- The Christ Of Cynewulf (The Advent.) by Cynewulf
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The Christ Of Cynewulf
The Advent.

by Cynewulf

--to the King
Thou art the corner-stone which the builders once rejected in their work; fitting indeed is it for Thee, O King of glory, to become the head of this noble temple, and to join in bond secure the broad walls of adamantine rock, so that throughout the cities of earth all things endowed with sight may wonder1 evermore. Reveal then, righteous and triumphant One, through Thy wisdom, Thine own handiwork, and leave wall firm against wall. The work hath need that the Master Builder, the King Himself, should come and forthwith restore the house that beneath its roof hath fallen into ruin. He formed the body, the limbs of clay; and now is it time for Him, the Prince of life, to deliver this miserable host from their enemies, the wretched from their fears, as He full oft hath done.

O Ruler and righteous King, Thou who holdests the key and openest life, bless us with victory, with that glorious success denied unto him whose work availeth naught! Verily in our need do we speak these words: We beseech2 Him who created man that He choose not to pronounce judgment upon us who, sad at heart, sit yearning in prison for the sun's joyous course until such time as the Prince of life reveal light unto us, become our soul's defense, and compass the feeble mind with splendor; of all this may He make us worthy, we whom He admitted to glory, when, deprived of our heritage, we were doomed to turn in wretchedness unto this narrow land. Therefore he who speaks truth may say that when the race of men was turned away [from God], He saved it. Young was the virgin, a sinless maiden, whom He chose for His mother; it was brought to pass without the embraces of man that the bride became great with child.3 Never before or after in this world was there conception of woman like unto that; it was secret, a mystery of the Lord. All spiritual grace overspread the regions of earth; then was many a wise saying illumined by the Lord of life, such ancient teaching, prophetic song, as of old lay wrapped in darkness, when the Ruler came who magnifieth the course4 of their words who wisely desire to praise without stint the name of the Creator.

O vision of peace, holy Jerusalem, best of royal thrones, city of Christ, native abode of angels, in thee alone the souls of the righteous rest ever, rejoicing in their glory! Never shall trace of sin be brought to light in that dwelling-place, but all iniquity, all curse and strife, shall flee far from thee. Thou art gloriously full of holy joy, as thy name bears witness. Behold now thyself how the wide creation round about and the vault of heaven regard thee far and near on every side;5 the King of heaven seeketh thee in His course, yea, cometh Himself and taketh up His abode in thee, as long ago wise prophets spake in words, when they proclaimed the birth of Christ, told it for thy joy, thou chiefest of cities. Now is the Child come, born to interpret and fulfill6 the works of the Jews. He bringeth thee joy; He looseneth thy bonds; He draweth nigh7 to men, for He knoweth their wants—how the wretched must needs await succor.

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 hadst8 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.'

Lo! Thou Splendor of the dayspring, fairest of angels sent to men upon earth, Thou Radiance of the Sun of righteousness, bright beyond the stars, Thou of Thy very self dost illumine all the tides of time! Even as Thou, God begotten of God, Son of the true Father, didst ever dwell without beginning in the glory of heaven, so Thine own handiwork in its present need imploreth Thee with confidence that Thou send us the bright sun, and come in Thy very person to enlighten those who have long been covered with murky cloud, and sitting here in darkness and eternal night, shrouded in sins, have been forced to endure the shadow of death. Now in the fulness of hope we believe in the salvation brought to men through the Word of God, who was in the beginning co-eternal with God the Father almighty, and afterward became flesh without blemish, being born of the virgin as a help for the afflicted. God appeared among us without sin; the mighty Son of God and the Son of Man dwelt together in harmony among mankind. Wherefore it is right that we should ever give thanks by our deeds9 unto the Lord of victory, for that He was willing to send Himself unto us.

