According to the Antiphon to the Benedictus in both forms of the Roman Divine Office on the day of the Epiphany, Christ washes, on this great feast, His Spouse in the Jordan; the Magi bring the sensuous Wedding Gifts of gold and incense and myrrh; the Guests are made merry (laetantur) by the water made into wine (Prudentius was convinced it must have been Falernian, Vendemmia Miracolosa one presumes). Eric Gill had got a grasp on an essential truth when he wrote that "I wish I could get you to see the point about Christianity - e.g. when we 'marry' we don't say to a girl: Madam, you realise that we are the embodiment of an idea. We say: Darling, we two persons are now one flesh. It is a love affair first and last. Joining the Church is not like joining the Third International. It is like getting married". And Gill expressed this in his memorable woodcut of the Crucified One being nuptially embraced upon the cross by a female figure clad in her all-enveloping hair: "the Nuptials of God"; an engraving which has been described as both obscene and blasphemous.
We now know that Eric Gill was a distinctly flawed character; and it is not so long ago that there was a campaign for his Stations of the Cross to be removed from Westminster Cathedral. (But not, strangely, for the destruction of his carvings all round Broadcasting House; that was in the serene days pre-Savill when the lordly Beeb dripped down easy moral disdain upon the rest of us from its own carefree heaven.) But it is the Devil's trick to mar what is good, and the Christian instinct to affirm its goodness despite the perversions of the Evil One. "The Nuptials of God" received a striking sort of Imprimatur through its use in 1929 on the Ordination Card of the great Dominican writer on Spirituality, Fr Gerald Vann.
The imagery of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb picks up the imagery of Hosea (2:16), Isaiah (54:6) and Ezekiel (16:7 seq) to point to the intimate and indissoluble Union of God Incarnate with the 'Community Called Out' (ecclesia in Greek) from the Side of the New Adam; Flesh of his Flesh and Blood of his Blood; and it is found in the Pauline (Ephesians 5: 25 sqq) as well as in the Johannine and Synoptic (Matt 22; Mark 2) traditions of the New Testament.
As Gill pointed out, this union is physical and not simply conceptual. In a sermon of 1843 for which he was suspended for two years from preaching before this University, Dr Pusey of the Anglican Patrimony looted paragraph after paragraph from the Greek Fathers so as to speak of Christ as "penetrating" the Eucharistic Communicant; in a fleshly as well as in a spiritual sense. I have sometimes wondered whether, in those days before Freudian innuendo, Pusey sensed any frisson of sexuality in his mode of expression. But his point was one which speaks as sharply to the modern error of despiritualising flesh as it does to the Victorian propensity for decarnalising spirituality. Neither of the two is Christian Truth. Against each heresy the Church opposes her two, shattering, carnal dogmas which the nervous and neurotic World can never accept: Transsubstantiation and the Divine Maternity of Mary the Mother of God.
6 January 2020
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Dear Father. In the age of Scientism, when men fear they will be laughed at for their beliefs, this is the time of year when we read well-intentioned Christians trying to reconcile miracles with observable astronomical events but that is to surrender our Faith to the godless zeitgeist.
Far better is it for a man to stand before the Messias-Deniers, the atheists, the scientists, the doubters, and the putative experts, and to speak the beautiful truth about the miracle of the Star which led wise men to the miracle hidden from the world, The Incarnation, when the Word took flesh.
Look, tonight go outside your house and look for a star or planet that you think is directly over your house. Do you think that star would lead either Persians or Chaldeans to your house?
Not bloody likely as another man living 100 miles away from your house will think that very same star or planet is directly over his house.
The gREta Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide:
You will ask, secondly, of what kind, and how great was this star? Was it of the same nature as the rest of the stars, or was it peculiar and diverse from others? First, the writer concerning the marvels of Scripture (lib. 3. c. 40, as extant in tom. 3 of S. Augustine’s Works), thinks that this star was the Holy Ghost, who, like unto a dove, descended upon Christ, and, by means of a star, guided the Magi. 2. Origen, Theophylact, S. Chrysostom, and Maldonatus think that this star was an angel, because, indeed, an angel was the mover, and, as it were, the charioteer of the star. 3. Others think that it was a real and new star, similar to the one which appeared in the Constellation of Cassiopeia, A.D. 1572. 4. Others think that it was a comet. But I reply that it was a new and unknown star, entirely different from other stars, and superior to them in nine prerogatives, and, as one may say, portents. It was formed by the angels for this purpose, that it might lead the Magi to admire it, that they might feel assured that it presaged something new and divine.
1. This star surpassed all others as to its creation or production. For they were produced in the fourth day of the Creation, but this was produced upon the very night of Christ’s nativity. It was therefore a new star, and was never seen either before or after this time. So S. Augustine, lib. 2, contra Faustum, c. 5.
2. In its material: for in other stars this is celestial, but in this it was aerial. For the angels framed it of condensed air, and infused brightness into it.
3. In place: for other stars are in the firmament; this was in the atmosphere. It went before the Magi in their journey from Arabia to Judæa.
4. In motion: other stars move in circles; but this went straight forward. For it moved in a direct line from east to west.
5. In time: other stars only shine by night; for the sun’s light obscures them during the day. But this was as bright by day, during the shining of the sun, as it was by night.
6. In duration: for other stars always shine; this was temporary, for it continued only during the period of the wise men’s journey, and afterwards vanished.
7. In size: for the other stars are greater than the earth and the moon, but this was less than either. This, however, appeared greater because it was nearer the earth; just as the moon appears larger than the fixed stars, because it is nearer to us, although it is in reality far less.
8. In being inconstant: for this star sometimes hid itself, as at Jerusalem; at other times it was visible, and a guide of their journey. ‘When the Magi went forward, it went forward; when they rested, it rested. At length it stood over the house where the Child was. And then, as though its work were accomplished in Christ’s Epiphany, it vanished. The other stars have no such property.
9. In splendour: in which it surpassed all the other stars. Whence S. Ignatius, who lived a little after Christ, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, writes thus: “The star shone so as to surpass in brightness all that were before it. For its light was indescribable; and struck with amazement all who beheld it. For all the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were a kind of chorus of audience for that star, for it surpassed them all in splendour.” Prudentius in his hymn for the Epiphany says, “That star which surpasses the sun’s orb in beauty and radiance.” S. Chrysostom says the same thing. Whence S. Leo (Serm. 1 de Epiph.) says, “A new star appeared in the eastern parts to the three Magi. It was brighter and more beautiful than all the other stars. It attracted to it the eye and the mind of those who beheld it, so that it was immediately perceived that this strange sight was not without a purpose.”
This star was a new meteor formed by the angels from the atmosphere, and filled with an immense light, and moved by an angel, like the pillar of fire and cloud, which guided the Hebrews through the desert to the promised land. So S. Chrysostom, Fulgentius, Basil, and others. Indeed, that pillar was a type of this star. Truly does S. Chrysostom say (Hom. 16 ex veriis in Matth. loc.) “Thou, O star, by thy advent calledst the Magi from the east, and sentest them back to preach the gospel in their own land.”
Dear Father. For your readers, a link to the Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide - Matthew Chapter 2
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