Sunday, April 27, 2014

Matins canticles for Eastertide: Isaiah 63

Every Sunday, Matins in the Benedictine Office is celebrated as something of a mini-Easter Vigil, with a set of psalms focused on the Resurrection, and a third nocturn consisting of three canticles.  In Eastertide, the celebration of the Resurrection becomes even more intense, with the canticles particularly focused on that subject.  Accordingly, this post takes a look at the first of the three, which comes from Isaiah 63.

Easter canticle 1: Isaiah 63:1-5 
1. Quis est iste, qui venit de Edom, tinctis vestibus de Bosra?
Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra
2. iste formosus in stola sua, gradiens in multitudine fortitudinis suæ?
this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength.
3. Ego qui loquor justitiam, et propugnator sum ad salvandum.
I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save. 
4. Quare ergo rubrum est indumentum tuum, et vestimenta tua sicut calcantium in torculari?
Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress? 
5. Torcular calcavi solus, et de gentibus non est vir mecum;
I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me
6. calcavi eos in furore meo, et conculcavi eos in ira mea:
I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath
7. et aspersus est sanguis eorum super vestimenta mea, et omnia indumenta mea inquinavi.  
and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel. 
8. Dies enim ultionis in corde meo;
annus redemptionis meæ venit.  
For the day of vengeance is in my heart, the year of my redemption is come. 
9. Circumspexi, et non erat auxiliator; quæsivi, et non fuit qui adjuvaret:
I looked about, and there was none to help: I sought, and there was none to give aid:
10. et salvavit mihi brachium meum,
et indignatio mea ipsa auxiliata est mihi.
and my own arm hath saved for me, and my indignation itself hath helped me.

 This is one of those texts whose connections to the Resurrection looks, at first glance at least, obscure to modern eyes.  

Yet its association with it is attested to by Scripture itself, for Revelation 19 draws heavily on this canticle (see also Rev 14:19-20):

"11 Then, in my vision, heaven opened, and I saw a white horse appear. Its rider bore for his title, the Faithful, the True; he judges and goes to battle in the cause of right. 12 His eyes were like flaming fire, and on his brow were many royal diadems; the name written there is one that only he knows. 13 He went clad in a garment deep dyed with blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God;14 the armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses, and clad in linen, white and clean. 15 From his mouth came a two-edged sword, ready to smite the nations; he will herd them like sheep with a crook of iron. He treads out for them the wine-press, whose wine is the avenging anger of almighty God. 16 And this title is written on his cloak, over his thigh, The King of kings, and the Lord of lords." (Knox translation)

Decoding the canticle

Unsurprisingly then the passage was the subject of numerous commentaries by the Fathers, including Tertullian (d. 220), Origen (d. 254), Cyprian (d. 258), Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) as well as many of the later Fathers.  Accordingly, it is worth drawing on their decoding of the key references.

In verse 1, Edom was taken not as a reference to the place, but as meaning both red or bloody, and 'of the earth' - so who is it who comes from the earth is a reference to the Resurrection of Christ. 

The 'dyed garments' of verse 1 (red in verses 3&7) are Christ's bloodstained clothing.

The references to his beauty in strength in verse 2 were generally interpreted as references to the attributes of his risen body (cf 1 Cor 15:44).

The justice that saves of verse 3 is the Gospel, and Christ's intervention on our behalf.

The image of the winepress (v5) gives us the image of Christ alone working to achieve the hard-fought victory: he was abandoned by all of his disciples (v5, 9). 

The final verse, then, takes us to the victory of the Resurrection. 

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