Advent Math: 1+1=1

One of my favorite hymns in my tradition is Brykh Hannana by Mar Bawai the Great (551 – 628 AD). Here’s my singable translation (and here’s a recording by my cousin):

* O blessed Mercy, Gracefulness,
        who led our life through the prophets:
* Isaiah saw, with Spirit’s eye,
        the marvel Child of Divinity.
* For Mary bore, in virgin womb,
        ‘Emmanuel, the Son of God.
* For from her womb, the Spirit formed
        the Flesh made One, as is written,
* to be the Dwelling-Place adored
        of the Radiance from the Father,
* and, from his first conception made
        in honor One, in a wonder,
* that all in him may be fulfilled
        for salvation of all people.
* The angels cried, when he was born,
        “halleluiah,” in heaven above,
* and those on earth in love adored,
        through their offerings, in one honor.
* For Christ is One, the Son of God,
        by all adored in two Natures:
* as God Divine, of Father born,
        eternally, from all ages;
* humanity, of Mary born,
        as written, in his body.
* As God, without a mother born,
        without father in his manhood.
* Two Qnome, Natures unconfused,
        one Person, single Sonship.
* And, where the Godhead deigns to dwell,
        three Qnome, one Divinity.
* Therefore, the Sonship of the Son:
        in two Natures, single Person.
* For thus the holy Church has learned:
        confess the Son who is the Christ.
* Adore we your Divinity
        and your Manhood undivided.
* One Power and One Majesty,
        One Will, One Mind and One Glory,
* to Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
        from age to age, amen, amen.

Lots of interesting stuff going on here, but to make a few simple points:

  • The season of Advent/Subara/”Annunciation” in the Church of the East is, among other things, about the Incarnation, and therefore Christology as a theological discipline becomes a prominent focus.
  • Yes, the Church of the East was named “Nestorian” at various points, but this hymn, it seems to me, is an attempt to balance this kind of extreme dualistic Christology with one more acceptable to the Church Universal.
  • The term “Qnoma” is left untranslated because it’s untranslatable. In theology, it refers to what is Three in the Trinity and what is Two in Christ. If you translate it “Person” you have Nestorianism – but there’s another word for Person used in the theological literature as well as in this hymn (“Parsopa”). It obviously can’t be translated “Nature,” otherwise you’d have polytheism in the Trinity. It’s a different philosophical/theological category than our textbooks are used to – I’ve seen it translated “individuality,” which might be fine. Qnoma seems to mean an individual example of a nature, rather than a universal or abstract notion. Christ is not “divinity and humanity,” but the individual examples of these natures we call “the Eternal Word of God” and “the man Jesus Christ.”
  • The hymn itself is about how these two Qnome are one in the Person of Jesus Christ. In general, we could use more hymns about theological concepts and fewer with guitars. Yes, those are mutually contradictory categories.
  • Bawai uses several Biblical images to relay the unity of Christ:
    • Emmanuel “God with us” is a name that itself contains two terms – “El,” which is “God,” and “Emman,” which is “with us.”
    • Christ’s body is called the “Dwelling-Place” or Temple. Again, two notions are contained in this: the Place of dwelling and the One who dwells there.
    • Around the middle of the hymn, Babai connects the angels of Luke 2:14 who sang before the shepherds, with the magi of Matthew 2:1-12. The two coming together – the spiritual praise of the angels in heaven with the physical gifts of the magi on earth – parallel the two Qnome of Christ, united in his one Person.

Anyway happy Advent.

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