Sunday, 30 November 2014

'Þeos tid oð midne winter': An Anglo-Saxon Sermon for Advent

Blessing for the First Sunday of Advent
in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (BL Add. 49598, f. 6)

Þyses dæges þenung and ðyssere tide mærð sprecað embe Godes tocyme. Þeos tid oð midne winter is gecweden, Aduentus Domini, þæt is Drihtnes tocyme. His tocyme is his menniscnys. He com to us ðaða he genam ure gecynd to his ælmihtigan godcundnysse, to ði þæt he us fram deofles anwealde alysde.
'The service of this day and the celebration of this season speak about the coming of God. This season until midwinter is called Adventus Domini, that is, 'the coming of the Lord'. His coming is his incarnation; he came to us when he took our nature upon his almighty divinity, so that he might free us from the power of the devil.'

This is the opening of a homily for the First Sunday of Advent by the Anglo-Saxon homilist Ælfric, who, as you can see, translates adventus with the literal English equivalent tocyme (to-coming). He goes on to describe the season of Advent, and to reflect on one of the readings for the day, St Paul's exhortation from Romans 13: Seo niht gewat, and se dæg genealæhte. Uton awurpan ðeostra weorc, and beon ymbscrydde mid leohtes wæpnum. 'The night is passed, and the day approaches. Let us cast away the works of darkness, and be clothed with the weapons of light'.

First, the Old English, from this book (slightly altered):

Nu stent se gewuna on Godes gelaðunge, þæt ealle Godes ðeowan on cyrclicum ðenungum, ægðer ge on halgum rædingum ge on gedremum lofsangum, ðæra witegena gyddunga singallice on þyssere tide reccað. Þa witegan, þurh Godes Gast, witegodon Cristes tocyme ðurh menniscnysse, and be ðam manega bec setton, ða ðe we nu oferrædað æt Godes ðeowdome ætforan his gebyrdtide, him to wurðmynte, þæt he us swa mildheortlice geneosian wolde. Crist com on ðam timan to mancynne gesewenlice, ac he bið æfre ungesewenlice mid his gecorenum þeowum, swa swa he sylf behet, þus cweðende, "Efne ic beo mid eow eallum dagum, oð þissere worulde gefyllednysse." Mid ðisum wordum he geswutelode þæt æfre beoð, oð middangeardes geendunge, him gecorene menn, ðe þæs wyrðe beoð þæt hi Godes wununge mid him habban moton.

Þa halgan witegan witegodon ægðer ge ðone ærran tocyme on ðære acennednysse, and eac ðone æftran æt ðam micclum dome. We eac, Godes ðeowas, getrymmað urne geleafan mid þyssere tide þenungum, forðan ðe we on urum lofsangum geandettað ure alysednysse þurh his ærran tocyme, and we us sylfe maniað þæt we on his æftran tocyme gearwe beon, þæt we moton fram ðam dome him folgian to ðam ecan life, swa swa he us behet. Be ðyssere tide mærsunge spræc se apostol Paulus on ðyssere pistol-rædinge to Romaniscum leodum, and eac to eallum geleaffullum mannum, þus manigende, "Mine gebroðra, wite ge þæt nu is tima us of slæpe to arisenne: ure hæl is gehendre þonne we gelyfdon. Seo niht gewat, and se dæg genealæhte. Uton awurpan ðeostra weorc, and beon ymbscrydde mid leohtes wæpnum, swa þæt we on dæge arwurðlice faron; na on oferætum and druncennyssum, na on forligerbeddum and unclænnyssum, na on geflite and andan; ac beoð ymbscrydde þurh Drihten Hælend Crist."

Se apostol us awrehte þæt we of slæpe ure asolcennysse and ungeleaffulnysse æt sumon sæle arison, swa swa ge on ðyssere andwerdan rædinge gehyrdon. "Mine gebroðra, wite ge þæt nu is tima us of slæpe to arisenne." Witodlice ne gedafenað us þæt we symle hnesce beon on urum geleafan, swa swa ðas merwan cild, ac we sceolon onettan to fulfremedre geðincðe, þurh gehealdsumnysse Godes beboda. We sceolon asceacan ðone sleacan slæp us fram, and deofles weorc forlætan, and gan on leohte, þæt is, on godum weorcum. Gefyrn scean leoht ingehydes geond eorðan ymbhwyrft, and forwel menige scinað on soðfæstnysse wege, þa ðe farað ðurh godspellic siðfæt to ðæs ecan lifes gefean. Efne nu "ure hæl is gehendre þonne we gelyfdon." Þurh ðeonde ingehyd and godne willan, anum gehwilcum is hæl gehendre ðonne him wære ðaða he æt fruman gelyfde, and forði he sceal symle geðeon on dæghwomlicere gecnyrdnysse, swa swa se sealmscop cwæð be Godes gecorenum, "Þa halgan farað fram mihte to mihte."

