DAVID I. In the Fathers – II. Iconography

I. In the Fathers. David is the “father” of the Messiah: the Christ who will be born of his flesh will be called the “son of David” Mt 1:1 and 21:9. He is king, prophet, shepherd. The people await a liberator from David’s family whose “kingdom will not end” Lk 1:33; 2 Sam 7:16. The Essenes seem to have expected a Davidic “kingly” Messiah and an Aaronic “priestly” Messiah CD XX, 1 and 1 QS 9,11. Jesus, inheriting “the throne of David his father” Lk 1:32, is presented as a spiritual and universal king who also possesses prophethood and the priesthood Mt 22:41-45; Jn 18:36-37. In the day of judgment the “shoot of David” Rev 5:5 from Is 11:1 will hold in his hand “the key of David” Rev 3:7 from Is 22:22, the key of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Fathers identified David with Christ. He has “the heart of God” 1 Sam 13:14; Hipp., Dav. 2,1, and is a righteous man because he is able to ask for forgiveness Clem. of Rom. 18,1-17. Gnostics saw in Jesse’s eighth son a symbol of the “ogdoad” Iren., Adv. haer. I 18,3; Ebionites were hostile to David Ps. Clem. Hom. XVIII 13,3-4. Taking up the figurative traditions of the synagogue, churchmen discovered in each Davidic likeness the image of Christ, who, as “seed of David,” is man and, as “seed of the Holy Spirit,” is God Ign., Eph. 18,2 and Trall. 9,1; Tertull., Carn. Chr. 21,5-22,6. Jesus is “the holy vine of David” and the “God of David” Did. 9,2 and 10,6; cf. Clem. Al., Quis div. 29,3. Hippolytus, sensing David’s Messianic centrality, dedicated an entire treatise to him, as did Ambrose and Chrysostom.

In De David et Goliath CSCO 263-264, David’s victory over the giant, allegorized in every detail, is a sign of the victory of Christ over evil, in which every person who puts on the armor of God participates 6,1–15,4. Christ, defeating death and proclaiming the resurrection, reveals the salvific import of Davidic election: God chose David that from him the Messiah, begotten in the Spirit by the Father, might be born in the flesh. David, consecrated king with the anointing of immortal life 2,2–4,5, was “begotten of the Father’s heart” so that he could beget the man Jesus: “As the Word was begotten from my heart, so the man was born of David! Indeed he says: I have found David, a man after my own heart: my heart has begotten the Word and, through David, also the man” Hipp., In. Ct. 2,23; cf. Dav. 4,6 and 11,4; Antichr. 8. Mary, born into David’s family, in accepting Jesus accepts in her flesh the humanity of all those who have loved justice, interweaving it with the Spirit received from God to form Christ’s humanity In. Ct. 27,1-12; Co. Dan. II 27,6-7; Ben. Jacob 16; Antichr. 4. Hippolytus’s interpretation is the foundation of patristic exegesis: David is king, prophet and priest Dav. 2,1-2 and 12,2.

1. King. Anointed by God, the king of Israel foreshadows the universal king Hipp., Dav. 16,2-5; Tertull., Marc. III 20,1-10; IV 36,8-14; Hilary, In Ps. 51,4. The “true David” is Jesus Hipp., Dav. 11,4; Ambr., Apol. I 17,81; Aug., In Ps. 96,2. Christ, the king who becomes a servant, is persecuted as was David Melit., Hom. 59,434 and 69,504; Aug., In Ps. 51,1-5, but victorious over the lion and the bear, who represent death and sin, and over the giant, who is Satan: “as David threw down Goliath, it is Christ who kills the devil  . It is humility that kills pride” Aug., In Ps. 33,1,4; cf. Hipp., Dav. 11,1-4; Cypr., Test. 2,16; Greg. Naz., Or. 5,30; Aug., Serm. 32,1-28. The king, as Bathsheba’s husband, prefigures Christ’s marriage with the purified church Ambr., Apol. I 3,14; II 8, 40ff.; cf. Orig., In Rom. 2,14. The bread that David ate in the sanctuary prefigures the Eucharist Ambr., In Lc. 5,37; Theodoret, In I Reg. 52. 2. Prophet. David is “the perfect prophet” because he makes prophecy into a song of life Hipp., Dav. 1,1 and 11,2; Ambr., In Ps. 118, 10,32.

