Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christ's Coming a Cure for Sin

Having made my humble confession this morning, all day I've been struck by the peculiar appropriateness of the Collect in to-day's Office; for, this being Ember Saturday in Advent, the prayer runs as follows:

Deus, qui conspicis, quia ex nostra pravitate affligimur: concede propitius; ut ex tua visitatione consolemur: Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

God, Who knowest that by reason of our depravity we are afflicted: graciously grant, that by Thy visitation we may be consoled: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

As in common with many Advent collects in the Traditional liturgy, the mention of "coming" has suggested that the Collect (almost certainly originally ad Patrem) has come to be understood as addressing God the Son, Who came in the flesh at Christmas.

"Depravity" sounds rather strong in English, it is true; but, without falling into the self-loathing exaggeration of Calvinistic "total depravity", abhorring the flesh, it is true that fallen man is always falling into sin ("even the just man falls seven times a day"); and it is a sign of worrisome, even wilful and certainly dangerous blindness to have so corrupt a conscience as to imagine otherwise.

But Christ's visitation is not here conjured up as a fearful prospect, but rather as a most potent consolation: if the Light of the world draw near, the darkness is driven away, and the afflicted soul finds comfort. As it says at Sext, Visita nos in salutari tuo - Visit us with Thy salvation.

Christ comes to our souls every moment in the secret visitation of His grace, to console us and raise us from our iniquities, our foolish falls into all that harms us; but we must accept His free gift, for one Day we shall be brought to account for whether or not we have heeded the voice of the Shepherd: If to-day ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts.


All this puts me in mind of the beautiful resumé of salvation history that the Liturgy of St James provides after the Sanctus; here it is, in the version the Nonjurors appointed in their Communion Office of 1718, reminding us of all that Christ has done for us out of loving obedience to His co-equal Father, having taken pity on us so afflicted by our sins, and therefore coming to visit us, and to console us with His salvation:

Holy art thou, almighty and merciful God; thou createdst Man in thine own image, broughtest him into Paradise, and didst place him in a state of dignity and pleasure: And when he had lost his happiness by transgressing thy command, thou of thy goodness didst not abandon and despise him. Thy Providence was still continued, thy Law was given to revive the sense of his duty, thy Prophets were commissioned to reclaim and instruct him. And when the fullness of time was come, thou didst send thine only begotten Son to satisfy thy Justice, to strengthen our Nature, and renew thine Image within us: For these glorious ends thine Eternal Word came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, born of the Blessed Virgin, conversed with mankind, and directed his life and miracles to our salvation...

I particularly like the phrase about Our Lord's conversing with mankind, which is an evident allusion to a passage in the Deuterocanonical books: "Afterwards he was seen upon earth, and conversed with men" (Baruch iii, 38). There's something very pleasant to the ear in this; and I like eighteenth century English.

No comments: