Judith: Chapter 10 Commentary

Paolo Veronese (circle of), Judith Leaving Bethulia, Oil on canvas, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, England, UK

I’m pleased to make available a draft of my translation of the commentary by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus on the tenth chapter of Judith!

(A brief aside in explanation of the delay… As I mentioned a while back, I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-hodgkins lymphoma back in 2017. I underwent chemotherapy for six months and was unable to pay much attention to this type of work for quite some time. At this time I am in remission. Glory to God! In addition to medical issues, I also made a move from Colorado to North Carolina. My family and I are settled into our new home and I am now starting to get back into some of my old projects.)

In chapter 10, Judith departs Bethulia, making her way to the camp of the Assyrians and to Holofernes himself. Below I present some highlights from the commentary.

The paradigm of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant is often used to help understand both the visible and invisible parts of the Church. The Church Triumphant is comprised of all those saints who have triumphantly completed the race of this life and are now joined together with all the bodiless powers of heaven that we don’t see. “The Church which is militant upon earth in essence also is triumphant in the victory performed by the Saviour, but it is still undergoing battle with the ‘prince of this world,’ a battle which will end with the defeat of satan and the final casting of him into the lake of fire” (quoted from Orthodox Dogmatic Theology).

As I have noted in previous posts in this series, Rabanus considers Judith to be a type of the Holy Church. Judith brings her maid along with her. In this chapter, he likens this maid to a combatant in the Church Militant (Verse 8):

What does it mean that Judith, about to go forth into combat, gave those things necessary for her along the way to her maid to carry, unless it means that the Holy Church, hastening to contend against the enemy in the stadium of this world, makes use of certain corporeal ones according to her own needs for the present work. If they faithfully carry this out, they can attain true freedom, in such a way that they are made joint heirs and participants in future proprietorship, like the renowned free maid released by Judith her mistress, recalled at the end of this book.

Judith’s passage is interrupted by the watchmen of the Assyrians. Rabanus likens these watchmen to the philosophers and philologists of the Gentiles and draws a parallel between how they take Judith to Holofernes’ tent and how these “watchmen” turn the Christians over to the secular authorities. When Judith is in the custody of Holofernes, he treats her well and Rabanus likewise draws parallels to historical incidents when the secular authorities treated these Christians well. For example (verses 19-20):

From this point onward in the Ecclesiastical Histories it is also found that the leaders of the Gentiles themselves, with the gentleness and moderation of the faithful having been seen, ceased to impose punishments and force upon them. Just as Tiberius Caesar established edicts lest anything might set in motion adversity and opposition to the teaching of Christ, and threatened death to the accusers of the Christians, so also the Emperor Claudius, even though he afflicted the Jews with diverse calamities, did not harm the Christians.

Finally, Judith shows respect to Holofernes by prostrating herself before him. Rabanus teaches through this that we should likewise show honor where honor is due (verse 25):

That Judith pays homage to Holofernes is not an apprehensive confounding of role, but a preservation of order. For as often as holy men bestow honor upon an earthly power—not out of the vice of flattery, but from the duty of honor—they do this.

In support of this teaching he provides many examples from scripture, such as when Elijah prostrated himself before King Ahab (verse 29):

Regarding this, the prophet Elias is found in Kings to have paid homage to the evil king Achab, by no means with the piety of religious devotion, but with the duty of honor (3 Kgs 18:41–43).

For further information about this translation project, please see my series of posts on Judith.

Judith: Chapter 8 Commentary

judith-veronese-2

Paolo Veronese, Judith Receiving the Ancients of Bethulia, oil on canvas.

I’m pleased to make available a draft of my translation of the commentary by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus on the eighth chapter of Judith. This chapter was nearly twice the length of previous chapters and so took some extra time (in addition to relaxing my focus on this work during Lent).

In this chapter Judith chastises the elders for setting dates. They had essentially given God a timeline to dish out his mercy upon them and agreed to give up the city if God hadn’t made himself known in five days. Judith, and rightly so, tells them that this was a very audacious thing to do and that they now need to pour out their souls in fasting, prayer, and repentance and hope they haven’t angered God. She makes her own plans and leaves them at the city gates to watch and pray.

