Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

Plenary Indulgences for New Year

Rorate Caeli has a short post about the Plenary Indulgences you could have obtained today and can obtain tomorrow on the occasion of the New Year at Plenary Indulgence reminders: Te Deum on Dec. 31 Veni Creator on Jan. 1

John Wyclif

Today is the 630th anniversary of the death of the English heresiarch John Wyclif at Lutterworth in Leicestershire. He had been living in the parish in his last years, effectively exiled from Oxford on account of the increasing hostility of the authorities in the Church and realm to his increasingly radical ideas. He suffered a stroke whist attending or assisting at the Mass in his church at Lutterworth on December 28th. He was buried in the church and had a tombstone - fragments of it were taken as relics by two Bohemian students in the years that followed.

John Wyclif


St Mary's Church.

Lutterworth Church.
East view of the church where John Wyclif was rector from 1374 until his death in 1384.
The church formerly had a spire

Image: leicestershirevillages.com

Following the formal condemnation of his teachings as heretical by the Council of Constance in 1415 the Council orderd that his remains be exhumed and burned. At the tim eteh Bishop of Lincoln, in which diocese the parish lay, was Philip Repingdon, once a fervent admirer of Wyclif at the beginning of the 1380s, but who renounced his Wycliffite ideas in the summer of 1382.


The exhumation and burning of Wyclif's bones in 1428
From the 1563 edition of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments 1563


It was under his successor, Richard Fleming, that the remains of the founder of English dissent were exhumed and burned, the ashes being poured into the River Swift. Sympathisers ahve seen this as symbolic of the transmission of his ideas world wide.

One does not have to agree with Wyclif to recognise that in his own time, in the century and a half down to the reformation and then, held up as its great precursor, during the English Reformation, he was and is a figure of importance and with a legacy.


Saturday 27 December 2014

Feast of St John the Evangelist

As with my previous post I am republishing with some emendations a post from three years ago to mark this feast day.

I have always identified St John the Evangelist as my name-saint - being a bit squeamish it is probably because he was the one Apostle not to be martyred - and perhaps also because the medieval Cluniac priory in my home town was under his patronage. Anyway I do rather like the mystical theological approach to faith. That said and thinking about it as I get older I think I should maybe identify with St John the Baptist and indulge in my urge to tell the brood of vipers what I really think, and go round preaching repentence - but I do want people to like me, so maybe not...

St John the Evangelist has not, to my mind, provided the inspiration for artists that the Baptist has. Too often he is depicted as a long haired, rather effeminate young man, and not really the mystical theologian of the New Testament texts, still less one of the Sons of Thunder with a pushy mother...

This painting by Memling is rather better in conveying something of the meditative quality of St John, and anyway it is late medieval and therefore, ipso facto, good.

St. John The Evangelist

St John the Evangelist
Hans Memling c.1430 -1494

Image: artexpertswebsite.com

Here are both St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist in the same artist's Mystic Marriage of St Catherine from the St John Altarpiece of 1474-79 which is in Bruges - the other female saint in the composition is St Barbara:

The Mystic Marriage Of St. Catherine Of Alexandria (central panel of the San Giovanni Polyptch) - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org

Here is Memling's panel from the same altarpiece showing St John on Patmos:

St John Altarpiece (right wing) 1474-79 - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org
There is great charm and delicacy in Hieronymous Bosch's 1485 painting of St John on Patmos:



Although there is something in this image of the nice young man from Sotheby's or Christie's holding up an object at an auction, and it is a really rather splendid chalice, there is more of both youthful impetuousness and conviction as well as the intensity of devotion and of mysticism in El Greco's paintings of him, as here:


Image: southbear.com

One of my regular readers commented on the post as follows about St John:

[He was p] erhaps just bar-mitzvah'd or whatever the expression is and thus qualified to make up the quorum in the synagogue.That would mean his walking alongside Christ from the ages of, say, 13-16: a deeply impressionable time in any young man's life. It would mean his having been born about A.D.20, and give him ample years in which to reflect, and would strengthen the claims of the early Fathers for his having lived into the second century.

That view of St John strikes me as very credible - teenage enthusiasm making him and his elder brother the brash Sons of Thunder, and, who knows, were they smug or acutely embarrassed by their mother's pursuit of places of honour for them under the seemingly impending new dispensation? There is also the youthful lack of fear that led him, alone of the Apostles, to stand (did he steal there against the advice of older voices, unable to stop himself ?)  at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady, and to rush off  with and out-run St Peter in going to the empty tomb, yet still with the youthful hesitancy to stand outside peering in. Add to that innate spiritual insight and a profound rapport with Our Lord and the Gospel account of him makes for a very believable portrait.

