Friday, February 19, 2010

"Rent Your Hearts and Not Your Garments"

This seems as good a way to dive into Lent as any - from St. Cyprian's 'The Lapsed." He was speaking specifically about those who have committed apostasy - but in a certain sense it can apply equally to all who reject Christ through sin. The detail in his writing is exquisite - and draws out Paul's injunction to wear Christ as the only fashion for all seasons. The drawing out of this figure, of course, is fitting for a teacher of rhetoric. As a fascinating side note, his life mirrors St. Augustine's.

Let each one, I entreat you, brethren, confess his confess his sin while he who has sinned is still in this world, while his confession can still be heard, while satisfaction and forgiveness granted through the priests are pleasing to God. Let us turn back to the Lord with our whole heart and, expressing our repentance in deep sorrow, implore God for His mercy. Let our sould bow before Him, let our sorrow be offered to Him in satisfaction, let our hopes rest in Him. He Himself has told us how to ask: Return to me from all your heart, along with fasting and weeping and mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments. Let us return to the Lord with all our hearts, let us appease His anger and displeasure, by fasting, tears, and lamentations, as He Himself enjoins.

But are we to believe that a man is sorrowing with all his heart, that he is calling on the Lord with fasting, tears and lamentations, when from the very day of his sin he is found dialy at the baths, or after feasting sumptuously and gorging himself to excess he is next day belching with indigestion and never shares any of his food or drink wit those in need? When he goes about laughing cheerfully, how can he be lamenting the state of death he is in? And whereas it is written, You shall not spoil the appearance of your beards, why is he plucking hairs from his beard and making up his face? Is he courting someone's favour when he is out of favour with God?

Or is that lady sighing and sorrowing who spends her time decking herslef out in rich dresses, without a thought fo the 'putting on of Christ' which she has lost; or when she dons such costly ornaments and jewelled necklaces, without a sigh for the lost splendour of holiness with which God once decked her?

For all the foreign garments you put on, for all your silks from China - you are naked still; with whatever gold and pearls and jewels you enhance your beauty, without Christ's beauty you are unsightly still. Dye your hair no more, at least now that you are in mouring; and as for your eyes which you paint up with kohl, let tears, at least now, wash them clean of it. If death had robbed you of one of your dear ones, you would mourn and weep in sorrow; with face neglected, finery laid aside, hair dishevelled, melancholy look and eyes cast down, you would show every sign of grief. Yet now, for shame, when you have lost your very soul and only survive here in a life of spiritual death, walking about in your own corpse - why are you not weeping bitterly and moaning inconsolably? Why do you not hide away, out of shame for your crime, and give yourself up to your grief? Nay, your wounds are even greater, your guilt still deeper; for after sinning you make no atonement, you have fallen and you do not repent.


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