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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Dominus Historiae: Part II

Continuing my review of Jean Daniélou’s The Lord of History from here.

In these eight chapters, Daniélou transitions to exegesis, building on the foundation laid especially by the last chapter. The examination of sacred and secular modes of history served to define the space proper to the former; now, Daniélou returns ad fontes to fill that space. What does sacred history actually look like, according to scriptural Christian theology?

Chapters 1-3 thus examine divine action, human action, and the synergism implied in the incarnation respectively. Chapters 4-6 involve typology and progress, or the relationships between historical stages, and chapters 7-8 address eschatology.

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O Clavis David: Meditations on the O Antiphons

The fourth O Antiphon is to the Key of David.

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

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel;
who opens, and no one closes;
who closes, and no one opens:
come, and lead the fettered ones out from the prison-house,
those sitting in darkness, and the shadow of death.

This is the second Davidic reference, and an answer to the previous antiphon’s plea for freedom. Its central image is drawn from Isaiah 22:22 (quoted almost verbatim in lines 2-3) and Revelation 3:7.

Nevertheless, it is also one of the more difficult and obscure of Christ’s traditional titles. The original passage describes a transfer of authority from the master of Hezekiah’s palace to Eliakim, a man of the Lord’s choosing. Isaiah declares, “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” The revelation to St. John states that Christ now possesses this key, and because of this a door that cannot be shut has been set before certain faithful Christians.

This is part of a network of opening/shutting/binding/loosing images in the scriptures. Perhaps the most notable instance, and probably a deliberate reference to Eliakim in Isaiah, is when Jesus promises Peter the keys of his kingdom, that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (See also Matthew 23:13 for a negative use of this imagery.)

These examples in mind, we see that the hymnist made a very interesting choice in how he concludes this antiphon. The language of the key, to any early Christian, clearly points to the authority of Christ, in and by whom the Church has power to govern its members and to make binding dogmatic decisions. The scepter is obviously a symbol of rule as well.

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O Radix Jesse: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Sr. Angsar Holmberg, CSJThe third O Antiphon is to the Root of Jesse.

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 stands as an ensign of the peoples,
before whom kings will shut their mouths,
whom the nations will entreat,
come to free us, refuse now to be hindered.

This antiphon hails Christ as the Root of Jesse. This time, it is not Christ’s divinity that is on display, but his messiahship. The great Wisdom of the Cosmos and Lord of Israel is shown as member and head of the royal house of David.

The first line of this antiphon is drawn from Isaiah 11:10, the second from Isaiah 52:15. Isaiah 11 depicts the “root of Jesse” flowering again; the House of David, whose degraded descendants would lose the throne within two centuries, would produce an heir on whom rested the Divine Spirit. This anointed king would rule with justice and turn Zion into a new Eden, and all the Gentiles would be drawn to him out of their own sin and desolation.

This title is an essentially human one, but not at odds with the previous portraits of his transcendent divinity. These successive antiphons embody the orthodox doctrine that Christ is wholly God and wholly Man. The Son, in assuming humanity, became a part of the same genetic House of David that he elected. Again, we see that the Son in the incarnation has come to inhabit the house he prepared through time. Millennia of longing for the divine were finally answered in a form that could be touched and seen.

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