Monday, 19 July 2010

Passion and compassion in Christianity and Buddhism

The cloisters in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The story is told that when the Dalai Lama was in London, staying as a guest of the Dean of Westminster, the dean and his family went to great lengths to prepare vegetarian meals. They were surprised when the Dalai Lama opted for a full English breakfast, including black pudding, each morning.

The story was told on Monday afternoon by Dr Mangla Frost in her paper ‘Passion, Dispassion and Compassion in World Religions.’ Dr Frost was speaking in Sidney Sussex College at the annual summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

In her search for points of meetings and departures for Christians, Dr Frost concentrated on Buddhism. She pointed out that there is a variety of traditions in Buddhism, and there is even a legend that the Buddha’s last meal was pork.

Although, the Buddha declined to speak about God or gods, the different schools of Buddhism developed mythological, cosmic and mystical traditions, so that a religion that first emphasised self-reliance became a religion of ritual and devotion.

Passion is often described as burning in the Buddhist tradition, and she drew comparisons with similar images in the ‘Fire Sermon’ in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (Section III).

Drawing comparisons between the teaching of the Buddha and the Ladder of Divine Ascent of Saint John Klimakos, she suggested that passion only becomes evil when it is misdirected. It needs to be transformed by the Holy Spirit rather than destroyed.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Swimming with your clothes on

Enjoying a break during this morning’s lectures in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The theme of this year’s summer school in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is “Passion, Human and Divine.” This is the eleventh summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and we were introduced to the topic this morning by Dr Marcus Plested.

Later in the morning, Dr Mangala Frost would remind us of a saying from Saint John Kilmakos in The Ladder of Divine Ascent: “He who dabbles in theology while still in the passions is like one who tries to swim with his clothes on.” We were dabbling in theology this morning, but I hardly felt I was being weighed down to the point of drowning – it was a morning of learning, enlightenment and humour, with theology mixed in good measure with poetry and literature.

Professor Jim Aitken of the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, who teaches Old Testament, Hebrew and Second Temple Studies, was our first speaker. Dr Aitken, who is the author of The Semantics of Blessing and Cursing in Ancient Hebrew (Louvain: Peeters, 2007), told us how there is one Hebrew word for blessing in the Old Testament, but 14 words for cursing.

He began by referring to Regina Schwartz’s book, The Curse of Cain: the Violent Legacy of Monotheism, in which she develops her theory of the “myth of scarcity”: if there is not enough land, food, or even the love of God, to go around, then others are denied and conflict is created.

In the Old Testament, jealous and zealous stand side-by-side as images of the divine. Divine anger leads to condemnation, but the anger of human kings, such as Pharaoh, is the anger of inflexible, unchangeable rulers, while God is flexible and compassionate, and his anger is directed at restoring the order and purpose of his creation.

He explored contrasts of God’s anger and the anger of kings in the story of Exodus, the story of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3), Judith and in the Wisdom of Solomon (chapters 17 to 19).

I was intrigued by his insight into the inspiration for the popular Christmas carol Silent Night in the Wisdom of Solomon: “All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when the almighty Word leapt from thy royal throne in heaven into the midst of that doomed land, like a relentless warrior …” (18: 14-16).

Dr Marcus Plested introduced us to the attitudes to passion in the classical philosophical schools, including Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Seneca. He also asked searching questions about the traditions of the impassibility of God, which have been challenged since the 1970s by Jurgen Moltmann.

Later in the morning, Professor David Frost introduced readings of classical texts on the theme of “Passion,” with two readings from Scripture on the Passion of Christ (Isaiah 53; and Mark 14), and three sonnets by Shakespeare (Sonnets 141, 138 and 147):

Sonnet 141:

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway’d the likeness of a man,
Thy proud hearts slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.


Sonnet 138:

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.


Sonnet 147:

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as mad men’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed.
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.


Marcus Plested read from Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who was also a Stoic philosopher. – and played by Richard Harris in Gladiator, and Evagrius of Pontus, who listed eight vices that eventually, in the west, became the seven deadly sins. Evagrius lists gluttony, impurity or fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory and pride. In some texts, Evagrius also lists jealousy, a subject he normally does not discuss extensively.

Dr Mangala Frost introduced the treatment of the passions in Hindu texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, and patristic writings, including Saint Augustine on the importance of acquiring a pure heart, and Saint John Klimakos in The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

In particular, I enjoyed her humour as she quoted from The Ladder of Divine Ascent in which Saint John Klimakos said: “He who dabbles in theology while still in the passions is like one who tries to swim with his clothes on.”