There are a few interesting highlights in the commentary that I’d like to point out. First, Rabanus, like other Fathers before him, likes numerology. The strongest example of this follows (verse 7):

Furthermore, the very same Judith is found in the Scripture begotten in the fifteenth generation, which undoubtedly signifies that the Church itself emerged from the Patriarchs and Apostles through the number seven and the number eight of the Law and of the Gospel, and is appointed so that the glory of Heaven might be merited; for this number of steps was mystically presented in the Psalter and will reveal a type of the future ascension into the heavens, arriving at which the saints are justly able to say, “Behold now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord: Who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God” (Ps 133:1).

Rabanus follows the example of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who uses this same combination of seven and eight in discussing how high the water rose above the mountains during the flood. Augustine connects the fact that the water rose fifteen cubits above the mountains with baptism, which represents our regeneration, noting that the seventh day of rest (which epitomizes the Law), is thus connected with the eighth day of our resurrection (which epitomizes the Gospel) through this aggregate number of 15.

In the Vulgate and Septuagint, Psalms 119-133 (in translations based on the Masoretic Text like the King James Version, these are Psalms 120-134) are a sequence of fifteen Psalms or Odes of Ascent, also known as Graduals (note that gradus is the Latin word for step). Some scholars believe that these Psalms were sung by the Israelites as they made the journey to Jerusalem for the three great feasts. These Graduals continue to play a significant role in both the eastern and western liturgies. In the eastern rite, their principal use comes as the Church progresses through Lent toward Pascha. In the traditional western rite, these are sung at the third, sixth, and ninth hours on weekdays.

The second highlight that I would like to emphasize is that Rabanus sees the Ten Commandments as a an ancient and obsolete law. He likens Judith’s dead husband to the ten commandments, saying (verse 9):

She had Manasses for a husband, whose name is interpreted forgetful or necessity; who also, standing in the barley harvest over those binding sheaves in the field, died when the heat came upon his head. This is because she is discerned to be bound and subject either to the Ten Commandments of the Law or to a tribal custom from ancient times, but, with the coming Christ and with the sun of the Gospel growing brighter in the world, all that observance of the flesh ceased, and just as the gathering of the meager harvest came to a rapid finish, it was transferred through Christ to cultivation of the spiritual.

Rabanus teaches that the ancient law is a practice “of the flesh” and under the new covenant we are to cultivate the spirit rather than the flesh.

The third highlight that I would like to emphasize is how Rabanus Maurus speaks about prayer (verse 26).

“When therefore she had heard that Ozias had promised that he would deliver up the city after the fifth day” (Jdt 8:9), she reproved the idea, judging it inappropriate to establish for the Lord the time of His mercy, since He alone knew both the time and the manner of His mercy before all things; and because of this it is inappropriate for anyone to impudently demand anything of the Lord, but rather to refer everything to his judgment, just as a certain one of the Fathers is observed to have said as much in a prayer: “Son of God, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.”

Rabanus is here quoting a prayer of Saint Macarius the Great. The full saying follows:

Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.1

Finally, while Judith, who represents the Church, chastises the ancients, the priests of the Church should still be respected by those of us who have been placed under their leadership. The Blessed Rabanus describes it this way (verse 37):

Judith entrusts the ancients with the gate, because the Holy Church commends the careful protection of the camp of God to the priests of Christ, so that intently vigilant and skilled in oversight they might in this way strive unharmed to fortify and to protect against the ambushes of the enemy through the weapons of prayers.

For further information about this translation project, please see my series of posts on Judith.


1 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications 1975), p. 131.

The Hospitality of Abraham: Iconography

rublev_troitsa

In our ongoing discussion of the Hospitality of Abraham, we have followed the story from the Old testament, through the New Testament, the writings of the Fathers, and the Liturgical witness. This final installment will take a brief look at the iconography and explore a few thoughts to help wrap up the discussion.

I have personally experienced an explanation of Rublev’s icon by several parish priests. Many of the aspects of the story in Genesis 18 are visible, including the famous oak tree at Mamre, which is seen near the top and just to the right of center, and Abraham’s ‘tabernacle’ or tent in the upper left of the icon. Food has been placed before the men by Abraham. The three men take on angelic form as is noted in Hebrews 13:2.

