Ambulation in Mosiah 4. Part 1.
King Benjamin has infused his sermons with a theology heavily freighted with corporeal rhetoric. I mean by that, he preaches the gospel of Christ, and living the divine life, by using lots of sensory verbs–seeing, hearing, tasting–and lots of mental operations–believing, knowing, understanding, speaking, asking, rejoicing. He also uses lots of ambulatory verbs: such as walking, standing, running, wandering, falling. Rhetorical ambulation proceeds to itinerancy: travelling a path or taking a journey. I want to explore the significance of the ambulatory and itinerant images. (I haven’t a thesis, only a number of heuristic themes.) So, an informal meditation on a theology of ambulation, in two parts.
Ambulation and Locomotion in Mosiah 4. Part 1.
King Benjamin has infused his sermons with a theology heavily freighted with corporeal rhetoric. I mean by that, he preaches the gospel of Christ, and living the divine life, by using lots of sensory verbs–seeing, hearing, tasting–and lots of mental operations–believing, knowing, understanding, speaking, asking, rejoicing. He also uses lots of ambulatory verbs: verbs such as walking, standing, running, wandering, falling. Rhetorical ambulation proceeds to itinerancy: travelling a path or taking a journey. I want to explore the significance of the ambulatory and itinerant images. (I haven’t a thesis, only a number of heuristic themes.) So, an informal meditation on a theology of ambulation, in two parts.
I. First, the material: some ambulatory passages. K.B. begins his response to the angelic sermon he has just delivered–the first portion was a message given to him by an angel–with the observation–I suppose technically it’s the observation of the editor–that everyone had “fallen to the earth,” though B. remarks they are fallen (a clever move from the spatial to the moral, assuming that reformed Egyptian had the same double sense as English “fallen.” What prostrate “corpse” could deny it is fallen?) As fallen, they could not stand or sit any longer. (Had they been sitting in their tents to hear him, all this time? I can’t imagine that: audio problems, and they wouldn’t have fallen to the earth. I imagine everyone standing around the tower, then prostrated. (In the early church services (I mean really early, 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries), there were no chairs, nor pews: everyone stood during the service. Even now, if you attend a Grk. Orth. service, plan on standing, for a long time.) B. sees everyone prostrate, and he exploits the proneness for anagogical purposes. They are against the earth, but they’re really lower than the earth, in a state worthless, fallen. At least mud is morally/spiritually neutral, but they are lower. Anyway, they’ve fallen.
4:15 And how to get up, stand up again? Among other things, walk. “walk in the ways of truth.” and teach others to walk in the way of truth.
4:16: “succor those that stand in need of your succor.” Succurro, L. 1. To run.
2. To run to someone’s aid. So, while walking in the truth, be certain to run to the aid of those standing in need. We run to the standing
4:26. If we do the above, and more, we may walk guiltless before God. What else must we do? See comment below.
4: 27. But note that we have to do all the things cited in previous verses “in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength, . . . that thereby he might win the prize, [viz. finish the race first, though first refers to completing the race at all. Everyone finishing, finishes first ]
II. A few specific questions
A. 4:1 fallenness signfies the affect and effect of angelic preaching. Stunned with their guilt, the hearers fall and are prostrate. Assuming that the word has parallel meanings in whatever dialect K.B. uses, K. B. employs their prostration to address their moral condition, their uncompromised unworthiness. But they can stand, and receive a remission of their sins, if they will walk. Fallenness, then, signfies knowledge of sin, and sin itself.
B. 1. 15: What does that mean, “walking in the ways of truth and soberness?” Drunks stagger, and sober people, who are just, walk straight and strait. King B. likes appositive lists. That is, lists which amplify and clarify what he has already enjoined. So, walking in truth and soberness means we must “teach children [and so act ourselves] to love one another, and to serve one another.” Servers are servants like waiters, butlers, cooks, gardeners, slaves. Walking in the ways of truth, then, means teaching others to love and to serve. And surely, loving and serving ourselves. This walking follows the remission of sins.
Walking, then, for Benjamin signifies loving and serving.
“Walking in the way.” Lets cheat a little here and say that “way” signifies Grk. hodos, or Christ. It’s a good tropological anachronism. Christ is the “via,” the “hodos,” the path, and his paths are strait too. Only the sober can walk them. He makes the crooked straight, and strait, the rough places plain. And what was Christ but a servant, a lover, a teacher, who walked his entire life? So, those who walk in the way, follow him. (If they hold to the rod.)
2. Also, walking in the way when means running to the aid of others. See C. 16.
C: 16: succurro, to run to the aid of someone. How do we succor? Again, Benjamin lists appositives: run to those who stand in need. Administer of your substance to the one that standeth in need. Not simply give, but administer: manage, thoughtfully dispense. Do not suffer the beggar to put up his petition to you, in vain, or turn him out.
Notice that we run: without hesitation, quickly, deliberately, with direction and concentration. The runner is anxious to complete the task. Imagine running to help a member of your family who is in trouble. Succor implies an anxiety to help. “I will not have peace until you are healed.”
To succor signifies swiftness in charity, determination to aid, a certain moral velocity. It signfies spiritual advancement, spiritual acceleration. The sermon ends with an allusion to those who run the race successfully, achieiving salvation. This running is a succoring.
