Sunday, March 31, 2013

One-Upping the Prodigal: CD §57.1

So, after working through volumes III and II of Barth's Church Dogmatics, I've moved on to volume IV. And right away in IV.1, one hits the theme of the Prodigal Son. Which Barth does brilliant things with, when it comes to extending his prior analyses and discussing salvation. As you might expect, I'm walking through looking at the internal grounds for Barth's own brand of universalism, and here's a great beginning, so I'm going to map it and push the themes.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Lent, Moral Rigorism, and True Penitence

I've been disturbed, this Lenten season, by what our practices of Lent say about our beliefs, and by contrast, what our beliefs ought to say instead about our practices.

It all started with "burying the alleluia" on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday—which, in contemporary style, we celebrate with the observance of the Transfiguration. And yet we retain enough of Septuagesima and the pre-Lenten observance to still sing an 11th c. Latin hymn that belongs to that occasion, called Alleluia dulce carmen. Stanza 3 is the crucial one:
Alleluia non meremur nunc perenne psallere;
Alleluia nos reatus cogit intermittere;
Tempus instat quo peracta lugeamus crimina.
Now, a century and a half after Neale's translation, we have turned this into "Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below / Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while forego / For the somber time is coming when our tears for sin must flow." But this is not precisely what the Latin says. Most particularly, it leaves out the clearly juridical language of the original, which goes more like this (albeit without the poetry):
We do not now deserve to continue to sing the alleluia;
The indictment compels us to suspend the alleluia;
The time in which we must mourn the judgment approaches.
Is this the nature of Lent? A span in which we refuse to praise God, and instead ponder our judgment as sinners? Are these things even commensurate as opposites? The hymn conceives of "alleluia" as an angelic song of joy, the song of the free and sinless redeemed, the song of the "new Jerusalem," rather than the song of the exiles. It, along with Easter, becomes a purely eschatological reality in which we do not deserve to participate, except by hope. Is this right? Does this idea have any legitimacy outside of Medieval piety? Is this, in fact, good theology?