O God of spirits, how wisely and how rightly wast Thou named Emmanuel, as the angel first called it in Hebrew, which, fully interpreted in its hidden meaning, is: 'Now is God Himself with us, the Guardian of the skies!' Even so of yore ancient men foretold the coming of the King of kings, the spotless Priest. Thus long ago the great Melchisedec, wise of spirit, revealed the divine majesty of the eternal Ruler. He was the bringer of laws and precepts to those who had long looked for His advent; for it was promised them that by the power of the Spirit the Son of the Creator would Himself pass through the regions of earth, and visit the lowest depths. Now were they waiting patiently in captivity until the Son of God should come unto them in their sorrow. And thus they spake, prostrated by suffering: 'Come now Thyself, high King of heaven. Bring salvation unto us wretched prisoners, worn out with weeping, with bitter burning tears. In Thee alone is relief for those in dire need. Seek10 us here, captives sad of heart; leave not11 behind Thee, when Thou goest hence, a multitude so great; but do Thou royally manifest Thy compassion upon us, O Christ our Savior, Prince of glory; let not the accursed have dominion over us. Leave unto us the eternal joy of Thy glory, that those whom Thou didst first create with Thine hands may worship Thee, the radiant King of hosts, who dwellest eternally on high with God the Father.' [Mary]. 'Alas my Joseph, son of Jacob, descendant of the great king David, art thou bound to break off thy firm troth and forsake my love?'

[Joseph]. 'I am full deeply troubled, bereft of my good name; on thy account I have heard many words, boundless causes of grief,12 taunts and contumely; they utter insults and many reproaches against me. Sad in spirit I must needs pour out my tears. God alone13 can easily heal the sorrow of my heart and comfort me in my misery. Alas young damsel, maiden Mary!'

[Mary]. 'Why grievest thou and criest out in sorrow? Never have I found in thee any fault, or cause for suspicion that thou hast wrought evil; and yet thou speakest these words as if thou thyself wert filled with every sin and iniquity.'

[Joseph]. 'I have endured too much misery because of this child-bearing. How can I refute their hateful words, or find any answer to my enemies? It is known far and wide that from the glorious temple of the Lord I willingly received a pure maiden free from sin, and now all is changed by I know not what. Neither speech nor silence avails me aught. If I declare the truth, then must the daughter of David perish, slain with stones. Yet is it harder for me to conceal crime; as a perjurer I should be forced to live thenceforth, hated of all peoples, despised among the tribes of men.'

Then the maid unraveled the mystery, and thus she spake: 'I swear truly by the Son of God, the Savior of souls, that I have never yet had intercourse with any man on earth; but it was granted unto me, while yet young in my home, that Gabriel, heaven's archangel, bade me hail, and said in truth that the heavenly Spirit would shine upon me with His splendor, and that I should bear the Glory of life, an illustrious Child, the great Son of God, the bright King of glory. Now without guilt have I been made His temple; the Spirit of comfort hath dwelt within me. Do thou henceforth forego all grievous care. Give eternal thanks unto God's great Son that I have become His mother, though still a maiden, and that thou art reputed His earthly father in the thoughts of men; thus was prophecy to be truly fulfilled in Himself.'

O Thou King of kings, righteous and peaceful, Christ almighty, how didst Thou spring into being with Thy glorious Father before all the hosts of the world, a child begotten by His power and might! There is now no man under heaven, no hero so exceeding wise and prudent that he can relate or truly explain to the ocean-dwellers how the Guardian of the skies took Thee in the beginning for His noble Son. Of all the things created under the welkin, so far as the race of men14 hath heard among the peoples, first did the wise God, Author of life, divide in majesty the light from the darkness. His was the power of decision, and the Lord of hosts gave this command: 'Let there be a bright light henceforth for ever and ever, a joy to all living men who in their generations shall be born.'

