Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Feast of the Circumcision 2020

In the great economy [1] of His compassion, God the Father deigned to send for the redemption of the human race not an angel, not an archangel, but his only-begotten Son. And because we cannot see Him in the appearance of His divinity, further, by the great design of His love, He took care to bring Him forth unto human sight as a true man, made of a woman, that is, from the substance of His Mother’s flesh, conceived without union with a man, so that He, while remaining what He was in the divine power and substance, might put on the true weakness of mortal nature, which He did not have. And so that by a special example He might commend to us the necessary virtue of obedience, God sent His Son into the world, made under the Law; not because He Himself owed anything to the Law, who is our one lord, our one lawgiver and judge, but so that in His compassion He might help those who, being placed under the Law, had been unable to bear the burden of the Law, and in His generosity bring those who were under the Law back from their servile condition unto the adoption of sons, which is made through grace.

The Circumcision of Christ, by Federico Barocci, 1590. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Therefore, in the flesh He received the circumcision decreed by the Law, He who appeared in the flesh wholly without any stain, and He who came in the likeness of the flesh of sin (Rom. 8, 3), but not in the flesh of sin, did not reject the remedy of sin by which the flesh of sin had been wont to be cleansed, as also He also underwent the water of baptism, by which He Himself willed that the peoples of the new grace should be washed from the squalor of their sins, not for the sake of necessity, but as an example. For you must know, brethren, that circumcision in the Law brought the same aid of salvation and healing against the wound of original sin, which baptism is now wont to make in the time of grace revealed. However, (under the Law) they could not yet enter the door of the heavenly kingdom, until He that gave the Law should come and give his blessing, so that the God of God might be seen in Zion (Ps. 83, 8); in happy hope they awaited the entrance into the peace of heaven, so greatly consoled in the bosom of Abraham in blessed rest after death. For He that now cries these fearful, saving words through the Gospel, “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”, did also once cry out through His Law, “The male, whose flesh of whose foreskin shall not be circumcised, that soul shall be destroyed out of his people: because he hath broken my covenant.” that is, because he transgressed the covenant of life commanded to men in the garden when Adam transgressed, in whom all have sinned; he shall perish from the assembly of the Saints, unless he be helped by a saving remedy. Therefore, both purifications, namely, that of the circumcision in the Law, and that of baptism in the Gospel, were set for the sake of taking away the first transgression. ...

The Baptism of Christ, by Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, ca. 1305. The Circumcision of Christ is depicted in the circular panel to the left. (Public domain image from Wikiemdia Commons.)
But the Son of God, coming in the flesh, who from Adam took only the nature of the flesh, but no contagion of sin, and because by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was conceived and born of a Virgin, did not need the gift of grace reborn, deigned to undergo both kinds of purifiction, namely, by being circumcised by His parents on the eighth day after His birth, and by baptized by John in the thirtieth year of His life. ...

But also, He received the name by which He was called, Jesus, on the same day of His circumcision in imitation of the former observance, (which we believe was received from Him), because the Patriarch Abraham, who first received the mystery of circumcision as a testimony of his great faith, and of the divine promise made to him, on the same day on which he and his kin were circumcised, also merited together with his wife to be blessed by the increase of his name, so that he who until then had been called Abram, “great father”, should be called Abraham, that is “father of many nations”; “because” said God, “because I have made thee a father of many nations.” And this most faithful promise is now clearly fulfilled so broadly throughout the world, that we ourselves also, being called to the devotion of that faith, rejoice to have him as our spiritual father. – St Bede the Venerable, Homily X, on the Circumcision (PL 94, 053C et seq.)

An 18th-century Russian icon of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with their descendents in the garden of Paradise. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
[1] The Greek word ‘oikonomia’ and its Latin translation ‘dispensatio’ are used by the Fathers to refer to the whole of what God does for the salvation of man, in both the creation of the world and in the Incarnation.

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