JiscMail Logo
Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities

Help for MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives


MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives


MEDIEVAL-RELIGION@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Home

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Home

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  December 1997

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION December 1997

Options

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password

Subject:

The O Antiphons

From:

"Bro. Thomas Sullivan, O.S.B." <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 29 Dec 1997 11:10:29 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (75 lines)

Recently I have been in contact with Julia Bolton Holloway about the O Antiphons and sent her a chapter conference I gave to the monastic community on their history. She suggested that it may be of interest to the rest of the discussion list and so I am posting it. It is not footnoted, however. If anyone should want the sources, I'll try to reconstruct the sources upon which my conference is based.

Thomas Sullivan, OSB

THE GREAT ANTIPHONS

O Sapientia
1. O Wisdom (Eccl 24: 5), 
2. you came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sir 24: 30), and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wis 8: 1). 
3. Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isa 40: 14).

O Adonai
1. O Adonai (Exod 6: 13) 
2. and Ruler of the house of Israel (Matt 2: 6), you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exod 3: 2), and on Mount Sinai gave him your Law (Exod 20). 
3. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us (Jer 32: 21).

O Radix Jesse
1. O Root of Jesse, 
2. you stand for the ensign of all mankind (Isa 11: 10); before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse (Isa 52: 15). 
3. Come, save us, and do not delay (Hab 2: 3).

O Clavis David
1. O Key of David (Apoc 3: 7) 
2. Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens (Isa 22: 22). 
3. Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107: 10).

O Oriens
1. O Rising Dawn (Zac 6: 12),
2. Radiance of the Light eternal (Hab 3: 4) and Sun of Justice (Mal 3: 20); 
3. come, enlighten those who sit in darkness & the shadow of death (Ps 107: 10; Lk 1: 78).

O Rex Gentium
1. O King of the Gentiles (Hag 2: 8),
2. Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one (Eph 2: 20). 
3. Come, and save poor man whom you fashion out of clay (Gen 2: 7).

O Emmanuel
1. O Emmanuel (Isa 7: 14; 8: 8), 
2. our King and Lawgiver (Gen 49:10; cf Ezek 21: 32), the Expected of the nations and their Savior (Isa 33: 22): 
3. come, and save us, O Lord our God.
THE GREAT ANTIPHONS

INTRODUCTION
1. Two weeks from tonight we will begin the celebration of the last eight days of Advent which form a little liturgical season all by themselves. As the church prepares to celebrate the birthday of Christ, the liturgy gets more intense, freighted with all the hopes of an expectant church. At the eucharist, the Gospels relate the events leading up to the first Christmas. And at Vespers, we have a special series of antiphons which accentuates the church's call to Christ to come. Each night gives him a new name: "O Wisdom," "O Sacred Lord," "O Flower of Jesse's Stem," "O Key of David," "O Radiant Dawn," "O King of All the Nations," and the greatest of them all, "O Emmanuel," a name which means "God is with us."
2. For obvious reasons, we call that group of refrains the "O antiphons," or the "Great Os" or the "Great antiphons." They are a hallmark of the Advent season and a collection of music and texts the church has treasured for many generations. Advent's most popular hymn, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," is the result of stringing these texts together. The Mass now includes a version of the O antiphons for the alleluia verses for December 17 through December 24.
3. This evening I would like to discuss briefly three aspects of the great Os: first, their textual structure and sources, secondly, their number and origin, and finally, customs surrounding the singing of the great antiphons.

TEXTUAL STRUCTURE AND SOURCES
4. The O antiphons are all constructed on a plan similar to that of the classical collect: first, an invocation to the Messiah with a title inspired by the Hebrew Scriptures and preceded by the interjection "O" (for example, "O Emmanuel"); then an amplification stating an attribute of the Messiah and developing the invocation ("our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior"); finally, an appeal beginning always with the imperative "Veni" or "Come" and referring either to the Messianic title or the amplification ("come and save us, O Lord our God").
5. The sources of the O antiphons are either of scriptural origin or of ecclesiastical composition, the latter a free manner of juxtaposing scriptural texts from different sources. The texts of the antiphons are virtually a mosaic of borrowings from the Prophets and from the Wisdom literature, as well as from the Christian Scriptures which were in turn using material from the Hebrew Scriptures. 
6. These terms from the Hebrew Scriptures were very early applied to Christ. Four of them were already employed in fourth century, in Pope St. Damasus' Song of the Names of the Savior. The term Clavis David or Key of David is applied to Christ by St. Ambrose and was repeated in the Pontificale Romanum for the consecration of a king. Non-scriptural words are few and are used to link the terms borrowed from Scripture. The two pleas, "Come and save us" from "O Emmanuel" and "Come to free us" from "O Radix" do not seem to be of Scriptural origin. The "come to free us" text appears to be taken from a short responsory of the Advent liturgy, a text dating as early as the sixth century.