In addition, Saint Andrei Rublev has added some elements that cannot be directly discerned from the story in Genesis, but from later developments in Theology. For instance, the colors of the central figure’s garments closely match the typical colors that Christ wears in other icons. The green on the right-hand figure is reminiscent of the color we see most prominently at the feast of Pentecost, representing the Holy Spirit. Both of the rightmost figures are inclining their heads toward the leftmost figure, representing deference to the primus inter pares (i.e. the Father). The negative space between the two outermost figures approximates the shape of a chalice, while the central figure is inside this chalice. And a nearly perfect circle can be discerned in the outermost outlines of the three figures.

What has been left out is also of interest. Genesis 18:8 describes Abraham standing nearby under the oak tree and verse 10 describes Sarah standing in the doorway of her tent. Unlike earlier portrayals, Rublev chose to exclude some of these key features of the story so that the focus might center on the Holy Trinity. Even the colors of the angels are more vibrant than the colors of their surroundings.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.37.06 PMThe Rublev icon is generally seen to be the ultimate evolution of the iconographic representation of the Old Testament Trinity. However, it appears that the iconographic tradition lagged behind the patristic tradition. Bunge claims that depictions of the story were from the beginning angelological1 and notes that we begin to encounter Christologically oriented depictions around the year 1000.2 The icon on the right shows such a Christological rendition, in which you can see the usual cross, indicating Christ, in the nimbus around the central figure. The tradition culminates in Rublev’s famous icon (c. 1410) in which we seem to have reverted to a purely angelological depiction, but find elements, however subtle, of the more advanced Trinitarian theology of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers.

Conclusion

While knowledge of the evolution of the patristic understanding and iconographic tradition is edifying, the most important aspect of such a study is to obtain an understanding of what the church presently teaches us through an active participation in the life of the Church. The present teaching is the culmination of this progressive deepening process.

I believe that the first and foremost dimension of this teaching is the confluence of the Feast of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, with the veneration of the icon of the Holy Trinity. The icon placed in the context of the birth of the church and the complete revelation of the Holy Trinity juxtaposes the type with the antetype. We see at once the Old Testament promise and its New Testament fulfillment. We see the beginning of the Old Testament Church juxtaposed with the birth of the New Testament Church. And we see a veiled image of God alongside a fuller revelation of the Holy Trinity. However, the most startling picture for me is Saint Cyril’s portrait of three persons walking and speaking in unison. The Trinity truly is One in essence and undivided.


1 Gabriel Bunge, “The Rublev Trinity,” trans. Andrew Louth, (Yonkers: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2007), p. 52.

2 Ibid, p. 48.

The Hospitality of Abraham: Cyril and Maximus

360px-icon_st-_cyril_of_alexandria

So far in this short series, we have followed the development of the Church’s understanding of the story of the Hospitality of Abraham. In this post we will wrap up our discussion of the patristic dialog with Saints Cyril and Maximus.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria seems to have presented the most definitive and enduring interpretation regarding Genesis 18. The understanding expressed by Cyril seems to have prevailed and for this reason I deemed it worth the effort to translate an extended passage of his argument from an available Latin translation of the original Greek. Commenting on Genesis 18:1-3, 9-10a (LXX), Cyril writes:

Behold, clearly it says God appeared unto him, truly being three men in appearance, the Holy Abraham approaching from afar speaking not as if to three: “Lords, if indeed I have found grace in your (pl.) sight, pass not by your (pl.) son,” but calling upon the threefold Lord singularly, as if to one, so that they might turn aside unto him, he asked “when,” and as one appearing in three, even as from one persona, they said, “Where is Sarra thy wife?” and responded, “I will come when the time is ripe.”

Discern therefore, discern indeed three appearing, and each identified by its respective hypostasis,1 in word subject to the consubstantial three comprehended in one, and thus intermingling the given work of conversation among themselves. But the likenesses of this mode are obscured in a certain way and are inferior to the truth, unless in some way they are to be used as a hand leading us into knowledge of their properties, which surpass the intellect and speech (obviously the light of the divine vision will penetrate only the most pure intellects), and as from these things which fall to the senses we fly unto that which to our senses and strength of reasoning are very far.

