Christmas, Day 9: Begotten ere the worlds began

LOOK: The Word Made Flesh by Julius Shumpert

Shumpert, Julius_The Word Made Flesh
Julius Shumpert (American, 1997–), The Word Made Flesh, 2017. Digital artwork.

This digital artwork by Julius Shumpert shows a silhouette of Christ Pantocrator that’s filled in with stars and planets, emphasizing his eternal preexistence. This is the cosmic Christ. With his left hand he holds a Gospel-book, and with his right he gestures blessing. His halo bears the roman letters A and O for “Alpha” and “Omega” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), as well as the Greek letter X, chi, which is the first letter in ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) and thus ancient shorthand for Jesus the Messiah.

Shumpert writes,

This icon means a lot to me. During Christmas 2016, I dove into the true meaning of Christmas. Past all of the traditional “baby Jesus” storytelling to the bare symbolism of what happened. God, who created everything, and is bigger than infinity, the expanding universe, and all that there is to be, saw us struggling along and squeezed down into the form of precious ordinary baby just to be with us. . . . This icon presents who Jesus is: simply the Word made flesh.

Follow the artist on Instagram @saintjuliusart.

LISTEN: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” | Original Latin words by Aurelius C. Prudentius, late 4th century; trans. John M. Neale, 1851, and Henry W. Baker, 1861 | Plainchant melody, 13th century | Arranged and performed by Sam P. Bush and Kathryn Caine on A Very Love and Mercy Christmas by Christ Episcopal Church, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2014

I’ve provided the full nine stanzas from the 1861 English version of the hymn by Henry Baker. Christ Episcopal Church sings his stanzas 1, 2, 5, and 9 (in boldface)—wise to omit 7 and 8, as these translations are icky (Roby Furley Davis’s are better), but I quite like the others!

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega;
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

At His word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heav’n and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children,
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him,
Angel hosts, His praises sing,
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore!

This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous Judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive,
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore!

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Lat. Corde natus ex parentis) is one of the oldest Christmas hymns, and it has gone through many translations, additions, revisions, fusions, arrangements, and abridgements to reach the form that’s in our hymnals today.

Its source is a thirty-eight-stanza Latin poem by Prudentius titled “Hymnus Omnis Horae” (Hymn for All Hours), published around 405 CE in his Liber Cathemerinon (Book of Daily Hymns) but written earlier. The poem traces Christ’s ministry from birth to death to resurrection and ascension, with a heavy focus on his miracles. It’s a remarkable poem, and worthy of study, especially as an example of early Christian theology. You can read the original Latin, presented beside a fine English translation by Roby Furley Davis from 1905, here.

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (ca. 348–ca. 413) was a Roman Christian poet born in what is today northern Spain. After spending decades in law and government, he retired from public life to dedicate himself fully to God’s service, mainly through writing. He was the most significant hymn-writer of the early church.

Prudentius continued to be highly read throughout the Middle Ages, and “Hymnus Omnis Horae” circulated throughout Europe in multiple manuscripts. An eleventh-century manuscript added the refrain “saeculorum saeculi” (evermore and evermore) and a doxology, the Trinitarian final stanza.

The abbreviated form of the hymn (“Corde natus ex parentis,” etc.) entered English hymnody through the six-stanza translation by John Mason Neale, first published in the 1851 edition of Hymnal Noted; Neale renders the first line “Of the Father sole begotten.” Music editor Thomas Helmore presented Neale’s text with the thirteenth-century plainchant melody DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, which he sourced from the 1582 Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones. The pairing has since proven inseparable. Here’s Helmore’s arrangement from the 1852 edition of Hymnal Noted:

An extensive revision of Neale’s translation by Henry W. Baker, which includes three additional, newly translated stanzas, was published in the best-selling Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 under the title “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” This is the version reproduced above, and that has had the most staying power.

The hymn is a praise-filled meditation on how Christ, the second person of the Godhead, who is before all things, entered human time in the person of Jesus. It’s a fairly difficult hymn to sing congregationally—the meter is a bear—but here’s a modern arrangement that I think works well: https://gracemusic.us/sheet_music/of-the-fathers-love-begotten/.

For more about the history, content, meter, transmission, and significance of “Hymnus Omnis Horae,” see the scholarly article by Chris Fenner from the Hymnology Archive: https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/hymnus-omnis-horae.

Advent, Day 7: Lift Up Your Heads

LOOK: Ps:24//7 by Marco Cazzulini

Cazzulini, Marco_Choral Cathedral
Marco Cazzulini (British, 1962–), Ps:24//7 (working title: Choral Cathedral), 2017. Digital artwork, 40 × 40 cm.

Based on a text that’s traditionally read during Advent and on Palm Sunday, this digital artwork by Marco Cazzulini is part of a larger series on the Psalms, which he has compiled in a limited-edition book. Cazzulini writes,

‘Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be lifted up, you age-abiding doors, that the King of glory may come in’ (AMPC). The language of the Psalms is deeply rooted in time and place, experience and tradition. It is likely to be so here. Nevertheless, these words are not hidebound to their history. This verse gives wings to the imagination and can be transposed onto other things.

