Learning Theology With Carmina Gadelica: Christ


Part One: The Trinity

The sense of Trinitartian nearness that exists in the Carmina Gadelica is further accentuated by a special closeness to Christ. For while the the triunity of God is just how God is in eternity, the missional relations in salvation history allow finite beings their connection to this surpassing mystery of wonder and beauty. There is a deep connection forged between the believer and Christ, for in Christ we see God manifest in the flesh, taking upon himself our lot.

Just as the Trinity is not an esoteric dogma but has a lived and living reality, so Christ is contextualized for the one invoking his aid; that is, the events of Christ’s life and death and resurrection are not historical notes to be acknowledged but are understood as somehow happening now, always-already having an impact on the believer’s life. This goes both ways, in that the believer senses his own share in Christ’s suffering, inflicting the wounds Christ suffered by the believer’s sins:

O Jesu without offense, crucified cruelly,
Under ban of the wicked Thou wert scourged,
The many evils done of me in the body!
That I cannot this night enumerate,
That I cannot this night enumerate. (Carmina Gadelica, 26, p. 52)

Since there is this intrinsic connection, if the believer’s sins can be responsible for Christ’s wounds, then Christ’s wounds are efficacious to heal the self-same believer. Even though our offenses are many and dark, the wounds of Christ flow from love for the sinner, and in this abounding grace one can plead for mercy and have full confidence in Christ’s love and mercy:

We are guilty and polluted, O God,
In spirit, in heart, and in flesh,
In thought, in word, in act,
We are hard in Thy sight in sin.
Put Thou forth to us the power of Thy love,
Be thou leaping over the mountains of our transgressions,
And wash us in the true blood of conciliation,
Like the down of the mountains, like the lily of the lake. (Carmina Gadelica, 7, p. 41)

This confidence in Christ arises from an understanding that in Christ God had made himself known to us, and thus when we see the face of jesus we see the face of God. The reality of the hypostatic union is not parsed in theological jargon but rather flows from the permeating conviction that Christ is God, full stop, and thus anything that can be predicated of the divine being can be predicated of Christ. In some sense the hypostatic union finds a natural expression in the language of Carmina Gadelica, for Christ, while remaining a historical figure, also transcends history. Since he is the eternal mighty one, one can speak freely of all things coming from him and being due unto him. Nothing is impossible for God, including creation itself:

It were as easy for Jesu
To renew the withered tree
As to wither the new
Were it his will so to do.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesu! meet it were to praise Him.

There is no plant in the ground
But is full of His virtue
There is no form in the strand
But is full of His blessing.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesu! meet it were to praise Him.

There is no life in the sea,
There is no creature in the river,
There is naught in the firmament,
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesu! meet it were to praise Him.

There is no bird on the wing,
There is no star in the sky,
There is nothing beneath the sun,
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesu! meet it were to praise Him. (Carmina Gadelica, 14, p. 45)

In Christ is where the Creator and creation meet, and everything that is owes itself to his creative grace and thus exists to praise him. Since his the source of all goodness, everything that is is likewise full of goodness. There is an intrinsic optimism about the nature of the world; it is not a blackened hole that God stands ready to reduce to ashes but rather a wounded beloved that God wishes to heal. Christ thus becomes the instrument and cause of this healing, for he takes it upon himself; as the early church fathers would say, that which is not assumed is not healed. There is thus an indelible connection between the Creator and creation, so much so that we get a sense that creation anticipates the incarnation and rejoices at Christ’s coming. This near anthropromorphisation of creation serves as a stand-in for the hearts of men who will be won by God’s grace when God’s feet touch earth:

This night is the eve of the great Nativity,
Born is the Son of Mary the Virgin,
The soles of His feet have reached the earth,
The Son of glory down from on high,
Heaven and earth glowed to Him,

All hail! let there be joy!
The peace of earth to Him, the joy of heaven to Him,
Behold His feet have reached the world;
The homage of a King be His, the welcome of a Lamb be His,
King all victorious, Lamb all glorious,
Earth and ocean illumed to Him,

All hail! let there be joy!
The mountains glowed to Him, the plains glowed to Him,
The voice of the waves with the song of the strand,
Announcing to us that Christ is born,
Son of the King of kings from the land of salvation;
Shone the sun on the mountains high to Him,
All hail! let there be joy!

Shone to Him the earth and sphere together,
God the Lord has opened a Door;
Son of Mary Virgin, hasten Thou to help me,
Thou Christ of hope, Thou Door of joy,
Golden Sun of hill and mountain,
All hail! let there be joy! (Carmina Gadelica, 56, p. 71)

Christ’s incarnation is a cause of great joy, and one can almost hear the breaking forth of creation in delight in the previous hymn. The already deep intertwining of Creator and creation is made more profound, for Christ is the Door that has been opened to Heaven. The human nature of Christ becomes a passage way into eternal joy and to God himself, an unfathomable mystery that is contained in Christ himself.

The Virgin Mary comes closer to God than anyone every has, for of her own being Christ has come into the world. Even in a dingy manger heaven has stepped down to earth, and the Eternal mystery of the Trinity is as close as can be:

That night the star shone
Was born the Shepherd of the Flock,
Of the Virgin of the hundred charms;
The Mary Mother.