Singular, therefore, by the unanimity of all persons, is the nature of divinity, which is over all, through all and in all: through intellectual means, verily, this is extrapolated to the holy, venerable, and consubstantial Trinity, into the Father, I say, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Our progenitor Abraham, therefore, was not ignorant of the worship of the Holy Trinity…2

Cyril’s portrayal of the three speaking in unison is remarkable. He describes the three who appear to Abraham as likenesses that, while not the fullness of the truth, lead us, as if by the hand, into knowledge of God. He asserts that an understanding of the Holy Trinity can be discerned from this type through the application of the intellect. With Cyril we have completed the transition from a Christological to a Trinitarian interpretation.

maximus_the_confessorSaint Maximus, in his Third Dialog on the Holy Trinity, affirms Saint Cyril’s view, arguing likewise that Abraham spoke to three as to one.3 At one point in the dialog, the dialogist known as ‘Orthodox’ literally states that “the three men were God,”4 while his challenger ‘Macedonius’ insists that only one of the three was God and the others were angels. Saint John Damascene agrees with the imagery, yet makes certain to clarify that, “Abraham saw not the nature of God, for no man ever saw God, but the image of God, and falling down he adored.”5

It is interesting to observe that many, if not most, of the arguments made by the Fathers pivot on a precise interpretation of the literal words in Genesis 18. For instance, the Fathers carefully point out an address made in the singular, or an act done in the plural (e.g. the three measures of flour). Each word of Scripture is deemed significant.

In summary, the writings of the Holy Fathers reveal a progression in understanding of the story of The Hospitality of Abraham. In the earliest times all three persons are seen to be angels. In the second century a Christological interpretation is introduced. As we progress through the later fathers, the three men come to be seen as a type of the Holy Trinity, and even as a true theophany, not only of the Son, but of the entire Trinity. Ouspensky and Lossky clarify that the differences present in the latter two views do not change the understanding of the event because all the fullness of the Godhead is present in each Person. Consequently the earlier interpretation does not preclude a Trinitarian understanding.6

In our next post in this series, we will take a brief look at the liturgical witness to this story.


1 The latin word is subsistentia, which has a very similar meaning to the Greek hypostasis.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, ‘Pro Sancta Christianorum Religione, Adversos Libros Athei Iuliani,’ in Cyrillii Alexandriae Archiepiscopi Operum, ed. Joannis Auberti, v. 6, b. 1, p. 20.

3 Saint Maximus the Confessor, ‘Opera Omnia,’ ed. Francisci Combefis, v. 2, p. 442.

4 Tres viri fuerunt Deus.

5 Saint John Damascene, ‘On Holy Images,’ trans. Mary H. Allies, (London:Thomas Baker 1898), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College.

6 Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, ‘The Meaning of Icons,’ (Yonkers:Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1982), p. 201.

The Hospitality of Abraham: From Christ to Trinity

mosaic-panel-2-abe-angels

Mosaic from the Papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, c. 5th century

In our previous post, we found that the earliest understanding of the story of the Hospitality of Abraham was that the three visitors were angels. It didn’t take long for interpretation of this story to develop.

Saint Justin expresses an alternative view in his Dialog with Trypho. Trypho believes, as do his contemporary Jewish brethren, that God spoke to Abraham immediately prior to the appearance of the three visitors and that the visitors were merely angels. Justin argues directly from the Scriptures “that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels.”1 Justin understands the central figure of the triad to be the Son of God and those accompanying him to be angels. Saint Irenaeus corroborates Justin’s position, asserting that “two of the three were angels; but one was the Son of God…”2

Though Novatian apostatized, he provides witness to the fact that Justin’s view on Abraham’s visitation persisted in the third century. In his Treatise on the Trinity he writes, “It was not the Father, then, who was a guest with Abraham, but Christ. Nor was it the Father who was seen then, but the Son; and Christ was seen.”3

Saint Ephraim the Syrian provides fourth century confirmation of the Christological understanding of the three persons. In his commentary on Genesis he explains, “Therefore, the Lord, who had just appeared to him at the door of the tent, now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three.”4

While the earliest view may have been purely angelological, the bulk of the patristic witness up to this point seems to have been consistently Christological. The Church’s understanding of this theophany seems to begin evolving later in the fourth century as both Saints Ambrose and Augustine begin to see this triad as a type of the Holy Trinity.

Saint Ambrose explicitly recognizes that the appearance of the three is a type. He also perceives Trinitarian significance in the cardinalities of both the sacrifice and the gifts offered to the three.