St John, pray for me

Friday 26 December 2014

St Stephen's Day

St Stephen, whose feast falls today is, of course, venerated as the first martyr of the Church - apart that is from the claims to that dignity of the Holy Innocents and St John the Baptist. To mark his feast I am republishing a post from this day three years ago with a few emendations and additions.
The Stoning of St Stephen
From the St Stephen Altarpiece by Michael Pacher c.1470

Image: art.com

There are a series of readings and traditional devotions to him, as well as various depictions here.

St Stephen.
He is quite often shown in a standing pose but being bombarded with stones.
A rather effete depiction of a saint who was anything but that, being noticeably robust according to the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7.

The remainder of this post is adapted from a post from this day in 2005 on A Catholic Life.

"If you know what witness means, you understand why God brings St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents to the crib in the cave as soon as Christ is born liturgically. To be a witness is to be a martyr. Holy Mother Church wishes us to realize that we were born in baptism to become Christ — He who was the world's outstanding Martyr" (Love Does Such Things by Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O.)

We have only just celebrated the birth of our Lord and already the liturgy presents us with the feast of the first person to give his life for this Baby who has been born. Yesterday we wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes; today, he clothes Stephen with the garment of immortality. Yesterday, a narrow manger cradled the baby Christ; today, the infinite heaven has received Stephen in triumph (St. Fulgentius, Sermon 3)

This painting is a detail from The Ordination of St Stephen by Blessed Fra Angelico
(circa 1395-1455) in the Niccoline chapel in the Vatican.
Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast is tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on.

The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten which are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

Source for the above excerpt: Vultus Christi

The Martyrdom of St Stephen.
A rather florid Baroque view.

Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, ora pro nobis. Amen

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, so to imitate what we revere, that we may learn to love even our enemies: for we celebrate the heavenly Birthday of him who knew how to pray for his very persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who liveth and reigneth with Thee.

1962 Daily Missal

Images: A Catholic Life blog

The following year I posted another depiction of his death - again very much in the most dramatic Baroque style:

Fichier:Peter Paul Rubens - The Martyrdom of St Stephen - WGA20224.jpg

The Martyrdom of St Stephen

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Musee des Beaux Arts, Valenciennes

Image: fr.Wikipedia

That year I also posted St Stephen at Bourges about one of the greatest churches under his patronage.


Thursday 25 December 2014

Unto us a Son is Given

A Holy, Blessed and Joyful Christmas to you all

Madonna of the Rose Bower

c. 1440

Stefan Lochner c.1400-1451

Oil on panel, 51 x 40 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

This small panel which employs several iconographic models is an especially charming remnant of Cologne Gothic.

It depicts the "humble Madonna" (Madonna dell' Umiltà) as Mary is sitting on the ground or on a pillow placed on the ground, gently holding an infant in her lap. Their figures are surrounded by adoring angels who offer flowers and fruits to the baby Jesus. To create a backdrop for the scene, two diligent angels stretch out a golden brocade curtain which reminds the viewer of the reigning, victorious Madonna. At the same time, this curtain insures separation from the rest of the world and the intimacy of the holy family. Above, surrounded by light-rays, we can see God the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit. This intimates the Immaculate Conception; thus the painting includes the depiction of the Holy Trinity. This is the picture of completeness with the Divine Mother as its centre.

The image of being enclosed is reinforced by another motif: the low stone wall around Mary, which recalls the "hortus conclusus" (enclosed garden), the symbol of Mary's purity and innocence.

The spectacular carpet of flowers covering the ground intimates the earthly Garden of Eden, as does the bower of roses. Roses were often connected with the Madonna; such a simile appears in several medieval Latin hymns to the Virgin.

The musical child angels in the foreground play an important part in the creation of an idyllic atmosphere. Their instruments - two different sized lutes, a harp and a portative organ - are realistically rendered, and their small hands reveal their musical expertise.

Image and Notes from the Web Galley of Art

This is, in effect a republication of the post I have produced for Christmas Day for several years, although last year I varied it with the equally fascinating votive panel of Archbishop John Ocko of Prague from circa 1370, which can be seen at O Come Let Us Adore Him.

Using it has become something of a tradition and Christmas is avery tradition-conscious time of the year. I particularly like this image of Our Lady and the Christ Child and I have also used it to decorate my Christmas letter to friends some years. As an image it combines great beauty and delicacy, the tenderness of the mother-child relatiomship, the joy and delight of the angel musicians, and the references in the rose bower to the rich biblical and liturgical horticultural images of new life and renewal. The notes accompanying the picture draw out the symbolism further. It is also a painting from a period of history which is of particular interest to me.

