O Radix Jesse

[Note: This is posted from the road, using the rather hinky hotel in-room wireless access. (The story behind the being in a hotel room is another family holiday nightmare, but that will wait for another telling.) This post, however, is completed on time as promised.]

O Radix Jesse,
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos,
jam noli tardare

O Root of Jesse,
who stand as a sign for the people,
kings stand silent in your presence,
whom the nations will worship:
come to set us free,
put it off no longer.

This is rendered in the well-known Protestant hymn:

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Ours is an age which, comparatively, is upside down and backwards. Instead of a fall from a golden age, ours is an ever-upward progression to a golden age. Instead of the advancement of the self in the service to the polis, we now seek self-advancement from the polis. In the polis, then, is our own individual salvation into a golden age that is ever yet on the horizon.

We have it on divine authority, however, that the ancient world’s view of reality as a fall from a previous golden age is the more correct—though in itself, it, too, suffers from some deficiencies. We are not progressing ever-upward toward a increasingly bright golden age. We are devolving ever more deeply into the dark abyss of the evils of human sinfulness and its cosmic consequences. Our technologies bring us not greater depth of character, but an ever-increasing mechanistic dehumanization in which the rapid decaying of the body—set in motion by our own personal advents into this fallen world—is shored up by the cutting and augmenting of the flesh. The human person is ever and increasingly commodified, with occasional head tilts to marketable and manipulable emotion and sentiment. But for all intents and purposes, ours is a monistic view of human salvation in which the physical body is saved from dys-ease through leisure and surfeit. We are increasingly moving ever upward to the ability to fully calculate every aspect of the physical body. This is the coming golden age for us, where near-perfect but empty husks fine-tune the calculus of self-pleasure.

In our midst, however, is a sign for a different golden age. Not the golden age from which we’ve fallen, and which we can never again restore to ourselves. Not the golden age so far distant from our memories that it cannot but seem an idle dream as the phantasmagoric nightmare we endlessly create and augment descends incrementally upon us. No, this is a golden age given to us by sheer grace. And it’s sign is the fullness of the nightmare we are bringing upon ourselves. Its sign, is, to advance in the festal order from the Nativity and “Little Lent” to Great Lent and Holy Week, that of the shredded gory bulk of a man hung from the blood-soaked tree while the darkness coalesces and descends, and one of us, ignorant of the import of his announcement, speaks the rain-spattered gospel: Truly, this was the Son of God.

What is this sign, this signum, this root of Jesse? It is the restoration, or, perhaps more accurately, the consummate fulfillment of the prelapsarian world, wherein the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the lion and the calf dwell in peace together; the bear and the cow graze together, the lion eats grass with the ox; and the nursling plays over the cobra’s hole, the weaned child shoves his hand in the adder’s den. It is the fulfillment of the images of Isaiah 11 in Mark’s longer ending, wherein poisonous snakes have no effect upon believers.

But there are, in fact, two trajectories here. We are not simply stumbling in our sin-drunkenness inch by inch into hell, we are too visited by this consummation of the Kingdom. The two paths, one from a golden age, the other to a golden age invade the same space. Indeed, the herbivorous predators already graze near the ravenous killers. The one is set to die, the other already lives for ever.

We live, then, here, in the between and betwixt, in a world sliding down into the abyss, into which has broken a new nation for whom the consummate fulfillment of all our origins has begun. We are dying, and yet in dying are finally becoming alive. We inhabit bodies which mortality has bound, but some of which grace keeps incorrupt. We eat bread and drink wine that left to itself will molder and decay, becoming poisonous, but which, by being invaded by the coming golden age of grace now brings not merely nutrition and sustenance, but healing and, indeed, immortality.

This is the sign of Jesse: the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in a man, who bestows upon all his brothers and sisters, the participation, in him alone, in that divinity. This is our golden age: becoming gods by grace.

Sign of Jesse, free us from the sin-besotted death we ingest daily. Free us and all your creation from this mortality, and the sin which is its coin.

O Adonai

[Note: As promised, this is a couple of days late. I should be back on schedule with the next entry on the 25th.]

O Adonai,
et dux domus Israël,
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 Israël,
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.

O Sapientia

[Note: Today’s post is the first of a series of reflections for this year on the “O Antiphons” sung during the forefeast, or the week prior to, the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Huw will also be blogging reflections on the “O Antiphons” (his invitation is here).

I’m a couple days late with this first installment, and will likely be late for the next installment on the 20th, since it’s not clear whether I will have internet access where I’ll be. But I should be good for the 25th and the remainder of the days.]

