Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Five more days: O Clavis David

Come O Clavis David!

December 20: Five more days: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O clavis David,
et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel; who openest, and no man shutteth; who shuttest, and no man openeth; COME and lead the captive from the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
(The symbol is an old-fashioned door key, with the Star of David in the handle (or loop); the bit's chief functional shape is a cross.)

Yes, I know: it is very funny to read these words together: key and bit. (But then GKC says there is no such thing as a different subject!)

"I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open." [Isaiah]
"These things saith the Holy One and the true one, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth..." [Revelation/Apocalypse]

This is one of the predictions in which one really needs to know something about old-fashioned things. Because it must sound very strange that someone would put that tiny little odd-shaped piece of metal which locks or unlocks doors on someone's shoulder. You see, in the time of Isaiah, and the time of Christ, and even into the 20th century, one could see people carrying big long wooden things that looked very much like our modern hockey sticks - over their shoulders. Those were keys for big wooden doors, and when a key was given to someone, that person received the authority (and the duty) to govern the door which that key controlled.

The mighty gate governed by the key of David is the gate of heaven ("I am the gate." John 10:9) but it is also called the key of the house of David. Remember our talk about the household gods yesterday? Here is another profound symbol. Chesterton wrote about it as a critical element in the matter of faith, relating it to science (of all things):
The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. ... This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.
[GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:286-287]
And much more, and with greater impact in The Everlasting Man:
The Early Christian was very precisely a person carrying about a key, or what he said was a key. The whole Christian movement consisted in claiming to possess that key. It was not merely a vague forward movement, which might be better represented by a battering-ram. ... It definitely asserted that there was a key and that it possessed that key and that no other key was like it; in that sense it was as narrow as you please. Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty. The creed was like a key in three respects...
[1] First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness. That is where it differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia; the ideal of uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism; the idea of creatures constantly losing their shape. A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not be more gratified.
[2] Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simpler key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar.
[3] And thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners. The problem itself was a complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex; indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door. [CW2:346-347]

And yet, Chesterton was not making an argument about the Papacy (the flag of which has two crossed keys!) That study and meditation was done in The Keys of the Kingdom - a fascinating book by Stanley L. Jaki. In that book is this remarkable clue to my present exploration of the "other chosen people":
"The handing over of the household keys to the bride was part of the Roman marriage ritual. [Jaki, The Keys of the Kingdom 19]
And lest you think this too deep or esoteric a reference, consider this one:
This [ancient Roman] key was chained to a slave called the janitor, or doorkeeper, who in turn was chained to the door. His duty was to guard the door, and the members of the household with his life. [Keene, The Clue of the Black Keys - a Nancy Drew Mystery 42]

The Roman janitor then was rather more of a security guard than a clean-up man. (If one knows a little about the month of January, one might recall that the Roman named "Janus" was the god of doors and gates; he was usually pictured with two faces.) The role of janitor was a kind of watchman... someone always on guard, the defender of the home!

There was another very unusual kind of guardian in ancient Roman religion. They were called the "Vestal Virgins". They watched the sacred fire, keeping it burning day and night. (Yes, they were 24/7, but that idea goes back even further. See Leviticus 8:33-35.) One might readily understand a practical aspect of such a task: having a public fire provides a safeguard against an individual's home fire going out. It was also a guaranteed place where there would always be light. The Vestals were exceeedingly popular and well-loved, and had remarkable privileges. Vesta was the goddess of the family hearth, and presided over true and faithful dealings. [See The Myths of Greece and Rome H. A. Guerber; the same chapter also deals with the Lares we discussed yesterday.]

It is very curious to ponder the link between this kind of fire-guarding duty and the idea of virginity... yeah, well, fire is pure, but why this connection? Was it just some pagan thing? Well...


...Until one remembers that parable about the five wise virgins and the five foolish ones, trying to keep their lamps burning, waiting up (round the clock?) for the bridegroom to arrive!!!

(Wow. I wonder. Did those who first heard this parable know of the Vestal Virgins?)

The Bridegroom is coming. He is bringing the key. He will open the door - and no one can keep it closed. Once He and His friends have gone into His home, the door will be closed - and no enemy will be able to open it.

But there's also another door: a door to which we have the key. It's up to us:

"Behold, I stand at the gate and knock. If any man shall hear my voice and open to me the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him: and he with me."

Come O Clavis David.


At 20 December, 2005 20:42, Blogger rhapsody said...

Thanks for continuing these postings throughout the Advent season, Dr. Thursday.

They have provided interesting reflections for less hectic times of the day-

Again, your drawings are excellent!

& I like the Nancy Drew references too!


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