Mysterium Tremendum

Prelude in Bm (BWV 544)   J. S. Bach (1685-1750) [big angst ORGAN]

“Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past”


One of God’s many characteristics has been described as “Mysterium Tremendum” — Latin for “Tremendous Mystery”. After all, S/He is indeed ultimately unfathomable. How can we the created ever really grasp the Creator? Let’s imagine this conversation: God: “I can create an infinitude of galaxies in my sleep! How about you?” Me: “Let me get back to you on that…”

Meanwhile, while eschewing any deep theological ruminations, I wonder if Evil is in some sense a ’photographic negative’ of Good: Evil is dark where Good is light and vice versa. So with Evil the ’polarity’ is bass ackwards: both Love and Hate are concerned with human interactions,  but one is intent on betterment and the other on destruction.

In that sense, I have to wonder if Evil can’t have its own “mysterium tremendum” – Evil beyond comprehension. The 6-o’clock-news relentlessly and sadly supports that idea. I’m thinking in particular of the latest shootings, in a church this last Sunday — as if any of the mass shootings of recent memory are any more comprehensible (including the shootings in our own back yard).

A synonym for ’mystery’ is ’enigma’, and that word occurs in the [Greek] New Testament just once, in I Cor 13:12: “Now we see in a mirror DARKLY” [AINIGMA]. This is yet another instance where the original Greek word has a depth of meaning for which English fails. AINIGMA certainly has the sense of “now we see in a mirror ENIGMATICALLY” – puzzling, a riddle, not easily comprehensible. But isn’t it interesting that St. Paul uses the metaphor of a ’mirror’ — in which one sees everything backwards?

Meanwhile, words fail. They just fail. Maybe music can do better, but I doubt it.