O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom,
who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching out mightily from end to end,
and sweetly arranging all things:
come to teach us the way of prudence.

John M Neale and Henry S. Coffin render these verses in the well-known hymn:

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Wisdom and order are the hallmarks of this created world, and of God’s dealings with us. Prudence, prudentia, or, in Greek, phronesis, is, according to the ancient world, that practical knowledge that grasps the first principles, knows those things that are universally true, and weaves them together with intimate knowledge of the particularities of experience to produce a beautiful way of life. This Wisdom from on high, who lives this way of phronesis, though, is not some impersonal divine intellect thinking the thoughts which give reality to the universe. Nor is this some deity distant from his handiwork, content to fashion, or pass on to the fashioner the task of making, this world, only to settle back for eternity in blissful contemplative rest.

No, this God, this Wisdom from on high, not only speaks the universe into existence, but, clothes himself with creation, indeed, with the particularly human. He does not merely tell us the way, he shows us the way.

Christianity is ever and always a way of life, not a summary of precepts. There are things to know and to believe, but such knowledge and belief are only the threads of the tapestry of a beautiful life, a life crafted from the particulars. Wisdom became a man. Not everyman, but this man Jesus, born of Mary, raised by Joseph, lived and died in a specific place and time. This Wisdom was embodied so that not only might we know the way, we could follow him who is the Way. We not only know the God-man, Jesus the Christ, but he has been seen, he has been touched, he has been heard. He is life. The life he lives is light. And when we follow him, we embody by grace that light which he is. We are illumined.

Now seeing that to which we were formerly blind, we acknowledge a terrible grace and beauty to all that is around us. We live in the meantime, and time is so frequently very mean. But illumined by grace, the translucent veil of the glory which is and which is to come, the glory that is his, we see that the bitter is bounded by sweet, chaos with order, randomness with arrangment.

Wisdom from on high, teach us the way, show us the way. Arrange all things most sweetly for mercy for us and not for judgment. Come, Lord Jesus.

Oldest Invocation to the Theotokos

John Fenton has an incredible post on the oldest Petitionary Prayer to Mary. From that post, a cite from Nicholas Ayo, CSC The Haily Mary: A Verbal Icon of Mary (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994):

Petitionary prayer to Mary characteristic of the second part of the Ave Maria can be found in a fragmentary way very early in the liturgical practice of the church of Alexandria. In a subterranean sanctuary dating from third-century Alexandria there is a fresco depicting the marriage at Cana with an inscription to “Holy Mary” (Haghia Maria). The Sub Tuum Praesidium is the oldest Marian prayer, cherished in the liturgy both of the East and the West. It is remarkable because of its appeal to the intercession of Mary. The Greek text was discovered in the twentieth century on a fragment of papyrus estimated to date from the third century.*

Sun [sic?] tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix; (Theotokos)
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
Sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

We seek refuge under your protection,
Holy mother of God;
Do not turn away our prayers in our need,
But always deliver us from all danger,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.

*The original text in Greek is a fragmentary piece of papyrus, and some reconstruction was required to present a coherent text for publication. Various liturgies, both East and West, have further adapted the text of this prayer to their particular devotional situation. There is thus no one standard Greek text to which everyone subscribes. For an exhaustive treatment of the “Sub Tuum,” see Giamberardini, Il Culto Mariano in Egitto, I:69-97 and 273.

To which he adds his own following observations:

1. The dating of this particular Marian petitionary prayer is third-century; i.e., during the time of persecution and prior to Constantine’s edict.

2. The place of the particular fragment is Alexandria. So the prayer is presumably known (and prayed?) by St Athanasius, St Clement and St Cyril. Elsewhere in his work Ayo provides evidence that the latter spoke along similar themes as found in the prayer.

3. The prayer is not confined to the East, but also found in the West. Furthermore, it is not confined to “private devotions” but is located in the liturgy (presumably the Divine Office).

Holy Mother of God, pray for us.

How Can One Take Offense?

Russell Moore, in blogpost, “Egalitarian Orthodoxy?” at Touchstone’s Mere Comments, notes a comment from the CBE blog which states:

I’ve heard it said that Willow Creek Community Church tries to target middle-class males of about my age precisely because we are the hardest group to reach. As the thinking goes, if you can win them over, reaching others should be a snap. Jews for Jesus makes the same claim about trying to evangelize Jews.

