What a bore clergy find the 'Hymn to Love' in I Corinthians 13 (the EF/BCP Epistle in Sunday's Mass), as yet another engaged couple want Uncle Bob to read it at their wedding. Read, however, in the context of the blistering attack S Paul is making on the failings of the Corinthian Christians, its cutting irony, verging on sarcasm, is rather fun. Whenever S Paul says "Love is not X", he is mightily suggesting that the Corinthians are X. But it isn't irony Kevin and Sharon think they're getting ... I blame the late Thos Cranmer for the start of this vulgarisation. He abolished the fitting pre-Lent Collect for Quinquagesima and replaced it by a composition of his own, highlighting Charity. Since then, it has all been downhill.
If you look carefully at Quinquagesima's BCP/EF Epistle and Gospel (Luke 18:31-43), you may notice that the link between them is the idea of being made able to See. Then, if you turn to the Homily by S Gregory which provides an extract for the third nocturn in the Old Breviary, you will discover that this is exactly what the saint leads us to expect. (Migne, 76, columns 1081 and following; incidentally, as on the preceding two Sundays, the manuscripts tell us that this was preached to the people in the Stational Church - S Peter in Vaticano - on the Sunday we are examining. I will endeavour to amuse you by translating some of S Gregory's little Latin 'fillers' by means of our popular modern 'fillers'.)
"Now look (Ecce enim): who the Blind Man was according to History, we just don't know. But, y'know (tamen) what he signifies through a mystery, we do know. Y'see, (quippe) the Human Race is Blind, and it was chucked out in its First Parent from the joys of Paradise and it is ignorant of the brightness of heavenly light and it suffers the darkness of its own damnation. But, y'know (tamen) it's given a great dose of light through the presence of its Redeemer ...". S Gregory goes on to argue that, as the Blind Man asked for mercy, we have to keep doing that because memories of our sins keep returning and their phantasmata are hardly (vix) overcome by the laments of penitence. He insists that we recall our sins and consider what a terrible Judge is coming to punish; and, the Sunday before the start of Lent, he advises us that our life should have a temporary patch of being made nasty and bitter through penitence so that it doesn't have to endure everlasting bitterness in punishment (vita nostra ad tempus amarescat in paenitentia ne aeternam amaritudinem sentiat in vindicta). "Per fletus, y'see, ad aeterna gaudia ducimur", he adds.
On Quinquagesima Sunday we reach, as we read Genesis in the Breviary, what S Gregory called a couple of Sundays ago the 'Sixth Hour'; the period from Abra(ha)m onwards. Abram has arrived in Egypt; it turns out that his wife Sarai (the Old Testament has a liking for such stories about the weakness Gentile males have for Hebrew beauties) is exactly the sort of product that the Egyptian consumer warmly appreciates - and Pharaoh discovers that he can just about find room for her in his menage. So, of course, YHWH flagellavit Pharaoh plagis maximis together with - it goes without saying - his entire household. As the Old Testament, and the natural disasters of our own age, endlessly remind us, suffering is to a large degree a corporate matter.
Hence, in this Age of the Individual, so much bewilderment about the way the world works; leading to the sort of questions about God's Way with Man by which so many fewer people in previous eras seem to have been worried (but see Luke 13 and read Jonah). But I hope by now I have made clear my own approach to those tedious questions about Theodicy which so worry Modern Man and so tax the ingenuity of those Modern Clergy who feel obliged to answer Modern Man's questions without querying Modern Man's assumptions.
14 February 2021
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Still, it was a nice touch to have the Hymn to Love turn up on St Valentine's Day.
And yes I know, it's a hymn to agape not eros, and Paul is reminding the Corinthians that the patient exercise of simple charity is superior to exercising the other more spectacular gifts such as prophesying and speaking in tongues
An excellent post. The whole theodicy thing is infuriating - just who do we think we are in raising such questions? Carl Trueman's recent book unfolding the story of the 'expressive self' is rather good - and shows just how deeply implicated we are in thinking this way about our 'individuality'. It's *very* hard to slough off.
As we come to the end of the pre-Lent, I could not help recalling Compton Mackenzie's marvellous Whisky Galore. The Catholics of Little Todday did not drink any less whisky during Lent, he averred. But because they knew this season of penitence and abstinence was approaching, they drank even more between Septuagesima and Ash Wednesday. (I gather, by the way, that the the Toddays are based on the Barras.)
On theodicy, that Oxford institution the late Herbert McCabe OP used to deploy his formidable skills as a logician to argue that talking of creation as something God could do well or badly was just meaningless. And the idea that we could give him a performance appraisal for 'godding' was absurd.
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