Eac is gehwilcum men his endenexta dæg near and near; and se gemænelica dom dæghwomlice genealæhð, on ðam underfehð anra gehwilc be ðam ðe he geearnode on lichaman, swa god swa yfel. Uton forði ælc yfel forfleon, and god be ure mihte gefremman, þylæs ðe we ðonne willon ðonne we ne magon, and we ðonne fyrstes biddon ðonne us se deað to forðsiðe geneadað. "Seo niht gewat, and se dæg genealæhte." Her asette se apostol niht for ðære ealdan nytennysse, ðe rixode geond ealne middangeard ær Cristes tocyme; ac he toscoc ða dwollican nytennysse ðurh onlihtinge his andwerdnysse, swa swa se beorhta dæg todræfð þa dimlican þeostru ðære sweartan nihte. Deofol is eac niht gecweden, and Crist dæg, se ðe us mildheortlice fram deofles ðeostrum alysde, and us forgeaf leoht ingehydes and soðfæstnysse. "Uton awurpan þeostra weorc, and beon ymbscrydde mid leohtes wæpnum, swa þæt we on dæge arwurðlice faron." Uton awurpan ðurh andetnysse and behreowsunge þa forðgewitenan yfelu, and uton heononforð stranglice wiðstandan deofles tihtingum, swa swa se ylca apostol on oðre stowe his underðeoddan manode, "Wiðstandað þam deofle, and he flihð fram eow; genealæcað Gode, and he genealæhð to eow." Leohtes wæpna synd rihtwisnysse weorc and soðfæstnysse. Mid ðam wæpnum we sceolon beon ymbscrydde, swa þæt we on dæge arwurðlice faron. Swa swa dæges leoht forwyrnð gehwilcne to gefremmenne þæt þæt seo niht geðafað, swa eac soðfæstnysse ingehyd, þæt is, geðoht ures Drihtnes willan, us ne geðafað mandæda to gefremmenne...

Se apostol beleac þisne pistol mid þisum wordum, "Ac beoð ymbscrydde ðurh Drihten Hælend Crist." Ealle ða ðe on Criste beoð gefullode, hí beoð mid Criste ymbscrydde, gif hi ðone cristendom mid rihtwisnysse weorcum geglengað. Ðas gewædu awrat se ylca apostol swutellicor on oðre stowe, ðus cweðende, "Ymbscrydað eow, swa swa Godes gecorenan, mid mildheortnysse and mid welwillendnysse, mid eadmodnysse, mid gemetfæstnysse, mid geðylde, and habbað eow, toforan eallum ðingum, ða soðan lufe, seo ðe is bend ealra fulfremednyssa; and Cristes sib blissige on eowrum heortum, on ðære ge sind gecigede on anum lichaman. Beoð þancfulle, and Godes word wunige betwux eow genihtsumlice, on eallum wisdome tæcende and tihtende eow betwynan, on sealmsangum and gastlicum lofsangum, singende mid gife Godes on eowrum heortum. Swa hwæt swa ge doð on worde oððe on weorce, doð symle on Drihtnes naman, þancigende ðam Ælmihtigan Fæder ðurh his Bearn, þe mid him symle on annysse þæs Halgan Gastes wunað."

Uton forði us gearcian mid þisum foresædum reafum, be ðæs apostoles mynegunge, þæt we to ðære wundorlican gebyrdtide ures Drihtnes mid freolslicere ðenunge becumon, þam sy wuldor and lof a on ecnysse. Amen.

Annunciation, preceding the Blessing for Advent in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (BL Add. 49598, f. 5v)

My translation:
Now it is the custom in God's congregation at this season that all the servants of God, in the divine services, both in holy readings and in melodious hymns continually recite the songs of the prophets. The prophets, through the Spirit of God, prophesied the coming of Christ in his incarnation, and wrote many books about it, which we now read in the services of God before the time of his birth, to honour him, because he so lovingly chose to come to us. Christ came to mankind visibly at that time, but he is always invisibly with his beloved servants, just as he himself promised, saying, "Lo, I am with you always, until the fulfilment of this world." With these words he showed that until the ending of the world there would always be people beloved by him, who will become worthy to share God's dwelling with him.

The holy prophets prophesied both the first coming in his birth, and also the second at the great judgement. We too, God's servants, strengthen our faith by the services of this season, because in our hymns we confess our redemption by his first coming, and we remind ourselves that we should be ready for his second coming, so that we may follow him from that judgement to the eternal life, as he promised us. The apostle Paul spoke about the celebration of this season in the Epistle to the Roman people and to all believers too, urging thus: "My brothers, you know that it is now time for us to arise from sleep: our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is passed, and the day approaches. Let us cast away the works of darkness, and be clothed with the weapons of light, so that we may walk honourably in the day; not in gluttony and drunkenness, not in fornication and impurity, not in strife and hatred; but be clothed in the Lord, Saviour Christ."