She also introduced us to the passions in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Other readings were introduced by Father Alexander Taft, who quoted from Pushkin, and we heard stories from the Middle East too.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Oculi omnium ad te spectant, Domine

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... each Cambridge College has its own traditions about graces (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in residence in Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge all this week, taking part in the annual Summer School of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

This is my third year staying at Sidney Sussex College. Each day, we are having our meals in the Hall, sitting beneath the portraits of former masters, alongside those of the founder, Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, and that most famous of Sidney alumni, Oliver Cromwell.

As formalities are at a minimum – apart from the dinner in the Old Library next Thursday evening – we eat in the Hall without the formal graces that are part of the tradition of Sidney Sussex and most other Cambridge and Oxford colleges.

In the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, students are called on each Wednesday evening during term-time, in succession, to lead us in grace at our community dinners. But we no longer hear formal Latin graces, associated with college graces, and I sometimes wonder how students – or staff – would respond if someone decided to open with the traditional words of a college grace.

There is an apocryphal story that when a senior staff member began grace one evening in the Church of Ireland Theological College with words such as “Oculi omnium …” or the more abbreviated “Benedictus benedicat …,” a new student told him: “I didn’t understand a word you said.”

“You weren’t meant to,” the retort flew back. “I wasn’t speaking to you.”

A centuries-old grace

Perhaps there is a danger of students losing the tradition surrounding college graces. I imagine this thought inspired a recent competition organised in connection with the chapel to provide a new setting for the words of the Sidney Sussex College Grace, Oculi omnium.

The centuries-old words of the grace used here in Sidney Sussex are:

Oculi omnium ad te spectant, Domine;
tu das eis escam eorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione tua.
Sanctifica nos, quaesumus, per verbum et orationem;
Istisque tuis donis,
quae de tua bonitate sumus percepturi, benedicito.
Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.


The traditional English translation of these words is:

The eyes of all look toward thee, O Lord;
thou givest them their meat in due season.
Thou openest thine hand
and fillest every living thing with thy blessing.
Sanctify us, we beseech thee, through word and prayer;
and give thy blessing
to these thy gifts, which of they bounty we are about to receive,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The Trinity College Dublin grace

In Trinity College Dublin too, the Latin graces that continue to be recited before and after Commons each evening in the old Dining Hall were composed by the saintly William Bedell, who was Provost from 1627 to 1629.

Ten students are appointed each year to waiterships – positions usually filled by scholars, although the honour is not restricted to them – and each evening an appointed “waiter” climbs the curious pulpit known as the “egg cup” to read the centuries-old prayers. It is said the “egg cup” originally graced the old chapel of 1683, making it older than any surviving college building and almost as old as the college graces themselves.

Commons begins with a kick on the door, and the waiter then says, in Latin, from memory:

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine.
Tu das iis escam eorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione tua …


“The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord.
Thou givest them meat in due season.
Thou openest thy hand,
and fillest with blessing every living creature ...”


This phrase is taken from Psalm 145: 14-15, and is used in almost all Cambridge colleges, although there are many variations. The version used in TCD is exactly as in the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, the Latin edition of the Bible published by Pope Clement VIII. These verses, with variations, are used at Sidney Sussex, as also in Christ’s, Clare, Emmanuel, Jesus, King’s, Saint Catherine’s, Saint John’s and Trinity in Cambridge and at Brasenose, Keble, Merton and New College in Oxford. Bishop Bedell had been a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and his image graces one of the stained glass windows in the chapel of Emmanuel College, so it is likely that he heard these lines many times in Cambridge.

The waiter in TCD then continues the “before meat” prayer:

Miserere nostri te quaesumus Domine,
tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate sumus percepturi, benedicito
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

“Have mercy on us, we beseech thee, O Lord,
and bless thy gifts, which from thy kindness we are about to receive,
through Christ our Lord.”


Similar words – Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi – are recorded as a blessing as early as the eighth century. This phrase – or variations on it – continues to be used as a pre-prandial grace at many Oxford and Cambridge and Oxford colleges, and the variation found in TCD is almost word-for-word the same as the ante cibum prayer used in Trinity College Oxford.

It may simply be a coincidence that the grace in Trinity College Dublin is a combination of the graces of Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Oxford. But perhaps it is also an acknowledgement by Bedell that these two colleges in Cambridge and Oxford share a name with his college in Dublin.

