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—12 November 2020, Feria after the Twenty-Second Sunday of Trinitytide (Thursday ~ 32nd Week in Ordinary Time)
[The image is Gustave Doré’s “The Courage of a Mother” (1866) from La Grande Bible de Tours]
II Maccabees 7:20–41
The Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers; the Mother and the Last Son
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his fathers, and that he would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native tongue as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”
While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all men, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all- seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn. So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord.
Last of all, the mother died, after her sons.
St. Valerian of Cimiez
Homilia 18, 1.5 (Patrologia Latina 52:746.747-748)
Dearly beloved, our yearning for eternal life is fired with great hope if from time to time we recall the deeds of individual martyrs. As often as the mother of the Maccabees occurs to our memory, our soul bestirs itself with a joy somehow far greater to love God and win his favour. By the encouragement she gave, she on one day put the crown of martyrdom on seven sons. She was just as strong in faith as she was fruitful in offspring.
In her case there are as many proofs of her virtues as she had sons. For, on one day she gave to the almighty God as many martyrs as she had gained sons on separate occasions of motherhood. Blessed is she among mothers, and more fortunate still in her bereavement! Her faith brought her this great blessing: to migrate on one day with all her offspring to the glory of the heavenly kingdom.
Turn your attention from her to that passage in the Gospel which tells that we should prefer neither parents nor children to Christ. Let it be, perhaps, with some a glorious thing, to be explained with salutary examples, that they have offered one son as a victim to God. This mother has exceeded all the power and wishes of souls – so much so that in the grief of her fierce sufferings she did not let the affections of her motherly love keep back even one of her sons.
Furthermore, notice through how many degrees of virtue her precious faith grew. It is enough to acquiesce once. Yet, because of her love of the Lord, through her willing bereavement she did violence to her motherly love seven times. She was well aware of what she was about, since she knew that all her offspring were taking their place in that eternity of life, according to the scriptural statement: He who loves his life will lose it; and he who hates his life, keeps it to everlasting life.
O new and admirable example of virtue! A mother rejoices in her own bereavement, and her love gains profit from the same source which brought it loss. After she has sent ahead her youngest son whom she loved so tenderly, she herself enters the way of glorious death. Pained for a short while by innumerable tortures, she followed her sons in triumph. Despising this short-lived light, she extended her grasp toward heavenly and eternal goods. Therefore, dearly beloved, if any mother has loving anxiety for the children of her womb, let her imitate the numerous and brave examples this mother has left. Furthermore, let those who serve Christ imitate the struggles of those brave men. Proof that she loves her sons is given by that mother who has banished the error on which this world relies, and from the fruit of her womb she has given a victim to God, and offered willingly herself and those dear ones whom she was every day to immolate.
Br. John-Bede Pauley OSB, PhD
St. John’s Abbey