Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

29 November 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 9-10


                Be adored among men,
            God, three-numberèd form;
        Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
            Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
    Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
    Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;        70
        Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

                With an anvil-ding
            And with fire in him forge thy will
        Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring        75
            Through him, melt him but master him still:
    Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
    Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
        Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

One way or another, I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha

These stanzas display disparate portrayals of divine activity.  The human response to these is adoration: humble submissiveness to the Trinity ("three-numbered form").  Submissiveness was not always our posture, but rather hurtful opposition to God's plan.  Our sins have "offended" God, as we pray in the Act of Contrition, but we have harmed ourselves so much.  God does not appreciate the defacing of His image in us, and if we truly realized that image, we might think twice too.

Our new posture invites God to purify us however He must.  Indeed, He has applied a harsh purification; but "he chastises the son he loves" (Heb 12:6), and His chastisement is itself an act of compassion.  "Lightning and love," "a winter and warm," "Father and fondler": these apparent opposites are not incompatible for God.  One is present in the other.

Hopkins embraces this paradox so strongly that he entreats God to work however He sees fit.  Either approach has produced saints, two of the most noteworthy being Paul and Augustine.  St. Paul wasn't literally "knocked off his horse," but the hackneyed phrase lingers because it expresses the sentiment of surprise appealingly enough, to the point of disarmament.  But the slow leak also deflates the tire: thus Gus, who tries everything without lasting satisfaction, until Love persuades him.

God's effects in both saints, through both approaches, are "mercy" and "mastery."  Take notice of the prepositions: "in" and "out."  The first one reflects the Catholic understanding of justification.  Man is interiorly transformed.  His sinful self is not merely hidden from the Father's view, as if He needed the Son's enveloping Presence to "trick" Him into seeing a better product.  The second preposition may be used only to contrast with the first one, like the very opposites Hopkins has cited in these stanzas.  "Mastery" is an equally-desired outcome--that God should be "victorious over" us, that we should be enslaved as only the willing would have it.  As a perfect bookend to the beginning of st. 9, adoration reappears, as if to declare, "Either way, Thy Way."

Perhaps we can look back at our lives and trace one favored path; whether God has tended to work His purpose out "as once at a crash" or "a lingering-out sweet skill."  Has mercy seemed "harsh and dreadful" to us at times?  God chose the path He chose, yet we had our unavoidable part; and God wouldn't have had it otherwise, lest love not be free.  Thanks be to God for His patience and His exasperation!

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