Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Did Christ Ever Laugh?

Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953; rpt. 1967), p. 420:
John Chrysostom (d. 407) taught (PG, LVII, 69) that Christ had never laughed (cf. Egbert's Fecunda ratis (ed. Voigt), p. 155).
The Chrysostom reference is to a passage in one of his Homilies on Matthew (6.6 in the Patrologia Graeca numbering, 6.7 in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation by George Prevost):
If thou also weep thus, thou art become a follower of thy Lord. Yea, for He also wept, both over Lazarus, and over the city; and touching Judas He was greatly troubled. And this indeed one may often see him do, but nowhere laugh, nay, nor smile but a little; no one at least of the evangelists hath mentioned this.
See also Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews 15.8 (tr. Frederic Gardiner):
And do you, a solitary, laugh at all and relax your countenance? thou that art crucified? thou that art a mourner? tell me, do you laugh? Where do you hear of Christ doing this? Nowhere: but that He was sad indeed oftentimes. For even when He looked on Jerusalem, He wept; and when He thought on the Traitor He was troubled; and when He was about to raise Lazarus, He wept; and do you laugh?
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (tr. William Weaver), alludes to this idea:
"And this goes for the marginalia we were discussing today," Jorge could not keep from commenting in a low voice. "John Chrysostom said that Christ never laughed."

"Nothing in human nature forbade it," William remarked, "because laughter, as the theologians teach, is proper to man."

"The son of man could laugh, but it is not written that he did so," Jorge said sharply, quoting Petrus Cantor.

David Doster via email adds this:
From Samuel Beckett’s MOLLOY.

(In Part II, Jacques Moran, having missed Mass earlier in the day, has just received the sacrament from Father Ambrose in the presbytery. Moran continues:)

... I rose and thanked him warmly. Pah! he said, it’s nothing. Now we can talk.

I had nothing else to say to him. All I wanted was to return home as quickly as possible and stuff myself with stew. My soul appeased, I was ravenous. But being slightly in advance of my schedule I resigned myself to allowing him eight minutes. They seemed endless. He informed me that Mrs Clement, the chemist’s wife and herself a highly qualified chemist, had fallen, in her laboratory, from the top of a ladder, and broken the neck--. The neck! I cried. Of her femur, he said, can’t you let me finish. He added that it was bound to happen. And I, not to be outdone, told him how worried I was about my hens, particularly my grey hen, which would neither brood nor lay and for the past month and more had done nothing but sit with her arse in the dust, from morning to night. Like Job, haha, he said. I too said haha. What a joy it is to laugh, from time to time, he said. Is it not? I said. It is peculiar to man, he said. So I have noticed, I said. A brief silence ensued. What do you feed her on? he said. Corn chiefly, I said. Cooked or raw? he said. Both, I said. I added that she ate nothing any more. Nothing! he cried. Next to nothing, I said. Animals never laugh, he said. It takes us to find that funny, I said. What? he said. It takes us to find that funny, I said loudly. He mused. Christ never laughed either, he said, so far as we know. He looked at me. Can you wonder? I said. There it is, he said. He smiled sadly.

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