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The Modern Pharisee

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 24, 2012

Most of my readers, I suspect, have heard quoted at one time or another Richard Crashaw’s poem “Two Went up to the Temple to Pray”, which is a retelling of Christ’s lesson about the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke’s gospel (18:10-14). Crashaw (1613-1649), a Cambridge don, lost his position when he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism during the English Civil War. Here is his famous poem:

Two went to pray? Oh, rather say
One went to brag, the other to pray;
One stands up close and treads on high
Where the other dares not send his eye;
One nearer to God’s altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.

Now fast forward almost three hundred years to a period in England in which the spirit of secular liberalism had already made tremendous inroads, though it was perhaps not yet so triumphant as it is throughout the West today. Here is Alice Meynell’s poetic comment, written very close to the turn of the twentieth century, on the very same words of Christ. It is quite appropriately entitled “The Newer Vainglory”:

Two men went up to pray; and one gave thanks,
    Not with himself—aloud,
With proclamation, calling on the ranks
    Of an attentive crowd.

‘Thank God, I clap not my own humble breast,
    But other ruffians’ backs,
Imputing crime—such is my tolerant haste—
    To any man that lacks.

‘For I am tolerant, generous, keep no rules,
    And the age honours me.
Thank God, I am not as these rigid fools,
    Even as this Pharisee.’

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  • Posted by: jlw5096959 - Sep. 25, 2012 5:18 PM ET USA

    Thanks, I'd never seen ALice Meynell's poem --- but I've often thought it. "Yes, I may be morally slack, ethically vacuous and a self-serving cheat: but at least I'm not a Pharisee! :o/

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