Wednesday, 1 January 2014

'Wise Jesus Submitted to the Law'

Pictorial Lives of the Saints (1878)


January 1 is the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Canon O' Hanlon, in the first volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints has a short piece about the commemoration of this feast in Ireland:
Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord.—

This festival, which is traced to the very earliest ages of Christianity, seems likewise to have been celebrated in Ireland, from the time St. Patrick first introduced the light of the Gospel among our people. It is remarkable that our celebrated hagiologist, St. Oengus, the Culdee, devotes solely the opening stanza of his elegant metrical Irish Calendar, known as the Felire, to record this feast.

A. Kalendis Januarii. i.
Before men's multitudinous race let the pre-eminent King lead!
Christ on January's calends underwent the Law, high the requirement!

Saint Oengus has alluded to the aspect of the feast which was identified from earliest times - the submission of Our Lord to the requirements of the Jewish Law, which mandated male infants to undergo this ceremony and to receive their name. Patristic writers also saw this first shedding of Christ's blood as a prefigurement of His Passion, and the circumcision of Christ features in the later western medieval devotions to the Precious Blood. The eighth-century Irish poet Blathmac, however, alluded to the more spiritual implications of the feast:

165. It was your son (best protection!) who underwent the law of circumcision; good has come of it to us, the circumcision of our vices.

James Carney, ed. and trans., The Poems of Blathmac Son of Cú Brettan, together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a Poem on the Virgin Mary (London 1964), 57.

My personal favourite among the Irish sources is the succinct yet beautiful entry from the Martyrology of Gorman, which records for this day:
On January's high calends wise Jesus submitted to the Law as the octave (of His Nativity) came to pass.
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