Overcoming the Demonic Silence of Night

Recently I’ve posted a few selections from Max Picard’s The World of Silence. Here’s one more:

In the following poem by Matthias Claudius the power of language over the demonism of the silence of the night is revealed:

Der Mond ist aufgegangen,
die goldenen Sternlein prangen
am Himmel hell und klar;
der Wald steht Schwarz und schweiget,
und aus den Wiesen steiget
der weisse Nebel wunderbar.

The moon is risen, beaming,
The golden stars are gleaming
So brightly in the skies;
The hushed, black woods are dreaming,
The mists, like phantoms seeming,
From meadows magically rise.

In this poem the demonic silence of night is overcome by the brightness of language. Moon and stars, forest, meadows and mist all find and meet each other in the clear light of the word. The night becomes so clear in the light of the poem that moon and stars, forest meadows and mist find their way to the daylight from which the word descended. The silence is now no longer dark: it has been made transparent by the light and radiance of the word that falls on the silence. Through the word the silence ceases to be in demonic isolation and becomes the friendly sister of the word.


Albert Goodwin - The Monastery of St Francis, Assisi : Asleep in the Moonlight. Oil on canvas (1887)

Albert Goodwin – The Monastery of St Francis, Assisi: Asleep in the Moonlight. Oil on canvas (1887)

For some time now I’ve been planning a series of posts on the Divine Office and the meanings of the different times of the day in which the prayers take place. Part of my research comes from a book by Pius Parsch, so I may use this section again in the future but I thought it fit with the above selection from Picard’s book. Below, Parsch is writing about Matins, that office of prayer that for centuries has taken place in the dead of night when all is silent. Both selections bring to mind the images and sounds that surround a monastery in the countryside at night. The starry midnight silence is broken in the distance by the chants and songs of those who have dedicated their lives to serving God. In the middle of their slumber they lift themselves out of their beds and raise their voices to heaven, praying for us all. They, ever vigilant in their vigil, overcome the demonic silence of the night with the language of the psalter.

It is night. The turmoil of day has died away and everything is still. The Church is at prayer. She remembers the night-time prayer of the Bridegroom; she thinks of the night vigils of the early Christians in the catacombs. Times have changed, but the Church continues to insist that night is not just for sleep; night is a time for prayer. From earliest ages Matins was the Church’s prayer for the Second Coming; she prayed and waited for the return of Christ as Judge of all the world. Night is also a symbol of life on earth. We are like the virgins in the parable, waiting for the Bridegroom with our lamps in hand. Here is how the Christians of 200 A.D. felt about their Matins (text from Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, c. 32, 19-27):

” … the ancients have handed this practice down to us and taught us that this is how we are to keep watch. For at that hour all creation is at rest, praising God. Stars, trees, and waters are as if standing still. The whole host of angels keep their service together with the souls of the just. They praise almighty God in that hour; and that is why the faithful on earth must pray at this same time.

“Our Lord in his parable put it this way: About midnight, he said, there came a call: Look! here comes the bridegroom! Go out to meet him! And he said more. Keep watch, then he told them , for ye know not either the day or the hour in which the Son of man cometh.”


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