Concrete Images

Speaking of Holy Scripture, Zanchi extols it thus:

tanquam κειμηλιον inæstimabile, soli Ecclesiæ cœlitus donatum: denique nocturna diurnaque, manu versandæ, & imo pectore recondendæ sunt.

“As it were, an inestimable jewel, the heavenly gift given to the one Church; in short they (sacrae Scripturae) ought to be, day and night, handled, and verily, rehearsed by heart.”

I present this example of Zanchi’s writing as an example of concrete expression. This sentence means, simply put, that we should read the Scriptures daily and memorize them. Putting it as I have, there is nothing wrong with expressing this duty of Christians in simple, direct (albeit) abstract language. “Abstract, you say?” Yes. The act of reading and memorizing describe actions of the soul that are spiritual, that is non physical. Memorization is a purely mental act and reading, if it lacks mental engagement, is not reading at all. They are therefore abstract actions descried, in my words, abstractly.

Zanchi gives us an example of how, and why, we should strive for concrete expression, especially in hortatory or persuasive communication. Note that he first describes the preciousness of the Scripture as an “inestimable jewel.”

Excellent. Immediately, our minds are drawn to the diamond on our wife’s ring, or a crown we have seen in a museum, or the rock that Abu stole from the Cave of Wonders. The concreteness of Zanchi’s expression “tangibly” presents to our minds the idea he intends to communicate.

Next, he speaks of the appropriate response to this heavenly gift to the Church (soli Ecclesiæ cœlitus donatum). We ought to, “day and night” (nocturna diurnaque)… In expressing the time we should devote to the study of Scripture, Zanchi appropriates one of the first aspects of the concrete, actual, physical creation; the day and night cycle. “And the evening and morning: one day.” This is one of the first realities of creation that children recognize, and the most pervasive feature of it. No matter what language you speak, what climate you inhabit, what food you eat or clothes you wear; you experience day and night. This expression is, then, more concrete than “all the time”, and hence more persuasive and gripping.

The act of reading is described by Zanchi as, literally, “turning them (the Scriptures) over by hand” (manu versandæ). This touches us more closely than simply saying that we should read Scripture. Rather, we should turn the physical pages over by hand. And haven’t you experienced this? When you have been reading a certain Bible over a period of time (day and night, perhaps) and the pages, after being handled and mussed or yellowed by the oils of your skin, you develop a certain affection, not just for all Bibles, but for that one?

My mother gave me her Bible when I became a Christian. It was printed in 1950, has been bound twice: once with duct tape, once by a professional. Some of the pages are torn, crimped, and (like all Bibles that I read regularly) stained with coffee. In the Psalms, my mother wrote the numbers of all the Psalms that appear on each page in the upper margin. When this Bible was printed, they did not indicate which Psalms were on the page you had opened to. And so, my mother remedied that fault, by hand.

This old Bible that my mother gave me is one that manu versatus erat (has been turned over by hand). I therefore have a greater affection for it than for other Bibles that I own. And this physical connection between the book and the hand is what Zanchi is tapping into when he enjoins the reading of Scripture by saying that we should turn it over by hand. Don’t just read it, handle them.

He brings the privilege of having Scripture closer to home by saying that we should corde recordandae. This expression is hard to translate into English. Literally, it means “re-hearting with the heart.” At any rate, by expressing the means by which we should meditate on Scripture, Zanchi uses a concrete image. It is not the mind or the intellect, but the heart by which we meditate.

Note also the movement from external interaction with the hands to internal interaction with the heart. Like a person beholding a beloved object, taking it up with her hands, and pressing it to her chest, so ought we to value the Scripture.

Concrete images are better than abstract, just as a house is better than the blue-print. Chew on this as you put pen to paper the next time you write.

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