Oecolampadius on Isaiah 6

A rough translation by Vern S. Poythress and Diane M. Poythress. Unpublished.

Johannes Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam Prophetam HUPOMNEMATON, hoc est, Commentariorum, Ioannis Oecolampadii Libri VI. Basel: Andreas Cratander, 1525.



[Just before commenting on the seraphim, in the paragraphs after “his fringes,” Oecolampadius has an exhortation for prospective preachers.]

[p. 55b]

The second book of Johannes Oecolampadius’s Isaiah Commentary, to which is attached the name of Jotham.

Chapter 6.

Let this be the second book or more properly booklet.  Uzziah was dead, and Jotham reigns in his stead, a fairly good king, though by no means to be compared with the very best.  For he neither removed the high places nor called the people back from idolatry.  But he did do what was pleasing before the Lord.  He reigned sixteen years.  Now Isaiah recounts one particular vision that he saw under his reign.  We explain it in this chapter and book.  You have (the material) concerning Jotham in 2 Kings 15 and 2 Chron 27.  Now this prophecy is most famous, nor is scarcely any other more famous and clearer, and the Jews might hear none more troublesome, nor is there another that the Evangelists mentioned in so many places.  They are mindful of it in Matt 13; Mark 4; John 12; Romans 11; Acts 24.  For it most clearly teaches that the Jews are to be blinded.

There are some who think that this is the first prophecy that Isaiah saw, although it is not first in order.  But they say this imprudently, for by this reasoning Isaiah would not have seen any vision under Uzziah, because the first title (opening verse) testifies: “This (is the vision) that he saw when Uzziah had died.”  Some maintain also that this vision is the same as that which Ezekiel claims to have seen in his first chapter, except that he explains it more clumsily, Isaiah more urbanely.  We learn with this prophecy both the office of proclaimer and the greatness of divine majesty.  [p. 56a]

In the year of death.)

In the New Testament Paul the Apostle, on account of the false apostles, here and there insists on the fact that he was called to apostolic service by God, not a service of boasting with his soul, but in order that they may find greater faith, which was so necessary for us (?).  So also Isaiah, since everywhere he claims that he announces not his own words but those of the Lord, in this place he testifies not only that he has heard but also seen the Lord, in his glory, and how he was ordained to (prophetic) service.  Since this is a great prophecy, he had the work with great faith.

We learn therefore how and when he undertook the service of such prophecy.  First is set out the time, namely the year when Uzziah died.  The Chaldean paraphraser [Targum] calls “death” the leprosy with which Uzziah was struck because having gone into the temple he tried to discharge the priestly office in his temerity.  For it says, “in the year that king Uzziah was struck.”  And it is quite fitting, for it intended to recount the hidden judgment of God and therefore presages the open judgement of God, as if it were to say, “You see how God does not leave unavenged the impious temerity of the king.  But I saw how he is to punish all our people on account of their impiety.  And as bodily leprosy adhered to Uzziah in the forehead, so the contagion of impudent heresies is to adhere to our people, and so much the more severely, as their sin is to be greater.”

Besides this he signifies by this word that he will speak most true things.  For how might he lie against God, he who saw in Uzziah an example of divine justice before his eyes?  For he wishes to say, “I speak before God the Judge, that if I lie, he will manifest the same severity of justice in me as in Uzziah.”  We learn also that prophets do not prophesy in all times under all kings.

Uzziah dies, and Isaiah sees mysteries.  When Pharaoh died, the people, occupied with mud and making bricks, began to cry to the Lord.  When Pelatiah son of Benaiah died, Ezekiel prophesied.  This Jerome observed after (following) Origen.

And I saw the Lord.)

He teaches the authority and majesty of the sender, both in himself, inasmuch as he is judge, and in his servants, as we shall see.  However, vision is greater than other prophetic conceptions.  For it is not only internal, but also external prophecy, yet with certain images presented to the eyes.

