Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Mystery of Carrying a Heavy Burden

As I was praying the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary - the mystery of the Crucifixion - I was thinking of the nails, and how their iron was formed in a stellar furnace, and recalling that hymn from the passion that says:
Crux fidelis, inter omnes
Arobor una nobilis:
Silva talem nulla profert
Fronde, flore, germine:
Dulce ferrum, dulce lignum,
Dulce pondus sustinent.
That is:
Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble Tree!
None in foilage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peers may be;
Sweetest Wood and sweetest Iron!
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
[Britt, The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal 127]
Now, I had to go hunting in my Cassell's and Lewis and Short, and found that the Latin noun ferrum = iron is not really related to the verb fero, ferre, tuli, latum = to carry. (The verb has a short e; the noun a long e; the root behind iron seems to be the one which also gives us "firm".) And yet, there is some correspondence, even if only by transference. (No pun intended.)

Certainly, the mystery of carrying, like the mystery of iron, is worth some pondering. I recall somewhere - I think it is in Out of the Silent Planet, the first part of Lewis's Space Trilogy, how he complains (through his "divine" Martians) that we humans spend so much of our time worrying about carrying things. This is so wrong - but I am not trying to produce a debate over the strange distortions of Lewis. No; not when I can turn to much more profound truths - like blood.

The entire circulatory system - the blood, the heart, the collection of blood-carrying vessels - is designed for carrying things. It seems that the very scheme of life - that is, life for nearly all multi-cellular creatures - requires a lot of worry about carrying things. Indeed, this is certified by histology and anatomy in very strong terms:
As a mammalian embryo advances through the stages characterized by cleavage, morula, blastocyst and germ layers, it satisfies all its metabolic needs by simple, diffusive interchanges with the fluid medium in which it is immersed. But as the embryo continues to gain size and begins to take form, a functioning circulatory system becomes necessary in order to make use of the required food and oxygen obtainable from the mother's blood. Hence it is that the heart and blood vessels are the first organ system to reach a functional state. [Arey, Developmental Anatomy 375]
In order for a being to attain its proper size, it requires a functioning transportation system. And, as we know, at the center of every molecule of hemoglobin the oxygen-carrying vehicle, there is an atom of IRON.

Now, there is a lot to say about that, and a lot needs to be said - about iron, about hemoglobin, about the erythrocytes (the red-blood cells), about the heart, about the circulation. But I will just say one more thing for now.

There is a reason for using this term "mystery". For the iron nails of the cross were serving not as ferre = to carry - which implies motion, but as firmo = to hold fast. At the same time, they did indeed carry something.

On the cross of Calvary, it was iron that carried His blood to us.


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