I hope it conveys some of the joy and hope as well as the delight of Christmas, and I wish that to all my readers.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

O Virgo Virginum

In the original posts Fr East added this comment: "In England, there was an eighth antiphon, 'O virgo virginum', 'O virgin of virgins', applied to Mary; and example of English exhuberance spoiling the careful and spare patterning of the Roman liturgy."

In contradistinction one might say that it points to the variety permissible within the medieval church as different provinces and dioceses developed the pattern of the liturgical year.

The additional Sarum antiphon for today is:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.
The first line appears to refer to Our Lady's response to the Archangel at the Annunciation in Luke 1:34, whilst the reference to the Daughters of Jerusalem links to the repeated references to them in the Song of Songs.

This antiphon is also still sung in the Premonstratensisn Use by the Norbertines, as one of their community in Chelmsford informed me the other year. This may reflect the particular Marian character of the Order.

Virgin and Child

Miniature of the Virgin and Child, from the De Lisle Psalter (British Library, MS Arundel 83 II,f.131v). The Virgin has her feet resting on a dragon and a lion. They are seated in an elaborate Gothic arched canopy, with niches containing two angels carrying candles, and the figures of St Catherine of Alexandria and St Margaret of Antioch.English circa 1310, and attributed to the  Madonna Master


O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum, veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: come and save us, O Lord our God. 
'Emmanuel' derives from Isaiah 7:14,
'Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium,
Et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel'
'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
And his name shall be called Emmanuel.'

This is referred to the birth of Christ in St Matthew's Gospel:

'Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentam: Ecco virgo in utero habebit, et pariet filium, et vocabunt nomen eius Emmanuel,
quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus.'
'Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the Lord through the prophet,
saying: Behold, a virgin shall have a son in her womb, and bear him, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being translated, God with us.' (Matthew 1:22-23).

Emmanuel, 'God with us', is perhaps the most important title in the series.

'Rex', 'King' is a title often applied to Christ in the New Testament, e.g. at Matthew 2:2, 'Ubi est qui natus est rex Iudaeorum?' 'Where is he that has been born King of the Jews?' Or the title placed on the cross: 'Hic est Iesus rex Iudaeorum' 'This is Jesus, King of the Jews' (Matthew 27:37).

'Legifer', 'lawgiver' equates Jesus with Moses who gave the law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Jesus is portrayed as giving a new law, e.g. in his delivery of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Or cf. John 13:34, 'Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos' - 'A new Commandment I give you, that you should love one another, as I have loved you.' ['Mandatum' here gives us 'Maundy' as in Maundy Thursday, the day of the Mandate].

'Exspectatio gentium' has already been mentioned with reference to 'O Clavis David'. It derives from Genesis 49:10,

Non aufertur sceptrum de Iuda,
Et dux de femore eius,
Donec veniat qui mittendus est,
Et ipse erit expectatio gentium.

'The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah,
nor the leader from his thigh,
until he comes who is to be sent,
and he will be the expectation of the nations.'

'Salvator', 'Saviour', is applied regularly in the Old Testament to God, and equally regularly in the New Testamen to Jesus. The equation is made explicit in the last words of our antiphon, 'veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster' - 'Come and save us, O Lord our God'. 

Monday 22 December 2014

O Rex gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations, and their desire; the Corner-stone, who makest both one; Come and save mankind, whom thou formedest of clay.

The key text here is Haggai 2:8,

'Et movebo omnes gentes, Et veniet Desideratus cunctis gentibus'

'And I shall shake all nations, and the Desired One will come to all nations.'

Haggai is a prophet writing at the time of of what is called the Restoration, that is, the return of the Jews to the holy land after the exile in Babylon, the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of public and religious institutions. As Haggai writes, these things do not yet amount to much, but he forsees a time when the glory of the restored temple with exceed that of Solomon's original building. Christians see this prophecy fulfilled in Christ.

The phrase 'Rex Gentium' I have not found exactly, but cf. Psalm 2:6-8,

Ego autem constitutus sum Rex ab eo
Super Sion, montem sanctum eius,
Praedicans praeceptum eius.
Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu;
Ego hodie genui te.
Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes haereditatem tuam,
Et possessionem tuam terminos terrae.

'Yet have I set my King:
upon my holy hill of Sion.
I will preach the law, whereof the Lord hath said unto me:
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [i.e. nations]
for thine inheritance:
and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.'

The corner-stone goes back ultimately to Isaiah 28:16,

Ecce ego mittam in fundamentis Sion lapidem,
Lapidem probatum,
Angularem, pretiosum, in fundamento fundatum;

'Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious
corner stone'

This is quoted at 1 Peter 2:6. St Paul at Ephesians 2:20 also refers to Christ as 'ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Iesu' - 'Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.' In context, Paul explores the meaning of this image as referring to the Jews and Gentiles as it were coming to God from two directions, and meeting in Christ, as two walls meet and join in the
corner-stone. 'Who makest both one' refers to Ephesians 2:14, 'qui fecit utraque unum'.

