Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—1 October 2020, Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus
[The image is Rembrandt’s “Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes” – Judith 12:15 “So [Judith] proceeded to dress herself in all her woman’s finery.”]
Judith 10:1-5, 11-16; 11:1-6, 18-21
Judith in the Presence of Holofernes
When Judith had ceased crying out to the God of Israel, and had ended all these words, she rose from where she lay prostrate and called her maid and went down into the house where she lived on Sabbaths and on her feast days; and she removed the sackcloth which she had been wearing, and took off her widow’s garments, and bathed her body with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment, and combed her hair and put on a tiara, and arrayed herself in her gayest apparel, which she used to wear while her husband Manasseh was living. And she put sandals on her feet, and put on her anklets and bracelets and rings, and her earrings and all her ornaments, and made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all men who might see her. And she gave her maid a bottle of wine and a flask of oil, and filled a bag with parched grain and a cake of dried fruit and fine bread; and she wrapped up all her vessels and gave them to her to carry.
Then they went out to the city gate of Bethulia, and found Uzziah standing there with the elders of the city, Chabris and Charmis.
The women went straight on through the valley; and an Assyrian patrol met her and took her into custody, and asked her, “To what people do you belong, and where are you coming from, and where are you going?” She replied, “I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to the presence of Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report; and I will show him a way by which he can go and capture all the hill country without losing one of his men, captured or slain.”
When the men heard her words, and observed her face – she was in their eyes marvellously beautiful – they said to her, “You have saved your life by hurrying down to the presence of our lord. Go at once to his tent; some of us will escort you and hand you over to him. And when you stand before him, do not be afraid in your heart, but tell him just what you have said, and he will treat you well.”
Then Holofernes said to her, “Take courage, woman, and do not be afraid in your heart, for I have never hurt any one who chose to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of all the earth. And even now, if your people who live in the hill country had not slighted me, I would never have lifted my spear against them; but they have brought all this on themselves. And now tell me why you have fled from them and have come over to us – since you have come to safety. Have courage; you will live, tonight and from now on. No one will hurt you, but all will treat you well, as they do the servants of my lord King Nebuchadnezzar.”
Judith replied to him, “Accept the words of your servant, and let your maidservant speak in your presence, and I will tell nothing false to my lord this night. And if you follow out the words of your maidservant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes.”
“And I will come and tell you, and then you shall go out with your whole army, and not one of them will withstand you. Then I will lead you through the middle of Judea, till you come to Jerusalem; and I will set your throne in the midst of it; and you will lead them like sheep that have no shepherd, and not a dog will so much as open its mouth to growl at you. For this has been told me, by my foreknowledge; it was announced to me, and I was sent to tell you.”
Her words pleased Holofernes and all his servants, and they marvelled at her wisdom and said, “There is not such a woman from one end of the earth to the other, either for beauty of face or wisdom of speech!”
St. Fulgentius of Ruspe
Ep. II ad Gallami, 29-20 (Corpus Christianorum Latina 91:207-208)
Behold a wisdom, famous in family, wealthy in goods, young in age, marvellous in appearance, who despised riches, repudiated delights, trampled on the attractions of the flesh, and, putting on virtue from on high, did not seek to be entangled in a second marriage. So, by the witness of so brilliant a deed, it is apparent how beloved of God is a widow’s continence. Then when Holofernes besieged Bethulia in force with an army and all the power of the Israelites, shaken, grew weak, chastity went forth to assault lasciviousness, and holy humility proceeded to the destruction of pride. He fought with armies, she with fasts; he with drunkenness, she with prayer. Therefore, what the entire people of the Israelites was unable to do, the holy widow accomplished by the virtue of chastity. For one woman cut off the head of the leader of so great an army and restored to the people of God an unhoped for freedom.
Let us also see in the New Testament how the way of life of Saint Anna is revealed to us. Concerning her, Saint Luke speaks as follows: There was also a Prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.
These two widows, although they lived in different periods, still both served the mystery of the one faith; because Christ, whom Anna knew as born in the flesh, Judith had known as one who was going to be born. How God showed in each widow that continence pleases him greatly! For Judith, girded with spiritual weapons, cut off the head of the lustful brigand. But Anna, filled with the Holy Spirit, knew the very head of the Church. The death of Holofernes was given to Judith; to Anna was revealed the coming of the Saviour. To the former, God gave it to drive away a plague from the people; to the latter, he gave it to recognise the remedy of the human race. And because the continence of the widow follows after virginal holiness as a lower degree, therefore, after the Son of God was born of a virgin, he deigned to be proclaimed by the office of the widow’s tongue. Still it was not a widow given over to pleasure who spoke about him, one who is dead while she lives, but one who never left the temple but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.