Sunday, December 21, 2014

Celebrating Christmas with Wise Men from Ireland

Sedulius Scottus, (fl. 840-860) lived in Liège at a time when Irish scholarly influence in western Europe was at its zenith. He was a scribe, poet, grammarian, philosopher, and theologian; a professional wise man of sorts. In one of his poems he mentions his fellow Irish compatriots, Fegus, Blandus, Marcus, and Beuchell, as the "four-span of the Lord, [and] the glory of the Irish race" (Quadraige domini, Scottensis gloria gentis), no false modesty here.

In a Christmas poem he wrote around 850 he described a Christmas celebration in Liège. The imagery of the nativity is applied to the church and her bishop. The church choir emulates the angelic hosts in their praise of God and the bishop is the shepherd who leads his flock to the true Shepherd Christ.

But what of the Wise Men? Well naturally for Sedulius, the Wise Men are the Irish scholars like himself who have come to Lèige bearing gifts of wisdom and eloquence!

Here is an excerpt from that Christmas poem;

It is the time of snow, gleaming with perfect light; now is the season in which the Lord Jesus was born. O brothers shine like the purest snow, and glisten with unblemished souls. The blessed Virgin gave birth to Jesus, Ruler of the world, and son of the Almighty…

The Messiah. the bread of life, is born in the town of Bethlehem. But here is the Lord's house, and bread too, and the nourishing drink of poor Bethlehem. 

As the angelic choirs chanted harmonious praises and sand melodious hymns to God on high, so our excellent choir, with one voice, celebrates O Zion, your glorious triumphs…

The Lord was our Shepherd, and the shepherds its witnesses; and the Shepherd was the child who was born in Bethlehem...

Out of the east came the Magi bearing gifts, hastening in their journey to the Christ child; but now Irish scholars arrive from western lands, bringing their precious gifts of learning…

When the joyous day arrives, let all rejoice as one, and let gladness and love rule every man's heart. Divine radiance attests to Christ's birth, and heaven's splendor adores our True Light. Let us walk happily in the light of Christ, and go directly to his sacred land. Amen.

See Edward Doyle, Sedulius Scottus: On Christian Rulers and The Poems, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Vol. 17 (Binghamton, NY: State University of New York, 1983), 112-113.

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