Sunday, December 29, 2013

A canticle for Christmas - Isaiah 9:2-7

At Matins at Christmas, including Sunday within the Octave, the third Nocturn is made up of three canticles from Isaiah, the first of which is from Chapter 9, and forms the basis of two pieces from Handel's Messiah.

Sunday Matins canticles - Isaiah 9:2-7  
1. Populus qui ambulabat in tenebris, vidit lucem magnam;
The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light
2. habitantibus in regione umbræ mortis, lux orta est eis. 
to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen
3. Multiplicasti gentem, et non magnificasti lætitiam.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, and hast not increased the joy.
4. Lætabuntur coram te, sicut qui lætantur in messe; sicut exsultant victores capta præda, quando dividunt spolia. 
They shall rejoice before thee, as they that rejoice in the harvest, as conquerors rejoice after taking a prey, when they divide the spoils. 
5. Jugum enim oneris ejus et virgam humeri ejus, et sceptrum exactoris ejus superasti, sicut in die Madian.  
For the yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor thou hast overcome, as in the day of Median
6. Quia omnis violentia prædatio cum tumultu, et vestimentum mistum sanguine, erit in combustionem, et cibus ignis. 
For every violent taking of spoils, with tumult, and garment mingled with blood, shall be burnt, and be fuel for the fire.

7. Parvulus enim natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis
For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us
8. et factus est principatus super humerum ejus: et vocabitur nomen ejus, Admirabilis, Consiliarius,
and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor
9. Deus, Fortis, Pater futuri sæculi, Princeps pacis. 
God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. 
10. Multiplicabitur ejus imperium, et pacis non erit finis;
His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace
11. super solium David, et super regnum ejus sedebit, ut confirmet illud et corroboret in judicio et justitia,
he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice
12. amodo et usque in sempiternum: zelus Domini exercituum faciet hoc.
from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this

Who walked in darkness?

The first verse of the canticle proclaims that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  But who is it referring to? According to Robert Wilkens commentary on Isaiah, there were various views amongst the Fathers.  Pope Leo the Great followed St Matthew (9:1-2) in seeing this as a reference to the Gentiles.  St John of Damasus, however, he points out, suggests instead that it refers to those in Hades, unable to enter heaven until Jesus' descent into hell after the Crucifixion (cf 1 Peter 3:19).

The titles of Jesus

A second point of note is that the Septuagint omits the titles popularised by Handel (Wonderful Counsellor...), calling the Christ-child only 'messenger of great counsel', a term whose meaning was much debated in the early Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment