QUAERITUR: Why pray to “confuse” enemies rather than “convert”?

From a reader:

Sometimes you write that we should pray for strength for the Pope but confusion for his enemies.  Shouldn’t you pray for the conversion the his enemies?

Okay.  Pray for conversion.  By all means.

Perhaps I have read 19th century English novels, Patrick O’Brien, and both the King James and Douay versions of the Bible enough that some of turns of phrase stick in my head.

“Confusion to one’s enemies” is a constant prayer in the Scriptures and it is what God inflicts on those who are doing something in defiance of His will.  It also came to be a standard expression in English, probably because of the KJV.

“Confusion” and the related “confound” are both from Latin, of course.  Confundo means basically “to pour, mingle, or mix together”.  By extension it means that, when things are poured together they become jumbled and confused, disordered.  Thus there is a moral notion of dissaray, intellectual confusion, ineffectiveness.  Someone who has been “confounded” has been thwarted in his scheme, has been demonstrated to be wrong.

This is what God did to the people who built the Tower of Babel: he confused them and their wicked goal by scrambling their speech.  In English, “confound” concerns making someone confused or defeating them, or even refuting a bad argument.

In the Psalms we have myriad references to confusion and confounding.

Thus, in Psalms 70:13 in the older numbering we find: “Let them be confounded and come to nothing that detract my soul; let them be covered with confusion and blame that seek my hurt.”

In Jeremiah 8:12 we have this confounded confusion: “They are confounded, because they have committed abomination: yea rather they are not confounded with confusion, and they have not known how to blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall; in the time of their visitation they shall fall, saith the Lord.”

In Acts 9:22 St. Paul gets to confuse people:  “But Saul increased much more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, affirming that this is the Christ.”

And to the Corinthians Paul wrote (1 Cor 1:27): “But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong.”

In the Douay Bible you can find all sorts of uses of confound.

So, in sum, sometimes I use archaic language.

But by all means, pray that the Pope’s enemies, after being confounded, be converted as well.

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  1. TC says:

    “Confound their politics,
    “Frustrate their knavish tricks,
    “And make them fall.”

    Then we can worry about converting them.

    [God save the Queen!]

  2. MJ says:

    From the Te Deum:

    “O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.”

  3. Centristian says:

    The Ambrosian Hymn, the Te Deum, beautifully concludes with a prayer that the Lord not permit one to be forever confounded (thwarted in one’s journey to final beatitude, forever damned):

    “In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.”

    “In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me not be confounded forever.”

    The idea of the confounding of enemies has, perhaps, its most memorable refrain in the British National Anthem, “God Save the King (Queen)”:

    O Lord our God arise,
    Scatter Thine enemies,
    And make them fall.
    CONFOUND their politics,
    frustrate their knavish tricks,
    on Thee our hopes we fix,
    God save us all.

    Applying the notion to the Pope, save the pope’s enemies’ souls, indeed, but also confound their wicked designs, that they might fail to come to fruition.

  4. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Very interesting post – and the Tower of Babel is a great example.

    Praying for their confusion can effectively derail a group, larger and stronger, hell-bent on doing evil. And it doesn’t mean you can’t pray for their conversion. When all else has failed, it can be the only way to stop something huge. Perhaps the newly ‘converted’ might not be able to stop in time something they are now sorry that they started.

    It brings to mind a court case, where the innocent party was pretty certain to get an unjust punishment. After praying for the confusion of the unjust opponent, the case was completely lost when the very capable opponent uncharacteristically couldn’t remember their statements, exhibited great confusion, repeatedly stammered, and throughout the hearing made very poor presentations and arguments.

  5. albinus1 says:

    Of course, in the verses of “God Save the Queen”, the enemies who are to be confounded are presumably us, i.e., Catholics, or at least Jacobites.

    “In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.”
    “In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me not be confounded forever.”