He sees God in the form and attire of a king and judge, with the Seraphim standing around and praising him.  Once more, as in the first chapter, I might wish that the Scriptures were treated simply.  For the Lord Jesus, who in the fulness of times was made man for us, born of a woman, appeared to those patriarchs and prophets in a form that was expedient and fitting.

Abraham saw three men, and worshiped one, Gen 18.  Amos (Amos 9) saw the Lord standing over the altar and saying, “Strike the hinge.”  Micaiah saw the Lord God of Israel sitting on his throne.  Daniel saw thrones [p. 56b] set, and the Ancient of Days sitting.  Moses saw the back parts which you see (?).  Hosea says, “I spoke to the prophets, and I multiplied vision(s), and I gave figures by the hand of the prophets.”

And why with many?  I do not deny that they saw (?) the Holy Spirit as a dove over the Lord, and as tongues of fire over the Apostles.  Not that the dove or fire were the Holy Spirit, but all the same these visions protected those who saw when they experienced the presence of the divine nature.  Thus the prophets see the Lord, that is a certain glory of the Lord, as the paraphraser [Targum] explains, “I saw the glory of the Lord.”  And similarly Onkelos in Exodus interprets, “The Lord descended on Mount Sinai, that is, the glory of the Lord.”  Likewise John 12 testifies most clearly saying, “Isaiah said this when he saw his glory and spoke of him,” in which he clearly says that the glory of Christ was seen by our prophet.

Then why is it said, “No one has seen God at any time.”  And this: “God dwells in inaccessible light.”  I freely admit, and affirm it to be true, that neither with bodily eyes nor mental eyes may God be attained.  For his comprehension is most sublime, and clear thought by no means reaches thereto.  God is both seen and not seen by creatures.  He is seen as he wishes, but not seen totally.  The Trinity is rightly known only to himself.  Part of his glory is seen, which was worthy to impart; however, he imparts without any alteration to himself.

Consider this: man shall not see my face and live.  Nyssenus [Gregory of Nyssa] in his life of Moses explains thus:  not that the face which is the face of life may be the cause of death to those who see, but that, though he may vivify nature, it is proper for him to transcend all thought.  And the divine voice, through the things it denies, yields what is asked and he assents to do what was asked.  But he promised there would not be an end of desire.  In this way God is seen, that you may never stop looking at him.  And again, man did not see God to his face, but in the back parts.  Hence whoever wants to come after him, let him follow; and in following, he may see the back but not the face.  To follow God with heart and soul, wherever he may lead, this is to see God.  So Nyssenus.  You have (here), then, in what way people may see God with bodily or mental eyes.  However, God adopts the appearance that it suitable to        Let us experience this majesty of the judge, which he declares when he says:

Sitting on a throne high and exalted.)  A judge’s sitting is related to authority.  Joel 3: The nations go up into the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about.  Rev 20: And I saw a great white throne, and him who sat upon it.  From his presence fled heaven and earth, and no place was found for them.  And thus the throne is high and exalted, because the total world being judged is to be judged by none (from that world).  And now the Jews are said to be judged on account of the sins mentioned above, because [p. 57a] they rejected the law of the Lord, and despised the words of the Holy One of Israel.

And his fringes filled the court.)

See here the vast power of the highest judge.  The sense is that the least power of God is greater than the greatest glory of human beings.  1 Cor 1: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  John also in Rev 19 explicates this sense with the words: “And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, `King of kings and Lord of rulers.’ “.  Besides it means also this, that the least portion of God, that is the fringes, fills and suffices for blessing the creature.

And however great the powers of God in the whole world appear to be to us, the world does not constitute more than one measure of his vast excellence.  Nor is it wonderful when he produced heaven and earth and all things by one command, and unless they were preserved by the excellence of his glory, they would at once fall into nothingness.  Isa 40: “Behold the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales, the islands are like fine dust.  All nations as as nothing before God.”  You see that the least things of God fill the court, that is the world.  But if you understand “fringes” to be splendid dress, you may ascertain this [fringe] in all nature, most of all however in spirits and souls.

