Sunday, January 5, 2014

Christmas Canticles/2: Isaiah 26:1-12

The arc of the covenant is carried into the Temple
Hours of the Duc of Berry

Last week I posted a few notes on the first of the third nocturn canticles used at Matins in the Benedictine Office during the extended Christmas season.  Today a brief look at the second of the set, which comes from Isaiah 26: 1-12.

Isaiah 26:1-12
Urbs fortitudinis nostræ Sion; salvator ponetur in ea murus et antemurale
Sion the city of our strength a saviour, a wall and a bulwark shall be set therein. 
2 Aperite portas, et ingrediatur gens justa, custodiens veritatem. 
Open ye the gates, and let the just nation, that keepeth the truth, enter in. 
3 Vetus error abiit: servabis pacem; pacem, quia in te speravimus
The old error is passed away: thou wilt keep peace: peace, because we have hoped in thee. 
4 Sperastis in Domino in sæculis æternis; in Domino Deo forti in perpetuum. 
You have hoped in the Lord for evermore, in the Lord God mighty for ever. 
5 Quia incurvabit habitantes in excelso; civitatem sublimem humiliabit:
For he shall bring down them that dwell on high, the high city he shall lay low.
6. humiliabit eam usque ad terram, detrahet eam usque ad pulverem
He shall bring it down even to the ground, he shall pull it down even to the dust.
7 Conculcabit eam pes, pedes pauperis, gressus egenorum.
The foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy
8 Semita justi recta est, rectus callis justi ad ambulandum.
The way of the just is right, the path of the just is right to walk in. 
9 Et in semita judiciorum tuorum, Domine, sustinuimus te: nomen tuum et memoriale tuum in desiderio animæ. 
And in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, we have patiently waited for thee: thy name, and thy remembrance are the desire of the soul. 
10. Anima mea desideravit te in nocte, sed et spiritu meo in præcordiis meis de mane vigilabo ad te.
My soul hath desired thee in the night: yea, and with my spirit within me in the morning early I will watch to thee.
11. Cum feceris judicia tua in terra, justitiam discent habitatores orbis.
When thou shalt do thy judgments on the earth, the inhabitants of the world shall learn justice. 
12 Misereamur impio, et non discet justitiam; in terra sanctorum iniqua gessit, et non videbit gloriam Domini. 
Let us have pity on the wicked, but he will not learn justice: in the land of the saints he hath done wicked things, and he shall not see the glory of the Lord.
13. Domine, exaltetur manus tua, et non videant; videant, et confundantur zelantes populi; et ignis hostes tuos devoret. 
Lord, let thy hand be exalted, and let them not see: let the envious people see, and be confounded: and let fire devour thy enemies. 
14. Domine, dabis pacem nobis: omnia enim opera nostra operatus es nobis.
 Lord, thou wilt give us peace: for thou hast wrought all our works for us.

The Fathers typically interpreted the strong city referred to in verse 1 as both Christ himself, and as the Church he established. 

The double walls that guard it are variously interpreted as Christ and his angels; faith and good works; and the prophets and the Gospel.

The second verse, urging that the gates be lifted up is very similar to the sentiments of Psalm 23, used in the Messiah, and the following verses clearly speak of Christ's mission to bring us peace and justice. 

The verses speaking of the longing to see God are often interpreted by the Fathers as references to the beatific vision, but they can also be interpreted rather more literally here, in the context of the season, as the fulfillment of the promises of old in the Incarnation.

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