Learning Theology With Carmina Gadelica: Christian Hope

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Part One: The Trinity

Part Two: Christ

In the previous installment, it was seen that Christ in the theology of the Carmina Gadelica was viewed not merely as a historical figure engaged in historical acts, but rather those acts were understood in an also-happening-now sense. Theology was something that permeated life as it was lived in all its myriad facets, and no more so than in death.

Hope has long been understood as a theological virtue, which are the virtues which make us fit for heaven, or, as the Catechism says (echoing St. Peter), “for participation in the divine nature… dispos[ing] Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity.” We saw how in Carmina Gadelica there was a sense of “Trinitarian nearness” woven throughout, providing the believer with a sense of this relationship already-existing, to be continued after death in the beatific vision. This hope of the resurrection is prevalent in Carmina Gadelica, often spoken of as the soul “being led home.” This deep communion understood as theology-meeting-praxis thus underscores the Christian hope in the face of death.

The intimacy with Christ and the Trinity felt in life is echoed in the death blessings, as the soul of the departed is tenderly committed to the love and care of Christ, as if being led home from far away lands:

God, omit not this woman from Thy covenant,
And the many evil which she in the body has committed,
That she cannot this night enumerate.

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 judgement,
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. (Carmina Gadelica, 52, p. 67)

The necessity of grace is here illustrated most compellingly, as the prayer invokes the sacrifice of Christ in respect to the “purchase” of the soul. Then idea here is that this woman already belongs to Christ, and her sins have already been shown mercy because of Christ. Thus mercy and grace mingle harmoniously, as Christ is both the one who has purchased her soul and the King of the heavenly city to which she will be led home.

Death can be a blessing for those in God’s friendship, but also a malediction for those who refuse to confess their sins and open themselves to God’s mercy:

The black wrath of the God of life
Is upon the soul of gloom as it goes;
The white wrath of the King of the stars
Is upon the the soul of the dumb concealments (Carmina Gadelica, 341, p. 309)

God is the God of life and death, holding both in his hands. Death is understood as an inevitable storm that rages across every life, but it is the disposition of the person in that storm which characterizes death as a blessing or a curse. It is certainly not something that any one desires, but the Christian hope lies precisely in that God is the God of life, and that in his kindness and for the one in his friendship, that storm is a peaceful transition into salvation itself:

A perfect calm is on sea and on land,
Peace is on moor and on meadow,
The King’s joyful glance and smile
Are to the feeble one down on the ocean.

Day of peace and of joy
The bright day of my death;
May Michael’s hand seek me
On the white sunny day of my salvation. (Carmina Gadelica, 341, p. 309)

Because death comes for all of us, and we know not when, the priority of one’s life must be that of repentance, grace and forgiveness. The closeness of the Trinity felt within the Carmina Gadelica is a precious gift to be known in life, but it comes with a concomitant commitment to turn away from one’s sins, to always be found in God’s grace. It is this grace which strips death of its horrors and transforms it completely, and the one who is penitent and contrite in heart can be assured of this forgiveness and grace.

The sacraments of the church are therefore perceived as giving a concrete reality to grace; one does not have to contend with the subjective anxiety of wondering if one has forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace are promised in the sacraments of the church, giving the one who partakes of them through faith the assurance of their efficacy, as if Christ himself is by the bedside of the one dying:

Death with unction and with penitence,
Death with joy and with forgiveness,
Death without horror or repulsion,
Death without fear or shrieking.

Dying the death of the saints,
The Healer of my soul by my side,
The death of peace and tranquility,
And grant Thou me a good day of burial.

The seven angels of the Holy Spirit
And two attendant angels
Be shielding me, and be this night the night
Till brightness and summer-tide shall come! (Carmina Gadelica, 344, p. 311)

Sin stains the soul with corruption, but God himself is desiring to wash it clean. Forgiveness and repentance comprise a singular joy, in that the soul is freed from the corruption of all sin by God’s grace:

Give us, O God, the joy of repentance,
Give us, O God, the joy of forgiveness,
Wash Thou from us the lees of corruption,
Cleanse Thou from us the stain of uncleanness.

