Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Breathless ... (Part 1)

St. Peter Dictating the Gospel to St. Mark.  Part of the Ivories of the So-Called Grado Chair,
c. 440-670 A+D.  Collection of the Albert and Victoria Museum, London
A state of mood is often betrayed less by the words expressed, than the manner in which such symbols are communicated.  Sometimes otherwise quiescent body parts speak more eloquently than the tongue, lips and vocal cords, as to the mind's shipwreck.  The facial blush, the bouncing legs, the averted glance, the wringing hands, the furrowed brow, the clenched fists, the hunched posture ... all these have a story to relate.  The tell-tale and tell-all body, when suffering, is not easily put off or cloaked by its spoken assurances of "normalcy."

This is not to say that speech cannot reveal, or betray, the psyche through its own nimble mannerisms.  St. Peter once resorted to violently unseemly protestations, in a chilly Judean courtyard at springtime, presumably so as to better emphasize a much-prized point of personal "innocence."  More likely, the audience to such effort concluded from its fervor, that Peter's accusatory little maiden was zeroing in on a sore spot, with deadly accuracy.

But it's true.  Folks under stress, or under threat, or who are reliving highly invested and meaningful moments of their lives, tend to speak more loudly, more rapidly and in a noticeably more "pressured" kind of cadence.  It's difficult for the listener to get a word in edgewise.  Remember those sentence diagrams from grammar school, long ago?  Yes, all right, all right -- I agree that they bore an uncanny resemblance to the primitive predecessor to Pat Sajak and Vanna White's syndicated spinner-game (i.e., "hangman") -- but that's really not the point here, dear reader.  On the occasions under discussion, we assert that sentence structure often becomes increasingly interminable and clumsy yet tightly linked, like conjunctively colliding express trains.

Can such a pattern be seen in the inspired Gospels, perhaps reflecting the personality quirks and individual circumstances of those holy men who were the instruments by which the Holy Ghost brought us to our Savior?  I believe a compelling argument can be made that such pattern exists.

Consider St. Peter, as portrayed to his very core, in Scripture.  This fellow is a bundle of impetuously extroverted energy, a chap who wears his emotions quite on his sleeves.

One moment he's stepping over a boat's gunwales to walk towards Christ (during a wild tempest, no less), another moment he's throwing himself over the a boat to boldly swim towards a risen Christ ... and then, soon enough,  he's having a shattering crisis of confidence, when Christ the Victor asks him if he loves his Lord (true enough, it was repetitiously asked three times, which could be unsettling for anyone).  So one moment Peter intensely avers that this love exists; and the very next, when provided with intimations of an upcoming crucifixion with his name fastened on it, he frets that a colleague of  his will get off easy.  One moment Peter declares Christ to be the Son of God, the expected Messiah; the next, he is interrupting the Messiah to inform Him that the eternal plan of salvation is hare-brained.   One moment Peter tells Jesus to forego washing his feet, because it scandalizes him; but seconds upon being informed that the one rejecting the Messiah, as Servant, has no part of His Body, Peter demands something of a carwash for his.  Shortly thereafter, Peter loses his head, so as to cut off another's ear and ...

Pay attention now.  And Peter turns tail and runs off.   And he discovers remnant backbone surviving.  And having done so, he slinks back to the high-priest's courtyard.  And he is thence faced down by a servant girl's challenge.  And others challenge him too. And Peter denies any acquaintance with the Man being tried; and a cock crows repeatedly at his blustering.  And Peter encounters the eyes of his Master.  And he remembers his earlier boasts.  And he is staggered.  And he goes out and weeps.  And Peter does so bitterly.

The Church Fathers are fairly unanimous in vouching that St. Peter dictated the contents of Mark's Gospel to the younger man who eventually, sources say, became bishop of Alexandria and a martyr for Christ.  Perhaps the once boastful Peter felt unworthy to have his name closely attached to an account of the Lord's life, just as he felt unworthy at death's door to assume the posture of His "lifted-up" God.   Poignantly, no doubt,  Mark himself could closely empathize with several of Peter's recollections.  He may have himself run away from Jesus at Gethsemane, for instance.  Certainly, we know that he ran away from Ss. Paul and Barnabus, during the course of some missionary rigors.   But by the grace of God, he eventually became a very valued companion of both the blessed and martyrs-to-be Peter and Paul, near the time of their deaths.  In any event, perhaps the emotional Peter, under the death-sentence of the psychopathic Nero, was mightily pressed for time as he told his account to Mark and sought to get the saving Word out.  This is of course speculative.

But we note this.  The Gospel of St. Mark is comparatively short, punchy, and possesses a breathless quality, one of racing excitement and a rugged, "let's-get-down-to-business" wonder which is distinctly and quantitatively different from the scholarly and detailed approach of Luke, and the rapturously transcendent, contemplative theology of John.

Consider, as evidence, the heart-rending and exceedingly joyous Passion and Resurrection accounts belonging to the respective Gospels, as found in the English-language New Authorized Version (Deuel Enterprises, Inc.,  Gary SD, copyright 1998).  In my reckoning, the accounts begin with the departure from the Upper Room and continue through the first Resurrection Sunday.   Some verses have more than one sentence.

St. Matthew's narrative (chap. 26:36 to 28:15) contains 121 verses.  An "AND" begins a sentence (or an independent clause) on 66 occasions.

St. Luke's narrative (chap. 22:39 to 24:49) contains138 verses.   An "AND" begins a sentence (or an independent clause) on 118 occasions.   The doctor's use of "ANDS" accelerates significantly, as he narrates the Emmaus encounter with the Risen (and communing) Lord Jesus.  In Luke 24:19-24, there are 6 verses, and no less than 6 conspicuous "ANDS" flower them.  Excitement (and burning hearts) abound. 

St. John's narrative (chap. 18 through 20, inclusive) contains 112 verses.  St. John is writing many years after the events he relates to us.  Although he personally experiences the wrenching turmoil associated with exile, he is believed to have died a "natural" death.   An "AND" begins a sentence (or an independent clause) on 40 occasions.  The use is more, shall we say, measured and stately in John's text, if still prominent in display nonetheless.

And in the narrative usually ascribed to Mark?  His topical account, to my estimation, ranges from chap. 14:27 to 16:13.   There are 106 verses, shorter than that of any of the three other Evangelists, in absolute terms, to be sure ... but a provocatively good number indeed, given the overall relative bulk of his Gospel.  In those 106 verses, no less than 99 qualifying "ANDS" are encountered.  That's a bunch.

This situation has a dictating, inspired St. Peter all over it, from the vantage point of circumstances, temperament, and that opinionated information obtained and studiously sifted by the early Church.

Next (Deo volente) in Breathless ... (Part 2):   A closer look at the Gospels' description of Peter's Denial lends further support to the hypothesis.


No comments:

Post a Comment