I wonder who might be the hardest group of Christians to reach with the good news that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28), and the (to me) necessary corollary that God gifts both men and women for ministry. The (big-O) Orthodox may not be the hardest to reach, but I’m sure they’re in the top five. They’ve got a view of the church, its ministry, and its sacraments that isn’t just “high,” it’s stratospheric. And they’ve got a nearly 2,000-year track record of not ordaining women. If you can convince an Orthodox believer, you’re probably a long way towards convincing anybody else.

Clearly the author thinks Orthodoxy has a gender issue when it comes to ordaining women to Eucharistic ministry. If one were so inclined, one could almost take offense at this carefully worded criticism.

On the other hand, it is almost an unintended compliment.

At least I, for one, take it as such.

Of course, given that the author wholly misunderstands the Orthodox rejection of female ordination to Eucharistic ministry, one should really be given to reading this in the best possible light.

Not in Books, Nor in the Head, But in the Heart

Over at PBS’ Frontline site, are interviews with various religious figures on faith. I want to particularly highlight the interview with Fr Roman Braga (link opens in Real Player, which is available for free here). Father Roman is the spiritual father of Holy Dormition Orthodox Monastery where my wife visited a couple of weekends ago.

I’m very glad that St. Gregory Palamas’ feast day introduces us to the Nativity Fast (which, for those Orthodox on the new calendar, begins today). For the Saint has much to say to me this Nativity–and indeed, relative to much of my recent experience. Not the mystical heights of the sublime in the Jesus Prayer, to be sure, since I barely know how to do any thing of that sort. But rather that real knowledge of God can be had through experience of God, that is to say, the participation in his gracious energies.

What Father Roman has to say in the five-minute clip above is my theme for “Little Lent” this year.

Pray for me a sinner.

(Note: If I get internet access restored at home this evening, I’ll blog my first installment of the O Antiphons for this Nativity.)

An Outrage Such as This Renders One Speechless at the Utter Lack of Christian Charity

This–Outrage as Church backs calls for severely disabled babies to be killed at birth–is making the rounds of the internet (I’ve seen it at four or five different sites already).

The lede:

The Church of England has broken with tradition dogma by calling for doctors to be allowed to let sick newborn babies die.

Christians have long argued that life should preserved at all costs – but a bishop representing the national church has now sparked controversy by arguing that there are occasions when it is compassionate to leave a severely disabled child to die.

And the Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who is the vice chair of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, has also argued that the high financial cost of keeping desperately ill babies alive should be a factor in life or death decisions.

Lest you think this is a misquote or misleading summary, listen to the following:

In the Church of England’s contribution to the inquiry, Bishop Butler wrote: “It may in some circumstances be right to choose to withold or withdraw treatment, knowing it will possibly, probably, or even certainly result in death.”

The church stressed that it was not saying some lives were not worth living, but said there were “strong proportionate reasons” for “overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained”.

The bishop’s submission continued: “There may be occasions where, for a Christian, compassion will override the ‘rule’ that life should inevitably be preserved.

“Disproportionate treatment for the sake of prolonging life is an example of this.

The church said it would support the potentially fatal withdrawal of treatment only if all alternatives had been considered, “so that the possibly lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance.”

Yet the Revd Butler’s submission makes clear that there are a wide range of acceptable reasons to withdraw care from a child – with the cost of the care among the considerations.

“Great caution should be exercised in brining questions of cost into the equation when considering what treatment might be provided,” he wrote.

“The principle of justice inevitably means that the potential cost of treatment itself, the longer term costs of health care and education and opportunity cost to the NHS in terms of saving other lives have to be considered.”

The church also urges all the parties involved in care for critically ill babies should be realistic in their expectations, demands, and claims.

Horrifying. Nauseauting. Infuriating . . . that this man would claim to represent Christian thought. He’s a disgrace and should be deposed.

Endorsing Infanticide

From the WT Call for debate on infant euthanasia

Nov. 6, 2006 at 9:25AM

Britain’s Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has called for debate on whether to allow euthanasia of severely disabled newborns.

The college says there is some support for the move by some parents, medical ethicists and geneticists, Britain’s Independent reports.

In a request to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the college says active euthanasia should be considered for the overall benefit of families, who would otherwise suffer years of emotional and financial stress.

“A very disabled child can mean a disabled family,” the college writes in its letter to the council.

“We would like the working party to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best interests, tests and active euthanasia,” the letter says.

In the Netherlands, active euthanasia of newborns is allowed in certain instances such as severe cases of spina bifida.

Dr. Pieter Sauer, co-author of the Netherlands’ guidelines for infant euthanasia, says British medics are already carrying out mercy killings and should be allowed to do so in the open.

Let’s just call it what it is: infanticide.