14 June – Elisha, Old Testament Prophet: salt, bears and you.

Today is the commemoration of St. Elisha, prophet, called also Eliseus.  He was the disciple of Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-21).  When Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot, Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit.  So great was God’s power to work miracles in him that even touching his corpse could heal (cf. Ecclesiasticus, 48, 152; Kings 13:20-21).

Maybe some of you would like to take a shot at his entry in the Martyrologium Romanum:

Die 14 Junii
Decimo octavo Kalendas iulii.

1. Samariae seu Sebaste in Palestina, commemoratio sancti Elisei, qui, discipulus Eliae, propheta fuit in Israel tempore regis Ioram usque ad dies Ioas; etsi oracula non reliquit, tamen, miracula pro advenis patrando, salutem nuntiavit omnibus hominibus adfuturam.

Carmelites make much of St. Elisha, I suppose because of his connection to Elijah and that he sojourned on Mt. Carmel for a while.  They have celebrated his feast since 1399.  I found this prayer online, though I don’t have the Latin original to compare it with (from Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours,” Institutum Carmelitanum, Rome: 1993).  Perhaps one of you out there have the Latin version and will post it.

O God,
protector and redeemer of the human family,
whose wonders have been proclaimed through the wonders accomplished by your chosen prophets,
you have bestowed the spirit of Elijah on your prophet Elisha:
in your kindness grant us too
an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit
so that, living as prophets,
we will bear constant witness to your abiding presence and providence.

One of the things I think about right away when Elisha is mentioned is the older form of blessing Holy Water.  Exorcised and blessed salt is used in the rite for blessing water.  Why Elisha?  In 2 Kings 2, Elisha pours salt into the waters of the Jericho which were poison, and caused deaths and miscarriages.  Also, in the rites of blessing water, the salt to be used is addressed personally as a creature of God when it is exorcised.  NB: adjuro is a great verb meaning basically in later Latin “to conjure or adjure, to beg or entreat earnestly”.  In the writings of North African Fathers such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Lactantius it comes to mean “oblige by speaking” and is applied to exorcising demons and unclean spirits.

Exorcizo te, creatura salis, per Deum + vivum, per Deum + verum, per Deum + sanctum, per Deum, qui te per Eliseum Prophetam in aquam mitti jussit, ut sanaretur sterilitas aquae; ut efficiaris sal exorcizatum in salutem credentium; et sis omnibus sumentibus te sanitas animae et corporis; et effugiat, atque discedat a loco, in quo aspersum fueris, omnis phantasia et nequitia vel versutia diabolicae fraudis, omnisque spiritus immundus, adjuratus per eum qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos, et saeculum per ignem.  R. Amen.

O you creature of salt, I purge you of all evil by the living + God, by the true + God, by the holy + God, who commanded by the Prophet Elisha that you be put into water in order that the sterility of the water would be healed: so that you might be rendered a purified salt for the salvation of believers, and so that you might be a healthiness of soul and body to all who consume you, and so that you may put to flight and drive out from a place in which you will have been scattered every phantom and wickedness, and cunning trap of diabolical deceit, and every unclean spirit be solemnly banished by command through Him Who shall come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.  R. Amen.

Priests ought to pray this way all the time.

Fathers! Elisha doesn’t want you to use wimpy prayers that are vague and uninteresting.

No joke! Mock Elisha and you might get mauled by bears.  Ask those children in 2 Kings 2 what happens when you mock the prophet.  You may recall that a bunch of little kids started to razz Elisha.  He cursed them and a couple of female bears came out of the forest and tore them to bits.

“Exit, pursued by a bear.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. tamranthor says:

    Why do you suppose it was she-bears (RSV_CE)? I understand that female bears will be vicious in protecting their offspring, so it makes sense in that they are apparently the means by which God protects Elisha, but I was unaware that bears were common (or even existed) in Israel, and is the implication that Elisha is the son of a bear of God?

    That sounds very odd to me.

  2. Mario Bird says:

    A Winter’s Tale!

