Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sicut et nos dimittimus creditoribus nostris...

Recently, I picked up my much-loved ragged copy of Kristin Lavransdatter from the nightstand and opened it at random. My eye was drawn to the italicized Latin text, "---dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris"---forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The passage follows the thoughts of Simon, Kristin's brother-in-law, whom, in her youth, she cast away to follow her passion for Erlend whom she subsequently married. Simon marries her younger sister, partly because the sister is devoted to him, and partly because of his own affection for Kristin's father Lavrans—but Simon always retains his youthful devotion to Kristin, his promised maid. He strives, because of his good character, to be a good relative to her and to Erlend. When Erlend forfeits his lands and faces death for his part in an ill-fated coup, Simon is responsible for saving his life, at a tremendous emotional and moral cost to himself. However, Simon now finds that he has been guilty of believing an ignoble lie concerning Erlend. Because the evidence seems to fit, and Erlend is certainly not innocent of dishonorable conduct, Simon believes it, and now must make apologies to his brother-in-law.
During their encounter, Erlend, who had married Simon's betrothed maid, Kristin, is dismayed that Simon could think so ill of him (you may make of that what you will)…The fact is that Simon also is dismayed, and cannot apologize strongly enough. "'Tis not worth taking so hardly," says Erlend.
Simon replies, "I am not so good a man as you! I cannot forgive so easily them that I have wronged!...I have heard you speak fair words of Sigurd…the old man whose wife you stole from him. I have seen and known that you loved Lavrans with all a son's love. And never have I marked that you bore me grudge for that you lured from me my promised maid—I am not so high-minded as you deem, Erlend---I am not so high-minded as you—I bear a grudge to the man whom I have wronged!"
It's an astounding concept. It is indicative both of Erlend's character, that he could so easily and sincerely speak well of and love all those whom he has monstrously wronged and ruined through his own thoughtless, selfish actions, and of Simon's character, that, rather than attribute Erlend's attitude to a lack of contrition, he chooses to call it a virtue. And who is to judge whether it is arrogance or humility? Only God knows whether people like Erlend ever comprehend the pain they've caused. But suppose they do…Would it not be a virtue to put aside the weight of guilt and forgive those whom we have horribly wronged?
We could do far worse than to add "and those against whom we trespass" when we whisper the Our Father…

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