[Note: As promised, this is a couple of days late. I should be back on schedule with the next entry on the 25th.]
et dux domus IsraŽl,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Mighty Lord,
and leader of the house of IsraŽl,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush,
and on Sinai gave him the law,
come to redeem us with outstretched arm.
This is rendered in the well-known Protestant hymn:
O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Ours is a most conventional view of law. We generally view the law in propositional terms, which terms may or may not (usually not) conform to some natural reality. This is not a recent distinction. Even the ancient world knew the distinction between those laws that were the verbal (and therefore rational) expressions of the moral law of the universe and those laws that were merely conventional expressions of local necessity. The difference, however, is that in the ancient world, the epitome of the laws of the polis was to express the moral laws which undergirt the cosmos and its ordering. The ancient view of the law was that of a tool for molding and shaping the soul in virtue. The law alone could not accomplish this, of course, it would take an embodied discourse, soulish exercises, but most of all a particular way of life supported by such discourse and exercises to so shape the soul that, through habituation, it would become fixed in virtue. The law, in other words, was not merely propositional, but was an exemplar of virtue which served as a paedagogy for the soul.
This ancient understanding of law was similar to the Jewish conception, as well as the Christian, if deficient compared to them. For the Jews, the Law was, indeed, an instruction, a teaching, in a way of life conformed to the God who personally gave it. The Law was, indeed, an exemplar, but more than that it was the living communication of the covenantal God. In the Law was revealed that about the Personal God of the covenant which served to uniquely identify Israel among her neighbors. In Christ, this distinction reached fruition: the Law was now Incarnate, the Law was, in fact, a Person. Jesus of Nazareth. The Law not only revealed the Lord–the Lord, himself, is the Law. In his Person is crystallized not simply the summation of all the propositions expressed verbally by the living God, not simply the enumeration of all the commands and prohibitions, but was, hypostatically, the sum of the will of God. He is the crown of the Law, its essence, its boundary, its pure disclosure to man of the things of God, of God himself.
This Law redeems us from the debt of sin and death, this Law leads us in the way of the man-befriending God, not by virtue of propositions and principles–or at least not by way of these alone–but because the Law is intrinsically personal. It once revealed the person will of the God of Israel–and still does–and it now reveals, to the degree that we are able to know, him of the mighty and outstretched arem. That arm that was nailed to the tree.
Law of God, Personal revelation of the Most High, redeem us from all our iniquities, by thine own mighty, outstretched, nail-pierced arm.