And also the prophet saw in a vision the glory of God as if in the temple at Jerusalem, as also [did] Solomon, 3 Chron. 8 [sic; 3 Kingdoms 8 = 1 Kings 8 is meant].  This temple doubtless signifies the elect of God–at that time the synagogue, now the church, as 1 Cor 3: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  Truly from the plenitude of the grace of Christ we all receive according to our capacity.  The LXX by way of paraphrase rendered it, κλ πλήρης ὁ οἶκος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ, and the house was full of his glory.

Observe here, whoever acts as a preacher, [the nature of] your office.  For the task is, that with Isaiah you may first be a disciple rather than a teacher, and may be among those who have seen God, whom Scripture callsθεοδιδάκτους [taught by God].  May you also be called by God, as was Aaron, and not like Nadab and Abihu, and Korah, and others.  May the desire of Uzziah first die to you, who intruded into sacred things from his own audacity.  [Such desire] dies, however, if you do not receive glory from people.  For from arrogance is born in the mind the contagious disease of leprosy, which is a symbol of heresy.  That you also may see, with Moses, that great vision in the burning bush, take off your shoes, throwing off the garment made of skins and earthly, filthiness and dirtiness of passions, for you will not be fitting to them, in order that you may be sent or may teach.  That you also may be a surety of election, the task is, that in you may be prostrated Saul, and may rise up Paul; that you may no longer seek the things which are of the flesh, the things which belong to pharisaical righteousness, the things which are yours, but those of Jesus Christ, and those of others [who are] in Jesus.

Withdraw, you also, with Ezekiel to the river Chebar, lest you seek to be praised by people and to be called rabbi.

And when you know God and see how great is his majesty, beyond profound and inscrutable [p. 57b] judgment, and how great is his goodness, then, if the vision be to that [such a calling], teach, lest you be among those who run but are not sent, and instead of the word of God you offer the trash of your dreams.

In the Scriptures, however, if you search them, you will see God.  And when Uzziah has died, you may at once declare God fullest and best.  This is not a perceptible unction to you, or a rite consisting in ceremonies, nor were bishop’s hands furnishing [it].  But the sincere heart will be fit for the Holy Spirit and heavenly unction.

Seraphim were standing above him.)

The glory of the judge and king, in itself immense, is now supremely indicated by the (angelic) servants, as also in Daniel: thousands of thousands served him, and and ten times 100,000 attended him.  Origen makes here two seraphim, and very dangerously and also impiously, for he understands them to be the Son and the Holy Spirit, as if they were creatures.  In like manner the passage is treated by Jerome, who also makes it two seraphim, although the Hebrew and Greek do not compel this conclusion.  Perhaps they reckoned with the two gold cherubim over the ark, Exodus 25.  But in truth no one understands these seraphim as the number of all the order of seraphim.  The things that are set out by Dionysius concerning troops and orders and hierarchies are not fully supported by firm scriptures.  It is not new that there are those who posit twelve orders.  Chrysostom says that there are innumerable orders of spirits.  Also, that the seraphim are not superior to the cherubim or thrones can be inferred both from scriptures and reasons that are much more certain than what the scholastics labor to demonstrate.  We grant that cherubim have much with respect to knowledge.  However, ardor of love belongs to the seraphim.  And love according to our way of understanding flows from knowledge.  Understanding however is superior to desire, and truth is prior to love, and light is more distinguished than heat.  But also Scripture says,  “Who sits above the cherubim.”  Concerning seraphim however you have in this place that they are assistants and ministrant spirits, who are sent for ministry on behalf of those who receive the inheritance of salvation [Heb. 1:14].  And this you may surely with authority extend to all angels.  It is not necessary to treat exhaustively concerning these angels, but rather to take care that we lead an angelic life, through which we may be joined to any troops of angels (there may be).  Daniel sufficiently indicated the multitude of seraphim and others.  They stand around the glory of God, so that God is not completely seen.  They stand above, not equal to God or above God, but greater than us and others.  So also understand what the LXX says, κύκλω αὐτοῦ[around him].