'Quem de limo formasti' derives from Genesis 2:7, 'Formavit igitur Dominus Deus hominem de limo terrae.' Again Jesus is identified with the God of Creation, the God of Genesis.

A number of texts have been combined to produce a coherent theology: Christ is the Lord of all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, as a corner-stone supports both walls; he is the agent through whom both were made, and will lead both to a destiny greater than anything in their previous existence.

In addition tomorrow, December 23rd, the last day of the O Antiphons, traditionally has a special antiphon for the Benedictus at Lauds:

Ecce completa sunt omnia, quae dicta sunt per Angelum de Virgine Maria.

Behold, all things are fulfilled, which were spoken by the Angel to the Virgin Mary.

So we are ready for Christmas...

Sunday 21 December 2014

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Day-spring, Brightness of Light Everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness:
Come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

This description derives from the Song of Zechariah, or Benedictus, Luke 1:78-79,
Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri:
In quibus visitavit nos, Oriens ex alto,
Illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent . . .

'Through the bowels of compassion of our God,
Through which the Dayspring from on high has visted us,
To illuminate those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death . . .'

Notice that our antiphons are proceeding in a chronological direction through the Bible; not in the texts quoted, which are from here, there and everywhere, but in the events alluded to: Creation - Exodus - Jesse - David - and now the beginning of the Gospel, John the Baptist.

The symbolism of light is often applied to Christ in the New Testament, but for specifically eternal light we should look to Isaiah 60, which is all about light. The chapter begins,

Surge, illuminare, Ierusalem, quia venit lumen tuum,
Et gloria Domini super te orta est.
'Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.'

Note orta, 'risen', the past participle of orior, of which Oriens is the present participle. 

At verse 19 of this chapter we find,
Non erit tibi amplius sol ad lucendum per diem,
Nec splendor lunae illuminabit te;
Sed erit tibi Dominus in lucem sempiternam.

'The sun shall be no more thy light by day;
neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee:
but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light.'

This is taken up in the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse:
Et civitas non eget sole, neque luna ut luceant in ea, nam claritas Dei illuminavit eam, et lucerna eius est Agnus. (Rev. 21:23)
'And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.'

We should also note the Second Letter of St Peter, 1:19,

Et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem: cui benefacitis attendentes quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso donec dies elucescat, et lucifer oriatur in cordibus vestris.
'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.'

The 'Sun of Righteousness' comes from Malachi 4:2,
'Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum Sol iustitiae, et sanitas in pennis eius.' [note again the use of orior]
'And there shall rise upon you who fear my name the Sun of Righteousness,with healing in his wings.'

To quote a much later writer, Charles Wesley, who continued this highly creative tradition of turning the scriptures into liturgy:

"Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear."

Or again, by the same author - quoting it in his original form; we are more familiar with it in the slightly altered form it received from G. Whitefield, M. Madan and others:

"Hail the heavenly Prince of peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings."

Saturday 20 December 2014

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et exuc vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

Our antiphons grow fuller and fuller of allusion.The main reference is to a certain Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who is promised at Isaiah 22:22,

Et dabo clavem domus David
Super humerum eius;
Et aperiet, et non erit qui claudat;
Et claudet, et non erit qui aperiat.

'And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.'

Into this text, more or less, the antiphon inserts the word 'sceptre'. This comes from a Messianic prophecy very early in the Bible, at Genesis 49:10,

Non aufertur sceptrum de Iuda,
Et dux de femore eius,
Donec veniat qui mittendus est,
Et ipse erit expectatio gentium.

'The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah,
nor the leader from his thigh,
until he comes who is to be sent,
and he will be the expectation of the nations.'

And who is this who sits in darkness, in prison? We find him in Isaiah 42, another key Messianic passage, which begins:

'Behold my servant, who I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;
I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the
Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench . . .'

Then at verse 7 we find that his mission is:

Ut aperies oculos caecorum,
Et educeres de conclusione vinctum,
De domo carceris sedentes in tenebris.

'To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.'

We find St Luke quoting this passage in the Song of Zechariah, or 'Benedictus', in Luke 1:78-79,

Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri:
In quibus visitavit nos, oriens ex alto:
Illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent,
Ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis.

To Fr East's comments I would add that this antiphon clearly resonates with the Petrine commission of the keys, found in Matthew 16:19, and linked to Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23. Just as it refers back to Isaiah 22, so it links forward to Revelation 1:18.