    As Antigonus kept a fell mandate,
    And the rude boys blasphemed against Baldpate,
    The truth is the same:
    To obey or defame
    Without reference to God makes one bear bait.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. stephen c says:

    I had to go to Lewis and Short for two words: advena is probably “those from other countries”, like the foreigners who on the day of Pentecost heard the Apostles speak in their own language, and “patrando” is probably the ablative from from the noun based on the verb that means “to be a father to”, or more generally “to accomplish”. So when I first read “miracula pro advenis patrando” I knew miracles were involved, I knew that something in there had to do with being first, or a progenitor of some sort, or vaguely something to do with being a patron or an original benefactor – but after reading Lewis and Short, I think the only meaning that would be accurate is “accomplishing miracles for the gentiles”, i.e., performing miracles for those from other countries, as the apostles did on Pentecost.

    An interesting comment I remember hearing about this episode was that the author, who of course was fluent in Hebrew, may have used a punning word for “young men” which all the (human, i.e., not divinely inspired, unlike the original writer) translators following translated as children, whereas the writer probably said something akin to what the poor English media liars say when they say that an “Asian youth” committed a terrorist act: perhaps they feel fine saying such a dishonest thing because they all know that the reader knows that when the English media says “Asian youth” they mean something more like what an honest person would say: “terrorist from the Mid-East who hates England.” There are other examples, that is the first example that comes to mind.

    Anyway, I would be interested in other versions, but since, almost a day after the posting, nobody else has translated this wonderful excerpt of first-class Latin prose, here is my attempt:

    The Day of June 14.

    In the Latin Calendar, the 18th day before the Kalendae of July!

    A native of Samaria or Sebasta in Palestine, (this is) the day we commemorate Saint Elisha, who, as a disciple of Saint Elijah, was a prophet among the Israelites from the days of King Joram until the days of King Joas; moreover he did not stray from continuing (non reliquit) the utterance of prophetic words, to the contrary he, by accomplishing miracles for the benefit of gentiles from other lands, announced a future salvation for all mankind!

    By the way, one of my favorite lines from Chesterton is the line where he (wrongly) complains about vegetarians, and gets himself all worked up in his beef with vegetarians, and finally expostulates something along the lines of this: what are we thinking? is it not enough that we eat animals, although Adam and Eve did no such thing until they sinned and God Himself had to clothe them in skins of animals, is it not enough that we are hunters and so forth, to the detriment of our fellow creatures, must we also have to eat salt? Must the salt suffer too? Why should the salt suffer?

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks stephen c. “patrando” was Greek, er, Spanish, to me.

    Speaking of GK Chesterton, he wrote a short essay once about a piece of chalk. One memorable line:

    “Then I suddenly stood up and roared with laughter, again and again, so that the cows stared at me and called a committee.”

  5. Ahem, allow me, as an ursus arctos myself to weigh in at 1100 pounds. The ursus arctos syriacus was a smaller cousin native to the region. Since male bears are mere sperm donors, and conduct only the occasional desultory fights among themselves over territory or misinterpreted comments, single-mother she-bears get a lot of experience killing anything that even looks after their precious cubs, as most people know.

    Ever since hearing this story from the lips of St. Corbinian himself, I have suspected the “children” were, in fact, a dangerous mob of pagan “utes” (to use the term from My Cousin Vinny), possibly armed with rocks and bottles and baseball bats. Illustrators have done a great disservice to both God and bears by depicting adorable ragamuffins. One would hardly need she-bears for even 42 first-graders mocking an old man’s baldness.

  6. stephen c says:

    sempergumby – Chesterton has made me laugh many times, and the cows calling a conference is hilarious. What a wonderful human being he (Chesterton) was. Sometime I wonder about him, though – one time, when he must have been in one of those incalculable bad moods that good people sometimes fall into, he wrote that the Gospels never record an instance where Jesus laughs, and if I remember correctly, he said that we humans would be more or less overwhelmed by such laughter, that we could not bear or understand the meaning of such laughter.

    Maybe I misunderstand what he meant, but it seems to me that he took himself too seriously sometimes.

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    stephen c: Interesting anecdote about GKC, laughter, and Jesus. GKC probably did take himself too seriously sometimes. Thus, for levity, his essay on Cheese. Here’s how he begins:

    “My forthcoming work in five volumes, “The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,” is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful if I shall live to finish it.”

    St. Corbinian’s Bear: I share your suspicions that it was a horde of “utes” tormenting Elisha rather than a swarm of grumpy urchins. As for ursine proclivities and mortal danger, when hiking over hill and dale I carry a blueberry bush at Port Arms, to heave if necessary at a Bear Amok and make good my escape.

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