Apology for not Finishing Cleanliness

As you have gleaned from the title, I did not finish that monster of a poem called Cleanliness.  It’s 1812 lines cover everything from the Fall to the liberation of the Hebrews from Babylon.  The point seems to have been to prove how God hates uncleanliness more than any other sin.  However, the Pearl-Poet makes a terrible case for this by lumping together all kinds of sins into this argument.  His argument quickly devolves to “God hates sin more than any other sin,” which holds no significance.  Hopefully, St. Erkenwald will be a much better poem.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

St. Mary Magdalene

But, many spiritual writers have said that God hates sins of the flesh more than any other kind of sin.  Moderns scoff at this notion–saying that such sins are normal and consensual sex never hurt anyone.  I agree that sins of the flesh are common, but they do hurt the people that do them.  St. Paul admonishes us to avoid especially sins of the flesh because we sin in our own bodies.  If the essence of all sin is malice, then no other sin quite makes people hate their own selves as lust.  And what of the opposite sex, which becomes objectified in the minds of the lustful person?  Might not lust be the origin of all misandry and misogyny?

Another reason for God to hate lust can be seen in the comparison of the ideal union of man and wife to lustful unions.  How deeply have people throughout time been cut to the heart by unfaithful lovers?  How many children brought up without the benefit of their father or even both parents?  How many children discarded and destroyed by abortions, infanticides, and exposure to the cruel elements?  Can it be any wonder that God hates lust and impurity when it leads to so much pain, objectification, and murder?  God created the sexes to enjoy a joyful union, intimacy, and children–not to feel malice toward one another and hate children.  Lust perverts one of God’s most beautiful gifts, leads to all kinds of sins, and the perpetrators end up hating themselves.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Yet, I suppose more people are led astray by the illusion of happiness presented by lust than any other sin.  This is perhaps why God describes the Prodigal Son as having spent his inheritance on prostitutes: despite the fact that God hates impurity so much, He is ready to forgive all sins no matter how grave–even instantly ready.  So, one should never despair of their salvation.

Well, there you have my own mediation on impurity.  If not evincing more knowledge of Scripture than Cleanliness, it is at least shorter and more logical.

2 thoughts on “Apology for not Finishing Cleanliness

  1. Gaheret says:

    Hmmm… not what Dante thought, for example: he puts Lust in his First Circle and Treason and the traitors at the bottom of his Inferno, both traitors to God (Jude) and to men (Brutus and Cassius). Treason is the highest socio-political crime, as it breachs society, but not necessarily the most hated by God. There are also these words in the New Testament about children and the sin of scandal, indifference towards others, lukewarmness and the rejection of Grace, “the sin against the Holy Spirit”, which could not be forgiven, as there is no repentance, the sin against hope, which leads to desperation… But I always heard that the worst one in terms of gravity was Pride, as it mirrors Lucifer´s sin, leads directly to hating God because He is God, and makes repentance specially difficult, as hipocrisy and it´s essential to pride.

    In that sense, pride and what the Romans called “acedia” would be like the roots of all sin in man (why would someone reject Grace, for example, or scandalyse?). I would reason that God´s love for us is the reason for He hating (rejecting, desiring not to exist) sin, which destroys us. Therefore, the sin He hates the most should be the most hurting and devastating of sins in terms of incapacitating us for love and repentance. I think no sin dilutes love as fast as Lust, but as Lust is so ugly and destructive, maybe there´s a bigger chance of repenting… I would say something similar of murder, for example, or stealing. This may be the reason because “publicans and prostitutes” were nearer the Kingdom of Heaven than Pharisees, and the reason because our Savior has such hard words for them (this may be also because hypocrites need kind of a “shock terapy” so they became aware of their situation). One may say that it is shown in the Parable: the older brother was doing all his father wanted, lived in his house and still, it´s in a worst position than his brother, unable to rejoice, envious, enslaved by himself, not able to come to the celebration… and it can happen even if you pray and worship God, as in the Parable of the Temple and the two sinners.

    Between pride and acedia… well, acedia can do a real mess of you without you noticing. I´m sure it´s the one I hate the most, by the way. So subtle. So disgusting. So linked to hidden fear and lukewarmness and rejecting love because of the efforts and complications it brings. But Pride may be worst in that “corruptio optimi pessima” sense, and harder to escape once you´re hooked. If you believe yourself God, then you´re in serious spiritual trouble. I would say acedia can make a Wormtail of you, but Pride is the sin that can make you Voldemort.

    • I’d have to agree that pride is the worst sin, especially for the reasons you noted: how difficult it is for the prideful man to discern and how the proud directly oppose God. On the other hand, lust is easy to detect and people are more easily convinced of the need to repent of lust than to repent of pride.

      It is interesting how pride is the worst vice and yet the root of vice. It would explain why the eldest son in the parable still suffers it, even though his inheritance yet secure. I remember reading somewhere that a complex of lust is worse than that of pride; but I think that has to do with the idea that repeated falls indicates a lack of desire to repent, and the man who thinks himself entitled to sins of the flesh is worse than the man who thinks himself entitled to esteem.

      Acedia is a fascinating phenomenon, because the person is both deprived of joy in living and the motivation to work or even exist. At its worst, it does combine with pride to commit the unforgivable sin: refusal to repent or even believe God is merciful. Acedia especially appears to be a modern problem and many interesting books are coming out on it.

      Thanks for your very insightful comment!

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