Saturday 25 December 2010

The Feast of the Uncarnation

On matters spiritual, as on all others, the Inky Fool defers to Thomas Browne, and in particular to Pseudodoxia Epidemica [Popular Misconceptions, or Epidemic Wrong-Teaching]. For example, on the blazing question of Did Jesus Ever Laugh? Browne has this to say:

The same conceit there passeth concerning our blessed Saviour, and is sometimes urged as an high example of gravity. And this is opinioned, because in holy Scripture it is recorded he sometimes wept, but never that he laughed. Which howsoever granted, it will be hard to conceive how he passed his yonger yeares and childhood without a smile; if as Divinity affirmeth, for the assurance of his humanity unto men, and the concealment of his Divinity from the devil, he passed this age like other children, and so proceeded until he evidenced the same. And surely herein no danger there is to affirm the act or performance of that, whereof we acknowledge the power and essential property; and whereby indeed he most nearly convinced the doubt of his humanity. Nor need we be afraid to ascribe that unto the incarnate Son, which sometimes is attributed unto the uncarnate Father; of whom it is said, He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh the wicked to scorn.

Not only did Browne answer the question, but in doing so he invented the word uncarnate. This is a lesson to us all, dear reader. You can see how Browne worked. Browne wrote the incarnate son and then wanted to balance that with an adjective father. No fitting adjective existed that would balance incarnate both antithetically and syllabically, so he made one up.

Just as carnal sins are sins of the flesh and carnivores are flesh-eaters so incarnate simply means made flesh and uncarnate means not made flesh. It's thus a terribly useful word that can refer to anything metaphysical and whose meaning is clear after an athomus of thought.

So incarnations and uncarnations are expounded and explained, but what of flowery and petalled carnations?

Carnation was originally just another word for incarnation: a fleshing out. But what colour is flesh? It's pink. (Well, for some of us it's pink. In my case it's a sallower shade of pale, and for others, I am reliably informed, it can be brown, yellow, red, or, in the case of daytime TV presenters, orange.)

But let's stick to pink for a moment. Pink is the colour of flesh and therefore carnation came to mean pink, as in the death of Falstaff so sorrowfully described in Henry V:

Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a' parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o' the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. 'How now,
sir John!' quoth I 'what, man! be o' good
cheer.' So a' cried out 'God, God, God!' three or
four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a'
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need
to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So
a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.

They say he cried out of sack.

Ay, that a' did.

And of women.

Nay, that a' did not.

Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils incarnate.

A' could never abide carnation; 'twas a colour he never liked.

And so from flesh to colour and from colour to flower, and that is why you may now wear a pink carnation.

For an older post upon matters carnal click here.

1 comment:

  1. A useful and funny demonstration of Browne's lexiconic imagination! Now try explaining the function of Browne's coining words such as RETROMINGENT or CHYLIFACTIVE!