Monday, September 3, 2012

Canticle of Isaiah: The Incarnation and our baptism in Isaiah 12

Having looked briefly at the variable psalms for Lauds, I want to turn now to those other 'psalms' in the Benedictine (and Roman) Office, the canticles, or psalms from books other than the book of psalms. 

The importance of the (ferial) Canticles

The ferial canticles (the festal set are a later addition) are important to St Benedict’s Office for a number of reasons.

First they represent an ancient ecclesial tradition: St Benedict simply took them over from the old Roman tradition in using them, as he makes clear in his Rule.

Secondly, though, I want to suggest that they in fact provide the key to the themes that St Benedict has used to help select which psalms should be said each day.

When I first went looking for underlying themes for the Benedictine Office each day, I was prompted to do so by the recurring phrases and ideas that seem to fill each days Office.

Hrabanus Maurus

It didn’t take much study to see the traces of a mini-Triduum in the Office each week. But my hunt through the patristic literature and elsewhere to find possible associations for Mondays and Tuesdays in particular didn’t bear much fruit until I came across the Benedictine Hrabanus Maurus’ (760-856) Commentary on the Office Canticles (it can be found in Migne's Patrologia Latina, vol 107).

Maurus’ provides, by way of an introduction to his commentary, some pithy summaries of each day’s canticles. And those summaries provide some concrete evidence of how early Benedictines understood their Office.

In particular, I’ve previously suggested that the underlying theme of St Benedict’s Office on Monday was the life from the Incarnation to his Baptism. Here is what Maurus says:

“On Monday [feria secunda], truly the second day, the canticle of Isaiah, in which the coming of the Saviour and the sacrament of baptism is preached, is prescribed to be said, because these are the beginning of our salvation.”

And of course, his commentary goes on to elaborate on these ideas, including providing some of the links (inter alia) between the psalms of the day and the canticle.

Scriptural context

In fact today’s canticle comes from Isaiah and brings to a close the section known as the ‘Book of Emmanuel, which contains the prophesies of the coming Messiah, born of a Virgin, and set to be the "Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace".

Having foretold the coming wonderful redemption of the remnant of the people, and the coming of the son of David promised by God, Scripture gives us the lead in ‘On that day you will say:”

The canticle effectively falls into two parts. The first half thanks God for the results of the Incarnation: he rejoices that God has finally turned aside his anger, allows us to approach him not just in fear, but with confidence, and points to the graces that flow from the saviour (verses 1-3). The second half speaks of the mission of the Church to make known God’s salvation to all the world, for God has become man.

The Scriptural context would perhaps point us to the Incarnation dimension of this canticle in any case. But it is the repeated use of the word ‘salvation’ that the Fathers drew attention to. Robert Wilken’s introduction to the Patristic commentaries on these verses (Isaiah Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentaries, pp154-5), for example, notes that the Hebrew of v. 2, God is my salvation, was translates by the LXX (and versions dependent on the LXX) as ‘my Savior’, allowing a direct application to Christ. Irenaeus of Lyons, for example says:

“The knowledge of salvation does not consist in believing in another God, nor another Father ... but the knowledge of salvation consists in knowing the Son of God who is called I and truly is "salvation" and Savior and "bringer of salvation" (salutare). "Salvation," as in the passage: I waited for your salvation, O lord (Gen 49:18). And again, Behold, my God, my Savior, I will put my trust in him (12:2). As for "bringer of salvation": God has made known his salvation in the sight of the nations (Ps 98:2). For he is indeed Savior as Son and Word of God; "bringer of salvation" as Spirit, for he says: The Spirit of our coun¬tenance, Christ the Lord (Lam 4:20 LXX). And "salvation" as being flesh: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This knowledge of salvation John made known to those who repented and who believed in the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! (John 1:29).”

The waters of baptism

The references to drawing water from the fountain of joy in verse 3 have obvious connections to the imagery used in St John’s Gospel, and to the idea of the living water flowing from Christ’s side from the Cross, and thus to the font/sacrament of baptism. Indeed Pope Pius XII used the opening words of Verse 4 in his Encyclical encouraging devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Perhaps the most important message of the canticle though, is that God has become man: Emmanuel or God-with-us makes it possible for us to deal confidently with God, to obtain that living water and make a fresh commitment to the God that is our salvation, strength and joy.

Isaiah 12
And you shall say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for you were angry with me: your wrath is turned away, and you have comforted me.
2 Behold, God is my saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and he has become my salvation.
3 You shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour's fountains:
4 And you shall say in that day: Praise the Lord, and call upon his name: make his works known among the people: remember that his name is high.
5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done great things: show this forth in all the earth.
6 Rejoice, and praise, O habitation of Sion: for great is he that is in the midst of you, the Holy One of Israel.

Et dices in die illa :
Confitebor tibi, Domine, quoniam iratus es mihi; conversus est furor tuus, et consolatus es me.
2 Ecce Deus salvator meus; fiducialiter agam, et non timebo : quia fortitudo mea et laus mea Dominus, et factus est mihi in salutem.
3 Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus salvatoris.
4 Et dicetis in die illa : Confitemini Domino et invocate nomen ejus; notas facite in populis adinventiones ejus; mementote quoniam excelsum est nomen ejus.
5 Cantate Domino, quoniam magnifice fecit; annuntiate hoc in universa terra.
6 Exsulta et lauda, habitatio Sion, quia magnus in medio tui Sanctus Israƫl.

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