Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats, 1914

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God of all who rejoice forever

Of the Instructor
Song of the sacrifice of the seventh Sabbath on the sixteenth of the month.

Praise the God of heights,
exalted ones among all the potentates of knowledge!
May the holy ones of God magnify the King of Glory,
Who makes holy in holiness every holy one.
The chiefs of praises of all the mighty ones,
praise the God of praises of majesty,
for in the splendor of the praises
     is the glory of His majesty.
In it are the praises of all the mighty ones,
with the splendor of all His majesty.
And exalt his exaltation to the height,
mighty ones of the potentates of exaltation,
and the Divinity of His glory
     above all heights of exaltation.
For He is God of gods of all the chiefs of the heights,
and King of kings of all the councils of the ages.
At the words of His mouth,
     the potentates of exaltation are,
at what leaves His lips, all the spirits of the ages,
by the will of His knowledge,
     all His works in their missions.
Sing with joy, you joyful of His knowledge,
with rejoicing among the mighty ones of wonder.
And proclaim His glory with the tongue of
     all who proclaim knowledge,
joyful songs of His wonder
     in the mouth of all proclaiming Him.
For He is God of all who rejoice forever,
and Judge in His might of
     all the spirits of understanding.
Give thanks, all you potentates of majesty,
     to the King of Majesty,
for to His glory all the potentates of knowledge
     give thanks,
and all the spirits of righteousness give thanks
     in His truth.
And they make their knowledge pleasing
     with the judgments of His mouth,
and their thanksgivings with the return
     of the arm of His might,
for judgments of salvation.
Sing to the God of strength
     with the portion of the chief spirit,
for a song in the joy of God,
and a rejoicing among all the holy ones,
for a song of wonder in the joy of ages.
With these praise all the foundations
     of the Holy of Holies,
the columns bearing up the palace,
     Exalted of Exalteds,
and all the corners of His building.
Sing to God, terrifying of strength,
     all spirits of knowledge and light,
to exalt together the firmament Pure of Pures,
of the holy place of His holiness.
And praise Him, spirits of the mighty ones,
to praise for ages of ages
     the chief firmament of the heights,
all its beams and its walls,
His building, the work of His construction.
The spirits of the Holy of Holies,
     the living mighty ones,
the spirits of holiness of the ages,
above all the holy ones
     of the firmament of wonder,
the wonder of majesty and splendor,
and wonderful is the glory in the light
     of their brightness of knowledge.
….
…in all the holy places of wonder.
The spirits of the mighty ones are around the dwelling
     of the King of Truth and Righteousness.
All its walls….

This is one of the Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, 4Q403, 4QShirShabbd, Fragment 1, column 1, lines 30-46. It appears to be the most completely preserved, though even it is incomplete. One note on the translation is that where I’ve used “mighty ones,” the Hebrew has אלהים, and where I’ve used “potentates” the Hebrew has אלים. Rather than confusing readers into thinking this a polytheistic text, when it’s really all about the angelic orders praising God, I avoided translation in those instances as “gods” while maintaining the above-mentioned alternatives consistently.

The Qumran community of Essenes celebrated these Sabbaths with various different songs of praise in which they find themselves sharing in the angelic heavenly praise of God, a situation familiar to those of us belonging to those churches which have maintained ancient mystical liturgical traditions. The worship is twofold: as we praise and offer on earth, the same is occurring in heaven, and eternity and incorruptibility are for a time overlapping with the timebound and corruptible. No doubt the Essenes considered something of the same to be occurring, with swarms of angels careening about them, but also themselves being to a degree transported to the heights of heaven.

This translation is also due to the suggestion of Mike Aquilina, as today is the Feast of the Archangels on the Western Calendar, and one of these songs is thus entirely appropriate!

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Like a Bridegroom with a Bride

…to be comforted upon her mourning, her sorrow…
…to destroy peoples, and nations he will cut off and the wicked…
…renew the works of the heavens and earth,
and they will rejoice,
and all the earth be full of His glory…
…on behalf of their guilt, he will atone,
and the Great One of good will comfort them.
Good is the … to eat its fruit and its good.
Like a man whose mother comforts him,
so will He comfort them in Jerusalem….
…like a bridegroom with a bride,
with her He will dwell forever…
…His throne is forever and ever,
and His glory…
…and all peoples
…and there will be with Him…
…and their pleasant land…
…splendour…I will bless the…
…Blessed is the name of the Most High….
…Your mercy upon me…
…for the Law You have established…
…the Book of Your statutes….

