O Clavis David

[Another installment a bit late as I expend energies on personal matters.]

O Clavis David,
et sceptrum domus Israël,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit,
claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum
de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

O Key of David,
and scepter of the house of Israel,
you open, and no one shuts,
you shut, and no one opens:
come, and lead the prisoner
from jail,
seated in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

This is rendered in the well-known Protestant hymn:

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

A key offers access, presence, a place. It confers authority. He who has the key gains entry to that which is shut, and is able to determine who enters into the royal presence and who does not.

It is not well-received today to say that only in Christ is there access to the Father. But such declarations have never been well-received. Sadly, even those who today bear the name of this Key of David, waffle on this and invent all sorts of alternative pathways to the Father, and ridicule and persecute their own for defending this exclusivity. But if we deny that Christ is the only access to the Father, we not only sin against those who died because they held this truth, we sin against him who himself said this very thing.

But if the King is the one who rightly holds the keys of the kingdom, it is within that King’s power to confer those keys upon whom he will. And just as Eliakim was given those keys in the days of Israel’s kingdom, so, in the present kingdom of our Lord, has Peter been given those keys. And while Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians will differently understand the significance of the conferral on Peter of these keys, they nonetheless are united that Christ in fact conferred that authority upon the apostolic foundations of his Church, and it is that apostolic foundation which was given the authority to forgive and to retain, to open and to close—in the name of the Lord of the Keys.

So while it is in Christ that we are granted access to the Father, Christ himself willed that we come to him in this Church founded upon his apostles. We have access to the Father only in Christ, and we have union with Christ only in his Church. Christ leads the prisoner from his dungeon to and in his Body. Christ harrows hell, to be sure, and the door he opens to the captive is himself, which is to say, that place where he lives and dwells, his Body, the Church.

The beauty of what this Key of David grants is not just rescue but renewal. We are not just redeemed as a person, we are incorporated into Christ by virtue of his Body. We are healed by becoming a member of a new nation, a special race. The isolation of our darkened cells is not merely alleviated but positively healed with the community of the New City, wherein old national, ethnic and racial differences are swallowed up and fulfilled. And these bishops upon whom are conferred the keys of the Kingdom, open wide the doors to us, that through water and fire, baptism and chrismation, we may safely gain access to him whose presence we seek and who compels us to come to him.

O Key of David, open to us this dungeon that we may flee, and your royal throne room that we may enter, and know both surcease and renewal, and freedom from death and life.

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.

O Virgo Virginum

O Antiphons

O Virgo virginum,
quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es
nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Ierusalem,
quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at me?
That which ye behold is a divine mystery.
Continue reading “O Virgo Virginum”