Saturday, December 17, 2022

When We Come to the Complete

 If I talk in human and angelic languages, but do not possess devotedness, I have become a reverberating gong or clanging cymbal; and if I possess prophecy and recall all of the secret things and all knowledge, and if I possess complete confidence so as to remove mountains, but do not possess devotedness, I am nothing; and if I dole out all my belongings and if I surrender my body in such a way that I might be proud, but do not possess devotedness, I have benefited not at all.

Devotedness is bold, serviceable; devotedness is not jealous; devotedness is not boastful, not inflated, not formless; it does not seek its own, it is not exasperated, it does not keep track of injuries, it does not take joy in injustice but rejoices with the truth. It covers all, confides all, anticipates all, endures all.

Devotedness never at all collapses; but prophecies will be superseded, languages will end, knowledge will be superseded, for we know by part and prophesy by part, but when we come to the complete, what is by part will be superseded. When I was an infant, I was talking as an infant, I was judging as an infant; when I became man, I superseded the infantlike. We see for now through a mirror in obscurity; but then, person to person. Now I know by part; then I will recognize as I am recognized.

And for now remain confidence, anticipation, devotedness, the three; but greater than these is devotedness.

[1 Corinthians 13, my very, very, very rough translation, at Cat's request. This is an immensely difficult passage! Agape is a Christian term of art, rarely used outside of Christian texts; related words mean things like, 'to prefer', 'to esteem', 'to show esteem'. 'Charity' and 'love' are good translations, except colloquial English misuses both, treating 'charity' as the same as alms-giving (the 'doling out' that is contrasted with agape in this passage) and just making up meanings of love that are completely foreign to this passage. In any case, when I do these things, I am often looking less for ideal translation (which is well beyond my ability even with all the resources I use) than for a translation that breaks out of the prison of familiarity while still being more or less in the vicinity. So faith, hope, and love/charity are given different translations here. But there are lots of other tricky bits here -- particularly the somewhat brain-breaking last line, in which we are literally told that agape is greater than pistis, elpis, and agape. Most translations take the comparative to be a loose usage, and translate it as superlative. A solution for which I have quite an affection, without much confidence in its being the best translation, however much I would like it to be, reads it as 'Now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but greater than these is the love [i.e., the divine love]'. It's not absolutely impossible that a distinction is being made between agape without a definite article and he agape, the love; but it doesn't seem particularly likely given the way Greek uses articles, and accepting this requires rethinking the entire passage, since it opens with the former but the middle part is all definite-article love. Perhaps one should read it is as continuing what went on immediately before: For now [in the infant/partial period], the enduring things are faith, hope, and love; but [complete/adult] love is greater. That is, we are in our infancy, our partial period; the things that endure now are faith, hope, and love. But when we have the whole, love will be greater than all these infant/partial things -- i.e., it is the one thing that will not be superseded even when completed. This is something like how it was traditionally interpreted.

In any case, everything here should be read as just a possible different way of looking at the whole passage rather than necessarily the best way to translate it, which I don't have the competence to say.]

[ADDED LATER: I forgot I wanted to say something about the attributes of love here. Makrothymei literally means 'great-spirited' or 'greatly driven'. Your thymos is the part of you that likes overcoming challenges, so 'patient' and 'long-enduring' are certainly right, but the whole thing could also be loosely paraphrased as 'love loves challenges'. Likewise, the usual 'kind' is a reasonable translation of chresteuetai, but the word literally indicates being useful. 'Patient and kind' are easily susceptible of a very sentimentalist reading, in which love is a kind of passive benevolence; but the Greek is the reverse: love is very active. Love seeks out challenges and makes itself useful.]

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