O great God, Who art on the throne,
Give to us the true repentance,
Give to us the forgiveness of sin-
Sin inborn and actual sin. (Carmina Gadelica, 347, p. 313)

The grace of Christ is conceived of as almost literally falling from heaven. One needn’t wonder if one can be forgiven; Christ is dying to forgive and to bestow his grace. The world and the soul are wounded by sin, to be sure, and the one who refuses God’s mercy can expect only misery in death. But the love of Trinity is understood to permeate everything, and Christ’s own death is seen as the purchasing of the soul. In this manner he eagerly desires to pour out his grace and forgiveness on the soul who desires him. Thus death needn’t be feared, for Christ has transformed death into the gateway to life:

Thou great God of salvation,
Pour Thy grace on my soul
As the sun of the heights
Pours its love on everybody.

I must needs die,
Nor know I where or when;
If I die without Thy grace
I am thus lost everlastingly.

Death of oil and of repentance,
Death of joy and of peace;
Death of grace and of forgiveness,
Death of heaven and life with Christ. (Carmina Gadelica, 342, p. 310)

The Christian hope in Carmina Gadelica is thus able to recognize the pain and fear that death brings, but through the love and grace of Christ nevertheless transforms it into something that can be faced without terror. It becomes more of a homecoming, as the soul which has suffered in the body prepares to take its leave.

I am going home with thee,
Thou child of my love,
To the dear Son of blessings,
To the Father of graces. (Carmina Gadelica, 345, p. 312)

The invocation of the saints is also commended for the dying, for they have made good in their life and their deaths and thus aid the soul in avoiding deadly sin and in finding the grace that Christ desires to pour upon them. But even greater, God himself is understood as desiring the souls’ salvation, envisaged as God seeking out the soul in death to bring it to life everlasting:

I pray Peter, I pray Paul,
I pray Virgin, I pray Son,
I pray the twelve kindly Apostles
That I go not to ruin this night.

When the soul separates
From the perverse body,
And goes in bursts of light
Up from out its human frame,
Thou holy God of eternity,
Come to seek me and to find me.

May God and Jesus aid me,
May God and Jesus protect me;
May God and Jesus eternally
Seek me and find me. (Carmina Gadelica, 350, p. 316)

There is unmistakably an underlying current of hope present in the theology of Carmina Gadelica in respect to the Christian hope. The seriousness of sin is by no means downplayed, and its consequences recognized, yet the overwhelming confidence is that God deeply desires the salvation of mankind, and in his grace is actively seeking out the lost. Death can in this manner simply not be something that is feared, but rather embraced as God’s calling the soul to its home with Christ who purchased it at great cost.

In this respect the Carmina Gadelica stands in the venerable ancient tradition of understanding death by means of the euphemism of sleep, wherein the soul finally finds its eternal rest:

Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,
to Thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;
Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home,
To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.

The great sleep of Jesus, the surpassing sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of Jesus’ wound, the sleep of Jesus’ grief,
The young sleep of Jesus, the restoring sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of the kiss of Jesus of peace and glory. (Carmina Gadelica, 346, p. 312)

In the end, peace in hope is the proper response to death in the Carmina Gadelica, arising from an unshakable conviction in the promises of Christ and the grace which he pours out like the rays of the sun. In one of the most tender and beautiful expressions of Christian hope, the soul of the dying (perhaps in great pain) is commended to Christ, and instead of mournful wailing, the confident exultation of the hope of Christ is conveyed:

The shade of death lies upon thy face, beloved,
But the Jesus of grace has His hand round about thee;
In nearness to the Trinity farewell to thy pains,
Christ stands before thee and peace is in his mind.

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm,
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance,
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves;
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life,
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life! (Carmina Gadelica, 346, p. 312-313)

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Jason Watson

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