I don't always enjoy reading the same lection day after day. I hope it doesn't make me a Novus Ordo freak if I admit that (a truncated version of ) the Parable of the Talents, as Confessor Bishop follows Confessor Bishop in our ... dare I use this word ... rather clericalist Calendar, sometimes seems a bit of a trial.
However, the Mulier fortis from Proverbs 31 is always a joy to me. I just wonder how I am to situate some of the phrases in it. But I positively love it when another vidua pops cheerfully up and I have to read this exquisite passage .
Today, I banished indolence and fished my (rather old edition of) Brown-Driver-Briggs, and my (even older) Septuagint, off their shelves because I have long wondered what the opening words actually mean. Is she a 'good' woman (RSV) or a 'strong' woman (Vulgate)? The Septuagint gave me rather a shock: on the surface, it seems that she is a 'manly' woman. Perhaps this explains the opening of the Office Hymn by Cardinal Silvio Antoniano: Fortem virili pectore ...
But BDB gave me the lowdown: the Hebrew term has a root sense of effectiveness. It is often a physical word, not infrequently a military term. But sub voce 2, "ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth". The lexicon offers Genesis 47:6, Exodus 18:21et25, Ruth 3:11, I Kings 1:42et52, and Proverbs 12:4.
How about the husband? It it protosatire to describe him sitting in the shade of the City Gate watching all the world go by and gossipping with his peers, while she does all the work? Or is he simply one of her fashion accessories? I think, neither. Rather, her brilliance and successes are a massive feather in his cap. (The LXX gives a vivid detail when it describes him as peribleptos.) Could it be that we have in this passage a clever example of the world, so often seen through male eyes, pictured wifeishly? As when a Euripidean Medea points out that giving birth can be more dangerous and painful than gadding around dressed as a hoplite.
One of the things I like about the Hebrew Scriptures is the picture it gives of women. There are those beauties adept at using their charms to save the People ... who naturally end up as types of the Mother of God in her role as Potent Intercessor. Indeed, the cultus of our Lady would be rather impoverished if it could not draw upon the Hebrew Scriptures. Tota pulchra es Maria ...
The most important lesson of Proverbs 31 is the truth that the Woman runs the Family and the Household, while the Man is the Family's outward face, turned to the World and to the other Families. But I am also rather taken by the respect that Hebrew culture implies towards the Wife. Perhaps our current sexual culture would be healthier if it understood this.
After we were married and got away from the Reception to a hotel, and took an early supper in the restaurant, I remember looking up from the menu at the waiter and saying "My wife will have ..."; and thinking what a beautiful word "Wife" was.
I have not changed my mind since then.