And straightway it came to pass when it was so to be; a light, bright amidst the stars, shone forth for the nations of men after the lapse of time; Himself ordained that Thou, His Son, shouldst be co-dwelling with Thine only Lord before aught of this should ever come to pass. Thou art that Wisdom who with the Lord didst frame all this broad creation. Wherefore there is no one so wise and prudent that he can clearly set forth Thy parentage unto the sons of men. Come now, O Prince of victory, Lord of mankind, and graciously show Thy favor here; we all desire to understand the mystery of Thy maternal descent, since we can no further unfold Thy paternal lineage. O Savior Christ, by Thine advent graciously bless this world, and the golden gate,15 which full long stood locked in ages past, do Thou, high Lord of heaven, give command to open; do Thou visit us, coming in Thy very person humbly to earth. We have need of Thy help. The accursed wolf,16 that dark shadow of death, hath scattered Thy flock, O Lord, driven it far and wide; those whom17 Thou, O sovereign Prince, didst redeem with Thy blood, those18 the evil one cruelly oppresseth and taketh captive against our will.19 Wherefore, O Savior, we earnestly pray Thee in the thoughts of our hearts that straightway Thou grant help unto us unhappy exiles; that the baleful destroyer20 may fall headlong into the abyss of hell; and that Thy handiwork, O Creator of men, may arise and come, as is fitting, to that fair heavenly kingdom whence the dark spirit, through our love of sin, erstwhile enticed and beguiled us, so that, stripped of glory, we must evermore endure misery, unless Thou, Lord eternal, living God, Protector of all creatures, wilt speedily free us from the universal foe.

O renowned throughout the world, purest of women upon earth of those who ever were born, how with joyful heart do all men endowed with speech, all heroes throughout the world, rightly declare and say that thou art the bride of heaven's most excellent King! Even so in the skies the highest retainers of Christ proclaim and sing that in thy holy virtues21 thou art queen of the heavenly host, of the ranks of men under heaven, and of the dwellers in hell; for thou alone of all mankind with splendid courage didst resolve to bring thy virginity unto the Lord, and offer it up without sin. No ring-adorned bride like unto thee hath since come among men, bringing in due time with pure heart that fair offering to the heavenly home. Wherefore the Lord triumphant bade His archangel fly hither from the majesty of His glory, and straightway reveal to thee the fulness of His power, that thou, Mary, in compassion for mankind, shouldst bear in pure nativity the Son of God, and shouldst keep thyself unspotted for ever. We have heard also that long ago in days of old a righteous prophet, Isaiah,22 spake concerning thee, [saying] that he was led where he fully beheld the mansions of life in the eternal abode. Then the wise prophet looked out over that region, till he saw where there was set a noble portal. The towering gate was bound all about with precious metal, begirt with wondrous bands. He fully believed that no man unto all eternity could ever lift bars so firmly fixed, or open the fastening of that city-gate, until the angel of God, with benign purpose, made known the manner of it, and spake these words: 'I can declare to thee the truth23 that in course of time God Himself, the Father almighty, will pass by the power of the Spirit through this golden gate, and through these firm barriers will visit earth; and after Him it shall for evermore remain so tightly locked that, save God the Redeemer, none shall ever again open it.'

Now is that fulfilled which the wise one there looked upon with his very eyes. Thou art that door; through thee the sovereign Lord once issued forth upon this earth, and even thus did Christ almighty find thee adorned with virtues, pure and elect; so also did the Prince of angels, Giver of life, close thee after Him with a key, [still] free from all blemish. Show now unto us the grace which God's messenger, the angel Gabriel, brought to thee. Lo! the dwellers in cities beseech thee that thou grant to the peoples this comfort, even thine own Son. Henceforth we may all rejoice with one accord, now that we behold the child [lying] on thy breast. Plead for us now with bold words, that He suffer us no longer to hearken unto error in this valley of death, but that He bring us to the Father's kingdom, where, free from sorrow, we may thenceforth dwell in glory with the Lord of hosts.

O holy Lord of heaven, Thou wast in ages past co-existent with Thy Father in that noble abode! There was as yet no angel created, nor any of the mighty host who, in the heavens on high, watch over the kingdom, the palace of the Prince, and His service, when Thou, together with God eternal, wast first establishing the wide creation, all these spacious realms. The Holy Ghost, Spirit of comfort, proceedeth equally from24 you both. O Christ Jesus, God the Savior, humbly do we all beseech Thee to hearken unto the voice of these captives, Thy bond-slaves, how we are tormented by our own desires. Evil spirits, those hateful hell-fiends, have cruelly confined us wretched exiles, and bound us with grievous cords. Relief rests in Thee alone, O Lord eternal. Help Thou the sorrowful, that Thine advent may comfort the miserable, though we, through our lust for sin, have waged war upon Thee. Have mercy now upon Thy servants, and consider our woes—how, feeble in spirit, we stumble here, and wander miserably about. Come now, O King of men, tarry not too long. We have need of Thy mercy—that Thou deliver us, O righteous One, and grant us Thy saving grace, that henceforth we may ever do the better things and work Thy will among the people.

