The Leaps of Christ

  james

exeter

I am working on some research concerning a venerable liturgical, homiletical, and poetic motif known as the ‘The Leaps of Christ.’  This research began when I was taking an Old English Poetry class at the University of New Mexico and did a translation project on a portion of an Old English (OE) poem known as Christ II or the The Ascension composed by a poet named Cynewulf in the late 7th or early 8th century.  The poem is part of a tryptic: Christ I is about the nativity, while Christ III is about the Final Judgment.  They are all three fascinating poems; the only extant copy of them is found in the Exeter Book, but good translations abound.

Anyway, back the The Leaps of Christ.  The motif comes from a beautiful little verse in the Song of Songs (2:8) “Behold, he comes leaping over the mountains and bounding over the hills.”  An early church father named Hippolytus allegorically interpreted the passage naming various Leaps that the Beloved (Christ, of course, according to his interpretation) made.  This list of leaps got passed on through homily, commentary and poem and in the Middle Ages enjoyed considerable popularity.  The most recent incarnation of the theme, interestingly enough, is Rick Found’s immortal late ’80s praise song: “Lord, I lift your name on high.” Cynewulf’s version of the motif is particularly nice, however, and below I present my translation.  If you’d like to look at the OE version of the poem, you’ll find it here; the line numbers that I’ve translated are 720-743.

The Leaps of Christ

The first leap was when he descended into the virgin,

the spotless maiden, and there took human form

without sins. He became that to help

all earth-dwellers. The second jump,

the birth of the child, was when he was in the manger

in the form of an infant, swaddled in garments,

the majesty of all majesties. The third leap,

the bound of the heavenly King ,father, and the spirit of comfort,

was when he climbed on the cross. The fourth jump,

in the tomb, was when he came off the beam

to the steadfast grave. The fifth leap was

when he brought low the horde of hell-dwellers

in torment. Within, the king bound

the hostile patron of the fiends to the fiery chains,

There yet does he lie

in the dungeon fastened to fetters,

shackled to sin. The sixth leap,

the frolic of the holy one, was when he ascended to heaven,

to his former home. Then, in that holy tide, the band of angels

made joyful with laughter, with delights,

saw the majesty of heaven,

the chief of princes, come into the native land,

the beaming habitation. Then the exploit of the Prince became

the eternal joy of the blissful citizens.

 

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Exactly! There’s actually a Welsh poem from the 15th century that combines the Seven Joys of Mary with the Leaps of Christ motif. Fascinating stuff.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s