21 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (32) Hypocrite

Classical masks on sale near the Acropolis in Athens … the word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word for an actor who masked or hid his face (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I would hate to call anyone a hypocrite or two-faced, and I would hate it even more to find that some thought that I am two-faced or a hypocrite.

Yet, in Saint Mark’s Gospel, which provides the principal Gospel readings in the Lectionary these weeks, Christ uses the word ‘hypocrite’ to condemn some the Pharisees who consider the ‘tradition of the elders’ to be binding, as are the laws of Moses.

At first, the laws of ritual purity applied only to priests. The Pharisees wished to extend these laws to all Jews, at first not because they had hang-ups about how and when people could eat, but because they wanted to show that all people are priestly and holy. The original intention was broad and embracing, and not narrow and controlling in its intent.

Rather than becoming entangled in the details of argument, Christ calls the narrow and controlling group among the Pharisees hypocrites.

In Greek, the word, ὑποκριτής (hypokrités) was used for an actor who masked or hid his face. The word ὑποκρίνομαι (hypokrínomai) means ‘to play a part on stage,’ and the word ῠ̔ποκρῐτής (hypokrités), meaning one who answers, an interpreter, an expounder or a stage actor, eventually came to mean figuratively a pretender, dissembler, or a hypocrite.

In Athens in the 4th century BCE, the orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a ῠ̔ποκρῐτής (hypokrités) whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him untrustworthy as a politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, combined with the Roman disdain for actors, shaded into the originally neutral ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis) or hypocrisy.

It is this later sense of hypokrisis as ‘play-acting’ or assuming a counterfeit persona that gives us the modern word hypocrisy with all its negative connotations.

Classical masks from the theatre in Athens on display in the Acropolis Museum … the word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word for an actor who masked or hid his face (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday: 31, Olympian

Tomorrow: 32, Genocide, Γενοκτονία.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
115, Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … all that remains of the Wren church is the tower with its pinnacles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church is Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (21 September).

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (21 September 2021) are from Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill.

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren’s office after the Great Fire of 1666 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Saint Mary Somerset stood where Upper Thames Street and Lambeth Hill meet, south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Wren after the Great Fire of London.

The Church of Saint Mary Somerset is first recorded in the late 12th century, in a deed in the reign of Richard I.

Lambeth Hill is some distance from Lambeth, but the street name was derived from Lambard. It is even further from Somerset, so the designation ‘Somerset’ in the church name is more puzzling. It has been linked to Ralph de Somery, who is mentioned in records at the same time. It is also linked to Summer’s Hithe, a small haven on the Thames, at a time when the banks of the river were much closer.

Before the Great Fire in 1666, London had 14 churches named after the Virgin Mary. This is one of six of those churches rebuilt after the Fire and one of the 51 churches in London rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. At the same time, the parish of Saint Mary Somerset was combined with the parish of Saint Mary Mounthaw, which was not rebuilt.

Building the new church began in 1686, but stopped in 1688 owing to the financial uncertainty associated with the Williamite Revolution. Rebuilding recommenced the next year, and the church was finished in 1694 at a cost of £6,579. The rebuilt church was smaller than its predecessor, as a strip of land was taken by the City to widen what was then Thames Street.

Wren’s church had a nave but no aisles and had a flat roof. George Godwin described the interior as ‘a mere room with low whitewashed walls.’ Two columns supported a gallery at the west end, from which the royal coat of arms was suspended.

The tower projected from the south-west. It is 120 ft high and faced with Portland stone. Lines of windows, alternately circular and round headed, run up each side, with grotesque masks and cherubs serving as keystones.

The parish was very poor, and it was one of only two churches for which Wren provided funds for the furnishings from the Coal Tax – the other was Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

There was a major movement of population from the City of London in the second half of the 19th century to new suburbs in Middlesex, Kent, Essex and Surrey. With these moves, many of the city churches in London were left with tiny congregations, while many of the newly-built suburbs had no churches.

The Union of Benefices Act (1860) allowed the demolition of City churches and the sale of land to build churches in the suburbs. Over 20 churches were demolished to make way for other buildings, including railway stations. The last service was held in Saint Mary Somerset on 1 February 1867, with about 70 people present.

The parish was then combined with Saint Nicholas Cole Abbey, and the church was demolished in 1871. Thanks to the efforts of the architect Ewan Christian (1814-1895), the church tower was preserved. The proceeds of the sale were used to build Saint Mary Hoxton, which also received the church furnishings and the bell.

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the pinnacles, obelisks and finials may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 9-13 (NRSVA):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the last service was held here is 1867 and the church was demolished in 1871 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 September 2021, Saint Matthew the Apostle) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Saint Matthew. May we emulate his witness, following the ways that Jesus taught us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the tower has been converted into a private residence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org