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.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

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.

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