More of the O Antiphons

Wisdom depicted as a female figure enthroned (BL Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII, f.36)

More from A Clerk of Oxford on the O Antiphons, traditional to Advent, since Saxon times. This time:

O mundi domina, regio ex semine orta,
ex tuo iam Christus processit alvo tamquam sponsus de thalamo;

hic iacet in praesepio qui et sidera regit.

So, if you were an Anglo-Saxon monk what would you make of that? This? It’s fairly long so I skipped the Old English since most of us colonials can’t read it anyway, but it is in her post.

O glory of the world,
the purest queen of all those
who have ever existed across the earth!
How rightly all speech-bearing ones
throughout the world address you and say,
joyous in heart, that you should be the bride
of the best Gift-giver of the skies.
And so too those highest in the heavens,
thegns of Christ, proclaim and sing
that you should be the lady, by holy powers,
of the heavenly host and of all the earthly kinds
of orders under the heavens, and of hell-dwellers.
For you, alone of all mankind,
gloriously resolved, courageous in purpose,
that you would bring your maidenhead to the Measurer,
give it without sin. There has never come another such
among all mankind, any other bride adorned with rings,
who since with shining spirit has sent the bright gift
to heaven-home. For the Lord of Victory commanded
his high messenger to fly here
from his glorious majesty and swiftly make known to you
the abundance of might, that you should bear the Lord’s Son by a pure birth
as mercy to mankind, and you, Mary,
from henceforth would remain ever undefiled.
We have also heard this, what long ago
a truth-bearing prophet said of you
in ancient days, Isaiah:
that he was led to where he beheld
life’s dwelling-place in the eternal home.
The wise prophet gazed across all that country
until he saw a spot where a noble entrance-way
had been established. That immense door
was bound about with precious treasure,
fastened with wondrous clasps.
He was sure that no man
could ever, in all eternity,
lift up those bars so firmly fastened,
or unlock the barriers of the city gates;
until an angel of God unraveled the matter,
glad in thoughts, and spoke these words:
‘I can tell you what will come true:
that God himself, by the power of the Spirit,
intends to pass through these golden gates
at a time yet to come, the Father Almighty,
and to visit the earth through these fastened locks,
and after him they will then stand forever
closed, always and eternally,
so that no other, except the Saviour God,
will ever be able to unlock them again.’
Now it is fulfilled, that which the wise one
there beheld with his own eyes.
You are the door in the wall; through you the All-wielding Lord
once only journeyed out into this world,
and even as he found you, adorned with powers,
chaste and chosen, Almighty Christ,
so the Lord of Angels closed you behind him again
with his limb-key, the Giver of Life,
immaculate in every way.
Show forth to us now the grace which the angel,
God’s word-bearer Gabriel, brought to you.
O, this we city-dwellers pray:
that you reveal that comfort to the people,
your own Son. Then may we all
rejoice in hope, united in mind,
when we gaze at the baby upon your breast.
Intercede for us now, bold in your words,
that he may not allow us any longer
to go astray in this deadly valley,
but that he may bring us into his Father’s kingdom,
where we, free from sorrow, may afterwards
dwell in glory with the God of hosts.

I’m a lousy poet, although I love poetry, this is an impressive job. The Clerk comments on a few things.

This section of the poem offers two images of Mary, each extraordinary in its own way. Elsewhere among the Advent Lyrics, Mary is the subject of ‘O virgo virginum‘ and of the dialogue which begins ‘O Joseph‘; the latter brings to life the tension and pain in the story of her child-bearing, dramatising the anguished thoughts of a couple who have had a world-changing miracle erupt in the middle of their marriage. That’s an emotional, intimate conversation – the Incarnation as personal human drama.

This poem gives us a very different view of Mary. Here she is a queen, and on a cosmic scale – ruler of the forces of heaven, earth, and hell. God and Mary are described in language and tropes drawn from Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry: they are the brytta and his bryd, the generous ring-giving lord and his resolute queen. Described thus, they might easily be Hrothgar and Wealhtheow in Beowulf, or even Cnut and Emma. Like many another woman in Anglo-Saxon poetry, Mary is a bride ‘adorned with rings’ (beaga hroden), but this bride is far from a passive figure: she is courageous and determined (þristhycgende, ‘steadfast in mind’). This poem frames her situation in a distinctive way, presenting it as if she has decided to undertake a diplomatic mission from earth to heaven. Though literally this decision is made when she accepts Gabriel’s message to her, the poem describes it as if she set out to travel on a journey to unite herself with God:[.]

