“Secretum meum mihi?” What is that?!

A BIBLE STUDY

Isaiah 24:15-18: “Therefore glorify ye the Lord in instruction: the name of the Lord God of Israel in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we have heard praises, the glory of the just one. And I said: My secret to myself, my secret to myself, woe is me: the prevaricators have prevaricated, and with the prevarication of transgressors they have prevaricated. Fear, and the pit, and the snare are upon thee, O thou inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he that shall flee from the noise of the fear, shall fall into the pit: and he that shall rid himself out of the pit, shall be taken in the snare: for the flood-gates from on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth shall be shaken.

(From the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate)

Edith Stein was a young post-grad student, the rising star of her circle in Gottingen under famed philosopher Edmund Husserl. When she embraced baptism in 1922, her best friend Hedwig Conrad-Martius demanded to know why. Stein never responded, but wrote, “secretum meum mihi,” on a nearby page of paper. (Latin for “mysecret is mine, or my secret is unto me.” Indeed, her conversion was devastating to her Jewish family. And although she was aware of a vocation to Carmel early on, at the advice of her confessor, she chose not to follow for over a decade.

Edith Stein is not the only one to have quoted this tidbit “Secretum Meum Mihi” in relation to keeping the inner details of one’s faith private. The famous English convert John Henry Newman quotes it in his conversion account Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and St. Philip Neri also quotes it in his exhortations to his followers. And Bernard of Clairvaux, the great Cistercian, quotes it in relation to a commentary on the Song of Songs. All of them concurred: a relationship with Jesus Christ was a mystery one could never fully explain to anyone.

Context: This section of the book of Isaiah is known as his Apocalypse. Apocalyptic literature often focused on a future “day of the Lord”, when the “just one” would reward the good and punish the bad. In this particular passage, the human praise of the Just One is side by side with His expected wrath to sinners

Against the bloody backdrop of current Middle East politics, we might be excused for taking the whole section far too grimly to heart. Will the Lord deliver us? Do my secret longings for God’s mercy open me up to His justice? Yet, being set free implies the truth that we are imprisoned…spiritually, emotionally, and otherwise.

Translation Notes:  Almost certainly, the Bible in your home does not have “my secret is unto me” in it at Isaiah 24:16.  Because there are no vowels in Hebrew, a variety of translations are possible, and the context is thus very important. The original Hebrew word, r-z-h, transliterated “ryzyk”, translates roughly to “thinness, or leanness”. Within the context of the passage, the Latin translation connotes a certainty of weakness as one faces the coming judgment. Subsequent English translations of the original Hebrew use “leanness” – “I waste away,” or “I pine away”.  (Or – I’m skinny!  Woe is me!)

Vocabulary

The Just One: a reference to the coming of the Messiah in Jewish apocalyptic literature, who would judge and punish the unrighteous in the last days

Prevaricators:  Those who deviate from the truth

The Pit:  Hell, or more technically, Sheol, a concept of the afterlife in which one does not merit God’s friendship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you often find yourself speechless when situations arise that give you cause to mention your faith? How, when and where do you NOT feel safe saying you are a Christian?
  2. How do we find the courage to admit we belong to Jesus? Do we have an obligation as Christians to confront “prevaricators?”
  3. Edith Stein was ultimately killed at Auschwitz for being Jewish. Religious persecution remains a serious problem today. What should Christians in “safe” countries do to support their suffering and persecuted brothers and sisters in oppressed lands?
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