Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Our Hope is in the Best of Consolers

Today is Tuesday, the 18th of November - roughly a dozen days until we begin our Advent. Our life, as we know, is a struggle, a battle against Dark Powers, who seek to divert us from our Purpose. We must invoke the assistance of the Good Angels, who vastly outnumber our foes - and, since we are weak and cold and full of indifference, and we sit in the shadows of death, we must call upon the One Consoler and Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Who brings light, and warmth, and strength, and love.

Let us then continue our study of True Hope with the next verse of the "Golden Sequence", the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, with the assistance of Father Britt's The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal.

Consolator optime,
Dulcis hospes animae
Dulce refrigerium.
In labore requies,
In aestu temperies,
In fletu solatium.

Thou best consoler,
Sweet guest of the soul,
Sweet coolness:
In labor, rest,
In heat, refreshment,
In tears, solace. [Britt's translation]
Well, again we find curious words which might occupy us for some time. The mystic word hospes, which means both "guest" and "host", from which our "hospital" and "hotel" and "hospitality" come from, I must defer to a future post.

Far easier to speak on, though perhaps far lengthier, is the word optime = "best".

Mathematicians speak about "linear" and other forms of mathematical optimization - these are interesting puzzles of numbers where one seeks the "extremes" according to certain particular relations like "less than" or "greater than". They come up in various real-world problems, and there are well-known ways of solving such things. But there is a richer analogy in the use of the term "optimization" in computing. There, it means the various methods of changing a given program such that the revision keeps the identical computation but - and this is the important point - the revised form is faster than the original. Again, there are well-known ways of doing such things, as strange as this may sound to an outsider. and they are not magical: they are merely applications of "equivalences" based on mathematics, just as one can speed up addition by multiplying:

Quick, what's 7+7+7+7+7+7+7? Seven sevens? That's forty-nine.

You see? Or, one can speed up multiplication by exponentiation:

Quick, what's 10*10*10*10*10*10? That's six tens, or ten-to-the-sixth, which is a million. (Yes, this is the way to logarithms...)

Wow. And just as there are more such tricks in math, there are such tricks in the optimization of computer codes - but one must know the most intimate truths of the program, actually of the programming language - the truths at the very base of its existence, if one is to proceed to make such changes and yet preserve the reality of the program.

And that is what the Holy Spirit does. He knows us in a most intimate way, since He made us, and we are made in His image. He alone can "optimize" us, make us better, and yet not change who we are. Yes, there are also forms of optimization which discard useless code - He does that too - under His guidance we will be "pruned" (see John 15:2) of the useless and impractical.

And note He operates as a Consoler - as One Who remedies our difficulties. He is the guest of the soul - He comes into us in the most intimate, and most fundamental way possible - which must be if such grand improvements are to occur.

You will also note He is "at work" to do this: He is not a Linus-blanket, or a feel-good pill. The deep tech term used in ontology about God is "act" - God is pure act without "potency"... I do not mean to abuse the terms or play a word game - but just as an optimizer (whether software or a computer scientist) must work to improve the program, the Holy Spirit works to improve us... if we let Him do it, and don't get in His way.

We see another interesting word here - refrigerium. Yes, it reminds us of "refrigerator" - the "cooler" where we keep food against deterioration, or drinks to make them refreshing. No, we are not talking about entropy or ways of air conditioning or food preservation here... but let us go further. He is called "sweet" - which may be a bit misleading, since the Holy Spirit is definitely not candy. Chesterton has this to say about dulce:
In English the word "sweet" has been rendered hopelessly sticky by the accident of the word "sweets." But in any case it suggests something much more intense and even pungent in sweetness like the tabloids of saccharine that are of concentrated sugar. It is at once too strong and too weak a word. It has not the same savour as the same word in the Latin languages, which often means no more than the word "gentle" as it was used of "a perfect gentle knight."
[GKC The Thing CW3:285]
It might be better understood as "gracious" or even perhaps "gentle" - think perhaps of a very strong, husky, he-man linebacker type of man - who happens to be a pediatrician, and is gentle - is sweet - with children, yes even with infants. Sweet Refrigerator indeed.

And next we see listed just three of our many woes in our fallen lives - and how the Holy Spirit gives the precise remedy:

We must labor [Gen 3:19] and the Holy Spirit brings us rest. [cf Hebrews 3 and 4]

We spend our lives in heat (which can represent the continual temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil) and the Holy Spirit brings us refreshment - a cooling drink does not remove us from the summer sun, but it imparts a change in our own temperature, and a diversion which enables us to proceed to our duties despite the external warmth.

We weep in this "valley of tears" - as Jesus did at the death of a friend [Jn 11:35] or over the infidelity of His people [Jn 19:41] - the Holy Spirit soothes and relieves - when all others have abandoned us, He remains: "Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? and if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee." [Is 49:15]

So when our work is difficult, when we are in the heat of temptation, when we find our tears flowing at the woes of our world - then we must beg the Holy Spirit for His great gifts - for the greatest gift - Himself [see Jn 14:16] - that He may "optimize" us and remedy our woes.

Come, O Holy Spirit, Come!


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