Among the titles listed here, which I am currently working my way through, is Catholic novelist Ron Hansen’s book, A Stay Against Confusion, Essays on Faith and Fiction. Last night I was reading his essay “Anima Christi”, in which he translates, and then comments on, each line of the title prayer. In light of an unpleasant exchange* in which I recently become involved in the comments section at Postmodern Papist, I was particularly struck by Hansen’s commentary as follows:
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
“From spiteful enemies protect me.”
I have translated this line to underscore that the writer is not talking about a devil (diabolus) or demon (daemon) here, as a great many translations would have it, nor is the host, or army, as pernicious and hateful as enemies that are malignant in the English way. Every definition of malignus indicates pettiness and unkindness. A hostis malignus is stingy, ill-natured, grudging, small, the grouch next door, the snipe up the street, nothing so grand as an Evil One, nor even a bête noire. And I love that about the prayer.
Jacques Derrida has pointed out that our enemies are persons we haven’t met yet; when we have met them, when we have done our best not to meet them and met them often and hour after hour, then our enemies are no more than maligno and too much like ourselves. How wise and practical of the “Anima Christi” to address the humdrum problems of Christianity rather than martyrdoms and persecutions: the frowns and jokes and put-downs, the belittlings and smirks.
~ Ron Hansen
*UPDATE: This post originally included a link to the referenced post and subsequent conversation at Postmodern Papist. I find that the post has since been deleted, which is, perhaps, just as well. That said, Hansen's insights illuminate situations that we all regularly face, and remain valuable.