05 January 2009

O Virgo Virginum

There is a final antiphon appointed for 23 December in the Sarum practice, but there is no Guite sonnet corresponding to it, and it is not even found in many of the lists of O Antiphons, which originally numbered seven. According to Benedict D. O’Cinnsealaigh: ‘[It] appears in both the Gallican (France) and Saerum (England) liturgies. Although it is difficult to establish just when this antiphon was first introduced, it was certainly known in the Middle Ages.’ Because it is often excluded, I print the text and an English translation (from John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted - Parts I and II [London: Novello, 1856], p. 209) below.

O Virgo Virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiæ Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was there any like thee,
nor shall there be after. —
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing that ye behold is a divine mystery.

Fortunately, this antiphon was not missed by Cynewulf. In ‘Christ I’ the corresponding section is ll. 71-103 (George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds., The Exeter Book, Vol. III of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, A Collective Edition [Morningside Heights, NY: Columbia U, 1961], pp. 5-6). Below is a prose translation from Cynewulf, The Christ of Cynewulf, trans. Charles Huntington Whitman (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900), available here.

O thou joy of women in heavenly glory, fairest of all maidens throughout the regions of earth, so far as ocean-dwellers have ever learned, reveal to us the mystery that came to thee from the skies, how thou didst ever conceive so that a child might be born, and yet hadst not at all carnal intercourse after the manner of men! Of a truth we have never heard that in days of old there came to pass such a thing as thou didst receive by special grace, nor may we look for such an event in time to come. Truly a noble faith dwelt in thee, for thou didst bear within thy womb the Lord of glory, and yet thy splendid virginity was not defiled. All the children of men, as they sow in tears, even thus they reap—they bring forth unto death. Then spake the blessed maiden, the holy Mary, ever full of triumph: 'Why marvel ye thus, why grieve ye and sorrowfully lament, ye sons and daughters of Salem? Ye ask in curiosity how I preserved my virginity, my chastity, and yet became the mother of God's illustrious Son? Verily the secret is not known unto men, but Christ declared that in David's beloved daughter all the guilt of Eve is blotted out, the curse removed, and the weaker sex exalted. Hope hath arisen that a blessing amid the joy of heavenly angels, with the Father of righteousness, may now abide for both men and women evermore through all eternity.'


leegwebb said...

Aaron, I have really enjoyed this series on the O Antiphons. I hope you have a joyous Nativity celebration!

aaronandbrighid said...

You're very kind, sir. I fear you may be the only one that enjoyed these!

JLB said...

Not the only one, sir...not the only one!

aaronandbrighid said...

Thanks, glad to hear it!