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Wood, Trees, Christmas and Salvation

As far back as Irenaeus of Lyon (AD 120-202) and probably earlier, Christians have drawn parallels between the sin of man having come by means of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and salvation being accomplished on the cross of Christ.[1]  Our two American Christmas poets tie in the tree of Genesis and the cross of Christ with the crib of the baby Jesus.

The first, “Because Thou Didst Give,” is by the American literary scholar, Harry Morris.[2]

Out of the garden comes the tree

And in the tree bright angel,

Out of the tree, vast mystery;

Crib-tree and dark evangel.

Sister M. Madeleva’s (1887-1964) shaped poem is titled “O Holy Wood.”[3]














The first two lines of Morris’s poem refer, I believe but am not positive, to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve ate in rebellion against God (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6).  For this reason the tree comes from “the garden” and the “bright angel” in the tree is Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Then parallel to the wood of mankind’s fall into sin is the wood of salvation—the crib in which Jesus lay and that of the cross, which is only mentioned as the “dark evangel.”  Sister Madeleva’s poem ties in the wood of the crib with the rood, the Old English word for the crucifix.

These parallels in the history of redemption, at times fanciful, at times not, are meant to show that God overcomes all the instruments of the sin and Satan and uses them for his purposes.  Ultimately, nothing is without significance, even the wood of our Christmas trees that connect us with Christ’s crib and rood.  Truly, it is “vast mystery.”

Next up is Robert Southwell, who will continue the theme of God’s victory in Christmas.




[1] “… as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt.”  Irenaeus, Against Heresies, XVII:3.

[2] Harry Morris, “Because Thou Didst Give,” Contemporary Religious Poetry, ed. Paul Ramsey (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p. 72.

[3] Sister M. Madeleva, “O Holy Wood,” Ibid., p. 167.

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