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The Patristic Roots of Devotion to the the Most Precious Blood

The Crucifixion by Andreas Pavias (1440-1504/1512)

July is traditionally devoted to the Most Precious Blood. Not long ago, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, in a succinct apostolic letter that rewards prayerful study, Pope St. John XXIII exhorted the faithful to fervently cultivate this devotion, which he described as a privileged means of contemplating the “marvelous manifestation of divine mercy.”

Sadly, in the wake of the Council, many Catholics neglected this devotion, deeming it a medieval accretion at odds with authentic Christian piety. In fact, the writings of the Fathers abound with reverence for the Most Precious Blood. To demonstrate the primitive and fundamental character of this devotion, and so remove obstacles to its observance, there follows a florilegium of patristic texts from the first five Christian centuries.

May every Catholic see, with the aid of the Fathers, that this devotion is a genuine expression of the Gospel, inasmuch as it vividly communicates the surpassing love of God in Jesus Christ. To shed one’s blood is to give oneself utterly; to give oneself utterly is the very essence of love. Thus, when we speak of Christ’s Blood as the price of our redemption, we speak of His surpassing love made tangible and visible, which love more than atones for man’s malice. Additionally, because blood is for man the substance of life, we also speak of the living self-gift Christ provides in the sacred mysteries, principally the Eucharist, whereby we are enlivened with Him and transported in Him to the depths of God.

Occasional exaggerations notwithstanding, there is nothing aberrant or unsophisticated about this devotion. It is the Gospel. It is the Faith. Its origin ultimately lies at the foot of the cross, or even perhaps in the womb of the Virgin Mary, where the blood of the creature became, in a sense, the Blood of the Creator, destined to be poured out for the remission of sins and the destruction of death. Anyone who loves will understand this devotion; anyone with a heart that beats; anyone who knows too well that life, whether natural or supernatural, has a certain cost.

Now hear what our blessed guides in religion have to say.

“Let us look steadfastly to the Blood of Christ, and see how precious that Blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.” -St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 7

“In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His Blood for us by the will of God.” -St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 49

“Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the Blood of God, you have perfectly accomplished the work which was befitting to you.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 1

“I desire the drink of God, namely His Blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans 7

“For I have observed that you are perfected in an immovable faith, as if you were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the Blood of Christ.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 1

“For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His Flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His Blood of sprinkling.”  -Epistle of Barnabas 5

“But now, by means of communion with Himself, the Lord has reconciled man to God the Father, in reconciling us to Himself by the Body of His own Flesh, and redeeming us by His own Blood.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 5, 14, 3

“And as the blood of the Passover saved those who were in Egypt, so also the Blood of Christ will deliver from death those who have believed. Would God, then, have been deceived if this sign had not been above the doors? I do not say that; but I affirm that He announced beforehand the future salvation for the human race through the Blood of Christ.” -St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 111

“Christ served, even to the slavery of the cross, for the various and many-formed races of mankind, acquiring them by the Blood and the mystery of the cross” -St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 134

“Christ, too, when He suffered on the cross, delivered us from accusations and sins, and washed us in His own Blood most pure.” -St. Hippolytus of Rome, On the Law 5

“The Lord Himself brought forth [His children] in throes of the flesh, which the Lord Himself swathed in His precious Blood.” -Clement of Alexandria, The Pedagogue 1, 6

“As, then, when Egypt was smitten, the Jewish people could not escape except by the blood and the sign of the lamb, so also, when the world shall begin to be desolated and smitten, whoever is found in the Blood and the sign of Christ alone shall escape.” -St. Cyprian, Treatise 5, 22

“In taking upon Him manhood, He gave a testimony in the world, wherein also having suffered, He freed us by His Blood from sin; and having vanquished hell, He was the first who rose from the dead.” -St. Victorinus of Pettau, Commentary on the Apocalypse 1, 5

“He is called a sheep: not an irrational one, but the One which through Its precious Blood cleanses the world from its sins.” -St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 10, 3

“The Lord’s cross, then, is my wisdom; the Lord’s death, my redemption; for we are redeemed with His precious Blood.” -St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 3, 5

“This High Priest [Christ] was indeed bound to make passage and entry into the Holy of Holies in heaven through His own Blood, in order that He might be the everlasting propitiation for our sins.” -St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 3, 11

“The sanctification of the Spirit takes place through the sprinkling of Christ’s Blood. “ -St. Leo, Epistle 28, 5

“Even His own Blood He spared not. He indeed, that He might reconcile those who were enemies, poured out even His Blood.” -St. John Chrysostom, Homily 44 on Acts of the Apostles

“This also lovers do. When they see those whom they love desiring what belongs to strangers and despising their own, they give what belongs to themselves, and so persuade them to withdraw themselves from the gifts of those others. Lovers, however, display this liberality in goods and money and garments, but in blood none ever did so. Whereas Christ even herein exhibited His care and fervent love for us. And in the old covenant, because [the Jews] were in an imperfect state, the blood which they used to offer to idols He Himself submitted to receive, that He might separate them from those idols; which very thing again was a proof of His unspeakable affection. But here He transferred the service to that which is far more awful and glorious, changing the very sacrifice itself, and instead of the slaughter of irrational creatures, commanding to offer up Himself.” -St. John Chrysostom, Homily 25 on 1 Corinthians

“What are we to do about our sins? Hear what follows: ‘And the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son shall purge us from all sin.’ Great assurance has God given! Well may we celebrate the Passover, wherein was shed the Blood of the Lord, by which we are cleansed from all sin! Let us be assured: ‘the handwriting which was against us,’ the bond of our slavery, the devil held, but by the Blood of Christ, it is blotted out.” -St. Augustine, Homily 1 on 1 John 1, 5

“The anointing of truth is this; wherein the living and all-life-giving Blood, is sprinkled inwardly in your bodies, is mingled in your understandings, is infused through your inmost chambers.” -St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn 3 for the Feast of Epiphany

“With Your dew besprinkle my vileness, and my crimes in Your Blood shall be atoned! And I shall be, O my Lord, at Your right hand, and with Your Saints I shall be joined!” -St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn 5 for the Feast of the Epiphany

“The flaming sword that keeps the way of paradise and the cherubim that are stationed at its doors are alike quenched and unloosed by the Blood of Christ.” -St. Jerome, Epistle 60, 3

“Being incarnate in the holy Virgin [He] redeemed us from death in which we were held, sold under sin, giving as the ransom for the deliverance of our souls His precious Blood which He poured out by His cross, and having through Himself made clear for us the path of the resurrection from the dead, [He] shall come in His own time in the glory of the Father to judge every soul in righteousness.” -St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius 2, 3

“He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price was His own Blood.” -St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 29, 20

“To Whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice… Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him. But on account of the incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things?” -St. Gregory Nazianzen, Epistle 45, 22

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