The Holy One

The vision of the Lord described in Isaiah 6 emphasizes the message that Christ alone is holy Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity

When we speak of Christ, among all human beings, as 'alone holy,' the expression is not one of simple degree. He is not only holier than the rest of us. He is holy in a sense very different from the rest of us. His is not a derived holiness. It is the very holiness of God, 'for in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily' [Col. 2.9]. The first person in history to perceive this, I suppose, was the prophet Isaiah, who, in mystic vision in the Temple, 'saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.' Isaiah, being a man of unclean lips and coming from the midst of a people of unclean lips, might not have perceived the holiness of this enthroned Lord, but the voices of the Seraphim left him little room for doubt.' Holy, holy, holy,' they cried, 'the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!'

There is a sense in which this scene in Isaiah 6 is our first treatise in Christology Indeed, the New Testament writers perceived in this call of Isaiah a prophetic adumbration of the mystery that they themselves were called to proclaim. The explanation of their insight requires what may seem at first a digression, but we must make it anyway. An important component of the work of the New Testament writers was to address the singular, dark mystery of the Messiah's rejection by the Chosen People, and they had recourse to Isaiah 6 in order to throw light on this matter. Had not Isaiah been ordered to preach with such clarity that only hardness of heart would explain the rejection of his message [Isa. 6.9-10]? The Lord told him, 'Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their

eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.'

This same hardness of heart met by the preaching of Isaiah, the New Testament writers saw, was the key to the Jews' refusal to recognize their Messiah, the same Messiah foretold by that ancient prophet. Because Jesus was rejected for the same reason that the preaching of Isaiah was rej ected, the New Testament writers quoted these very words of Isaiah's prophecy in order to explain the matter [Matt 13.14-15; Mark 4.12; Luke 8.10; Acts 28.26-7]; that is to say, the people who rejected the prophecies of Isaiah could hardly do other than reject the One whom Isaiah prophesied.

The Evangelist John, who also cites these words from the Book of Isaiah to make the same point [John 12.39-40], goes on to elaborate on the original context of those words: 'These things Isaiah said when he saw his glory and spoke of him [12.41]. In this very important text, John recognizes Jesus as the 'Lord' of whom the Seraphim cried, 'Holy, holy, holy'

To this day, this Isaian text prompts us to pray to Christ our Lord, 'Thou alone art holy' Indeed, during the Divine Liturgy, we take up again the cry of the Seraphim to chant to the Lord Christ, 'Holy, Holy, Holy' It is no wonder that Isaiah is sometimes called 'the fifth Evangelist.' When Isaiah describes this 'Lord' as 'high and lifted up' {ram wenissa' - 6.1; 57.15), he employs the same expression that later portrays the Suffering Servant [52.13]. The Lord and the Suffering Servant are, in fact, the same Person, the One who alone is holy. Our Lord, both God and man, is the only 'saint.' All holiness comes into humanity through him, not only by way of channel but also by way of font.

 

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