Six wings, six wings to one.)

It is a Hebraism, meaning six wings to each.  It does not mean twice to one, as in the Greek, ἕξ πτέρυγες ἑνί ἕξ πτέρυγες ἑνί. [six wings to one six wings to one].  Whence some found occasion for postulating two seraphim.  The use of the wings was that they should cover their face and their body and that they might fly.  So the targum, as in some others, so also the LXX follows.  Concerning the use there is no agreement among interpreters.  Origen wishes that they cover the face of God, so as to hide mysteries from us.  In the cherubim, he says, the Lord is shown.  In the seraphim [p. 58a] he is partly shown and partly hid.  Others say that the past and future are hid from us, and only the present is known, and middle things, those in this world.  I am more pleased with what Chrysostom says in a sermon περὶ τοῦ ἀκαταλήπτου [concerning the unveiled], that angels cover their faces, indicating that they are not able to bear the full glory of God.  Whence also holy fear belongs to the angels.  Now when angels do not grasp divine things, what temerity of men to search them out?  Again concerning the covering of the feet, most satisfying is what Targum Jonathan translates saying, בתרי מכסן אפוהי דלא חצו ובתרין מכסן גויותהין דלא מתחצי.  “With two they covered their face, that they may not see, and with two they covered their body, that they might not be seen.  This means, in my opinion, they do not show their face to be seen by others, and yet they are the most beautiful of creatures.  Yet no one is greater in himself than they may wish to be known through the admiration of (their) maker.  And so they hide their whole body, that everyone may give all glory and all honor to God.  They do with their covering what the 24 elders in Revelation 4 (do), who fall down before the one sitting on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever, casting their crowns before the throne, and saying, Worthy are thou, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will are all things.  So also they angel who appeared to John did not permit himself to be worshiped.  It is superstition therefore, that we believe saints wish us to be occupied with worship dedicated to them.  They throw down their crowns, in order to accomplish also from us that all honor be given to God.

And with two they were flying.)

The Hebrew puts the verb in singular, first person future, as if to say that a certain one was covering and flying.  Faces, feet, and wings are given to angels, although they are incorporeal: but we understand by face and eyes cognitive power, by feet diligent service, and by wings in the whole (context) conversation, as also poets ascribe to their Mercury.  We know from angels as earthly people, lest we might boast from knowing more than it needful, and take pride in our gifts however small.  But may we be ready and winged for obedience of love for the sake of the common Lord and God of us all.  And prophets and all preachers of the word are also called angels with respect to the manner in which they discharge their office.  So indeed they are called in Malachi 2, “He is the angel of the Lord of hosts.

And this one called to that one.)

Again it is a trope, and means: one called and said to another, Holy, holy, etc.  They are not curious examiners of divine majesty, but hide their face out of reverence, and they immediately burst out ardently with love in unceasing praises.  Not content that they themselves praise God, they invite one another and they incite one another by exhortation to praise and glory.  The Jews think that the name of seraphim [burning ones] is given to them because (their) burning zeal for the difficulties of things to be revealed.  And so for this reason [p. 58b] one of the seraphim is sent to Isaiah.  Moreover, to burn with holy zeal may be an indication of greatest love, and is a virtue nearly the most rare of all.

Holy, holy, holy.)