That is my translation of 4Q434a, or 4QGrace After Meals. The reasons for the title Grace After Meals are found in the brilliant and incredibly rich publication of this fragment by Moshe Weinfeld, “Grace After Meals in Qumran,” JBL 111 (1992), 427-440. The parallels to later rabbinic instruction regarding prayers following meals are clear. Likewise, there is here a parallel to a prayer found in Didache 10.1-6 (translation from Niederwimmer The Didache, in the Hermeneia Commentary series, Augsburg Press, 1998):

1When you have had your fill, give thanks this way:
2“We thank you, holy Father,
For your holy name,
     which you made dwell in our hearts,
And for the knowledge and faith and immortality,
     which you made known to us
     through Jesus your servant.
To you be glory forever.
3You, almighty Lord, created all things for the
          sake of your name,
     and you gave food and drink to human
          beings for enjoyment,
     so that they would thank you;
But you graced us with spiritual food and
          drink and eternal life
     through your servant.
4For all things, we thank you, Lord, because
          you are powerful.
To you be glory forever.
5Be mindful, Lord, of your church,
     to preserve it from all evil
     and to perfect it in your love.
And <...> gather it from the four winds,
     into the kingdom which you have prepared for it.
For power and glory are yours forever.
6May grace come, and may this world pass by.
Hosanna to the God of David!
If anyone is holy, let him come.
If anyone is not, let him repent.
Maranatha! Amen.”

There are several interesting similiarities, as you can see, and the similarities of 4Q434a are dealt with in detail by Weinfeld, in the above-mentioned article. I’d like to mention a few interesting points regarding the Didache text, which is also recognized to reflect the influence of the rabbinic Birkat ha-Mazon (see Niederwimmer, 155-161).

Firstly, the line before the prayer here in Didache 10.1, “When you have had your fill, give thanks this way” is an obvious allusion to Deuteronomy 8.10, “When you have eaten and are full, give thanks….” In Didache 10.1 is εμπλησθηναι, in Deut 8.10 LXX, εμπλησθηνη. Deuteronomy 8.10 is the verse which is the origin for the tradition of the Birkat ha-Mazon, and seems to be taken the same way in the Didache, either directly, or, as is more likely, in continuation with the tradition of the earliest Church.

Weinfeld mentions (p. 429) that the three mandatory benedictions are for 1.) the food just eaten, 2.) for the Land of Israel, and 3.) for Jerusalem and the Davidic Dynasty. Likewise, we can see Christian alteration of these themes in the prayer in the Didache. First, the food just eaten is explicitly mentioned, and expanded to “spiritual food and drink and eternal life” (v. 3). The Land of Israel is likely represented by mention of the Church (v. 5a), as we are familiar with both Apostolic and Patristic equation of Israel with the Church. The Divine Kingdom (vv. 5b-6), perhaps on the analogy of the New Jerusalem, takes the place of Jerusalem, and we find also “Hosanna to the God of David” (v. 6), which mention of David seems a bit out of place, except when understanding the development of this prayer from a basic form such as described by Weinfeld. In the case of this prayer in the Didache, we thus find a continuation of typological interpretation as found in the New Testament and Patristic texts with regard to Old Testament texts, but rather with reference to prayer traditions after the meal.

Many thanks to Mike Aquilina for pointing me to 4QGrace After Meals.

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Dreading the Apocalypse

Thou Who art kindhearted to sinners, be merciful also to us in the day of judgement. Forgive us our debts according to Thy loving-kindness and in the day of Thy coming vouchsafe us Thy habitation.

When the multitudes to be judged tremble before the righteous judgement and stand before Thee stripped bare and in fear—then, O my Judge, have mercy on me for I have sung of Thy glory.

When the lips of the wise are stopped and Thy terrifying mighty scepter looms ominously before all, then may my lips be opened, for I have confessed Thee.

When neither friend nor acquaintance can save a man and every man is brought naked to account for himself—then, O Lord, be my intercessor, for I have hoped in Thee.

When the sound of the trumpet blares out, the nations shudder and every man is to receive reckoning according to his labors—then, O Lord, be my helper, for to Thee do I run.

