Shepherd of Hermas – 10th Mandate

This tenth mandate contains another double-meaning paradox along similar lines as the subject of fearing God addressed in the seventh mandate.  Here, the question is about grief.  It starts off with the command “remove from you grief; for she is the sister of doubt and anger,” but goes on to say “grief is more wicked than all the spirits, and most terrible to the servants of God, and more than all other spirits destroys man and crushes out the Holy Spirit, and yet, on the other hand, she saves him.”  Hermas is clueless at what this means, so the angel warns him that failure to understand the truth of God is a symptom of a mind too clouded by worldly worry.

After that digression, the angel gets back on track to addressing how this concept grief is both a killer and a savior in the Christian life:

When the doubting man attempts any deed, and fails in it on account of his doubt, this grief enters into the man and grieves the Holy Spirit, and crushes Him out.  Then, on the other hand, when anger attaches itself to a man in regard to any matter, and he is embittered, then grief enters into the heart of the man who was irritated, and he is grieved at the deed which he did, and repents that he has wrought a wicked deed.  This grief, then, appears to be accompanied by salvation, because the man, after having done a wicked deed, repented.

This is an interesting take on the concept of grief, noting both its negative and positive uses in human life.    The first form of grief is being emotionally distraught as a result of doubt, that is, a severely compromised faith.  This lack of faith in God, in turn, grieves the Holy Spirit, which is something Paul warns us against also.  But then there’s that second form of grief which stirs us to repentance – something that the Holy Spirit does do in our hearts as well.

Instead of grief, we’re exhorted to be “cheerful.”  Since words that describe emotions seem to change their specific meanings constantly (let alone when translated from one language to another), I double-checked the original Greek and the word is ιλαρότητα (hilaroteta), which is linked to the concept of graciousness/mildness/kindness.  Since grief is such a high-energy emotion, it makes sense that a calmer and more peaceful form of cheerfulness is called for to balance it out.  Rather than being weighed down with grief, in cheerfulness we’re free to ascend to God’s altar in prayer.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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