Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I enjoy singing good Christmas carols about as much as I enjoy singing anything. With a bit of sentimentality, many of them communicate powerfully about that most transformative of events, God’s entry into human history, in human flesh no less.

But Tipsy’s URL is “intellectualoid” for a reason. As my amateur community chorus prepares for Lessons and Carols, the distinct flavor of Adam Lay Ybounden, a Middle English Christmas Carol – especially verses 3 and 4 – jumped out at me.

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden,
Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav’ne queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias!

There’s a common belief (not dogma, I don’t believe; how could a counterfactual become a dogma?) that “our ladie” would have “abeen heav’ne queen” even if the apple “ne had been taken.” I think that belief may be a bit more common in the Christian east than in the west, but it’s present both places. An opposite view is hymned in the carol:

The third verse suggests the subsequent redemption of man by the birth of Jesus Christ by Mary, who was to become the Queen of Heaven as a result,[6]and thus the song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas‘ concept of the “felix culpa” (blessed fault).[5] Paul Morris suggests that the text’s evocation of Genesis implies a “fall upwards.[7]

It’s not a question to which it’s easy to find western and eastern answers counterposed on the web, so let me just echo an unauthoritative source, Batteddy of Combox:

that Christ would have become incarnate whether man sinned or not, and that this was the whole point of creation, and the occasion for the envy and pride of the devil.

Anything that offends the devil is good by me. I hope he’s mightily offended by our new bishop, enthroned today.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.