Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Four more days: O Oriens

Come O Rising Dawn!

December 21 (the winter solstice) Four more days: O Oriens (O Rising Dawn)

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

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Orient, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice: COME and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell
in darkness and the shadow of death.
(The symbol is the sun at sunrise. The dawn is represented by a rainbow effect which has a kind of corner, and looks more like the heraldic device called the "chevron", representing the rafters of a house.)

"The people who walk in the darkness have seen a great light, on those who dwell in the shadow of death, a light has arisen."
"By the depths of the mercy of our God, the Dawn from on high shall break upon us: to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the Way of Peace."

Today is the solstice: the "end point" of the ellipse our Earth makes around the Sun. It is also "perihelion": the day of closest approach to the Sun. (I won't go further into this astronomy today; maybe another time, if necessary.)

The title presented for our consideration is rather a wise-guy kind of Latin pun - oriens means both "east" and "rising", and so suggests the dawn. The pagan wanna-bes of the present time still try to co-opt Christmas as some kind of sun-worship, and they are nearly right. For there is a remarkable echo of that Latin pun in an adjacent English pun: sun versus Son. So yes, we Christians do participate in Son-worship. And though we may not be precisely astronomical, Christmas is indeed the time of the Son's closest approach to Earth!!!

This whole thing about light as image and as title of God - well, one could probably write a book about it, just as one might do so on water as well. (Oh, another pun; water/well, hee hee!) Light serves as a grand symbol of the Divine: it tells a simple lesson to the uneducated, and a mysterious one to the physicist. And it is one of the most understandable of the various forms of paganism that they worshipped the local star, rejoicing in its rising, mourning its setting, and performing rituals as our wobbly planet goes along its ellipse. The Sun is a mighty image of God: Jesus Himself pointed this out "God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust..." St. Francis puts "Brother Sun" first in his "Canticle of the Creatures." And GKC wrote some of his most dramatic lines about it:
"Treading fearfully amid the growing fingers of the earth, I raised my eyes, and at the next moment shut them, as at a blow. High in the empty air blazed and streamed a great fire, which burnt and blinded me every time I raised my eyes to it. I have lived many years now under this meteor of a fixed Apocalypse, but I have never survived the feelings of that moment. Men eat and drink, buy and sell, marry, are given in marriage, and all the time there is something in the sky at which they cannot look. They must be very brave." [GKC, "A Crazy Tale" CW14:70
Another important quote from his non-fiction echoes the great Doctor St. Anselm:
Symbols alone are of even a cloudy value in speaking of this deep matter; and another symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. [GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:231, emphasis added]
Compare with this:
"If I fail to see this light [of God] it is simply because it is too bright for me. Still, it is by this light that I do see all that I can, even as weak eyes, unable to look straight at the sun, see
all that they can by the sun's light." [The Proslogion of St. Anselm, from the Office of Readings for April 21.]
But, as you surely know, there have been other aspects of paganism which have been, and are, most horrible. The modern form delights in sex and destroys fecundity - which nearly all ancient pagans would have condemned as unnatural. And anyone who knows even hints of the ancient forms knows about the strange "familial" relations between the various gods and goddesses - let's just say that the typical soap opera is rather tame...

Alas, there are even darker and far more sinister forms. The horrors perpetrated in pre-Colombian Middle-America are well-documented - some 80,000 men had their hearts cut out in a four-day period, some time around 1488. And much further back, on the opposite side of the Mediterranean from Rome, there was another civilization called Carthage: quite a bit more advanced than Rome, and specializing in trade. They specialized in a rather unique form of worship, too, which people still argue about, despite the discovery in the early 1900s of the piles of little burnt baby skeletons in the ruins of Carthage. There was a lot of argument back then, too, perhaps reminiscent of the debate on the "War on Terror". The Elder Cato would address the Roman Senate and each time would conclude by saying "Carthago delenda est": Carthage must be destroyed.

And it was. Not a stone was left on another. And then they sowed the fields with salt.

There are still historians debating the true reasons and purposes behind those Punic Wars, which resulted in the dominance of Rome - but there are still historians debating the shades and undercurrents of the "late unpleasantness" which is labelled "The American Civil War" or "the War Between the States." If you propose that I am merely following Chesterton on this, you are quite right. I am not making an argument, however, but trying to paint a picture...

Something about Rome as "right" - in some manner, for whatever reason. And despite its quirks and failures and evils, it was simply not as bad as Carthage - and recognized something seriously wrong about Carthage: so much so, that Rome annihilated it.

But then, Rome did value the family. Rome did value even those of the lowest class, called the Proletarii - those who served the State by being the father of children!

On these people, too, a light has arisen. And the light was not utterly foreign to its culture, even though it arose in the East! (Here's that Latin pun, remember?) So great a light, that one day one of its soldiers would propose a parable on obedience and order to Jesus himself! And that light would come even to the Imperial City itself, in the presence of those two Princes, Peter and Paul, who would consecrate the Seven Hills with their blood. But Rome also had other roles to play in this story - as we shall see.

"In the Word was life: and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it."

Come O Oriens.


At 21 December, 2005 19:38, Blogger Robert Pearson said...

Though you are working on another book, perhaps you would consider putting these together in a small volume.

So enjoyable and erudite and uplifting.

Thank you, Doctor!


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