The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Jacob's mysterium

Canisius | 20 March, 2006 17:29

I'm a bit late on this, but I wanted to blog briefly on V,240-241. There Dom Gueranger comments on the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27: you remember the plot line, how Jacob deceives his father into giving him the blessing instead of Esau, so Esau plots to kill Jacob and Jacob flees off to Laban's farm where fourteen years of fun and games await him. Gueranger points once again to the gentile/Jew symbolism, wherein Esau=Jews and Jacob=gentiles, and then lays the blame thickly on Esau (i.e., the Jews).

A couple of things are odd about this. To begin with, Gueranger does not even allude to the fact that Jacob lied to his father. To be fair, this is not Gueranger's oddity, but an oddity of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition. My friend Mr. Smithcorner has spent the last several months reading every scholarly resource available about the Jacob story, and not one rabbinical or patristic commentator ever implies that Jacob is anything but perfectly upright in his every action. As Br. Thomas recently pointed out to me, St. Augustine mentions Jacob in his homily on lying, but says that in this case non est mendacium, sed mysterium: it is not a lie, but a mystery! In fact, the tiny handful of negative allusions to Jacob that Mr. Smithcorner turned up were all within the New Testament. Dom Gueranger is merely representing the tradition when he white-washes Jacob's mendacium.

The second oddity is that Jacob is taken as representing the gentiles. Don't get me wrong: the pattern of eldest-gets-the-boot is prevalent throughout the Old Testament and I agree that this pattern as a whole points in a way to the ascendency of the gentiles (although really it points to the primacy of grace over nature, and finally to the ascendency of Christ over Adam [1 Corinthians 15:45]). It's just that this particular story resists the Jew/gentile pattern in a certain respect. Jacob is the person whose name is changed to "Israel", the one who gives that name to the nation, and throughout the story he represents (drum roll, please...) Israel!

The story is a kind of self-recrimination by the Jewish nation. Israel as a nation was rebellious and insisted on his own way: he said that he would worship God, but only on his own terms and to his own advantage, and eventually this struggling to control the relationship with God resulted in the exile of the whole nation. This story is foreshadowed by the patriarch "Israel": despite the fact that God promised ascendency from the beginning (see Genesis 25:23), he has to take matters into his own hands and get it for himself. This effort wins him an exile from his home territory. On his way out, he meets God at Bethel, and bargains with him: "IF the LORD will do such and such for me, THEN the LORD will be my God." God does indeed take care of him, and when God has done everything Jacob demanded, then Jacob/Israel accepts him as his own, personal God.

The whole thing is very sad. Again and again, Jacob takes affairs into his own hands rather than trusting God to keep his promises, and every time it hurts him. He ends up in exile, tricked by Laban, fleeing from Esau, his daughter is raped, his sons betray him--and each of these bad events in his life can be traced to some time when he struggled with God, when he vied for control of his fate. One of the saddest verses in the Bible is Genesis 47:9, where Pharaoh has asked Jacob how old he is, and Jacob replies, "The days of the years of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning."

Israel looked back over his life, and he knew the truth. During the exile, the nation of Israel looked back over its own sad history, and knew the truth; they looked even further back, to their forefather Jacob/Israel, and saw in him an image of themselves.

Plenty of moral content here to meditate on.


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