Feeble Knees

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Is the Ode to Joy Pagan?

One of my biggest pet peeves about my former church was their apparent disdain of literature and learning. One church member once bragged that they never read anything that wasn't written by a Christian (uh hello? how about newspapers you wing-nut?) When I get emails such as the one I received this morning, it makes me want to whack the original author savagely about the head with a ten pound tome of poetry. (In the spirit of love, of course!)

Let me preface this particular rant by saying that it would be completely illogical, even from an agnostic scientific viewpoint, to believe the world as we know it is *not* going to come to an end. Someday. Science already believes that at some point our Sun is going to superheat and then burn out (if I have my facts correct, someone check me on this). Of course others believe that the greenhouse effect is going to do us all in way before then. Regardless of how you think the world is going to end, most people, even if they can't agree on the method, agree that it will, in fact, end.

Ok. On to my point.

I got an email this morning that appears to contain excerpts from this article which seems to claim that the European Union is the revived Roman Empire which will be the staging ground for the rise of the Antichrist. Yadda yadda yadda, yeah I've heard this before. My old church used to do a weeklong series of bible studies every year concerning eschatology and the book of Revelations. It's nothing new that many evangelicals believe the EU and the UN will be the driving forces behind the formation of a one-world government and the eventual ushering in of the Apocalypse.

What got me all in a twist was this bit (quoted almost verbatim from the article above):

Their (The EU's) anthem is "Ode to Joy" --- the lyrics, by a man named Friedrich von Schiller, concern the entering of the shrine of a pagan goddess and the uniting of all men in brotherhood, by the power of magic.

Say WHAT????? You have got to be kidding me!

Let me just say that I deeply love Beethoven's 9th symphony, and the chorus more commonly known as the "Ode to Joy". During some really difficult parts of my life when I had run very far from God, Beethoven's 9th kept popping up in the most unlikely places. Always it had the effect of wooing me back to Jesus and a life in God. Your mileage may vary, but to me, this melody is one of the things the Holy Spirit used to win me back by degrees. (It should be noted that the same melody in Beethoven's 9th is used for the popular Christian hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee", another lovely song. Read more about the Ode to Joy at Wikipedia)

I was aware of the fact that Beethoven had not written the Ode to Joy himself, he just set the German poem to music. I had only ever heard the German version, so I Googled "Ode to Joy" lyrics this morning. Here they are, in English:

Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise ;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.

All creatures drink of joy
At nature's breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift ;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can fell contentment,
And the cherub stands before God !

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendour of the firmament ;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.

You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world !
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions ?
World, do you know your Creator ?
Seek Him in the heavens !
Above the stars must He dwell.

So it seems that the first verse is what has people tied up in knots. This is poetry, it is a metaphor. It is not pagan.

First off, it seems the writer is taking exception with the use of the word Elysian, which *is* a word from Greek mythology. Do you know what it means? It means Paradise. Heaven. It was the pre-Christian era Greek concept of where blessed souls go after death. (Check me out. This is the Merriam Webster Online definition.) So, not to sound like an 8th grade English teacher, but "Daughter of Elysium" may then be translated "Daughter of Paradise" or "Daughter of Heaven". Ok, you say. But there's still this problem of Joy being personified as a woman, a spark of the divine. Does this make Joy a female deity? No. It is a poetic device.

Consider this:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the opening of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones , will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 1:20-21

Wisdom, a gift of God, is personified as a woman by the psalm writer. Schiller uses the same literary device to personify another God-given gift, joy. Referring to Joy as the "spark of divinity" is acknowledging that joy is a gift of the Divine. MANY poets throughout history used mythological elements and symbolism in their poetry (Look up Elizabeth Barrett Browning et al) and no one called them pagan! (Any English Lit majors out there care to back me up on this?)

So if you look at this first paragraph again, it really means that Divine Joy, which is born of Heaven, has the power to bring men together in brotherhood. The joy of the Lord absolutely has the power to do this. Oh yeah, and the bit about entering the sanctuary of Joy - is that not an apt description of the presence of God?

The poem also says "just and unjust alike taste her gift". The Bible says: The rain falls on the just and unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45) How is that pagan? That is biblical!

Ok, there's the whole personification as Nature as a woman as well. Very well. Let's look at the King James Version of the bible, shall we? What does it give by way of an example here?

Let the people praise thee, O God, let all the people praise thee.
Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our God shall bless us.

Psalm 67:6

Ah ha! Does that make the Bible pagan?? God forbid. But note here that this psalm says that as the people join together to praise God, the earth will be blessed and give forth her bounty. How is this *any* different than what Schiller is implying in his poem?

With all due respect, the person who wrote that gross misinterpretation needs to go back and re-take high school English and literature classes. This is a poem, people, not a statement of faith!! The EU may be whatever the EU is, love it or hate it. But I don't think its choice of national anthem is infallible proof that it is the Beast described in the Book of Revelation.

It struck me this morning that Isaiah was to the Jewish people what Revelations is to Christians. There they had all this prophecy that was so incredibly specific down to minute details (hands and side being pierced, yet not bone was broken, etc.) and yet, guess what folks, THEY STILL MISSED IT WHEN HE ARRIVED ON THE SCENE! Could it be possible that despite all our Christian obsession with Revelation, we could end up doing the same thing? Wouldn't that be a kick in the head!

It seems to me that a lot of people like Tim LaHaye & company are making lots of money off the sheep by selling us all this end-times stuff. Pastor sell books about it, and multi-volume sermons. Others gain fame and money by tearing down ministries that they believe are duping the faithful into believing lies. Wonder if the same sort of thing took place among the Jewish nation before Christ finally did arrive, right under their noses?

In Luke 17:20 it is written that the Pharisees demanded Jesus to tell them when the kingdom of God should come. Jesus said:

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say Lo here! or lo, there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (KJV)
Luke 17:20-21

I do believe the world is coming to an end, and that only God's grace and mercy restrains His hand. All I can do is work out my own salvation, and share the good news. I don't know the day, the hour, the means or the method that will unleash what is to come. It is going to happen, of that I have no doubt. I spent years shaking in my boots during End-Times Bible studies. But as of today I have come to the conclusion that if Jesus saw fit to not divulge the day or the hour of His coming, then for my part I am to simply trust Him and His power to keep me, and work out my own salvation every day as if it were my last. In truth, who knows when then wake up in the morning if they will live to see the sun set in the evening?

When it comes to end-time theology, believe what you will. But if you're going to try convince the world at large that the formation of the EU is a clear and present danger, don't make yourself look silly by trying to use the lyrics from the Ode to Joy to prove it!

Study to show thyself approved people!!

<< Home

TrackBack URL for this post: http://haloscan.com/tb/feebleknees/110382934953245065