When the meal ends, the same “waiter” mounts the “egg cup” once again to read the “after meat” grace, most of which is unique to TCD. Again in Latin, he begins:

Tibi laus, tibi honor, tibi gloria,
O beata et gloriosa Trinitas.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum et nunc et in perpetuum …

“To thee be praise, to thee be honour, to thee be glory,
O blessed and glorious Trinity.
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever…”


This is very similar to the start of the grace prayed after meals at Clare College, Cambridge, which was founded over 250 years before TCD. The words after the triple praise of the Holy Trinity, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”, are a quote from the first chapter of the Book of Job.

The grace then continues:

Laudamus te, benignissime Pater,
pro serenissimis,
regina Elizabetha hujus Collegii conditrice,
Jacobo ejusdem munificentissimo auctore,
Carolo conservatore,
caeterisque benefactoribus nostris …

“We praise thee, most gracious Father,
for the most serene ones,
Queen Elizabeth the founder of this college,
James its most munificent builder,
Charles its preserver,
and our other benefactors.”


Queen Elizabeth I founded Trinity College Dublin in 1592; her successor, James I, gave generous grants of land to the college in the 1610s; his son Charles I was king at the time the graces were composed; all three issued charters to the new Trinity College.

The waiter then finishes:

rogantes te,
ut his tuis donis recte et ad tuam gloriam utentes in hoc saeculo,
te una cum fidelibus in futuro feliciter perfruamur,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

“Asking thee,
as we make use of these thy gifts rightly and for thy glory at this time,
that we might exalt in thee together with the faithful happily in the future,
through Christ our Lord.”


Having acknowledged the divine source of all wisdom, all present remain standing as the fellows leave. The undergraduates stay standing as the scholars then leave.

The graces are not always said with the dignity they demand. But, laus Deo, they remain prescribed by statute. Long may they continue to be recited.

Before meat

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine.
Tu das iis escam eorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione tua.
Miserere nostri te quaesumus Domine,
tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate sumus percepturi, benedicito
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord.
Thou givest them meat in due season.
Thou openest thy hand, and fillest with blessing every living creature.
Have mercy on us, we beseech thee, O Lord,
and bless thy gifts, which from thy kindness we are about to receive,
through Christ our Lord.


After meat

Tibi laus, tibi honor, tibi gloria,
O beata et gloriosa Trinitas.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum et nunc et in perpetuum.
Laudamus te, benignissime Pater,
pro serenissimis, regina Elizabetha hujus Collegii conditrice,
Jacobo ejusdem munificentissimo auctore,
Carolo conservatore,
caeterisque benefactoribus nostris,
rogantes te,
ut his tuis donis recte et ad tuam gloriam utentes in hoc saeculo,
te una cum fidelibus in futuro feliciter perfruamur,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

To thee be praise, to thee be honour, to thee be glory,
O blessed and glorious Trinity.
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
We praise thee, most gracious Father,
for the most serene ones, Queen Elizabeth the founder of this college,
James its most munificent builder,
Charles its preserver, and our other benefactors,
asking thee,
as we make use of these thy gifts rightly and for thy glory at this time,
that we might exalt in thee together with the faithful happily in the future,
through Christ our Lord.


This is a typical grace used in Cambridge and Oxford colleges, although there are many variants:

Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua,
quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi,
et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti
tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Bless, O Lord, us and your gifts,
which from your bounty we are about to receive,
and grant that, healthily nourished by them,
we may render you due obedience,
through Christ our Lord.


This is frequently abbreviated to this shorter version:

Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi.

Bless, O Lord, these thy gifts, which from thy bounty we are about to receive.


And there is an even shorter grace:

Benedictus benedicat.

May the Blessed One give a blessing.


Cambridge variations:

These are some other Cambridge college variations on the graces:

Trinity College Cambridge

At Trinity College Cambridge, grace is recited every evening before dinner by the senior Fellow presiding. The simple grace is as follows:

Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua,
quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi,
et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti
tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Bless, O Lord, us and thy gifts,
which through thy goodness we are about to receive;
and grant that being by them healthfully nourished,
we may be enabled to show our bounded duty toward thee,
through Christ our Lord.


If both of the High Tables are in use then the following antiphonal formula is prefixed to the main grace:

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine:
Et tu das escam illis in tempore.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione.

The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord:
and thou givest them meat in due season.
Thou openest thine hand,
and fillest every living thing with blessing.


At the end of the meal the simple formula Benedicto benedicatur is used.

