Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God!

Christ Pantocrator
Byzantine, 1145-1160
Cefalu, Cathedral
In the week before Christmas, the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Church) includes a series of special antiphons preceeding the recitation of the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), collectively called the O Antiphons.  In the English-speaking world we are most familiar with them as they are paraphrased in the well-known Advent hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". 

The antiphon for December 17th is "O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation."

The image which this antiphon brings to mind is the image of Christ Pantocrator.  This is an image most common in the Byzantine tradition, although it is known in the West, especially in the great medieval cathedrals of Sicily.  Traditionally, Christ is shown in this image as the Divine Lawgiver and Ruler, one hand raised in blessing, the other holding a book, whether open or shut.  The book alludes to the Word of God, which He Is.

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