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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Author Topic: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition  (Read 5506 times)
Erika Zimney
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2008, 10:45:01 pm »

In the fourteenth century we find a blossoming forth of Christmas poetry in another land, Germany. 2-16 There are indeed Christmas and Epiphany passages in a poetical Life of Christ by Otfrid of Weissenburg in the ninth century, and a twelfth-century poem by Spervogel, “Er ist gewaltic unde starc,” opens with a mention of Christmas, but these are of little importance for us. The fourteenth century shows the first real outburst, and that is traceable, in part at least, to the mystical movement in the Rhineland caused by the preaching of the great Dominican, Eckhart of Strasburg, and his followers. It was a movement towards inward piety as distinguished from, though not excluding, external observances, which made its way largely by sermons listened to by great congregations in the towns. Its impulse came not from the monasteries proper, but from the convents of Dominican friars, and it was for Germany in the fourteenth century something like what Franciscanism had been for Italy in the thirteenth. One of the central doctrines of the school p. 43 was that of the Divine Birth in the soul of the believer; according to Eckhart the soul comes into immediate union with God by “bringing forth the Son” within itself; the historic Christ is the symbol of the divine humanity to which the soul should rise: “when the soul bringeth forth the Son,” he says, “it is happier than Mary.” 2-17 Several Christmas sermons by Eckhart have been preserved; one of them ends with the prayer, “To this Birth may that God, who to-day is new born as man, bring us, that we, poor children of earth, may be born in Him as God; to this may He bring us eternally! Amen.” 2-18 With this profound doctrine of the Divine Birth, it was natural that the German mystics should enter deeply into the festival of Christmas, and one of the earliest of German Christmas carols, “Es komt ein schif geladen,” is the work of Eckhart's disciple, John Tauler (d. 1361). It is perhaps an adaptation of a secular song:—

“A ship comes sailing onwards


With a precious freight on board;


It bears the only Son of God,


It bears the Eternal Word.”


The doctrine of the mystics, “Die in order to live,” fills the last verses:—

“Whoe'er would hope in gladness


To kiss this Holy Child,


Must suffer many a pain and woe,


Patient like Him and mild;


Must die with Him to evil


And rise to righteousness,


That so with Christ he too may share


Eternal life and bliss.” 2-19


To the fourteenth century may perhaps belong an allegorical carol still sung in both Catholic and Protestant Germany:—

“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen


Aus einer Wurzel zart,p. 44


Als uns die Alten sungen,


Von Jesse kam die Art,


Und hat ein Blümlein bracht,


Mitten im kalten Winter,


Wohl zu der halben Nacht.


Das Röslein, das ich meine,


Davon Jesajas sagt,


Hat uns gebracht alleine


Marie, die reine Magd.


Aus Gottes ew'gem Rat


Hat sie ein Kind geboren


Wohl zu der halben Nacht.” 18 2-20

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