Notes on Genesis (xxxiii) Melchizedek

‘Now Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God most high.’ (Gen 14:18)

The mysterious Melchizedek encountered by Abram is referred to in a psalm: ‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek’ (Ps 110 (109):4); this psalm is prominent in Western liturgy). Building on this, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews saw Melchizedek’s priesthood as a type of the priesthood of Christ, a topic that exercised him considerably (Heb. 5:6). That he was also king of Salem (‘peace’; doubtless ‘Jerusalem’ hovers in the background) provided further reason to identify him with Christ, but his being a priest is more significant. ‘Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, [he] remains a priest continually.’ (Heb 7:3) ‘No other commentary on these words [of the psalmist] surpasses their theologically rich elaboration in Hebrews 7, which sees the priesthood of Melchizedek as a type or foreshadowing of the eternal priesthood of Jesus.’ (Patrick Henry Reardon)  ‘For who is more a priest of the most high God than our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered sacrifice to God the Father and offered the very same thing that Melchizedek had offered, bread and wine, that is, actually, his body and blood?’ (Cyprian) Inevitably, Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine suggests the Eucharist, which lies behind an understanding expressed in the canon of the Tridentine Roman mass, which commemorates the gifts offered by the servant of God Abel the just, the sacrifice of the patriach Abraham, and that which the high priest Melchizedek offered God. These three stories from Genesis are already taken together on mosaics of the sixth century in the church of San Vitale in Ravenna.

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