In addition, tomorrow, December 21st, the traditional feast of St Thomas in the western rite, has a special antiphon for the Benedictus at Lauds:

Nolite timere: quinta enim die veniet ad vos Dominus noster.

Fear not, for on the fifth day our Lord will come to you.

Friday 19 December 2014

O Radix 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, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

'Radix Jesse' derives from Isaiah 11:1,

Et egredietur virga de radice Iesse, Et flos de radice eius ascendet.

'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.'

Jesse was the father of King David, founder of the Davidic dynasty of the Kings of Judah. It is very much alive. The Davidic dynasty came to a sticky and apparently final end when Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was taken prisoner by the King of Babylon:

'And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon' [2 Kings 25: 7] where he subsequently died. That was apparently the end of the line for David. But the Jews believed that God would send a Messiah, an 'Anointed one' (Greek 'Christ'), a king in succession to David, a new branch growing up from that truncated tree. Our antiphon salutes Jesus as that new shoot, growing from the stump of Jesse.

If we move on to Isaiah 11:10 we find more of our antiphon:

In die illa radix Iesse, Qui stat in signum populorum, Ipsum gentes deprecabuntur.

'And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek.'

There is a well illustrated account of the history and variety of the iconography of this theme from the mid-twelfth century onwards in the online article Tree of Jesse.

The Tree of Jesse as a genealogy of Our Lord, as in the Gospels, was common in medieval churches - the east windows of Wells Cathedral, Dorchester Abbey and Selby Abbey, as well as a window in the nave of York Minster all illustrate it, as does the reredos of Christ Church Priory in Hampshire. These are all fourteenth century examples.

Part of the Tree of Jesse window, circa 1310
South aisle of the nave,
York Minster


The remaining portion of our antiphon we find at Isaiah 52:15:

Super ipsum continebunt reges os suum,

'The kings shall shut their mouths at him'.

For Christians, this is a 'key' passage of Isaiah, for it occurs at the beginning of one of the 'suffering servant' passages, which Christians have always understood as referring to Christ:

'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed' (Isaiah 53:3-5).

The O-antiphons, as we have seen, begin with Christ as the God of Creation (O Sapientia), then of the Exodus and the Law (O Adonai). Now we move on to Christ as Son of David, with a hint of his role as suffering servant.

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Pope and the Tango

Last night on the BBC Radio 4 news and in various newspapers today reports of the mass tango in St Peter's Square to mark the Pope 's 78th birthday. Designed to make the Argentine born pontiff feel at home the event was reminiscent of some of the more bizarre public events of the pontificate of St John Paul II.

It seems very different from the reactions of St Pius X and his Curia to the tango as recorded in the splendidly readable 1913:The Defiant Swansong by the late Virginia Cowles. Pope Pius, like other social leaders of the time was anxious to find alternatives to the lascivious rhythms and moves of the tango. Should the Church recommend something more proper and discreet? That was a genuine concern in 1913.

How times change.

O Adonai

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et
ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

"Adonai" means "Lord" and is the name used in the Jewish tradition for God. The divine name, spelt with the consonants JHWH, was probably pronounced "Yahweh"; however, it came to be considered too holy to pronounce at all, and the Masoretic vowel-signs for the word Adonai were attached to the consonants. This was a signal for the reader to say "Adonai" rather than "Yahweh" when reading aloud. The convention was misunderstood by some (though not all) of the reformers, who combined the consonants of JHWH and the vowels of Adonai to create the quite novel word Jehovah. In recent years we have seen the commendable reprobation of the use of the term Yahweh in Catholic Bibles and texts by Pope Benedict XVI.

Our antiphon, then, identifies Christ very directly with the God of the Old Testament, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3) and gave him the Commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20).

The phrase 'domus Israel', 'house of Israel'; is used many, many times in the Old Testamen as a name for the Hebrew people, and also a few times in the New Testament.

The phrase 'in brachio extento', 'with outstretched arm' is characteristic of the Book of Deuteronomy in describing God's mighty act of delivering Israel from bondage to the Egyptians; cf. Deut. 26:8, 'et eduxit nos de Aegypto in manu forti, et brachio extento.'

The O-Antiphons therefore begin by associating Christ with God in Creation: he is the Sapientia, Wisdom, who was with God and was God in the beginning, without whom nothing was made; in other words, with the God of Genesis.

Then they move on to associating him with the God of the Exodus, which in the NewTestament itself is regarded as a type of Christ's redeeming passion (cf. Luke 9:30-31, the Transfiguration: 'And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his Exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.')