This kind of mission calls to mind the idea found in Anglo-Saxon literature of a royal bride as a ‘peave-weaver‘, whose marriage makes a truce between two warring tribes; in this case the tribes Mary unites are heaven and earth, which are brought together in peace through her actions. The beorhtan lac she brings to God as a wedding-gift (lac means both ‘gift’ and ‘offering, sacrifice’) probably refers to her virginity, but it would also be an apt epithet for Christ, and it’s a reminder that gift-giving too was part of a medieval queen’s royal duty – Wealhtheow, the most famous peace-weaving queen in Anglo-Saxon poetry, rewards Beowulf for his services to her people with generous gifts of arkenstone-like treasure.

Keep reading her article.

Yes, I know, to our sensibilities this overstates Mary’s role, Theotokis fine, but Queen of Heaven is too much. I pretty much agree, but our ancestors didn’t. This is the Christianity that converted the Vikings after all, and likely some of the Anglo-Saxons as well. Comparing Mary to Wealhtheow let alone Emma is quite something.

A bit of an aside, it also tells us much about the place of wives in their society. Think they were downtrodden, almost slaves? Doesn’t sound much like it to me here, sounds much more like a partner, almost an equal partner. In Northern European sagas they are important, indeed. So, of course, Mary is even more important.

I like the comparison of Mary to the gate in the wall, such that God and only God, may enter, and as far as we can tell, only once. It’s up to us after that, to believe the unbelievably Good News.

We hear some people talking about ‘muscular Christianity’, well here it is, beyond those who talk about it wildest dreams. Muscular enough to convert the heathens all over Europe. Maybe they knew something that we in our comfort have forgotten.

Remember tonight is that Night of Nights, when we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, have a Happy Christmas Eve and remember it really is:

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

30 Responses to More of the O Antiphons

  1. There is only one in ‘muscular Christianity’, The Christ, the Son of God of the Living God! But yes, ALWAYS the Incarnation, which forever includes The Virgin Mary! ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is : the compass of the world and they that dwell therein.’ Glory be to God on this Vigil of the Nativity Of Our Lord!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Nicholas says:

      I also dislike the reasoning of some who seem to think that the failure of some men entails the failure of the gender as a whole, when it does not. The fact that some men have been cruel to their wives does not entail that all men will be or are even capable of so being. Nor does it preclude the possibility (and facts) that some wives have been cruel to their husbands. Failure is no respecter of genders.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amen! Sadly we live in a day where the gender roles and sexual ethics have been flipped, and badly! It is part of the hatred of the Evil One, that Great Adversary: Satan, and his ilk! (See especially Ephesians 6: 11-12)… and the whole warfare of Spirit-Filled Believers… verses 10 thru 18!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. the unit says:

    Celtic Woman, “O Holy Night”…favorite of The Mad Jewess too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      “O Holy Night” was my mom’s favorite, although she never heard Celtic Woman, but man, they are angelic in this one. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • the unit says:

        A pleasant remindful thought to wake up to this Christmas morning! I can’t think what was the favorite Christmas spiritual song was my mom’s favorite. But I do remember like yesterday her humming “Everyday with Jesus is Sweeter than the Day Before”, everyday all year long.
        The thought settles me down right now. Done melted a micro-oven safe plate on a stove top burner my belt buckle turned on as I was heating up a skillet on another. If I was shorter or taller it wouldn’t’ve happened. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Moms are in many ways the carriers of our heritage, yours done good, as did mine, I think our ancestors likely approve.

          But you’re not either shorter or taller, and it did. How things go in the world, and no real harm done. I didn’t trust myself, and had a bit of cold leftover lasagne from last night, breakfast later, perhaps. And perhaps followed by mince pie, another part of our heritage.

          Merry Christmas, my friend! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Yep to all that.
          Also done scraped off the melted plastic from the burner coil and got’er all plugged in and working again…and before wife wakes up!
          And a very Merry Christmas to you, my friend! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yay, You! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    Got this link after Celtic Woman.
    All I want for Christmas. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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