Babette's Feast

Patricia Anders
Monday, July 13th 2009
Jul/Aug 2009
"Mercy and truth, my friends, have met together," said the General. "Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another."

This is a tale of grace-a breaking in of the not-yet into the here and now, a taste of glories to come and a sampling of forgiveness and love. It is a turning of the literal table by the servant who liberates those she serves by doing her "very best" to "make them perfectly happy," thereby teaching them the greatest lesson of their lives.

"Babette's Feast" is a short story written by Isak Dinesen (nome de plume of Karen Blixen, 1885-1962), published in Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard; and it is also a delightful Danish movie, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1988. Set in a nineteenth-century small coastal town in Denmark, this is the story of two sisters, Martine (named for Martin Luther) and Philippa (named for Philip Melanchthon). They live among the Brothers and Sisters of an ascetic Lutheran group founded by their father, the old Dean, choosing a pietistic life of self-denial. By the time Madame Babette Hersant arrives on the sisters' doorstep from revolutionary France, the aging Brothers and Sisters have begun to lose the vision of the old Dean (now long in his grave), and distant memories of hurt and wrongdoing return to haunt them and to cause bitterness and strife among them.

Twelve years pass and after winning 10,000 francs in the French lottery, Babette wishes to thank the sisters for their kindness to her by cooking "a real French dinner" for the Brothers and Sisters in honor of the old Dean's hundredth anniversary. Although fearful of the lavish food and drink Babette intends to serve, the Brothers and Sisters pledge not to discuss the food and to eat without any pleasure.

After a long period of preparation and expense by Babette, the evening finally arrives and all gather around the exquisite table, complete with fine china, stemware, tablecloth, and candles. Visiting his elderly aunt, who is one of the Sisters, General Loewenhielm is invited to dine with the others (making the number of guests now twelve); and it is only he-who has tasted the finest of Parisian cuisine-who can fully appreciate what Babette has prepared. As the evening progresses, however, all those around the table find their spirits lifted as they enjoy the wonderful feast before them-despite themselves. As they finish their last course, the General is moved to give a speech:

"Man, my friends," said General Loewenhielm, "is frail and foolish. We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short-sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite….But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty….For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!"

Through this speech and the dinner and wine, the Brothers and Sisters realized that this "grace…had been allotted to them….The vain illusions of this earth had dissolved before their eyes like smoke, and they had seen the universe as it really is. They had been given one hour of the millennium."

Monday, July 13th 2009

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology