Here’s an ode to a truly excellent word in Latin: formido.

Verb, root meaning to become firm or rigid, means something like “to be paralyzed with fear” or “to dread.”

Noun form is this dread, dread of an extreme intensity, and very often associated with the fear we properly have of the divine, the transcendent, God and his angels and the demons. What we feel when Jove hurls his lightning or we climb the mountain to stand in the presence of Apollo.

But a fun twist: formido is also a hunter’s gauge or bogy set up to frighten prey, to flush it toward the hunter or the net.  And so the formido is also an object that causes formido.

You can cross up these meanings.  St. Anselm/John of Fecamp uses it to describe the service of the priesthood–a great formido!–and the fear of contaminating the sacrament of the altar.

It is of course where we get the English word formidable, but “daunting” or “imposing” is not intense enough for how the word stands in Latin.  “Utterly petrifying” is better.

How is the priesthood “utterly petrifying?”  Anselm/John has the priest trapped by a fear that either reaction is to his doom.  Dare I approach the altar of God despite being so unworthy?  Do you know what happens to those who defile the sacraments?!  But then again, do you know what happens to those who disobey the commandments of God?!  Why have I been placed in this untenable position?  What do I do?  Is my service to my destruction or my salvation?



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