Friday, 26 June 2009

Infelix me

Savanarola's Infelix Ego is a puzzling text. The first section is clear enough:
Infelix ego, omnium auxilio destitutus, qui cœlum terramque offendi: Quo ibo? Quo me vertam? Ad quem confugiam? Quis mei miserebitur? Ad cœlum levare oculos non audeo. Quia ei graviter peccavi. In terra refugium non invenio. Quia ei scandalum fui.
Clearly 'cœlum' doesn't mean the literal sky; it means God's realm. 'Unfortunate I: I can ask no-one's help, I who have broken the laws of earth and heaven also. Where to turn? Where can I run? With whom will I find pity? Heaven is somewhere I dare not look, since I have sinned against it so grievously. Upon the earth there is no refuge. I have been a scandal there.' But the next paragraph immediately contradicts this:
Quid igitur faciam? Desperabo? Absit. Misericors est Deus, pius est salvator meus. Solus igitur Deus refugium meum: Ipse non despiciet opus suum, non repellet imaginem suam.
'What then can I do? Despair? I shall not. God is merciful, my Saviour is pius. Only God shall be my refuge, he will not despise his own work, will not turn away his own image.' Which is fine, and plenty pius, but directly opposed to what the text just said ... that the speaker cannot turn to God, that what he has done puts him outside the pale of divine mercy.

Now the obvious way of reconciling these two paragraphs would be to say: in the first the speaker gives voice to an excessive pessimism; and in the second he comprehends that the mercy of God is much greater than he had realised. 'I thought I was beyond the pale, but it turns out God's mercy is sufficient for me.' The one thing necessary to move from the state of despair in paragraph 1 to the state of redemption in 2 is repentence. What's problematic about this, I think, is that paragraph 1 is precisely penitent, but that its self-abasement understands its abjection precisely in terms (we might say) of a sin against the Holy Ghost. Despair is itself sinful, yet self-abjection and repentence is, here, construed precisely as despairing.

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