Sunday, November 13, 2005

Godhead here in hiding

Gerard Manley Hopkins offers this translation of the famed Eucharistic hymn of St Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hopkins' God, Three-Numbered Form

So now for the rest of the stanzas of "Part One" of The Wreck of the Deutschland. Remember, these first ten stanzas are rather like a meditation on God and the person, rather like a "first principle and foundation" for the "spiritual exercise" that is the "Part Two", the tale of the exiled & drowned nuns. These ten stanzas explore the relationship of God and the person, climaxing in a doxology to the Holy Trinity.

“Not out of his bliss”—Stanza Six—describes the stress, explores God’s instressing of the World—which Hopkins deems not as easy and cheap grace but rather as a “stroke and a stress” in a moment of time, in reality. We meet God in “stars and storms”, and “it rides time like riding a river.” The “river” here is many things—the river of life, the river of the Red Sea, death & life both, the water of baptism, the moment of conversion and transformation and Paschal Mystery.

And in Stanza Seven, Hopkins describes the stroke as the intervention, the eruption, the love-stroke of God into human history—the Incarnation. Thus Hopkins describes and makes visual in erotic terms the theology of Nature and Grace. And he indicates that this doctrine is a real historical actual thing that not all men actually know, “faithful” and “faithless”. I like the phrase “the faithless fable and miss”, because it implies a real Beauty at first in fables that ultimately remains unfulfilled because unreal; and it reminds me of the phrase in the very first stanza of the whole poem—“I feel they finger and find thee”—because it implies that the Christian relationship with God is no fabling that fails but a real lovemaking, because it is a real thing. “It dates from day of his going in Galilee.” And even the imagery of the river in these two stanzas is erotic—“hushed” . .”flushed” . . .”melt” . . .”riding a river” . . .”waver” . . .”fable and miss” . . .”dense . . .driven” . . .”sweat” . . .”discharge” . . .”swelling” . . .”felt” . . .”high flood” . . .and since it’s all about the heart whose guilt is “hushed”, so now this heart is “hard” . . .and then, in Stanza Eight, is “Is out with it !Oh, we lash with the best or worst word last!” That’s all pretty sexy penning to describe Grace and the specifics of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. But there it all is—and Hopkins thus in his poem-making celebrates the very flesh of the God-made-flesh!

And this beautiful penning becomes almost exciting in this Stanza Eight, more so perhaps even than Melville in the famed chapter in Moby Dick, in which the whalers celebrate in the very sperm and flesh of the sperm-whale. Hopkins' image for it here is a plum a "sloe" and how it bursts on the tongue and face. It is the real encounter with the living God, Incarnate, present, linked to the real Calvary, His real “feet”, and it is an experience of real Grace, no mere intellectualizing: “Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go!” Our relationship with God is more exciting than anything! And the love-nest of this relationship is the nest of an Altar, the Altar of the Cross.

And the result—Doxology! “Be adored among men” begins Stanza Nine, in an invocation of the “Three-numbered form” of the Holy Trinity, and an act of gratitude that God’s Love can be found even in our suffering, “with wrecking and storm.” And this “lightning and love” is “past telling of tongue”, as St Paul once wrote, but yet Hopkins, in his jammed and crammed and crunched poem tells it.

Stanzas Nine & Ten are a prayer for conversion, like St Paul’s or St Augustine’s. Indeed, for a forging. As is all Christian spirituality—but oh, how much more exciting, more beautiful, more flesh-evocative is Hopkins’ poem than the insipid and pallid phrase “Christian spirituality” which so easily goes Gnostic. Hopkins’ sacramental poetry saves spirituality from itself!

Enough of my commentary. Read it all here for yourself . . .and remember, it’s all an Ignatian First Principle and Foundation for the tale of the exiled nuns, the Wreck of the Deutschland (that phrase itself has multiple meanings!) and real faith in Jesus Christ!

Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt—
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

Is out with it! Oh,
We lash with the best or worst
Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,
To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

Be adored among men,
God, three-number├Ęd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Balthasar on Hopkins

The remaining stanzas of “Part One” of The Wreck of the Deutschland well sing of that personal wrestling-relationship between the person and God—which Hopkins himself certainly experienced, in his vocation as a Poet, yes, and most of all in his vocation as a Jesuit.

Balthasar, in The Glory of the Lord, describes this relationship quite exquisitely---“the always unique oneness of the individual form that only emerges in the Christian encounter between the absolutely personal and free God and the fully personal creature—here alone truly ‘monos pros monon’ [alone with the Alone]—and just this fundamental experience had to lead Hopkins back to Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, where for the first time in the history of Christian spirituality everything is placed on the knife edge of the mutual election that takes place between God and man, behind which retreats any consideration of ‘perfection in general’. Here are dissolved all the confusing clouds of the mythical in order to uncover the absolute, hard reality in which alone the true glory of being shines forth.”

