In these lines from ‘Christ’ by Cynewulf (possibly the 8th century bishop Cynewulf of Lindisfarne), the poet reflects upon some beautiful words from the Song of Solomon, which he understands as a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
‘The voice of my beloved! behold,
he cometh leaping upon the mountains,
skipping upon the hills.’
WHEN first he leapt, he lighted on a woman, an untouched maid; and human form he took there (though without sin) that he might be Comforter to all that dwell on earth.* The next leap was a baby’s birth when, wound about with swaddling bands, the Glory of all glories lay in a manger, wearing the form of a little child. The third leap was the King of Heaven’s headlong race to the Cross; and there the Father’s Spirit of comfort lighted.*
The fourth took him into the Tomb, leaving the Tree behind for that earthen fastness. It was the fifth leap when he humbled the multitude in hell’s torment, and bound their king, the devils’ Accuser, with fiery fetters within;* he lies there yet, a mind full of malice, held fast in prison’s chains, shackled by his sins. The sixth leap was the dance of the Holy One when he lighted upon heaven, his everlasting home; in that holy hour the angel host was blithe with happy laughter.
* See John 14:16-17. ‘Comforter’ or Paraclete is a courtroom role akin to a defence attorney, an idea which St John uses extensively to create a picture of a courtroom drama in which the devil thinks he is prosecuting Christ and his Apostles (witnesses), but in fact is himself in the dock and about to be sentenced.
* See again John 14:16-17. We associate ‘Comforter’ or Paraclete with the Holy Spirit but Christ refers to him as ‘another Comforter’, to be granted to the Apostles after he himself, the first Comforter, has been taken away.
* See Revelation 12:10. ‘Accuser’ equates to counsel for the prosecution. The Old English here is ‘foresprecan’, a spokesman or advocate.