Abraham… saw the Trinity in a type… beholding Three he worshipped One, and preserving the distinction of the Persons, yet addressed one Lord, he offered to Three the honour of his gift, while acknowledging one Power… and so he sees Three, but worships the Unity. He brings forth three measures of fine meal, and slays one victim, considering that one sacrifice is sufficient, but a triple gift; one victim, an offering of three.5

Saint Augustine followed his mentor in a similar vein, asserting more resolutely that the presence of God in the three visitors was typological. Justin had earlier argued that one of the three was Christ as evidenced by the fact that Abraham addressed the three as one. Augustine argues, specifically countering Justin’s argument, that no particular person of the three was Christ, but all three were angels. He observes that the same phenomenon occurred when Lot addressed only two as one while the third remained with Abraham. Augustine supports an iconic presence, arguing that:

This makes it much more credible that both Abraham in the three men and Lot in the two recognized the Lord, addressing Him in the singular number, even when they were addressing men… Yet there was about them something so excellent, that those who showed them hospitality as men could not doubt that God was in them as He was wont to be in the prophets…6

In our next post, we will examine a more refined expression of this understanding in the writings of Saints Cyril and Maximus.


1 Justin Martyr, ‘Dialog with Trypho’, trans. Messrs. Dods and Reith, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.lvi.html) , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, ch. 56.

2 Peter Kirby. “A Discourse in Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” in Early Christian Writings (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/demonstrationapostolic.html) .

3 Novatian, ‘A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity,’ trans. Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.vi.iii.xix.html) , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, ch. 18.

4 Saint Ephraim the Syrian, ‘Selected Prose Works,’ trans. Edward G. Matthews, Jr. and Joseph P. Amar, in The Fathers of the Church, ed. Kathleen McVey (Catholic Univ of Amer Pr 1994), v. 91, s. 15, pars. 1, p. 158.

5 Saint Ambrose of Milan, ‘Selected Works and Letters,’ trans. The Rev. H. De Romestin, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, volume 10, (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf210.iv.iii.iii.html#iv.iii.iii-p203) , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College,  pars. 96.

6 Saint Augustine, ‘The City of God,’ trans. Rev. Marcus Dods, D.D., in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 2 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XVI.29.html) , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, Book 16, ch. 29.

The Hospitality of Abraham: Intro

rublev_troitsaHaving wrapped up my diatribe on the Ark of the Covenant and its typology, I thought it might be worth a short series focusing on the typology attached to the story of Abraham’s hospitality. The typology follows a pattern similar to that of the Ark and might help to deepen our understanding of how typology develops within the Church.

What Orthodox person has not experienced Saint Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity? This icon is a depiction of the three visitors in the Genesis 18 story of Abraham’s hospitality, but to the nominal Orthodox person the icon itself may be the sole witness to Abraham’s encounter with God at Mamre. And yet, Saint Constantine considered the event to be so important that he ordered a temple to be erected near the famous oak tree at Mamre.1

While the icon may be the strongest witness experienced during the course of life in the church, a long patristic tradition witnesses to an image of God in the threefold visitation of Abraham. A prominent, though subtle, witness exists in the liturgical cycle of the church. The bulk of this short study will focus on the ‘Great Conversation’ of the Fathers, moving on to a short overview of the liturgical expression, and a brief analysis of Rublev’s icon and the related tradition.

Perhaps the earliest Christian understanding of Genesis 18 is that all three of the visitors in the story were angels. Saint Paul suggests this in his Letter to the Hebrews when he admonishes, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 KJV).2

In the next post in this series we will follow a shift from this angelological understanding to a more Christocentric understanding.


1 Sozomen, ‘The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen,’ revised by Chester D. Hartranft, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Volume 2 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.iii.vii.iv.html) , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, Book 2, ch. 4.

2 Gabriel Bunge, “The Rublev Trinity,” trans. Andrew Louth, (Yonkers: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2007), p. 46.

The Ark: Typological Development

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-9-45-55-am

Iconography in the Apse of Holy Theophany Church in Colorado Springs.

We are beginning to wrap up our ongoing discussion of how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant. We have covered many concrete examples and are now embarking on some analysis of what we have learned.

We have traced how the people of God have understood the ark from its very beginning to its contemporary expression within the Church. We have examined how the Ark was built and we followed its life in Israel up until its disappearance. Subsequently, we examined possible midrashic traditions latent in Scripture that typologically identify the Ark with the Holy Virgin. We examined so-called apocryphal literature that provides useful clues. We traced the great conversation of the Holy Fathers on this topic through the first seven centuries. And finally, we examined the expression of the Ark’s typology in the life of the Church: its iconography, services, and hymnology.

