"Prints of Praise"

It is related that William Prynne, the English Puritan, had his cheeks branded "S.L.," Seditious Libeler, for terming indulgence in certain amusements immoral. But refusing the interpretation attaching to the torture, Prynne replaced it with one of his own, Stigmata Laudis, "Prints of Praise," and no doubt had balm for his wounds therefrom. Now Prynne's views may have been right or they may have been wrong; at least they were sprung of the stanch morality of his Puritan heart, sincere if sometimes inflexible and shortsighted. At any rate, his view of the question has of itself no more consequence than has any human view except in so far as, transformed by spiritual understanding, it aligns itself with the fact of Principle. What is important, however, is Prynne's grasp of the fact that he could turn his mourning into praise, refuse to suffer as a result of persecution, and thus rout his would-be enemies. For, what was an enemy for if not to produce the fiction of suffering? Let the torturer wield his iron; let the letters stand out upon his cheek so clear that he who ran might read; yet their imputed significance could never be the real intent of the deed that provoked the torture. In other words, the human mind can never turn good into evil merely by calling it evil. If it could, the lie about any situation would be more powerful than the truth, and the absurdity of such a belief, carried to its logical conclusions in the daily round of living, even the man in the street, who is not overconcerned about logic, can recognize at a glance.

Now Prynne himself was perhaps not much bothered about logical thinking, but, good Puritan that he was, he was immensely concerned with the letter of the Scriptures, and consciously or otherwise, he had made his own the words of the psalmist, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee." The "wrath" of his day might brand Prynne a libeler, but to him, guileless of malicious intent and seeking to do good in the light of the Scriptures as he understood them, brands were but "prints of praise," an indication that he was glorifying God.

The True Incentive
March 12, 1921

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