Thursday, March 3, 2011

Prudentius on Sin's Stains and God's Power to Cleanse

Lately I've been doing a bit of reading from Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, an early-fifth-century Latin Christian poet. He's got some really good stuff. I've found some inspiring, striking, and moving portions in his Liber Cathemerinon, a book of lengthy hymns for various occasions throughout the day and throughout the year. And I wanted to share a bit of it.

Into our thoughts now turn Thy gaze;
Examine every word and deed;
Behold the many stains of sin,
Which Thy pure light alone can cleanse.

Oh grant that we may ever keep
Our souls as bright and free from soil,
As when the waters on us flowed
From holy Jordan's cleansing stream.

If by the clouds of earth's black night
Our souls since then have been obscured,
Do Thou, O King of the morning star,
Disperse the gloom with Thy bright glance.

O Lord divine, as Thou canst change
Foul pitch to milky white, and make
Of ebony a crystal clear,
So wash away our dark misdeeds.

(Liber Cathemerinon 2.57-72)

I find this such a true, honest, and striking plea. Sin has stained us. A lot. And it's stained all of us; not a single one of us is unblemished. Those of us who have been baptized as Christians are rendered clean by Christ's atoning sacrifice, and we must continually pray that God will grant us the grace so that we can resist the pull to wallow in sin again. But Prudentius recognizes that, well, our souls do still get obscured. We do fall. And so we can always pray to God to penetrate our darkness with a single luminous glance; before God's eyes, all things are laid bare. And God is a God who changes things; God can take the dirty and make it clean. He's a God of purification. Nothing is ever too filthy or murky for him to cleanse. And that's the God upon whom we can always rely to "wash away our dark misdeeds" when we see the error of our ways and come back to him. Know this: you are never, never, never too far gone for God's grace to reach you.