O Radix Jesse (19th December)
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os
suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings
shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver
us, and tarry not.
'Radix Jesse' derives from Isaiah 11:1,
Et egredietur virga de radice Iesse,
Et flos de radice eius ascendet.
'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch
shall grow out of his roots.'
Jesse was the father of King David, founder of the Davidic dynasty of the
Kings of Judah. To see the force of the image we must indulge in a little
arboriculture. At the end of my garden is the stump of a horse-chestnut
tree, cut down years ago by I know not whom. That, one might have thought,
would have been the end of that tree; but no, new shoots, new branches,
grow up from that stump. It is very much alive. The Davidic dynasty came
to a sticky and apparently final end when Zedekiah, the last king of Judah,
was taken prisoner by the King of Babylon:
'And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of
Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon'
[2 Kings 25: 7] where he subsequently died. Nasty; and apparently the end
of the line for David. But the Jews believed that God would send a Messiah,
an 'Anointed one' (Greek 'Christ'), a king is succession to David, a new
branch growing up from that truncated tree. Our antiphon salutes Jesus as
that new shoot, growing from the stump of Jesse.
If we move on to Isaiah 11:10 we find more of our antiphon:
In die illa radix Iesse, Qui stat in signum populorum, Ipsum gentes
'And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an
ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek.'
the remaining portion of our antiphon we find at Isaiah 52:15,
Super ipsum continebunt reges os suum,
'The kings shall shut their mouths at him'.
For Christians, this is a 'key' passage of Isaiah, for it occurs at the
beginning of one of the 'suffering servant' passages, which Christians have
always understood as referring to Christ:
'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we
esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was
wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the
chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed'
Our O-antiphons, as we have seen, begin with Christ as the God of Creation
(O Sapientia), then of the Exodus and the Law (O Adonai). Now we move on to
Christ as Son of David, with a hint of his role as suffering servant.