For this Holy Thursday, a deep cut from the Latin Fathers. What do you think – worth sharing with my RCIA groups?
Treatise IX of the ‘Origen Treatises’ of Gregory of Elvira (d. c392), in my own rough translation (since, to my knowledge, no English translation exists):
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: This month shall be the beginning of months for you, the first month of the year.
All things which are established by divine counsel and judgment have their own principles from which they have their origin and beginning; they have reasons why they were needed to signify other things, and they do not lack rationales; and they have a secure order of time, so that no undifferentiated jumbling may disturb them. And so, beloved brethren, the sacrament of the Pasch, which is now celebrated as the Passion of the Lord’s body, was not a sudden or unforeseen thing. For anything that is new and outstanding and magnificent was revealed aforetime in the old law through a likeness, so that having faith in the new fact would be considered more commendable due to its being previously signified.
Thus, if you want to turn your attention to our Lord’s Passion through the image of a likeness once revealed in the past, there you will find that this lamb that was sacrificed in the Pasch was a figure of Christ who smote Egypt and freed Israel. Jeremiah, a highly guaranteed prophet, calls the lamb our God and savior when he says: I was led to death like a spotless lamb without evil. And his fellow Isaiah says: He was led like a sheep to slaughter; he opened not his mouth, like a lamb in the presence of its shearer; he endured his judgment in humility, and who will tell of his generation, since his life will be taken from the earth? O what a lamb is this, of whom scripture says his birth cannot be told!
The sheep shall be a full-grown male, one year old; you shall take it from the sheep and the goats. And you shall set it aside until the fourteenth day of this month, and the whole multitude of the assembly of the children of Israel shall kill it at evening. Behold the great problem, almost impossible to disentangle: that a lamb should be sought that comes from the sheep and the goats, although it does not work at all for one common offspring to come from the union of non-corresponding animals! If such a lamb as is described here cannot be found for the Pasch, how can the Pasch be performed when the right kind of lamb to be sacrificed at the Pasch is missing, i.e. one taken from the sheep and the goats?
And since we have already demonstrated that this lamb is considered an image of our God and savior, who clothed the bodies of the human race, mortal through transgression, with a robe of immortality – not only on the innocents’ account, but the criminals’ too – he is called a lamb that you shall take from the sheep and goats. You ought to interpret from the sheep and the goats as our Savior himself taught in the Gospel: He sets the righteous like sheep at his right hand, and sinners like goats on his left. And since the brief space of time does not allow us to set forth many examples, I must impute only summarily the rationale for how this lamb should be born from the sheep and the goats.
Now Ruth the Moabitess was from a sinner nation that blessed Moses had renounced, saying: Moabites and Ammonites will not enter into the assembly of God until the tenth generation. But Boaz the Israelite was a righteous man from the lineage of patriarchs, from the tribe of Judah. Therefore, as scripture testifies, he took a Moabitess named Ruth as his wife after the tenth generation. From her Obed is born, from Obed Jesse, from Jesse David, and from David according to the way of human generation is born holy Mary, from whom Christ took flesh. Notice that his flesh has a twofold origin, i.e. from the goats of the sinner nation of the Moabites, from which came Ruth mother of Obed as I have taught, and from the sheep of the patriarchs, from whom was Obed’s father Boaz the righteous man, namely from the line of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah.
From him the spotless lamb, i.e. Christ our Lord, is called a lion from the tribe of Judah. For it says: A lion from the tribe of Judah has conquered, David’s root. And Isaiah says: A shoot shall come forth from Jesse’s rod, and a flower will rise from his root. This Jesse is David’s father, from which root (i.e., line) a shoot (i.e., Mary) came forth, and from her rose Christ the flower.
And so blessed Moses, knowing this was a sacrament of Christ’s birth, said that this lamb to be sacrificed should be from the sheep and the goats, since if the Lord clothed himself in a human body only from Israel, whom the law calls sheep, and not from the sinner nations, whom the law treats as goats, the nations would have merited neither to believe in Christ nor to be saved, since they would not have the token of their flesh in Christ’s body. Now, though, the nations are saved in Christ, since they have merited to have a pledge of their redemption in Christ’s body through his origin from Ruth, and thus Christ alone is found to be such a lamb as was sought from the sheep and the goats for the Pasch.
He is not killed more than once, so that the true Pasch of the Lord is celebrated. It says This is the Pasch of the Lord; it does not say “of the people”, so that just as “Pasch” gets its name from “Passion”, so it is called the Pasch of the Lord, since in the figure of the lamb not the people but the Lord is sacrificed. And so the blessed Apostle Paul also says, Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed.
But I confess it amazes me, beloved brethren, that when he said sheep, he specified male; for no-one calls a sheep male! And yet here he says: It shall be a full-grown sheep for you, male, one year old, from the lambs and the goats. When he specifies sheep, he points to Christ’s flesh, which the Apostle defined as the Church, saying: Christ’s flesh, which is the Church, from which all we believers in Christ are generated; he calls these offspring saints. So he says “male” so as to show that this flesh is not womanly but manly, i.e. the flesh of the perfect man – since there is not male and female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Thus a spotless lamb is chosen so that Christ’s simplicity and innocence should be revealed in the figure of this lamb. A male is sought, so that Christ’s unconquered strength should be confirmed. A one-year-old is mentioned, since from the time when the lamb was baptized in the Jordan by John, when he said: Behold the lamb of God, behold who takes away the sins of the world, Christ suffered after an exact and complete time of preaching, as David predicted about this: Blessing the crown of the year of your kindness. “Perfect” is also mentioned, since as the Apostle says, All the fullness of divinity dwells in him bodily.