In this particular case study, and perhaps others, we find a distinct pattern. First, the subject of typological interest comes into existence. In our case, the Ark is explicitly “spec’d out” by God himself and is then constructed under the guidance of the Prophet Moses. The Ark gains a certain mystique throughout its developing life among the people of Israel, becoming a key emblem or meme in the mythos of the nation of Israel. Whether we are talking about a physical artifact such as the Ark or a story such as Abraham’s hospitality to his three visitors (a topic for an upcoming series of posts), the type follows this same path.

The next step is the Gospel. Saint Paul alludes to the application of forward looking typology to the Old Testament, saying, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1). In our specific case, it is affirmed by Saint John Damascene as noted earlier. The Gospel becomes the lens that we use to interpret the ancient types, but the interpretation does not necessarily become clear immediately, as in our case.

Clearly, given the fact that accounts of the Gospel and other contemporaneous events were recorded significantly later, either an oral tradition or long lost documents carry the stories forward in time until they are written down. Interpretations may grow organically within this mix, as hypothesized by Laurentin and others, influencing the recording of Scripture and other writings.

We begin to truly see the application of typology surface in the writings of the Holy Fathers, where it develops through the centuries. As the present author might observe from a similar study of the typology attached to the story of the Hospitality of Abraham, a turning point in the application of the typology seems to sometimes occur during the third or fourth centuries. It is probably not coincidental that this was a time of great upheaval and development within the church, owing to the occurrence of many heresies and the refining of doctrinal articulation that was carried out by the great ecumenical councils. In our case we see a transition from a clearly Christocentric typology of the Ark to its identification with the Holy Virgin Mary (the shift seems to happen somewhere between Saint Dionysius and Saint Athanasius). While both typological traditions may have coexisted from very early times, the Church shifted emphasis from one to the other as its understanding deepened.

The title Theotokos is not truly rooted in Mariology, but in Christology. It does honor to the Theotokos by recognizing her role in the incarnation, but she is called the God Bearer not due to her own nature, but because of the nature of her son. The ecumenical councils sought to clarify the nature of Jesus Christ and this clarification shone light also upon the role of Mary, which may have influenced how the Church viewed the typology of Mary and of the Ark.

After the conciliar age, the typology seems to stabilize and we see it becoming part of Orthodox praxis in the services of the Church as described above. Iconography finally incorporates the typology and we not only hear it in the hymnology, but see it on the walls of the church. In the end, lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of praying is the law of believing.

Here we have discussed the implications of theological/typological development within the church. In our next post in this series, we will discussion the implications of the fully developed typology.

Archimandrite Ephrem’s Translations

Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) produced some very useful translations of liturgical and patristic texts. After his repose, his translations disappeared due to hosting issues. I found Archimandrite Ephrem’s contributions to be very useful in my studies and I hate to see such fine work disappear from the world. So I managed to scrounge up a copy of his website and am making his work available once again.

Because of the fact that what I was able to obtain is a collection of HTML files generated by Microsoft Frontpage, I have written a Python script to convert much of his work to Markdown. This is a very simple and easy to use format that Github displays nicely. The script does a pretty good job, but I’m sure there are spots where it does the wrong thing. If you notice something wrong with one of the files, or just have suggestions as to how best to format this work, I am happy to receive comments in this post or pull requests to fix the script.

Archimandrite Ephrem’s texts are available via Github here.

The Ark: Cyril, Fortunatus, and John

In this post we will wrap up our discussion of what the Fathers have to say about the Ark of the Covenant. I will reiterate here that the Church tends to see the Ark as a type of the Holy Virgin Mary.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria

icon_st-_cyril_of_alexandriaSaint Cyril, the twenty-fourth patriarch of Alexandria, lived from 376-444. Saint Cyril seems to hearken back to the tradition exemplified by Saint Irenaeus, but with some additions. The pattern of his statement very closely mirrors that of St. Irenaeus quoted previously, but he inserts some additional commentary that allows us to see the Ark as a type of the Theotokos. He seems to be trying to harmonize the common view of his day with a more ancient tradition.

