Quasimodo Sunday

II. Sunday of Easter

Quasi modo geniti infantes (alleluia) rationabiles sine dolo lac concupiscite
(alleluia, alleluia, alleluia)
     1P 2.2; Entrance antiphon for the II. Sunday of Easter

In the historic Roman Rite, this Introit culminates a week-long series of proper chants and other texts addressed to those who were baptized and made their first communion (the completion of their baptism) at the Easter Vigil and who anciently underwent instruction in Easter Week to explain the sacraments they had experienced. As I wrote on Laetare Sunday, in those same early days of the Church, the neophytes, in addition to receiving the Body and Blood, were administered milk and honey (referred to in more than one chant during Easter Week), symbolic of new birth, nourishment, sweetness, and abundance, particularly with reference to the Promised Land, now seen to be the Church, and the Consolation of Israel (Is 40–55 and especially 55.1, which refers to ‘milk without price’), understood to be fulfilled in Christ.

1P 2.1–10 was the Epistle for Easter Saturday, which commemorated the Octave of the Vigil (there was at one time no celebration proper to the Sunday, just as there was none on Easter Day); this Introit perhaps originally belonged to the Saturday. The text was most appropriate; the Epistle goes on to add, in 2.3 (referring to Ps 34.8), ‘...if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good’ (dulcis, ‘sweet’, in the Latin translations, but chrêstós – sounding identical to christós, ‘anointed/Christ’ in the original Greek). The Church and her neophytes would have heard in this a clear reference to the Eucharist, in which the Lord is indeed tasted, especially given that this Psalm-verse was frequently sung at Communion; Latin-speaking Christians would have thought of the honey at their first communion, while at a very early stage when the Roman liturgy was still celebrated in Greek, some might have heard, as original hearers of the Epistle did, ‘The Lord is Christ’, which is to say, ‘Christ is Lord’, or ‘The Lord is Anointed [meaning, more or less, ‘chosen and ordained’]’, and been reminded of their own anointing at their Baptism. We should also note that, though for many centuries only the first verse of the Introit’s accompanying Psalm has been sung, originally most if not all of the Psalm was used: in this case, a Psalm (81) which includes the Lord’s command ‘open your mouth wide and I will fill it’, and his wish that ‘Israel would I feed with the finest wheat / and satisfy him with honey from the rock’.

The verse forming the Introit is, as it happens, not so easy to translate from the Greek, a fact reflected in, and complicated by, the varying witness of the Latin translations, but which may prompt fruitful reflection about its meaning and importance. The difficulties for us lie in the adjectives logikós and ádolos, both modifying ‘milk’. Ádolos means ‘unmixed, unadulterated’ when referring to a substance, but dólos, the thing which something a-dolos does not have, means ‘guile, deceit; a ruse’ and is in fact the word used in 2.1 in the list of the kinds of evil speech of which Christians should rid themselves. The Latin translations render ádolos by the prepositional phrase sine dolo, ‘without deceit or fraud’, which may be a felicitous fudge allowing it to apply equally to the infants, the milk, or the desiring (the preceding verse also uses dolus like the Greek).* Though ádolos can be simply translated as ‘pure’, there is no pair of related English words that can be used to convey the artful connection between 2.1 and 2.2.

Though the foregoing might be translated literally if not artfully, logikós, on the other hand, cannot be rendered very simply or clearly at all in English. It probably (certainly, in slightly later Christian theology) describes what we rather vaguely call our ‘higher nature’, the ‘human spirit’, even the ‘image of God’: the mind / soul / psyche / consciousness that when properly cultivated and directed allows us to learn, reason, make moral decisions, and intend relationships both human and divine. Being related to lógos, however, the term carries at least an echo of, and may refer intentionally if indirectly to, the ‘word’ of Scripture and perhaps the Word, Christ (who is also the ‘image of God’, Cl 1.15) – especially given that just a few verses before (1.23), the author speaks of ‘the living and imperishable word of God’ through which the addressees of the Epistle ‘have been born anew’. English translations have rendered logikòn gála variously as ‘milk of the word’, ‘spiritual milk’, ‘rational milk’, ‘milk of reason’ – some of which don’t make good sense in English, and none of which really comprehends the meaning, which must rather be something like ‘the milk of [i.e., that nourishes one for] full, mature humanity in the likeness of God’, perhaps with the implication that the milk is the word/Word. Perhaps ‘the milk of the spirit’ might be a little closer; one is tempted even to say ‘the milk of wisdom’, which might comprehend maturity in what we described above, as well as nodding toward the Holy Spirit and the Lógos, both of which are identified with Wisdom in the tradition. But hardly any translator would be bold enough to write such a thing despite at least some overlap in meaning with sophía.

Some Latin translations render logikón as rationale or rationabile, ‘reasonable; of or possessing [the capacity of ] reason’ (modifying ‘milk’), others rationales or rationabiles (modifying ‘infants’), the latter being the reading of the Introit.

For singing to the chant melody with minimal adaptation thereof, trying to be true to both the Greek and the Latin, I have rendered the text as follows:

As with infants newly born [,] spiritual and uncorrupted [,] milk should be your desire.

(‘should be your desire’ is a bit weak for the imperative verb that means ‘yearn’, ‘hunger’, ‘crave’, but it fits the chant, and this word does not concern us here.)

Read with the first comma but not the second, ‘spiritual and uncorrupted’ modifies ‘milk’ as in the Greek (‘uncorrupted’ being my best effort to suggest the opposite of being marked by guile, deceit, ruse, that is, by impurity [of motive or substance] or by a confusion between appearance and content). Read with both commas, we come closer to what the Latin seems to say on the face of it, though this does not make the most sense (infants, literally ‘those without speech’, are by definition not fully logikoí – though it is just possible that the translator has in mind Our Lord’s command to be both ‘wise and innocent’ [Mt 10.16, though the Latin there has prudentes...et simplices]). But read with the second comma only, we may arrive at what the Latin is actually trying to get at – and in a way, at what the Greek ultimately means: that the infants in question (i.e. the neophytes) are newly born [as] pure and [only now] truly logikoí beings (i.e., capable of higher nature, of ‘growing to salvation’ as 2.3 says, or coming ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’ [Ep 4.13]).

In the historic Roman Rite, the readings from 1P 2 continued on the III. and IV. Sundays of Easter; in today’s Episcopal Church, I Peter is fittingly read in the Second Week of Easter in Year II of the Daily Office Lectionary, and some of the traditional Easter Week Collects of the Roman Rite, or texts like them, are appointed for Eastertide in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Whether I Peter was originally addressed to new converts or not, it certainly outlines both the great hope that is fulfilled in Christ, and the great responsibilities of those living in Christ – responsibilities to one another as members of Christ, and to the world, that God may be glorified in all things – and is most appropriate in a season in which the Church welcomes new members and is thereby put in mind afresh of its calling.

*  Earlier the connection to Is 55.1 was mentioned; though the last couplet is ordinarily and correctly rendered ‘Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price’, the Vulgate has commutatio for ‘price’; it certainly means ‘exchange, interchange’, but it can also mean ‘change, alteration’, and this meaning may have been connected with dolus in the minds of some (the connection does not hold in the Greek).