This angelic hymn, which the Greeks call the τρις ἅγιον [thrice holy], without doubt indicates the trinity of persons and trinity of the divine nature, which the angels behold and praise, and beholding are blessed, and in which we are baptized.  The Jews, always our adversaries, lest they say nothing, say that holy is said three times because of the variety of creatures that he created, and because of which he is worthy of praise.  They postulate three worlds, supercelestial, celestial, and subcelestial.  (God is) holy in the creation of angels, holy in the creation of the heavens, and also holy in the creation of those things that are under heaven.  Yet angels praise God for his eminence, and because of himself, more than because of creatures,  offering in this way morning sacrifice, as they say.  Others more plausibly expound that holy is said thrice because of three times, past, present, and future, which John appears to have had in view in Revelation 1, “Grace to you, and peace from him who is, and who was, and who is to come.”  Certainly it is appropriate for God to be praised at all times.  Yet we with the catholic church sing, holy is the Father, holy is the Son, holy is the Spirit.  There is one holy Lord Sabaoth, that is Lord of the heavenly hosts.  That in which there is no blemish is holy, which also may not let go unpunished what is dirty and profane, or bad.  Those who wish to come to what is holy must be sanctified, lest they perish and be stoned with animals who are bold to approach to the sacred mountain [Exod 19:13].  The Lord commanded us to pray this song in teaching us to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  Angels sing “holy.”  We who confess ourselves sinners pray to be sanctified.  By the example of angels pious priests are themselves exhorted to praise and bless God, that all things be to the glory of God.

The whole earth is full of his glory.

As earlier the Lord showed himself as a king sitting on a lofty throne, and that his lesser fringes fill the earth, so now the angels praise God in himself and for heavenly things.  And first (he is praised) for his own proper glory, because they call him holy three and one.  Next (he is praised) for the rule over angels, because he is Lord of hosts.  Next (he is praised) also for his glory in the lowest places.  David also praises the glory of God in the earth, saying, “O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is your name in all the earth.  The glory of God is great in earth, in that he founded it from nothing, encircled and irrigated it with waters, adorned it with trees and plants, and made it habitable for men.  Truly this is greater glory, that the name of God began to become known in all the earth.  For this reason the angels shout and rejoice, the archangels dance, and all the troops of angels.  All earth is full of the mercy of God, and [p. 59a] his glory.  Who therefore will accuse God that he is hard or weak?  Who will excuse his laziness?  All things witness to God well, but lazinesses condemn us.

And the lintels were shaken.)

Under this figure the Lord sets forth his judgment, which afterwards he expounds clearly, warning that Isaiah should announce disturbance and blindness to the Jews.  Earlier you heard that the temple was filled with the fringes of his glory.  Now it is filled with smoke, that you may know that the people of the Jews, who were the temple of God, and despised his word, are to be blinded most justly, although they were more illustrious than all other peoples.  Whence smoke does not stand for abundant glory, as in chap. 4. above.  For the loosened lintels, to the doorpost on each side, gave place for the out-breaking of the glory of God, and the temple was filled with smoke for splendor.  The glory of God breaks out and communicates itself to the whole world.  Although in the times of Uzziah there was a great earthquake [Zech 14:5; Amos 1:1], and, as some think, in the day in which the king went rashly into the temple in order to sacrifice, you are not to understand the passage as referring to that earthquake.  Indeed, it was a prophetic vision, and the prophet appeared to see the lintels shaken at the call of the angels, when each incited the others to the glory of God.  See here again the power of the word of God, by which, where it is faithfully announced by preachers, there is an occurrence of great agitation.  For when Jerusalem first heard that Christ was born, it was agitated, with Herod the king.  And Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword.  And when the sons (of Israel) were about to go out in Ramses (which means agitation), they first hear the voice of Moses and are gathered together.  Psalm 45, “The nations were agitated, the kingdoms tottered, the Most High uttered his voice, the earth was moved.”  Because indeed the preaching of the word of God damns all men, are are frightened and begin to struggle.  And yet even firmer things, among what is kingly, are agitated, such as the lintels and doorposts, and things that ought to offer entrance to others.  Surely judgment begins from the house of God.  So the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews feared the most.

And I said, “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man polluted in lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people polluted in lips, for my eyes have been the king himself, the Lord of hosts.