Emmanuel College, Cambridge:

Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Before meals:

Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine,
et tu das escam illorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam
et imples omne animal benedictione.
Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua
quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi;
per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord,
and thou givest them their meat in due season.
Thou openest thine hand
and fillest every living thing with blessing.
Bless us, O Lord and these the gifts
which of thy bounty we are about to receive;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.


After meals:

Confiteantur tibi, Domine, omnia opera tua,
et sancti tui benedicant te.
Agimus tibi gratias, omnipotens Deus,
pro universis beneficiis tuis,
qui vivis et regnas Deus per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Let all thy works give thanks to thee. O Lord,
and let thy saints bless thee.
We give thanks to thee, almighty God,
for all thy goodness,
who livest and reignest as God for ever and ever. Amen.


Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge:

Before meals:

Oculi omnium aspiciunt et in Te sperant, Domine.
Tu das iis escas illorum tempore opportuno.
Aperis Tu manus et imples omne animal benedictione Tua.
Benedic nobis, Domine, et omnibus donis Tuis,
quae ex larga liberalitate Tua sumpturi sumus
per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum. Amen.

All eyes look up and hope in you, Lord.
You give them their food at the right time.
You open your hands and fill every living being with your blessing.
Bless us, Lord, and all your gifts,
which we are about to receive from your great bounty
through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Saint John’s College, Cambridge:

In Saint John’s College, grace is customarily said before and after dinner in Hall. The reading of Grace before dinner (ante prandium) is usually the duty of a Scholar of the College; Grace after dinner (post prandium) is said by the President or the Senior Fellow dining. The Graces used in Saint John’s have been in continuous use for some centuries, and there they say the Ante Prandium is based upon mediaeval monastic models. The Grace is said shortly after the fellows enter the Hall, signalled by the sound of a gong, and accompanied by the ringing of the college’s Grace Bell.

The Ante Prandium is read after the Fellows have entered, the Post Prandium after they have finished dining:

Ante Prandium (Before Dinner):

Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine, et tu das illis cibum in tempore, aperis manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione. Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua, quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi, et concede ut illis salubriter nutriti, tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

“The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand: and fillest all things living with plenteousness. Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which out of thine abundance we are about to receive, and grant that by their saving nourishment we may have power to fulfil the obedience due to thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


Post Prandium (After Dinner)

Infunde, quaesumus, Domine Deus, gratiam tuam in mentes nostras, ut his donis datis a Margareta Fundatrice nostra aliisque Benefactoribus ad tuam gloriam utamur; et cum omnibus qui in fide Christi decesserunt ad caelestem vitam resurgamus, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Deus pro sua infinita clementia Ecclesiae suae pacem et unitatem concedat, augustissimam Reginam nostram Elizabetham conservet, et pacem universo Regno et omnibus Christianis largiatur.

“Pour forth, we beseech thee, Lord God, thy grace into our minds, that we may use these gifts, given by Margaret our Foundress and other Benefactors, to thy glory, and together with all who have died in the faith of Christ rise again to life in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. May God, of his infinite mercy, grant his Church unity and peace, preserve our most august queen, Queen Elizabeth, and grant peace to the whole Realm and to all Christians.”


Peterhouse, Cambridge:

The Peterhouse grace is:

Benedic nos Domine, et dona Tua, quae de Tua largitate sumus sumpturi, et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti, Tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Christum Dominum nostrum, Amen. Deus est caritas, et qui manet in caritate in Deo manet, et Deus in eo: sit Deus in nobis, et nos maneamus in ipso. Amen.

Bless us, O Lord, and your gifts, which of your bounty we are about to receive, and grant that, fed wholesomely upon them, we may be able to offer due service to you, through Christ our Lord, Amen. God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. May God be in us, and we in him. Amen.


Corpus Christi College, Cambridge:

At Corpus Christ College, which I am visiting on Thursday afternoon, a preface to the grace is used on Sundays and on Feast Days:

Mensae caelestis participes faciat nos Rex gloriae aeternae.

“May the King of eternal glory make us partakers of the heavenly table.”


Ante Prandium (Before Meals):

Benedic, Domine, nobis et donis tuis, quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi, et concede ut illis salubriter nutriti, tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Christum Dominum nostrum (Amen).

“Bless, O Lord, us and thy gifts, which we are about to take of thy generosity; and grant that we, healthily nourished by them, may be strong to render the thanks due to thee; through Christ our Lord (Amen).”


Post Prandium (After Meals):

Laus Deo per Jesum Christum Dominunum nostrum ( Deo Gracias).

Praise to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Thanks be to God).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.