The apostle urged us to arise sometime from the sleep of our laziness and faithlessness, as you heard in this present reading. "My brothers, you know that it is now time for us to arise from sleep." Truly it is not fitting for us to be forever soft in our faith, like a tender child; we should hasten on to perfected virtue, by observing God's commands. We should shake off sluggish sleep from ourselves, and leave the works of the devil and walk in the light, that is, in good works. Long ago, the light of knowledge shone throughout the orb of the earth; and very many shine in the way of truth, so that they travel by the path of the gospel to the joy of the eternal life. Even now "our salvation is nearer than when we first believed." Through growing knowledge and good will, salvation is nearer to every person than it was when they first believed, and therefore each should be constantly growing in daily endeavour, just as the psalmist said of God's beloved ones: "The holy go from strength to strength".

And to every person their last day, too, comes nearer and nearer; and the common judgement daily approaches, in which each individual will receive what they merited in the bodily life, be it good or ill. Let us therefore flee every sin, and do good according to our ability - lest when we are willing we do not have the power, and pray for more time when death compels us to depart. "The night is passed, and the day approaches." Here the apostle makes night stand for the old ignorance which reigned throughout all the world before Christ's coming; but he shook off that erring ignorance by the enlightening of his presence, just as the bright day drives away the shadowy darkness of the black night. The devil is also called the night, and Christ the day - he who mercifully freed us from the darkness of the devil and gave us the light of knowledge and truth. "Let us cast away the works of darkness, and be clothed with the weapons of light, so that we may walk honourably in the day." Let us cast away by confession and penitence the sins of the past, and let us from now on steadfastly withstand the temptings of the devil, just as the same apostle urged his followers in another place, "Withstand the devil, and he will fly from you; draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." The weapons of light are the works of righteousness and truth. We should be clothed with those weapons, so that we may walk honourably in the day. Just as the light of day prevents people from doing what the night allows, so the knowledge of truth, that is, the thought of the will of our Lord, will not allow us to commit sins...

The apostle closed this epistle with these words, "but be clothed in the Lord, Saviour Christ." All those who are baptised in Christ are clothed with Christ, if they adorn their Christian faith with the works of righteousness. The apostle wrote about these garments more plainly in another place, saying: "Clothe yourselves, as the beloved ones of God, with mercy and with kindness, with humility, with moderation, with patience, and above all things have the true love which is the bond of all perfection; and let the peace of Christ bring you joy in your hearts, in which you were called to be of one body. Be thankful, and let the message of God dwell among you abundantly, in all wisdom instructing and exhorting among yourselves, in psalms and spiritual hymns, singing with the grace of God in your hearts. Whatever you do in words or works, do it always in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to the Almighty Father through his Son, who dwells with him forever in unity with the Holy Spirit."

Let us therefore prepare ourselves with these said garments, at the apostle's urging, so that we may come with festive services to the wonderful birth-tide of our Lord, to whom be glory and praise for ever and ever. Amen.
This is a short sermon by Ælfric's usual standards, but it's a lovely one. I like how the opening reference to hymns suggests the power of the combination of readings and music in Advent - ge on halgum rædingum ge on gedremum lofsangum 'both in holy readings and in melodious hymns' - many centuries before services of 'lessons and carols' became a popular way of celebrating the beginning of Advent. But this is my favourite part:

We sceolon asceacan ðone sleacan slæp us fram, and deofles weorc forlætan, and gan on leohte, þæt is, on godum weorcum. Gefyrn scean leoht ingehydes geond eorðan ymbhwyrft, and forwel menige scinað on soðfæstnysse wege, þa ðe farað ðurh godspellic siðfæt to ðæs ecan lifes gefean.
'We should shake off sluggish sleep from ourselves, and leave the works of the devil and walk in the light, that is, in good works. Long ago, the light of knowledge shone throughout the orb of the earth; and very many shine in the way of truth, so that they travel by the path of the gospel to the joy of the eternal life.'

('We should shake off sluggish sleep' is just as pleasantly tongue-twistery in Old English: we sceolon asceacan ðone sleacan slæp...) Once, long ago, Ælfric says, the light of knowledge shone geond eorðan ymbhwyrft 'through all the round orb of the earth'; it was a world suffused with light. That all-encompassing light has passed away, but even now amid the dark a few paths (wege) are lit up with brightness, like shafts of sunlight or the trail of a shooting star. This is a dark, midwinter world, but the efforts of some people can make paths of light through the darkness - people like Ælfric, writing this sermon in a Wessex winter a thousand years ago.

3 comments:

Ian Sheppard said...

Much better than anything I could do, or ever did.

Thank you for that on this Advent Sunday. Much appreciated.

Elizabeth Hopkinson said...

Wow - Advent sermons have barely changed in a thousand years!

Ruth said...

Truth is ageless. Thank you very much for your wonderful blog. I happened on it last evening and I will try to read everything you’ve posted, God willing. I think He led me here.