Epiphany

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The crib becomes an altar: therefore dies
No ox nor sheep; for in their fodder lies
The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,
Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed.

~Sir John Beaumont, from Of The Epiphany


The Christian season of Epiphany has almost faded into obscurity.  How ironic. The word means ‘manifestation’ and indeed, we are most grateful to serve a speaking God.  Absent God’s revelation of Himself, we would forever be lost to the darkness of sin in which we have eternally sequestered ourselves.  We longed for His coming during Advent and rejoiced at His incarnation during Christmas.  Now, at Epiphany we worship His revelation.

At Epiphany, the Western church focuses on the Magi who traveled far to bestow their treasures in humble reverence, and before that, the Eastern church understood the season to be of Christ’s baptism where we see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifested to man. In each the church bows in the presence of Emmanuel.

Our modern minds carry us only so far, for modernity’s reason knows Descartes to be lacking.  It is not Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) but rather  Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order that I may understand.)

God spoke, therefore I am.  Worship is the only adequate reply.

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Isaiah 60:1–7

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. “Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba shall come; They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; They shall ascend with acceptance on My altar, And I will glorify the house of My glory.

 

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Art: Shadows and Silhouette. Photo and design by Josephine R. Unglaub

Liturgy: Epiphany (Gk. ἐπιφάνεια, ‘manifestation’; later τὰ Ἐπιφάνια is used of the feast). Feast of the Church on 6 Jan. It originated in the E., where it was celebrated in honour of the Baptism of Christ (sometimes also in connection with the Nativity) from the 3rd cent. onwards. *Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) reports that the *Gnostic sect of the *Basilideans observed a feast in honour of the Baptism of Christ around this time of year (Strom. 1. 21), and from the 4th cent. there is ample evidence for the feast, which then ranked with *Easter and *Pentecost as one of the three principal festivals of the Church. One of its main features in the E. is the solemn blessing of water.

It was introduced into the W. Church in the 4th cent. but here lost its character as a feast of the Baptism of Christ, which it has retained in the E. Church down to the present day. Instead it became associated with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the *Magi, as is borne out by the Homilies of *Leo I on the ‘Theophania’ (an alternative name of the feast). In the Mass and Office the Magi were given the chief place, though mention is also made of the Baptism of Christ and of the miracle at Cana. In 1955 both the Octave and Vigil of the Epiphany were abolished, but the Sunday after Epiphany was made a separate feast of the Baptism, which had figured largely in the liturgy of the Octave. In England the Sovereign makes offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the *Chapel Royal on the feast.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 557.

Credo ut intelligam: Augustine is widely known for his writings on the Trinity, grace, free will, and epistemology (the study of knowledge). Regarding epistemology, Augustine is perhaps best known for his words credo ut intelligam, a Latin phrase that may be translated “I believe in order to understand.” The meaning of this statement has been debated for centuries, with many people believing that Augustine gave faith a logical priority in the relationship between faith and reason in the Christian life. Augustine’s view, however, was more complex. He actually saw faith and reason operating in a reciprocal manner in Christian thinking.

Nash, Ronald H.,”Faith and Reason,” p. 88

Literature: Of The Epiphany, by Sir John Beaumont (1582-1623)

Fair eastern star, that art ordained to run
Before the sages, to the rising sun,
Here cease thy course, and wonder that the cloud
Of this poor stable can thy Maker shroud:

Ye heavenly bodies glory to be bright
And are esteemed as ye are rich in light;
But here on earth is taught a different way,
Since under this low roof the Highest lay.

Jerusalem erects her stately towers,
Displays her windows and adorns her bowers:
Yet there thou must not cast a trembling spark,
Let Herod’s palace still continue dark;

Each school and syngogue thy force repels,
There Pride enthroned in misty error dwells;
The temple, where the priests maintain their quire,
Shall taste no beam of thy celestial fire,

While this weak cottage all thy splendour takes:
A joyful gate of every chink it makes
Here shines no golden roof, no ivory stair,
No king exalted in a stately chair,

Girt with attendants, or by heralds styled,
But straw and hay enwrap a speechless child.
Yet Sabae’s lords before this babe unfold
Their treasures, offering incense, myrrh and gold.

The crib becomes an altar: therefore dies
No ox nor sheep; for in their fodder lies
The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,
Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed:

The quintessence of earth he takes, and fees,
And precious gums distilled from weeping trees;
Rich metals and sweet odours now declare
The glorious blessings which his laws prepare,

To clear us from the base and loathsome flood
Of sense and make us fit for angels’ food,
Who life to God for us the holy smoke
Of fervent prayers with which we him invoke,

And try our actions in the searching fire
By which the seraphims our lips inspire:
No muddy dross pure minerals shall infect,
We shall exhale our vapours up direct:

No storm shall cross, nor glittering lights deface
Perpetual sighs which seek a happy place.

Source: A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885)

Also see

epiphany (Gk ‘manifestation’) The term primarily denotes the festival which commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi. The feast is observed on January 6th, ‘Twelfth Night’, the festival of the ‘Three Kings’. More generally, the term denotes a manifestation of God’s presence in the world. James Joyce gave this word a particular literary connotation in his novel Stephen Hero, part of the first draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was first published in 1916. The relevant passage is:

“This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual mani- festation [my italics], whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. He told Cranly that the clock of the Ballast Office was capable of an epiphany.”

A little further on he says:

“Imagine my glimpses of that clock as the gropings of a spiritual eye which seeks to adjust its vision to an exact focus. The moment the focus is reached the object is epiphanized.”

Joyce elaborates this theme at considerable length. The epiphany is a symbol of a spiritual state. This aspect of aesthetic theory is left out of A Portrait, but a knowledge of it is essential for an understanding of Joyce as an artist. Dubliners, A Portrait, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are a series of increasingly complex and revealing insights of grace as well as intuitions of immortality. However, Joyce’s description of such an experience does not imply a discovery on his part. Many writers, especially mystics and religious poets, have conveyed their experience of epiphanies. Striking instances are to be found in the poems of George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Gerard Manley Hopkins. And there are particularly fine passages in Wordsworth’s Prelude (Book VIII, 539–59, and VII, 608–23) which describe epiphanies (the term he uses is ‘spots of time’). Shelley calls these visionary occasions ‘moments’; De Quincey, ‘involutes’.

Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory

 

 

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