Sunday, April 13, 2008

Babette's Feast

I showed Babette's Feast once again. I was this time struck by the nuanced critique of a religion of the word. The congregation to a large extent has a religion of the word—sometimes spoken and sometimes sung.

The word spoken, by itself, is not enough, even when it is the right word. Lorens, the young officer, is able to take the devout words and use them to rise socially. (I am reminded of Aquinas' remark that without grace even the Gospels would be dead and useless.) Still, the word when spoken in the right spirit can avail much: there is clearly much good in the congregation and its pastor, and the pastor's words are an occasion of grace.

Nor does singing the word suffice. Singing in and of itself avails little, as the episode with Papin suggests, but when the right words are spoken in the right spirit, again we see that much is accomplished for the sake of the community. But it is not enough.

The daughters of the pastor add good deeds to the mix. Much good is achieved. But all this, while very good, is not enough. The right word is spoken and sung, in the right spirit, and accompanied with good works. But the congregation's love still threatens to fall to pieces around old animosities. Even a religion of word and deed is not enough: one needs the love-feast, the eucharist, the sacrament.

Each of the three is essential. The pastor brings the word. His daughters continue to hold on to his word, trying to keep at alive in the community, and giving it flesh in their charitable deeds. But Babette puts it all together, integrating word and deed into sacrament. And now the congregants reconcile to each other, and unity is restored. But the word did prepare the way for this, and the reconciliation in many cases is accomplished through words. It is all needed.

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