Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Henry, _Words of Christ_ (2)

HENRY IS PARTIAL to the Gospel of John, for which he does some special pleading: "Whatever might be the date of its definitive and complete redaction, this Gospel comes, as the others, from a collection of early texts, without a doubt the most primitive." Without a doubt? I don't think any NT scholar thinks John represents the most primitive anything--certainly not in its opening statements, to which Henry gives particular attention. So Henry lost me a bit there, as he also did in making a very fine but elusive distinction between Parole and Verbe. Translator Christine Gschwandtner helpfully gives the original French whenever either term appears, but both translate as "Word," and it was not quite clear to me why Henry calls the Word Parole in one place but Verbe in another.

Those are my sole complaints, though. Every page, it seemed, had some startling idea that was new to me.

For instance--that much of what Jesus says just flat out contradicts common sense and best practices. The workers in the vineyard who arrived late get paid just as much as those who started at sunrise. What? Is that fair? I don't care what my mother or siblings want. That's cold. Love  your enemies. That's not going to work out, friend. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Right, sure. The last shall be first. Uh huh.

Time after time, "these words run counter to the the idea that we spontaneously form about ourselves and yet, at the same time, they kindle in us an acute awareness of the fragility of that idea." The sheer otherness of the teaching, its utter dissimilarity from what any sensible person would tell you, is for Henry an indication that it is not ultimately coming from a "person" at all.

Or Chapter 9, "The Difficulty for Humans to Hear Christ's Word," which for me seemed the perfect commentary on Milton's Satan.

Consequently, the I which constantly lives the extraordinary capacity of putting each of these powers [of being alive] into play whenever it wants, easily imagines itself to be their source. It thinks that it is itself who provides them, that it draws them in some manner from itself each time it exercises them. Source and grounding of all the powers which make up its being, it deems itself finally to be the source and the foundation of its very being.

This delusion, perfectly illustrated by Satan's recruiting speech in Book 6 of Paradise Lost, Henry goes on to call "the source of evil."

Speaking of Milton, I found myself wondering whether Henry wasn't just a bit of a Protestant. The book's finale is an analysis of the mass, so he's obviously Catholic, but when he writes, "The possibility for humans to hear the word of Christ in their hearts is precisely that of comprehending the Scriptures" (emphasis his), I had to wonder whether a little Lutheran sola scriptura had gotten into his thinking.

Finally--why the playground swing on the cover?

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