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The O Antiphons: A Divine Conspiracy in an Ancient Text

Posted on Sunday, December 18, 2022
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AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel

O Antiphons

The article I read the other day declares that there is a hidden message in an ancient text. What is this? The plot for the latest Indiana Jones? Another conspiracy theory? We live in an age of conspiracy theories. We also live in an age in which many conspiracy theories have proven to be true. After all, what has the release of the Twitter Files been but the revelation of a massive conspiracy between government, law enforcement, and social media companies? “Just because you’re paranoid,” Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”  

But not all conspiracy theories are bad. Christians believe in a divine conspiracy that holds that way below the deep state, big tech, and the Davos gang, there is a power that, despite appearances, is really running things and will, in the end, judge the living and the dead and bring justice to a world in which injustice seems so often to hold the upper hand. The conspiracy is weirder, however. This judge of the world is also the world’s savior. Jesus, after all, is the judge but his name means “God saves.”

So, what about the article? What’s the hidden message? What’s the ancient text? And is someone after us?

Let’s start with the text. The article, “The hidden message in ancient ‘O Antiphons’ of Advent,” is about the retired Catholic bishop of San Angelo, Texas, Michael D. Pfeifer, who has been speaking about how this hidden message will help people.

Most people know the O Antiphons from the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which is a translation by John Mason Neale (with two verses added by H. S. Coffin) of a Latin hymn based on the texts. Neale was a brilliant and devout nineteenth-century Anglican clergyman who translated a great many ancient texts and wrote many hymns. “Good Christian Men Rejoice” is his most famous Christmas carol, while “Good King Wenceslas” was actually written for Boxing Day. But it was his translation of this hymn based on the ancient antiphons that is perhaps his greatest contribution to the season.

The O Antiphons are a series of verses that have been chanted by monks, nuns, priests, and many ordinary Christians for centuries at Vespers (or Evening Prayer) from December 17-23. They are chanted after recitation of the Magnificat, the pregnant Mary’s song of thanksgiving after the greeting by her pregnant cousin Elizabeth (see Luke 1:46-55). Her song, which is filled with trust in the God who will put down the proud and raise the humble, gives thanks that she will bear the one who will right all wrongs. Most Catholics who go to Mass on those days will hear them as the verse chanted at the “Alleluia” before the Gospel is read. Each Antiphon is a short verse that begins with “O” and a title for the one to whom Mary was to give birth, followed by a short elaboration on the title and a request that he come and do great things for us. They are composed of words of faith in God taken from Old and New Testament texts. They speak of the coming Messiah and hope that he will teach us the way of prudence, free the prisoners, shut the mouth of kings, and redeem and save us.   

The order in which they appear during that last week of Advent gives us the hidden message that was spoken of by the bishop. They are, with the hymn’s version in parentheses: O Sapientia (O Wisdom from on high); O Adonai (Lord of might); O Radix Jesse (Rod of Jesse); O Clavis (Key of David); O Oriens (Dayspring); O Rex Gentium (Desire of Nations, though rex means king); and finally, O Emmanuel (untranslated by Neale but meaning “God with us”). Read backwards, the first letters of the Antiphons make a Latin acrostic, Ero Cras, or “I am coming tomorrow,” which makes sense if you understand that the feast of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve.

That hidden message was no doubt a bit of fun on the part of Christians of the past, who enjoyed clever things such as hidden messages just as we did. But what the hidden message says is much deeper than a way to count down the days to the Christmas celebration and gifts.

The praying of these antiphons with their biblical messages of faith and hope in God are a perfect way to prepare for the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus’ birth so long ago. But they are a fitting conclusion to the season of Advent, which is not only about preparing to remember that first coming (adventus means coming) of the Savior of the World, but also about enkindling desire for the coming of Christ again to fulfill those promises of the prophets which are still not quite finished.

Singing “O come!” expresses and builds up the desire not merely for goodies in the stockings but for faith in the very one whose feet bore the nails for a suffering human race. Those feet, says the author of Revelation, will one day appear like burnished bronze. The voice of the one who cried in the manger and said, “Father, forgive them” from the cross will sound like the roar of waters (Revelation 1:15).

Those O Antiphons build up belief in the true and final conspiracy theory. No matter whether evil seems to have the upper hand, it really doesn’t. The rantings of the tyrants will be silenced. Those trapped in darkness will be freed. Though things seem beset by perpetual disorder, they will one day be mightily and smoothly brought back to order. And it will all be accomplished by a man who never had a tinfoil hat. He was, however, wrapped in swaddling clothes as a baby and wore a crown of thorns at his greatest moment. And he is certainly after all of us, but with the goal of making us truly happy.

David P. Deavel is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.

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Arthur Hericks
Arthur Hericks
1 year ago

All glory be to God!

Marta Alvarez
Marta Alvarez
1 year ago

Thank you for a message most needed at this time.

Esther
Esther
1 year ago

Thank you so much for this insight and reminder.

Norma
Norma
1 year ago

I read this just before I prayed Evening Vespers. Thanks for enlightening us on the hidden message. The Lord is indeed coming soon!

Jan C
Jan C
1 year ago

We are in between two Advents. ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’

Lee
Lee
1 year ago

“For God so loved the world that He gave. . .”

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Tommy Hemric
Tommy Hemric
1 year ago

Thank God for loving us. Tom

JoBell
JoBell
1 year ago

Loved this article. Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen.

Laura J
Laura J
1 year ago

I found this fascinating. I never knew this. Thank You for sharing it.

Laura
Laura
1 year ago

I found this fascinating. I never knew this. Thank You for sharing it.

James B.
James B.
1 year ago

Great writing!! Good article. Thank you!

Gunny Joe
Gunny Joe
1 year ago

Thank you Sir!

Robert
Robert
1 year ago

AMEN!

GranB3
GranB3
1 year ago

Wonderful article. I downloaded it to use as reference whenever I need a reminder of God’s love and awesome power.

David Millikan
David Millikan
1 year ago

Excellent article and very educational.
May GOD Bless us all.

Leslie
Leslie
1 year ago

This was a fabulous article!

Janet
Janet
1 year ago

Thank you so much for sharing these uplifting and hopeful insights! Much needed in these troubled times!!

Ed
Ed
1 year ago

I enjoyed his article

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