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.

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.

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