Friday, December 23, 2005

Two more days: O Emmanuel

Come O Emmanuel!

December 23 Two more days: O Emmanuel (O "God-with-us"!)

O Emmanuel,
Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio Gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domini, Deus noster.

(translation from Fr. Britt)
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Savior: COME and save us, O Lord our God.

(another version)
O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.

And Isaiah said, "the Virgin shall be with child, and she will call him Emmanuel, which means 'God with us'."

The last, and the greatest, of the seven: that mystic title so much of a shape with the mystic name of God: "He Who Is"... the promise that the great solution of all the mysteries would be God Himself, being WITH us! And yet, before Isaiah, who could have dared associate that word "God" - that great and terrible name of power - with the idea of a child? Perhaps the "simple" Jews I alluded to previously could understand, while the "tech" professionals struggled with the sometimes deeply mystical symbols the prophets kept presenting. Did you know that there were certain parts of some Old Testament books which were not to be read by anyone under the age of thirty??? (Yes, indeed: one was the strange apocalyptic visions of Ezechiel!)

But as I said, the simple people were ready. And again! I do NOT mean uneducated! Just the opposite: they had been led (Latin e+duco = I lead out) down the right path, as if by an unseen shepherd. ("I will lead them by the right paths for My Name's sake.")

Meanwhile, there were other people who were being led. As the time drew near for the fulfillment of all the promises ("the hopes and fears of all the years"), and Israel (or rather Judea) was being handed around between governing nations like a child in a divorced family, things were happening. Even in Rome.

Advent, and especially these very last days, is a time of goosebumps - of the thrill of anticipation in every good sense. And perhaps you do not need any more - and perhaps you already know about this. But even if you do know, you can read it again and still be surprised.

For some 40 years before the angel came to Mary in Nazareth, a Roman poet named Publius Vergilius Maro (also called Virgil) was writing some verses in imitation of the Idyls or Sketches of the Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus. In these ten Eclogues (also called Bucolics) he wrote about shepherds singing songs in rustic settings: they show "a love of nature and a deep sympathy for humanity." Some of them dealt with certain personal events in Virgil's life, others are on contemporary events.

But Virgil's Fourth Eclogue is different.
The Fourth Eclogue, addressed to Virgil's earliest protector Pollio, is one of the most famous poems in the world. In it the poet celebrates the birth of a child during whose lifetime the Golden Age of peace and innocence will come again, while all the world rejoices. [See Reader's Companion to World Literature 468-469]

One can do with this as one wishes. One may ponder what was going on all one likes: Virgil, after all, wrote the Aeneid as a kind of sequel to the Iliad about the escape from Troy and the founding of Rome. And God knows what kind of intrigues were going on in Imperial Rome, and who he was trying to flatter...

But one needs to read this strange poem and one will begin to feel it is not utterly crazy to refer to Virgil as the Roman Isaiah:

And now the virgin returns, Saturn's kingdoms return: now a new race is sent down from high heaven. Do you now, O chaste Lucina, favour the infant boy, by whom the iron age first shall end, and the golden age shall arise through the whole world" now your own Apollo reigns. And thus this glory of the age shall enter, you O Pollio being consul; and the great months shall begin to advance. You being chief, if any marks of our crime shall remain, rendered vain they shall free the earth from perpetual fear. He shall receive the life of gods, and shall behold heroes mingled with gods, and he shall be seen by them; and he shall rule the peaceful globe by his father's virtues. ... O btight offsppirng of gods, great descendant of Jupiter, approach thy great dignities, now the time has arrived Behold the world with its vaulted weight nodding, and the lands, and the regions of the sea, and exalted heaven; behold, how all things rejoice in the age about to come... [Virgil Interlinear translation by Hart & Osborn]

In the next line Virgil begs that he might live long enough to see those days, and if he could, then sing of the time - and, he boasts, he would excel all the other great poets of ancient times! Alas, he died in 19 B.C.

Even more strange, and easily overlooked in the poetry, is a reference to wheat and grape, and something even more mystical about the oak (a tree - hint, hint!) dripping honey...

Well. Had Virgil been reading the Hebrew prophets? Was he - a pagan Roman - also expecting Christmas? OK. You need to read the whole thing, and then think about this. But it certainly looks like something was happening in Rome. Somebody knew something. Somehow even there a rumor was afoot, about a "divine" child who was coming: God with us.

* * *

This seventh antiphon completes the mystic week of anticipation, and after today there will be just one more day of waiting. There is one more aspect of our meditations on the other chosen people, the Romans, yet to be considered. But today I wish to clear up the issue about the seven and eight (or nine) about how we are counting down. It's simple: the countdown has nine days, kind of a miniature replay of the nine months from the Annunciation to Christmas. There is a starting day, then these seven days of the O antiphons, then the final day of the vigil. But I have recently learned there is another little surprise about this arrangement which (alas!) I must defer.

For now, you should think again about Isaiah and Virgil, and ponder this line which Chesterton quotes from that Fourth Eclogue:

"Begin, little boy, to know your mother by her smile."


At 23 December, 2005 14:41, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

I see there are a lot of typos which I do not have time to fix. But I saw something that wasn't there: I mean, that I forgot.

You saw that picture, and thought of the BIG EVENT of tomorrow night, didn't you? Why, of COURSE you did! You thought I merely got the pictures posted out of order.

No, No!

It is correct. That is supposed to be a picture of THIS PROPHECY from Isaiah (about Emmanuel)!!!

I told you this prophecy is the most important, and the most detailed. OK, Isaiah didn't say the child would be in the mager with hay around it - but his book DOES start with the ox and ass. It's such "bucolic" touches, and the dramatic predictions in Isaiah which has led people to link his name with Virgil.


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