[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—19 November 2020, St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn, Benedictine Nun
[The image is of a statue of St. Rupert of Deutz on the Kölner Rathausturm (Cologne Town Hall Tower)]
The Young Men of Israel in the King of Babylon’s Palace
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace, and to teach them the letters and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate, and of the wine which he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Misha-el he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths who are of your own age. So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah; “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants.” So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food. So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah; therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.
Rupert of Deutz
De Trinitate et Operibus Eius (On the Trinity and Its Works) XLII (Patrologia Latina 167:1499-1502)
We shall now look at the book of Daniel. May Christ, whose mysteries we seek to find in it, open our eyes to the light. What is so arresting is the grandiose vision it contains. There, in the language of imagery, is described the single combat between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, revealed under several different aspects to the captives in Babylon for the consolation of the citizens of God’s kingdom.
First, there is the single stone, hurtling from the mountain, which smote and shattered, without the aid of human hands, the mighty and frightening statue. Then, the fire which neither touched nor distressed the three children in the fiery furnace. Then, the strong and mighty king, marvelling at the Babylon he had built, who became demented by the voice which fell from heaven, was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox. It was after this experience that he acknowledged the most high God, who lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion. Then, the kingdom of Babylon itself is conquered by God our king and given to the Medes and Persians. There is Daniel himself, a man of prayer, who got the better of the calumnious men who criticized him to the king. Then there are the four competing winds of heaven and the four great beasts coming up out of the sea, and after that, there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. Finally, that the kingdom of sin is to be destroyed and to be succeeded by the reign of the kingdom of God is very clearly shown by this prophecy: Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and Prophet and to anoint the Holy One.
But let us now remember Daniel. Daniel loved God, so he had to take a stand against the kingdom opposed to God – against sinful men who are the enemies of God’s kingdom. Born into the world, he knew that because of original sin, he was an exile; he heard the Gentiles say to the captive people of God, because of their actual sins, Where is your God? On the one hand, the tyranny of the evil; on the other, human arrogance. Daniel shunned intimacy with either, desirous as he was of the true glory of the one God. And he won his consolation in proportion to his zeal, for as the psalmist says, You will hear the desires of the meek. At the very beginning of the book, Scripture shows Daniel’s zeal: Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom, but Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
Br. John-Bede Pauley OSB, PhD
St. John’s Abbey