25 May 2016

'The eyes of the Lord' - Scripture, Rule, Florilegium

I had an interesting confluence of readings Saturday morning (21/8 May). My Old Testament reading (from the Authorised Version) was II Chronicles 13-16. As I read it early in the morning by candlelight, I was struck by the words of Hanani the seer to Asa king of Judah: ‘For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him’ (II Chron. 16:9).

But then, the same day’s reading from the Rule of St Benedict, from Chapter 4, Quae sunt instrumenta bonroum operum, included the oft-repeated Benedictine maxim, In omni loco Deum se respicere, pro certo scire (Prov. V. 21), ‘To know for certain that God sees one everywhere’ [1]. As Dom Paul Delatte says of this passage, ‘This advice must be very important since St Benedict is constantly repeating it’ [2] He goes on to write:

For us this is no fiction of the imagination, but a living reality; nor have we a mere witness, but a Being who is at once spectator and actor, no man but God. And we Christians say: Nemo peccat videns Deum, ‘No one seeing God sins.’ The impeccability of the elect is due to their being for ever rooted in good by the uninterrupted contemplation of beauty. Now we by faith may share in this privilege of vision, and the ‘exercise of the presence of God’ may become something assiduous and constant, like our consciousness of ourselves. [3]

So while the words of Hanani and those of St Benedict serve different purposes—the one emphasizing God’s solicitude on our behalf, the other His watchfulness over our actions—the starting point of God as Witness of human acts is the same.

Finally, however, I turned to that day’s reading in a florilegium I’m reading through for the year: Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers. Each day pairs a Scriptural verse with a short passage from one of the Fathers, and the verse for that day was precisely II Chronicles 16:9! While the accompanying patristic passage, from Tertullian (not actually a ‘Father’ in the Orthodox sense, I know), does not explicitly refer to or comment on it, his words could be seen as an application of the second part of the verse to a specific kind of situation—that of persecution. Thus, he writes, ‘If suffering is completely in God’s hands, don’t we just leave it up to His will?...Why, when witnessing, don’t you be consistent, trust God, and say, “I will do my part. I won’t run away. God, if He chooses, will be my Protector”?’ [4] Placing Tertullian’s words in proximity to those of Hanani makes the latter relevant to Christians in the same way that King David’s Psalms often are. Furthermore, both Hanani and Tertullian find a complimentary development of the idea of God’s watchfulness in St Benedict and his commentator, Dom Paul Delatte.

[1] The Rule of Saint Benedict in English and Latin, tr. & ed. Abbot Justin McCann, OSB (Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, N.D.), p. 29.

[2] Dom Paul Delatte, OSB, A Commentary on the Holy Rule of St Benedict, tr. & ed. Dom Justin McCann, OSB (Latrobe, PA: The Archabbey Press, 1959),p. 75. Dom Paul points out, ‘He gives it in the Prologue, in the first and last degrees of humility, in the chapter “Of the discipline of saying the Divine Office”’ (ibid., p. 75).

[3] Ibid., p. 75.

[4] Christopher D. Hudson, J. Alan Sharrer, & Lindsay Vanker, comp. & ed., Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), p. 129.

No comments: