LITERATURE AND THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION
Question One: Compare the treatment of the theme of redemption in two or three authors studied during the course.
Richard Crashaw: “Charitas Nimia”: or the “Deare Bargain”
By Evan Papamichael
In the poem “Charitas Nimia”: or the “Deare Bargain” Richard Crashaw compares the treatment of the theme of redemption through the perception of human frailty and mortality. From a psalmist interpretation we find a low state of the Fall of Man, where Adam and Eve are shown as being in an impoverished state. Redemption in this poem is about restoring man in a privileged position before God. The supreme being restores Adam and Eve to this position, through Redemption. It should be noted that an emphasis is placed on the Old Testament in this poem.
According to P.A. Parrish (1980:94) “Charitas Nimia” or the “Deare Bargain” is initially a personal statement to God, comprising of questions that suggests human uselessness to the supreme being. In Charitas Nimia the speaker presents questions to God, eventuating with two couplets that ask for comprehension and renewal. In the theme of the poem we find the unimportance of mankind when perceived by the majesty and goodness of God. This is found in Psalm 144:3-4, moreso, the Prayer Book type “Lord, what is man, that thou hast such respect unto him: or the son of man, that thou so regardest him? Man is like a thing of nought his time passeth away like a shadow”.[i]
P.A. Parrish (1980:94-95) further points out that the poem consists of two major sections. The first (1-28) concerns the relationship between God and all humanity, and we are only to a lesser extent conscious of his voice under the questions.
In the poem’s second section (29-62) and at the resolution (63-66), the .narrator’s questions develop in a more intense and personal manner, instead of “Mankind” it is “I”, which might be a consequence of a “mine own madnesses, or rather “lost in misery” or facing a “faithless soul”. At the resolution the subjective manner is consistent, as the narrator prays for the capability to “see/How dearly thou hast payd for me”.[ii]
Paul A. Parrish further points out (1980:95) that the initial two stanzas of the poem suggest a commercial perception which is aligned in the full title but is not researched in great detail, in the poem:
…Lord, what is man? why should he cost thee…
…Bold Painters have putt out his Eyes (1-8)
…The “sacrifice” of secular Love (Cupid) in being blinded by “Bold Painters” hints at the much greater cost, the “dear bargain”, that sacred Love has assumed for humankind, who is no more than “sorry merchandise” “a thing of nought”…
From the initial words of this mystery, the narrator begins to elaborate on humankind’s inconsequential place before God: “Alas sweet lord, what wer’t to thee. If there were no such wormes as we? (9-10) Heaven would remain as it is regardless of humanity’s situation, and created things would continue to love their creator: the pure host would chant and approve of “the spheares [would not] let fall their faithful rounds” (18).[iii]
Paul A. Parrish (1980:95) points out that humanity’s indictment proceeds and eventuates as emphatic in the poem’s second section, and its imagery is reduced. Here, starting with stanza seven (line 29), the narrator alters from generalised humankind to himself and his personal sins. Only two of the stanzas (eight and nine) criticise human frailty in words not present by the deeply personal pronoun. In these two stanzas man is in a sense, a “desperate Fool”, a “worm”, a “wanton”, and a “foolish fly”. By considering the lines, one finds a correlation of the personal not first hit in the concluding lines of the previous stanza:... “Why shouldst thou bow thy awfull Brest to see? What mine own madnesses have done with me?”…(33-34). The decisive change in direction first shown in these lines, from plain humankind to the narrator himself, affect the reading of the lines directly following in an intimate manner. As all of humankind can be caught by the “desperate Fool” or the “worm”, or the “foolish fly”, the viewpoint carries a rather intense, disapproval of unimportant mortals.[iv]
According to Paul A. Parrish (1980:96) the remaining stanzas are solely personal and the tone and imagery shows further alterations in the intention of the lines. In the poem’s first section, the narrator shows God as perhaps staying “aloof’ and majesterial”, unchanged by the self inflicted sadness of humanity. The concluding stanzas of the poem, suggests questions and indicates that God who may have stayed aloof did not as such, and therefore the “dear bargain” has in all its mysteriousness been fulfilled. Previous stanzas were centred around “God the Father” who may have consistently received praise and love while not taking into consideration humanity.[v]
…“later stanzas reveal that God the Son, the “Lamb”, has already paid the price that so fills the speaker with amazement: “What did the Lamb, that he should dy?/ What did the lamb, that he should need,/ when the wolf sins himself to bleed?” (52-54). More personally, the poet is in awe that “the white/Lamb’s bossom” must “write/ The purple name/ Of my sin’s shame” (57-60).
…“The resolution of the poem is an effectively brief and controlled statement of the speaker’s recognition of the “dear bargain” and of the response demanded of him:
O my SAVIOUR, make me see
How dearly thou hast payd for me;
That lost again my LIFE may prove
As then in DEATH, so now in love (63-66).[vi]
One point which can be noticed about the treatment of redemption here is God’s love. He is sympathetic towards fallen man. Therefore an awesome quality in this sense is shown in the earlier part of the poem. An objectiveness of humankind is expressed through hopelessness and futility. There is a contrast between hopelessness and humankind being redeemed through Jesus Christ. Therefore we have a sense of gratitude and a powerful image of God where man is hopeless and the supreme being can save this lost soul (meaning man).
George Herbert: “Dialogue”
In the poem “Dialogue” by George Herbert an emphasis is placed on the idea that man can do nothing for himself. This means that man is powerless since redemption is a gift of God’s grace – through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ redeems people and man cannot earn this for it is purely a divine gift.
According to Gene E. Veith Jr (1985:148-149) “Waving” in the first stanza consists of two complementary meanings. Firstly it suggest ‘‘wavering’’, so that it could be interpreted as…“if my soul were worth anything I should be able to control the wavering, the vacillation of my life. Since it is “all my care and pains” eventuates in nothing, one is unable to progress since he is stained with sin. Also, “waiving” could be interpreted as being harmonious with some legal metaphors of the poem depicting a declining [of] the offer.[vii]
Edward states (1985:149) that the first stanza can be interpreted as… “If I thought my soul worth thy having, I would not hesitate to surrender it, but since all my care spent upon it cannot give it worth (gains, 6), how can I expect thee to benefit by acquiring it?”[viii]
Edward Veith points out (1985:149) that in stanza 3 this is not so much a solution but an intention to lessen the presuppositions of the narrator’s argument. The soul’s value concerns a mercantile metaphor and it suggests the weighing of judgment; that being “Justice (2)”. In actual fact, the initial narrator, who judges and disapproves of himself, recalls that judgment is God’s prerogative and not his. Salvation concerns the divine decree: “If I say, Thou shalt be mine;/ Finger not my treasure”. Salvation relies on what “I say”. “Thou shalt be mine” shows choice and election, and the justification for God’s grace and counsel and why they are not seen openly (13-16).[ix]
Gene Veith (1985:149-150) points out that where “Finger [is] not my treasure “the narrator’s anxieties, are lessened to peculiarities and impertinent meddling. Some critics view the soul’s anxiety as being out of context. For… “Not only is the speaker saved, but his salvation is already safely written up in the account book (17-20).
...But as I can see no merit…
…Is beyond my savour…
The initial two stanzas suggest salvation, the concluding two highlight sanctification – “the way to fit me for it”. As no merit is found in gaining God’s grace, “His favour”, the process of sanctification, by which the soul is perfected, is beyond human understanding.