The “sweet singer of Israel” 2 Sam 23:1, considered the father of music and physician of the soul, “drove away demons with his music of truth,” revealing that the “all-harmonious, well-tuned, holy instrument” of the divine music is man made in God’s image; the Word “plays to God with this instrument of a thousand voices and sings with the instrument that is man” Clem. Al., Protr. I 5,3-4; cf. Strom. VI 88, 1-5; Greg. Naz., Or. 5,30 and 17,2; Ambr., In Ps. 1,7; Jerome, Ep. 53,8; Theodoret, In I Reg. 46. The Word is the “plectrum” that makes the prophets resound like lyres Hipp., Antichr. 2. David’s “lyre” 1 Sam 16:23 is “the musical instrument of humanity; its song is the word revealed to us by him who became incarnate” Greg. Nyss., In Ps. 2,16. His “psalter” is made “in the form of the body of the Lord” Hilary, In Ps. prol. 7. Christ uses his humanity like a lyre Hipp., Antichr. 2; Dav. 5,2. “In our communities David sings Christ because, through David, Christ has sung himself ” Tertull., Carn. Chr. 20,3. David is the “instrument of the divine voice” for that most sweet song that is “the remission of sins and the resurrection of the dead”; in his Psalms “Christ in person” speaks: history becomes prophecy in a superhuman musical language that exalts the sweetness of the word and spurs to virtue Ambr., Iac. II 9,39; Apol. I 17,80. These themes enrich the Fathers’ numerous Commentaries on the Psalms, esp. Psalm 50. 3. Shepherd.

David is the “true shepherd” Hipp., Dav. 5,1, exemplar of all the virtues: meekness, humility, patience, wisdom, generosity, faith Hipp., Dav. 12,1-2; Did., In Ps. 50; Greg. Nyss., Melet.; Ambr., Apol. I 6,30 and 17,81. Repentance for sin is a fundamental example: David the king, sign of human frailty, through the cry of the psalm begging pardon reveals that the saint is a pardoned sinner who proclaims the mercy of God and the resurrection of man Cyr. of Jer., Cat. 2,11-12; Ambr., Apol. I 7,35 et passim; Interp. Job et David IV 1,1; In Lc. 3,37-39. One who sees the saints fall, says Augustine, “observes the greatness of the wound, but does not despair of the majesty of the physician”: he can “rise again with David” Aug., In Ps. 50,3-5. Meekness and humility make of David a model for those who desire to live the beatitudes: “be meek like Moses and David, because the meek will possess the earth” Apos. Con. VII 7,3; cf. Greg. Naz., Or. 14,2. David prefigured Christ the good shepherd: “he who will be raised up to pasture the saints is not David the patriarch, but Christ” Ezek 34:23, in Orig., In Jo. I 23,146; cf. Aug., Serm. 47,20. Jesus is “the true David, the truly humble,” who emptied himself in the incarnation and the cross Ambr., In Ps. 118,14,4.

H. Leclercq, David: DACL 4, 295-303; L. Pirot, David: DBS 2, 287-330; S.M. Harris, St. David in the Liturgy, Oxford 1940; J. Daniélou, David: RAC 3, 594-603; P. Hadot – M. Cordier, Ambroise de Milan. Apologie de David, SC 239, Paris 1977; L.F. Pizzolato, La dottrina esegetica di Sant’Ambrogio, Milan 1978, 117- 129; P. Meloni, La chitarra di David: Sandalion 5 1982 233-261.

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