Thursday, April 4, 2013

Populist theology

The proper texts often convey huge amounts of theological information in a very small space. They act as a kind of condensed theology. When the expressions are this rich, reading them and thinking about them is less like reading a paragraph and more like reading a poem. The troparia of the Eastern Rite are like brief poems in this way, e.g. the Resurrection Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead,
By death He conquered death,
And to those in the graves
He granted life!

Today's Entrance antiphon (Easter Thursday) is similarly rich. Like many missal antiphons, particularly those of Easter, it tells of the singing of the saints.
They praised in unison your conquering hand, O Lord, for wisdom opened mouths that were mute and gave eloquence to the tongues of infants, alleluia.
When reading a good poem, the understanding does not fathom its depths on a first cursory reading. Rather, the meaning of the poem reveals itself over time, through a sort of calm working of the mind.

Intriguingly, today's antiphon uses two different metaphors traditionally applied to Christ, and it remains unresolved for me whether both are being used in this way here, particularly because of the way the antiphon relates the two: the praise of the "hand" of the Lord is made possible by the "wisdom" of the Lord.

The "hand" of the Lord, in the context of Easter week, undeniably refers to Christ.

You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me. (Ps 138)

You have a strong arm;
Your hand is mighty,
Your right hand is exalted. (Ps 89)

But does "wisdom" refer to Christ, as it so often does? Or does it refer to the Holy Spirit? The action of Wisdom seems more like that of the Holy Spirit, because it is part of the Spirit's role to lead to praise of Christ:

No one can say that Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. (I Cor 12:3)

On the other hand, Jesus made the mute speak, and on the very recent liturgical day of Palm Sunday, brought about the singing of the children.

Perhaps this ambiguity goes unresolved. It seems that theology and poems have this in common as well, that they sometimes keep their secrets, or reveal them after only time. They're like love, in that way.