miercuri, 10 august 2022

The principle of taste


When the Church exhorts us “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 33, 8), She does not ask for our opinion, although She checks our taste. God remains good even if He is not to our taste. In fact, we may not like God precisely because He is good.

In the Church, taste is an objective matter – taste in the Church is the taste of the Church. The expression De gustibus non est disputandum makes sense precisely because here the particular taste coincides with the common taste of the Church, of the mystical Body of Christ. The one who participates in the Body of Christ has the taste of Christ first of all because he is part of the Body, because he is Christified, therefore a Christ by grace and therefore by taste. It follows that the Christian should have not only a taste for Christ, but he should also tastes like Christ. As Mr. Alexandru Mihăilă shows, Patristic theology developed both in a Christological and liturgical way the spiritual meaning of taste from the Old Testament, relating the matter of taste to true and comprehensive knowledge (https://basilica.ro/gustati-si-vedeti/).

The Romanian “savoare” (flavour) as a superior property of a food or even of life (“savoarea vieții”, “flavour of life”) as well as the sensation produced by this quality (so that a thing, a situation or a person can be described as „savuroase” (“savoury”), meaning delightful, comes from from French “savory”. In Old French, “savor” meant taste, spice, delight, pleasure, from Latin “saporem” (taste, flavour, bouquet) related to Latin “sapere” (“to have flavour”). Although Lat. “sapient” (wise, able to discern) comes directly from Lat. “sapientem” (to have judgment, to discern, attentive), however, as a specialized meaning of the present participle of “sapere”, Lat. “sapient” designates both things that have taste and persons capable of tasting, whose wisdom enables them to distinguish both between different tastes and between things with taste and those without taste (see more at https://www.etymonline.com/word/savour and https://www.etymonline.com/word/sapient?ref=etymonline_crossreference).

The opposition, if not even the distinction between sensory and intellectual knowledge seems to be denied us primarily by language itself. Even though in Romanian we distinguish between “sens” (“meaning”) and “simț” (the bodily senses), both come from the same Latin term, “sentire”, which (through “sens” from Old French) gave in English “sense”, which means both “sense” as meaning, as well as “sense” as one of the five external senses (in the 14th century, the term referred in particular to the meaning, interpretation, meaning of Holy Scripture, see more at https://www.etymonline.com/word/sense). Language tells us that to have taste is to have the wisdom to find the meaning of things. And the taste of things is their reason, their logos.

To adapt to this discussion the moral from Caragiale’s sketch, “Căldură mare” (“Heat”), we could say that those who lack “sapientia” can only be patients of the tastes of an age devoid of taste, i.e. devoid of logos.

In the Church, taste is true knowledge on the one hand because it is a knowledge of the unifying truth (“I have seen the true light”...), and on the other hand because the man who knows, the Christian, is a unified man. His carnal tastes are ordered by spiritual ones so that the fruits of sin appear to the man united with Christ as bitter and repulsive as the root. The man who tastes the Lord has the taste of the Lord in both senses of the expression: he feels the goodness of the Lord and at the same time acquires the taste of the Lord. The tastes of the Christian are Christified.

This principle is also valid regarding the Christian’s vocation to become the salt of the world: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5, 13, KJV) Salt gives taste and keeps food in good condition. As the salt of the world, the Christian should give flavour and savour to the world and keep it uncorrupted. The world is corrupting with Christians and because of them. Christians lose their taste when they follow the tastes of the world, when they get to sweeten the Lord's taste with worldly spices.

In the fragmented man the distinction between tastes and principles is natural, as can be found not only in the old belief that tastes are not negotiable, but also in newer statements such as the one attributed (falsely, it seems) to Thomas Jefferson: “On matters of taste I will sway, but on matters of principle I stay firm”, with the variant “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock” (for the authenticity of the attribution, see https://www.monticello.org/%20research-education/thomas-jefferson-encyclopedia/matters-style-swim-currentspurious-quotation/).

But in the Christian, the taste is derived from the principle, and it is only in so far as this principle is Christ that the Christian can become the salt of the world. Therefore, if the world and the salt are losing their taste more and more in the present times, it is because more and more Christians are drawing their principles from the tastes of this world.