O Emmanuel: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Last year I wrote a series of posts on the O Antiphons, intending to do one per day until Christmas. I got through four and posted a belated O Oriens and O Rex Gentium, but the seventh, O Emmanuel, I never completed. This year, living in Eastern Europe, I’ve not been getting the usual sights and sounds of the Christmas season. Stripping away the family and commercial jollity gives a different feel to these last weeks of December, and I doubt the Georgian festivities surrounding Eastern Christmas (January 7) will wholly replace it. But it is still a good time to meditate on these traditional Latin hymns, as midwinter brings in the new year.

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The seventh O Antiphon is to Emmanuel (God with us).

O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio gentium, et salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos,
Domine, Deus noster.

O God with us, our king and lawgiver,
the nations’ expectation, and their savior:
come to save us,
Lord, our God.

We conclude Advent with an antiphon to Christ Emmanuel, whose sign embodies the focal truth of the incarnation: that God is with us.

There seems little to say about this antiphon. It is brief and direct, summing up the ones that came before. We may note a slight shift from the previous verse: Christ is now not merely the nations’ desire, but their expectation. Christ is in the Virgin’s swelling womb; in the fullness of time, he will appear. Still there is a double significance; we sing the antiphon in light of the parousia (coming) for which we wait, as Christ’s Body is built up on earth and eagerly looks forward to its birth under a new sun.

But we should not miss the beautiful simplicity of this antiphon, which proclaims Christ as “our king and lawgiver,” our savior, and most importantly, Emmanuel.

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The Anchor, the Bear, and the White Horse

The Saints of November 23

Today I would like to write about three saints who, in one place or another, share this day: a bishop, a missionary, and a soldier.

November 23 is, here in the Republic of Georgia, a public holiday, the Feast of St. George or Giorgoba. Although Georgia does not actually derive its name from the saint, St. George is one of its best-loved heavenly patrons. According to legend, St. Nino, the evangelizer of Georgia and the country’s other major patron saint, was a relative of George, and established his feast day here as November 23; the rest of the Christian world observes St. George’s Day in April or May, and the Georgians have a secondary celebration then as well.

We decided not to go to church this morning, in part because we were warned that it would be unusually full of people. But our host father turned the TV to a channel showing the ceremonies at Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi, which happens to be one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. Everything was red and white and gold. The ancient and bent Georgian patriarch Ilia II, an acolyte carrying the long red train of his mantle, slowly circled the church, censing the icons with trembling hands, while a large men’s choir sang hymns in traditional polyphony.

Later, our host parents drove with us into the hills behind our village. There is a crumbling road that runs along a ridge. Along it are placed a convent, cemetery, and series of shrines. The road ends at a hilltop monastery that commands the view in all directions. Today we stopped at a round stone building that was half-ruined, apparently an old shrine to St. George. Though there are few houses within easy walking distance, many people from the villages below had come, some even with live chickens to slaughter. They were coming and going, crossing themselves and burning candles. It was a unique look into local religious practice.

November 23 is a notable day in western liturgics as well, being the feast of “Pope” St. Clement I. St. Clement’s Day was at one time quite popular in England as a minor holiday, especially among metalworkers, who regarded him as a patron. It is also the feast of St. Columbanus, an eminent Irish Catholic missionary to Europe in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. The Orthodox Church observes St. Clement’s feast in a day or two, while St. Columbanus is little known in the east.

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As the Lone Victim

Peter Abelard, written for Good Friday. This translation was the most difficult I’ve attempted so far. Meanwhile, I am also working on learning Georgian for a possible adventure teaching overseas this autumn.


Solus Ad Victimam

As the lone victim thou proceedest, Lord,
offering thyself to death, whom thou comest to destroy;
What can we say in such misery,
when thou in such kindness redeemest?

Ours, Lord, ours are the crimes,
the crimes whose torments thou bearest.
Make our hearts bear with thee,
that thou may favor as worthy even our fellow-suffering.

