Posted by: rosa alba | June 28, 2009

Virtually yours,


The Three Virtues, St Machars Cathedral Stained Glass Window

The Three Virtues, St Machar's Cathedral Stained Glass Window

There are three theological virtues, as three (theological) manifestations of the One God.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,” and certainly,  while “ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est (where charity and love are, there is God)”, there is -further- a fundamental interdependency between each of the three theological virtues: a mutual relationship, emanating from God,  Of course, charity and acts of corporeal mercy can exist seemingly separate from God, at least in the minds of those without belief in God, although I might argue that all such manifestations are God’s Spirit breaking through, inasmuch as God informs and drives everything, as ultimate Signifier: God is, love but one of the ways in which He shows it.

Today’s  second reading (13th Sunday of  Ordinary Time, Year B),  again from Corinthians (II Corinthians, 8: 7ff),  spoke of  love as charity in the  un-seeking sharing what one has to spare which reflects the exhortation of Christ to give to the poor,  both materially (and on the eve of the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, one might argue spiritually in our going out to “fish for men”); but, what is love, or charity?  Not eros, of course, but agape; according to St Paul,  in the passage which begins with the words reflected in the stained glass window above,  (the passage read –iconically– at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians, 13

Love is, therefore, of the Fruit of the Spirit, and the foremost.  It is interesting that the translations render it thus, as a singular “fruit” despite the seven elements:

“22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.”

[Galatians 5]

A singular fruitmanifest in various ways, if indivisible in its cohesive Unity (and origins); somewhat like the Trinity, perhaps, and attributes which -all- cannot exist within us, perhaps independent of the Spirit’s working.

St Paul was, of course, a Rabbi and orthodox at that; those Pauline letters written by him or by his adherents will be informed by many of the tenets of then contemporary mainstream Judaism (for all he asserts in Galatians, that in Christ there is no circumcised and uncircumcised, circumcision being one of the talmudic mitzvot, an outward sign of God’s covenant with Israel, the progeny of Abraham; and another recent reading in this year’s Daily cycle),  and in Paul’s use of the imagery at the end of the first long passage from Corinthians – in translation at least – of mirrors and vision, we see the traditional Jewish image, kabbalistic and with echoes  to (Christian readings of) The Song of Song’s (if I remember correctly), of shrouding or obscuring – a partial view – of Truth,  with regard to the experience of God; and indeed our own identity (inasmuch as our likeness to God, in our Souls); a parallel to the lifting of Paul’s own blindness through light.  Also redolent of Paul’s rabbinic heritage, is the parallelds in the passage from Galatians with that from Micah (repeated elsewhere in Hosea too):

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

[Micah 6:8]

So, as Christians, we are called to acts of Corporeal and Spiritual Mercy, which have their roots in the talmudic mitzvot;  although colloquially “mitzvah” is translated as an act of kindness, the concept of mitzvot the plural is more closely circumscribed than that and includes the twice daily reciting of the Shema, as well as  giving thanks for blessings received, and saying “grace”, as Our Lord gave thanks at the Last Supper for the bread and wine before Him, and as the Eucharistic Prayer itself in the words “Blessed are you Lord God of all Creation”, includes a grace.  While Christ is the Second Adam, the Messiah and, so, we live in a Messianic Age (and from a Jewish perspective, the Messianic Age will sweep out many of these old Commandments – Maimonides enumerated over 613 ) where,  for Christians, his Bodily Sacrifice on the Cross is the New Covenant with the world rather than just the Chosen People,  and while Christ Himself spoke of the new commandment of loving one’s neighbour, in Mark (12, 28) when Jesus is asked which of the commandments is the most important, He replies to the questioning Scribe, incontrovertibly (citing the words of the Shema):

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The acts of spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy are just that: manifestations of loving one’s neighbour, even if tough love sometimes, and so acts that go beyond charity.  In this respect – (tough) love of neighbour – they retain elements of the 613 talmudic mitzvot:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead

The corporeal acts of mercy are more charity-based, perhaps:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

In love, through, from love of God, whose nature manifest as Father, Son, Spirit is Love (amor in Latin), is born not just  caritas but also compassion, patience, kindness, peacefulness, self-restraint, peace, and joy; Faith is enumerated as that which is Fruit of the Spirit, and Faith is, perhaps (God’s Faith in us and our Faith in God) something which cannot exist separate from Love (in a filioque manner): all that which matters.  Hope, likewise is perhaps born of love of God, of experiencing (however imperfectly, as humans) the Fruit of the Spirit,  but also inseparable from Faith.

Today’s Gospel reading (also Friday’s) recounted both the story of the  Jairus’ daughter  – and the Faith he had in Jesus ability to heal his daughter – as well as the haemorrhaging woman, unclean and destitute: an outcast in her society whose understanding of (Faith and Hope in) Christ’s healing powers (Love) such that she knew she need only touch the hem of his gown.  Equal to Jairus’ and the bleeding woman’s faith and hope, was that of the Centurion with the ailing servant (in Matthew) who understood”ust say the word, and my servant will be healed.”; words we repeat before receiving the (healing) sacrament of the Eucharist, and  it was a meet reminder at a Baptism during Mass last Sunday, when Fr James reiterated that it is in all the sacraments that Christ (God) is present (not just the Eucharist) as a healing force, where healing is unifying that which separates us from God and one another.  Faith brings hope of being healed through grace,  here on earth and of Eternal Salvation.

The Shema Yisrael of modern Christianity, might be then – not as I had been thinking the Benedictus of Morning Office, though that too has its’ undeniable beauty and its place, but  that which restores us and our world view, to its’ place in the Infinity of Universe:

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

A concept perhaps beyond our human imagining, tied as we are to time and place.



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