And one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand (he had) a live coal, which he had taken with forceps from the altar.

And he touched my mouth and said: Behold this [p. 59b] is applied to your lips, and your iniquity will turn aside, and your sin will be cleansed.

And I said.)

You have heard the vision, which the prophet saw.  Yet the vision is not sufficient for the prophet to run, unless he is ordered by a particular commanded, by which the truth of the vision is tested.  Indeed the true knowledge of God has this specially, that it may more greatly humble, not that it may puff up as with knowledge which partly derives from our labors.  See that Isaiah saw such glory of the judge, both in himself and in creatures, he knew also that angels themselves do not bear the glory of God, but hiding their faces, confess, if they are brought to God, their uncleanness.  (He knew) also that in nothing less are the preparations in our allegiance to sing the glory of God.  Then in the ministry of the angels the lintels of the temple were shaken, and smoke filled the temple.  Hence he was not able to please himself, but cast himself down below all, and said, “Woe to me.”  Indeed the splendor of supreme glory and wisdom kindles souls with love for him.  But when the beauty of that splendor is loved, our own foulness is visited on us.  Whence conscious of bad in us, and becoming vile to ourselves, we groan and confess ourselves unworthy of such loving light, and we are then disposed to God in great torment, and so are agitated in us the lintels of the doorposts of the heart, and pricked, we witness that we are sons of death.  This is what he says, “For I am destroyed.”  That is, cut off, according to the Hebrew, which has נדמיתי from the word דמה, that is, “overcame,” “devastated.”  And the LXX translated ὢ τάλας ἐγὼ ὅτι κατανενύγμαι [O alas I, for I have been pricked], that is, O with me misery, for I have been pricked.  And woe also is not an indication of perpetual pain, but of present pain.  He wishes to say: Woe to me, when all things praise God, I however am more lost and unworthy than those who either ought to or are able to praise God.  Indeed he wishes to say what follows.  I have polluted lips, that is, I am more polluted than that I should praise God.  In what way should not the lips be polluted, when our whole body is polluted, and as he witnesses below [Isa. 64:6] our righteous acts are like a menstrual rag?  And whatever words we bring, they are unworthy of God, and are not able to express his glory.  To him they are more disparaging things than tributes.  He does not need to attempt to speak rightly of God.  Whence he does not say, “Woe to me, because I was silent, but because I was too unworthy to speak.  The silence of the prophets is itself on account of humility, not to be faulted but praised.  Indeed polluted lips may fittingly be silent.  So also Jeremiah laments that he is a child [Jer. 1:6].  And Moses, although he was most skilled in the disciplines of the Egyptians, pleads that he is thick-tongued and with more hampered lips than he was before [Exod. 4:10].  By which both surely showed that their duty was to be silent, seeing that they were not able to announce to us the matter on account of its dignity.  Truly they are our smatterers, who set up their crests and profess themselves leaders of the world, and require that all honor be given to themselves, who do not tremble at the words of the Lord, who have not yet seen the true light, but [p. 60a] walk in darkness, who are not yet admitted into that mystical wine cellar.  See then how Isaiah and all saints submit themselves.  Abraham says, Since I am dust and ashes [Gen. 18:27].  David truly says: What is man that thou rememberest him [Ps. 8:4]?  And: Every man is a liar [Ps. 116:11].  And Job: it is fitting of a leader to open your eyes on one of this kind [Job 14:3]?  And chap. 42.  My eye saw, and therefore I reprove myself and I do penitence in ashes and embers.  Do you understand from these things that the knowledge of God humbles, while worldly and pharisaical (knowledge) puffs up?

