Where is the wise? Where is the scribe?

Not wistful but triumphant: the call of the new piercing the dark. Paul told the Corinthians of the light that had come into the world, using here a rhetorical device that we mostly hear mourning the loss of light.

When I hear from the pulpit the piece from 1 Corinthians, my mind wanders to other times. Sang the poet of old “Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?“; ‘Where now is the warhorse, where the warrior? Where the treasure-giver? Where the seat at the feast? Where the joys of the hall?’

This is not a song of triumph but a lament for loss of glorious times, and so we see the same turn of rhetoric used for loss of the things of the world throughout poetry of our age: Where are the joys  of the hall? Où sont les neiges d’antan? Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

Paul means his words in a very different way. Maybe it is marking the passing of beloved things of the world – as the exiled warrior laments the loss of the thunder of hooves into battle, and man may lament the loss of wisdom and teachers of the law, which gave confidence to life. In Corinth, philosophers, ‘lovers of wisdom’, were prominent in creating the culture of the gentile city, and  scribes kept the Jews faithful to the law and the prophets – they were not gone by any means when Paul wrote, but the Gospel made them irrelevant, even repugnant. It was a challenge, to built anew casting away the centuries of the Greek poets and Aristotle, and the minutely reasoned conclusions of the Talmud.; all this must be cast away, thousands of scholars’ work and the apparent wisdom of ages, discarded as  wastepaper, as we start afresh with the new Gospel.

It is a hard wrench, to give up all you understand of what wisdom is. In Corinth the vices that had grown in the city reeked to the heavens, which drives the honest man to the comforting wisdom of the ages.

Where is the wise though, and where the scribe? They are insufficient because they provide only the fallible wisdom of man. Like the warhorse and the warrior and the snows of old, they are things of the world, the world in which we live and can grasp and feel. We may think of philosophy and religious scholarship as spiritual, but they are born of man’s mind, and so are creatures of the world as we are. We naturally mourn for the loss of things of the world, as part of ourselves.

Think again – what is in the glory of the field, the loss of which the poet laments with such depth? The charging horse, the young warrior, the generous prince handing out the spoils and the loud feasting in the mead-hall after victory: the glory and joy are there, but what of the widow and the fatherless left after battle? What of the farms devastated and families starving before their lost harvest? Even Villon’s snows of yesteryear, beautiful to the child’s eye, are harsh for the poor widow. Où sont les neiges d’antan? Où indeed.

It tempts rebuke for a blog founded upon the ideas of a seventeenth century philosopher to make mock of those who cling to philosophies. Hobbes himself though rejected ‘Aristotelity’, and stands up today rather well.

Our own age affects to despise old wisdom, but its faults are greater – many of the clergy of our day embrace new, untested ideas with the tenacity of the devotees of Epicurus in Corinth. They provide simplistic answers, which are a worldly comfort, and to see the faults in the worldly doctrine is beyond them.

Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

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Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short