    This is a nit-picky grammar point, but are you sure that “confundar” is present subjunctive here and not future indicative? I realize that later/Vulgar Latin doesn’t always observe all the niceties of Ciceronian grammar, but for a negative jussive subjunctive I would expect “*ne* confundar.” Are there other contextual elements — or, since this is presumably from a Psalm, elements in the Hebrew or in the Greek Septuagint — that would lead one to take it as subjunctive here? Thanks!

  6. Fr. Basil says:

    Just to let you know we have our silly days, too:

    There is a hymn from Matins that usually begins, “You who hate Zion shall be put to confusion by the Lord.”

    An older version ran, “shall be put to confusion of the Lord,” which is an archaic, but correct use of the preposition “of.”

    But someone tried to modernize it and came up with “shall be put to THE confusion of the Lord.”

  7. evil confused = evil not executed, sounds good to me.

  8. anilwang says:

    Confusion is often the first step in conversion.

    If you think you know all the answers, you won’t seek answers, and if you don’t seek, it’s unlikely you’ll find….unless the hound of heaven is after you.

  9. dep says:

    There’s a fairly important point, I think, that is being missed: you can confuse someone without violating their free will. You cannot forceably convert someone without the most serious of free-will violations. Conversion is our choice, because it is and must be internal; confusion can be entirely external in its source.

    So we are reasonable in seeking the enemie’s confusion, but we may not ask our Father to convert anyone — most we can do is ask that the case for conversion be placed before them. Or, in the meantime, that they be confused into harmlessness.


  10. hald says:

    I remember that exclamation from old movies and/or cartoons.

    “Confound it!!”

  11. Rachel says:

    Fr. Basil’s example cracks me up. The confusion of the Lord… I wonder what that might be.

    I think dep has a good point– a person can be forcibly confounded but not forcibly converted. However I’m sure it’s still kosher to pray for someone’s conversion. Isn’t there an implicit understanding that you’re praying for God to do whatever on His end can be done, but in the end it will certainly be up to the person’s free will?

  12. RichardT says:

    Rachel said “The confusion of the Lord… I wonder what that might be.”

    “I thought Gethsemane was this way … or should we have turned left at that last junction? Peter, can you remember?”

  13. Joseph Shaw says:

    Interestingly Butler, in his ‘lives of the Saints’ (late 19th C) consistently uses ‘confusion’ to mean ’embarrassment’; it is a theme of his hagiography that saints who heard themselves praised were ‘covered with confusion’. An odd usage, etymologically.

  14. Centristian says:

    “Of course, in the verses of “God Save the Queen”, the enemies who are to be confounded are presumably us, i.e., Catholics, or at least Jacobites.”

    Well, no, not all Catholics, just some…those few misguided English Catholics who plotted to blow up their Sovereign and the British Parliament at Westminster (the Gunpowder Plot). The Jacobites, though, since you bring them up, often have attributed to their cause the first verse of the anthem, a tribute to the deposed Catholic monarch, James II & VII. The line “send him victorious” is said to reference the King’s absence, thus “send him (back to London,) victorious”.

    It’s always interesting to me to consider that James II was the second Catholic British monarch in a row (his brother and predecessor King Charles II converted on his deathbed) at a time when it was so unlikely that there should be any at all. It’s also interesting to note that, likewise, two Roman Catholics in a row held the style “Supreme Governor of the Church of England”.

  15. Ceile De says:

    Surely, if they are converted, then they no longer enemies? Conversle,y if they are not converted, they remain enemies and should be confused. Sending them to RCIA should achieve that nicely.

  16. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Only the relatively ineffectual mortal enemies can be converted, while the enemies’ leaders are ontologically incapable of being converted.

  17. Eric says:

    Gregg hits my sentiments exactly.
    Of course I think in smaller words than that.

  18. John Nolan says:

    The second verse of ‘God Save the King/Queen’ (rarely sung these days unless you’re using Britten’s fine arrangement) originally had “frustrate their popish tricks”. As a national anthem it didn’t really catch on until the reign of George III, the only genuinely popular Hanoverian king. Beforehand the preferred ditty was ‘Rule, Britannia!’

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