Several more of the antiphons compare the redemption wrought by Christ with deliverance from situations of imprisonment or slavery mentioned in the Old Testament. Curiously, none mentions the Exile in Babylon, which is alluded to so plainly in the first verse of our Latin hymn:

Veni, veni, Emmanuel,
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exilio,
privatus Dei Filio.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,Redeem thy captive Israel,That into exile drear is gone,Far from the face of God's dear Son.
That happy and creative allusion is down to the hymnographer.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The Antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1, "Attingit ergo a fine usque ad finem fortiter, Et disponit omnia suaviter."

Wisdom, in the Old Testament "is more than a mere quality and tends increasingly to become a hypostasis, so especially in Prov. 8 and Wisd. 7.22 ff " (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church - ODCC).

Proverbs 8:12 ff runs:
"Ego sapientia, habito in consilio, et eruditus intersum cogitationibus . . . Meum est consilium, et aequitatis; Mea est prudentia, mea est fortitudo. Per me reges regnant . . ." [Making the link between Sapientia and Prudentia].

Wisdom 7:22 ff. runs:
"Est enim in illa [i.e. in Sapientia] spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus,
Unicus, multiplex, subtilis, disertus, mobilis,
Incoinquinatus, certus, suavis, amans bonum, acutus,
Quem nihil vetat, benefaciens,
Humanus, benignus, stabilis, certus, securus,
Omnem habens virtutem, omnia prospiciens,
Et qui capiat omnes spiritus,
Intelligibilis, mundus, subtilis."

"In the New Testament Divine Wisdom is incarnate in Christ, who St Paul calls 'the wisdom of God' (I Cor 1:24)" [ODCC]. The relevant passage is as follows:

I Corinthians, 1:23 ff,
Nos autem praedicamus Christum crucifixum: Iudaeis quidem scandalum, gentibus autem stultitiam, ipsis autem vocatis Iudaeis, atque Graecis Christum Dei virtutem, et Dei sapientiam: quia quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominibus: et quod infirmum est Dei, fortius est hominibus.
"But we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power ('Virtue') of God and the Wisdom of God; because what is foolish of God, is wiser than men; and what is weak of God, is stronger than men."

"Amongst the Fathers most use 'Wisdom' as a synonym for the Incarnate Word or Logos" (ODCC).

Unknown Artist. Christ Pantocrator. Deisis. Naos tis Agias tou Theou Sofias (Church of the Holy Wisdom of God). Istanbul (Turkey). 1261

The Holy Wisdom
Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, 1261


The phrase "suaviter fortiter" occurs in Boethius De Consolatione and has been regarded as the only definite reference to the scriptures and/or the Christian liturgy in that work. But see James Shiel's interesting article "fortiter suaviter" which can be found online here.

The abstract of the article is as follows:
F o r t i t e r s u a v i t e r
by James Shiel

A happy phrase used by Lady Philosophy in Boethius' Consolation has often been quoted as a meagre but significant indication of Christian belief. But it seems rather to be the normal expression of a Neoplatonic sentiment about the combination of power and effortlessness in divine action. And the pleasure expressed by Boethius over the verbal felicity simply echoes the emphasis placed on appropriate dignity of idiom in Eleatic and Platonic descriptions of the divine.

"It is therefore the supreme goodness which rules all things strongly and orders them sweetly." ashiel.html - fn1[1]

This sentence occurs at a pivotal point in Boethius' dialogue with Lady Philosophy. Their discussion had started with his complaint about the injustice of his being imprisoned and condemned as if blind Fortune ruled the universe. The Lady gradually steers him through arguments about the instability and illusion of what men generally regard as good, such as wealth, power, esteem. The prisoner at last comes to fasten firmly on to one abiding conviction, that, despite the bitter appearances to the contrary, a supreme goodness coordinates all things, including the vagaries of Fate. From that central stance the dialogue can go on to explain the nature of Providence, its control over Fate, its compatibility with human free-will, its rewarding of moral effort and prayer.

A Christian version of the crucial sentence has been noted in the Latin church liturgy, in an Advent antiphon with a memorable plain-chant tune. I translate it from the Liber Usualis (a more complete text than that given in Bieler's edition of the Consolatio):
O Wisdom who have come from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end strongly, sweetly, and disposing all things, come to teach us the way of prudence." ashiel.html - fn2[2] 

The antiphon is evidently based on the Vulgate Book of Wisdom, the Sapientia Salamonis (8,1) ashiel.html - fn3[3], which in turn was a close translation from the Greek Septuagint: "Wisdom stretches from end to end strongly and disposes all things gently." ashiel.html - fn4[4]


Boethius in prison communes with Lady Philosophy


Tuesday 16 December 2014

The O Antiphons

Some years ago on the Medieval Religion discussion group there were a series of posts on the Great Os - the antiphons to the Magnificat sung at Vespers from December 17th to 23rd. In 2011 I thought I would recycle them on this blog with a bit of editing and a few additions on my own part, and this year I am re-posting them.

