Anglican Moment: The Summary of the Law

Anglican Moment: The Summary of the Law

One of the most frequently overlooked parts of the Divine Liturgy is the Summary of the Law (p. 324 BCP). Many of us have grown so accustomed to saying it that we have a tendency to recite it without ever thinking about it. Yet, there are two questions that we should ask ourselves from time to time in order to remind ourselves of the Summary’s importance in the liturgy. One question is, “Why do we say the Summary of the Law every week during the liturgy?”  The other question is, “What does it mean that ‘on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’?”

sacrament tabernacle The answer to the first question derives from the fact that God always enters into a relationship with His people by forming a covenant, a sacred union by oath. This covenant is established and renewed by means of faith declared in various covenant ceremonies. These official services usually involved the recitation of the standard of holiness, the Ten Commandments or their summary. Jesus called the Lord’s Supper the “New Covenant” (Luke 22:20) and our Eucharist service is the covenant renewal ceremony of that covenant. Therefore, it is appropriate to recite God’s absolutes in the midst of this central rite of the New Testament, the Holy Communion, in either the form of the full Decalogue or the Summary of the Law.

The second question that is important for us to think about when it comes to the Summary of the Law is “what does it mean that ‘on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’?” We begin to answer this question by focusing on Jesus’ summary—we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The first command to love God is a summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments. These first four commandments deal with our relationship with God (having no other gods; worshipping God alone; not taking the name of the Lord in vain; keeping the Sabbath holy). The other six commandments relate to our relationships with others (honoring thy father and mother; not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, not coveting). So, these two commandments summarize the Ten Commandments.

However, the Ten Commandments summarize the moral teaching of the whole Bible. This means that the Summary of the Law is a summary of a summary. Therefore, when Jesus says that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets, He is saying that the entirety of the Holy Scripture depends upon loving God and loving others.

You see, in the Hebrew mind, “the Law and the Prophets” was a synonym for the entire Bible. These were the two divisions in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Law referred to the books of instruction namely the Torah, and the Prophets referred to the rest of the Old Testament.

This means that what Jesus is telling us in the Summary of the Law (and what we are claiming we understand in reciting it) is that the whole Bible is about loving God first and foremost and loving our fellow man with as much love as we have for ourselves. As we participate in this covenant renewal service, we must renew our commitment to love God and love others for this is the basis of the New Covenant.

 

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