May we through the dark night and these three days,
held back by weeping, keep the night vigil,
until the rising Lord, on the brightest of mornings,
restore to the sorrowful their joys.

Make us then to bear with thee, Lord,
that we may be thy fellow-sharers of glory;
thus may we pass these three days in grief,
that you may give the laughter of Easter grace.

The Sorrow-Filled Mother Stood

Another translation from Latin. Usually attributed to Fra Jacopone da Todi in the 13th century. If you have not heard Pergolesi’s setting of this poem, look it up immediately.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa

The sorrow-filled mother stood weeping near the cross,
while hung her son.

Through her spirit, moaning, saddened, and in pain,
passed a sword.

How sad and crushed down was that blessed one,
mother of the alone-begotten!

Mournful and hurting, that good mother, while she watched
the punishment of her glorious son.

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Devotedly I Honor Thee

As a Latin and creative exercise, I decided to translate one of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Eucharistic hymns, Adoro Te Devote. I’m afraid mine does not have anything to recommend it as poetry over the numerous other translations out there, but I found the exercise valuable. Domine, miserere mei.

Adoro Te Devote

Devotedly I honor thee, hidden and divine,
beneath these shapes truly hidden;
to thee I give over the fullness of my heart,
for its fullness is nothing in contemplating thee.

In thee, sight, touch and taste are misled,
but hearing alone can be safely believed.
I believe whatever God’s son has said;
nothing is more true than Truth’s own word.

Hidden on the cross was the divinity alone,
hidden here humanity as well;
yet believing both with assurance, I entreat
as the self-grieved thief entreated.

The wounds I cannot regard like Thomas,
yet my god I confess thee.
In thee, make me always more believe,
and in thee hope, thee hold dear.

O memorial of the Lord’s death!
Living bread, life supplied to man!
Supply of thyself for my mind to live,
and find thee ever sweet.

Good Pelican, Lord Jesu,
cleanse my unclean being with thy blood:
a single drop can restore
the fullness of the world from all evil.

Jesu, whom I now see veiled,
I pray what I thirst for may be:
that when I see revealed thy countenance,
I may be full in the vision of thy glory.



Tintoretto’s The Last Supper

Martin Guerre

It’s been a long time since I added anything to this blog. I’ve been busy. Recently I’ve had the urge, inspired by Facebook  discussions and news of the day, to post something long on politics, but I haven’t had near enough time to write it. So maybe you’ll see that when/if I get to a week where I have breathing space.

This essay was written last week in two submitted stages in which I dealt with questions around historical method and the story of Martin Guerre. I included some of the background information below, but basically the class looked successively at a film, book, and two argument essays on this same topic. The movie did fairly well, but Natalie Davis’s book, in which she explored the story behind it and what she believed was a truer interpretation of the characters and the time, was highly-praised and very popular–Natalie Davis had been a historical consultant on the film and was unsatisfied with the final product. However, historian Robert Finlay wrote a widely-circulated essay in which he sought to prove Davis’s interpretation was unsubstantiated fabrication. Davis countered him point-by-point, and these two essays are regarded by some teachers as exemplifying differences in interpretation between historians. We were supposed to analyze and provide our take. The essay, in part because of the two-part writing process and in part because I had a rough time finishing it, is extremely choppy, but I hope it is comprehensible and of some interest.


Of The Return of Martin Guerre and Historical Method

The French-language 1982 film Le Retour de Martin Guerre recounts the improbable story, derived from true historical narratives, of a peasant who took the identity of another with surprising deftness, and the subsequent trial that established his deceit. When I viewed it, not having read the book or being at all familiar with the story, I recognized a slightly modern slant; the sympathetic portrayal of Arnaud (the imposter) and Bertrande (the wife of the “original”) as romantic heroes rather than deceivers and adulterers in particular caught my attention. Technically, it was a fine and mostly-convincing supposal, fairly well-acted, passably-scripted, and immersive. It was good enough that the exceptions to the real-historical tenor, such as the final dialogue between Bertrande and Jean de Coras, stood out and raised questions.

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