Reflection on a Canticle in Isaiah 12
Papal Address at the General Audience
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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II dedicated his address at today´s general audience to reflect on the thanksgiving canticle of the redeemed, in the Book of Isaiah (12:1-6). Here is a translation of the address which was given in Italian.
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1. The hymn we have just proclaimed appears as a song of joy in the liturgy of lauds. It is a sort of conclusive seal of those pages of the Book of Isaiah, known for their messianic reading. It includes chapters 6-12, generally known as "the Book of Emmanuel." Indeed, at the center of those prophetic sayings towers the figure of a sovereign who, although part of the historic dynasty of David, reveals transfigured features and receives glorious titles: "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:5).
The concrete figure of the King of Judah that Isaiah promises as son and successor of Ahaz, the sovereign at the time, very far from the Davidic ideals, is the sign of a higher promise: that of the king-Messiah who will act in the fullness of the name of "Emmanuel," namely of "God-with-us," becoming the perfect divine presence in human history. It is easy to understand, therefore, how the New Testament and Christianity intuited in that royal profile the physiognomy of Jesus Christ, Son of God become man in solidarity with us.
2. The hymn to which we now refer (see Isaiah 12:1-6) is considered by scholars, either because of its literary quality or its general tone, as a composition subsequent to the prophet Isaiah, who lived in the eighth century before Christ. It is almost a quotation, a text with the characteristics of a Psalm, thought out, perhaps, for liturgical use, introduced at this point as the conclusion to the "Book of Emmanuel." Indeed, it evokes certain topics from it: salvation, trust, joy, divine action, presence of the "Holy One of Israel" among the people, expression that indicates either the "holy" transcendence of God, or his loving and active closeness, on which the people of Israel can rely.
The one who is singing is a person who has lived a bitter experience, regarded as an act of divine justice. But now the trial is over, the purification has been effected; the Lord´s anger is replaced by a smile, a readiness to save and console.
3. The two stanzas of the hymn delineate, so to speak, two moments. In the first (see verses 1-3), which begins with the invitation to pray: "On that day, you will say," the word "salvation" [or read: "savior"] is paramount, repeated three times and applied to the Lord: "God indeed is my savior ... he has been my savior ... the wells of salvation." Let us remember among other things, that Isaiah´s name, like that of Jesus, contains the root of the Hebrew verb ya?a´, which alludes to "salvation." Therefore, our man of prayer has the absolute certainty that divine grace is at the root of deliverance and hope.
It is significant to note that he makes implicit reference to the great salvific event of the exodus from slavery of Egypt, as he quotes the words of the song of deliverance sung by Moses: "My strength and my courage is the Lord" (Exodus 15:2).
4. The salvation given by God, able to make joy and trust flower even in the dark day of trial, is portrayed through the classic image in the Bible, of water: "With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3). It reminds us of the scene of the Samaritan woman, when Jesus offers her the possibility of having within her a "spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14).
Cyril of Alexandria comments on this in a thought-provoking manner: "Jesus calls the vivifying gift of the Spirit living water, the only one through which humanity -- although it is completely abandoned, as the trunks on the mountains, dry, and deprived of every kind of virtue by the deceits of the devil -- is restored to the former beauty of its nature. ... The Savior calls the grace of the Holy Spirit water, and if one participates in him, he will have within himself the source of divine teachings, to the point that he will no longer need the advice of others, and will be able to exhort those who are thirsting for the Word of God. So were the holy prophets, the apostles, and the successors of their ministry while they were in this life and on earth. Of these, it has been written: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Commentary on the Gospel of John, II, 4, Rome 1994, pp. 272, 275).
Unfortunately, humanity often abandons this fountain, which quenches the thirst of the whole being of the person, as the prophet Jeremiah sadly points out: "they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Isaiah also, a few pages before, had exalted "the waters of Shiloah that flow gently," symbol of the Lord present in Zion, and had threatened with the punishment of the flooding of the "waters of the River" namely, the Euphrates -- "great and mighty" (Isaiah 8:6-7), symbol of the military and economic power, as well as that of idolatry, waters that fascinated Judah then, but that would have submerged it.
5. Another invitation -- "and say on that day" -- begins the second stanza (see Isaiah 12:4-6), which becomes a continuous call to joyful praise in honor of the Lord. The imperatives to sing multiply: "Praise, invoke, manifest, proclaim, sing, shout, exult."
At the center of the praise there is a single profession of faith in God the Savior, who intervenes in history and is next to his creature, sharing his vicissitudes. "Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement ... great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel" (verses 5,6). This profession of faith also has a missionary function. "Among the nations make known his deeds ... let this be known throughout all the earth" (verses 4,5). The salvation obtained must be witnessed to the world, so that the whole of humanity will run to those fountains of peace, joy and freedom.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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[At the end of the address the Holy Father delivered this summary in English.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
From the prophet Isaiah, we have a hymn which first looks back upon a bitter experience which the people saw as God´s judgement. In the end, however, the hymn praises God whose anger passes and whose love lasts for ever. The prophet uses the image of water to describe God´s action: "you will drink joyfully from the springs of salvation". These are the springs of God´s love, the waters of new life. Yet at times we prefer the waters of death; and then we condemn ourselves to sorrow. The Book of Isaiah speaks of a king through whom salvation comes. For Christians, Jesus is the royal figure in whom we find the fullness of God´s saving grace. With the words of the prophet, we profess our faith in Christ our King, and we proclaim to the world the salvation which is in him.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the priests from Vietnam who are returning to their country after studies in Europe. Dear priests: tell your brothers and sisters in the faith that I pray for them every day; I pray for the peace and progress of the whole nation. Upon the pilgrims and visitors from England, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the United States, I invoke the peace of the Risen Christ. God bless you all!
[Original text: English; distributed by Vatican Press Office]