D. 26. How to walk guiltless. Well, run to those in need. And B. exhorts them again to impart substance, if they wish to walk guiltless. They must administer to one another’s relief, temporally and spiritually. Benjamin is focused, relentlessly emphasizes imparting substance. Here he includes spiritual substance.
Walking guiltless is synonymous with “retaining a remission of our sins from day to day.” How to secure that perpetual remission? B. discusses this at length in verses 9-12. There he concludes with a marvelous image–it seems almost Protestant in one sense. “And behold if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins.” What is Protestant in flavor, is the notion that one sense of forgiveness, is not the happy terminus of some concrete procedure, but rather a continual spiritual, soteriological condition. That is, some persons are perpetually, always already forgiven, without the four “R”s of repentance. This condition is the topic of another enquiry.
In Vs13, B. quotes the ancient criterion of righteous conduct (justice), “to render to every man according to that which is his due.” But he cleverly re-calibrates what “dueness” means. His recalibratiion seems much closer to a concept of mercy. Vs. 17 clearly warns the agent, “do not think of justice when giving aid, since such a thought says “this man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, so that he will learn that conduct has consequences, just as effects have causes. I will not rob nature of its pedagogy. Imprudent conduct has its just punishments, which must not be interrupted by sentimental interference, for nature must teach us to behave carefully. Those who do not learn this lesson become a burden. This man’s imprudence has led, quite properly, to his poverty. He has his due.” Justice, in K. B’s understanding, seems to me quite contrary to the “proper disposition of goods based upon ownership and debt.” Indeed, it seems K.B. doesn’t recognize fully property rights, if all our substance belongs to God. Or if K..B.’s view is one of giving to someone what he deserves, what one deserves is very much more complicated than what we would take it to be. That is, a second way of thinking through “dueness” is that everyone is due what God is due, in part: complete devotion, love, concern. Thus, whatever deficiency we find in another, justice demands we take steps to perfect. Or, so long as we have received mercy ourselves, or are in debt to God, so justice demands we secure the well-being of others. Their due is calculated by our debt. No one has not received grace, perpetually. This debt obligates us to give to others, until the debt is paid. Of course, this debt will never be paid. Thus, rendering substance is determined by self-examination, rather than analyzing the condition of the one before us. This is the calculation of “giving others their due.” “So long as I am in debt, you are due.” In this view, those before us in need, so to speak, hold the lien. This is another respect in which our posture towards others is like that to God. God has put us in His debt, but also in the debt of those in need. That is, we are obligated to them as well as to God.
K.B. ought not to have employed the phrase “walk guiltless” because it decelerates the rhetoric of succor, and interrupts the conclusion, “running in moderation.” It appears to be an error of arrangement. Of course, we should retract this criticism if the angel told him to use the phrase, in the place he did. We should regard angels as good rhetoricians.
Notice also, that K. B. speaks of imparting spiritual substance. Any spiritual gift given us, is not owned by us, and is given for the benefit of others. That is, the purpose of the gift of prophecy, is to aid others. It is vain to keep it. Spiritual gifts are given for the beneift of others, and so must be given away. Spiritual gifts have also a unique feature: the more they are given away, the more we receive in turn. K.B. may think of material substance in the same fashion as spiritual substance.
E. 27. “in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength, . . . that thereby he might win the prize, [viz. finish the race first, though first refers to completing the race at all.] B. implies all must run, but no one should run too quickly, or unpaced. He refers specifically to the performance of good deeds. A thoughtless, disordered frenetic rush to do good, is destructive. Such conduct is foolish; it exhausts itself, and one cannot not only not succor, but cannot even walk in truth and soberness. Zeniff and Limhi sent out expeditions, too quickly, too zealously, and they ran into trouble. (The Willie and Martin handcart companies too? Undisciplined desire to inhabit Zion led to disordered conduct, and unnecessary death.) Wisdom is synonymous with order, in many medieval religious texts, e.g. St. Augustine’s “De Ordine.” Orderly means not just lined up, or without commotion, but with structure, purpose, and to be fitting.
Nevertheless, running with moderation is coupled with “completing the race” which signifies the achievement of salvation. The runner completes successfully mortal probation, the race, the itinerary, and is greeted with the prize.
As noted above, this running of the race is a succorring.
End part 1: K. B. unfolds a view of the divine life, by employing a rhetoric of ambulation. It begins with an observation on the physical posture of his audience, prostrate and fallen. The sermon moves to walking, then to running with discipline and diligence. Each verb has theological import. Falleness for unworthiness (at least in English). He uses their literal posture to make a figurative, anagogical point: they are without exception, completely unworthy.
Walking soberly signifies teaching, loving, serving. Succor signfies quickness in charity, or spiritual acceleration, perhaps. Running with moderation signfies salvation itself, completing the race.
In part 2 we ask the general question of why he would use such rhetoric, and the larger theological significance. The ambulatory rhetoric would be particularly forceful to a people whose history is itinerant. It would evoke important Old Testament themes, and foreshadow New Testament themes–Christ as the way. The Dominican order included vows of walking and begging. They are a mendicant order, an order of beggars, preachers, and walkers. (Thomas Aquinas walked from Paris to Rome, and south of Rome, dozens of times.)
Part 2: The general questions.
I. General questions: why the falling/walking/running/standing/wandering/racing themes? Theological implications?