The commentaries were originally written by Fr Bill East and posted in 1998, and reposted by Tim Henderson in 2000. In addition I have drawn on a post from Fr Thomas Sullivan OSB of Conception Abbey in Missouri about the monastic practice of singing the Great O's. Today there is an introduction, and then each day there will be an exposition of the antiphon.

Oliver Treanor's Seven Bells to Bethlehem is an excellent Advent book based on reflections on the themes of the O Antiphons.

Most people first become aware of the O Antiphons with the hymn Veni, veni Emmanuel. The antiphons themselves are more ancient in origin and date back to at least the ninth century. The hymn itself was composed in the 12th century in French and the Latin version of the hymn was first published at Cologne in 1710. It was translated by J.M.Neale in to English in the mid-nineteenth century and with a setting adapted by Thomas Helmore from a fifteenth century processional.

According to Fr William Saunders as quoted in the illustrated Wikipedia article, which can be viewed here:

"The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known. Boethius (480–524/5) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the "O Antiphons" have been part of Western liturgical tradition since the very early Church. 

The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come". Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: "Tomorrow, I will come." So the "O Antiphons" not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion."

The notes in my copy of the St Andrew's Missal stress the mounting sense of expectancy through Advent leading to the heartfelt intercessions of these antiphons and says that Honorius of Autun (d. circa 1151) likened the seven O Antiphons to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, with which Christ was filled.

The Sarum Office started using the antiphons a day earlier on December 16th and concluded with an eighth antiphon, O Virgo Virginum on December 23rd. This was revived by the liturgists of the Oxford Movement and I will post that in addition on December 23rd. I do not know why this change occurred - I wonder, but do not know, if it could be with a system of saying anticipated Vespers, so there was an extra one on the 23rd that needed an antiphon of its own. With this the acrostic becomes vero cras : "Truly, tomorrow."

Writing of monastic practice Fr Sullivan writes:

"In parts of Germany, for example, it was the custom to illuminate the antiphon for the day very beautifully on a separate piece of parchment and to expose it to view upon the great lectern in the centre of the choir, as we do with the Christmas book here at Conception. In most churches, provision was made for the special ringing of bells at Vespers on these days: they were rung as if on a feastday or the heaviest bell was used. We at Conception ring a bell all through the Magnificat. Sometimes the antiphon was doubled, that is, sung after each verse or couplet.

But the most interesting of all observances for the great antiphons were the pomp and circumstance which almost everywhere and especially in the monasteries, were attached to the intoning of them. The intoning of antiphons on feast days was always reserved to the abbot or other dignitaries of the chapter and this was particularly true of the O Antiphons. The right of intoning one of the O Antiphons was jealously limited by immemorial custom to certain higher officers in the community and each of these great functionaries had his own appropriate antiphon. In most monasteries, the antiphon O Sapientia (O Wisdom) was reserved to the Abbot and O Adonai to the Prior. Some antiphons were entoned by the obedientiary or functionary most closely associated with the theme of the antiphon: O Radix Jesse was reserved to the gardener, O Clavis David to the cellarer whose duty it was to keep things under lock and key, and O Rex Gentium to the infirmarian, since the antiphon contained the clause, "Come and save (or heal) man whom you have formed out of clay." At Conception, the dean of studies or the librarian sometimes presented the Christmas book to the Abbot for entoning "O Sapientia" and the groundskeeper for the antiphon "O Radix Jesse."

Moreover from this custom of making much of the privilege of entoning the great antiphons a curious development resulted. It seems to have been regarded as becoming that the high functionary so favoured should mark his sense of the honour done him by standing for a treat for the community for "making or keeping his O" (faciendo suum O). The account rolls of the various departments record the expenses for this haustus or treat, frequently beer, fish, spices, and almonds. It is surprising that this party-like spirit should prevail over the fasting days of Advent; probably the whole system may be best explained as a lingering survival of that spirit of joy and expectation which was a prominent though not a unique feature in the Advent liturgy of the early centuries.

The letter O simply tells us that we're talking to someone. but O also reminds us of much more. It makes us think of something having no beginning or end. It resembles the shape of our mouth and the sound we make when we face a mystery we cannot fully comprehend."

Norbertine Priest celebrates his first EF Mass

Earlier this month, on St Nicholas Day, December 6th, my friend and fellow Orielensis, Fr Stephen Morrison O.Praem. was ordained priest by the Bishop of Brentwood at the Premonstratensian parish of Our Lady Immaculate, which is served by the Order's Priory of St Philip in Chelmsford. Very unfortunately I was not, despite earlier hopes and plans to do so, able to attend on the day. Since then no photographs have appeared on the internet until I spotted a post from Mark Lambert of De Omnibus Dubitandum Est.