In the midst of a people.)  This part is applicable to confession.  And some expound [the text to the effect] that he laments the sins of others, and says, as it were, “Though I am not very much unworthy for my sins, nevertheless I am unclean by the contact of the people, and so I with difficulty dwell righteously among the wicked.”  I myself would prefer another exposition: for he does not judge others with the Pharisee, but numbers himself with other sinners, and says: I dwell among sinners, and I am from ordinary sinners, better than none.  And so Paul calls himself the chief of sinners.  He adds likewise: I dwell, or sit.  Blessed is the man who does not go in the counsel of the wicked, nor in the way of sinners, etc.  [Psalm 1:1]  and here he confesses that he sits in the midst of pollutions.  sighing doubtless that which the psalmist [says]: Woe to me, because my dwelling is extended: I dwelt with the dwellers of Kedar [Ps 120:5].  I ought to dwell in innocence and purity  among the angels of God, and my city ought to be in the heavens.  Behold, I sit among the polluted, and I am occupied with Egyptians in mud and making brick.  Clearly he teaches that God is holy, we are polluted.  And it is clear, we are liars, if we deny that sin dwells in us, that which today anti-Christians hear us denying.

Because himself the king.)

He does not says that he is wretched because he has seen God, which is the greatest beatitude, but because begin polluted he has nothing that he may give back and return, in order that he may praise worthily with the angels the one whom he saw, and experienced One as beneficent as he has exhibited himself in pollution.  With sufficient clarity he indicates that the vision was not imaginary, but of the kind presented to his bodily eyes.  How lowly and anxious and true was the confession of the prophet, and so the following things showed.

And one flew to me.)

The prophet was greatly distressed with himself: for nothing might so crucify the mind, as bad conscience, and even if he had a good conscience, and not yet justified and confirmed by the word of God not extraordinary: for even Daniel at the word of Gabriel collapsed to the ground.  And Ezekiel also at the river Kebar fell on his face.  And so the merciful God sends an angel, and the LXX says απέσταλη, “was sent,” which however according to the Hebrew truth is said to fly, in order to console and comfort, in the same way that we read that other prophets were comforted and lifted up.  He comforts also by a certain sign or words of promise, by which the prophet having faith, [p. 60b] as it were by a certain sacrament is cleansed and purified.  The sign was a coal from the altar put on the mouth of the prophet.  Words of promise, Behold this is applied on the lips.  There are those who deny that here the Seraphim are among the highest angels, because such highest are not sent.  The letter to the Hebrews sharply contradicts them saying, They are all ministrant spirits, sent for us who are to inherit salvation.  We ourselves say that the Seraphim are an order of angels, whether of primary or secondary rank.  What wonder is it for angels to minister to those, to whom also the king of the angels ministered?  Whence he says here, he flew.  that you may see assiduousness  they minister to us, with what swiftness they act on our behalf, in order that we also may be solicitous for our mutual salvation.  One, he says, of the Seraphim, left that most holy troop, in order to serve a polluted person.  And so Paul, although he wants to depart and be with Christ, was working to remain in the flesh on our behalf.  See how much love, he is unconcerned for the heavenly kingdom on account of his neighbor.  There are those who said that Christ himself was Seraphim, because Christ here accomplishes judgment and commands angels.  But if we want to receive a not unworthy allegory, he designates a seraph a minister of the word of God to us, who with ardor flies to us in love, whether he be living or dead.  Paul is a seraph to us, and Isaiah also is a seraph.  Also the other evangelists and apostles are seraphim.  For they are such a furnace of love, desiring to make the whole world saved.  When you read you should believe those are angels from God to fly to you.  But even if you hear a preacher or divine priest announcing or bringing eloquent things, do not doubt that a seraph has been sent to you, as Malachi says: the lips of a priest guard knowledge, and they should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is an angel of the Lord of hosts.  For God thus deems worthy those ministers, as in Romans 10.  “How were they calling on one that they had not believed?  And how could they believe in one about whom they had not heard?  As therefore the Seraph was sent to Isaiah, in order that he might be cleansed, might learn, and might teach: so Isaiah or another [is sent] to us, that we might be cleansed, might learn, and after that we might undertake the office of teacher.

