- Christ I
Christ I Also known as Advent Lyrics or Christ A Author(s) anonymous Language Old English Date unknown, possibly around 800 Series Old English Christ poems, along with Christ II and Christ III Manuscript(s) Exeter Book, fo. 8a-14a Genre religious poem in 12 subsections Subject The Advent of Christ
Christ I, also Christ A or (The) Advent Lyrics, is a collection of twelve anonymous Old English poems on the coming of the Lord, preserved in the Exeter Book. Claes Schaar suggests that it may have been written between the end of the 8th century and the beginning of the 9th century.
The poem is assigned to a triad of Old English religious poems in the Exeter Book, known collectively as Christ. Christ comprises a total of 1664 lines and deals with Christ's Advent, Ascension and Last Judgment. It was originally thought to be one piece completed by a single author, but the poem is now broken up into three parts.
Christ I can be found on fols. 8a-14a of the Exeter Book. The Exeter Book is a collection of Old English poetry containing 123 folios. The book contains the items of the Cynewulf group, which is made up in part by Christ I. The collection also contains a number of other religious, allegorical, and category poems.
The lyrics included within Christ I selection derive from the antiphons known as the “O Antiphons”, which receive their name because they all begin with the Latin interjection “O”. An antiphon is a verse from the Holy Scripture that is to be sung before and after the reading of a psalm (Otten 1). The verse selected for the antiphon is chosen to reflect the fundamental ideas presented during the psalm. Seven of the antiphons in Christ I have come to be known as the “Seven Greater Antiphons” for their use in the Magnificat. The opening interjections of the “Seven Greater Antiphons” include, "O Sapientia", "O Adonai", "O Radix Jesse", "O Clavis David", "O Oriens", "O Rex Gentium", and "O Emmanuel". The remainder of the antiphons used in Christ I had come to be included with the “Greater Antiphons”: “O Virgo virginum”, “O Gabriel”, “O Rex pacifice”, “O Mundi Domina”, and “O Hierusalem”.
The foundation of the work derives from the topic of the Advent. The Advent, in its most general definition, is the time period leading up to the anniversary of the coming of Christ. Advent at that time, as it is today, would have been a period of spiritual and symbolic significance within the church. Followers, following the rules governed by the church, would often fast during these times. St. Gregory the Great, who lived from 590-604, wrote a sermon on the second Sunday of Advent in a collection of his homilies (Mershman 1). With this evidence, it is understood that the Advent was celebrated as early as the time of Christ I’s composition and celebrated within the church. The lyrics, playing off the Latin antiphons, are poetry commenting on this period of symbolic preparation.
The selection known as Christ I is often referred to as being part of the collection of work known as “the Cynewulf group” (Schaar 9). This set of poems comprises four works by the author Cynewulf (Elene, Juliana, Christ II, and Fata Apostolorum) and eight by other authors (Andreas and The Dream of the Rood from the Vercelli Book, and Christ I, Christ III, Guthlac A and B, The Phoenix, and Physiologus from the Exeter Book). Although the Christ I poem is generally associated and analyzed alongside the works of Cynewulf, it is in fact an anonymous writing and its construction is unrelated to either of the other Christ poems.
The poem of Christ I is broken down into twelve smaller subsections of individual verse. Each subsection is introduced with a selection from a Latin antiphon, followed by lines of poetry in Old English. Sections I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII, and IX derive from the “Greater Antiphons”, while sections VII, X, XI, and XII do not. It is unknown if the author intended to use all of the selections from the “Great Antiphons”, but some scholars speculate that the antiphons not used, “O Sapientia”, “O Adonai”, and “O radix Jesse”, have been lost. The order the antiphons used by the author in laying out the Advent Lyrics appears to have no predetermined structure and have not followed the pattern of the list used in observed in all other sources containing the list.
Interpretation of Structure
The order of antiphons that the author uses for the lyrics imply that the poet was not concerned about any distinctions between antiphons, or the order that he had found them in his sources. Upon analysis of the position of each poem, no rational order can be found, therefore it appears as though the order of each poem is unimportant.
Influence on other writers
"Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended."
"Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men."
- Campbell, Jackson J. The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.
- Cook, Albert S., ed. The Christ of Cynewulf. Hamden: The Shoe String P, 1964.
- Henry, H T. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. XI. New York: The Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 
- Mershman, Francis. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. I New York: The Robert Appleton Company, 1907.
- Otten, Joseph. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. I New York: The Robert Appleton Company, 1907.
- Rumble, Alexander R. "Exeter Book." Medieval England: an Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach, M T. Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal. New York: Garland, Inc., 1998.
- Schaar, Claes. Critical Studies in the Cynewulf Group. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1949.
- The Old English poems, Christ I-III
- A Modern English translation (PDF), by Charles W. Kennedy. From "In Parentheses".
Old English poetry PoemsChrist I · Christ II · Christ III · Guthlac A, B · Azarias · The Phoenix · Juliana · The Wanderer · The Gifts of Men · Precepts · The Seafarer · Vainglory · Widsith · The Fortunes of Men · Maxims I · The Order of the World · The Rhyming Poem · The Panther · The Whale · The Partridge · Soul and Body II · Deor · Wulf and Eadwacer · Riddles 1-59 · The Wife's Lament · The Judgment Day I · Resignation · The Descent into Hell · Alms-Giving · Pharaoh · The Lord's Prayer I · Homiletic Fragment II · Riddle 30b · Riddle 60 · The Husband's Message · The Ruin · Riddles 61-95Metrical charmsChronicle poemsBattle of Brunanburh · The Capture of the Five Boroughs · The Coronation of Edgar · The Death of King Edgar · The Death of Alfred · The Death of Edward · The Rime of King WilliamOther poemsMetres of Boethius · Paris Psalter (BNF MS 8824) · Finnsburh Fragment · Waldere A, B · The Battle of Maldon · Durham · Rune poem · Solomon and Saturn · The Menologium · Maxims II · Proverb from Winfrid's time · Judgment Day II · An Exhortation to Christian Living · A Summons to Prayer · The Lord's Prayer II · The Gloria I · The Lord's Prayer III · The Creed · Old English Psalms (fragments) · The Kentish Hymn · Psalm 50 · The Gloria II · A Prayer · Thureth · Aldhelm · The Seasons for Fasting · Cædmon's Hymn · Bede's Death Song · The Leiden Riddle · Latin-English Proverbs · Metrical Preface and Epilogue to Alfred's Hierdeboc · Metrical Preface to Wærferth's translation of the Dialogues · Metrical Epilogue to CCCC MS 41 · Brussels Cross · Ruthwell Cross Poets Other
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