Some background on the word “lovingkindness”

Out of the Anglican patrimony: what on earth is “lovingkindness”?
from the Modern Medievalism blog

When speaking of the Anglican Use and Personal Ordinariates, we must inevitably come to terms with defining what, exactly, that nebulous expression “Anglican patrimony” is. While I personally like to lump in the pre- Reformation customs and devotions of the English church, the phrase more often refers to those various customs of the post-Reformation Anglican churches which, being in no way contrary to the Catholic faith, are “baptized” and integrated into the life of the Church. A few examples off the top of my head would include Evensong (a sort of conjoined Vespers and Compline), the singing of psalms to harmonized “Anglican chant”, and the common praying of the Collect for Purity at the beginning of Mass (a prayer which, before Cranmer, was a private devotion for the priest out of the Sarum Missal while preparing for Mass).

The Introit given for this past Sunday in the Ordinariate’s Divine Worship Missal gave me another one to add to the list: “lovingkindness”. The Latin original (used for the 2nd Sunday after Easter in the Extraordinary Form, not the 3rd) begins with Psalm 32(33):5..

Misericordia Domini plena est terra, alleluia
(in most translations: “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia”)

This is in accord with the Douai-Reims Bible, which usually translates the Vulgate’s misericordia as “mercy”. The Divine Worship Missal, on the other hand, renders it as:

The lovingkindness of the LORD filleth the whole world, alleluia.

What on earth is “lovingkindness”, and how did we get to that from “mercy”? From what I can tell, “lovingkindness” was coined by Myles Coverdale (1488-1569). First, some background:

One of the early English Protestants, Coverdale’s greatest contribution was in his efforts to translate the Bible into English. While the King James Version later eclipsed most of his Biblical work, Coverdale’s translations of the Psalms persisted within the Book of Common Prayer all the way up to the 20th century. Most choral Evensongs sung in the great English cathedrals, therefore, sing the Coverdale psalms. It’s sad to say that, like Cranmer, he became a traitor to the Roman faith for which he was ordained, preaching against the Real Presence and dying effectively as a Puritan. There is a delicious irony, then, that Anglican Use and Ordinariate priests around the world regularly pray Coverdale’s finest translation of all: his superb rendition of the Roman Canon, made back when he was still an Augustinian canon (or at least, so attributed; there seems to be a bit of debate on the matter). I’ve never seen another version in any Latin Mass hand missal that matches its perfect balance of beauty and accuracy.

Returning to Coverdale’s unique word: as I’m no Biblical scholar, I don’t know exactly what led him to develop the term since he was not a scholar of Hebrew (and thus still drew from the Latin Vulgate, as well as Luther’s German Bible). In the Hebrew Old Testament, chesed is said to mean “to bend or incline oneself” or “to be merciful”. We can easily picture this in God descending from the heavenly to the earthly plane, whether in the Incarnation two thousand years ago or the Eucharist upon our altars every day. We can also see it in the act of a superior bending the knee to wash a subordinate’s feet, from the Last Supper on the night the Lord was betrayed, to the medieval king’s re-enactment of the Mandatum by washing the feet of beggars on Maundy Thursday.

Kings and vagabonds

Lovingkindness is kindness proceeding from love. Mercy is certainly an appropriate word, but one that I feel doesn’t have quite the same “punch” in our English language; and, I daresay, one that’s almost been debased by so many Church leaders; compared to that word which makes you stop and think for a moment at how odd it is.

“Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.”

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”

“I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”

“But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”

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