This triumphal and celebratory cry ‘Lift up your heads, O you gates’ seems to herald the entry of Christ into the vaunted place of His dominion. That which is closed, opens, and that which is worn, patinated by age, is commanded to lift up its head and acknowledge the arrival of the King of Glory. He who stands, and waits, at the doors of our own closed hearts, worn out by bad experience, shut through unbelief, locked by fear, ruined by sin, is the same King of Glory. He comes, knocks, but never forces entry, and on His ‘coming in’ we are lifted up by His own virtuous majesty. His entry transforms and illumines. Jesus comes in divine eminence and meek humanity. He wears His crown with humility and His presence welcomed is like opening a door to a fresh scented breeze.

Great lofty cathedral interiors soaring into the void inform this artwork. Caught in the half light, their ceilings dissolve into a penumbral space as if no roof or limit existed. Their naves running into infinity, their transepts stretching into the unknown.

Bearing equal creative weight is the image of a path running through a grove of tall trees with light filtering through the canopy, camouflaging shapes and creating deep shadows. 

Follow the artist on Instagram @marcocazzuliniart.

For more on Psalm 24 as a whole, used in ancient times as an entrance liturgy for processions into the Jerusalem temple, see this commentary by Old Testament scholar Rolf Jacobson. “The poem,” Jacobson writes, “describes the contrasting natures of the God who enters into human space and those humans who are able to meet the advent of this God. Psalm 24 is about the advent of human beings into the presence of God, and the mutual advent of the King of glory into the presence of ‘those who seek the face of God.’”

Think of this world as a temple or your heart as a temple—that dark doorway of Cazzulini’s image the entrance—and meditate on Christ’s coming into it. Do you need to fling open the gates to let him in?

LISTEN: “Lift Up Your Heads” (original title: “Machet die Tore Weit”) | Text: Psalm 24:7–9 | Music by Andreas Hammerschmidt, 17th century, arr. Robert Field | Performed by Oasis Chorale, dir. Wendell Nisly, on Favorites, 2017

Lift up your heads, ye gates!
O eternal doors,
Lift up high!
And the king of great glory shall come in.
Who is this king of great glory?
He is the Lord, strong and mighty in battle.
Sing Hosanna in the highest!

The German Baroque composer Andreas Hammerschmidt (1612–1675) served as organist and choir director at the Protestant Johanniskirche (Church of St. John) in Zittau from 1639 until his death. He wrote the Advent motet “Machet die Tore Weit” for his community there, setting Martin Luther’s German translation of Psalm 24:7–9. Oasis Chorale sings the piece in English. To hear the original German, click here.

New book: Parallel Universes of Children by Uğur Gallenkuş

Warning: This post contains distressing photographs, including one of an emaciated child and one of a wounded (but bandaged) infant.

Uğur Gallenkuş (Turkish, 1990–) is an Istanbul-based artist whose digital photomontages address the widening global divide between the privileged and the oppressed. By combining photojournalistic images and stock photos with similar compositional elements, he juxtaposes the relative safety, stability, comfort, and flourishing experienced by middle- and upper-class Westerners with the violence, terror, trauma, and hardship experienced by victims of poverty, war, and displacement. Because Gallenkuş lives in the Middle East, he focuses on that geographic region.

Releasing November 20 in honor of World Children’s Day, Parallel Universes of Children brings together fifty of Gallenkuş’s sobering mash-ups, integrating facts of children’s lived realities around the world. It is $60 plus shipping, available only through the artist’s website. (For US buyers, there’s stock warehoused in New Jersey, so you won’t be paying to ship it from Turkey.)

“I aim to create awareness and inspire action to remember and to ask ourselves every day what we have done to safeguard children’s rights, both near home and across the globe,” Gallenkuş says. He wants not only to alert the well-off to the suffering they often shield themselves from, shaking them out of their complacency, but also to remind those in underdeveloped countries that they deserve better government and education, the right to thrive.

I’ve linked each image to its source on Instagram, where you can find out more information about it—when and where the photograph was taken and by whom (Gallenkuş does not take the photos himself), context, stats, etc. Some of the links will take you to a revised (updated) form of the image; in those instances, the originals I found at Juxtapoze.

Ugur Gallenkus mash-up

The stark contrast between the two component photos of each montage is jolting, intentionally so. Reflecting socioeconomic and political disparities, they tell drastically different stories about childhood. My existence must look like a fairy tale to those who have grown up in war zones or refugee camps.

One of Gallenkuş’s montages shows a lavish bathroom with a chandelier, pristine tiles, and freshly pressed towels next to the remnants of a bathroom whose walls were blown out by an Israeli airstrike, where a father bathes his daughter and niece.

Ugur Gallenkus mash-up

Another one shows a line of American schoolchildren waiting to board a bus, which transforms into a line of Palestinian children waiting to fill jerrycans and bottles with drinking water from public taps at the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in central Gaza Strip. (Many fall sick from the water, whose source is polluted with human waste.)

Ugur Gallenkus mash-up

Consider, too, the differences in play. A child at an IDP camp plays with a toy grenade launcher, while his counterpart plays doctor. A Syrian boy has fun balancing on the barrel of a tank in a pile of wreckage, while opposite him, in a green park, a boy rides a harmless seesaw. The imaginations of children are shaped by what surrounds them, whether that be violence or possibility.

Continue reading “New book: Parallel Universes of Children by Uğur Gallenkuş”