Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cuddling Up With Wisdom

I found this interesting, from Matins today (in the pre-1960 Office, which I use, which still has all the patristic homilies and such).

The first section (out of three) of the Scripture reading at the First Nocturn was this, a Bible story I wasn't terribly familiar with from the first chapter of the Third Book of Kings (in protestant[ized] Bibles known as the First Book of Kings, as the First and Second Books of Kings are then called "1 and 2 Samuel"):
1 Now king David was old, and advanced in years: and when he was covered with clothes, he was not warm. 2 His servants therefore said to him: Let us seek for our lord the king, a young virgin, and let her stand before the king, and cherish him, and sleep in his bosom, and warm our lord the king. 3 So they sought a beautiful young woman in all the coasts of Israel, and they found Abisag a Sunamitess, and brought her to the king. 4 And the damsel was exceeding beautiful, and she slept with the king: and served him, but the king did not know her.
Consulting other translations, this "did not know her" indeed means he abstained from sexual relations with her. It's a rather strange thing to mention right at the beginning of the book, I think, though it does set up a later event in Solomon's reign. The letter by St. Jerome at the Second Nocturn, however, sheds some light on it through the allegorical interpretation of Abisag as Wisdom:
Then David, who had once been a man of war, was seventy years old, the chill of old age came upon him, and he could get no heat. So they sought out for him throughout all the coasts of Israel Abishag the Shunamite, to sleep with the king and to warm his aged body. Who is this Shunamite, wife and yet virgin, so hot, that she could heat the chilly, so holy, that her warmth provoked him not to lust. Let Solomon the Wise explain his father's enjoyment, and the "Peaceful One" tell of the warrior's embraces. "Get wisdom, get understanding forget it not, neither decline from the words of my mouth forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing therefore get wisdom and with all thy getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee. Honour her, and she shall embrace thee, and shall give to thine head an ornament of grace. She shall compass thee like a crown of delights." In old men almost all the powers of the body become weakened, and while wisdom only is increasing, all things else beside wisdom fail. Then faileth strength for fasting, for watching, for "chameuniae," (that is, sleeping on the floor,) for wandering hither and thither, for receiving strangers, for defending the poor, for instance and constancy in prayer, for visiting the sick, for that work with the hands whence alms are given. I need not treat of this with long talk, but, in short, when the body is broken down, all the works of the body wax enfeebled. Don't either do I say, on the other hand, that wisdom, which in many old men drivelleth into second childhood, is weak, or wanting in such of the young and stout, as win knowledge by work and earnest study, by holiness of life and instancy of prayer to the Lord Jesus, but this I do say, that the more spiritual faculties have in youth many wrestlings with the body to go through, and that, what with violent provocations to vice, and what with the sensual ticklings of the flesh, they are apt to be smothered like fire among green wood, and not able to blaze forth in all their brightness. But when old age cometh upon them, who have spent their youth in acquiring sound knowledge, and have meditated in the law of the Lord day and night, it hath this effect on them, to make them more learned by their increased years, more experienced by constant use, more wise, through the advance of time and, in short, doth offer them the rich harvest of their past diligence.
This somewhat relates to the Gospel Homily by St. Hilary (on Matthew 7:15-21) at the Third Nocturn warning that it is deeds, not words, which will save a man:
The Lord here warneth us that we must rate the worth of soft words and seeming meekness, by the fruits which they that manifest such things bring forth in their works, and that we should look, in order to see what a man is, not at his professions, but at his deeds. For there are many in whom sheep's clothing is but a mask to hide wolfish ravening. But "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." Thus, the Lord teacheth us, is it with men also evil men bring not forth good fruits, and hereby are we to know them. Lip-service alone winneth not the kingdom of heaven, nor is every one that saith unto Christ, "Lord, Lord," an heir thereof. What use is there in calling the Lord, Lord? Would He not be Lord all the same, whether or not we called Him so? What holiness is there in this ascription of a name, when the true way to enter into the kingdom of heaven is to do the will of our Father, Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name? Already here doth the Lord rebuke the deceit of the false prophets, and the feigning of the hypocrites, who take glory to themselves because of the power of their words, their prophesying in teaching, their casting out of devils, and such-like mighty works. Because of all these things they promised unto themselves that they shall enter into the kingdom of heaven as though in their words and works any good thing were their own, and not all the mighty working of that God upon Whom they call, since reading bringeth knowledge of doctrine, and the Name of Christ driveth out devils. That which is needed on our part to win that blessed eternity, that of our own which we must give, is to will to do right, to turn away from all evil, to obey with our whole heart the commandments laid on us from heaven, and so to become the friends of God. It should be ours rather to do God's will, than to boast of God's power. And we must put off from us and thrust away such as are by their wicked works already estranged from His friendship.
Important lessons for this Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. May all who are cold (in body, heart, or soul) find a holy bedfellow to warm them with the embrace of wisdom, and may all who profess Christ as Lord truly do His will.


Robert said...

I looked at Rashi's (12th cen Rabbi) thoughts on this. He says that by Deut 17:17 and by Samuels response in 2sam:12:8 to david (and interpreted to refer to the 6 wives he had at that time) the max is 18 wives. David at the time of 1kings had 18 wives with Abishag the number would have been 19, but he didn't know her so... he didn't transgress the law (negative commandment 364) ...IDK this is what my Sunday was spent looking over.

Robert said...

Ohhh... and btws abishag's name could either mean in hebrew either "my father is/was a wanderer" or "my father is of error"
Ok. done for tonight