We certainly experience this poetically, most strongly, in Stanza Five—“I kiss my hand”. It is a salute, a loving salute to God in starlight, thunder, and sunset. One is reminded of the chivalric courtesy of Ignatius, as well as the romantic gestures of all poets, the total giving, the gratuitous generosity, the particular hard reality and the sweet spectacular uniqueness of a Vocation and a Response. “I kiss my hand” to God’s revelation of His Beauty, in the here and now, and in the beyond.

We are reminded, too, that gazing upwards at the stars is a sign of Man’s eternal vocation and destiny. And here too Hopkins describes God as the instress of the World—the energy, the be-ing, the let-be-ing that makes the World both that it is and what it is. Hopkins also indicates at least two modes in which he knows God—when he meets or experiences Him, and when he understands Him. And that the poet says “and bless when I understand” hints that real understanding happens only once in a while. But the salute, the generous gesture, is the continual response to the Call, the response to Beauty!

I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

Balthasar saw & heard this vision of Beauty in Hopkins' sacramental poetry!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hopkins' Wreck's Relationship

These first ten stanzas of Hopkins’ The Wreck of the Deutschland form “Part One” of the poem---and they sing the wrestled relationship of the person and God. “Part Two” sings the tale of the death by shipwreck & drowning of the exiled German nuns.

Stanza Four is repose after sudden climax—“I am soft sift”—but it is an active, acted up repose that is still a responsiveness: and that is the Gospel lifestyle. In these dense, rich metaphors, Hopkins gives us a vision of the Beauty of a lifestyle of Grace. Such a life is like two things—sand in an hourglass, water in a well. Either way, we cling to Him, spent, spending, suspended. “Hourglass”, of course, implies time, irreversible, moment by moment, hour by hour, in which we live. And the Gospel lifestyle is one of motion—like, perhaps,in a third image, a ship roped to the dock, roped with the strictures of Christ, which are described as “a vein”. And we know whose vein, and we know our veins too. Thus Hopkins jams more meaning in, almost more than any one word can carry. Thus he is like Pindar and Virgil.

This lifestyle of Grace—“Christ’s gift.” Hopkins shows us—and this is why Balthasar so emphasizes Hopkins in The Glory of the Lord—the Beauty of the relationship with Christ.

I am soft sift
In an hourglass—at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Wreck's Wrestling-Match

The first three stanzas of The Wreck of the Deutschland are as erotic as Tristan und Isolde and describe a three-part climax of spiritual movement—1) God’s mastering call; 2) the person’s swooning response; and 3) the explosion of union. And they root this love-making in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass, or in the Tabernacle during an hour of silent adoration, the “Host” . . .and further, “with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host”. This is no mythic generalized spirituality but rather a real thing, a real love-making with the real God Who became a real Man in Jesus Christ, sacrificing Himself on the Cross and rising from the dead, ascending to this Father and sending His Holy Spirit so that we could encounter Him, know Him, and become one in Him in the Eucharist.

I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

The frown of his face
Before me, the hurtle of hell
Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
I whirled out wings that spell
And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,
Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

Stanza Two confirms this metaphor of the wrestling with God: “I did say yes.” It is a wrestling at night, at prayer, in a chapel—and it is a “swoon” and a “sweep” and a “hurl” and a “midriff . . .laced with fire of stress.” It is a moment when Hopkins says Yes to the call of God—in his own life, perhaps the call to join the Roman Catholic Church or to enter the Jesuits, or perhaps some other night of prayer. It is a moment of a response to God, and an urgent response to an urgent call. This is a real experience, a real thing, . . .and it has been so in the lives of many real Christian persons.

Stanza Three---“the frown of his face” is God’s judgement ahead, “the hurtle of hell” is the penalty, and the person becomes a “dovewinged” dove, “carrier-witted” who flies at the Blessed Sacrament in an aim described as both “fire” and “grace.” Even this climax of rest is an explosion.

Balthasar sees that Hopkins’ poem is the landscape on which the real person encounters the real God—especially in the hour of decision, of choice, of answer, of personal response to a call, of personal vocation, of encounter.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hopkins' Masterpiece

The Wreck of the Deutschland, of course, is Hopkins’ masterpiece—an artistic and a moral masterpiece. For in a Crisis of Impossibility, it is a cry of Faith.

The drama of the poem’s occasion—the death of the exiled German nuns by shipwreck—and the drama of the poet’s situation—the wrestling-match of the encounter between the real person and the real God—are revealed in the poem’s first word, “Thou”, and the poem’s last word, “Lord”. The poem is “Thou Lord.” And everything in-between is the Paschal Mystery—the relationship between the human person and Jesus Christ.

The first stanza—“Thou mastering me God!”—sings with an almost erotic frankness of the wrestling-match of God and the person. God is awesome—as master, creator, teacher, dread doom, divine and human savior. Merely the perception of God, merely the experience of God, merely the addressing of God in the daring, wonderful, heatbreaking syllable “Thou” reveals more theology than all the intellectual constructions of the philosophers, as Pascal knew.

