Name it and claim it—for real

Name it and claim it -- for real
Detail from 'Dante in Exile' (Unknown artist, Wikimedia Commons).

The so-called Prosperity Gospel uses a catchphrase that rankles its naysayers: “Name it and claim it.” But what if you could steal the line, stuff it with a different and better meaning, and turn it into something more useful to personal growth and sanctification?

Writing to make sure his monks were on their best behavior, St. Benedict formulated the Rule that bears his name. One of the chapters concerns singing in church services: “Therefore, let us consider in what manner it behoveth us to be in the sight of God and of the Angels, and so let us sing in choir, that mind and voice may accord together.” That last phrase, the Benedictine formula Mens nostra concordet voci nostrae, or “Our minds must be in accord with our voices,” offers powerful help to growing in the faith.

St. Paul talks in Romans 7 about the old man/new man dichotomy. “I do not understand my own actions,” he says, and you can feel the frustration as he continues: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Every believer suffers the struggle. Every believer wants to do what is holy but finds himself doing otherwise.

The church offers help for this problem, and one of the aids surprisingly combines the Benedictine and Prosperity Gospel formulas: Say what’s holy so you become holy. If you want holiness, claim it. That’s why prayer is so important. We confess truths about God and ourselves that we need to be reminded of every day, every hour. By confessing the truth, we increase our belief of it and align ourselves closer to it.

Unlikely as it might seem, Dante’s Purgatorio speaks to this. As the poem portrays things, souls in purgatory are perched on ledges and prescribed particular hymns or passages of Scripture. Edward Moore notes in the second series of his Studies in Dante that each are taken from public liturgies so churchgoers would be familiar with them.

In the sixteenth canto, for instance, the wrathful sing the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God.” Here are the lyrics:

Lamb of God, who takes away sins of world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away sins of world,
grant us peace.

Those who struggle with anger sing of peace. In the nineteenth canto, those suffering from avarice sing the twenty-fifth verse of Psalm 119, “My soul clings to the dust.” The second half of that verse is “give me life according to your word!” The greedy stop grasping and rely on God’s promises. In the twenty-third canto, the gluttonous sing “O Lord, open my lips,” a portion of Psalm 51 that speaks of using the mouth for praise, not eating. And in the twenty-fifth canto the lustful sing Summae Deus clementiae, “God of clemency supreme,” the opening lines of the Matins hymn for purity.

I really like how Peter Leithart says it in his study of Dante, Ascent to Love: “Learning to sing of Christian virtues is one way of learning to embody those virtues. When we have learned to sing, we will become the song.” If our minds and hearts must accord with our voices, shouldn’t we speak those things that God desires us to become?

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  • Ali

    Okay so I have to ask: Have you read the entire Divine Comedy? Have you read all these sudies you are quoting? I will be most impressed if you have! I read The Inferno (most tediously) in AP English about 20 years ago, but I recently bought Ciardi’s translation of the Divine Comedy because I want to read the whole thing. I love how Vergil leads him in his journey of Hell. I also bought Lewis’s The Discarded Image to read through before I start with teh Divine Comedy.

    I know my comment doesn;t have much to do with prayer, but I was just curious.

    • Ali, no, I’ve not read all of The Divine Comedy. I’ve been fascinated by Dante since I was a teenager, but I treat the Comedy more like a hot tub. I dip into it from time to time.

      I’ve recently been interested in the church’s liturgical aid to sanctification and since Dante borrows and uses that, I went in again. I never noticed that about Purgatory until reading Leithart (an author whose books I really enjoy). While trying to dig a bit deeper in that theme I started reading Moore’s book. He ties the passages back very closely to the church Offices and shows from what part of the liturgy they come.

  • There are many remedies that we moderns can learn from our Christian roots.

  • Thank you after sharing this acquaintanceship!

  • kevin kirkpatrick

    Great post Joel. Nice Dante reference. I too need to read his works. Along with Paradise lost and Pensees, these should be required to graduate college. Regarding the power of words, there are many verses in proverbs germain to this, as far as words impacting physical and spiritual health.

    • Joel J. Miller

      I’m reading the Inferno right now. Slowly but surely.