Judith: Chapter 12 Commentary

Judith () Veronese 3
Paolo Veronese (circle of), Judith feasted by Holofernes, Oil on canvas,” The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology Oxford, England, UK

I have completed a draft translation of the Commentary by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus on the twelfth chapter of Judith. The entire translation project, An Explanation of the Book of Judith, is also available for viewing.

In this chapter Holofernes stashes Judith in his treasure chamber with the rest of his treasure. This seems quite symbolic. The good Abbot, Rabanus, comments on it in verse 3, noting that it symbolizes the secular leadership holding preachers of the Gospel in high regard:

What does it mean that Holofernes instructed Judith to stay in the place “where his treasures were laid up,” unless it means that the leadership of this age consents to hold a very great position for the preachers of the Gospel among those who have a mind that is both intelligent and a recipient of sound faith? For the intensification of a virtuous will is the most valuable treasure of the heart, where the figurative Judith stays, because the Holy Church steadfastly resides there.

The rest of the story is focused on Holofernes’ attempt to draw Judith into his revelry and to seduce her. He is absolutely smitten by her and can’t stand the thought of having her in his camp without having her in his bed. He tries to talk her into eating his food and drinking his wine, but she insists on eating the food that she has brought with her and that is prepared by her maid, so that she won’t be defiled by his food.

Holofernes is a bit put off by this and looks for a way to draw Judith into his feasting. He sees that she has meager provisions and hopes that by this he can draw her into consumption of his victuals. Her food symbolizing her religion, Rabanus observes that this event represents the fact that among secular leaders ,”the worship of the Christian religion is seen to be of little value and they strive to draw its practitioners into the filth of images or the seductions of the carnal pleasures” (verse 4).

Then, alluding to a means of escape from these traps, he describes a practice that aligns closely with the practice of some Orthodox countries or Jurisdictions even today. In preparation for receiving the Eucharist, many Orthodox faithful fast and pray during three days of confession leading up to Holy Communion. Recall that Rabanus Maurus was an Abbot in what is present day Germany. Consequently, it seems plausible that the practice we find in many Orthodox countries today was also found in eighth century western Europe. The blessed abbot describes it this way (verse 5):

But those with a faithful soul and a sure hope assure themselves that divine grace quickly comes to help, persist in prayers the entire night of this world, and baptize themselves with a fountain of tears; they wash the bed of their heart with a psalm throughout each night and water the couch of their thoughts with pious tears (cf. Ps 6:7); and in this manner during the three days of Catholic confession, completing their prayer through faith, hope, and love, (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) they finally on the fourth day, that is in the scintillating light of the Gospel, prepare for themselves victory over the enemy, and the author of death and darkness himself, blinded by his own malice, they convict as guilty, with eternal liability.

The key for Rabanus is that the Holy Church and her members remain pure in spite of living in the secular world. Consuming her own food, she is “in no way polluted by the idolatry or superstition of the Gentiles,” but has, as the Lord Himself said to his Disciples, “meat to eat, which you know not … My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect His work.”

UPDATE (8/7/2019): After more research, it seems that the above description of a penitential practice may instead be alluding to the quarterly penance practiced by all Christians during a period now known as Ember Days or Embertide. The three Ember Days were always on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the same week. On the fourth day, Sunday, the faithful would celebrate Holy Mass. These days were widely observed throughout the Frankish empire by the time of Rabanus Maurus, having been enjoined by Charlemagne in 769. Embertide does not seem to have ever been observed in the eastern Church.

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