NUMBER AND ORIGIN	
7. In inverse order the initials of each invocation constitute an acrostic: ERO CRAS. This is interpreted as the response of Christ to the faithful who have called upon him during the week: "Tomorrow I shall be there." From this acrostic we can draw two conclusions: first, the primitive order of the antiphons is that preserved today in the Roman breviary and the monastic offices, rather than that indicated by Amalarius of Metz in the 9th century or that found in the Ambrosian liturgy or in some Gregorian manuscripts. Secondly, the original number of the antiphons was only seven. 
8. Some churches had eight antiphons, some nine, and some even twelve. These other antiphons modeled on the first seven are not by the same author and do not enter into the framework of the acrostic; above all they are not addressed to the Messiah. Other antiphons interpolated and added were: O Thomas Didyme, composed for the feast of the Apostle Thomas which always falls during the period when the O antiphons are sung, and O Virgo virginum, in honor of the Blessed Virgin, sung on the vigil of Christmas.
10. The ninth-century Amalarius of Metz was the first to discuss the O antiphons. He attributed their composition to some anonymous cantor; scholars suggest that this cantor probably lived in the eighth century, perhaps even in the seventh. 

CUSTOMS SURROUNDING THE SINGING OF THE GREAT Os
11. In the medieval church, those occasions when anything unusual was said or done in choir frequently turned into something like festivals. It is not surprising then that partly through the influence of the antiphons themselves and partly no doubt through a sense of bustle at the approach of Christmas, this anticipatory week seems almost to have been kept as a festal week, a sort of inverted octave.
12. In parts of Germany, for example, it was the custom to illuminate the antiphon for the day very beautifully on a separate piece of parchment and to expose it to view upon the great lectern in the center of the choir, as we do with the Christmas book here at Conception. In most churches, provision was made for the special ringing of bells at Vespers on these days: they were rung as if on a feastday or the heaviest bell was used. We at Conception ring a bell all through the Magnificat. Sometimes the antiphon was doubled, that is, sung after each verse or couplet.
12. But the most interesting of all observances for the great antiphons were the pomp and circumstance which almost everywhere and especially in the monasteries, were attached to the entoning of them. The entoning of antiphons on feast days was always reserved to the abbot or other dignitaries of the chapter and this was particularly true of the O antiphons. The right of entoning one of the O antiphons was jealously limited by immemorial custom to certain higher officers in the community and each of these great functionaries had his own appropriate antiphon. In most monasteries, the antiphon O Sapientia (O Wisdom) was reserved to the abbot and O Adonai to the prior. Some antiphons were entoned by the obedientiary or functionary most closely associated with the theme of the antiphon: O Radix Jesse was reserved to the gardener, O Clavis David to the cellarer whose duty it was to keep things under lock and key, and O Rex Gentium to the infirmarian, since the antiphon contained the clause, "Come and save (or heal) man whom you have formed out of clay."  At Conception, the dean of studies or the librarian sometimes presented the Christmas book to the abbot for entoning "O Sapientia" and the groundskeeper for the antiphon "O Radix Jesse."
13. Moreover from this custom of making much of the privilege of entoning the great antiphons a curious development resulted. It seems to have been regarded as becoming that the high functionary so favored should mark his sense of the honor done him by standing for a treat for the community for "making or keeping his O" (faciendo suum O). The account rolls (the equivalent of our print-outs) of the various departments record the expenses for this haustus or treat, frequently beer, fish, spices, and almonds. It is surprising that this party-like spirit should prevail over the fasting days of Advent; probably the whole system may be best explained as a lingering survival of that spirit of joy and expectation which was a prominent though not a unique feature in the Advent liturgy of the early centuries.

CONCLUSION
14. In sum then, we begin the celebration of the great Os in two weeks, a celebration of the letter O--the letter of the alphabet that most reminds us of breakfast cereal, inner tubes, doughnuts, hula hoops, no hitters, and Advent. The letter O simply tells us that we're talking to someone. It's like saying "Hey, you," only more politely. But O reminds us of much more. It makes us think of something having no beginning or end. It resembles the shape of our mouth and the sound we make when we face a mystery we cannot fully comprehend.

Thomas Sullivan, OSB
3 December 1996




%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

JiscMail Tools


RSS Feeds and Sharing


Advanced Options


Archives

October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
December 1998
November 1998
October 1998
September 1998
August 1998
July 1998
June 1998
May 1998
April 1998
March 1998
February 1998
January 1998
December 1997
November 1997
October 1997
September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997
January 1997
December 1996
November 1996
October 1996
September 1996
August 1996
July 1996
June 1996
May 1996
April 1996


JiscMail is a Jisc service.

View our service policies at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/policyandsecurity/ and Jisc's privacy policy at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/website/privacy-notice

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager