Monday, August 15, 2011

Exploring Silence VI

Because this positive sense of interior silence and beholding coinhere, we must for a moment anticipate. The English word behold accurately reflects the psychological and theological nuances of the Hebrew [e.g., hinnay, hinneh;] and Greek [e.g., ιδου, θεωρει, idou, theorei] words it translates, confirmed in part by Jesus' commentary on behold in Luke 17:21, which is echoed in Matthew 24:26 and Mark 13:21.[1]

Having lost the word behold, post-Enlightenment translators have often found this passage incomprehensible.[2] The point of the passage is that the word behold is not analytical; it does not refer to the external; it is not applicable to the linear and the material. It is a wrong use of the word behold to use it to say 'here it is, there it is'. The word behold is appropriate only to the kingdom of heaven within, and that kingdom is beholding. By extension, the kingdom of heaven cannot be manifest among you until it is manifest within you (the same Greek word entos (εντοs) is used for both within and among, but the word choice of which to use is clear from the context if one understands the significance of the word behold in the Hebrew scriptures.

Emphasis on the third idou is implicit. In the earlier version of his bible, [3] Wycliffe uses 'lo' twice followed by 'forsooth lo'. The Geneva Bible, the Bishops Bible and KJV use the more idiomatic 'lo' in the first two instances and the more formal 'behold' in the third. The New King James omits the 'behold' but retains the emphasis 'see. . .see . . . indeed' even though the entire sense of the passage is lost. It is fundamental to Gregory of Nyssa's theology;[4] Luke 17:21 is in the background of the famous passage in Augustine's Confessions X.27.38. Cassian quotes it in Conference 13 immediately following his remark equating distraction with fornication.[5] And The Cloud of Unknowing could be seen as a gloss on this passage.

This passage is foregrounded in the contemplative tradition. Isaac of Nineveh (7th c.), drawing on much earlier writers, insists that the kingdom of heaven has always meant contemplation.[6] This sense also occurs in Richard of St Victor's The Mystical Ark III.5, 10; it is alluded to in Walter Hilton's Scale 2.33.

From this it is not difficult to see how misleading translations of the bible can lead to contemporary misinterpretations of medieval texts, if one is not using the medieval Vulgate. It is also not difficult to see from this understanding of behold why institutional Christianity is quite rightly afraid of contemplation, for in John 14, Jesus says to his disciples that while they can behold [θεωρειτε], the system [κοσμοσ] cannot behold [θεωρει], and because it cannot behold [θεωρει] it cannot receive the spirit of truth or know it. κοσμοσ is usually translated 'the world' but the Gospel of John is about Jesus as the new temple and by extension the human heart as the holy of holies. Here Jesus is alluding with particular irony to the temple system as he speaks of worldly systems in general, which are by definition confined to the linear and the hierarchical which are alien to beholding.[6]

It is not hard to see why the medieval church came to regard the bible as a very dangerous book indeed.


[1] This important verse is so obscure that it often does not appear in scriptural indexes (e.g., Walsh on Cloud; Zinn and Chase on Richard of St. Victor).

[2] For example, the New Jerusalem translation uses the analytical word look for all three occurrences of idou (ιδου), missing entirely the internal clue as to whether entos (εντοs) should be translated within or among.

[3] The Earlier Version of the Wycliffite Bible, vo. 7 the Gospels edited from MS Christ Church 145, by Conrad Lindberg, Stockholm Almqvst & Wiksell, 1994, p. 150. He also uses behold and see but a spot check does not turn up any particular pattern in his choice of these four words, which further study might reveal.

[4] From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa, Jean Daniélou, London 1962, pp. 100-101; On the Beatitudes, sermon VI, P.G. XLIV 1269C-1272A, quoted in the Negative Language of the Dionysian School of Mystical Theology: An Approach to the Cloud of Unknowing, Vol. 1, Rosemary Ann Lees, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, A-5020 Salzburg, 1983, p. 16.

[5] 'Fornication' in the bible usually means worshipping false gods. 'But we ought to be aware on what we should have the purpose of our mind fixed, and to what goal we should ever recall the gaze of our soul: and when the mind can secure this it may rejoice; and grieve and sigh when it is withdrawn from this, and as often as it discovers itself to have fallen away from gazing on Him, it should admit that it has lapsed from the highest good, considering that even a momentary departure from gazing on Christ is fornication. And when our gaze has wandered ever so little from Him, let us turn the eyes of the soul back to Him, and recall our mental gaze as in a perfectly straight direction. For everything depends on the inward frame of mind, and when the devil has been expelled from this, and sins no longer reign in it, it follows that the kingdom of God is founded in us, as the Evangelist says "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, nor shall men say Lo [ecce] here, or lo [ecce] there: for verily [Amen] I say unto you that the kingdom of God is within you."'

[6] Jesus seems to want to return to the pre-law Judaism of beholding; the law, after all, is a concession because the people refuse to behold.


OpenID Myzomela said...

Thank you for this exposition of "behold".

One more translation for comparison; Douay-Rheims:
"Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you."

"Behold here" and "Behold there" sound a bit silly - which just emphasises the point.

7:09 am, October 21, 2011  

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