…As the reason then is thine…
…Sinne disclaims and I resigne… (21-24).[x]
Gene E. Veith (1985:150) points out that the narrator is confronted with a Calvinist dilemma – if the suggestion of God’s “favour” is not of his personal merit but wholly in his will, and as the “Way to fit me for it”, the working for moral improvement, then similarly “is none of mine”, is only God’s working then what can one do? The narrator loses hope. He loses faith “in the whole designe” concerning salvation and sanctification due to the legal wording. In other words Herbert skilfully shows that, “Sinne disclaims”. The behaviour expresses the fact that by rejecting salvation due to guilt is theologically similar to placing salvation on merit. “Ironically however, the speaker’s giving up, resigning, in the face of God’s action is precisely what Christ is asking of him:
…That is all if that I could…
…Ah! No more: thou break’st my heart… (25-32).[xi]
Gene Edward Veith Jr (1985:150-151) points out that all Christ expects from us is to renunciate our role in salvation, if the renunciating can be whole, despite the “repining” for the previous covenant of works shown in the poem.[xii]
... The model for self-renunciation is Christ (Phil 2:5ff). Christ who truly had them, freely parted with “glorie and desert”; should not “my clay” do likewise in parting with his feeble self glory and his insistence on basing life or death on his own “desert”? Christ is not only giving him a model, but, by recounting his own passion, he is specifying the true cost of the soul, the weight on the balance-scale, the price of “my treasure”.
… “What the gains in having thee/Do amount to onely he/ Who for man sold, can see”. When the speaker is vividly reminded of what Christ has done, when he is shown the cost and the implications of Christ’s unconditional love for him, his defences collapse. “Ah! no more: thou break’st my heart”. “It is just the breaking of his own heart at Christ’s resignation that the speaker has been resisting, ... [and] ... “at the end, the poem breaks loose from, the malign dialectic between false humility and false prise and opens into the infinite space of Christ’s gift of salvation, a space that no words can encompass.[xiii]
In this poem an expression is made about the dialogue between mankind and Jesus Christ or God. The issue of redemption here concerns God and Jesus Christ redeeming mankind. Love is about, God’s or (Jesus Christ’s affection shown towards mankind through their redeeming.
George Herbert: “Love”
In George Herbert’s poem “Love” we find that love is spoken of here, that being Jesus Christ’s love. This is the only love and there’s nothing mankind can do: In other words only Jesus Christ’s love can bring about redemption.
According to Gene E. Veith Jr. (1985:34) Herbert is seldom concerned about Hell. This shows his Calvinism, the areas where dogma reflects religious experience. As a Calvinist, Hell is not applicable for a Christian. Herbert had faith... “in the Perseverance of the Saints, a doctrine that is perhaps the litmus test of a truly Calvinist spirituality”... The striking force of Calvinism is found in Herbert’s poetry.
In “Love” God’s love has no boundaries:
…Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back...
…Drew nearer to me... (1-5)
This action of God’s closing in as the guilty soul withdraws and exists in Herbert’s poetry.[xiv]
According to Gene E. Veith Jr (1985:171-172) “Love” involves notions of sin, grace, guilt and love. The wedding banquet where Christ is present and his teaching of Heaven is significant. It foretells in the Eucharist, as receiving grace that it is possible to be ideally in a communion with Christ and his saints in heaven. The poem incorporates Herbert’s comprehension of human sin and God’s unconditional affection.
…Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back…
…If I lack’d any thing... (1-6).
Once more the human being consistently withdraws from God, but the process is undertaken by God himself, who reacts by drawing even closer.
…A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here: ...
…Who made the eyes but I?... (7-12).[xv]
Gene E. Veith (1985:173) points out that the narrator, “Guiltie of dust and sinne” is aware that he lacks worthiness to be present. This realisation is not placed on his worthiness, but rather on the realisation of love. “You shall be he”. This means neither the narrator is worthy or that the will be in the future but in essence that he has been “declared” as such.
..The question of merit is not adjudicated; it is simply set aside. Merit is not attributed to the speaker, nor is he found to be without it; rather, he is told that its determination has been made without reference to his desert (In the doctrine of sanctification, however, there is a sense in which a Christian “shall be” worthy in the future, as the personality and even the body are remade with the Resurrection of the Body.
…Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame...
…And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?... (13-15).[xvi]
According to Gene E. Veith (1985:173) the issue of guilt is not so easy to understand for it was not “simply set aside”. “Love” admits that the narrator is “Guiltie of dust and sinne”; moreover, Love feels responsible and has accepted punishment which it supposedly deserves “upon Himself in the Incarnation and the Atonement. But the soul persists on viewing salvation as something which possibly is earned, worked for or even paid for: “My deare, then I will serve” (16). The narrator agrees to remain, but he wished to serve Christ, rather than allow Christ serve him.
…You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat...
…So I did sit and eat... (17-18).[xvii]
George Herbert: “Redemption”
In George Herbert’s poem “Redemption” we find that however hard man searches and seeks redemption it is purely a gift from God. This is a Calvinist opinion and the poet finds that God is present where you least expect it. Not with the rich or powerful but with the sinners. Redemption is not found amongst the nobility, king, or in the courts, but where the sinners are located – that being amongst the murderers and thieves. This makes it a highly ironic outcome of events. It appears that God’s place is with sinners. As God is located here there is a sense of humility for man as he (man) is before God. This depicts the depth of God’s love for man where it is least expected as it is just and available to all mankind to some extent.
According to Gene E. Veith Jr (1985:69) the poem “Redemption” shows the Reformation’s difficult understanding of the human position and Christ’s action. “The colloquial rhythm and the unserious tone of the poem belie the real seriousness of the quest”:
...Having been tenant long to a rich Lord...
...A new small-rented lease, and cancell th’old... (1-4)
“Not thriving” beneath the Old Covenant of the law is a misjudgement showing not so much “knowledge of sin” as personal unease. The pilgrim is for looking for God in heaven, but he is absent, so he searches for him in all the places applicable for a “rich Lord” – “in cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts” (10). The quest for God, in this life or the other is futile as the searcher “depends upon his own efforts”: It is the human will that desires the “great resorts” – God’s will is something different. The search for God is inherently thwarted by the seeker’s misdirected will.
…At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth...
…Who straight, your suit is granted, said, and died. (12-14).[xviii]
According to Gene E. Veith (1985:70) after the futile quest in all the wrong areas the narrator finds God where it was least expected, with the sinners. He was saved and God was not. “In heaven at his manour” (5) since he had already departed for earth. Once the narrator finally does view his Lord, his “request is granted before he has time to make it”. Christ dies prior to the supplicant talking, hereby allowing the request in a manner contrary to the speaker’s expectations, and at the same instance expecting or “preventing” his very quest.[xix]
…The ironies are those of God’ s foreknowledge and predestination, as the rather complacent tenant’s casual random search ends with Christ finding him and granting his request by dying.[xx]
1. Crashaw, Richard. Selected poetry, in The Metaphysical Poets, ed. H. Gardner, London, Penguin Books, 1985.
2. Herbert, George. Selected poetry, in The Metaphysical Poets, ed. H. Gardner, London, Penguin Books, 1985.
3. Parrish, Paul, A. Richard Crashaw, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1980.
4. Veith, Gene, E., Jr., Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert, London, Associated University Press, 1985.
[i] Paul A. Parrish, Richard Crashaw, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1980, p.94.
[ii] Parrish, op cit, pp.94-95.
[iii] Parrish, op cit, p.95.
[v] Parrish, op cit, p.96.
[vii] Gene E. Veith, Jr. Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert, Associated University Press, London, 1985, pp.148-149.
[viii] Veith, op cit, p.149.
[x] Veith, op cit, pp.149-150.
[xi] Veith, op cit, p.150.
[xii] Veith, op cit, pp.150-151.
[xiv] Veith, op cit, p.34.
[xv] Veith, op cit, pp.171-172.
[xvi] Veith, op cit, pp.173.
[xviii] Veith, op cit, p.69.
[xix] Veith, op cit, p.70.