked as edited by John E. Rotelle.  Google books indicated that they were translated by Edith Barnecut.

However, it seems that there is no need to track these volumes down.  For precisely the same entry is to be found in a two-year lectionary which is freely available at Durham University.  It is here.  The editor writes:

In the English-speaking world there was an attempt to produce a two-year patristic lectionary led by Henry Ashworth which became the eight volume series of books ‘A Word in Season’, most recently published by Augustinian Press. The later volumes in this series, however, departed from the strict concept of a ‘patristic’ lectionary and took the majority of readings from later periods of Church history. Given the special place of the fathers in the history and theology of the Church and the fact that they are part of the patrimony of all Christians, some felt it would be better to have a two-year lectionary which drew most of its readings from the early Church. On this basis Abbot Hugh Gilbert OSB of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland asked me to create a two-year cycle of patristic readings for use at the Abbey.

Worth being aware that there is a mass of useful material here.

Leave a Reply