The Ark would be the type and image of Christ: for if we look back to the way of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, we shall see that it is in the temple of the Virgin, as in an ark that the Word of God took up His abode. For in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, as the Scripture saith. But the testimonies in the ark were the word of God, and the wood of it was imperishable, and with pure and choicest gold was it beautified within and without. For the Body of Christ is incorruptible, being by the power and brightness of the indwelling Word, and the nature of life-giving operation of the Holy Ghost, maintained in incorruption [emphasis mine].1

Saint Venantius Fortunatus

Commemorated on December 14, the Latin poet and bishop lived circa A.D. 530-610. His usage of this typology supports a belief in the consistency of its application through later times. The following verse in Latin clearly identifies the Ark with the Holy Virgin.

Beata Mater, munere
Cujus supernus Artifex,
Mundum pugillo continens,
Ventris sub arca clausus est.2

While unpoetic, the following rendering is a relatively literal approximation of the above verse translated by myself.

The Holy Mother, by whose offering
The supreme artificer,
containing in His hand the World,
In the womb, within the Ark, was enclosed.

Saint John of Damascus

1204ajohndamascusSaint John, born in A.D. 676, wrote the famous Canon of Pascha that is sung during the Orthodox Pascha services. In the Canon, Saint John doesn’t seem to commit to a specific typological relationship for the Ark. His intention seems to be to expose the contrast between human experience of the types and human experience of the fulfillment.

God’s forebear David, dancing, leaped before the Ark, mere shadow, but seeing the fulfilment of the types, let us, God’s holy people, inspired, rejoice, for Christ has risen as omnipotent.3

In our next post in this series, we will examine how two of the great feasts of the Orthodox Church portray the Ark of the Covenant.


Qtd. in Thomas Livius, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, (London: Burns and Oates, Limited 1893), pp. 76–77.

Ibid., p. 458.

Archimandrite Ephrem, Paschal Canon Noted, in Anastasis, p. 3.

The Ark: Saint Jerome

st-jeromeIn our ongoing discussion about how the Church perceives the Ark of the Covenant, we have explored the Old and New Testaments, apocryphal writings, and many of the Fathers. The trend up until now, with a few outliers, has been that the Church tends to see the Ark as a typological foreshadowing of the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. In this post we will examine how Saint Jerome applies this understanding. Unlike many of the Fathers we have already examined, Saint Jerome takes a practical approach by applying this teaching directly to the life of a nun with whom he is corresponding. This approach is sometimes called tropological and is distinguished by a stressing of moral metaphor.

Saint Jerome, writing in A.D. 384, composed a letter on the topic of virginity to a Roman lady named Eustochium, cofounder of a women’s monastery in Palestine.1 In this lengthy letter, Jerome describes both the proper motivations and way of life of those who choose the path of celibacy. He compares the ideal virgin with the Ark of the Covenant, likening a life of chastity to the nature of the Ark itself.

Like the ark of the covenant Christ’s spouse should be overlaid with gold within and without; she should be the guardian of the law of the Lord. Just as the ark contained nothing but the tables of the covenant, so in you there should be no thought of anything that is outside.2

Later, he sets forth the Holy Virgin Mary as the ultimate model of virginity, by extension drawing a connection between the Ark and the Holy Virgin.

Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity made her meet to be the mother of the Lord. When the angel Gabriel came down to her, in the form of a man, and said: Hail, you that are highly favored; the Lord is with you, she was terror-stricken and unable to reply, for she had never been saluted by a man before. But, on learning who he was, she spoke, and one who had been afraid of a man conversed fearlessly with an angel. Now you, too, may be the Lord’s mother.3

Emphasizing Mary’s virginity by noting that she had never been hailed by a man, Saint Jerome’s tropological approach introduces a practical application of the typology to virginity. Up until now, we have seen applications of the typology that help us to understand the role of the Holy Virgin in the economy of salvation, and conversely to retrospectively understand what the Ark was. Jerome extends the metaphor of the Ark to every virgin who seeks to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), and as such offers teaching about the celibate life. The Ark is a metaphor for the life of purity striven for by monastics and embodied by the Holy Virgin.

We will cram three more fathers’ thoughts on this topic into our next post in this series, wrapping up our tour of how the Fathers perceive the Ark. Our next step will be to explore how the Ark is treated in some of the great feasts of the Orthodox Church.


1 Louis Saltet, St. Jerome, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8, (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910).

2 Saint Jerome, Letter 22: To Eustochium, trans. W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 6, ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

3 Ibid.