Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bidden or unbidden, God is present

I have a plaque in the kitchen "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit." Bidden or unbidden, God is present.

A lovely wisdom of which we are in constant need of reminding. It can, like all good proverbs of course, be read many different ways. I usually take it as either a reminder of undeserved forgiveness and redemption or a reminder to be grateful for small miracles. The glass of cool, clear, clean water from the faucet. The illumination of a shadowy room with the flip of a switch. The blue sky that follows a storm. All miracles that we take for granted till we notice them for what they are: miracles.

But where does the quotation come from? I did not know the backstory till I came across it by accident this morning. It is a cultural chain with at least four links.

Carl Jung had the proverb inscribed over the door to his house as well as on his grave stone.

Jung came across it in his readings of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Dutch Renaissance humanist theologian. Among his many works, Erasmus wrote Adagia, a compilation of ancient Greek and Roman proverbs. Many proverbs in his collection are still in wide circulation:
To call a spade a spade
What's done cannot be undone
We cannot all do everything
Many hands make light work
Where there's life, there's hope
To cut to the quick
Time reveals all things
Golden handcuffs
Crocodile tears
To walk the tightrope
Time tempers grief (Time heals all wounds)
With a fair wind
To dangle the bait
To swallow the hook
There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip
To squeeze water out of a stone
To leave no stone unturned
Let the cobbler stick to his last (Stick to your knitting)
God helps those who help themselves
The grass is greener over the fence
The cart before the horse
Dog in the manger
One swallow doesn't make a summer
His heart was in his boots
To sleep on it
To break the ice
And of course, "Bidden or unbidden, God is present."

Where did Erasmus come across it? Wikipedia:
The Latin version "Vocatus atque invocatus deus aderit" spread through the adagia collection of Erasmus of Rotterdam. There, he led the sentence back to "the oracle, once given to the Lacedemonians, and a proverbial proverb, "καλούμενός τε kἄκλητος θεὸς παρέσται"("kalumenos te kakletos theos parestai"). He declares that one uses the saying "to express that something, even if one does not ask for it and does not pay attention to it, will still occur, whether one wants or not, Age, death, and punishment for misdeeds."
The Lacedemonians are the Spartans.

From the ancient Greeks to the ancient Romans. From the ancient Romans to the Renaissance Erasmus. From Erasmus to Carl Jung. From Carl Jung to us. That's quite the lineage. It rather suggests that culture is that ancient wisdom which we choose to save for the present.

It is not too much of a stretch to see Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit echoed in Rudyard Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings, the main theme of which is that, regardless of your refined wishes, reality is always there.

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