This specifically refers to Fr Stephen's first celebration in the Extraordinary Form on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception two days after his Ordination. It has some excellent photographs of the liturgy and a general introduction to this lively and positive parish, and can be viewed at Father Stephen Morrison's First EF.

Monday 15 December 2014

Blessing the EU Crib

Last night a friend showed me an online message he had received. At the European Parliament it is usual to set up a crib at this season in the entrance hall. This year an MEP from the Italian Northern League offered to get a priest-friend to bless it. This duly happened with a range of nationalities from the EU represented. The priest turned out to be Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior of SSPX. Quite a turn up for the book, or the blog.

Repainting Chartres Cathedral

A post on the Medieval Religion discussion group draws attention to a highly critical online article about the repainting of the interior of Chartres Cathedral. The article in question, which has some illustrations, can be seen at http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/14/scandalous-makeover-chartres/

Not having visited Chartres since this project began I am not well placed to comment on the project. A couple of years ago in Restoration at Chartres I drew attention to criticism and defence of this work as it was then being undertaken, and the couple of comments that attracted indicate the diversity of opinion about the matter. Indeed the second almost anticipates the comments of the author of the recent article.

I am still inclined to favour the renewal of the original scheme, if that can be reliably reconstructed, and the point has been made on the discussion group that given the nature of modern artificial lighting - clearly very different from what was available in the middle ages - that maybe that should be adjusted when teh scheme is finished.

Keeping things as they are in such buildings is tempting, but may well be unhistorical, and little better than managed decline.

Espionage at the early Tudor court

I saw on the BBC News website a piece about the history of music recorded by the singers Alamire which has reached no 2 in the classical charts. The music was composed or compiled by the Bavarian-born Petrus Alamire and presented in a prestigious choir book to King Henry VIII in 1516. The manuscript is now in the British Library.

Alamire was more than just a talented court musician - he was also a spy, using his privileged position to glean information. Apparently recruited to do this on behalf of the King by infiltrating the household of the exiled Yorkist claimant Richard de la Pole -King Richard IV in his own eyes- and reporting back to London. This Alamire did, but then apparently turned into a double agent for Pole.

Richard de la Pole was killed fighting with the French forces at the battle of Pavia in 1525, and his claim died with him.

Thinking about it I suppose it puts the activities of Anthony Blunt in a historical context - it is not so new after all to have double agents working in the Royal household.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Queen Fabiola of the Belgians

The death last weekend of Queen Fabiola and her funeral in Brussels yesterday marks the end of a dignified and devout life lived in service to the teaching and principles of the Catholic Faith and, since 1960, to the Kingdom of the Belgians as Queen and as Queen Dowager. Always an elegant figure she clearly strenuously worked for charitable causes and the well-being of her adoptive country. The personal tragedy of her childlessness with King Baudouin led them to an ever greater concern for children's causes.

The Daily Telegraph obituary is a good one, and can be read at Queen Fabiola of the Belgians

The Vatican Insider posts from La Stampa has this account of the unpleasant furore last year over the Queen's private charitable foundation, and who it was indeed who made a fuss in  Queen Fabiola finances Catholic Church with taxpayer's money

There is an online biography of the Queen and details of plans for hr funeral at Queen Fabiola of Belgium, and the Daily Mail has an illustrated account of the funeral at Belgium's royals join European monarchs as they bid farewell to Queen Fabiola.

The BBC account has a number of photographs and can be seen at Belgium dowager Queen Fabiola has state funeral and there are more images from Hello magazine at Royals pay tribute at Queen Fabiola of Belgium's funeral

The absence of a member of the British Royal Family, who were represented by H.M.Ambassador, has been noted by the media. Given the wide-ranging representation of other Royal and Imperial houses, both regnant and non-regnant, at the funeral, and particularly given the fact that The Queen, contrary to precedent, attended the funeral of King Baudouin in 1993, this is to be regretted. I have commented before on the unfortunate tendency of our own Royal Family, or their advisors, to keep other royal houses at something of a distance on too many such occasions. British public opinion would consider itself slighted if other dynasties did not send representatives to London for comparable weddings and funerals. There is a strong argument for what might be termed group solidarity amongst monarchs and monarchies - Queen Victoria and King Edward VII would certainly have agreed with that principle.

Apart from a notice of the Queen's death last weekend there has not, so far, been more about her on the excellent blog The Cross of Laeken, which chronicles the Belgian royal family and their history. There will doubtless be something there soon.