The Journey That Makes One Whole and New – J.S. Bach, Cantata 48, at Trinity XIX

Icon of Christ healing of the paralytic. 14 cent. Monastery of Stavronikita, Mount Athos

Icon of Christ healing of the paralytic. 14 cent. Monastery of Stavronikita, Mount Athos.

The libretto of cantata 48, from the first cycle of 1723, ingeniously conflates the messages of the epistle and the gospel, and the images that rise from or are suggested by them. The librettist has furthermore included several Scriptural interpolations. The text of the opening chorus is Romans 7:24:

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

The text and mood of the opening chorus are of helpless foreboding. Yet the whole is dramatically effective, filled with intimations of a threnodic fear of our insatiable, primordial physical and spiritual sins—unappeasable and irremediable; and so sets the stage for Bach’s presentation of the ubiquity of mortal and moral disintegration, if not placing before the congregation any specific possibility of renewal in life or redemption in any afterlife.

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