O Thou glorious heavenly Trinity, full of honor, high and holy, blessed far and wide over the spacious plains, rightly should those endowed with speech, wretched dwellers on earth, praise Thee highly with all their might, now that God, the faithful Savior, hath revealed unto us that we may know Him! Wherefore the righteous band of seraphim, with glory crowned, ever chanting fervently with angels on high, in unwearied hosts sing adoringly with voices clear and sweet, afar and near. Theirs is the noblest of ministries before the King. Christ granted them that with their eyes they might enjoy His presence,25 and, clothed with ethereal radiance, ever worship the King far and wide; with their wings they guard the presence of the Lord almighty and eternal, and press forward toward the throne, eager who shall hover closest to our Savior within the courts of peace. They praise the Beloved, and in splendor speak these words to Him, magnifying the noble Author of all creatures: 'Holy art Thou, holy, Lord of archangels, righteous King of victory; O Lord of lords, ever art Thou holy; ever doth Thy glory dwell with men on earth, magnified far and near throughout all time. Thou art God of hosts, for Thou, O Shield of warriors, Protector of all beings, hast filled the heavens and the earth with the majesty of Thy glory. Hosanna26 unto Thee in the highest, and on earth praise, renowned among men. Blessed mayst Thou live, Thou who in the name of the Lord didst come unto the multitudes, a comfort to the wretched. To Thee be laud eternal ever in the highest, world without end.'

Lo! how wondrous is the change in the life of men, that the gentle Creator of mankind took from a virgin flesh undefiled; she knew not at all the embraces of man; the Lord of triumph came not to earth through the seed of man; but it was a marvel greater than all the dwellers on earth could understand in its hidden meaning, how the Glory of the skies, heaven's high Lord, brought help to mankind through His mother's womb. So continually the Savior of mankind, the Lord of hosts, doth each day bestow His forgiveness as a help to men. Wherefore we, eager for renown, should loyally praise Him both in word and deed. That is surpassing wisdom for every man who hath an understanding heart, that he ever worship God most sincerely and earnestly. Him shall the hallowed Savior reward for his love in the country where as yet he hath not come, in the joy of the land of the living, where he shall dwell blessed for evermore, there henceforth abiding world without end. Amen.

1 The construction in lines 7 and 8 is largely conjectural. Cf. Cook's Christ, p. 74.
2 Manuscript defective at lines 23 and 24. Cf. Cook's Christ, p. 77.
3 The phrase đurh bearnes gebyrd omitted in translation.
4 With evident reference to 2 Thess. 3. 1.
5 This interpretation does not conform to the Antiphon. Cf. Cook's Christ, p. 83.
6 To wyrpe, the noun suggesting the pregnant sense of 'transform.'
7 Reading gen hwađ with Cook. to the King. 8 Lit. 'knewest.'
9 The rendering of bi gewyrhtum is here somewhat doubtful.
10 Reading ges ce with Gollancz.
11 Reading ne loet with Gollancz.
12 Lit. 'griefs.'
13 So the sense seems to require, though the word is lacking in the text.
14 Lit. 'nations.'
15 Lit. 'gates,' and so 321.
16 Professor Cook calls attention to Bugge's theory that the Fenris wolf of Old Norse poetry is an imaginative reflex of the Christian conception. Cf. The Home of the Eddic Poems, Grimm Library, pp. lvii, lxxiii ff.
17 Lit. 'what.'
18 Lit. 'that.'
19 Lit. 'contrary to the longing of our desires.'
20 Lit. 'slayer of torment'; perhaps = 'slayer dwelling in torment.'
21 Or, 'powers.'
22 Properly, 'Ezekiel.'
23 Lit. 'that it has truly come to pass.'
24 Lit. 'is common to.'
25 Cf. Job 19. 26; Ps. 17. 15; Isa. 33. 17; 1 John 3. 2; Rev. 22. 4.
26 Lit. 'Eternal praise'; used as equivalent to 'Hosanna.' Cf. Cook's Biblical Quotations in Old English Prose Writers, p. 164.

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