“In the first month” is mentioned, since it was necessary that he who came to take away the sins of the world should suffer at the same time as was the beginning of the world, calling the end back to its origins, so that all things that were lost in Adam were restored in Christ. For he who is going to destroy something attacks the origin of its nature and cuts off its hope of renewed liveliness by thoroughly killing it at the root. Thus the world was overthrown by the Lord’s passion in the very season of its origin, so that it would be broken along with the seed of all evils, just as the Lord himself says to his apostles in the Gospel: Rejoice and exult, for I have conquered the world.
He adds: You shall eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs, since the future would be bitter for the Jews, because they were going to kill their Lord and prince of life, whose living death (as I might call it) raised the dead. Bitter indeed for them who came like a thief in the night. Bitter the nails with which they pierced him. Bitter the unleavened bread that they must eat forever. Bitter the words with which they shouted: His blood be upon us and upon our children. Bitter Judas Iscariot, whom they hired with a fee. Bitter the thorns with which they crowned his head in sport. Bitter the hands by which they shed the Lord’s blood. Thus he mandates that it must be eaten with bitter herbs, since all the future things that they were going to do to the lamb, i.e. Christ’s Passion, would be bitter for them. And since, as the Apostle says: The cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing, but God’s strength for those who will be saved, and Christ’s scent is for some the scent of life unto life, for others of death unto death, so then as persecuting the Son of God was bitter for them, so the drink of gall and vinegar atoned for the bitterness of our sins.
As the doorposts of the house are painted with lamb’s blood, since the exterminating angel of Egypt could be hindered from houses marked with lamb’s blood, so we also cannot avoid the ruin of this world and enter the kingdom of God in any other way than through the sign of the blood of the Lord’s Passion; for Christ’s blood is salvation to believers, punishment to unbelievers. For Egypt was in the likeness of this world, Pharaoh of the devil; the people of Israel bore the type of us. So then just as that people was freed from Egypt through the sacrifice of a lamb, through the sacrament of the Pasch, so we believers in Christ are freed from captivity to this age and the tyranny of Pharaoh, i.e. the devil. And as Pharaoh, who persecuted the children of the Israelites was overthrown and perished in the water in which the people were freed, so also now Pharaoh, i.e. the devil, perishes in the Savior’s shipwreck in the same water of baptism in which we are freed.
You will eat it roasted in fire, it says; for God’s word is always on fire. And let nothing about it be overlooked; since there is nothing in Christ that can be rejected. Its bones are not broken, since Christ’s strength is unconquered. If anything remains, it is burned up in the fire, i.e. if a person cannot grasp something about Christ, let it be reserved for the Holy Spirit, since scripture testifies that the Holy Spirit came like fire upon the believers.
You shall eat the head and feet and its interior parts. There is a triple rationale here, but in the interest of time it must be explained slimly. The head is the beginning, the innards the meantime, and the feet the future: let the learned and erudite understand these things. For the head is Christ’s Father, the innards are the divine Word himself who tells the Father’s bosom, and the Paraclete Spirit has the apostles as feet, through whom it runs announcing the truth.
Thus shall you eat: you shall have your loins girt and shoes on your feet, as we should walk with firm step and stable devotion in faith; staff in your hand, showing the most solid pillar of the cross by which we are supported. You shall eat unleavened bread, and let whoever eats leavened bread die the death. Did it seem just that if someone ate leavened bread they would die the death, especially since if leavened bread polluted a person, it would be prohibited not only at Pasch but at all times, since God orders his servants to be clean and purified not only on the day of Pasch but at all times? But since we have said that Pasch takes its name from the Lord’s Passion, therefore this indicated that whoever believed in the Lord’s Passion and merited to receive the Pasch of his sacred body ought already to cast out the leaven of evil and wickedness from their mind. As the blessed Apostle says: Cast out the old leaven, that you may be a new dough, the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Therefore, beloved brethren, who would not receive with all religion and devoted fear this Pasch of the Lord, prefigured through the law, admonished through the threat that whoever did not keep it would die the death, preached by the voices of prophets, awaited by our forerunners’ hopes, fulfilled through the apostolic preaching, accepted through faith in the Gospel, consecrated through Christ’s blood, ordered to the future resurrection – especially when scripture says: It is the Lord’s Pasch, i.e. the Lord’s Passion? By his Passion the world is redeemed, the devil is laid low, Christ’s triumph is glorified.
This, I say, is the venerable and salvific sacrament of the Pasch, on which Christ the sun of justice killed the law of death but revealed to us a new and brighter day by his sun’s rising, on which cruel hell shuddered, on which heaven opened up by Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, whoever celebrates the sacrament of such a gift with lawful observance is a companion of the apostles, is an ally of the prophets, fulfills the law, keeps the Gospel faith, honors Christ, magnifies God the Father, enlarges his hope for perpetual salvation, and acquires a glorious reckoning for himself; for he preserves the arrangement set down by God the Father Himself, which he willed and ordered to be kept in Christ. To him be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.