Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany--The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

The collect for the Feast of the Epiphany:

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead: through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
An interesting note on this collect concerns the Latin version from which it was translated. In the 1500’s,Thomas Cranmer translated most of the collect into English almost word for word as it appeared in Latin in the Roman Catholic liturgy. However, he altered the ending. Instead of referring to “the fruition of thy glorious Godhead,” the Latin collect asks “that we who know thee now by faith may be led to contemplate the sight of thy glorious Majesty.” This is less obscurely theological than Cranmer’s modification, it connects us directly with the Wise Men, and it contains the familiar and biblical (e.g., I Corinthians 13) contrast between faith and sight.

The similarities between the Latin collect and the Epiphany hymn “As With Gladness” are fairly noticeable, especially for the first verse and the final two verses:

As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed in light,
leading onward, beaming bright;
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore be led to thee.
Holy Jesus! every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and, when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
need they no created light;
thou its light, its joy, its crown,
thou its sun which goes not down;
there for ever may we sing
alleluias to our King.
This may of course be as much of a coincidence as something of the sort can be. The contrast between faith and sight is an ancient Christian theme, and the story of the Wise Men might naturally suggest it to different people’s minds—they followed a sign, but in heaven we will need no signs, as we will enjoy the beatific vision directly. But it is also an interesting possibility that William Chatterton Dix (author of the words to the hymn) may have been familiar with the Latin version of the collect.

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