Accept our service, O Lord, hope of those above and hope of those below, and have mercy on us.

Be merciful to us, O Lord, be merciful to our parents, be merciful to our teachers, be merciful to our brethren.

Be merciful to us, O Lord, and give rest to our relatives who have reposed and to all who have died and did confess Thee, believe in Thee and tast Thy flesh and Thy life-creating blood.

Vouchsafe us together with Thy sheep to enter into Thy pasture, and together with Thy saints to offer Thee praise in accordance with Thy greatness unto the ages of ages.

St Ephrem the Syrian; compiled by St Theophan the Recluse for Psalm 87 LXX in A Spiritual Psalter (St John of Kronstadt Press, 1997).

Just today I was thinking about the Apocalypse, the book more specifically than any such-named event, and how through all the time I’ve spent reading commentaries on it, and getting into persnickety little studies on various aspects of it, although seldom really clearing up this most oblique of the New Testament’s books, I realized that we almost never hear about the kind of fear in connection with this book that St Ephrem elicits above. These days people talk and write a whole bunch of nice stuff about how the book really describes God’s love, telling people to ignore the awful stuff as just imagery or rhetorical flourishes. Codswallop. Yes, the book describes God’s love for His own particular people, but also His anger at everyone else, who could be your local espresso clerk, the nice bus driver (but you wouldn’t be surprised if the mean one you don’t like was going to get it!), your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your wife, your husband, your children. Oh, God, not them! That gets some of that fear back right away, doesn’t it? Imagine a sound like a trumpet, earth-shatteringly loud, and imagine what follows, after the initial shock has worn off. Stockbrokers running to hide in the sewer from the One with a face like the sun, fanatics denying the reality to the bitter end, and hopefully some of us, the few left, will have the presence of mind to pray like St Ephrem above, for those we love and know, and not just for our own selves, for mercy in the time of judgment. And all the terrors of all the ages before will be nothing compared to facing that Judge in that judgment, the last ever. All the horrid events leading up to the end, visited upon a wretched world not too different from the one we’re living in, will be forgotten then. Game over; time for the score. That fear and dread is something that is a necessary part of the reception of the book of Revelation in anything remotely resembling its original intent, and something we’d all do best to keep in mind if we wish to understand it. Like the plagues and dread of the Exodus, the plagues and dread of the Apocalypse are an integral part of the experience, both as included in the depicted events and, perhaps especially, as intended to be elicited from the reader. But just as the plagues are so much worse, so also will the new song be even more joyous than the Song of the Sea. So, balanced in the dread scales between fear and hope is the Apocalypse. Something to keep in mind.

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Vulgate Prologue Line Numbers

I’ve just added the line numbers given in the Stuttgart Vulgate manual edition to my translation of all the Vulgate Prologues. There’s no versification of the prologues comparable to that of the Biblical texts, so this is about as standard as such reference can be, at this point. Line numbers are (in my reading) only seldom cited for the Vulgate Prologues, with usual reference being only to the prologue, which runs into the problem of several of the prologues being short and the cited material easy to find in context, but in a number of the lengthier prologues, this is more difficult. Anyhow, I intend to refer to the prologues in some upcoming posts, so I thought I’d share this little ray of sunshine with all my devoted readers, and brighten your days thereby!

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These vespers of another year

The sylvan slopes with corn-clad fields
Are hung, as if with golden shields,
Bright trophies of the sun!
Like a fair sister of the sky,
Unruffled doth the blue lake lie,
The mountains looking on.

And, sooth to say, yon vocal grove,
Albeit uninspired by love,
By love untaught to ring,
May well afford to mortal ear
An impulse more profoundly dear
Than music of the Spring.

For that from turbulence and heat
Proceeds, from some uneasy seat
In nature’s struggling frame,
Some region of impatient life:
And jealousy, and quivering strife,
Therein a portion claim.

This, this is holy;—while I hear
These vespers of another year,
This hymn of thanks and praise,
My spirit seems to mount above
The anxieties of human love,
And earth’s precarious days.

But list!—though winter storms be nigh,
Unchecked is that soft harmony:
There lives Who can provide
For all His creatures; and in Him,
Even like the radiant Seraphim,
These choristers confide.

William Wordsworth
September 1819

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Silence

Abba Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, “Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.”

The old man said to them, “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.”

Saying 2, Theophilus the Archbishop, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

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