And while I’m certain Hopkins did not wittingly intend an erotic aura, I cannot help but notice that this stanza, concerning the relationship between the real person and the true God, all following the invocation “Thou”, includes a progression of words—“mastering me” . . .”breath” . ..”sway” . . .”bound bones and veins” . . .”fastened me flesh” . . .”touch me afresh” . . .”over again” . . .”feel” . . .finger” . ..”find”. Of course, Hopkins pens in the tradition of The Song of Songs and the canticles of St John of the Cross.

No wonder Balthasar chose Hopkins as a star in the constellation of The Glory of the Lord!

Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It is fascinating that Balthasar devotes a whole chapter to Gerard Manley Hopkins, as one of his stars in the constellation of theologies.

Hopkins spies God in a seeing of Beauty. The created world reveals God's Truth, God's Goodness, God's Beauty--God's very being by showing forth God's Beauty. Hopkins' "God's Grandeur" sings of God's glory in Creation, Man's fallen nature, and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost. The concision and crunch of the words forces us to pay attention to it, as if (as if!?!) the poet were talking, singing about real things that matter. This is a vision more true, more real than mere materialism, naturalism, cynicism, or even political ideology.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The whole Easter Vigil shows itself in this poem!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pope Benedict on Death

As Fr Ryan said last night in his homily at St James Cathedral in Seattle, we have been made well aware of death of late, by the deaths of our own loved ones, and also by the disasters of war, flood, & earthquake in this year of far too much death. So how do we, in Fr Ryan's poignant words, make friends with death.

Pope Benedict too addressed this point yesterday, in his audience on All Souls:

"After celebrating yesterday the solemn feast of all the saints of heaven, today we remember all the deceased faithful. The liturgy invites us to pray for all our loved ones who have passed away, turning our thoughts to the mystery of death, common heritage of all people.

"Illuminated by faith, we look at the human enigma of death with serenity and hope. According to Scripture, the latter in fact is not an end but a new birth, it is the imperative passage through which the fullness of life may be attained by those who model their earthly existence according to the indications of the Word of God."

Pope Benedict then commented on Psalm 111 (112):

"Psalm 111(112), a composition of a sapiential nature, presents to us the figure of these just ones, who fear the Lord, acknowledge his transcendence and adhere with trust and love to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death.

"Docility to God is, therefore, the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience. In fact, according to the biblical vision of \"retribution,\" over the just is extended the mantle of divine blessing, which imprints stability and success on his works and those of his descendants: \"Their descendants shall be mighty in the land, a generation upright and blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in their homes\" (verses 2-3; cf. verse 9).

"However, to this optimistic vision are opposed the bitter observations of the just Job, who experiences the mystery of sorrow, feels himself unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials. Job represents many just people who suffer profoundly in the world. It is necessary, therefore, to read this psalm in the global context of Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life in all its aspects.

"However, the trust continues to be valid, which the psalmist wishes to transmit and be experienced by him who has chosen to follow the way of morally irreprehensible conduct, against all alternatives of illusory success obtained through injustice and immorality."

The Holy Father then juxtaposes death and life and eternal life, by meditating on holiness and blessedness of the good person who loves God and loves neighbor:

"On this day in which we commemorate the dead, as I was saying at the beginning of our meeting, we are all called to face the enigma of death and, therefore, the question of how to live well, how to find happiness. Above all, the psalm responds: Blessed is the man who gives; blessed is the man who does not spend his life for himself, but gives it; blessed is the man who is merciful, good and just; blessed is the man who lives in the love of God and of his neighbor. In this way, we live well and do not have to be afraid of death, as we live in the happiness that comes from God and that has no end."

(Besides the inspiring and evocative meditation on death, the Pope gives us his own example of preaching that is of such breathtaking clarity, integrity, and symmetry, of such marvelous Beauty!)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

For All Souls

Newman's vision is of a soul who desires purgation in order to be made worthy & capable of the vision of God: it is a beautiful vision. It roots our relationship with God, even our relationship through death on such a celebration as All Souls Day, in Love, in Eros even, indeed in our longing and desire for God, a longing God has put in us. Thus Purgatory, for Newman, as for Dante, is Love.

Of course, Edward Elgar famously set this all to exquisite music:

I go before my Judge. Ah! ….

…. Praise to His Name!
The eager spirit has darted from my hold,
And, with the intemperate energy of love,
Flies to the dear feet of Emmanuel;
But, ere it reach them, the keen sanctity,
Which with its effluence, like a glory, clothes
And circles round the Crucified, has seized,
And scorch'd, and shrivell'd it; and now it lies
Passive and still before the awful Throne.
O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe,
Consumed, yet quicken'd, by the glance of God.

Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne'er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:—
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

--from John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Dream of Gerontius

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For All the Saints

It's the obvious hymn--but as with most hymns, a reading (and singing) of all the verses rewards such close attention. See how the song calls us to a heavenly host, a marching-song, as it were, even as the Church Militant becomes the Church Triumphant. And we sing, as the King of Glory passes on His way!

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!