Weddings provide many pleasures for the guests, but few of them are literary. Cranmer wrote a great wedding liturgy, but it sounds archaic to the contemporary ear, and jars at several places on contemporary sensibilities and opinions. (This isn’t an instance of “political correctness” in the pejorative sense: Unless the couple really intends that the the man should cherish, but not obey, his wife, while the woman should obey, but not cherish, her husband, why should they, just for tradition’s sake, promise at such a solemn moment something they don’t actually intend? Even ritual words ought to have meanings.)
One standby of the modern roll-your-own wedding service is St. Paul’s ode to love from First Corinthians: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love … ” (Full text at the jump.) In mildly modernized versions of the King James translation (with “love” substituted for the Elizabethan “charity”) it’s marvellous prose, and according to a statistic I just made up no more than 2% of the attendees at the average wedding will know, or be bothered by, the fact that the Apostle is writing about agape (roughly, goodwill or altruism) rather than eros. But the passage is now used so regularly that it lacks novelty; it’s in the awkward stage between the zest of freshness and the comfort of tradition.
So I was pleasantly surprised, attending a friend’s wedding, to hear what was recognizably the same passage in what were, to me, new and quite compelling words.
After the service, I had a chance to ask Fr. Gerald Caprio, who officiated, which translation he was using, and he modestly admitted he had done the job himself (from the original Greek, no less).
With Fr. Caprio’s permission, then, here it is, with the lines rearranged into free verse, more or less as I heard it. (Note: The first triplet translates 1 Cor. 12:31; the chapter break conceals the fact that Chapters 12 and 13 make up a single discourse.)
Be ambitious for the highest things,
and I will show you a way
that is better than any of them.
If I speak with human eloquence
and the eloquence of angels as well,
but speak without love,
I’m little more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have a gift for prophecy –
knowing and understanding all of life’s mysteries,
and if I even have faith great enough to move mountains –
but am without love,
I am nothing.
If I give away to the needy all that I possess,
and even become a martyr
– but am without love –
I gain nothing.
This type of love is always patient and kind.
It is not jealous.
It is never boastful or conceited.
It is neither possessive nor selfish,
and is not easily offended.
It takes no pleasure in the failings of others,
but gains satisfaction only when truth prevails.
This love knows no limit to its endurance,
no end to its trust,
no fading to its hope.
It will outlast anything.
It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands
when all else has fallen away.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away.