The Trinity eternal by her side,
In the manger cold and lowly.
Come and give tithes of thy means
To the Healing Man.
The foam-white breastling beloved,
Without one home in the world,
The tender holy Babe forth driven,
Immanuel! (Carmina Gadelica, 62, p. 75)

But coupled with the great joy is a great sorrow, for the reason for the Incarnation is the sin of the world. The authors of the hymns in Carmina Gadelica, while having a fundamental optimism about the goodness of the world, nevertheless simultaneously are aware of their own sins, and more precisely that Christ’s wounds are caused by their faults. There is less a fear of punishment and more a roundedness arising from love; the sense is that the contrition is because of the suffering Christ must experience on our behalf. As such, Christ’s suffering are not a thing of the past but are renewed whenever we sin. As such, we have as much a share in his death as those who historically crucified him. It is from this realization that a deep sorrow for sin is found but also a hope for mercy; after all, it is for these sins that Christ became man:

THOU who wert hanged upon the tree,
And wert crucified by the condemnation of the people,
Now that I am grown old and grey,
Take to my confession-prayer, O God! pity.

No wonder to me great is my wickedness,
I am a poor clattering cymbal,
In my youth I was profane,
In my age I am forlorn.

A time ere came the Son of God,
The earth was a black morass,
Without star, without sun, without moon,
Without body, without heart, without form.

Illumined plains, illumined hills,
Illumined the great green sea,
Illumined the whole globe together,
When the Son of God came to earth. (Carmina Gadelica, 201, p. 174)

As such, Christ becomes both the source of sorrow for sins but also the great cause for hope. The theme of Christ’s great love dispels any fear of condemnation, and in one’s sorrow one can have full confidence in mercy and protection, especially at death:

O Jesu without sin,
King of the poor,
Who wert sorely subdued
Under ban of the wicked,
Shield Thou me this night
From Judas.

My soul on Thine own arm, O Christ,
Thou the King of the City of Heaven,
Thou it was who bought’st my soul, O Jesu,
Thou it was who didst sacrifice Thy life for me.

Protect Thou me because of my sorrow,
For the sake of Thy passion, Thy wounds, and Thine own blood,
And take me in safety to-night
Near to the City of God. (Carmina Gadelica, 31, p. 55)

Due to Christ’s great love for us, he is the advocate at the final judgment. During the period of the ‘balancing of the beam,’ Christ stands to make intercession for us. The Christian hope is that God is merciful and God is just; in the settling of accounts one can only entrust one’s soul to Christ’s love, invoking his suffering for the sake of the sinful soul as the remedy for the many transgressions which would tilt the beam to judgement:

Be this soul on Thine own arm, O Christ,
Thou King of the City of Heaven,
And since Thine it was, O Christ, to buy the soul,
At the time of the balancing of the beam,
At the time of the bringing in the judgment,
Be it now on Thine own right hand,
Oh! on Thine own right hand.

And be the holy Michael, king of angels,
Coming to meet the soul,
And leading it home
To the heaven of the Son of God.
The Holy Michael, high king of angels,
Coming to meet the soul,
And leading it home
To the heaven of the Son of God. (Carmina Gadelica, 52, p. 67)

If even death is no cause of fear for the nearness and love of Christ, the evils of this life likewise pose no harm to the soul, if only Christ is near. The believer can invoke the name of Christ and have assurance that nothing in this world can come between him and Christ; rather, Christ comes between the believer and evil. In fact, since Christ must be the primary love of one’s life, Christ must need come between the believer and anything else, becoming the lens through which everything is seen and lived:

Be the pain of Christ betwixt me and each pain,
The love of Christ betwixt me and each love,
The dearness of Christ betwixt me and each dearness,
The kindness of Christ betwixt me and each kindness,
The wish of Christ betwixt me and each wish,
The will of Christ betwixt me and each will,
And no venom can wound me. (Carmina Gadelica, 233, p. 206)

In this utter submission to Christ one can finally come to the place of being righteous,not because of any human effort but rather because one receives the righteousness of Christ in one’s being:

Many are the ways of evil habits
To disturb the flesh of the sinful;
O Christ, ere I am laid in the tomb,
Place Thou the power of Thy righteousness within me. (Carmina Gadelica, 474, p. 431)

In such a state the supplicant receives everything he could ever need, for Christ becomes everything to him:

Though I had no bed,
I lacked not for sleep,
For Christ’s arm was my pillow,
His supreme eye was my protection.

Though I was forlorn,
Hunger came not near me,
For Christ’s body was my food,
The Blood of Christ, it was my drink…

Though the earth were of cinnamon
And the lakes were of honey,
Dearer were a vision of Christ
In peace, in love, in pity.

Jesu, meet Thou my soul!
Jesu, clothe me in Thy love!
Jesu, shield Thou my spirit!
Jesu, stretch out to me Thine hand! (ibid.)

Christ finally is the one who fills all creation, yet is as near as one’s own breath. There is nowhere one can go that Christ will not be, and this deep friendship is the source of great rejoicing, for none of the evils of the world can overtake the love of Christ:

A step that I took into the thorns,
Christ was my comrade in the ditch;
He led me to a great highway
With His mercy, His greatness, His beauty…

But Thou, O Christ, gentle Son of Mary,
Thou Being Who puttest sap in wood,
Pour Thy grace into the bones unfruitful,
Pour Thy light into the eyes of the blind!

Pour Thy dew into the joints unpliant,
Pour Thy salve into the eyes without light,
Lead Thou my soul to the dwelling of the martyrs,
Sustain my feet to the home of the saints! (Carmina Gadelica, 475, p. 434-35)

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