Sunday, May 4, 2014

Matins canticles for Eastertide/2 - Hosea 6

The second of the Matins Third Nocturn Canticles for Eastertide, from Hosea 6, is a particularly important one: it is cited several times in the New Testament, and it is referenced several times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Hosea 6:1-6
1 Venite, et revertamur ad Dominum,  quia ipse cepit, et sanabit nos; percutiet, et curabit nos.  
Come, and let us return to the Lord:  For he hath taken us, and he will heal us: he will strike, and he will cure us. 
2 Vivificabit nos post duos dies; in die tertia suscitabit nos, et vivemus in conspectu ejus.
He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.
3 Sciemus, sequemurque ut cognoscamus Dominum
We shall know, and we shall follow on, that we may know the Lord.
4 quasi diluculum præparatus est egressus ejus, et veniet quasi imber nobis temporaneus et serotinus terræ. 
His going forth is prepared as the morning light, and he will come to us as the early and the latter rain to the earth
5 Quid faciam tibi, Ephraim? quid faciam tibi, Juda? misericordia vestra quasi nubes matutina, et quasi ros mane pertransiens. 
What shall I do to thee, O Ephraim? what shall I do to thee, O Juda? your mercy is as a morning cloud, and as the dew that goeth away in the morning. 
6 Propter hoc dolavi in prophetis; occidi eos in verbis oris mei: et judicia tua quasi lux egredientur. 
For this reason have I hewed them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments shall go forth as the light.
7 Quia misericordiam volui, et non sacrificium; et scientiam Dei plus quam holocausta. 
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than holocausts.

Resurrection, redemption and salvation

The placement of this text in the Eastertide selection is clearly due to verse 2: from the early Fathers such as Tertullian (d225AD) onwards, it has been interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of the Resurrection, and of our invitation to rise again to eternal life with and through Christ.  St Augustine in his City of God, for example, tell us:

"This prophet has also foretold the resurrection of Christ on the third day, as it behoved to be foretold, with prophetic loftiness, when he says, “He will heal us after two days, and in the third day we shall rise again.”" (18:28)

Christ's Resurrection, then, opens the way for us, but this canticle also serves as a reminder that we have to take up this invitation, to repent and accept his healing action in our lives in order to make it our own.  In particular, verse 5 contains a warning from the history of Israel: all too often the fervour of our conversion dries up like morning dew, and we fall back into sin, as St John Chrysostom explains:

 "Let us therefore draw nigh unto Him, and say, “Truth, Lord; for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Let us draw nigh “in season, out of season:” or rather, one can never draw nigh out of season, for it is unseasonable not to be continually approaching. For of Him who desires to give it is always seasonable to ask: yea, as breathing is never out of season, so neither is praying unseasonable, but rather not praying. Since as we need this breath, so do we also the help that comes from Him; and if we be willing, we shall easily draw Him to us. And the prophet, to manifest this, and to point out the constant readiness of His beneficence, said, “We shall find Him prepared as the morning.” For as often as we may draw nigh, we shall see Him awaiting our movements. And if we fail to draw from out of His ever-springing goodness, the blame is all ours. This, for example, was His complaint against certain Jews, when He said, “My mercy is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” And His meaning is like this; “I indeed have supplied all my part, but ye, as a hot sun coming over scatters both the cloud and the dew, and makes them vanish, so have ye by your great wickedness restrained the unspeakable Beneficence.” (Homily 22 on Matthew)

The message of verse 5 is particularly important in these times when judging is so despised: the verse tells us that God sends prophets to judge us as a means to convert us.  Irenaeus for example comments: 

"Thus does He bear witness to the prophets, that they preached the truth; but accuses these men (His hearers) of being foolish through their own fault." (Against heresies, 4:17:4)

Mercy and knowledge

What then is needed?  Mercy and knowledge of God, verse 7 tells us.  

The Hebrew word underlying mercy here, is hesed, which perhaps best translates to 'steadfast love' and certainly conveys an important concept.  

But it is the Greek-Latin interpretation of the word, meaning mercy, is that used in the New Testament, and taken up by the tradition.  St John Chrysostom for example, draws on this canticle to instruct us to continue to pray, continue to try and amend our lives, and ever to trust in God's willingness to forgive us:  

"Which also itself again is an instance of providential care: that even when He sees us unworthy to receive good, He withholds His benefits, lest He render us careless. But if we change a little, even but so much as to know that we have sinned, He gushes out beyond the fountains, He is poured forth beyond the ocean; and the more thou receivest, so much the more doth He rejoice; and in this way is stirred up again to give us more. For indeed He accounts it as His own wealth, that we should be saved, and that He should give largely to them that ask. And this, it may seem, Paul was declaring when He said, that He is “rich unto all and over all that call upon Him.” Because when we pray not, then He is wroth; when we pray not, then doth He turn away from us. For this cause “He became poor, that He might make us rich;” for this cause He underwent all those sufferings, that He might incite us to ask.

Let us not therefore despair, but having so many motives and good hopes, though we sin every day, let us approach Him, entreating, beseeching, asking the forgiveness of our sins. For thus we shall be more backward to sin for the time to come; thus shall we drive away the devil, and shall call forth the lovingkindness of God, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen."

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