Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Little Lectio

Terra advises us to begin Lectio divina by turning to the texts of the liturgy, and committing them to memory.  Perhaps I'll commit something to writing, then, at the least...

On this Sunday of Advent, as happens in the Office, the capituli ("little chapters") for use at the Hours are taken from to-day's magnificent Epistle, itself an extract from Romans xv, 4-13.  How appropriate, then, to take up these texts from the first and most celebrated writing of the Apostle, during this Year of St Paul!


1.  The first capitulum, which the liturgy highlights given its use at both Vespers, at Lauds and at Terce (which is meant to be celebrated directly before the High Mass), is the striking beginning of the pericope, Romans xv, 4:

Fratres: Quæcumque scripta sunt, ad nostram doctrinam scripta sunt: ut per patientiam,  et consolationem Scripturarum spem habeamus.

(Brethren: Whatsoever was written, for our doctrine was written: that through patience, and the consolation of the Scriptures we may have hope.)
There are some nice plays on words here: Jerome thrice uses derivatives of scribere, to write: I could have rendered "Scriptures" as "(Holy) Writ" above to make this clearer.  "Whatsoever", in other words, everything, all that has been written - in the Old Testament, that is, as the New was still in process of writing and had not yet been recognized by the Church; St Paul goes on to quote several passages from the Psalms and Isaias in succeeding verses - has been written down, not frivolously, but as teaching for us to learn (doctrina, "doctrine", comes from docere, to teach): and why?  That "...through the consolation of (Holy) Writ we may have hope". 

What is consolatio?  It is the noun derived from the deponent consolari, to comfort together (cum + solari); one could say, to sympathize or empathize, to suffer with, and in this case its meaning is better captured by noting the intervening word patientia (< pati, to suffer, to endure): the implication is, we as Christians must needs endure much, whether the sacrifices, sadnesses and difficulties of life common to all men, or the special sufferings (estrangement from friends, maltreatment by an unbelieving and hostile world, even martyrdom) proper to those who follow a Crucified Saviour.  The Scriptures, the "things written", teach us that "all who seek to lead a godly and pious life in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Tim. iii, 12), by holding up before us holy Job of old, indeed, all the righteous and prophets who endured much down the ages:

Take, brethren, as an example of labour and patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call them blessed who have endured.  You have heard of the patience of Job...
(Jas v, 10f)

Lest, devastated by our miseries, we utterly despair, we are reminded that we can have hope, a twofold trust: one in the reward attached to perseverance in suffering, like Job stedfast on the dunghill, awaiting the salvation of God; the other, that engendered by the Word of God, making plain us how those who weep and mourn in this world shall be comforted in the coming Kingdom of God (St Matt. v, 5; and cf. all the Beatitudes).

The Anglicans long ago derived a splendid collect from this sentence of Scripture, which they read on this day:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Amen indeed!


2.  At Sext, the capitulum is taken from Romans xv, 5-6:

(And may the God of patience, and of solace, give unto ye to think the same towards one another, according to Jesus Christ: that with one soul with one mouth ye may honour God, and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.)

God is the God of patience, He desires us to practise it, just as He is ever-patient with us; moreover, He is the God of solace also, of consolation (both deriving from solari, noted above), in that He gives us the strength to suffer and endure all things.  

But here St Paul prays a blessing on us, that this long-suffering and consoling Deity have us regard each other with the same thoughts, literally to savour (sapere) the same things - which is to say in better English, to be of the same mind.  And in what manner?  After the pattern of Christ, of course: there can be no other fitting way.  And thus to think - why?  That being of one mind, we may as with one mouth together glorify God, the Father of Christ.  For our chief end is to adore the Lord: "Ye shall [worship] the Lord on this mountain" (cf. Exodus iii, 12).  Is not our blessed destiny to know, love and serve God, and be happy with Him forever in heaven, ever worshipping before the throne of God and of the Lamb?  This praise will then be perfect and united; so let us practise here what shall occupy us hereafter, lest, unfitted for common praise, we seek our proper place - which would not then be in heaven!

Again, I'm reminded of an Anglican Collect, this time, "A Prayer for Unity", used on the Anniversary of the Accession of The Queen:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so we may henceforth be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ut unum sint!


3.  Finally, at None (which I haven't prayed yet), the capitulum comes from the very end of the longer passage read at Mass: it is the parting blessing of the Apostle, as it were, from Romans xv, 13:

Deus autem spei repleat vos cum omni gaudio et pace in credendo: ut abundetis in spe, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti.

(And may the God of hope fill ye with all joy and peace in believing: that ye may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost.)

This is a passage dear to me, since I associate it with St Philip Neri, that animate instrument of the Third Person of the Trinity, who was such a model of "all joy and peace in believing", who did indeed abound both in hope and in power, power to convert souls, and to that end even to work wonders.  

To-morrow afternoon we will meet together in the society of the Brethren of the Oratory, and I feel that among my other contemplations I may well turn to this text, to feed upon its promise - for surely St Paul, St Philip, and all the Saints together, with the peerless Immaculate Virgin, do impetrate God continually on our behalf for this exceeding precious grace and favour?  

Without it we would have no peace, no joy; but if what we know of sacred doctrine does impart to us hope and trust in God, surely we ought be running over with gladness and delight, with measureless longing for the Lord, and be strengthened with the power of His might, to the end that we may be saved.

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