Trinity VI:    

O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding:  pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.  Through etc.

‘Love’ and ‘loving’ are repeated three times in this short collect.  God is addressed as the loving, providential creator of good.  The ‘good things’ created by God turn out to be God’s ‘promises’ which in turn are the real center of attention in the collect.  These promised good things:  are ‘prepared for them that love’ God; ‘pass man’s understanding’; but also ‘exceed all that we can desire’.  Human intellect (man’s understanding) and human will (which is moved by desire for that which is understood to be good, desirable, and lovable) both fall short of the exceedingly great divine goodness.

In all of this the collect gives priority to God’s grace.  God has prepared good things beyond human intellect and will, which makes them a gift.  The central petition of the collect is that God would pour into the human heart the love which enables us to respond to his love, making him both the reward and that which enables us to deserve the reward, which also is grace.  And the promises or reward or good exceeds not only human deserving but even human desire, which is another grace.  Nonetheless, the people who pray this prayer have a role in the process:  the collect does not shrink from speaking of our love as that which permits us to obtain God’s promises, and it does not shrink from suggesting that obtaining those promises should be a motive for our love.  Grace is present in every step of the process, but human cooperation and response and engagement are called for in a subordinate place.

The metaphor for the bestowal of God’s grace is pouring:  ‘pour into our hearts’.  The same metaphor appears often in Scripture and in the collects.  God pours out his wrath and indignation in the Old Testament, but he also is the one who lets ‘the skies pour down righteousness’ and salvation (Isaiah 45:8).  The metaphor occurs often in Prayer Book collects:  ‘pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity’ (collect for Quinquagesima); ‘O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts’ (collect for the Annunciation); ‘pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy’ (collect for Trinity XII); ‘pour forth thy blessing upon this land’ (collect for the Rogation days); ‘pour thy grace upon them’ (collects for ordinations of deacons and priests).

The repetition of ‘such’ at first seems somewhat awkward.  In fact, however, the repetition sets up a theologically significant parallelism:  the ‘good things’ that the prayer requests flow from our ‘love toward’ God.  The parallel use of ‘such’ with these two terms, ‘such good things’ and ‘such love toward thee’, makes the connection between the two clear, which in turn justifies the small literary awkwardness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s