And in his hand was a live coal.)

Above he had mentioned the temple.  In this was the altar, in the altar burning and live coals for igniting sacrifices and offerings.  From this place the angel brought one for the mouth of Isaiah, with forceps, which also themselves were reckoned among the implements of the temple.  3 Kingdom 7 [1 Kings 7].  Solomon made gold forceps and forks in the temple of the Lord.  The Chaldean paraphraser [Targum] beautifully exposes the mystery saying, וכפומיח ממל|ל דקביל מן קדם דשׂכינתיה על כורסיה יקרא בשׂמי מרומא עיל מן מדבהא.  And in his mouth word, which he had taken before from the divine things above his glorious throne in the highest heavens above the altar.  Therefore the live coal or small coal or stone is a symbol of the word of God, which [p. 61a] the Seraph has in his hand, that is in his power.  Whence it is the same as what he said in his mouth.  It is doubtless the stone concerning which Revelation 2 [says] a white [stone] in which is written a new name, which no one knows except him who receives it, and thus works wonderful things in man.  It is also coal ravaging, burning up the whole old man.  Psalm 119.  Christ is the altar on which we offer our sacrifices of entreaty, in order that he may commend us to God the Father.  In whom [Christ] also are burning coals, because in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge of God are hidden.  And from his plenitude we all receive.  The burning coals are his words, which kindle the heart of the two disciples on their journey [Luke 24].  Revelation 6.  “I saw under the altar the souls that had been beheaded on account of the word of God.”

Moreover, he carries [it] with forceps from the altar, he who takes up and preaches the word constantly and with great faithfulness, and does not slip away (?).  And in place of the forceps of the angel is love.  Is it not so that faithful teachers conform to this, that he should receive the teaching of Christ from the altar of sacred Scripture, indeed, from Christ himself, not human dreams and frivolous traditions from the fathers; and that the work of God should work in love and great faithfulness, not in fear, but that it should have the word of faith in its hand and its power, through which the Lord will give to him the authority of loosing and binding, of cleansing and leaving [uncleansed] in lowly things?

And he touched my mouth.)

I said that faith is confirmed by two things, signs and promises.  He touched the mouth of the prophet, by which sign he might be cleansed, in which way also to us Christ instituted sacred σφραγίδας [seals] for strengthening the infirmity of our conscience.  But no one is touched or receives worthily, except by faith.  Now with all the sacraments words are used, otherwise they would signify nothing.  And the letters apart from the sign and the sign apart from the letters do not confirm faith.  Wherefore he supplies words also.  See: the thing is with worthy admiration.  This coal is certainly applied.  The power of it is such, that yours sins are destroyed, and that you are cleansed from sins, which you contracted by contact with others, and from iniquity, by which you trusted less in God.  Because he had mentioned sin twice, he speaks also a double propitiation.  For the word of God, through faith, cleanses from all sins.  For whoever believes that it happens will not be confounded.  Whence, if the lips of our heart are rightly touched, we will be justified, and we will be sent back with a suitable divine ministry.  Likewise it will be [it will be said later] to be cleansed by lips of those by whom are to be announced the messages of God, and to be cleansed the feet of the apostles in the gospel which he sends them to preach.  When our affections are cleansed, in order that we may receive the glory of God with a pure heart and worthy conscience, then we are completely clean, as Christ also declared his disciples to be completely clean.  Observe that it is said in the third person, “It touched,” not “I touched” in first person.  For in Hebrew it is ויגע [it touched] and the LXX agrees, which says, ἥψατο.  For not of the minister but of the coal is mentioned for cleansing, lest namely the minister should glory in his ministry beyond what is fitting, and that which belongs to God he should arrogate to himself.  It is of God to remit sins.  And the preaching of the gospel [p. 61b] not only simply cleanses me, but absolves.  But if it is applied to the lips of my heart, then it will cleanse, and make [me] worthy, that I may be applied to greater ministry of God.


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