08 February 2016

Cædmon's Sick Rhymes

Editor's Note: The following selection is excerpted from Bede the Venerable's Historia Ecclesiastica et Hiphoppia Gentis Anglorum. Regrettably, this is the only extant source in which Cædmon's phat rhymes are preserved. My Latin is not very good, so please excuse the minor liberties I have taken with the translation.

Now in a certain monastery there lived a brother who had the divine gift of busting rhymes pertaining to religion and virtue. Thus, whatever divine mysteries he learned from scholars, within a moderate time, he laid down a phat beat and spat sick lines pertaining thereto. And all his hearers agreed that his rhymes were the busiest of all those in England, sweet and well-made as they were.

Likewise, after Cædmon came many who tried to throw down lines as he did, but lo, they were all haters and imitators, and none came close to matching his mad flowing skills, since the Almighty had poured out upon him the dopest of rhymes. And he therefore could not make songs that were deceitful or wack, but only straight-up cash money ones that did glorify his homeboy JC.

Until he reached old age, Cædmon was firmly established in a worldly life, and had no mad rhymes to boast of. It would happen that at banquets, after some 40s had been consumed and there was occasion for joy, the DJ would lay down some beats and the homies would take turns freestyling. And when the mic approached Cædmon, he would arise from the feast and return unto his home in shame, for lo, his game was weak.

And this he did on a certain occasion, when he left the banquet hall and went out unto the animal stables, as it had been assigned to him to watch the herd that night. After, at the appropriate time, he had fallen asleep, a sunbright brother did appear unto him and demand, "Cædmon, spit some rhymes at me."

Cædmon hung his head and mumbled, "Nah, dawg. I ain't got those skillz. That's why I'm here instead of at the party."

The bright visitor did respond, "Aight, I know that, homes. But you gotta spit me some rhymes."

Cædmon said, "Well, what you wanna hear about?"

The man said, "Sing about the first creation."

So Cædmon grooved unto his visitor's beatboxing and did begin flowing:

Nu we sculon herigean     heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte     ond his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder,     swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten,     or onstealde.
He ærest sceop      eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe,     halig scyppend;
þa middangeard     moncynnes weard,
ece drihten,     æfter teode
firum foldan,     frea ælmihtig.
And when he arose from his sleep, he did find that the song remained in his memory. Moreover, when he cranked up his boombox, he found that he was able to flow, and yea, verily his rhymes were sick.

In the morning, he came unto the town-reeve, who was his alderman. He made known to him the gift that he had been given, whereupon the alderman led him unto the abbess and declared the same to her.

Then the abbess called all of the most learned scholars and commanded that Cædmon tell of his vision and lay down his phat rhymes in their presence so that they might determine the source of his inspiration.

And it was seen by all even as it was: That God himself had endowed the man with a heavenly gift. And so they spoke to him and told holy stories and divine words of knowledge. Then, they bade the DJ to begin spinning some wicked beats to that Cædmon might spit some mad dope rhymes. And lo, they perceived that his rhymes were the phattest in the land, and must clearly come from the hand of the Lord himself.

Commentary on John 1:6-8

 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

-John 1:6-8 (NASB)

Here, we meet one of the central characters of John's gospel: John the Baptist. The evangelist's introduction of him is stripped-down, simple, and straightforward -- surprisingly so, in fact. 

If it had been up to me to introduce the baptizer, I would have been tempted to give a list of his qualifications: 

1. He was the founder and lead minister of a large and exciting ministry on the banks of the Jordan, baptizing folks and calling them to repentance. Jews of every background and theological bent flocked to hear him preach, and even Roman soldiers attended to get his advice on godly living. 

2. He led a simple, holy life in the desert, devoting himself to God's service and the preaching of the truth.

3. Like Jesus, he had made some very powerful political and religious enemies.

4. As a pre-born baby, he leapt at the very (also pre-born) presence of Jesus, who, by the way, was also his cousin. 

5. He was born miraculously to aged parents who, like Abram and Sarai, had long ago resigned themselves to being barren. His birth, like that of Jesus, was foretold by an angel. Also like Jesus, John's very name came straight from God's messenger.

But John the Evangelist mentions none of these things. For him, the baptizer's primary importance was as a witness sent from God to testify about Jesus. His purpose, like the evangelist's, was to bring people to belief in Christ. 

The spareness of John the Baptist's introduction holds a vital reminder: In God's economy, human ideas about importance, accomplishment, and renown are of little use. What matters to God is that whether we are faithful in what He has called us to do. Though John was a remarkable man for all the reasons listed above, his most important function was to testify concerning the divine Light, the everlasting Word. 

And testify he did! As we'll see later on, John testified without fear or regard for men's reactions. He was so committed to his calling that he preached himself right into a prison cell... and then into the ground. 

One other noteworthy thing about these verses: The evangelist makes it very clear that John himself is not the light. In other words, he is not the protagonist in this story. Rather, he's merely a supporting character. Perhaps the evangelist feels a need to mention this because the baptizer is a larger-than-life figure. After all, he's very recognizable, iconic, and clearly filled with God's power. Another possible reason for mentioning this could be simple narrative clarity. Perhaps the evangelist is simply avoiding any possibility of confusion for his readers.

Regardless of why the evangelist mentions this, though, we now have a new character on the stage: John, the first of many witnesses to the truth and the power of the Word made flesh.